Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The curious case of Asteroid 2014 HQ124 (PHA)

UPDATE: Jun 13th

I was right there is a big hole in that asteroid!!!! See my May 20th lightcurve below. The brilliant images from Goldstone and Arecibo Radar are on NASA's Website Here. Is it just me or does it look like an Oscar? Certainly an Oscar winning performance by the radar teams.

UPDATE: June 8th

Well asteroid 2014 HQ124 has crossed over into the daytime sky for now, I missed the last chance to get images of it due to high humidity and the roof being shut. Goldstone are lining up for their first run, can't wait to see their photos.

UPDATE: June 7th

Nice recognition by NASA of the amateur effort on this one!

UPDATE: June 6th 2014

Goldstone Radar is geared up for one of the best runs in recent years. They will have some brilliant images of this object. The most interesting thing determined so far is that it's Albedo is quite high at 0.35 which is unusual. On May 20th I ran quite a long session on it (by request) and was able to provide some good astrometry and photometry. It would appear to have a few bumps in it as there was some shape to my partial light curve. I am attempting some additional images in the morning, but the humidity has been a bit high the last few mornings and the roof has been shut - here's hoping for tomorrow.

IMAGE CREDIT: (C)P.Lake Q62 - 30 x 180 sec images were used to determine magnitude against the UCAC4 Catalog.

Its not unusual for asteroids to whiz past earth inside or just outside the orbit of the moon, (1 lunar distance). What is less common these days, is to detect a new, previously unknown, ~300-550m wide Asteroid approaching to 3 Lunar distances.

Asteroid 2014 HQ124 is interesting for a number of reasons. Approaching quietly in the pre-dawn twilight, out of reach of all but the most southern telescopes, it is inclined to the plane of the solar system by 26 degrees and it is currently at -71 degrees declination. This is a little unusual for an object that big, although not without precedent.

2014 HQ124 was discovered by the WISE (Wide Field Infrared Survey). WISE is not only a wide field survey but a versatile space telescope that has produced a wide range of data, including galactic surveys, discovering 19 comets, finding earth's first trojan asteroid, and recently eliminating the possibility of a Planet X greater than or equal to the size of Neptune (ie something as big as Uranus and Neptune would have been detected if it was there).

The galactic survey work was largely complete by 2011 when it was put into hibernation. Recently in 2013 it was bought back online as NEOWISE to continue its asteroid work. 2014 HQ124 was detected on April 23rd and likely would not have been seen by earth based telescopes until much later (towards June). So it is still serving a very useful "scouting" role. A number of deep south small observatories and amateurs have now extended the arc to >12 days and I was able to capture it early this morning automatically from Siding Spring Observatory Q62, one hour before I evacuated myself from my warm bed.

As a space telescope, NEOWISE is able to get observations from some otherwise hard to get to spots in the sky, and as an infrared survey its has been tasked at the dark carbonaceous asteroids that are bright in the infrared spectrum.

With the retirement of the E12 Survey in 2013, it has been all hands on deck in the deep southern skies and NEOWISE is clearly fulfilling a useful role.

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