Washington: The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui has created a new record, discovering 19 near-Earth asteroids on the night of January 29.
“This record number of discoveries shows that PS1 is the world’s most powerful telescope for this kind of study,” said Nick Kaiser, head of the Pan-STARRS project.
“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.”
Pan-STARRS software engineer Larry Denneau and his colleagues came up with 30 possible new near-Earth asteroids during the night and the next afternoon.
To confirm asteroid discoveries, scientists must carefully re-observe them several times within 12-72 hours to define their orbits, otherwise they are likely to be “lost.”
Denneau and colleagues quickly sent their discoveries to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which collects and disseminates data about asteroids and comets, so that other astronomers can re-observe the objects.
“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,” noted Institute for Astronomy astronomer Richard Wainscoat.
On Sunday night, they confirmed that two of the asteroids were near-Earth asteroids before snow on Mauna Kea forced the telescopes to close. On Monday night, they confirmed nine more before fog set in.
On Tuesday night, they searched for four, but found only one.