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July 2003 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 23 August 2003
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2 July 2003

The Californian had a report July 2nd that the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA) has received a NASA grant to continue examining infrared images from an Air Force satellite that incidentally include asteroids and can be used to help determine their sizes.

3 July 2003

The June issue of Physics Today had an article about the worldwide situation with preserving astronomical photographic data. Plates are being misplaced, thrown out, threatened by natural disasters, and, in Africa, even put to new use as windows. The situation at Ondrejov Observatory gets a special mention.

New Scientist had a July 3rd article, "Solar sailing 'breaks laws of physics.'"

4 July 2003

BBC had a July 4th item that BBC science writer Dr. David Whitehouse won a European Online Journalism (EOJ) award for Best News Story Broken on the Net with his "Space Rock 'on Collision Course'" article of 23-24 July 2002, about PHO 2002 NT7 [link|alt]. (By the beginning of the following month, NT7 was removed from the risk monitors' lists of active concerns.)

5 July 2003

The Pasadena Star-News had a July 5th article about Caltech grad student Ben Weiss and how he brought new insights into the study of meteorite ALH84001, the famous Mars rock. Next he is taking a professorship at MIT, where he will study interplanetary dust and the earliest solar system magnetic fields.

7 July 2003

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics had a news release July 7th (with images) naming "the recipients of the 2003 Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets by amateurs during the calendar year ending June 10." They are Sebastian F. Hoenig for C/2002 O4 (Hoenig) [link|alt], Tetuo Kudo and Shigehisa Fujikawa for C/2002 X5 (Kudo-Fujikawa) [link|alt], and Charles W. Juels and Paulo R.C. Holvorcem for comet C/2002 Y1 (Juels-Holvorcem) [link|alt]. Each will receive a plaque and cash award. posted a report on July 12th, and Sky & Telescope July 14thcookies required (with photos).

9 July 2003

An effort describing itself as "a distinguished group of Americans" released on July 9th what they explain is, quoting: a remarkable letter to Congressional leaders about the danger our planet faces from near earth objects (NEO's). The letter was also sent to President Bush and his cabinet, the Secretary General of the United Nations and to leaders around the globe. Their aim: to educate our leadership about the real threat posed by these objects. And to put forward an coordinated program to deal with the impact threat.
      Signatories include astronauts, astronomers, and physicist/visionary Freeman Dyson. Visit for more information. had a July 9th report, and the full text of the July 8th letter was posted by from David Morrison's NEO News E-mail newsletter.

California meteors: An Associated Press July 10th story, carried at KTVU-TV and the San Jose Mercury-News, reported that "Four separate meteor showers were visible over parts of northern and central California ... at around 10 p.m." on the 9th, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. And a KGPE-TV cameraman caught one of those instaces while taping an interview. Fresno State University posted a news release July 10th with the video. See also articles today at the Fresno Bee and AScribe.

10 July 2003

NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) had a July 10th news release, "Catching a Comet's Tail in the Earth's Upper Atmosphere." It tells about using a high-altitude research aircraft to make "the first attempt to collect dust particles from a very specific target — comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup." had a July 19th report.
      For more about this program, see the JSC Stratospheric Dust [alternate] and Cosmic Dust Laboratories pages.

11 July 2003

NASA Kenney Space Center advised the news media on July 11th that the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) launch has been scheduled for "Aug. 23, 2003 at 1:37:43 a.m. EDT." See A/CC's reports for more about SIRTF and previous launch schedulings.

15 July 2003

Witnesses in or near Elma, Washington reported a meteor at about 1am on the morning of July 15th, and some teenagers reported finding pieces according to a 15 July report at the Grays Harbor Daily World. The paper reported on July 17th that meteorite dealers Adam and Greg Hupe had arrived in Elma, Washington and had concluded that reported meteor pieces were in fact not meteorites. However, as they have done in other places, the brothers engaged in teaching what to look for and encouraged further searching. See also a short report and photo at KOMO-TV Seattle/Tacoma (still with 16 July date but since updated), which reports that the station had "received a handful of e-mail from other independent viewers saying they too saw the fireball streak across the sky shortly before 1 a.m."

