Oct 31, 2012 4:33 PM by Jake Merriman
TUCSON - The very first comet discovered by the 32-inch Schulman Telescope at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, the nation's largest instrument of its kind dedicated to public outreach and citizen science, has been recently found by an amateur astronomer in Slovakia.
The telescope is capable of being operated remotely over the Internet; it was this ability that amateur astronomer Tomas Vorobjov took advantage of to discover this previously unknown comet orbiting around Jupiter, according to a news release from the University of Arizona. He used the telescope to gather data for an asteroid search in one of the school campaigns organized by the International Astronomical Search Collaboration, or IASC (pronounced "Isaac"), an education outreach program. It enables high school and college students to make original discoveries of Main Belt asteroids, which are space rocks left over from the formation of the solar system.
If it were not for the partnership between IASC and Sierra Stars Observing Network, or SSON, Vorobjov might not have made the discovery, the release staets. SSON is an organization that provides paying customers with access to some of the world's finest professional-grade instruments in observatories around the world.
Vorobjov contributes his discovery to a scheduling conflict. "We originally scheduled our observations for Saturday (October 14), but the SkyCenter telescope was used for local operations by visiting astronomers. Therefore, I had to move the jobs to Sunday. If the Schulman telescope had been running for SSON on Saturday, the comet most likely would have been outside the field of view and I wouldn't have found it."
According to Vorobjov, only from 15 to 30 comets are discovered each year, compared to the near 100,000 asteroids that are discovered.
Vorobjov says that his discovery came out of a routine job that he had submitted to SSON, which was to follow up on potentially unknown asteroids identified in a patch of sky which had not been observed in two months.
"Here is how you discover an asteroid: You take three images of the same field of sky about 10 minutes apart. Then you line up the stars in the images, which will appear fixed in position. An asteroid will appear as a dot moving through the field of stars."
"I knew what asteroids look like and what comets look like," says Vorobjov. "I noticed something to the right of what looked like an asteroid. It was very, very, faint; you could barely see it. Asteroids look just like dots, but this one dot had a tail moving with it."
Vorobjov realized that without the scheduling conflict his discovery never would have happened. He said that this made him wonder how many times he may have missed comets in previous observations. "Goes to show that in any kind of discovery or science there is a portion of luck. You're not in charge of everything."
For further information, the release from the University of Arizona can be viewed at:
Pictured: The 32-inch Sculman Telescope at Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is used for public programs but can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. (Photo: Adam Block/SkyCenter)