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The Asteroid/Comet Connection's daily news journal about asteroids, comets & meteors   –   15-30 November 2004

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30 November 2004 - Tuesday

Meteor news:  Fifty years ago today, a woman in Sylacauga, Alabama was hit by a meteorite that came through her roof (see Mark Bostick's news article collection). And this event is noted in a piece at the Times of India today in telling about an October 29th fall in "Nandgao village in Valsad district in Gujarat" (see A/CC's first report). It says that scientists first learned of the "1.7-kg, darkhued meteorite" when locals "approached the authorities for permission to build a temple" for it.

Mission news:  The Kennedy Space Center Deep Impact launch preparation gallery has photos of the first two of three sets of three strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRBs) being positioned yesterday.
      The Planetary Society has a rambling interview with John Zarnecki posted yesterday. Most of it is an interesting discussion of what goes into being the principal investigator of a planetary science instrument, specifically the Science Surface Package (SSP) aboard the Huygens Titan probe. Zarnecki, who worked on the Giotto comet mission, is also deputy principal investigator for the Ptolemy instrument on the Rosetta comet lander

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC carries observations of only five unnumbered objects from four observatories, all from yesterday morning through early today. 2004 VD17 was reported from observatories in Connecticut and Slovakia, and today its NEODyS and JPL overall risk ratings rose slightly. Both risk monitors since 22-23 November have had a 4 May 2091 impact solution rated at Torino Scale 1, a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring," and both today also elevated a solution for the same day in 2095 to TS-1. (An "impact solution" is not a prediction but rather a possibility that hasn't yet been eliminated. The impact hazard risk monitoring process consists of identifying such possibilities and eliminating them through further observation and analysis.)



29 November 2004 - Monday

Meteor news:  An AP wire story at Albuquerque TV stations KOB-TV and KOAT-TV today tells about Barbara Cohen, of the University of New Mexico Institute of Meteoritics, finding a newly-classified lunar meteorite "while trolling the barren Antarctica landscape" during last December-January. Update: posted a longer version of the AP story on 30 November.

Naming:  BBC tells today of the naming of Main Belter 15614 Pillinger (2000 GA143) for the "scientist behind the failed Beagle 2 landing," Colin Pillinger. This naming was in the batch of September 29th (news).

Readings: has an article today on some big questions about the structure of minor objects (see also links in "NEO news" below). And has a piece today about taking human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. It reports some provocative expert opinions about the need for NASA, its field centers, and the three remaining big U.S. aerospace companies to reinvent themselves or disappear. Among those quoted is retired U.S. Air Force general Pete Worden, a prominent proponent of NEO missions.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of 2004 VD17 from Petit Jean Mountain Observatory in Arkansas yesterday morning, and today both NEODyS and JPL slightly raised their risk assessments. JPL actually updated twice today, beginning this morning UT (still Sunday in Pasadena) with yesterday's new observation data.



28 November 2004 - Sunday

Mission news:  The Seattle Times is carrying today a recent Baltimore Sun article previewing the Deep Impact comet mission. Florida Today has an article today about growing cost estimates for a robotic Hubble Space Telescope (HST) repair mission. And Florida Today reported Friday about problems in preparing the New Horizons Pluto mission related to launch timing and onboard power. It notes some difficulty in determining the full effect of receiving less plutonium than specified in the mission design. Not all of the spacecraft components have been delivered yet, so "it's not clear just how much power they will require," and power output from the plutonium they do get will decrease with any delay in arriving at Pluto.

Earth impacts:  The Kalispell, Montana Daily Inter Lake has an article today telling of a theory that the Yucatan impact 65 million years ago "led to coal formation in the Williston Basin [which] underlies most of northeastern Montana and the western half of North Dakota... the largest known deposit of lignite in the world."
      The New Zealand Herald has an article from yesterday about "one of a handful of places on the globe where you can see rocks that were laid down just before, during and immediately after something awful that happened 251 million years ago [when] 90 per cent of the living species that existed at that time were wiped out." It reports that a related impact hypothesis announced earlier this year (see report) "has been roundly attacked." This identified the Bedout geological structure off Australia's northwestern coast as being formed by an impact around the time of the end-Permian extinction.

