Frank Zoltowski, a recipient of a Planetary Society Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NE0) grant, has helped determine the future orbits for asteroid 1999 AN10, which is expected to pass within 200,000 kilometers (about 120,000 miles) of Earth in 2027. The asteroid has excited great interest since it has the potential to approach Earth even closer in 2044 and 2046. None of the close approaches are considered threatening. An amateur astronomer, Zoltowski conducts a search for NEOs and asteroids in the small town of Woomera in the South Australian outback. The Planetary Society grant money enabled him to upgrade his CCD camera to a more sophisticated system, improving his ability to detect NEOs and do confirmation of their orbits. "The performance of my new CCD is spectacular. With it I have been able to get many objects 1999 AN10 included that I wouldn't have had a chance of imaging with my old CCD," said Zoltowski. Zoltowski conducted followup observations of asteroid 1999 AN10 that enabled researchers at the Minor Planet Center, the international clearing house for data about asteroids and comets, to develop more precise future orbital calculations for the object. The NEO was first discovered by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program, which conducts sky searches using an Air Force telescope at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Researchers in Italy Andrea Milani, Steven Chesley and Giovanni Valsecchi established the asteroid's initial orbital calculations. When researchers in the northern hemisphere were no longer able to track the object, Zoltowski in Australia was asked to track the object's passage through the southern hemisphere. He "recovered" (found) 1999 AN10 in April, 1999. The object has been a source of interest and concern since its orbit intersects Earth's so closely. However, researchers maintain that the chances of 1999 AN10 actually striking Earth are extremely low. Andrea Milani in his abstract reporting on the orbit calculations noted, "We have developed a theory which successfully predicts the 25 possible [near Earth] returns [of 1999 AN10] up to 2040. We have also identified six more close approaches resulting from the cascade of successive returns. Because of this extremely chaotic behavior, there is no way to predict all possible approaches for more than a few decades after any close encounter, but the orbit will remain dangerously close to the orbit of the Earth for about 600 years."
Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants Named for one of the pioneers in the field, the Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object grant program was designed to fund astronomers engaged in the search for nearearth objects, the sort of objects that could impact the Earth in the future with devastating results. Three recipients received grant money this year: Zoltowski, Stefan Gajdos of the Slovak Republic, and Paulo Holvorcem of Brazil. The purpose of the grant program is to increase the rate of discovery and followup studies of asteroids and comets in the vicinity of Earth's orbit. Only about 5 to 10% of the estimated number of one-kilometer or larger objects in Earth's orbit have been found and tracked so far. More than 300 NEOs have been discovered. Scientists estimate that there are a few thousand NEOs larger than one kilometer, and there may be 150,000 to 100 million objects larger than 100 meters in size. Grants are awarded to amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and professional astronomers who, with seed funding, could greatly increase their programs' contributions to this critical research. All recipients are already working in the field of NEO observation and research. Gene Shoemaker, for whom the Society's grant program is named, was a leading scientist in the study of impact craters on earth and elsewhere in the solar system. Funds for the Gene Shoemaker NEO Grants program come from the Planetary Society's 100,000 worldwide members, whose voluntary dues and donations permit targeted support to research and development programs.
For more information, contact Susan Lendroth at (626) 793-5100 or by email: [email protected] Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Society in 1979 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in more than 140 countries, the Society is the largest spaceinterest group in the world.
The above story is based on materials provided by The Planetary Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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