Old Cat.

Sept. 2003 Asteroid/Comet/Meteor News

Updated: 31 May 2004
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1 September 2003

The European Southern Observatory issued a news release today, "New Image of Comet Halley in the Cold," with the first image of 1P/Halley [link|alt] since 1994. This imagery of the inactive nucleus was created from observations from "three consecutive nights, yielding 81 individual exposures with a total exposure time of almost 9 hours" at Cerro Paranal in Chile using all three Very Large Telescope (VLT) 8.2m telescopes combined. This work is credited to Olivier Hainaut et al., a byproduct of a census of extremely faint trans-Neptunian objects.

At 28.06 AU heliocentric distance . . . this is by far the most distant observation ever made of a comet. It is also the faintest comet ever detected (by a factor of about 5). . .  Interestingly, when Comet Halley reaches its largest distance from the Sun in December 2023, about 35 AU, it will only be 2.5 times fainter than it is now. The comet would still have been detected within the present exposure time. This means that with the VLT, for the first time in the long history of this comet, the astronomers now possess the means to observe it at any point in its 76-year orbit!
      The brightness of the comet was measured as visual magnitude V = 28.2. . .  In total, about 20,000 photons were detected from the comet, i.e. about one photon per 8.2-m telescope every 1.6 second. 
Astrobiology Magazine had a Sept. 2nd report, and had one on Oct. 3rd. (Astrobiology's headline, "Coma for Halley's Comet," is a bit misleading, as no coma was observed.)

4 September 2003

A Keck Observatory news release tells about using adaptive optics on the 10m Keck II telescope on 26 Dec. 2002 to make the first high-resolution images showing 511 Davida [link|alt] and its rotation.

5 September 2003

News releases were issued 5 Sept. by Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI, link) and the European Space Agency (ESA link) about "Hubble Assists Rosetta Comet Mission," saying that "Results from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope played a major role in preparing ESA's ambitious Rosetta mission for its new target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko," deriving shape, rotation, and possible landing area information. No images from the Hubble observations during 11-12 March 2003 are presented, but profiles are shown from an interesting 3D model of the nucleus. (The two news releases differ on the kind of sports equipment this object resembles — a football or rugby ball.)
      Astrobiology Magazine had a Sept. 7th report. For more info, see the A/CC Rosetta archive and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko [link|alt].

6 September 2003

A Sept. 6th Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) news release (also issued by the University of Pennsylvania on EurekAlert Sept. 6th) tells of three objects — 2003 BF91, BG91, and BH91 — discovered by Gary Bernstein et al. with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and announced in MPEC 2003-P05 of August 2nd. Today these are described as the "Farthest, Faintest Solar System Objects Found Beyond Neptune," ranging "in size from 15-28 miles (25-45 km) across." The MPEC shows low-eccentricity orbits with semimajor axes between 42.75 and 43.97 AU.
      In searching for "planetesimals that are much smaller and fainter than can be seen from ground-based telescopes," the researchers "expected to find at least 60 Kuiper Belt members as small as 10 miles (15 km) in diameter — but only three were discovered." Bernstein is quoted as saying, that this "makes it difficult to understand how so many comets appear near Earth, since many comets were thought to originate in the Kuiper Belt."
      The news release includes HST images of another EKBO, 2000 FV53, and a nicely done illustration, a 125Kb JPEG, shows how the orbits of these three newly discovered objects relate to FV53 and Pluto, and to the outer planets.
      New Scientist had a Sept. 6th report, and BBC on Sept. 8th. Sky & Telescope's Sept. 17thcookies required article, "Where Are the Faintest Kuiper Belt Objects?" says that recent news "helps confirm that our solar system has an edge at around 50 a.u. — there are very few, if any, large objects beyond that point." That might be better said as "our immediate solar system," if one accepts the existence of the Oort Cloud.
      The preprint of a scientific article submitted for publication about this work is available as a 524Kb PDF file. Also interesting is Gary Bernstein's Kuiper Belt Movie page.

7 September 2003

The Washington Post had a Sept. 7th article [no longer available], "Telescope Puts Mexico in 'Big Leagues,'" telling about progress in the construction of the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) between Veracruz and Puebla, Mexico. "After four years of construction, a $100 million radio telescope with an antenna nearly 165 feet in diameter . . . is taking shape." This joint project of the U.S. University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Mexico National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics is a 50m radio antenna located in an inactive volcano crater at 4,640m (15,220 ft.) above sea level.
      When finished (in "a year or two," the Washington Post says), the project's many scientific goals include studies of comets and asteroids. Its BOLOCAM instrument is to investigate the physical nature of comets, how much free metal exists in asteroid surfaces, and "Do gradients in the amount of free iron exist within the asteroid belt?"

