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Science: Asteroids

Solar System Discoveries by WISE

WISE is able to see hundreds of thousands of objects, like asteroids, comets, planets, and moons, in the Solar System during the mission. Most of these objects are already known. But each day WISE discovers new objects, most of them asteroids. Check out these lists to see what WISE has found so far:

Minor Planet Electronic Circulars - WISE Principal Investigator Ned Wright maintains a list of objects confirmed as discovered by the Minor Planet Center.

WISE NEA/Comet Discovery Statistics Jet Propulsion Laboratory maintain a list of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and comets discovered by WISE.


How Can You Help WISE Find Dangerous Asteroids?
Even if you aren't orbiting the Earth, you can still help WISE scientists find near-Earth objects (NEOs) and potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).
All you need is a telescope with a digital camera, a dark area to observe from, and a computer with an internet connection to look at your images and report your discoveries.
Q: I thought WISE was going to find all these asteroids?
A: WISE will make initial observations of hundreds of NEOs and tens of thousands of Main Belt asteroids, but because it orbits the Earth over the day-night terminator and always looks up, WISE will only observe each asteroid approximately 10 times over about 30 hours.  Without more observations within about 10-14 days, all of the new NEOs and PHAs WISE finds will be lost.
Q: When an asteroid is lost, where does it go?
A: Well, it doesn't really 'go' anywhere.  Asteroids (just like planets and
comets) orbit the Sun, which makes them move when compared to the background stars.  From many observations over weeks, months, and years we can calculate a very accurate orbit for the asteroids that will allow us to find them again anytime in the future.  But if we only have a short window over which we observe the object (like the observations WISE will make) then the orbits are more uncertain, and if we wait too long we won't be able to find them again.  The asteroids are still there in space orbiting the Sun, but we don't know where.  That's why we need ground-based observers' help to nail down the orbits.
Q: So how can I help?
A: It's easy! All you need to do is look up WISE NEOs on the Minor Planet Center's NEO confirmation page (http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/iau/NEO/ToConfirm.html), download their predicted positions and errors, and start observing them.  In particular, you'll need to measure the position of the object on the sky, called its astrometry.  You'll also find an estimate of each object's brightness at optical wavelengths, called its visual magnitude.  This tells you whether or not the object will be bright enough to see with your telescope, and how long an exposure time you will need.
Q: Are all the NEOs on that page from WISE?
A: No, the MPC followup page includes all NEOs that need to be recovered, including ones discovered by people like you.  The NEOs found by WISE will have temporary designations starting with a 'W'.
Q: What's astrometry?
A: Astrometry is the measurement of the position of an object on the sky, relative to a fixed coordinate system.  For asteroids we use 'Right Ascension' and 'Declination' as our two measured quantities, along with the time of the observation.  These values are comparable to Longitude and Latitude on Earth.  From the measured astrometry and our knowledge of the location of the observer and the time, we can determine an object's orbit.
Q: How do I measure an object's astrometry?
A: There are many ways of determining an asteroid's position.  One popular program to use is called Astrometrica (http://www.astrometrica.at/) .
Additionally, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) has published an online guide to doing astrometry that can answer many of the technical questions you might have while getting ready or taking your observations.
Q: This seems like a lot to learn on my own.  Where can I get help or advice on taking NEO followup observations?
A: There's a large and active community of amateur and professional astronomers around the world who take NEO discovery and followup observations, some who have been doing it for decades.  You can look up discussions on their boards, or sign up and ask questions if you have any.
The Minor Planet Mailing List (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/mpml/)
Q: Can I get an asteroid named after me?
A:  The WISE team isn't able to accommodate requests for asteroid names, but if you submit observations of an asteroid while it is still on the MPC's NEO page then your name will be listed on the Minor Planet Electronic Circular that describes the discovery circumstances.  So keep looking!

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