Pasadena's Planetary Society Announces Largest Awards Ever to Asteroid Observers through Global Grant Program

Published : Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | 5:57 PM

The Planetary Society, the world’s leading non-profit space interest organization that’s based in Pasadena, has announced seven winners of the 2018 Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) grant program which this year gets the Society’s largest financial contribution ever.

The program is named after astronomer Gene Shoemaker, a highly respected pioneering planetary geologist and an advocate for NEO discovery and tracking programs, who died in 1997.

The Planetary Society launched the program after his death, to recognize amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and professional astronomers who, with seed funding, can greatly increase their programs’ contributions to this critical research.

“The Shoemaker Grant winners fill a crucial role in providing observations to protect our planet from asteroid impact,” Bruce Betts, Chief Scientist of the Planetary Society, said. “Professional observatories have limited telescope time and geographical distribution, so talented, well equipped amateurs provide critical data, particularly in the areas of follow-up observations that yield detailed orbits, and asteroid characterization studies that tell us about the nature of the asteroids.”

The seven winners located on four continents were awarded a total of $59,300 out of funds donated by Planetary Society members and donors.

This year’s awards marks the first time a Shoemaker NEO award has been granted to amateur astronomers operating an observatory located in Africa, particularly in Morocco, meaning the grant program has now funded observatories located on every continent except Antarctica.

Here are the 2018 winners and their NEO projects:

Vladimir Benishek, of Sopot Astronomical Observatory in Serbia, will purchase a CCD camera and a temperature compensating focuser to create a second observing telescope at his facility. The system will be used primarily for asteroid characterization studies, specifically photometry (brightness) measurements used to determine light curves (brightness with time) that help determine spin rates and discovery of binary asteroids – where there are two asteroids rather than just one.

Daniel Coley, at the Center for Solar System Studies (CSSS) in California, will purchase a CCD camera to use with a newly acquired 0.7 m (28 in) telescope at their facility. The new camera system will be used primarily for photometry to study the physical characteristics of asteroids including study of the binary nature of some of the asteroids. Coley and colleagues also collaborate with radar observers to better determine the shape, spin axis, and rotation periods of near Earth asteroids.

Robert Holmes, president of the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) in Illinois, will purchase a CCD Camera as well as an adapter for their 0.61m telescope. The new camera will replace a camera purchased with a 2008 Shoemaker NEO Grant. The previous camera was used to take more than 52,000 individual measurements of NEO positions (astrometry) to facilitate determination of NEO orbits. The new camera will improve sensitivity and have a much larger memory buffer. The grant made possible by a gift in memory of Jonathan Masin.

Gary Hug, representing the Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomer’s League, will purchase several items to enable remote, robotic operation of the 0.7 meter Tombaugh Reflector at Farpoint Observatory in Kansas. The Tombaugh reflector was recently upgraded by the group and now can do astrometry (position measurements) of objects as dim or dimmer than 22.5 visual magnitude, enabling among other things, follow-up observations used to determine orbits of recently discovered near Earth asteroids. The grant made possible by a gift in memory of Jonathan Masin.

Julian Oey, from New South Wales, Australia will purchase a 20-inch telescope to go with an existing mount, camera, and facility at the JBL observatory at a dark, dry location outside Bathurst, Australia. The remote controlled JBL facility will complement Oey’s successful Blue Mountain Observatory, providing two southern hemisphere sites with different weather patterns, helping avoid clouds. The new telescope will be used primarily to provide physical characterization of near Earth asteroids.

Michel Ory, using the Morocco Oukaïmeden Sky Survey (MOSS) in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, will purchase a new CCD camera to use with their 0.5 meter telescope. Ory and Claudine Rinner operate their MOSS telescope remotely from Switzerland and France, respectively. The new camera will increase their field of view and improve their sensitivity. Their focus is on astrometry (position measurements).

Donald Pray, at the Sugarloaf Observatory in Massachusetts, will purchase a new mount for a 0.5 meter telescope. The new mount will improve image quality and overall pointing and tracking capability, and that, in turn, will improve data capture and photometric accuracy. He will sell the old mount and use money received to pay for a new camera for that telescope. In recent years, Pray has discovered the binary nature of more asteroids than any other amateur observer.

In addition to the Gene Shoemaker NEO grant program, The Planetary Society works to engage and inform the global community about planetary defense topics.

Over the 20-year history of the program, The Planetary Society and its contributors and donors have given $382,000 through 56 awards in 18 countries.








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