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Kansan discovers asteroid that may come near Earth

January 27, 2013


For the second time in less than four months, amateur astronomer Gary Hug, of Scranton, has discovered an asteroid that could one day pass close to Earth. The asteroid was found on the evening of Jan. 6 as Hug was searching for another object listed on the NEOCP (Near Earth Object Confirmation Page).

The asteroid discovered by Hug was first noticed on the west edge of the field of vision provided by the camera he had attached to his telescope.

“It was traveling too slow for most satellites but moving about 10 times faster than main belt asteroids,” he explained, noting that main belt asteroids were those found between Mars and Jupiter.

After determining that the asteroid he found wasn’t one that had been seen before, he ran a brief analysis of it and then reported his find to the Minor Planet Center.

“Within 15 minutes, this asteroid was listed on the NEOCP at the Minor Planet Center,” Hug said. “A few hours later, another astronomer, Bob Holmes, of the Astronomical Research Institute in Illinois, confirmed the object and turned in follow-up data.

“During the next 30 hours, a dozen other observatories around the world contributed observations, and on Jan. 8, the Minor Planet Center issued electronic circular MPEC 2013-A42 on it,” Hug said, adding that electronic circulars are used to publish all known facts about an asteroid once its orbit is well known. The official name given to the asteroid is 2013 AS27.

Hug said further studies of the asteroid found that it was about 140 to 310 meters wide and while it would pass near the earth, but would pose no significant threat. It passed by the earth at a distance of about 10 million miles on this orbit.

While the orbit of this asteroid is still being refined, Hug said that appears it may come much closer in the future.

“It now appears it can get as close as the moon,” he said, adding that there is “no near future danger, but it still warrants a look when it comes near us again many years from now.”

A similar asteroid was discovered by Hug in September when he was looking for another NEO discovery and found an unknown asteroid near the bottom of his field of vision. Given the name 2012 SY49 in a Minor Planet Electronic Circular, the asteroid came within 500,000 miles of earth, about twice the distance from the earth to the moon.

“The best guess is that it’s 20 to 30 meters in diameter,” Hug said, adding that it has the potential to come much closer on future trips around the sun, possibly passing as close as 14,170 miles of the earth.

“Its orbit isn’t well defined yet due to it only being visible even in moderately large telescopes for about a week,” Hug said. “There wasn’t enough data collected to be able to say for sure it won’t strike the Earth within the next 100 years or so. Precise orbital data collected over such a small percentage of its entire orbit means there is some mathematical chance of it hitting earth, although a very slight chance, during the next 100 years.”

Hug has been studying asteroids for the past 15 years and has been credited with discovering hundreds of main belt asteroids. Hug also shares credit with Graham Bell, of Maple Hill, for a comet discovery made at Farpoint Observatory located near Eskridge.

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