KBLR Near-Earth Asteroid Discovery


Between 1998 and 2008, Dr. Ted Bowell directed a Lowell research program called the "Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Asteroid Search" or LONEOS. During that interval, Lowell astronomers obtained about half a million sky images and reported over five million asteroid positions to the Minor Planet Center. The discovery and reporting process was highly automated. During that time, an amateur astronomer research group from Phoenix, Arizona, called Minor Planet Research, Inc., searched through several sets of the LONEOS images using software to "blink" the images. They discovered lots of asteroids that the automated discovery process missed. These asteroids were typically faint or involved in an image defect or were missing a single asteroid image (We required four asteroids in the automated search).

We are confident that we can glean considerable new asteroid information from these images. By "manually" blinking the images and finding as many asteroids as possible, we can improve the photometry of all the asteroids (better photometric methods), and we will discover the asteroids not identified in the automated search. A few of newly found asteroids will be discoveries. Most will have been already discovered but the new position will often help improve the orbit of the asteroid. In fact, if the LONEOS image is the earliest image of the asteroid, the orbital improvement can be quite large.

Required Equipment

The only equipment required will be a modest computer and a relatively fast internet connection. You will need some software. "MPO Canopus" software is an example of commercial software that can be useful for this project because it can find asteroid positions accurately, it is excellent for asteroid photometry and it can easily produce a report in the required Minor Planet Center format.

Other software can perform the search and reductions equally well. However, we have had some experience with MPO Canopus and can offer first level support for it.

Data Reduction

The steps below provide the procedural framework for examining LONEOS images. However, the details are extensive. For each step, we provide a link to another web page that describes the details of each step.

  1. We, at Lowell, will pre-process the images so they are flattened and contain accurate World Coordinate System (WCS) information. We have put them into a web-based image management system that will manage the downloads and receive the uploaded MPC report.
  2. You will go to the image management system to find a set of images that are ready for processing. There, you will "check out" a set of images. They will be yours to work on until you check them back in. You should download all the images you checked out. See Image Check-Out.
  3. Find and mark all the known asteroids in your images. See Finding Known Asteroids.
  4. Blink the images and record each new asteroid. Software automates much of the blinking and recording procedure but actually finding the asteroids will rely on your eyes. See Discovering New Asteroids.
  5. Perform astrometry on all the asteroids and generate a Minor Planet Center (MPC) report for all the asteroids. See Asteroid Astrometry.
  6. Perform photometry on all the asteroids. Modify the MPC report to reflect the new, more accurate magnitudes. See Asteroid Photometry.
  7. Report completion status through the image checkout system. Go back to step 2.

We ask that you also hone your skills on training data sets. The procedures, while not difficult, are lengthy so we ask that you have a little training. Finding faint asteroids takes practice because at very faint levels, random noise, dirt, and CCD defects will tend to lead new observers astray.

MPO Canopus provides a training data set for asteroid 771 Liberia. Canopus provides training exercises with the basic reference manual. The focus of this training set is photometry. It is very important that everybody go through the Canopus training.

We have provided a second training data set using images from LONEOS. You can use all the procedures defined in this web site to see the entire procedure for finding asteroid positions and brightness on LONEOS frames. The Canopus training, described above, will serve you well in the larger procedure training.

You can obtain the training data set on the KBLR checkout page. IMPORTANT: Immediately after you download the training images, check them back in so others can use them too. The training images are indexed with 2005-11-13, 2258, d.

   Clark Telescope

Lowell's 24-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope