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August 2003 Asteroid/Comet/Meteor News


Updated: 2 June 2004
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2 August 2003

Caltech issued an Aug. 2nd news release, "New Sky Survey Begins at Palomar Observatory," involving Caltech, Yale, and the University of Indiana, and using the Quest camera newly installed at Mt. Palomar on the 1.2m Oschin telescope. This is one of two telescopes used by the NEO survey program, NEAT, which is run by JPL, a Caltech NASA contractor. (The other telescope used by NEAT is at an Air Force installation on Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii.)
      A National Park Service publication, Astronomy and Astrophysics (Excerpts from a National Historic Landmark Theme Study), tells about the historical importance of the Oschin telescope with its Schmidt widefield design, and how it was used in the pioneering Palomar Observatory Sky Surveys (POSS-I and POSS-II) in the 1950s, which are familiar to observers as being part of the USNO star catalogs and the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS). The Oschin was also used in the later Palomar-Leiden Surveys that resulted in a multitude of asteroid discoveries identified by their unusual designations such as 1004 T-3 and 2028 P-L.
      Before being named "Oschin," the 1.2m telescope was called "the big Schmidt," because Mt. Palomar also has a 0.46m Schmidt. This smaller instrument was used by the Shoemakers for observing asteroids and comets, of which the most famous was the Jupiter-impacting D/1993 F2 (Shoemaker-Levy 9) [link|alt], designated then as 1993e. That discovery is sometimes mistakenly ascribed to the Oschin.
      See A/CC news links for more about the 1.2m Oschin Telescope camera change.


5 August 2003

There were reports of a fireball seen in northern New Zealand skies just before 6pm local time on August 5th according to articles soon afterward at the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz.


The Royal Astronomical Society had an Aug. 5th news release, "Making Sense of Centaurs and Their Kin," about a new classification scheme that will be proposed in a coming issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The proposal, which is incompletely explained in the news release, would reportedly dispense with the distinction between comet and asteroid when referring to what are now known as Centaurs, TNOs, EKBOs, and long- and short-period comets. The authors are Jonathan Horner, Wyn Evans, Mark Bailey, and David Asher. Space.com had an Aug. 12th article, "Crazy Names: The Solar System's Nomenclature Wars."


6 August 2003

ABC Australia reported Aug. 7th that "hundreds" of people reported a meteor seen from near Perth at 6:20pm local time on the 6th. On August 10th, a news report was widely published in Australia, and in condensed form worldwide via the Associated Press, that a supposed meteorite had hit a home driveway south of Perth "last week." The Age and other publications posted a slightly different telling on the 10th, but none of the reports give a date or link this story with the August 6th siting.


The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics put out an Aug. 6th news release, "Asteroid Juno Has A Bite Out Of It." See the associated images page for some pretty impressive pictures of 3 Juno [link|alt] from the old 100" Hooker telescope on Mt. Wilson with its new adaptive optics system. The work was led by Sallie Baliunas, also lead author on an article in the May 2003 issue of the journal Icarus, "Multispectral analysis of asteroid 3 Juno..." (ADS). Astronomy.com had an Aug. 11th report.
The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has an Aug. 6th news release (see also an illustration), "View of comets as pristine relics of solar system formation evolves," based on an article by Alan Stern to appear in the Aug. 7th journal Nature, "The evolution of comets in the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt." He argues that obtaining "genuinely pristine samples of ancient material" from comets will require some excavation. Space.com had an Aug. 7th article, "Report Sullies Pristine Reputation of Comets."
      Update:  The Nature article is available as a 160Kb PDF file from SwRI.


10 August 2003

The Chicago Star had an August 10th item about a meteorite going on display at the Field Museum, one of many that fell across the south Chicago area on the night of 26-27 March this year (see A/CC news links). Since some area residents have kept pieces, the newspaper reported advice from the museum's Associate Curator of Meteoritics, Meenakshi Wadhwa, on how to care for them: The metal in meteorites tends to rust quickly, she said, so the rocks should be in a cool, dry place. People can keep moisture from getting to them by putting the rocks in a plastic bag, then putting that bag inside another plastic bag containing silica gel. "We store a lot of our meteorites that way." See also the museum's own page about the March event, and a May 13th National Geographic report.


