Amateur rediscovers lost asteroid

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Oct. 12, 2012
Courtesy of the Eu­ro­pe­an Space Agen­cy and
world-science.net

The cal­cu­lat­ed or­bit of as­ter­oid2008SE85, which takes about two years to cir­cle the Sun. The next close ap­proach to our plan­et will be on March 29, to with­in a safe dis­tance of about 15 mil­lion km, or about a tenth of the dis­tance to the Sun. A much clos­er pas­sage is pre­dicted for 2098, when the as­ter­oid will fly by at about 6 mil­lion km. This is twice the dis­tance it was pre­dicted to have be­fore its re-discovery. (Cred­its: ESA/Dei­mos)

A de­ter­mined am­a­teur as­tron­o­mer has re­dis­cov­ered a po­ten­tially haz­ard­ous as­ter­oid that the ex­perts had lost track of, sci­en­tists have an­nounced.

 

The Ger­man hob­by­ist, Er­win Schwab, made the find us­ing Eu­ro­pe­an Space Agen­cy facil­i­ties and as­sis­tance, through a pro­gram that makes a ground tel­e­scope avail­a­ble for am­a­teur use to help track as­ter­oids.

The cal­cu­lat­ed or­bit of as­ter­oid2008SE85, which takes about two years to cir­cle the Sun. The next close ap­proach to our plan­et will be on March 29, to with­in a safe dis­tance of about 15 mil­lion km, or about a tenth of the dis­tance to the Sun. A much clos­er pas­sage is pre­dicted for 2098, when the as­ter­oid will fly by at about 6 mil­lion km. This is twice the dis­tance it was pre­dicted to have be­fore its re-discovery. (Cred­its: ESA/Dei­mos)

New pro­jec­tions in­di­cate the half-ki­lo­me­ter (1/3-mile) wide ob­ject won’t threat­en Earth an­y­time soon.

Schwab con­ducted his as­ter­oid hunt in Sep­tem­ber dur­ing an ob­serva­t­ion slot at agen­cy’s Op­ti­cal Ground Sta­t­ion in Ten­er­ife, Spain, spon­sored by the Agen­cy’s Space Situa­t­ional Aware­ness pro­gram. He was out to re­dis­cov­er the ob­ject, known by its cat­a­logue name as 2008SE85.

The space rock was dis­cov­ered in Sept. 2008 by the Catalina Sky Sur­vey, and seen by a few ob­servatories in­to the next month. But no one had ob­served it since then and pre­dic­tions for its cur­rent po­si­tion had be­come so in­ac­cu­rate that the ob­ject was con­sid­ered lost.

Us­ing the 1-meter tel­e­scope, Schwab looked for the ob­ject with­in the “area of un­cer­tain­ty” of its pre­dicted po­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to agen­cy sci­en­tists. Af­ter only a few hours, he found it about 2 de­grees away from its pre­dicted po­si­tion. That’s about four moon widths as seen from Earth.

“I found the ob­ject on the eve­ning of Sat­ur­day,” Sept. 15, Schwab said. “I then saw it again at 1:30 on Sun­day morn­ing – and that was my birth­day! It was one of the nic­est birth­day pre­sents.”

The find­ings will al­low a much more ac­cu­rate de­ter­mina­t­ion of its or­bit and help con­firm that it won’t threat­en Earth an­y­time soon, re­search­ers said. “Po­ten­tially Haz­ard­ous As­ter­oids” are de­fined as those that ap­proach Earth clos­er than about 7 mil­lion km (a­bout 4.4 mil­lion miles), ac­cord­ing to the agen­cy; about 1,300 such ob­jects are known.

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