The LMT, equipped with BOLOCAM, will be able to make routine detections of hundreds of asteroids. In drift scanning mode the LMT can detect all asteroids larger than 30km in diameter in the main asteroid belt with a single scan. Longer integrations, on targeted objects, would enable measurements of any of the numbered asteroids in the main asteroid belt. 

10 September 2003

A "powerful blast that shook Nanaimo [British Columbia] from stem to stern" early Wednesday afternoon [the 10th] was reported by the Globe and Mail Sept. 11th as probably from explosives, with the sound possibly refracted from some distance away. The CBC reported Sept. 12th that the cause "was likely a small meteor." has an article Sept. 10th, "Fresh Spin on Solar Powered Asteroids," telling about research soon to be published that uses solar heating to explain the odd spin orientations reported last September (see A/CC links) for small members of the Koronis Family in the asteroid Main Belt.

12 September 2003 had an article Sept. 12th, "Surprising Impacts on Mars and Europa," telling that use of crater counting on major bodies for estimating surface ages, as well as impact frequencies, may require some revision, because secondary impacts from the debris of primary impacts haven't been sufficiently considered. Among possible conclusions is that "the lack of small primary craters [in the Jovian system] may indicate a scarcity of small objects in the Kuiper Belt."

The Minor Planet Center updated its Discovery Circumstances pages on Sept. 12th with new names and numbers. There were 54 new namings, including 24648 Evpatoria (1985 SG2) and 42377 KLENOT (2002 EU2). And there were 3,595 new numberings, now topping out at 69229. Among these are PHOs 65909 1998 FH12 and 68950 2002 QF15, binary NEOs 66063 1998 RO1 and 66391 1999 KW4, and binary EKBO 66652 1999 RZ253. The highest numbered asteroid publicly named is now Rafael Ferrando's 64553 Segorbe (2001 WR15). Meanwhile, the lowest numbered asteroid not yet publicly named, as reader Dale Ferguson recently brought to A/CC's attention, remains 3360 1981 VA.
      New numberings were last posted on June 12th, while namings were last announced on August 6th. The next namings came on October 8th.

15 September 2003

Comet discoverer (144P/Kushida) and meteor radio observer Yoshio Kushida was in the news for predicting a Richter Scale 7+ earthquake for Tokyo during 16-17 Sept. See an Associated Press report run Sept. 15th at CNN as "Astronomer tips major Tokyo quake." This comes out of his work studying meteor trail reflections of VHF radio signals. This didn't comet to pass, but Tokyo had an earthquake at 1pm local on the 20th said to be 4.7 on the Richter Scale (see a CNN report).

16 September 2003

The Chandra Observatory space telescope mission put out a Sept. 16th news release, "Lunar Prospecting With Chandra."'s report, "Moon X-rays Seen by Chandra," mentions that the same "technique could also be turned on asteroids" to study their composition. While that isn't likely using Chandra, comets have attracted some X-ray observing time. Chandra looked at comet C/1999 S4 (LINEAR) in 2000 (see a Chandra Photo Album page and the links there), and the EMM-Newton X-ray telescope studied C/1999 T1 (McNaught-Hartley) in early 2001 (see an ESA 21 March 2001 news release).

17 September 2003

Several news sites carried an Associated Press article on Sept. 17th (e.g., NEPA News and WPVI-TV) about Calvin College senior Andrew Vanden Heuvel and his discovery of 2003 RA11. He found it while studying the rotation of 3091 van den Heuvel, which is named for a University of Amsterdam astronomer. The "hook" for the AP article, used in some headlines, is "college student finds asteroid, but can't name it after self." This missed the point that asteroids are almost never named for their discoverers, but, still, it was a nice story, and the observatory has posted a page with a stacked image and movie from the discovery. The college in Grand Rapids, Michigan put out a news release on Sept. 17th.

18 September 2003

Typo of the day:  Typographical errors can sometimes have their own truth, such as this about

the massive meteorite that left a huge scare in the landscape
which was in reference to Australia's Wolf Creek Crater, from a Sept. 18th article at the Esperance Express.

21 September 2003

Every general news and space/astronomy news site carryied before and after reports about the demise of NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which was purposely sent into Jupiter's atmosphere yesterday. From A/CC's special news focus on minor objects, we want to note the passing of the spacecraft that was first to visit an asteroid (951 Gaspra in 1991), first to discover an asteroid satellite (243 [1] Dactyl, found 1994 in 1993 images), and provided a special viewpoint for the 1994 Jupiter impact of D/1993 F2 (Shoemaker-Levy 9). This work alone would have been revolutionary science, but it may seem "small potatoes" when considered alongside the massive body of stunning work done by Galileo in the years since in pursuing its main mission of studying the jovian system.
      See JPL's news releases of Sept. 17th, "Galileo to Taste Jupiter Before Taking Final Plunge," and Sept. 21st, "Galileo End of Mission Status." Most news reports derived from those two releases, but there was something different and special published on Sept. 15th at the Sydney Morning Herald, telling of the personal perspective of Peter Churchill, director of the NASA Deep Space Network Tidbinbilla station near Canberra, Australia.