Risk monitoring:  There was no risk monitoring news to report yesterday, Saturday the 27th. Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observations of 2004 VD17 early yesterday from Desert Moon Observatory in New Mexico. Today NEODyS has updated its risk assessment for this object.



26 November 2004 - Friday

NEO news:  The University of Arizona has a news release today about an answer to "why Eros, the largest near-Earth asteroid, has so few small craters." Graduate student James E. Richardson Jr. "concludes from modeling studies that seismic shaking has obliterated about 90 percent of the asteroid's small impact craters, those less than 100 meters in diameter... When a one-to-two-meter or larger object hits Eros, the impact will set off global seismic vibrations... A rock-and-dust layer creeps, rather than crashes, down shaking slopes because of Eros' weak gravity... Very slowly, over time, impact craters fill up and disappear." For a lot more about 433 Eros, see Richardson's page on 433 Eros Surface Gravitational Properties (a wonderfully illustrated, big download), and visit the NEAR Shoemaker mission site.

Meteor news: has an article from Wednesday about a lunar meteorite that, dated at 2.865 billion years, is "substantially younger" than any other lunar meteorite or sample. Northwest Africa 773 (NWA 773) is believed to have come from the Procellarum KREEP Terrane, "an area on the Moon's western hemisphere with a unique geochemical identity, marked by rocks rich in potassium (K), rare-earth elements (REE), and phosphoros [sic] (P)."
      About an account and photograph of a possible meteorite strike on a wharf lamp in Darwin, in northern Australia (see below), Herb Raab comments to A/CC:  The story is problematic, to say the least. First, a meteorite of the size of "a grain of sand" would have reached terminal velocity high in the Earth's atmosphere, falling down vertically (maybe with some offset due to wind drift) in free fall, but not nearly at a speed of 30,000km/h. I doubt that this could cause any kind of "explosion," as the image suggests. Furthermore, there is no light emission from a meteorite after reaching terminal velocity. Even meteorites of several hundred kilograms mass fall to Earth in "dark flight" after they have lost their cosmic velocity. If the piece were larger, on the other hand, you should have numerous witness reports from sonic booms, cloud trails, and probably sightings of a daytime fireball — and a sizeable meteorite waiting to be picked up in an impact pit right beneath the lamp.
      Marco Langbroek concurs:  A sand-grain sized particle would not hit with cosmic speeds. A large object would seriously damage the lamppost, and it is not easy to see why it would create a bright flash, since, as Herbert points out, it would hit while in "dark flight" phase. Meteorites do not explode; they hit, shatter, and/or bounce off.

Risk monitoring:  New observations of 2004 VD17 were reported today from this morning and over the previous two days, and today both risk monitors slightly lowered their risk ratings for this object.


25 November 2004 - Thursday

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of 2004 VD17 from early and late Tuesday, and JPL and NEODyS have very slightly raised their overall risk ratings for this object.



24 November 2004 - Wednesday

Meteor news:  No new information has yet come to A/CC's attention about a possible tiny meteorite impact caught by camera. The same article text (see below) has appeared at several Australian news outlets, but is now accompanied by a picture, such as at today.

Deep Impact:  The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) page with expendable launch vehicle and payload processing status reports is now showing that the Deep Impact comet mission launch date has been moved from December 30th to "No earlier than January 8, 2005" in order "to allow more time for evaluation of mission software." Apparently extra time is also needed for general preparations, although "there are no significant problems." Spaceflight Now has a report today. This mission has been dogged by problems with its onboard computers and software, which have remarkably difficult tasks to perform, but the problems were reported to have been all solved prior to the spacecraft leaving Ball Aerospace last month. Update:  See also a KSC November 24th news release posted sometime subsequently (December 2nd?) at the Deep Impact Web site.

Numbers & names:  The IAU Periodic Comet Numbers page, "last updated on 2004 Nov. 22," is showing two new numberings: 161P/Hartley-IRAS, previously known as P/1983 V1 and P/2004 V2, and 162P/Siding Spring, the former P/2004 TU12. Also dated the 22nd is an update to the Numbered Minor Planets Discovery Circumstances pages. There are 76 new namings, from 3635 Kreutz (1981 WO1) to what is now the highest numbered minor planet to have a name, 90528 Raywhite (2004 FE19). Some other namings include 17032 Edlu (1999 FM9) and 17033 Rusty (1999 FR9), 31414 Rotarysusa (1999 AV22), 33750 Davehiggins (1999 RD2), and 63163 Jerusalem (2000 YR11), as well as the large distant object, 90482 Orcus (2004 DW) — see "Darn Wide" coverage. No new minor planet numberings were issued. The most recent previous namings came October 27th, and the previous comet numbering September 29th (news).