In other recent meteor news, New Scientist posted an interview with Bill Cassidy, founder and early leader of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET). And NASA put up a page with movies of a Perseid "exploding fireball" caught over El Paso, Texas with a Sandia Meteor Detection Network all-sky camera. It is credited to astrophotographer and network member Jim Gamble, who has many meteor pictures on his Web site, and a page showing his rooftop all-sky camera setup.


11 August 2003

The Detroit News had an article on Tuesday Aug. 12th, "Did meteorite slam Oakland?" It reports that "Two workers came in Monday morning and found an impact crater outside the main garage" of an Oakland County road maintenance facility. The crater is shown with the article and is measured at 12"x18"x3", or about half a meter at its widest.


Physics Web reported Aug. 11th that the first amino acid, glycine, has been detected in dust clouds in our galaxy. Quoting: The molecular spectra seen in interstellar gas clouds closely matches those found in comets and meteorites, and comparing them could in principle allow astronomers — or exobiologists — to trace the origin of the Earth's early chemistry to its parent gas cloud.


13 August 2003

Billed as "The Most Expensive Meteorite Ever Sold On eBay," a piece of the Zagami meteorite is going up for auction as explained on the seller's site, and reported in a 13 Aug. article at the Omaha World-Herald. An AP wire story was widely carried the next day. For more about the Zagami basaltic Mars meteorite, which nearly hit a farmer when it fell in Nigeria in 1962, see NASA/JSC's scientific description, a 1.33Mb PDF.


21 August 2003

The cover story for the September 2003 issue of Popular Science is "KILLER ASTEROIDS – The Reality," which you can read online as a three-page article plus a sidebar about how "Lasers may one day be our first line of defense for finding and fighting asteroids."


23 August 2003

From its August 23rd print edition, New Scientist has posted an interview with Brian Marsden of the Minor Planet Center, which includes some observations of amateur observers, some by name. The article has him putting Mallorca in the Canary Islands, an unlikely mistake, and issuing a challenge to find archival images of an asteroid "3 or 4 kilometres across" discovered by LINEAR on May 22nd, which would be 2003 KP2. Scientific American also had an interview posted last month from its August issue.


The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan has an Aug. 23rd article about the efforts of University of South Dakota physics professor Chris Keating to build a new observatory that will have remote access. The long piece tells about incorporating the discarded dome from the school's original 1916 observatory (photos), about funding, and about fighting light pollution. It also tips the hat to Telescopes In Education (TIE) at Mt. Wilson and to NEO-observer Ron Dyvig's Badlands Observatory, which are both involved in educational use of robotic telescopes (see more about that).


25 August 2003

Astrobiology Magazine had an Aug. 25th article, "Alien Infection," about concerns over sample return missions, mainly Mars but also mentioning the Stardust and MUSES-C minor object missions. See A/CC's report about the international safety review process for MUSES-C.
      The Baltimore Sun had an Aug. 25th article, "Alert: Asteroid alarm," about how "Scientists and others differ over the extent of resources that should be devoted to spotting incoming space rocks."


27 August 2003

The University of California at Berkeley had an Aug. 27th news release, "Nanometer-sized particles change crystal structure when wet," something that has "implications for our understanding of extraterrestrial materials and identification of extraterrestrial rocks, especially when the interpretation is being done by a robotic probe."


28 August 2003

The Ghana Home Page in an Aug. 28th article, "Japan to build observatory in Ghana," reported about a program to put a $25,000 "I-Observatory with an ordinary Internet telescope" in Africa so that high school students in Japan can do night-time observing during their school day. Update: GhanaWeb article 8 Dec. 2003, "Japan installs observatory in Ghana," and says the project cost $150,000 plus $800 per month. For more about remotely and robotically operated educational telescopes, see below and June 2003 news.


