Editor’s note: given the recent highlighting at the NSF GK-12 Annual Meeting of Bremen High School Teacher Aaron McNeely’s asteroid discovery, we here post again his original blog describing the discovery. Aaron has been a Notre Dame QuarkNet associate teacher and an NDeRC master teacher for some years now. We are proud of him and congratulate him on this discovery and this most recent honor. From Aaron’s original post:
How did I discover an asteroid? It’s a long story, and it involves the research that my QuarkNet students and I are performing this summer.
Here is the announcement:
Greetings from the International Astronomical Search Collaboration
Congratulations are in order. On June 13th, A. McNeely & M. McNeely from Quarknet (United States) discovered the Main Belt asteroid 2010 LM109. This was just confirmed by the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University.
This asteroid has an average distance of 2.63 AU and an orbital period of 4.25 years. It varies between 2.31 AU and 2.94 AU from the Sun; however, tt has been disturbed by something (perhaps a collision or gravitational resonant interactions with Jupiter) as its orbit is inclined by 29 degrees to the ecliptic.
Congratulations. Good job!!
Dr. Patrick Miller
Department of Mathematics & Astronomy
Holland School of Science & Mathematics
Abilene, TX 79698
Earlier in the Spring, I had contacted Dr. Miller about having students work in his asteroid program. As members, the students work with image sets to either confirm or discover asteroids. The images are taken at the Astronomical Research Institute in Illinois. The goal is to have high school students working with asteroid data and making discoveries.
The data consists of three images taken through either a 24 or 32 inch telescope at the ARI. The images are usually taken about 30 minutes apart, and they are centered on the same part of the sky. These areas are selected based on a prediction that a known asteroid will likely be found in this area. If found, the asteroid’s position is confirmed which helps towards perfecting a model of its orbit and contributing to the process of naming. The potential for discovery exists when an unknown object is found in these images.
The data sets are loaded to folders on the IASC Internet site. Schools from all over the world participate in this project. When data is provided, we download the image files and examine them using software named Astrometrica. This program will load the images and compare them to databases of stars and known asteroids. A function called the “Moving Object Locator” displays each apparent moving object in a separate window. The student’s task is to assess whether each detection is an asteroid or just random noise in the image. The number of hits per data set has ranged from just a few to ninety plus. It can get tedious analyzing ninety plus detections, yet the job gets easier with experience. You can begin to quickly tell whether a hit is potentially valid or not.
Astrometrica Screen Shot
When finished, the students prepare a report for the Minor Planet Center at Harvard. The reports follow a specific format, and I believe they are machine read upon submission. We forward our reports to Dr. Miller who submits them for us.
Since I joined the IASC in mid May, I had been receiving data sets before the QuarkNet season started. Data needs to analyzed and results sent within two days of receiving. I analyzed about 6-7 data sets before we started at QuarkNet. The data set that I analyzed on June 13, the night before QuarkNet started, was the discovery set.
I was initially disappointed that my students hadn’t made the discovery, but it can serve as an example that it is possible. I always stressed that it was probably a remote chance.
After the discovery announcement, I asked Dr. Miller what would happen next. He replied: “The asteroid has to be followed through four oppositions at which point it can be named. That process takes 5-6 years, I’m afraid. These observations require that the orbit be known to within specified tolerances before the asteroid is officially numbered.
My eight-year old daughter Miranda has been working with me on these data sets. I told her that, if we discovered an asteroid, that I would allow her to pick the name. Hopefully the successive observations will work out, it still seems rather tentative. But 2010 LM109 is a valid discovery recognized by the Minor Planet Center. This is all very exciting and unexpected. Thanks.
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