Distant binary:  Sky & Telescope has an article from yesterday reporting that Scott Sheppard and David Jewitt have concluded, after studying Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt object 2001 QG298 with 2.2m and 10m telescopes, that it is probably a contact binary. "Its brightness varies by a whopping 1.14 magnitude every 6.89 hours," which is best explained by "two roughly spherical and equal-sized bodies ... very close together" and eclipsing each other as seen edge-on to the rotation.

Extrasoloar news:  A European Southern Observatory news release today tells that, "Thanks to a hundred-fold increase in angular resolution with the VLTI" (VLT Interferometer), astronomers can now resolve the infrared spectra of some protoplanetary disks well enough to distinguish between regions of "pristine" interstellar dust and larger "processed" grains, as found with three stars "in a state possibly very similar to that of our solar system in the making, some 4,500 million years ago." The disks' inner regions were found to be "very rich in crystalline silicate grains ('sand') with an average diameter of about 0.001 mm. [The] meteorites in our own solar system are mainly composed of this kind of silicate." These "observations also have implications for the study of comets" as regards "how processed dust grains may end up in comets" and whether long-period comets are "truly pristine bodies, dating back to an era when the Earth and the other planets had not yet been formed."

Risk monitoring:  NEODyS and JPL updated their 2004 VD17 risk assessments today.



23 November 2004 - Tuesday

Meteor news:  The Darwin, Australia Northern Territory News has an item dated tomorrow telling about what may be an accidental photographic record of a tiny meteorite impacting a lamp post on a Darwin wharf "Monday evening." It says an inspection of the lamp post top is planned. The amateur photographer had been engaged in making time-lapse cloud photos.

Comet news:  MPEC 2004-W38 today shows that an object previously categorized as asteroidal, but with a very eccentric orbit (e=0.9972), has been found exhibiting cometary activity, and has been named and redesignated as C/2004 RG113 (LINEAR). It is calculated to come to perihelion next March 3rd out past Mars at 1.9423 AU.

Deep Impact:  Spaceflight Now has a report from yesterday about "Deep Impact's launcher begins to take shape," telling about yesterday's raising of the first stage rocket (see more below) and previewing how preparations will proceed. See also NASA Kennedy Space Center's Processing Notes with steps and dates.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update (DOU) MPEC reports observation of 2004 VD17 this morning from McCarthy Observatory in Connecticut as well as additional observations from the 17th and 18th elsewhere. It wasn't until after 1700 UTC (9am in Pasadena, 6pm in Pisa) that JPL was first to post an updated assessment for 2004 VD17, very slightly raising its overall risk ratings.
      Update:  Sometime after 1739 UTC, NEODyS updated its 2004 VD17 risk assessment and has now joined in elevating this object to Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring"), also for a single impact solution in the year 2091. This marks a change in risk analysis at NEODyS, which noted in today's 2004 VD17 assessment that "The search for VIs has been extended to 2100 to crosscheck the results obtained by Sentry." NEODyS had had a fixed 2080 time horizon until now. (JPL/Sentry has a moving hundred-year time horizon, presently into November 2104.)
      Today's DOU doesn't report new observations of 2004 WG1, but this object was added to the European Spaceguard Central Node's Priority List yesterday with the notation that it will be in view until February 4th.

Reader's note:  Amateur NEO observer Jeffrey Sue writes:  After I read about the change in CBAT's online access [to IAUCs] and the need for funding, I was motivated to donate to the MPC. In email with Brian Marsden after my contribution, I began to realize how precarious the financial situation at MPC and CBAT was. I'm forwarding one of his emails to me. Could you please publicize their plight, and ask for more contributions and/or subscriptions? I really value what the MPC does in coordinating the world's observations of asteroids. Where would we all be without this coordination?
      Brian Marsden's message, reproduced with his permission:  Yes, it's no secret that there's some question as to how much longer we shall be able to pay all of Gareth [Williams], Tim [Spahr] and Kyle [Smalley], as well as Dan [Green] at the CBAT. All four of them do great work over long hours, as we try to keep both the MPC and CBAT responsive for almost all 168 hours per week. And as the work increases, we need more staff, not less! I'm the only one with a permanent position, and the money for my salary will probably "disappear" when I retire — and I'm already past the age when "most people" retire. Thanks again — and keep those observations coming along!
      For more about this situation, see news about IAU Circulars November 9th and Dan Green's statement, and also see A/CC's longstanding MPC funding appeal with information about how to donate. Jeffrey Sue, who is in Honolulu, Hawaii, just recently began participating in discovery confirmation and NEO follow-up using Rent-A-Scope remote-controlled telescopes at New Mexico Skies.



22 November 2004 - Monday

Mission news:  The NASA Kennedy Space Center gallery that shows Deep Impact comet mission preparations was updated today with nine photos of the first stage rocket being lifted into a mobile service tower to begin stacking the Delta II launch vehicle for a late-December launch.
      The University of Idaho has a November 17th news item about delivering to the New Horizons Pluto mission a radiation-hardened chip that "will function at the heart of the on-board memory solid-state recorder, encoding stored data in such a manner to detect and correct any upsets as the data is later read back out of the recorder." It was developed at the university's Center for Advanced Microelectronic and Biomolecular Research (CAMBR).

Bits & pieces:  Discovery Channel has an item today about "the largest impact crater field ever found on Earth," in the Egyptian desert. See A/CC's news thread on this subject. tells today about "A New View of What's Out There," reporting that while some experts (e.g., Brown, Jewitt, and Millis) now think "nothing larger than Pluto will be found in the Kuiper Belt," they also believe that there could be larger objects further out — so far out they can't be seen with the telescopes presently used for searching. The article also tells of news earlier this month about downsizing diameter estimates for Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt objects.

Risk monitoring:  Today JPL posted the kilometer-plus 2004 WG1 with a risk assessment similar to that posted by NEODyS yesterday. NEODyS updated its 2004 WG1 assessment with new observations reported in today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC, which also carried new data for 2004 VD17. When JPL today posted its first 2004 VD17 update since new observations became available early yesterday, it elevated the assessment to Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring") for a single impact solution in 2091. This is the first non-zero TS rating since 2004 FU4 was dropped back to TS-0 on April 2nd. David Dixon notes that this assessment was posted at about 2020 UTC, during the lunch hour at JPL in Pasadena.



21 November 2004 - Sunday

Naming:  The second item of a Hampton Roads, Virginia Daily Press column today tells about the naming of Main Belter 16105 Marksaunders (1999 VL211) to honor "Mark Saunders, director of the Exploration Systems and Space Operations Technology Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center." This naming was in the batch announced September 29th (see report) The piece also mentions earlier namings for two co-workers.

Bits & pieces:  A Columbia, Missouri Daily Tribune article today tells about a high school senior's science competition project. Anand Palaniappan wrote software for Pan-STARRS asteroid tracking. "The telescope will send back snapshots that show space objects at different points in time, basically as a collection of dots. Anand's challenge was to find a mathematical way to connect the dots in a series of snapshots, identifying the unique path for tens of thousands of asteroids."
      An Associated Press wire story is appearing at many news outlets, such as at the Macon, Georgia Telegraph yesterday, telling about Hal Povenmire's search for Georgia tektites, which may be associated with the Chesapeake Bay impact (Index). See also items at the Central States Archaeological Societies Journal April 2002 and Meteorite Times May 2002.

Risk monitoring:  NEODyS today posted 2004 WG1, a kilometer-plus object with 40 highly preliminary impact solutions that begin in April 2006, less than two years from now. (Impact solutions are not predictions but rather possibilities that haven't yet been eliminated, and most solutions are soon removed with further observation.) This object was discovered by LINEAR in New Mexico Friday morning. It was confirmed early yesterday by Sabino Canyon Observatory in Arizona and last night by CINEOS in Italy and Herrenberg Observatory in Germany, and was announced in MPEC 2004-W23 very early today.
      NEODyS also updated its risk assessment for 2004 VD17 after today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reported observations from 15-21 November from no fewer than thirteen observing facilities.
      (JPL changed the date on its main risk pages earlier but, as of 0626 UTC — 10:26pm Sunday night in Pasadena, JPL hadn't updated its listings with the day's new data.)



