University of Arizona, Australian National University Collaborate in Asteroid Search

Sept. 8, 1999

Clarissa Thorpe, Australian National University Public Affairs,
612-6249-5575, clarissa.thorpe@anu.edu.au

-- Sent Sept. 8, 1999 --

Contacts:
Stephen M. Larson, University of Arizona
520-621-4973
slarson@lpl.arizona.edu

Robert H. McNaught , Australian National University
02-6842-6255
rmn@aaocbn.aao.gov.au

A new collaboration between astronomers at the University of Arizona and the
Australian National University will make it easier to spot and track
asteroids headed towards Earth.

The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the ANU Research School of
Astronomy and Astrophysics have agreed to refurbish a little-used telescope
at the Siding Spring Observatory (near Coonabarabran) with modern detectors
and computers to carry out a search for potentially hazardous asteroids. The
Uppsala Schmidt Telescope (26-inch) at Siding Spring will be used for the
only asteroid-search program with access to the entire southern sky.

Stephen M. Larson, LPL senior research associate, this week is at Siding
Spring Observatory to discuss the planned upgrade. The southern survey will
be patterned after the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) that Larson and his team
conduct from Mount Bigelow in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson
using the recently refurbished 42 cm (16-inch) UA Catalina Schmidt
telescope.

Over the next two years, the photographic Uppsala Schmidt Telescope will be
equipped with a very sensitive electronic detector array that will provide a
large field in search of moving asteroids.

Computer pointing control and automatic detection software will be used to
cover as much area as possible in hopes of identifying Earth-approaching
asteroids. The NASA Near-Earth Object Observation Program seeks to identify
and catalog 90 percent of the potentially hazardous asteroids larger than
one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) in diameter in the next 10 years. This
Southern Hemisphere survey will cover an important gap in current survey
coverage.

Until the refurbishment is complete, Robert H. McNaught of the ANU Research
School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) is making follow-up observations
of potentially hazardous objects found by Northern Hemisphere surveys but
which have traveled south out of the range of the northern telescopes. These
followup observations with the 1-meter telescope at Siding Spring are
critical in deriving an accurate orbit that will determine if the object
might one day impact the Earth.

Larson and others on the CSS team are completing the NASA-funded major
upgrade of the UA Catalina Schmidt telescope they began in 1997. The
Catalina telescope has a 3x3-degree field of view, or a square patch of sky
equivalent to six lunar diameters on a side. The heart of the telescope
camera is a sensitive 4,096 x 4,096-pixel charge-coupled device (CCD). The
telescope is capable of finding objects as faint as 20th magnitude, close to
sky background level generated by scattered city light and auroral glow that
brightens Earth_s upper
atmosphere.

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Related web links:

Catalina Sky Survey -
Mount Stromlo/Siding Spring Observatories -