After a year of setup and some setbacks, Squirrel Valley Observatory has entered into the initial phase of research, in particular minor planet astrometry. The observatory has been granted an observatory code (W34) from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC), operating from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge Massachusetts. SVO submitted 138 single point observations of 8 minor planets (asteroids) over a period of 20 days. Only 4 observations fell outside of the required 1 arc second of accuracy. This fulfilled the requirement of demonstrating the ability to produce “good”, properly formatted astrometic data consistently.
Squirrel Valley Observatory W34’s designation and continuing contribution of data will be published in the Minor Planet Circulars each month.
Below is a single sample of the astrometric data taken of the asteroid “03353 Jarvis” on the night of August 31st.
Asteroid astrometry is a branch of astronomy that involves precise measurements of the positions and movements of asteroids, also comets and near earth objects (NEO). This is accomplished by imaging the target, comparing the data to known data from the MPC, then submitting the measurements which can then
be used to refine orbit predictions or in some case lead to the discovery of new minor planets.
“The Minor Planet Center, or MPC, is the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets and
outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets. The MPC is responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computation for all of these
objects. This involves maintaining the master files of observations and orbits, keeping track of the discoverer of each object, and announcing discoveries
to the rest of the world via electronic circulars and an extensive website. The MPC operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, under the
auspices of Division F of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).”
Despite the hazy cloudy summer nights that have prevailed, some imaging and operating refinements have been made at the observatory. The inclusion of Sequence Generator Pro automated imaging software has been a real bugger to setup. Things always seem simple on the surface, but the integration with the different systems, like the autofocuser and autoguider have been frustrating at times. It appears that things are starting to click though, just a few more tweaks to make. It’s very satisfying to input several targets for the night into the software and then see the telescope slew to each one, plate solve, center, autofocus, start the guider and then start imaging. Then it moves to the next target and begins the process again, all on its own.
Last months construction of my first prototype all sky camera wrapped up as well. Plans are already being formulated for a second generation improved version that would utilize raspberry pi. The observatory is collaborating with the Swedish Meteor Network project, the CAMS Meteor project the Deep Sky Sentinel project and the Croatian Meteor Network on ways to extract useful data from ZWO cameras so that it that can be imported into the proper format for meteor data research.
Another project that I am very excited about is the observatories contribution of data to the MPC, Minor Planet Center. Astrometry data for four of the six asteroids observed by SVO during the month of August was recently submitted to the MPC in anticipation of acquiring an observatory code. The guys at The Northolt Branch Observatory located in West London have given me some very valuable support and information in this endeavor. I can’t thank Guy and Daniel enough.
Below is a sample of the data for the asteroid 06458 Nouda.
And finally, below are two comparison images of the globular cluster M13, the Hercules cluster. Both images were taken with the SVO main imaging scope approximately a year apart. The newest image shows the difference that a quality mount, the addition of an autoguider and autofocuser can make.