Old Cat.

May 2003 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 14 July 2004
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1 May 2003

KOMO-TV Seattle/Tacoma, which in July 2003 would report a possible Washington state meteor fall that didn't prove out (see A/CC news links), had a report with a photo on August 14th that a Mount Vernon couple could "go down in history as the first people in the state to see a meteorite hit," stemming from a May 1st incident.

The Minor Planet Center updated its Discovery Circumstances page today with 179 new namings of minor planets, from 6506 Klausheide (1978 EN10), discovered by Schelte J. Bus at Mt. Palomar, to 54439 Topeka (2000 MG3), discovered at Farpoint Observatory by Gary Hug and which now becomes the highest-numbered publicly named asteroid. Some other new names are 17640 Mount Stromlo (1996 PA7), 26858 Misterrogers (1993 FR), and Damocloid 20461 1999 LD31 was named Dioretsa.
      There were also some name changes. 10256 Vredevoogd became Westerwald, and 24609 Evgenaleks was renamed Evgenij. Jupiter Trojan 13366 Khege had its name removed, reverting to 1998 US24, and the name was reassigned to Main Belt asteroid 12565 1998 SV53. Both are LONEOS discoveries.
      No new asteroid numberings were issued, but P/2000 QD181 (Russell-LINEAR) was numbered 156P.
      Among many changes in discovery credits, newly named asteroids credited originally to Carolyn Shoemaker alone were updated to also give credit to husband Eugene or to David Levy. Three of these with Levy's credit received names honoring the University of Arizona: 16669 Rionuevo (1993 XK3), 17493 Wildcat (1991 YA), and 18368 Flandrau (1991 GZ1), as explained in a 14 May article on the Tucson KSMB-TV site.
      This batch of namings got some other good press with AP's article on 2 May about the 26858 Misterrogers naming, and Sky & Telescope's 5 Maycookies required article about the magazine's senior editor, Dennis di Cicco, naming some of his discoveries for fellow staffers. And had a 11 May piece about asteroid naming and the Misterrogers story.
      The previous new namings and numberings were announced on March 18th, and the next came on June 12th.

2 May 2003 had an article May 2nd updating the subject of creating a "'delay-tolerant' network [that] would provide an always-on connection between planets, spacecrafts, and the terrestrial Internet [for] high-capacity, high-availability Internet traffic over distances that could stretch up to hundreds of millions of miles." See the InterPlaNetary Internet Project FAQ for more info and further links.

3 May 2003

An article to be published in the June 2003 Astronomical Journal by David Nesvorny et al. of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) tells about linking dust bands discovered by IRAS with relatively recent asteroid breakups in the Main Belt. The authors identify the sources for two dust bands as the Veritas family and the Karin cluster within the Koronis family, and examine possible sources for other dust bands. The "preprint," which may differ from the final article, is available as a 2.78Mb PDF download from SwRI's Recent Collisions in the Asteroid Belt page.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) went out of operation for awhile the previous week after losing another gyro. With now only one spare gyro left and no service mission in sight (with the Shuttle grounded and being unreachable by Soyuz from Kazakhstan), mission controllers are reportedly working on how to operate the HST using only two gyros instead of three. See reports from New Scientist 1 May and Florida Today 2 May.

6 May 2003 has a 6 May article, "Pluto's Other Moons: Why They Might Exist and Who's Looking." With planning for the New Horizons mission to Pluto moving into high gear, there is a need to know what it might run into out there. It is hoped that the search can be accomplished with just two images to be taken at different times with Japan's Subaru 8.2m infrared telescope in Hawaii.

7 May 2003

From its May 8th issue, the journal Nature has put online the full article, "Photographic observations of Neuschwanstein, a second meteorite from the orbit of the Pibram chondrite," by Pavel Spurny of Ondrejov Observatory, with Jurgen Oberst, and Dieter Heinlein (the PDF is available as a link). The Neuschwanstein meteorite is from the Bavarian bolide, an event much reported in April 2002.
      AFP had a summary report 7 May on SpaceDaily, and BBC posted an 8 May article, "Meteor's family poses puzzle."

8 May 2003

Rice University had an 8 May news release about "Meteorites rained on Earth after massive asteroid breakup," telling about information learned from quarried fossil meteorites. has a related article today, "Two Asteroids Collided, Showered Earth with Debris," about how evidence has been found for an "explosive collision [that] might have been one of the largest in the solar system's recent history," involving two 1,000-km. objects.
      This news was prompted by an article, "Sediment-Dispersed Extraterrestrial Chromite Traces a Major Asteroid Disruption Event," by Berger Schmitz et al. in the 9 May edition of Science Magazine.
      Updates: See reports at BBC 9 May and 13 May.

