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View Full Version : How do you discover an asteroid?



EDG
2007-Jun-22, 12:34 AM
I don't have a telescope or anything (well, I have a fairly useless 2" Tasco refractor back in the UK, but nothing where I am now. But one day, when I have the money... ) - I'm just asking this because it's something I've been idly curious about for ages. I dunno whether this goes here or in the Q&A or other board, but I'll start here.

My question is this: How exactly does one discover an asteroid? By which I mean, say you spot something that's moved across the sky a bit in a couple of nights. How do you know that isn't a previously known asteroid? What processes do you have to go through to realise that it's a newly discovered object? Who do you have to talk to to get it verified and to get yourself credited as the discoverer? And so on.

Basically, how do you get from "seeing something move in your telescope" to "getting to the point where it's an asteroid or comet named by you"?

redshifter
2007-Jun-22, 12:58 AM
You need a fairly wide field and lots of aperature and TONS of patience. IIRC many asteroids and comets (mostly comets) are discovered with large aperature binoculars. Although, I believe David Levy has discovered a few comets with a 16" scope. So, you carefully scan the sky, looking for faint fuzzies in places where there shouldn't be any faint fuzzies (or an additional faint fuzzy in an area of faint fuzzies) then call the IAU and hope it isn't a known object. This is the cliff note version of how to discover a comet...

Dave Mitsky
2007-Jun-22, 09:30 AM
A number of amateur astronomers have discovered asteroids by imaging them serendiptiously with telescopes equipped with CCD cameras and computer processing the results. However, the days of visual discovery of asteroids are long gone.

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/asteroids/3305146.html?page=1&c=y

http://jeff.medkeff.com/default.asp?n=bio

http://www2.gol.com/users/stever/seki1.htm

Dave Mitsky

aurora
2007-Jun-22, 07:45 PM
I think the OP was also asking about how to determine if something is an asteroid (need to compute the orbit) or previously discovered (needs to have the orbit and position compared to known asteroids).

Sometimes the org that does this determines that a newly found object was the same as one that had been seen briefly but then "lost". If there are not enough observations or an asteroid, comet, or moon, then an orbit cannot be accurately computed, and it might never be seen again.

Dave Mitsky
2007-Jun-22, 08:23 PM
I think the OP was also asking about how to determine if something is an asteroid (need to compute the orbit) or previously discovered (needs to have the orbit and position compared to known asteroids).

Sometimes the org that does this determines that a newly found object was the same as one that had been seen briefly but then "lost". If there are not enough observations or an asteroid, comet, or moon, then an orbit cannot be accurately computed, and it might never be seen again.

I believe that you're mistaken about that as the OP clearly stated the following:

"What processes do you have to go through to realise that it's a newly discovered object? Who do you have to talk to to get it verified and to get yourself credited as the discoverer?"

Be that as it may, The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) (http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/iau/cbat.html) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for is the place to contact. However, as I said, discovering an asteroid using only visual observation is extremely unlikely. Amateurs are still discovering comets visually, particularly in the southern hemisphere, but those days may be drawing to an end soon with the advent of automated professional telescopic search systems such as LINEAR and LONEOS.

Just for the record, comets are the only astronomical objects that are officially named after their discoverers.

Dave Mitsky