[meteorite-list] Backyard Search for Asteroids and Extrasolar Planets

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:01:31 2004
Message-ID: <200206072003.NAA16042_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Backyard Search for Asteroids and Extrasolar Planets
By David L. Chandler
Sky & Telescope
June 7, 2002

An ingenious arrangement of three homebuilt 14-inch
telescopes on fixed mountings is enabling Tucson-based amateur astronomer
Roy Tucker to conduct a backyard hunt for asteroids whose quality is on par
with the best professional searches in the world.

Tucker, an instrumentation engineer at the National Optical Astronomy
Observatory (NOAO), completed his new telescope setup last April. The fixed
mountings made the whole construction far less expensive than any telescope
set up on a normal, steerable mount. Tucker's fixed telescopes scan the sky
as the Earth turns and reach a limiting magnitude of 20.5 - fainter than
most professional asteroid searches. And thanks to a cleverly designed
bimetallic (steel and aluminum) framework that automatically compensates for
temperature changes, the telescope can run unattended all night with no need
for focus adjustments. The three telescopes are arranged so that they
produce sequential image triplets that can be compared to reveal any moving

Since his earlier searches began in 1998 (Sky & Telescope: March 1999, page
76), Tucker has detected 4,812 asteroids, several hundred of which were new
discoveries. He presented his latest results in a poster at the Albuquerque
AAS meeting. Now, with the help of a nonprofit organization of amateur and
professional astronomers called GNAT (Global Network of Astronomical
Telescopes), he hopes to expand the system, which initially cost him just
$12,000, into a globe-spanning network of 48 telescopes to provide
24-hour-a-day time coverage. GNAT is seeking involvement by universities,
small colleges, schools, and serious amateurs. Such a network should make it
possible not only to discover many more asteroids, but also to do precise
photometric searches for supernovae, variable stars, and even extrasolar
planet transits, says Tucker.

Roger Culver, an astronomer at Colorado State University and one of GNAT's
organizers, says this is "a chance to really bring small telescopes back to
the fore and really do some interesting things."
Received on Fri 07 Jun 2002 04:03:04 PM PDT

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