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Nick Howes, equipment consultant for UK Magazine Astronomy Now, has been using the twin 2m Faulkes Telescopes (North and South) for a few years, on comet observation and measurement work, but in the past few months, working with the team involving himself, two Italian astronomers, and Faulkes Telescope Project (UK affiliate to LCOGT based in University of Glamorgan), they have been working on an ongoing project to look at NEO objects.
"The NEO confirmation target list posted by the Minor Planet Centre each day, flags up new and interesting targets for follow on observations. Sometimes the orbits are unusual and it may transpire that the new object, which is usually detected on one of the large surveys like PAN STARRS, is a new comet. It is with instruments like Faulkes with its almost Hubble sized mirror, and its newly opened up SPECTRAL CCD that gives us the ability to detect and track targets that may show signs of a cometary coma down to magnitude 20-21.This is what makes this program so powerful" says Nick
It was in the past two weeks, during several observing runs on one such NEO target, that the team, which consists of Nick and Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero, two of the world's leading amateur observers in comet and NEO objects, who teamed up earlier in 2011, detected potentially a total of seven completely new minor planets.
"The first ones we found were in a serendipitous image of a known comet taken by a school in Israel, where we found three new asteroids...but since then, it's quite literally gone mad.." - quotes Nick
"We are working flat out to observe these targets, and with the generous support of LCOGT's science team, who granted us rare access to the scopes over their weekend when science operations usually take precedence, that we were able to not only confirm these new objects, but also do valuable work in helping to constrain their orbits" continues Nick. "We submitted our results which show the objects to be real with well defined orbits in the main belt to the MPC over the weekend. This was only possible thanks to FTP and LCOGT permitting us access to the scopes outside of the normal UK schools' availability."
"We were stunned when imaging two of the NEO targets from the IAU's list , that we saw on two separate imaging runs, a total of 7 other objects moving in the same field of view. When we ran their orbits through the MPC checker service provided by the IAU, it turned out that none of them were known bodies on that list. We're using Astrometrica, along with the USNO-B1.0 star catalogue which are standards that Faulkes use regularly in many education projects to examine these targets. The orbits seem to indicate that they are almost all main belt objects, with one or two still undergoing analysis"
FTP are placing these and other NEO target objects flagged by the team up on their daily interesting targets list, which is getting UK schools and students using LCOGT network, and being support by FTP, involved in real scientific discovery. Nick continues. - "We're excited by this program as to see something completely new moving in space is exciting not only for the professional astronomers, but also for students, and if they themselves get to find a new object, with proper submissions followed through, and logged, then eventually they may also be able to name the new asteroid, as occurred when a school in Wales named a new target some years ago after the famous Welsh range, Snowdonia"
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