NDeRC Asteroid Research, Summer 2011
posted by: Aaron McNeely
Along with variable stars, our students Shane and Adam also became involved with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC). The IASC is an educational outreach program for high schools and colleges that provides opportunities for asteroid research and discovery.
The asteroid searches are organized by season, and a number of provincial and international schools participate. Each school has a folder located at http://iasc.hsutx.edu/index.htm. Participants are required to check their folders regularly for new asteroid data. The data files consist of CCD images taken through telescopes located at the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI), Westfield IL. The ARI operates a 24 and a 32-inch telescope for data collection.
Each data set consists of three CCD images. The images display the same star field, but are separated in time by a few minutes. The task for students is to identify any objects that appear to move and determine if they could logically be an asteroid. The students use a software package named Astrometrica for moving object detection. Asteroids appear as diffuse points and not as single pixels. There are various imposter signals that the students sort through.
The students made asteroid confirmations, observations, and three discoveries. Confirmations involve further observations to confirm those of a previous group. Observations consist of determining the positions of known asteroids in order to refine the accuracy of their orbital models. Discoveries occur when asteroid signals appear in the data sets that do not belong to any known object. With the IASC, discoveries generally occur 2-3 times per observing season.
Recent accomplishments of IASC groups are maintained at the following site:
For the summer, our students provided three observations of known asteroids:
2011 KW19, 07/10/11
2011 LA19, 07/12/11
2011 LC19, 07/22/11
Our students also made three preliminary discoveries:
2011 TOV486, 07/26/11
2011 TOV484, 07/26/11
2011 TOV50U, 08/01/11
Our preliminary discoveries will be vetted over a 4-5 year process where the asteroids are reobserved over one complete orbit period. Eventually, if the objects are confirmed, the students will be able to select names for their discoveries.
I need to stress that many of the data sets bore no tangible results. Our student researchers processed many data sets to obtain the results listed above.
To summarize, our students made three preliminary asteroid discoveries and three observations of known asteroids. Also, Shane and Adam agreed to continue the asteroid campaign into the school year, so more results similar to the above may be forthcoming.
The following is a link to my summer research paper which was presented in early August. This blog entry is a revised sample of text from my original paper.