29 August 2003

The Stardust mission Aug. 29th status report reported:

An Earth-based observing plan for Comet Wild 2 has been drafted that includes Keck, Lowell and Table Mountain observatories. These observations will be taken as Comet Wild 2 comes out from behind the Sun in late December, in time to validate the Comet Wild 2 dust production and ephemeris models before final targeting of the flyby in January 2004. 



U.K. robotic telescopes & education

Led by the National Schools' Observatory (NSO) at Liverpool John Moores University (JMU), the United Kingdom has a huge effort underway to provide its primary and secondary students with access to some very capable telescopes around the world (overview). A joint news release was issued August 4th by PPARC (Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) and JMU about first light last week for the NSO-associated JMU Astrophysics Research Institute's fully robotic 2m Liverpool Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Five percent of its observing time will be dedicated to NSO on a regular basis.
      Two NSO-associated telescopes fully-dedicated to education are being built on the opposite side of the world to provide night skies during the U.K. school day. The Dill Faulkes Educational Trust is providing the telescopes and structures for the Faulkes Telescope Project (FTP). Sites on Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii (Faulkes Telescope North), and at Siding Spring in New South Wales, Australia (FT South) are being provided by partners in arrangements that will benefit students in Australia and Hawaii as well as the U.K. Both telescopes, like the Liverpool above, are 2m instruments built by Telescope Technologies Limited (TTL), which is described as a JMU subsidiary or spin-off company.
      The FTP Web site reports that FT North (FT-N) will have first light this week, and FT-S will begin construction this month, to become operational next year. The Leicester Mercury, in a June 30th story, told about a visit to his old grammar school by "self-made millionaire, cosmologist and philanthropist," Dr. Dill Faulkes, to present some awards, and talked about funding for the two telescopes. And the FTP Web site has the text of a July 30th Financial Times article about the project.
      The University of Glamorgan is constructing the Robotic Cyberspace Community Telescope Observatory (RoCCoTO) in Wales using a 0.4m Meade LX200. Its Web site says it will be part of the NSO program and will also be made available to the public over the Internet.
      One part of the NSO program is challenging U.K. school children to discover asteroids in images they download from the Bisei Spaceguard Centre Observatory in Japan.
      There is brief mention on the NSO site about participation by schools outside the U.K. For more about robotic telescopes and education, see an earlier A/CC report. Our thanks to Darrel Moon, a volunteer telescope operator at Mt. Wilson with the NASA/JPL Telescopes in Education (TIE), for his help in learning about these U.S. and U.K. educational programs.


Updates:  Astronomy.com had an article Aug. 10th about the Liverpool telescope. Sky & Telescope had an article Aug. 21stcookies required reporting first light August 7th for the education-dedicated 2m Faulkes Telescope North in Hawaii, built by Telescope Technologies Ltd., "a company attempting to turn meter-class research telescopes into mass-produced commodities."


Interstellar dust

August 2003 was a month for dusty interstellar news. To start, the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a news release Aug. 1st, since updated at least twice, about "Ulysses sees Galactic Dust on the rise." Some nicely done graphics helped illustrate the report, which noted that stardust does "not directly influence the planets of the Solar System. However, the dust particles move very fast, and produce large numbers of fragments when they impact asteroids or comets." This news release was followed by others from ESA of the same nature, on Aug. 18th, "ESA sees stardust storms heading for Solar System," and Aug. 20th, "Flip a Sun's pole for more dust." Space.com had an article Aug. 14th about "Defenses Down, Galactic Dust Storm Hits Solar System." And National Geographic had an Aug. 27th article, "Space Dust Flooding Our Solar System," along with another piece about "Astrophysicist Recognized for Discovery of Solar Wind," about Eugene Parker and how the discovery evolved.
      Next along this subject line, on Aug. 13th, was Astrobiology Magazine's first installment of a discussion with Freeman Dyson. The visionary physicist balks at focusing on just the subject of interstellar travel, commenting that "it's foolish to think that after you've explored the solar system, there's nothing else interesting until you get to Alpha Centauri." And, to back that up, he cites the work of Jack Baggaley and the Advanced Meteor Orbit Radar (AMOR) at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
      The citation linked to the article is a 1996 reference about proving that interstellar meteoroids (dust grains) were actually being seen. It was in 2000 that Baggaley published his finding that upstream of an interstellar dust flow was a nearby star, beta Pictoris. It is estimated at 50 to 80 light years away and has an observed planetary disk (the first discovered), a ring of material that is suspected to have an embedded Jupiter-sized planet. The article, "Advanced meteor orbit radar observations of interstellar meteoroids," appeared in a collection of articles about interstellar dust in the May 2000 Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics (available only to subscribers). This dust transport is investigated by Natalie Krivova and Sami Solanki in their 2003 paper, "A stream of particles from the beta Pictoris disc: A possible ejection mechanism" (preprint), which they conclude could be "scattering by a giant proto-planet."
      Where there is dust, there could be minor objects, is apparently the thinking of Freeman Dyson. The article quotes him as predicting that "interlopers" such as "comets and asteroids from Beta Pictoris" will "probably" be seen before reaching the edge of the Solar System.
      For more about current AMOR work, see David Galligan's home page, and his publications. He and Baggaley made a presentation (189Kb PDF) at the Annual Dust Science Meeting, GUCS 2001, giving a technical overview of AMOR operations.
      To learn more about beta Pictoris, visit Alain Lecavelier des Etangs' Beta Pictoris and Sol Station's Beta Pictoris pages, and see Hubble Space Telescope news releases of 15 January 2000 and earlier.
      In January there was a proposal (see A/CC news links) about building radar telescopes to observe interstellar dust streams such as that from beta Pictoris.
      The second part of the Freeman Dyson interview appeared Sept. 3rd, and the final on Sept. 10th.


PHO observing from La Palma

The Daily Orbit Update MPEC for Tuesday, August 5th, carried a half-dozen positions for 2003 MK4 [link|alt] reported from La Palma from the previous night. And, with its last impact solution eliminated on the 5th, MK4 was dropped from JPL's Current Impact Risks page. This was the last potentially hazardous object (PHO) currently in view at that time with impact solutions. It hadn't been reported seen for a week, and was to go out of view in just over two weeks.
      When NEO observations are reported from La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands, they almost always come from an astrometry team led by Alan Fitzsimmons at Queen's University Belfast (QUB) in Northern Ireland. He explains that the process of awarding observing time at major telescopes, done months in advance on a competitive basis, can't accommodate unpredictable NEO observing needs. So his team requested and was awarded "override" status.
      "When a visible NEO with a non-zero impact probability is either unobservable with the smaller facilities normally used, or hasn't been seen for several days," he told A/CC, "we can override the scheduled program on the 1m Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope (JKT) or 2.5m Isaac Newton Telescope (INT) on La Palma for 15 minutes to go off and obtain images of the NEO for astrometry. The observing is performed by the scheduled observer who is at the telescope, using precise instructions given by our team. The next morning we copy the data from La Palma back to Belfast, perform the astrometry, and report it to the MPC."
      Other team members are Stephen Lowry and Cathy Dandy at QUB, and Andrea Boattini and Germano D'Abramo at the Planetology Department of the Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica (ISAF) in Rome.
      And there was more news from Dr. Fitzsimmons. The previous weekend "the JKT was withdrawn from active service, so, for the forseeable future, this program will run on the INT alone." (See an announcement about the Kapteyn Telescope's status and availability to the international scientific community.)
      How will this affect his program? "There will probably be very little impact. Although we lose the JKT for overrides, the INT now has the wide-field camera on for 100% of the time. (Previously there was also a spectrograph available to observers and, when this was on the telescope, the telescope could not be used for imaging.) It should also have a minimal impact on the risk pages, as the effective limiting magnitude for our observations with the JKT was around 20, and there are now many amateur and professional observatories that obtain astrometry down to this magnitude."
      Update:  The Belfast Telegraph had a Sept. 14th article, "Rock star!" about Alan Fitzsimmons.