16 July 2003

Impact theory:  The journal Nature has a July 16th item (dated the 17th) about "Asteroid hazard revised," based on an article in its July 17th issue by Philip Bland of Imperial College London and Natalia Artemieva of the Russian Academy of Sciences, "Efficient disruption of small asteroids by Earth's atmosphere." And Imperial College London put out a news release on July 16th.
      Many news outlets carried reports, including a Reuters wire story 16 July, "Fewer Asteroids Than Expected Likely to Hit Earth," New Scientist 16 July, "Tsunami risk from asteroids downgraded," 16 July, "Small Stony Asteroids Will Explode and Not Hit Earth, Study Shows," Sky & Telescope 16 Julycookies required, "Small Asteroids = Small Threat?" and Astrobiology Magazine July 31st, "Buffer Zone Brackets Impact Risks."
      News texts and some critiquing of all this information appeared in the The Cambridge Conference Correspondence for July 17th (see especially Duncan Steel's comments) and July 22nd, and in David Morrison's July 25th NEO News, an E-mail newsletter posted by

From its August issue, Scientific American has posted an article about Brian Marsden and the work of the IAU Minor Planet Center. It includes the statement, "Of 42 near-Earth asteroids with nonzero impact risk, only one object, 1997 XR2 [link|alt], warrants careful monitoring."
Dark skies:  The Boulder Daily Camera reported July 16th that the Boulder City Council yesterday enacted new light pollution regulations, and says "Boulder County, Denver, Colorado Springs, Durango, Eagle and Douglas County are either working on or have adopted sky-darkening rules."

17 July 2003

The July 17th Harvard News Gazette had an article, "Earth's birth date turned back," based on studying hafnium-tungsten ratios in chondritic meteorites and Earth and Moon rocks. This comes out of an article by Stein Jacobsen in the June 6th issue of Science (available for purchase), "How Old Is Planet Earth?"
      On a similar note, the Science issue of July 4th has an article by Carsten Munker et al. on "Evolution of Planetary Cores and the Earth-Moon System from Nb/Ta Systematics." A National Geographic article of August 11th tells about judging the age of the Earth-Moon system based on ratios of the elements niobium and tantalum.

18 July 2003

A European Space Agency news release of July 18th tells about plans to build in Cebreros, Spain the second ESA deep space communications antenna, which will join the newly operational New Norcia installation in Australia (see news links). This also will be a 35m dish, with construction to begin in September and completion 24 months later.

An Associated Press wire story, carried the morning of July 18th by KARE-TV and KXLT-TV, reported "a large, fiery object moving fast across the sky" in northern St. Louis County in Minnesota, followed by "a loud noise." Noted by sheriff's deputies as "likely a meteor," the time of the event isn't given.

21 July 2003 had a July 21st article, "Search for Large Asteroids Nears Completion, Experts Ponder Gaps in Program," by Australian NEO activist Michael Paine. It comes out of the previous week's public NEO forum in Sydney during the 25th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (GAIAU), followed this week in July by the Australian Minor Planet Workshop (link).

Wired News had a July 21st article, "Backyard Paparazzi to the Stars," about the huge impact of CCD cameras on amateur astrophotography.

23 July 2003

The Socorro, N.M. El Defensor Chieftain reported on July 23rd that "The Magdalena Ridge Observatory [MRO] has been awarded $15 million to complete construction in the fiscal year 2004 Defense Appropriations Bill." Groundbreaking will come later this year, and it could be fully operational by 2008. A fast-slewing 2.4m telescope will track White Sands missile flights during the day. By night it will be available for "asteroid studies and the rapid response to astrophysical transient phenomena such as gamma ray burster events," according to a 2002 DPS paper (abstract) by MRO project scientist Eileen Ryan and astronomers Bill Ryan and V. Romero, who are based at New Mexico Tech (aka N.M. Institute of Mining & Technology). For observing beyond the Solar System, there will be additional telescopes forming an interferometric array under the guidance of the Naval Research Laboratory, which is the MRO's government funding agency and runs the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer (NPOI) in Flagstaff, Arizona.
      The MRO will be the fourth highest observatory in the world, at the second darkest astronomical site in the U.S. For more information, see an item at and's 29 June 2002 article.
      The Ryans are in the team studying Main Belt families that recently discovered the first Vestoid binary, 3782 Celle [link|alt]. And New Mexico Tech is headquarters to the world's most famous interferometer, the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, which sits on the Plains of San Agustin west of Socorro.

26 July 2003

54509 2000 PH5 [link|alt] came within about 4.5 lunar distances as it passed north over Earth on the 26th. NEODyS shows this as an annual event between July 25th and August 2nd during the years 1996-2008, with this year's passage being the closest of all. Consell Observatory on the night of July 25th was first to catch 54509 as it came out from the Sun side of Earth's orbit.

Meteorite dealer Steve Schoner (see also) owns the house of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh and last Fall moved it from one location in Flagstaff to another with the intention "to restore it to a bed and breakfast and a museum." This news comes from a July 26th article at the Arizona Daily Sun about Schoner's ensuing near-death experience that leaves the project in limbo.

28 July 2003

MSNBC had a July 28th article about "Scientists giving Arecibo Observatory a makeover as it turns 40," noting briefly its use for "celestial radar."

Risk concerns removed during July 2003

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during July 2003: 2003 NW1 & 2003 MH4

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