Maui News

19 near Earth Asteroids Discovered with Haleakala Telescope

February 25, 2011, 7:06 AM HST
* Updated February 25, 9:34 AM
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By Wendy Osher

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 by Karen Teramura.

The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope atop Haleakala on Maui, discovered 19 near-Earth asteroids on the night of January 29. That’s the most asteroids discovered by a single telescope on a given night. Scientists say the record number not only shows the power of the telescope, but just how serious scientists are in their quest to protect earth from the threat of near-orbit asteroids.

Scientists battled time and weather to confirm the discoveries. To confirm asteroid discoveries, scientists must carefully re-observe them several times within 72 hours to define their orbits.

“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.

Using telescopes atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island, Wainscoat, astronomer David Tholen, and graduate student Marco Micheli spent the next three nights searching for the asteroids.


They were able to confirm two asteroids before snow on Mauna Kea forced the telescopes to close. The following night, nine more were confirmed before fog set in. The remaining asteroids were confirmed on the third and final day.


Telescopes in Arizona, Illinois, Italy, Japan, Kansas, New Mexico, and the United Kingdom, and the Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala also helped to confirm some of the asteroids.

Scientists say two of the asteroids have orbits that come extremely close to Earth. While there is no immediate danger, and a collision is unlikely, scientists have not ruled out a collision in the next century or so. Astronomers plan to continue monitoring of the objects into the future.

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