Minor planet namings + Linus

The Minor Planet Center updated its Discovery Circumstances on August 6th with 94 new namings and three name changes, but no new numberings. The highest numbered asteroid with a public name is now 58084 Hiketaon (1197 T-3), a Jupiter Trojan discovered in 1977 in the course of the Palomar-Leiden Survey.
      Main Belt asteroids 51823 through 51829, all JPL NEAT program discoveries, were named each for a member of the Space Shuttle Columbia's last crew. NASA put out an announcement about this on Aug. 6th, and JPL posted a version of that news release with a graphic of the seven orbits as well as a tribute page with more information. An Associated Press August 6th wire story appeared worldwide, such as at CNN.
      Among the new namings is 25143 Itokawa [link|alt] (1998 SF36), named for the late Hideo Itokawa, a WW-II fighter aircraft designer and post-war brain surgeon turned rocket scientist and founder of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). See Mark Wibe's essay, "Japan's Forty Years in Space: 1955-1995," for biographical details. 25143 Itokawa is the destination of the MUSES-C Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission now en route. On 19 or 20 August, ISAS issued an announcement, stating that the asteroid's discoverer, LINEAR, asked for the naming at the Hayabusa group's request, and this was "approved by IAU this time at last."
      Other new namings include these Main Belt asteroids discovered by Eric W. Elst: 13096 Tigris (1993 BE5), 13963 Euphrates (1991 PT4), and 15417 Babylon (1998 DH34). Name changes were 8220 Nanyou from "Nanyo," 9823 Annantalova from "Annatalova," and 10256 Vredevoogd from "Westerwald." (If these last two sound like familiar names, maybe it's because A/CC reported in May that 10256 Vredevoogd was renamed Westerwald, and then reported in June that 10253 2116 T-2 had been named Westerwald.)
      Japan Today had an Oct. 1st Kyodo News story that Akimasa Nakamura of Kuma Kogen Observatory named Main Belt asteroid 44711 Carp (1999 TD4) for "his favorite baseball team," the Hiroshima Carp.
      JPL posted a page dated Aug. 6th, "A Rock By Any Other Name," about the process and ground rules for approving asteroid names by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN). It states that "there are more than 150,000 asteroids logged with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Minor Planet Center, but less than 10 percent have names," and says that asteroids are being discovered at the rate of 5,000 per month. (Not mentioned is that only numbered asteroids are given official names. As of August 6th, 16.4% of those had been named, or 10,766 out of 65,634.)
      There is more about the naming process in the minutes of the business meeting of IAU Division III, Planetary Systems Sciences, in Sydney, Australia on the 21st of last month. One item is that the CSBN has "requested that minor-planet discoverers limit the number of names submitted for approval to no more than two names per proposer every two months." Another item is that the CSBN has taken control of namings for asteroid satellites, previously the responsibility of the Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature, which handles tasks such as naming Jovian satellites and Mars surface features.
      The minutes report that the first naming approved under this new arrangement is "Linus" for the satellite of 22 Kalliope designated S/2001 (22) 1. It was independently discovered in 2001 on 29 August by Jean-Luc Margot and Mike Brown, and on 2 September by William Merline et al., with the second team reporting it first, as explained in IAUC 7703 of September 3rd and a September 4th report at Astronomy.com.
      In a footnote to Margot and Brown's article in the 20 June 2003 issue of Science Magazine, "A Low-Density M-type Asteroid in the Main Belt" (available as a 100Kb PDF from Mike Brown), they proposed "that the companion be named Linus, who in various Greek mythological accounts is portrayed as the son of Kalliope and the inventor of melody and rhythm." Visit Wm. Robert Johnston's Kalliope page for more info about this asteroid and its satellite.
      Among other items in the Sydney minutes is a move to restructure the relationship between the IAU and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory over management of the Minor Planet Center, and a decision to leave in place the old technical review process of the Working Group on Near Earth Objects.
      For more about August namings, see articles at Astronomy.com 13 Aug. and Sky & Telescope 13 Aug.cookies required. The previous namings and numbers came on June 12th, and the next came on Sept. 12th.


