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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Asteroids Everywhere...

What is it like to capture an asteroid? As an exercise in imaging some minor planets with the 17" remote robotic telescope provided on the iTelescope network in New Mexico, we ran two 5-minute exposures 1 hour apart on the exact same part of the sky. With these images, we could then compare them and note any objects that appear to move between the images. To help us in our efforts we processed the images with a software application called Astrometrica, which not only identified the stars in the image but also any known minor planets as well. The results?

Animated GIF of Asteroid 12618 imaged by Muir Evenden
Animated GIF of Asteroid 12618 imaged by Muir Evenden

Of the many asteroids identified to be in the image, most were too faint to be visible; we were, however, able to visually identify a few asteroids between 17 and 18th magnitudes. The image displayed here (which is a closeup of a small region on the entire image) is one such asteroid - it appears to move in the image because we are quickly shifting between the images to make the movement of the asteroid more apparent. Astrometrica identified the asteroid and labeled it: the name or numerical designation is in red, followed by its magnitude in parenthesis. As you can see, even just a 5-minute exposure with a moderate-size telescope can reveal a wealth of information beneficial to astronomy education!

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