May 2002 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 15 November 2002
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2 May 2002

2002 HW was removed May 2nd from the JPL Risks page. The next day, the Spaceguard Central Node (SCN) observing campaigns page was updated to say that, thanks to KLENOT, all the collision solutions seem to have disappeared, according to [JPL]. Nevertheless we need additional observations over the next two weeks to make [HW's] current orbital solution and its risk assessment much stronger.

7 May 2002

How does asteroid and comet research funding fit into the NASA budget, including the effort to discover near-Earth asteroids and the tension between observatory and space probe funding? Ed Grondine has written at length about all this on the Cambridge-Conference Network, and updated his reporting in the 7 May edition of Cambridge Conference Correspondence. It refers back to a 12 Feb. 2002 essay, and mentions funding for a new Spacewatch project.

8 May 2002 reported about a proposal for a free-flying, ISS-based "Submillimetron" orbital telescope. It would operate in the teraHertz waveband, between infrared and microwave frequencies. Besides its conventional astronomy chores and side tasking to search for extraterrestrial civilizations, it is also being pitched as able to detect cold-body minor objects in our own Solar System but at great distances from the Sun. This could include spotting Earth-threatening objects long before they become visible to observing facilities with today's capabilities.

9 May 2002

Comet P/Yeung (2002 BV) announced, credited as discovered by William K. Yeung as asteroidal on January 21st, and correllated with even earlier observations. It was the fourth comet to be discovered by amateur astronomers in 2002, and the second from Arizona.

13 May 2002

Comet C/NEAT (2002 J4) announced, nine days after discovery.

17 May 2002

Comet C/NEAT (2002 K1) announced, the day after its discovery.

18 May 2002

LINEAR scored twice with IAU announcements of distant comets LINEAR C/2002 J5 and K2, respectively discovered three and two days earlier.

23 May 2002 reported 23 May that there will be an attempt later this year to "reboot" the NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft on 433 Eros. Although not designed to make a landing, it was settled onto Eros on 12 Feb. 2001 following a year of orbiting the asteroid. After 16 days on the surface, it was put into hibernation. Eros will make its next close approach to Earth on this coming September 23rd at about 249 lunar distances (0.64 AU, see the JPLorbit viewer).

23-27 May 2002's 6 June report on the 23-27 May International Space Development Conference includes comments by Daniel Durda of the Southwestern Research Institute about the challenges and opportunities for human exploration of near-Earth asteroids. He cites 1991 VG as an especially attractive destination for a short and relatively low-energy expedition that could all take place within 4.5 lunar distances of Earth.

24 May 2002

In the 24 May updating of Discovery Circumstances by IAU Minor Planet Center, 3,001 newly-numbered asteroids were added up through 42463 5601 T-3. New namings included 37582 Faraday, originally designated 1990 TT3, and 37608 Lons (1992 SY16) became the highest-numbered publicly named asteroid.

31 May 2002

JPL added 1997 XR2 to the top of its Risks page at Torino Scale 1 ("merits special monitoring"), where it has remained into late June 2002.

Lowell's Deep Ecliptic Survey at work

Using big telescopes in Arizona, Chile, and Hawaii, Lowell Observatory's Deep Ecliptic Survey brought in 35 new "outer belt" objects that were announced by the IAU Minor Planet Center on 17 and 18 May in MPECs 2002-K12, 2002-K13, and 2002-K15. Three of these objects were discovered March 18th with the 4m telescope at Kitt Peak. Another 29 discoveries were made with the Cerro Tololo 4m during 6 to 8 April, with follow-up help from the Univ. of Hawaii Mauna Kea 2.2m, which itself discovered three more on 7 and 13 April. One of these three, 2002 GA33, is noted as possibly being 2001 DM108, which was discovered with the same instrument and some of the same observers working separately from the Lowell team on 22 Feb. 2001 (MPEC 2001-V26).

Most of these are classified as Trans-Neptunian Objects, but one or two – 2002 GZ32 and FY36 in the third MPEC, are Centaurs. Most of the objects in the first MPEC have semimajor axes of 43 to 45 AU and perihelia above 39 AU, with generally low eccentricities (fourteen have e = 0.02 to 0.09, and three 0.12 to 0.13), and generally low inclinations (eleven at 1 to 6 degrees, five at 12-20, and one at 26).

The second MPEC describes objects with semimajor axes of 32 to 37 AU and perihelia between 29 and 38 AU, except 2002 GM32, with a perihelion of 25.883 (e = 0.34 and i = 29). Their inclinations are similar to the first batch (2 to 21 degrees except for GM32), as are their eccentricities (0.05 to 0.19), except again for GM32 and one at 0.26.

The third MPEC covered miscellaneous discoveries, including 2002 GY32 with semimajor axis and perihelion of 68.42 and 34.447 AU.

The Cerro Tololo observations during 6-9 April also resulted in follow-up observations of ten outer-belt objects discovered in 2001, as reported in MPECs 2002-K05 and 2002-K06 of 16 May 2002. Of the latter, 2001 FR185 is noted as having a 2:3 Neptune resonance that keeps it at a distance of more than 9 AU from that planet "over an interval of 14,000 years."

5 June 2002 update: Three more discoveries were announced in the 5 June MPEC 2002-L21 based on 8 April Cerro Tololo and 8 May CHFT observations. Some apparently related work involving the U. Hawaii 2.2m and La Palma 2.6m Nordic telescopes, following up on two Lowell discoveries from last year, was also announced on 26 May in MPECs 2002-K57 and 2002-K58. For those able to observe such distant, faint objects, Marc Buie is posting detailed follow-up pages.

Dyson on looking for minor object life

Leave it to physicist and original thinker Freeman Dyson to come up with novel ideas about possibilities for life on minor objects. In a chat with the Planetary Soc. 15 May 2002, he suggests pointing telescopes directly away from the Sun toward the Kuiper Belt to watch for signs of life forms lined up on the Sun for energy gathering, like how some Earth plants concentrate solar energy. The result, he says, could be something akin to animal eyes caught in a flashlight beam ("opposition surge"?). And he comments that, "if life has emerged and thrived in the vacuum of space, it may be much hardier in many ways than air-breathing life."

For more on the subject of whether life could exist on a small asteroid, see A/CC's news item on the MUSES-C asteroid sample return safety review.

Mirror matter

As if there wasn't already a major surplus of hard-to-spot objects, how about the possibility of minor objects made of invisible "mirror matter"? (Not anti-matter.) SpaceDaily reported on a new book from physicist and proponent Robert Foot, who runs the Mirror Matter Web site. He suggests mining for mirror-matter meteor remnants for scientific knowledge as well as exotic uses. You can read the book's first three chapters as a 379Kb PDF.
      Nov. 2002 update: See a 13 Nov. 2002 BBC report, and also there is now another text online, a 1.75Mb PDF.

NEODyS gets mirror site

NEODyS at the University of Pisa in Italy now has a mirror site at the University of Valladolid in Spain. So, if you find sometime that you can't access the NEODyS Risk page, try this alternate.

Comets announced in May

Announced in May 2002 were comets LINEAR C/2002 J5 and K2, NEAT C/2002 J4 and K1, and P/Yeung (2002 BV), among others.

Risk concerns removed in May

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during May 2002 include: 2002 GJ8, 2002 GZ8, 2002 HK12, 2002 HW, 2002 JE9, 2002 JN97, and 2002 JQ97.

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