Astronomers develop sensitive asteroid detection and tracking technique

Metchev and Heinze - asteroid detection and tracking technique

Western astronomer Stanimir Metchev, recent MSc graduate Joseph Trollo, and Stony Brook University postdoctoral fellow Ari Heinze have dramatically refined the science of asteroid hunting.

Heinze, Metchev, and Trollo have developed a revolutionary rapid digital photographic image scanning technique that allows them unprecedented access to information about our enigmatic neighbours from the asteroid belt.

First of all, they took the old technique of looking for asteroid trails and stood it on its head. Instead of looking for asteroid trails on the image, they shift and stack the images so that the background stars appear to have trailed, while the images of detected asteroids become points on the photograph. This yields a far superior signal to noise ratio and thus provides for asteroid detection that is 10 times more sensitive than is possible with other techniques.

Not stopping there, Heinze and Metchev developed a technique they call Rotational Reflex Velocity (RRV) distance measurement.  RRV lets them determine a distance to the newly detected asteroid with only a day or two between observations. Traditionally such a parallax based distance measurement would have taken a large telescope perhaps a week or more to achieve.

The initial observations were made using the 0.9m WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona.

[Discovery News article]  [NOAO article]

Stanimir Metchev

Stan Metchev

Joseph Trollo

Joseph Trollo

Ari Heinze

Ari Heinze