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.

24 February 2009

Undergraduate Project on Asteroid Research from the University of Alaska at Anchorage and Indiana University

Puckett, Andrew W.; Rector, T. A., "A Killer Asteroids Research Project for Undergraduate Non-Majors," American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #213, #311.08, 01/2009.

We present a progress report on the development and testing of our Killer Asteroids Research Project, which enables the assessment of asteroid impact risk in the undergraduate classroom. This is part of an NSF CCLI grant to develop Research Based Science Education (RBSE) curricula for non-majors. Our curricula include six projects covering astrometric, photometric, and spectroscopic techniques, which are being tested at multiple schools of varying sizes around the country. We report on the second semester of testing this project with undergraduates at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Students use our Polaris Plugin for ImageJ to perform both astrometry and aperture photometry on research-grade astronomical images. The output is fed into Find_Orb, which uses a Monte Carlo method to compute orbital elements for thousands of possible orbits. The resulting orbit database is then fed into a planetarium program, which allows students to visualize the uncertainty region and to observe how that region changes with time and/or additional data. For potentially hazardous asteroids, impact risk is assessed by counting the number of "clone” orbits that strike a planet's surface. Alternatively, the output from our plugin can be used directly to measure the lightcurves of minor planets, leading to an improved understanding of their shapes. This plugin is the first FITS reader to produce correct time-stamps for minor planet observations found in the SDSS, which observes in drift-scan mode.

Recent progress is promising. We are in dialogue with software engineers behind both Starry Night and Guide, helping to improve these planetarium programs as research tools. We are also constantly improving the Polaris Plugin, most recently to make it compatible with the astrometry format used by the websites NeoDys and AstDys.

Link: Abstract from the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System

Link: Killer Asteroids Project Homepage

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