August 2003 Asteroid/Comet/Meteor News
Updated: 2 June 2004
<<July 2003 News ^UP^ September 2003 News>>
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.)
5 August 2003
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.
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
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.
Updates: Astronomy.com had an article Aug. 10th about the Liverpool telescope. Sky & Telescope had an article Aug. 21st 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
High school students discover NEO
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 (MPML) 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.
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."
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