Amateur Asteroid Hunters Take Note: NASA and Slooh Will Ask For Your Help

Artist's impression of an asteroid breaking up. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Do you lack a telescope, but have a burning desire to look for asteroids near Earth? No problem! NASA and the Slooh telescope network will soon have you covered, as the two entities have signed a new agreement allowing citizen scientists to look at these objects using Slooh.

This is all related to NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge (which includes the agency’s desire to capture and redirect an asteroid for further study.) What the two entities want to do is show citizen astronomers how to study asteroids after they are discovered by professionals, looking at properties such as their size and rotation and light reflectivity.

Additionally, Slooh will add 10 new telescopes to the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, the facility it is using until at least 2020. The hope is to add to the total of 10,957 discovered near-Earth asteroids, which include 1,472 that are “potentially hazardous.” Astronomers believe only about 30% of the 140-meter sized asteroids near Earth have been discovered, and less than 1% of 30-meter sized asteroids. (Bigger ones more than a kilometer across are about 90% discovered.)

Screenshot from a live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera.
Screenshot from a live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera.

We talk about Slooh frequently on Universe Today because it is one of the go-to locations for live events happening in the cosmos, such as when a solar eclipse occurs. NASA also plans to work with Slooh on these live events, beginning with looking at Comet 209P/LINEAR and its meteor shower when it goes past our planet Friday (May 23).

“This partnership is a great validation of our approch to engage the public in the exploration of space,” stated Michael Paolucci, the founder and CEO of Slooh.

“NASA understands the importance of citizen science, and knows that a good way to get amateur astronomers involved is to offer them ways to do productive astronomy. Slooh does that by giving them remote access to great telescopes situated at leading observatory sites around the world.”

Sources: NASA and Slooh

‘Moby Dick’ Asteroid 2000 EM26 is Missing – Help Astronomers Find It

Somewhere in this image there should be a static point of light that is the asteroid 2000 EM26. Based on orbital data from NASA/JPL, this is where it should have been. Credit: Slooh

Yesterday evening you may have dropped by to watch Slooh’s live coverage of asteroid 2000 EM26 as it passed just 8.8 lunar distances of Earth. Surprise – the space rock never showed up!  Slooh’s robotic telescope attempted to recover the asteroid and share its speedy travels with the world but failed to capture an image at the predicted position.

Now nicknamed Moby Dick after the elusive whale in Herman Melville’s novel of the same name, the asteroid’s gone missing in the deep sea of space. Earthlings need fear no peril; it’s not headed in our direction anytime soon. Either the asteroid’s predicted path was in error or the object was much fainter than expected. More likely the former.

Last night’s coverage attempt of 2000 E26’s close flyby of Earth

2000 EM26’s predicted brightness at the time was around magnitude 15.4, not bright but well within range of the telescope. Rather than throwing their hands up in the air, the folks at Slooh are calling upon amateur astronomers make a photographic search for the errant space rock in the next few nights.

Since the asteroid was last observed 14 years ago for only 9 days, it isn’t too surprising that uncertainties in its position could add up over time, shifting the asteroid’s position and path to a different part of the sky by 2014.  According to Daniel Fischer, German amateur astronomer and astronomy writer, the positions were off by 100 degrees! As Paul Cox, Slooh’s Observatory Director, points out:

“Discovering these Near Earth Objects isn’t enough. As we’ve seen with 2000 EM26, all the effort that went into its discovery is worthless unless follow­up observations are made to accurately determine their orbits for the future.  And that’s exactly what Slooh members are doing, using the robotic telescopes at our world­-class observatory site to accurately measure the precise positions of these asteroids and comets.”

If a determined, modern-day Ahab doesn’t find this asteroidal Moby Dick, one of the large scale robotic telescope surveys probably will. Here’s a link to the NASA/JPL particulars including brightness, coordinates and distance for 2000 EM26.

Similar sized asteroids, including ones passing even closer to Earth, zip by every month. 2000 EM26 received a lot of coverage yesterday likely because it arrived near the time of the anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall over Russia. Though it remains scarce for now, eyes are on the sky to find the asteroid again and refine its orbit. Hopefully the beast won’t get away next time.

Check out the lively discussion going on at Asteroid and Comet Researcher List. More information HERE.

Watch Live Webcast of the Active Sun

A closeup look at sunspot AR1944 on January 6, 2013, comparing its size to Earth. Credit and copyright: Ron Cottrell.

The team from Slooh will broadcast a live Solar special focusing on the sudden emergence of hyperactivity on the Sun — lately attributed sunspot AR 1944. Right now, the Sun is in what is supposed to be the active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, Solar Cycle 24. While this has been an unusually quiet solar maximum, lately the Sun has been more active.

The broadcast will feature live feeds of the Sun from the Prescott Observatory run by Matt Francis and Slooh astronomer Bob Berman. They will provide live expert commentary during the 30 minute broadcast. The Solar Special will start at 10:00 AM PST/ 1:00 PM EST/ 18:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 15th.