20 November 2004 - Saturday

Bits & pieces:  The New Milford, Connecticut Spectrum has an item from yesterday about aurora seen locally early on November 10th, and the reporter checked with NEO-watching John J. McCarthy Observatory to learn more about the phenomenon.
      BBC has a November 18th piece about fighting light pollution in Oxfordshire, England.
      Sky & Telescope has an article from November 16th about an Advanced Imaging Conference for astrophotographers that was held in San Jose, California in early November, attended by 140 people. Another get-together is planned for next year.

Risk monitoring:  JPL and NEODyS today updated their 2004 VD17 risk assessments.



19 November 2004 - Friday

Florida event:  WKMG-TV Orlando tells today about an unexplained "bright streak of light" seen by "hundreds" over central Florida this morning. Florida Today in Melbourne reports that "The object was traveling from north to south in the northeast quadrant of the sky" at around 5:40am EST. It also provides several witness statements, all of which speak of the brightness and some mention a trail. One says the light was bright enough to cast shadows, and it appeared that "the meteor was headed ESE."

Mission news:  JAXA has a brief news item dated November 16th on its Hayabusa (MUSES-C) topics page mentioning a 20-22 October "first Hayabusa International Symposium," saying that a report was delivered on the current status of the Hayabusa asteroid mission, and "presentations were made covering the broad areas of science and engineering concerning asteroid probes."
      The ESA Rosetta comet mission posted today its first status report since November 2nd. It notes that "The spacecraft continues to fly in cruise mode which it entered 17 October," but there was some activity in regard to the AOCS (Attitude and Orbit Control System) and SREM (Standard Radiation Environment Monitor), and to prepare for a small trajectory correction maneuver next week.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observations of the two objects currently in view that have impact solutions — 2004 VD17 and 2004 VZ14, and JPL and NEODyS have updated their risk assessments for both. Two positions from Whipple Observatory in Arizona (work coded to Tim Spahr) were reported for 2004 VZ14 from November 10th, within the existing observation arc that currently ends with observations from Great Shefford Observatory in England early on the 13th.



18 November 2004 - Thursday

P/2004 TU12 (Siding Spring) on 14 Nov. 2004 
from Pepe Manteca at Begues Obs. in Spain

Comet news:  Gianluca Masi shows on his NEO page how the tail of P/2004 TU12 (Siding Spring) has been fading, especially near the nucleus, as observed through yesterday by his team. The fading also seems to be indicated by comparing the image here from Pepe Manteca from the 14th at Begues Observatory (see more imagery) with Juan Lacruz's discovery image from the 12th. Masi points out that his imagery from early yesterday shows a slight change in the angle of the tail "at about 3.3' from the head."
      Pepe Manteca's image here is a stack of 42 one-minute exposures during 1848:44 to 1941:25 on the 14th UT, with the tail measured at about 9' long.

Meteor news:  Chris Peterson has obtained a second all-sky video of the bright meteor from the night of the 16th that A/CC reported about yesterday (see below), and has updated his report with new details and saying this was likely "not part of any known debris stream." By putting his video with the other, from a camera at Elizabeth High School 61 miles (98 km.) away, he can calculate altitude and ground path. He tells A/CC that, "Given the low velocity, low height, and large amount of flaring, it is entirely possible that this meteor was throwing off meteorites over a 20-30 mile ground path. Some of that is over prairie."
      George Varros has posted images of a Leonid and a possible Taurid caught with his unique Meteor Tracker two-camera system November 17th over Maryland (times not given).

Risk monitoring:  NEODyS and JPL today updated their risk assessments for 2004 VD17.



