Matt Gray

Near Earth Object!

Mar 14, 2003

Okay, I know this gets a little technical at times, but stick with it, it is kind of cool…

It’s always fun and gratifying to watch research and science actually pay off personally. Tonight Jeff Larsen, an astronomer who worked on the MAPS Catalog (where I work), shouted with glee at the discovery that NASA had just qualified the first NEO (near-earth object) he observed with SpaceWatch on their newly refurbished telescope as an object with potential Earth impact risk. Whew!

Anyway, I watched as he pulled out photographic plates exposed in the 1950s (the Palomar Sky Survey, POSS I) and looked for the tiny image of his object with a binocular microscope. Finally, we were able to ascertain that it was not in our catalog of space objects at APS, since the O (blue) emulsion had no trace of the object. We then pulled the actual images for the coordinates, and lo:

O (blue) image E (red) image

You can clearly see the colorful object above the two bright stars in the E (or red) emulsion, but not in the blue, where such objects are faint. This is believed to be the same object (captured in 1950) that now has a chance to strike Earth between 2008 and 2103. Pretty cool, huh?

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