JPL posted an 8 May news release, "Your Name Could Make a 'Deep Impact' on a Comet." You can sign yourself in at Deep Impact's JPL site or the University of Maryland mirror.

9 May 2003

The MUSES-C mission lifted off successfully on 9 May 2003 at 1:29pm local time (0429 UT, 12:29am EDT), and was renamed "Hayabusa." See a Yomiuri Shimbun article, "Small companies key to space probe," about how local businesses helped build the spacecraft, bringing innovation, flexibility, and lower costs.

The British Astronomical Association announced on 9 May that it has joined in launching a light pollution campaign. BBC has a report. For more about this issue, see Dark Sky Week.
      The eleventh NEO to be discovered since March 10th by the newly refurbished Steward Observatory 0.9-meter telescope is the first to be classified by the Minor Planet Center as potentially hazardous. 2003 JC13 was first spotted on 7 May by Mike Read and was announced on 9 May in MPEC 2003-J41.

15 May 2003

The 15 May edition of the journal Nature has an article, "Chaos-assisted capture of irregular moons," by Sergey Astakhov et al. (full article by purchase). It explains how minor objects are captured from heliocentric orbits into orbits around planets through a mechanism other than simple gravitational ("Hill sphere") influence, why Saturn has more of these in prograde orbits than Jupiter, and where to look for more such moons. The University of Bristol had a related news release 15 May, and Utah State University also had a news release 15 May.

16 May 2003 had a 16 May article, "Comet Could Brighten Night Skies Next Spring," telling actually about two bright comet possibilities — C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) and C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) [link|alt].

20 May 2003

Announced on 20 May was that an article by Sigeki Murakami, "Can comet hunters survive?" has been posted to the Web from the April 2003 edition of Tenkai, journal of the Oriental Astronomical Association. In the age of LINEAR and SOHO/SWAN, the author reviews recent discoveries and concludes that "Visually discoverable comets are not necessarily discoverable from SWAN images." However, he notes that SOHO's successor in several years will have improved instruments, and so it may be that "the amateurs' dream of finding new comets, a tradition since Messier's discovery of comets, will last only a few more years."

The Space Frontier Foundation posted a May 20th news release commenting on the new U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy, calling on NASA "to embrace the spirit of this policy and look to commercial solutions for image and data collection of the Moon and asteroids." posted an article 20 May, "Hot Deal! Pluto, the Last Oasis for Life" (in a billion years, or so, as the Sun expands).
Looking through the JPL NEAT program's SkyMorph archives found not an asteroid or comet but what may be the fifth closest individual star, a red dwarf estimated to be 7.8 light years away. (This would make it the third closest star or star system, after the Alpha Centauri system, and Barnard's Star.) JPL had a news release 21 May, followed by reports from 21 May, 22 May, and Sky & Telescope 13 Junecookies required. The BBC had a report on Feb. 18th.
      Beyond the coincidental tie-in between stellar and minor object astronomy in this instance is also the ongoing search for Oort Cloud perturbers such as stellar close passers-by, and maybe even a dim companion to our own Sun. More discoveries are anticipated. It was only five months earlier that the European Southern Observatory announced what was then the nearest stellar object to be discovered in the previous 15 years, a brown dwarf companion to Epsilon Indi, 11.8 light years away.

22 May 2003

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had a news release 22 May about "Canada's MOST Telescope Makes its First Step Toward Space," heading to Russia for a launch scheduled for June 30th. A Eurorockot news release of 13 May telling about the Multiple Orbit Mission (several micro- and nano-satellites will be launched) includes two photos of MOST, not identified as such, with one view next to its telescope assembly before installation.
      The suitcase-size MOST spacecraft, which is to study stellar surface oscillations, has also been the foundation for two Canadian near-Earth asteroid mission proposals, NESS and CRAFTI. NESS would narrow the blind spot for asteroid tracking inside Earth's orbit. For more information, see Dynacon Space Systems' news page, a 25 Aug. 2000 report on NESS, a 16 Sept. 2000 Vancouver Sun opinion piece about NESS, and a Canadian Space Society CRAFTI project description.
      For more about the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of STars) mission, visit its CSA home and University of British Columia home pages, and also a University of Toronto Space Flight Lab page.
      Updates: The Canadian Space Agency announced 30 June 2003 that MOST had been successufly launched that day from Plesetsk in Russia. See also June 30th Eurorockot and Dynacon news releases. had a June 30th report.
      Dynacon announced July 25th (posted on that the spacecraft had been detumbled from its original release spin, and "All of the primary equipment on MOST has now been activated, and all items are functioning properly."
      A CSA 4 August news release reported first light for the telescope on July 29th, and said "Routine scientific operations could begin within a few weeks, and the first public announcement of scientific results is anticipated in the fall."