17 November 2004 - Wednesday

Meteor news:  Chris Peterson has posted a page with an image and video link of a bright meteor last night. It was caught by his all-sky camera in central Colorado at 8:45 PM MST and was also reported by one eyewitness. He says it "may be associated with the Northern or Southern Taurids" and "probably burned up at high altitude, or even skipped out of the atmosphere entirely."
      Robert Matson tells A/CC that the Kitt Peak all-sky camera in southern Arizona, part of the CONCAM network, caught a couple of pretty good fireballs last night. These cameras with their longer exposures are meant for watching sky conditions but sometimes they also record meteors. Listed on the Kitt Peak camera's 17 November log (coded as HHMMSS) are images from 0701:51 UT (12:01am MST) near Cepheus and 1122:04 UT (4:22am MST) with what looks "like a pretty bright terminal burst near Betelgeuse."
      Looking around at other western-U.S. all-sky sites, Sandia Labs in central New Mexico has a bright meteor from 12:29am MST this morning (672Kb QT movie).
      Update 18 Nov.:  When the Kitt Peak images were brought to Chris Peterson's attention, he commented that it was probably just a coincidence, but "I found the UT 070151 image from Kitt Peak very interesting. The time on this one is the beginning of a three minute exposure, and I have a fairly bright meteor on my Cloudbait camera at UT 070446, which is inside that window... The direction of travel is uncertain with the Kitt Peak image; if the fireball is traveling towards the horizon, then the two events share a radiant near the zenith, perhaps in Aries, quite close to the radiant for the Southern Taurids." He also noted that he had "a dozen Leonids from the morning of Nov 17."
      An item posted at EurekAlert today about the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters mentions an article on "Diurnal and seasonal variability of the meteoric flux at the South Pole measured with radars" (abstract). It says that "Results from a meteor radar system recently installed at the South Pole indicate that most meteoric activity occurs during the Antarctic summer around a very concentrated region of the sky."

Cosmochemistry:  Chemical & Engineering News has an article today about a "new graduate program in astrochemistry, named Reaction Dynamics" at the University of Hawaii to study the "nonintuitive" chemical processes found in interplanetary and interstellar space. The program, which is "interdisciplinary and welcomes students from astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology, and planetary sciences," may start bestowing its own graduate degree next year. One research example is the work of graduate student Corey Jamieson, who "is trying to model the kinetics and mechanisms of reactions that occur on the surface and interior of ices on Pluto and Triton."

Club 1AU:  The Independent of England has an article today about the "Big Splash" theory of how the Moon was formed. It tells how some problems in the theory can be explained if a Mars-size impactor formed at the Earth-Sun L4 or L5 Lagrangian point. And it says the proof could come from a mission to the relatively easily visited 2002 AA29 [alternate link] — possibly "the most valuable chunk of rock in the Solar System." See also a June 21st report.

Miner objects:  Wired News has an article today, "The Final Capitalist Frontier," telling about two recent gatherings related to utilizing space resources. It has a quote from Peter Diamandis, founder of the Ansari X Prize Foundation, predicting that "Robots guided by humans will be mining lunar resources in 12 to 15 years, and asteroids within 20 years." See also's November 10th report.

Risk monitoring:  NEODyS and JPL today updated their risk assessments for 2004 VD17.



16 November 2004 - Tuesday

Binary news:  Brian Warner told the Minor Planet Mailing list (MPML) today that Main Belter 9069 Hovland has been found to be binary, based on work begun by him and being completed with help from others. An early tentative conclusion holds the possibility "that the secondary is elongated and locked in synchronous rotation with the orbital period."

Crater news:  The Ghana Home Page has an item today ("Source: Public Agenda") about how "feverish moves are underway to grant Norcan, a Canadian mining company, the permits it needs to enable it explore the area around [Lake Bosumtwi] for gold deposits. See also a short news thread about this impact crater.

Bits & pieces:  Sky & Telescope has a brief item from yesterday about how P/2004 TU12 (Siding Spring) came to be redesignated as a comet. (See also A/CC's reporting that progessed as news of the discovery developed last Friday.)
      Retired University of Hawaii planetary scientist Jeffrey Bell, in a opinion piece at SpaceDaily yesterday covering several issues, raises the history of the Cassini mission's forgotten twin, the Comet Rendezvous/Asteroid Flyby (CRAF), on which he worked before it was deep-sixed. He states that "probably the most important and unexpected result of the Viking landers [was the] identification of the odd isotope signature in Mars air," which is used today to identify Martian meteorites, and "we now have many pounds of Mars in our laboratories."

