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Brookline observatory tracks asteroid - and livestreams what it sees

Posted by Leslie Anderson  February 15, 2013 05:14 PM

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As a small asteroid travels within 18,000 miles of Earth tonight, a student-operated observatory in Brookline will get a closeup look – and livestream what it finds across the world.

From 6 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Saturday, the Clay Center Observatory at the Dexter and Southfield Schools will provide real-time high-definition video of the asteroid, known as 2012 DA14. The video feed can be freely accessed worldwide via the observatory’s Ustream channel, according to a press release.

“It’s one-quarter the size of the Hubble telescope,” said Ronald Dantowitz, the observatory’s director. “We have our high school students providing a feed to a million people. We’re up to a half million people just watching our countdown clock.”

The countdown clock shows how much time remains until the tracking begins.

The observatory’s “space camera” has a 25-inch main mirror, which school officials said makes it one of the largest publicly accessible telescopes in the United States. Since it is on the East Coast, it will be among the first large telescopes in the country to provide imagery of the asteroid as night falls.

The asteroid was discovered last year and is roughly the size of a school gymnasium, according to the release. During its flyby, the asteroid will pass rapidly from south to north among the stars and will be situated between the Big and Little Dippers once it gets dark on the East Coast.

“By then the asteroid will be too faint to see in most backyard telescopes. However, it should be easy to track with the advanced optics and instrumentation at the Clay Center Observatory,” the release said.

The telescopic views will be provided by a team of high-school students from Dexter and Southfield Schools, led by sophomore Nicholas Weber. They will measure changes in the asteroid’s brightness to provide a visual counterpart to radar observations being conducted by NASA scientists in California, according to the release.

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