Meteor radar

SpaceWeather.com on August 11th told about Perseid and other meteors being picked up by the U.S. Naval Space Surveillance System, which has the military acronym NAVSPASUR. This constitutes a "fence" across the entire southern U.S. designed to detect all objects of sizes down to 10cm (4") that cross it out to a distance of 24,000 km. (15,000 miles). For more about this, see a Federation of American Scientists (FAS) page on the Naval Space Command, and Tony Crossley's NAVSPASUR pages, which include pictures of one of the radar transmitters and site location maps.
      As noted in those pages, suitably located radio amateurs can pick up the Navy radar reflections for their own analysis of meteor and satellite activity. Richard Horne's shareware Spectrogram program has been used to produce visual results, such as these from Steven Bienvenu: an example distinguishing echoes from satellites and meteors, with more information 21 December 1998 at Science@NASA.
      For more about civilian observation of meteors through TV and radio echoes, visit the Marshall Space Flight Center's Online Meteor Radar page (see also the links at the bottom of that page) and Sam Barricklow's Meteor Radio Echo page. For information about using meteor radar to detect interstellar dust grains, see above.


Meteorites on display

The Azle, Texas News had an Aug. 15th article about the life of the late meteorite collector, Oscar Monnig, which brought to our attention the Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Gallery on the campus of Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth. It is open free to the public and contains examples ("about 10% of the best") from the Monnig collection with its samples from more than a thousand different meteorites. See a TCU Daily Skiff article about the gallery's opening last February, and about curator and meteorite researcher, Arthur Ehlmann.
      Meteorites can be seen on display at some large observatories open to the public, at most museums with geology or space exhibits, and at many stores that sell rocks and fossils. In the U.S., for instance, Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles has a famous collection, the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia has a continuing exhibit, and the Texas Memorial Museum on the University of Texas campus in Austin has a collection of meteorites from the Odessa impact. And then there are dedicated sites such as the Meteorite Museum on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque, and Meteor Crater in northeastern Arizona. Look under "Rock shops" in phone book yellow pages to find local stores that may have meteorites.


High school students discover NEO

2003 QA by Marxuquera Observatory
Marxuquera Observatory image of 2003 QA from a stack of seven frames, each of 45 seconds' exposure. Black and white are inverted, and the background black stars trail on the motion of the object, which is the round dot near center.
The 2003 class at the Visnjan School of Astronomy, a summer workshop for high school students, has discovered an unusual NEO. 2003 QA was announced August 18th in MPEC 2003-Q03. The discovery image can be seen currently on the home page of Croatia's Visnjan Observatory, and follow-up observer Josep Julia Gomez sent the image at right.
      By A/CC's tally, this is the fifth amateur-discovered NEO of 2003, and it ends an eleven-day empty streak during which no new NEOs were reported found by anyone anywhere.
      The students' discovery was made with images from Mallorca Observatory's robotic 0.30m telescope (see a photo by Vadim Burwitz) and followed up by the students using Visnjan's own 0.41m telescope. Instructor Reiner Stoss sent A/CC a copy of his message to the Minor Planet Mailing List (MPMLcookies required) with this account about what happened when his students practiced NEO follow-up using 2100 Ra-Shalom:

The field where the discovery occurred was imaged in the night of Saturday-Sunday. Sunday after lunch I got to sleep for three hours and "my" students began to blink all images of the previous night. When I woke up and went back to Visnjan Observatory they told me that another object is on the images. That it was moving almost as fast as Aten (2100) Ra-Shalom. First I thought it would be just a joke. But I saw that they already had used the New Object Ephemeris Generator (NOEG) to calculate ephemerides for the next night and that they checked it with the MPChecker. They even had all images measured with Astrometrica, which we used intensively the days before. I just took a quick look at one set of images to convince myself that the object was real and then sent it quickly to MPC. 
Three students from Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Croatia are credited in the discovery MPEC: Zsolt Diveki, Petra Korlevic, and Brigitta Sipocz, in addition to adults Korado Korlevic and Reiner Stoss.
      2003 QA is in a lowly-inclined (10.2°) eccentric (e=0.7125) orbit that crosses the paths of Venus, Earth, and Mars, and comes to within about 1 AU of Jupiter. By a rough standard estimation from brightness, 2003 QA may be on the order of 825 meters/yards wide. Or it could be bigger if, as the orbit suggests, it is an inactive comet nucleus, because such objects reflect less light than do most asteroids. See the JPL Orbit Viewer for more about 2003 QA.
      The Web de NEOs page for 2003 QA has an animation made from observations from Pla D'Arguines Observatory.


Miner objects

NASA's In-Space Fabrication and Repair for Exploration under NASA Research Announcement NRA-02-OBPR-03 had an Appendix E, "Materials Science," a 212Kb PDF file released around August 7th. This solicitation, with deadlines in the next two months, comes out of the In-Space Fabrication and Repair Workshop held 8-10 July at the Marshall Institute in Huntsville, Ala., which had the theme, "In-Space Infrastructure Sustenance and Self-Sufficiency."
      Most of the talk is about the Moon and Mars, but asteroids and comets are also part of the broad subject of using "planetary surfaces" as resources for water, oxygen, fuel, metals, radiation shielding, solar panels, and much more. Appendix E says,

Markets for space resources do not currently exist. However, it is clear that space resource development is crucial to the human exploration and development of space. If humans are ever to spend long times in a remote space environment, they will be sustained by space resources, not supplies brought from Earth. . .  [This announcement] seeks to advance the basic research needed for the identification, development, and validation of highly innovative technologies and systems concepts that will open up new options for exploration and commercial development of space based on "living off the land". . .  Smaller, innovative, high-risk, high-payoff studies are desired, and [a] very limited number of larger grants seeking to provide the development of unique capability leading to flight demonstrations will be considered. 
The first step in understanding the resource potential of near-Earth objects is to learn their structural types and makeup. This could begin with low-budget NEO-survey space missions for which there is readily available planning and hardware.


Pluto mission threatened again

SpaceDaily had an Aug. 21st article about "Pluto Mission Might Get Nuked In Growing Budget Crisis," and how the U.S. House of Representatives has yanked $53 million now that will cost later in additional time and expense for less scientific return, especially if Pluto's atmosphere freezes out before the delayed arrival of the New Horizons mission.

This new NASA science budget has already been approved by the full House. If finally approved by the Senate and the White House as well, it would force [a] delay to the backup [launch] opportunity in Feb. 2007 [and] will take almost three years longer to reach Pluto — thus arriving in August 2019 rather than July 2015. 
Author Bruce Moomaw examines the thinking behind the political decision, and how this mission may yet be cancelled along with other U.S. exploration of the outer Solar System until nuclear-electric propulsion (NEP) becomes available, beyond the career spans of many and perhaps most of today's planetary scientists.
      The Planetary Society issued a letter-writing appeal on Sept. 2nd, "Stop Funding Cuts to the Pluto Mission!" SpaceRef.com posted the House committee report Sept. 4th and Space.com picked up the story Sept. 5th, "ISS Budget Trimmed, Pluto Mission Funding Restored," but noted that these Senate Appropriations Committee changes to the NASA budget "are not final."


Risk concerns removed during August 2003

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during August 2003: 2003 MK4, 2003 OC3, 2003 QA31 & 2003 QR79


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