Faulkes Telescope Observations

Asteroids and Comets

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 1994 XD imaged using successively B, V and R colour bands on 2012 December 5th. Images obtained using the Faulkes Telescope South, operated by Las Cumbres Observatory.

Having acquired our project from David Asher, we found out our task was to observe Near Earth Objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets by controlling the Faulkes telescopes in Hawaii and Australia by using a webpage on the Faulkes Telescope Project website. Prior to observing, we looked up the ephemerides for each object that we planned to observe using the Minor Planet Center website - this was to find the part of the night sky in which the object of interest was included. We made sure that during the time we had been given for observation the objects we planned to observe were, indeed, observable.

Our first observation session was unsuccessful, as the telescope was closed due to bad weather conditions. However, our second day was a marked contrast to this - fortunately, the Australian telescope was operational. This meant that our extensive research was put to good use. Using the telescope was a memorable experience, given our results. A confirmation page asteroid, formerly known as TX22916, was our principal focus, as it was highly rated as far as interest was concerned. We acquired noteworthy results using a programme known as Gaia, which we opened using coding in a terminal window. This programme allowed us to bring together the images we had acquired using the Faulkes Telescope and `blink' them - by this, we played the images in order and noted the movement of any `dots', as this movement was the asteroid we were looking for. These were then sent by Dr. Asher to the Minor Planet Center. A sleepless night followed, as the possibility of an MPEC (Minor Planet Electronic Circular) became apparent to us.

The following morning, we were ecstatic to receive the news that we had received an MPEC for our asteroid, now known as 2012 XP2. This was a rather pleasing experience, and certainly one we will remember. To our delight, our names were placed next to this now confirmed asteroid on the Minor Planet Center website.

Over the course of the week, we carried out many similar observations, some with good results, some with bad. We learnt extremely interesting and important things concerning asteroids and comets, for example right ascension and declination, sky motion, which was the speed of the object across the sky, and the confusing scale of the magnitude of the brightness of these objects - the lower the reading, the brighter. We were taught how to look at these readings and hence decide if the asteroid or comet was suitable for observation. A mass of information - yet so interesting and actually enjoyable to take in.

It is difficult for us to overstate how grateful we are to the Faulkes Telescope Project and Las Cumbres Observatory, Armagh Observatory itself and most of all to Our Majesty the Most Excellent Lord Dr. Asher [is this correct? ed.] - an inspiration to us and undoubtedly a necessity in understanding all of the information, as he will probably find out in his thank you card!

By David Morris, Gillian Harte, Chris McClure and Jamie Robinson.

2012 December 7th

[Note added Dec 13: further observations appeared on a 2nd MPEC the following week, reporting unusual minor planet 2012 XE55, like 2012 XP2 from the NEO Confirmation Page]

Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)

More astronomical projects with the Faulkes Telescopes

Last Revised: 2012 December 13th