Asteroid Discovery Record Set on January 29 by Pan-STARRS PS1 Telescope

By on Mar 1, 2011 in Astronomy, Science, United States, World Comments

The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii was reported to set the most number of asteroids discovered by a telescope on a single night. According to reports, the telescope discovered 19 near-Earth asteroids on the evening of January 29, 2011.

Asteroid Discovery Record
Richard Wainscoat (left) and Marco Micheli study one of the near-Earth asteroids found on January 29.
The asteroid is the roundish dot near Wainscoat’s finger. Photo Credit: Karen Teramura

“This record number of discoveries shows that PS1 is the world’s most powerful telescope for this kind of study. NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s support of this project illustrates how seriously they are taking the threat from near-Earth asteroids,” Nick Kaiser, head of the Pan-STARRS project was quoted saying.

It was reported that on January 29, software engineer Larry Denneau spent his night in University of Hawaii at Manoa office in Honolulu processing the PS1 data being transmitted from the telescope over the internet. During that night and into the next afternoon, they came up with 30 possible new near-Earth asteroids.

Their discoveries were sent to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that other astronomers can re-observe the objects.

Confirmation of the asteroids were done the following days. Two were confirmed on January 30 and nine more on January 31. With the help of other telescopes all over the world including Japan, Italy and United Kingdom, seven more discoveries were confirmed.

“Usually there are several mainland observatories that would help us confirm our discoveries, but widespread snowstorms there closed down many of them, so we had to scramble to confirm many of the discoveries ourselves,” Institute for Astronomy astronomer Richard Wainscoat noted.

Pan-STARRSPanoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System — is an innovative design for a wide-field imaging facility developed at the University of Hawaii‘s Institute for Astronomy, according to its website. Its major goal is to discover and characterize Earth-approaching objects that might pose a danger to our planet.

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