Risk monitoring:  One of three objects with active impact risk assessments, 2004 VD17, was updated by NEODyS and JPL after observations were reported in today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC from yesterday from observing facilities in Europe, Japan, and Connecticut. Another of the three, 2004 VM24 was dropped today from the observing campaigns page of the European Spaceguard Central Node (SCN). It had been removed already from the SCN Priority List after last Friday, the 12th, when that page indicated that 2004 VM24 would go out of view on the 14th. (The 12th was the most recent day 2004 VM24 was reported observed, the day it flew past Earth at 2.1 lunar distances). The third active concern, 2004 VZ14, remains on the campaigns page and was last seen early on the 13th. Watch A/CC's CRT page for a running tabulation of risk monitoring details, and you can use the news frame to switch easily between A/CC general news and the CRT.



15 November 2004 - Monday

Comet news:  The Minor Planet Center issued update MPECs today for eight comets. Most interesting of these is MPEC 2004-V79, which announces that split comet P/2003 YM159 (LINEAR-Catalina) has been redesignated and renamed P/2004 V5 (LINEAR-Hill). It reports new observations and also restates earlier observations with the new comet-style designations that, when packed, can properly indicate separate components. See the discovery image and info from the Catalina Sky Survey about Rik Hill's discovery, and also see A/CC's report about the designation packing problem.

Naming:  The Fort Wayne, Indiana Journal Gazette has an article today about the naming of an asteroid for 11-year student science competition finalist Joy Hines. Main Belter 20376 Joyhines (1998 KB44) was in the namings batch made public October 27th.

Fred Whipple:  The Harvard Gazette has an item from November 11th telling that the "Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) will hold a celebration of the life and science of Fred Whipple on Dec. 4." See a thread of earlier news links about the passing of this pioneer of modern minor object science.

Bits & pieces:  New Scientist reports today that scientists have concluded that there really is methane on Mars, and more is said about the previously reported possible but unlikely impact explanation: "gas from a comet with only 2% methane content could persist on Mars for up to 2000 years [to] produce atmospheric levels of methane" comparable to those detected.
      The Yale Daily News has an article today about changes being made at the school for an unusual undergraduate major, a B.A. in astronomy. The program is "designed for students 'interested in the subject as a basis for a liberal education'" headed toward careers such as in teaching, journalism, or civil service. has a report today about the 2009 Mars Telecommunications Orbiter mission and its laser experiment, which is an important part of expanding deep-space communications and moving toward the the Interplanetary Internet (IPN) that will eventually serve minor object missions. It says there are "plans to retrofit Palomar's 5-meter Hale Telescope with an optical receiver to pick up laser transmissions from Mars ... with a secondary site possibly in New Mexico or Arizona [and] an uplink beacon atop Table Mountain near JPL to help the laser payload find its target."
      The government Xinhua news agency posted a photo November 8th of "China's largest domestically developed near-earth objects telescope has been installed," also described as the "world's fifth largest" NEO telescope. No other details, such as location and names, are given.

Risk monitoring:  Risk monitoring's night-and-day cycle of observation and analysis continued routinely this morning, except that much of the related work reported in today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC came from observatories not usually seen participating in the process. GiaGa Observatory in Italy reported 2004 VD17 from both sides of midnight Saturday (13-14 November), and Mataro Observatory in Spain observed this object both early and late yesterday. And 2004 VT60 was reported from Wise Observatory in Israel from late on the 13th, when this object was still listed with impact solutions.
      Camarillo Observatory in California reported 2004 VM24 from early Friday with a set of 26 positions spanning 1.82 hours, all within the existing observation arc. Speaking of which, the NEODyS and JPL assessments for this object have progressed from the beginning using different subsets of reported observations (as of today, 135 vs. 139 of 144 total).
      Pasquale Tricarico tells A/CC today that "A new NEO monitoring system is under development, using distributed computing and based on ORSA. This will provide a third check on NEO impact hazard (when compared with NEODyS and Sentry [JPL]) and will allow the public to take part in the computational effort needed to monitor NEOs." He has posted a poster (314Kb PDF) via his ORSA@work page that says "the Celestial Mechanics and impact hazard monitoring algorithms from ORSA are still under development, and probably a few months of work are still needed. We estimate the public availability of clients not earlier than spring 2005."

Editor's note:  In working with the new format for presenting news begun this month, the news stack was getting to be a bit of a large download (files totalling 147Kb) for people with slow connections. We want current news to come up fast for everyone, so we have begun a new stack today, on the 15th.

[ previous news: 14 November 2004 ]   [ top ]
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