Join the Target Asteroids! team

Posted by Sarah Scoles
on Friday, October 04, 2013

Join the Target Asteroids! Team to track space rocks like 4 Vesta, which, at 326 miles (525 kilometers) in diameter, is the second-largest asteroid. // NASA
Perhaps you live in a city or a blindingly bright suburb. Perhaps you have a 4-inch telescope that’s great for looking at lunar craters but not so hot for more distant objects. Perhaps you have to send your kid to college instead of buying a full-on astroimaging setup. We understand. And so does a professional-amateur collaboration that provides would-be astronomers with top-notch images of asteroids and access to analysis software. Using the data and tools from the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) and the “Target Asteroids!” (TA!) team, you can measure asteroids’ brightness, track their movement, and help figure out whether they will eventually threaten your livelihood. Dolores Hill and Carl Hergenrother, the TA! co-leaders, describe the project below.

For more information, visit the program's website.

TA! is teaming up with the IASC for a special observing campaign devoted to amateur astronomers who don’t own a telescope, are limited by small apertures, don’t have CCD cameras, or live in light-polluted areas. Now amateur astronomers without big telescopes and expensive cameras can make much-needed measurements of TA! asteroids and possibly discover new ones, too! We provide free images from a world-class telescope and data-reduction software during the IASC-TA! Fall 2013 Observing Campaign. We hope you will be interested in this fantastic opportunity.

How does it work?
The IASC-TA! observing campaign runs from October 27 to December 1, 2013. The priority observing targets are selected by Carl Hergenrother, the head of the OSIRIS-REx science team and TA! co-leader. Using the software and tutorials provided, participants (known as “measurers”) learn how to use Astrometrica software for measuring asteroid position (astrometry) and brightness (photometry). Between October 27th and December 1st, the teams download 3–5 image sets each week from the IASC website. These come from Robert Holmes’ 0.61-meter or 0.81-meter prime focus telescopes at the Astronomical Research Institute in Westfield, Illinois. Then, participants make measurements in the comfort of their homes and send reports to IASC Director Patrick Miller, who forwards final reports to TA!

What is the scientific impact?
A mere point of light in the night sky becomes a world to explore! When sufficient data for a particular asteroid are combined, scientists can determine its absolute magnitude, color, type, reflectivity, and size. This information is important to planetary scientists in their understanding of asteroids and to spacecraft mission planners in the selection of their targets. In addition, many astrometric observations give insight into the orbital evolution of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) — how they become NEOs and whether or not they will someday become potentially hazardous asteroids to Earth’s inhabitants.

What happens after the Campaign ends?
The IASC-TA! observing campaign will be an annual event, so participants will have the opportunity to contribute next year, too. In the meantime, amateur astronomers will be experienced enough to obtain their own asteroid images from our partners Sierra Stars Observatory Network (SSON) and iTelescope, who offer special discounts and are very familiar with the TA! program.

Please contact us for more details and to sign up (between October 1 and 10):


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