Tech Central had a 22 May essay about the practice of putting messages and people's names aboard space missions, such as the coming Deep Impact comet mission.

23 May 2003

This past month had been the most quiet period for PHOs since A/CC began routinely covering minor object news in March 2002. The JPL and NEODys risk pages hadn't been updated since April 28th, and since then the Minor Planet Center had announced only two discoveries classified as potentially hazardous, on April 30th and May 9th. But, with the waning of the Moon, the MPC NEO Confirmation Page began to liven up overnight 22-23 May, and MPEC 2003-H23, coming on a Friday afternoon EDT, announced PHO 2003 KO2, which became the first of several PHOs (asteroids and one comet) that would occupy the JPL and NEODyS risk pages for the remainder of the month, which closed out with only 2003 KO2 on only JPL's list.

The Arizona Republic has an article 23 May (alternate link) about how KinetX, Inc. has become "the first commercial company selected to handle navigation for a NASA deep-space exploration mission." It will guide the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, as well as a mission to Mercury.
It was announced 23 May that the new Japanese space agency will "be born on October 1, 2003 merging the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) [with the] official English name, 'Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).'" It was ISAS that just launched the Hayabusa MUSES-C asteroid sample return mission.
      An AP story was posted on CNN 23 May, and on 24 May two similar reports were posted on Australian ABC (temp link) and on SpaceDaily from AFP.
The Greater New Milford (Connecticut) Spectrum has a 23 May article about a high school student winning "more than $75,000 in scholarships and prizes" for her project at the 54th Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF): [Lisa Glukhovsky] coordinated simultaneous photographs with observatory imaging partners in Europe and the United States and devised a quick and accurate way to measure the distance to potentially hazardous near-earth asteroids. An explanation of Glukhovsky's project was published 23 May by the Litchfield County Times. And see a Sky & Telescope July 29th article.
      According to the Finalist Directory (639Mb PDF), projects that didn't win included genetic programming for orbit calculation, the Laplace method for orbit determination, associating a meteor shower with 2001 YB5, and continuous thrust trajectories.
      More ISEF 2003 links: [winners|news|photos]

25 May 2003

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin posted an article 25 May about Pan-STARRS, an asteroid survey joint project of MIT, the University of Hawaii, and the Maui High Performance Computer Center, underwritten by the U.S. Air Force. It says the site hasn't been picked yet, but the first of four 1.8m wide-field telescopes could be operating in 2-1/2 years. Each telescope will have a billion-pixel camera with special ability to register fast moving objects.

27 May 2003

The University of California at Santa Cruz posted a news release 27 May about "Massive tsunami sweeps Atlantic Coast in asteroid impact scenario for March 16, 2880," including links to a MOV animation and to the June 2003 Geophysical Journal International article as a PDF. The simulation was made using 29075 1950 DA [link|alt], currently the only object with a hazard rating (slightly) above the random "background risk" of the Earth being hit by an unknown object.
      Updates:  Related articles appeared at Astrobiology Magazine 31 May, 2 June, and 5 June.

The Planetary Society created a section on its site for the results of a 29-30 April workshop held by several organizations on "Stepping into the Future," about how to proceed with developing human space transportation. It includes a paper on "Transportation Concepts for Human Space Exploration Beyond Low-Earth Orbit," including to near-Earth asteroids, which "might prove to offer a number of advantages over the Moon for resource utilization." (For more about what this report calls "novel trajectory concepts," see an A/CC news item from last July.)

The Global Network of Astronomical Telescopes (GNAT) put out a news release on 27 May about early results from the Moving Object and Transient Event Search System (MOTESS), a "proof-of-principle system for a 48-telescope, globally distributed network planned by GNAT." The three-telescope prototype operates in continuous fixed-direction scan mode. Quoting: "During the first year of observation, 290 newly discovered asteroids were measured. Naming rights for over 180 new asteroids have accrued to the program. Experience with this system is leading to data handling software which is expected to provide automated detection of such asteroids."

28 May 2003

The Rocky Mountain News had a 28 May article, "Meteorite hunters to get tutoring," about a public lectures to be held May 30th and June 1st in Montrose and Gunnison, Colo. to help locals who are interested in looking for pieces from last year's spectacular Thanksgiving Fireball. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a May 31st report, "Team seeks remains of nighttime fireball." has a 28 May article about the British Smallsat Intercept Missions to Objects Near Earth (Simone) proposal for a fleet of low-cost micro-spacecraft to visit nearby asteroids. If the mission gets funding, the article says it could be ready to launch in 2008. For more about Simone, see the Open University Simone page, a QinetiQ 17 Feb. 2003 news release, a March Tumbling Stone article, and A/CC April news links.
      Simone is one of six officially accepted but unfunded ESA asteroid mission proposals. For more about those, see A/CC news from last September.

