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SKY & TELESCOPE Article on Local Observatory November 4, 2011

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December 2011 Issue

The December Issue of Sky & Telescope has hit the newsstand this week. The feature article is on Bob Holmes, an adjunct professor in the Physics Department here at EIU.  Bob is director of the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI), a private research observatory about 15 miles away from Charleston. He is one of NASA’s principle people who does orbital measurements of Near Earth Object (NEOs). These are potentially hazardous asteroids that intersect near the Earth’s orbit. All done with telescopes that he BUILT! I’ll tell you next week about the his new 50″ telescope, with picture of the mount installation, that will be fully installed next year. It  make ARI the largest privately owned observatory in the world.


Summer is Here! June 14, 2011

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The end of the semester is over, and I now have  time to tell you about the wonderful astronomy we’ve been doing these last few months at the Physics Department Observatory  and in the region. Today let me show you a recent television segment that appeared last month on the TV show, Heartland Highways.

More videos from the EIU Physics department are on our YouTube channel.

Special thanks to Heartland Highways and the video office at Eastern.

New NEO Discovered From ARI, Charleston, IL. March 6, 2011

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2011 EB7 Credit JPL and J Conwell

NEO 2011 EB7 discovered on March 2, by  Astronomical Research Institute (ARI), in Charleston Illinois, is an AMOR Near Earth Object (NEO). AMOR’s are Earth-approaching NEAs with orbits exterior to Earth’s, but interior to Mars’ orbit, named after asteroid Amor 1221.Robert  Holmes, director of ARI, is an adjunct professor in the physics department at Eastern Illinois university.

2011 EB7  is currently 0.5 AU away from Earth. It also has a predicted orbital period of 2.42 years. The closest point of 2011 EB7 orbit is 0.16AU to Earth’s orbit. For more detailed information go to the JPL site:


Video of 2010 TD54 Near Miss Today. October 12, 2010

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Amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins captured images this morning of the newly found asteroid 2010 TD54 that passed byEarth about 27,000 miles away.  The  asteroid was only detected this past Saturday. The film, which was made form a composite of 16 still pictures with a  5 second exposure., show the asteroid passing  through the background sky, although moving along at 10.7 miles/s. Estimates are the asteroid is about 7.3 m wide, and contained the energy of about 22 kilotons of TNT, if it would have come crashing through Earth’s atmosphere. For this animation, the mount was set to allow the target to pass through the field of view, and includes 16 five-second exposures shot between 08:51:51 and 08:54:04 UTC. The streak is the asteroid and the length of the streak shows how far it travels relative to the background in 5 seconds.

UPDATE: October 12th Asteroid October 11, 2010

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UPDATE (FROM UNIVERSE TODAY): Don Yeomans, Manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office replied to an inquiry about the object and said the newly discovered NEO 2010 TD54 is approximately 5-10 meters in size, and is now predicted to pass about 46,000 km from Earth’s surface at about 07:25 EDT (11:25 UT) on Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010. It was discovered by Catalina Sky Survey on Saturday morning.

“Only 1 in a million chance of an impact,” Yeomans said, “and even if it does impact, it is not large enough to make it through the Earth’s atmosphere to cause ground damage.”

Sources: IAU Minor Planet Center, Unmanned Spaceflight,Yahoo News Groups

Just In: Small Asteroid May Pass Within 36,000 miles of Earth on Tuesday! October 10, 2010

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Astronomers are tracking the asteroid,  2010 TD54, and it’s orbit is expected to bring it within 36,000 (plus or minus 3000 ) miles from Earth on October 12, with closest approach at approximately 11:14 UT. Information is to be found at  the IAU Minor Planet Center website. The size of the object has not known, but estimates say it is likely smaller than 10 meters.

Astronomy Club Last night. October 7, 2010

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Last night the Astronomy Club met and we got our picture taken for the yearbook, followed by an introduction to Astrometrica, given by Tyler and Hannah.  Astrometrica is the program we use that takes the raw photos, like the ones above,  from the various telescopes at EIU and ARI, and measures the exact position and speed of the asteroids. This is then sent to the Minor Planet center to determine the asteroid’s  orbit, and to find if it is a potentially hazardous object that may slam into Earth in the future.

If you want to learn more, Astronomy club meets the first and third Wednesday of the month, at 8:00 PM, in room 2153 of the Physical Science Building.

First Science from the 30″ Robo-scope! September 14, 2010

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On September 5th,  you saw first light.  This week we’ll talk about the first science measurements. The main research carried out at ARI and EIU with the 32″ scope and the 24″ scope are the search and measurement of  Near Earth Objects (NEO).  Just finding these objects are not enough, you must also precisely measure the changes of the position (astrometry) as the asteroid moves. These measurements determine the orbit, and allows astronomers to trace the future path of any asteroid. Below is a typical set of stacked photos from a CCD camera. The streaks are stars, caused by the rotation of the Earth, and the dot in the center is the asteroid (not moving with the stars).

Now after you take several of these photos and use a computer program like Astrometrica to analyze the data, you file a report at the Minor Planet Center at Harvard, the world clearinghouse for this data. So the data what’s it look like….(The first data from the new scope)

CON R. Holmes, 7168 NCR 2750E, Ashmore, IL 61912 USA
CON [ari@astro-research.org]
OBS R. Holmes
MEA R. Holmes
TEL 0.76-m f/6.8 Cassegrain + CCD
ACK Batch 001
AC2 ari@astro-research.orgK10R82M  C2010 09 13.15907423 39 23.63 +00 19 10.0          18.3 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16194523 39 22.39 +00 18 07.2          17.9 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16486023 39 21.12 +00 17 03.6          18.0 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16792823 39 19.78 +00 15 56.8          18.1 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.17080923 39 18.51 +00 14 54.1          17.6 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.17502023 39 16.67 +00 13 23.3          18.3 V      H21

The first lines tell the observatory code (H21) fro the Astronomical Research Institute. A few line down you see the telescope; a 0.76-meter in diameter f/6.8 RC Cassegrain + CCD Camera. You see that Bob Holmes was both the observer( who took the picture ) and the person who measured the data. Then comes the data:

K10R82M  C2010 09 13.15907423 39 23.63 +00 19 10.0          18.3 V      H21

K10R82M is the name of the asteroid,  2010 09 13.15907423 is the time of the measurement, and the position of the asteroid in Declination and Right Ascension are 39 23.63  and +00 19 10.0, followed by the apparent magnitude of 18.3. You need at LEAST 3 of these measurements to get an orbit.

So the telescope is all set? Not quite.

I’ll show you three more pictures,  and in Bob Holmes (Director of Astronomical Research Institute)  words show what to look for when you install a new telescope:


From Bob Holmes:

“Attached are three images taken with the 30” HOU telescope.

M57_2 (Ring Nebula)

This is an image from the 30″ telescope last night, a 1 minute exposure on M57_2. There were some thin clouds moving in during this exposure.  Images have not been flat fielded, but the camera is very clean and we have no vignetting of the image field so this is not a significant factor.

Note the primary mirror is not sitting correctly in the cell or the plungers are not tightened equally around the Cassegrain hole causing the malformed star images.  This may be a little worse in this image due to a warm mirror relative to the outside air temp.  There may also be some collimation errors adding to this distortion.  I will be working on these issues in the next day or so.Correcting this will increase the limiting magnitude better than the 20.8 in M57.

There is also a misalignment in the OTA to DEC axis (does not affect image quality) causing error in pointing by several arc minutes from one part of the sky to another.  This will require re-shimming the tower that holds the secondary to perpendicularity.


Image 2 is M13_1 with a one minute exposure reaching about a unfiltered magnitude 20.0.  Due to the size of the target in the image, the scale was reduced to show the entire object.  This was taken on 2010 09 13.  As you can see the star shapes are a little better due to the mirror cooling nearer the outside ambient air temp.

M27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

Image 3 is M27_1 with a one minute exposure reaching about unfiltered magnitude 20.2.  Due to the size of the target in the image the scale was reduced to show the entire object.  This was taken on 2010 09 13. ”
Bob Holmes


So we still need to tweak the alignment, then we install the cooling fans, to cool down and keep the primary mirror at ambient temperature, (otherwise the mirror expands and changes focus).  Then more photos to see if anything needs to be done but by October everything should be fine…..weather permitting.

Two asteroids to pass by Earth Today (Wednesday) September 8, 2010

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(PhysOrg and Universe Today): The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Ariz., discovered both objects on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 5, during a routine monitoring of the skies. The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., first received the observations Sunday morning, determined preliminary orbits and concluded that both objects would pass within the distance of the  about three days after their discovery.

Two asteroids orbital path

Asteroids 2010 RX 30 and 2010 RF12 will make their closest approach to Earth this Wed. At time of closest approach for 2010 RX 30 (2:51 a.m. PDT), it will be approximately 154,000 miles (about 248,000 kilometers) above the North Pacific, south of Japan. At time of closest approach for 2010 RF12 30 (2:12 p.m. PDT ), the asteroid will be approximately 49,088 miles (about 79,000 kilometers) above Antarctica.

Near-Earth  2010 RX30 is estimated to be 32 to 65 feet (10 to 20 meters) in size and will pass within 0.6 lunar distances of Earth (about 154,000 miles, or 248,000 kilometers) at 2:51 a.m. PDT (5:51 a.m. EDT) Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet (6 to 14 meters) in size, will pass within 0.2 lunar distances (about 49,088 miles or 79,000 kilometers) a few hours later at 2:12 p.m. PDT (5:12 pm EDT).

School Teachers Aid in the Search for Killer Asteroids July 29, 2009

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My graduate class in astronomy for science teachers just completed its summer course.

Teachers learning the ins and outs of asteroid hunting

Teachers learning the ins and outs of asteroid hunting

One of the last thing we do is to have some outside speakers come in. On Monday, Bob Holmes head of the Astronomical Research Institute based here in Charleston, Illinois, spoke to the students about one of his NASA projects that he involved with. Searching for NEO’s (Near Earth Objects)

bd81 asteroid discovered

bd81 asteroid discovered

ARI’s telescopes can take more than 1000 photos a night, while hunting for objects that can cross Earth’s orbit, like the movie above. So high school teachers and their students are needed to to go through and hunt for objects that may hit us. The software is free, and if a new object is found,  the student get credit and published in the minor planet circular at Harvard University. For more information, if you, and your students might be interested in this search contact ARI: http://ari.home.mchsi.com/contact_astro_research.htm




And for information about the software used Astrometrica: