This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

19 February 2009

Eleanor "Glo" Helin Remembrance


Eleanor "Glo" Helin passed away in late January. She was one of the pioneers of the search for Near Earth objects (NEOs) and established and led the NEAT Project at JPL. The NEAT Program discovered hundreds of NEOs, many comets, and 64 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs). Glo is survived by her son. If you would like to send him a note or card, his address is: Bruce Helin, 210 E. Elm St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

The entry on Wikipedia:

Eleanor Francis Helin is an American astronomer, who retired in 2002. She was principal investigator of the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Some sources give her name as Eleanor Kay Helin.

Helin has discovered or co-discovered 872 asteroids, including the first two Aten asteroids: 2062 Aten and 2100 Ra-Shalom; the Apollo asteroids 4660 Nereus, 4769 Castalia and others; various Amor asteroids; three Trojan asteroids including 3240 Laocoon; and 9969 Braille.

She also discovered or co-discovered comets, including periodic comets 111P/Helin-Roman-Crockett, 117P/Helin-Roman-Alu and 132P/Helin-Roman-Alu.

Helin is credited as the discoverer of the object now known as both asteroid 4015 Wilson-Harrington and comet 107P/Wilson-Harrington. Although Wilson and Harrington preceded her by some decades, their observations did not establish an orbit for the object, while her rediscovery did.

Asteroid 3267 Glo is named for her ("Glo" is Helin's nickname).

Helin has been active in planetary science and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for over three decades. In the early 1970s, she initiated the Palomar Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey (PCAS) from Palomar Observatory. This program is responsible for the discovery of thousands of asteroids of all types including more than 200 in high inclination orbits, other rare and unique orbital types of asteroids, 20 comets, and approximately 30 percent of the near-earth asteroids discovered worldwide.

Helin organized and coordinated the International Near-Earth Asteroid Survey (INAS) during the 1980s, encouraging and stimulating worldwide interest in asteroids. In recognition of her accomplishments, she has received NASA's Exceptional Service Medal. The 1997 JPL Award for Excellence was presented to Helin in recognition of her leadership of the Near-Earth Asteroid (NEAT) program. She has also received NASA's Group Achievement Award for the NEAT Team.

After conducting the PCAS photographic search program from Palomar for nearly 25 years, Helin concentrated on a new, upgraded search program using electronic sensors on a large aperture telescope: NEAT. She is the principal investigator for this program operating from JPL.

In operation since December 1995, NEAT is the first autonomous observing program; no JPL personnel are on-site, only the JPL Sunspark computer which runs the observing system through the night and transmits the data back to JPL each morning for team member review and confirmation. NEAT has detected over 26,000 objects, including 31 near-earth asteroids, two long period comets and the unique object, 1996 PW, the most eccentric asteroid known (e = 0.99012940), which moves in a long-period (4110.50 a), comet-like orbit (semi-major axis 256.601 AU).

Link: Wikipedia Entry


  1. I only met Eleanor once, when we both were in a group discussing NEOs during an early Space Frontier Foundation conference. I'm really sorry to hear about her passing. She was helping to actually do something about near-earth objects, often in obscurity, years before it became publicly visible. A quiet leader; I'm sorry she's gone, and condolences to her son.

    Dave Huntsman

  2. A.C.,

    Thanks for sharing this sad news. I hadn't heard that she had passed and will make sure that the Palomar Observatory / Caltech Astronomy community hears the news.

    Her career was indeed a stellar one and her work will live for a long time.


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