Squirrel Valley Observatory marks first year of Minor Planet Observations

Published 11:16 am Friday, November 10, 2017

Squirrel Valley Observatory MPC-W34, located in Columbus,  recently marked its first year of acquiring astrometric measurements for the International Astronomical Unions (IAU), Minor Planet Center ( MPC).

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the official worldwide organization in charge of collecting observational data for minor planets (such as asteroids) and comets, calculating their orbits and publishing this information via the Minor Planet Circulars.

Under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union, it operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which is part of the Center for Astrophysics along with the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Since assignment of the observatory code W34 in September of 2016, Squirrel Valley Observatory (SVO) has continued to report astrometric measurements for hazardous near earth objects and various other types of asteroids to the Minor Planet Center. These observations are used to help refine orbital motions and compute predictions for the movements of minor planet bodies. Measurements are then published monthly. (http://minorplanetcenter.net/mpc/summary)

To date, SVO has submitted data on over 700 individual minor planets and has assisted numerous large observatories, such as the Catalina Sky Survey, in Arizona, Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona, ATLAS-MLO, Mauna Loa, ATLAS-HKO, Haleakala, and Pan-STARRS 1, Haleakala in Hawaii with confirmation observations of 44 newly discovered Near Earth Objects (NEOs), mars crossers and the recovery of several main belt asteroids. The small observatory also has one main belt asteroid (2017 SR9) pending discovery credit, (provided that future opposition observations are submitted and the object has no prior history of discovery).

The majority of the research at Squirrel Valley Observatory is geared toward minor planet astrometry, but there was some time set aside for deep sky astrophotography and several other avenues of research this past year. One particular gratifying achievement was the observatory’s success in generating a light curve from one of the larger known exoplanets, (Kepler-17b) transit. Kepler-17b is a gas giant planet nearly 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter, and is sometimes described as a “super-Jupiter.” It orbits a G type star much like our sun, but is located approximately 2,600 light years away in the constellation Cygnus. The modest equipment of SVO was able to detect a drop in visible light as the exoplanet passed in front of its parent star over a four hour period. This was primarily a “test” to push the limits of the current equipment’s capabilities.

In the coming year, plans call for SVO’s continued support of the Minor Planet Center’s astrometric program as well as a more concentrated effort on the detection and confirmation of potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects.

Squirrel Valley Observatory is a private observatory currently funded solely by the owner. Additional information may be found at www.svo.space.

– submitted by Randy Flynn