You can watch live, below, or the replay if you missed it live:

Asteroid 2012 TC4 to Buzz Earth on October 12

Asteroid 2012 TC4 as seen by the Remanzacco Observatory team of Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero, Nick Howes on Oct. 9, 2012.

Asteroid 2012 TC4 will give Earth a relatively close shave on October 12, 2012, passing at just a quarter of the distance to the orbit of the Moon. Discovered by Pan-STARRS observatory in Hawaii just last week on October 4, 2012, and it will pass by at about 88,000 kilometers (59,000 miles) away. Estimates on the size of this space rock vary from 17 to 30 meters, but NASA has indicated they will have telescopes trained on the asteroid as it makes its near Earth flyby — closest approach is just before 06:00 UTC (2:00 a.m. EDT) on Friday. Radar measurements can provide more details on the asteroid’s size and orbital characteristics.

NASA’s Asteroid Watch has assured there is no chance this asteroid will hit Earth.

The Slooh Space Camera is providing live coverage RIGHT NOW (at the time of this posting) on Thursday, October 11th, live on, free to the public, starting at 2:30 p.m. PDT / 5:30 p.m. EDT / 21:30 UTC — accompanied by real-time discussions with Slooh President, Patrick Paolucci; Slooh Outreach Coordinator, Paul Cox; and Astronomy Magazine columnist, Bob Berman.

Viewers are in for a special treat as asteroid TC4 will be in the same field of view as the planet Neptune during Slooh’s live coverage.

According Astro Bob, at around the time of closest approach, 2012 TC4 will be sailing through the stars of Sagittarius at approximately one degree (two full moon diameters) every 5 minutes.

This asteroid will reach the magnitude 13.7 on October 12 around 02:00 UTC, according to the Remanzacco Observatory team of Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero, Nick Howes.

You can see an animation of Remanzacco’s observations here.

A view of the orbital parameters of asteroid 2012 TC4 from JPL.

Asteroid 2012 QG42 Zooms by Earth Tonight — Watch Live!

A newly found asteroid will zip past Earth tonight (Sept. 13/14). But don’t worry; at a distance of 2.85 million km (1.7 million miles) Asteroid 2012 QG42 will safely pass by Earth. But that’s close enough for this space rock to be considered a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) which means it may pose a threat in the future. This asteroid is between 190 to 430 meters (625 feet to 1,400 feet) wide and was first spotted by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on August 26. NASA’s Near Earth Object Office said they will use this opportunity to observe the asteroid with radar – which is a great way to find out about the physical properties and orbits of asteroids.

Closest approach is on September 14 at 05:08 UT (1:08 am EDT)

Amateur and professional astronomers have already been keeping tabs on this asteroid. Above is a timelapse from Peter Lake. And a couple of different live feeds from telescopes will be available to watch the action.

The Virtual Telescope Project run by astronomer Gianluca Masi in Italy is already providing a live video stream at

Additionally, the Slooh Space Camera night sky observing website will provide a live view of asteroid 2012 QG42’s closest approach in a webcast starting at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) on Sept. 13, offering views from at least one of its telescopes at its observatory in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. You can watch the Slooh webcast by visiting their website here:

A view of Asteroid 2012 QG42 from the Siding Spring-Faulkes Telescope South on 2012, September 4, 2012, through a 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien + CCD, a stack of 4×10-second exposures, taken with the asteroid at magnitude ~15.2 and moving at 4.35″/min. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes & Giovanni Sostero.

Asteroid 2012 QG42’s flyby comes a few months after another recently discovered space rock, asteroid 2012 LZ1, made its closest approach to Earth just days it was discovered.

“Near-Earth objects have been whizzing past us lately, undetected until they have been practically on top of us,” said Bob Berman, Slooh commentator and Astronomy Magazine writer. “This illustrates the need for continued and improved monitoring for our own future safety. It is not a question of if, but when such an object will hit us, and how large and fast it may be going.”

Slooh will be using at least three of its online robotic telescopes to provide live image feeds as the celestial intruder makes its closest approach to Earth throughout the night.

At a magnitude of only 13-14, about the same faintness as the demoted ex-planet Pluto, the asteroid is a challenging target for backyard telescopes. To observe this kind of object requires large telescopes, equipped with ultra-sensitive CCD cameras, carefully set-up to point and track such a fast moving object — Slooh’s Half Meter Telescope at its Canary Islands Observatory is perfect for the task, the Slooh team said.

“To observe them — as we will do live on Thursday evening,” said Berman, “provides instruction and perhaps motivation to keep up our guard, as well as a sense of relief as it speeds safely past at a mere one fifteenth the distance to the nearest planets.”

With the radar images that NASA plans to take, the “echo”measurements can produce two-dimensional images that can provide spatial resolution as fine as a decameter if the echoes are strong enough. With enough data, astronomers can construct detailed three-dimensional models, define the rotation state precisely, and constrain the object’s internal density distribution.

So look for more information on this asteroid after it passes by Earth.

Watch Jupiter Get Hit in the Original HD Video

Caught on webcam by amateur astronomer George Hall in Dallas, Texas, the impact on Jupiter that occurred yesterday at 6:35 a.m. CT can be clearly seen in the brief video above as a bright flash along the giant planet’s left side.

According to Hall on his website the video was captured with a 12″ LX200GPS, 3x Televue Barlow, and Point Grey Flea 3 camera using Astro IIDC software.

Great catch, George! Currently this is the only video footage we’ve seen of this particular event. Also, tonight at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT the SLOOH Space Camera site will broadcast a live viewing of Jupiter to search for any remaining evidence of an impact. Tune in here.

Video © George Hall. All rights reserved, used with permission.

Google’s 5 Most Memorable Space Doodles

Google’s one of those tech companies that makes a big deal about space exploration.

There’s not only the Google Lunar X-Prize, or its maps of the Moon and Mars, or memorable April Fool’s pranks such as the lunar Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.)

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant often puts space front and center in its periodic “Google Doodles”, which are variations of its logo shown on the site. Google’s been pencilling those since 1998. Over the years the sketches have become more elaborate – and sometimes animated!

After reviewing the space doodles featured on Google’s Doodle site, here are five of the most memorable of them:

May 1-5, 2000 – Google Aliens series


This appears to be the first set of space-themed Google Doodles. The drawings are simple – for the most part, they show a UFO flying past or landing on the Google logo. Still, running them in a series over several days was smart, as it encouraged Internet users to visit the young search engine several days in a row to see what was happening next. More eyes on the page is always good for advertising.

Jan. 15, 2004 – Spirit lands on Mars

Mars landings are always big media events, and NASA was in the midst of a bonanza of attention in 2004 as both Spirit and Opportunity successfully touched down on the Red Planet. Thousands of Google users would have been searching out the rovers’ latest exploits. Commemorating Spirit’s landing in a doodle, just as that excitement was at a fever pitch, was a great way for Google to highlight the ability for users to seek out information about the rovers on its own site.

Aug. 9, 2010 – Anniversary of Belka and Stelka spaceflight

The best Google Doodles are those that show you what you don’t know before. In this case, few outside the space community are likely aware of who Belka and Stelka were, and where their spaceflight fits in history. (They were among a series of animal flights flown in the 1960s to determine the risks of space travel to humans.) From Google’s perspective, running a doodle one needs to learn more about encourages users to click on it, generating more page views.

June 15, 2011 – Total lunar eclipse, featuring Slooh

This is a brilliant example of cross-promotion. Astronomy geeks are well-aware of Slooh, a site that turns telescopes to celestial events such as the recent Venus transit of the sun. Google brought the site to the masses through promoting Slooh’s June 15, 2011 lunar eclipse feed right on the home page; the colour of the moon in the logo changed as the eclipse progressed. Google also showed the eclipse on its YouTube channel and on Google Earth, and promoted the Slooh Android app (also hosted by Google.) Slooh mentioned Google’s participation on its own website, too.

Nov. 8, 2011 – Edmond Halley’s birthday

Commemorating Edmond Halley’s birthday is not unique in itself, as Google has singled out other astronomers for the honour – see Ruby Payne-Scott and Johann Gottfried Galle, for example. What makes this sketch memorable is you can barely see the “Google” logo in the doodle. This is a company that is so confident in its brand that it is willing to let its readers fill in the blanks by imagination. (Astute readers will notice Scott’s doodle follows the same principle, but Halley’s doodle did run first.)

What other doodles should Universe Today readers check out? Share your thoughts in the comments.

All images are from Google’s Doodle website.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Watch Live Webcast of Venus-Pleiades Conjunction April 4, 2012

Venus on April 3, 2012, when it last passed over the Seven Sisters cluster. Credit: Bob King

There’s a nice meetup in the heavens tonight: bright Venus is snuggling up to one of the most famous star clusters, the Pleiades. The Slooh Space Camera is broadcasting a live, real-time feed of the most famous star cluster in the heavens, the Pleiades, meeting up with our nearest and brightest planetary neighbor, Venus. Slooh’s coverage will begin on Wednesday, April 4th starting at 1:30 PM PDT / 4:30 PM EDT / 20:30 UT. (This was originally scheduled for April 3rd, but was rescheduled due to high humidity at Canary Islands observatory off the coast of Africa.) The broadcast can be watched here, or accessed at Slooh’s homepage or by visiting Slooh’s G+ page, where you will be able to see the panel interact live via G+ Hangouts On Air.

If skies are clear, you can see the conjunction for yourself by looking toward the west in the constellation Taurus, after sunset, using binoculars. If you can get images of the event, we’ll post views of them. Share them on Universe Today’s Flickr page.

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