philplait rock video

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 1 2009 12:29 PM

philplait rock video

(I love obscure blog post titles that make sense and eventually are revealed to be puns.)

Early last year I announced that my friend Jeff Medkeff had named an asteroid after me (as well others named after PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Michael Stackpole). 165347 philplait is a smallish rock about 1.3 kilometers across, just shy of a mile. It orbits the Sun in the main asteroid belt, on average -- the orbit is a mild ellipse -- about 350 million kilometers from the Sun.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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At the time, I was thinking it would be fun to see if anyone could nab cool images of the rock. However, its size and distance make it very faint, so it was a bit of a difficult target. Worse, its position in the sky at that time put it too close to the Sun to see for long. So I basically put it on the back burner.

However, eventually the viewing geometry got better, and so few days ago amateur astronomer and BABloggee Rick Johnson decided to go for it. Despite clouds (and later, snow!) he was able to take several images of 165347 philplait, which he combined to make this totally cool movie:


Normally, Rick says, he can make animations like this for pretty faint objects, but the clouds made this one difficult. He had to do some post-processing to make it viewable; that's why the stars look like round disks but the asteroid is just a couple of dots (normally, the asteroid would look the same size as the stars). Still, how cool is this? If he can do that under pretty poor observing conditions, what can be done when the weather is clear?

I looked up the asteroid's orbit using the JPL Small Bodies Browser, and saw that 165347 philplait reaches opposition around March 15, in just a couple of weeks. That means it's up all night, giving plenty of time to observe it, and it's closest to Earth, making it as bright as possible.

So I'm giving a call out to any amateurs out there: I'd love to see more images and even animations of "my" asteroid! If you have the right equipment -- a 12" 'scope with a good CCD should be sufficient to get images of the 19th magnitude rock -- then give it a shot. If you get good images (or animations) put them up on the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today forum, or Flickr, or wherever, and send me a link. I'll collect them and post the images here, too. And if you can get images of the other asteroids that's fine too, we can get PZ, Rebecca, and Stackpole in on the fun.

Happy rock hunting! And thanks!

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