29 May 2003

England's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) posted a 28-29 May news release about the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP, also known as Super WASP) beginning construction on La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands (photos). This university consortium project will use first one, and later three and up to eight instruments consisting of 200mm f1.8 camera lenses and 2048x2048 CCDs to robotically patrol for planets transiting stars, transient optical events (novae, etc.), and near-Earth objects. First light is expected this Summer, and the database "will be made publically available via a web-based interface."

Apollo 2 & NEOs

The current debate about where to go with the next manned spacecraft could have important future ramifications for minor object exploration. NASA in March revisited Apollo capsule technology for a crew return vehicle (CRV) to replace the Soyuz, or even as a crew transfer vehicle (CTV) to replace or supplement the Shuttle, with a positive report (posted 30 April on from an assessment team that included John Young, who flew Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle missions. A Florida Today article yesterday quotes Florida Representative Dave Weldon as commenting favorably on factors such as cost and flexibility, and noting that such a vehicle could also be adapted to manned missions beyond low-Earth orbit, such as to NEOs or the Moon.
      Manned launch would be atop an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 or Boeing Delta IV. The original Apollo command and service modules were made by North American Rockwell, which later as Rockwell International built the Shuttles and is now part of Boeing.

    Subsequent articles:
    • 21 May report, "The Next Shuttle: Capsule or Spaceplane?"
    • SpaceDaily 8 May lengthy piece, "Building America's Next Passenger Spaceship"
    • Space Review 5 May wrap-up, "Orbital Space Plane: Back to Apollo?"
    See also:
    • A late April paper on "Transportation Concepts for Human Space Exploration Beyond Low-Earth Orbit"

    Distant traveler, 2003 FX128

    2003 FX128's 16-year journey
    2003 FX128's 16-year journey from precovery to discovery. (A/CC illustration composited from JPL's Orbit Viewer.)
    2003 FX128 [link|alt] has an eccentric and somewhat inclined orbit (e=0.8276, i=22.3°). While it comes as close to the Sun as 17.288 AU — just outside the orbit of Uranus, FX128 stands out among known asteroidal objects for reaching the fourth most distant point from the Sun (Q=268.456 AU), and has the fifth largest semimajor axis (a=142.872 AU). It takes more than a thousand years to complete one orbit (MPC says 1050 years, JPL 1707.8).
          Chad Trujillo, Mike Brown, et al. discovered 2003 FX128 on March 22nd with NEAT's Palomar 1.2m Schmidt telescope, and Trujillo followed up with another Mt. Palomar telescope on two other nights, as announced in MPEC 2003-H33 on April 25th.
          MPEC 2003-J40 on May 8th reported an impressive 2003 FX128 precovery campaign by amateur astronomer Reiner Stoss of the DLR-Archenhold Near Earth Objects Precovery Survey (DANEOPS).
          His earliest find was in scans from two plates from Siding Spring in Australia from 31 Jan. 1987, and another two were found from March the next year. He also found 2003 FX128 in plate scans from the Mt. Palomar 1.2m Schmidt telescope from 1991, 1995, 1996, and 1998, as well as in CCD images from NEAT's Air Force telescopes in Hawaii from 1996, 2001, and 2002, and several from NEAT/Palomar in 2002. (All the telescopes involved are in the 1.0-1.5m range.)
          2003 FX128 may be an icy object that doesn't come close enough to the Sun to be roused into displaying a coma, which would be difficult to detect at such distances, anyway. Its width, by standard rule-of-thumb estimate from its brightness, is between 150 and 345 km. A best guess is around 200 km. (125 miles), but larger if it is an icy rather than rocky body, since comet nuclei surfaces reflect less light.
          Update:  In A/CC's original report above, we said that finding positions for 2003 FX128 over the last 16 years was "prediscovery" rather than "precovery" work. A fine point, and wrongly put. "Precovery" was the correct term.
          Reiner Stoss, who did all that sleuthing in the archives, explains that "precovery" is finding an object during a previous "apparition." And, with asteroids, the dividing line between apparitions is coming within about 60° of the Sun as seen from the Earth ("solar elongation"). While 2003 FX128 hasn't traveled even two percent of its own orbit since the earliest image found (1987), Earth has completed 15 orbits. Each time around, FX128 went out of view from ground-based telescopes, lost for awhile in the Sun's glare.
          "Prediscovery" is finding observations before the original discovery during an object's current "apparition." "Recovery" is discovering an object in a new apparition.

    Risk concerns removed during May

    Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during May 2003: 2003 EE16, 2003 KF4, 2003 KU2 & P/2003 KV2 (LINEAR)

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