23 September 2003

The Fayetteville Morning News had Sept. 23rd article, "Paragould Meteorite Stays On Campus For Now," reporting that the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and Planetary Sciences (CSAPS) has a new building at the University of Arkansas (UA) that will become home to the 300 kg. (800-lb.) object that fell near a northeastern Arkansas farmhouse in 1930. Chemistry professor and CSAPS Director Derek Sears has come to an agreement with the Field Museum in Chicago to keep the meteorite on loan after the UA Museum, which has held it, closes soon.
      CSAPS has been mentioned in earlier A/CC news about its Hera multi-NEO space mission proposal. And see David Weir's Meteorite Studies for more info about the Paragould Meteor.

24 September 2003

Sky & Telescope had a Sept. 24thcookies required article, "A Bizarro 'Cometoid'," about a transitional object known as both comet 133P/Elst-Pizarro and Main Belt asteroid 7968 Elst-Pizarro. It reports on the work of Henry Hsieh et al. (abstract) and notes that "Explaining how a comet could originate in the outer solar system and end up circling among the asteroids has posed a daunting, and yet unsolved, problem of orbital dynamics." An alternate explanation for Elst-Pizarro's comet-like activity is water or dust excavated by an impact on an ordinary Main Belt asteroid, and thus becoming, per Richard Binzel's terminology, an "activated asteroid."

29 September 2003

The Associated Press has a wire story today (see the Advocate/WBRZ-TV or Times-Picayune) that a New Orleans, Louisiana resident came home last Tuesday (September 23rd) to find his newly renovated bathroom looking like "like an artillery shell had hit." Tulane University has now identified the culprit as probably a stony meteorite. Neighbors had heard a loud crash just after 4pm local time.
2 Oct. update: The Times-Picayune in an article [no longer online] titled, "Millions of pennies from heaven," reports today that "No sooner had Tulane University geologist Stephen Nelson declared the rock a meteorite than offers began pouring in to buy pieces of it at sky-high prices: $25,000 to $50,000 a chunk." That rock is the one that wrecked a New Orleans bathroom last week and now "has been moved into a secure storage facility."
12 Oct. update: The Washington Post has a must-read article, available at the Arizona Republic today, "Meteorite Falls, and Peace Goes Through the Roof" (and at the Houston Chronicle October 13th), telling about the ongoing adventure of having one's bathroom smashed by a meteor, as happened in New Orleans on September 23rd.

Provided you are not flattened like a pancake, you might even get rich. But you may want to start screening your calls and doing some homework, because you have just become a bit player in a multimillion-dollar enterprise — the strange, impassioned, big-budget commerce in interplanetary objects. 
Additional links: the University of New Mexico Institute of Meteoritics and Stephen Nelson at Tulane University.
31 May 2004 update: Acquisition reported.

Extending the Search for NEOs to Smaller Diameters

The JPL NEO Program Office posted an executive summary on Sept. 10th, "NASA Releases Near-Earth Object Search Report," announcing the Study to Determine the Feasibility of Extending the Search for Near-Earth Objects to Smaller Limiting Diameters, which is available in full as a 1.21Mb PDF file. It comes from the Near-Earth Object Science Definition Team headed by Grant Stokes of MIT/LINEAR and eleven other NEO experts from several institutions, including U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Peter Worden, plus support staff.

NASA considers the Science Definition Team's findings to be preliminary, and a much more in-depth program definition, refining objectives and estimating costs, would need to be conducted prior to any decision to continue Spaceguard projects beyond the current effort to 2008.
     . . .
“ The Team recommends that the search system be constructed to produce a catalog that is 90% complete for potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) larger than 140 meters.
     . . .
The Team's analysis . . . leads the Team to the conclusion that, at least for the next generation of NEO surveys, the limited resources available for near-Earth object searches would be better spent on finding and cataloging Earth-threatening near-Earth asteroids and short-period comets. A NEO search system would naturally provide an advance warning of at least months for most threatening long-period comets.
     . . .
[The] Team identified several systems that would eliminate, at varying rates, 90% of the risk for sub-kilometer NEOs, with costs ranging between $236 million and $397 million.
     . . .
Telescope apertures of 1, 2, 4, and 8 meters were considered for ground-based search systems along with space-based telescopes of 0.5, 1, and 2 meter apertures. Various geographic placements of ground-based systems were studied as were space-based telescopes in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and in solar obits [sic] at the Lagrange point beyond Earth and at a point that trailed the planet Venus. had a report on Sept. 14th, "Spaceguard: Five Years and Counting," and the Christian Science Monitor for Sept. 18th, "Scientists track space junk to avert pretty-big-bangs."

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