Harvard logo Smithsonian logo Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
The CfA Almanac Vol. XIII No. 2, July 2000
[red bar] [CfA Home]  [CfA Search]  [CfA Help]

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

"ALBERT," A LONG-LOST ASTEROID, FOUND AT LAST

Nearly 89 years after its original discovery, the long-lost asteroid (719) Albert has finally been reobserved. With this finding, according to Gareth Williams of SAO, it can safely be said that the current position is known for every one of the 14,788 asteroids in the numbered sequence that began with the discovery of (1) Ceres in 1801.

Albert was discovered visually by Johann Palisa at the Vienna Observatory on the night of October 3-4, 1911. It was also seen at the Copenhagen Observatory the following night. From these observations it was clear that the object was roughly 32 million kilometers from the Earth. After (433) Eros, discovered in 1898, Albert was only the second asteroid then known to come that close.

Based on a few faint traces and other accidental images on photographic plates, an orbital computation suggested that Albert had been at its closest to the Sun, 285 million kilometers, shortly before its discovery and that it orbited the Sun in a period of about four years. But that also meant that Albert spent most of its time 483 million kilometers or more from the Sun. If it were difficult to observe in 1911, when it was close, there was little hope it would be bright enough to detect at other times.

Various searches over the next 89 years proved fruitless, until earlier this year, when Albert, at last, was identified by Williams, Assistant Director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (MPC), located at SAO. Williams was analyzing recent data from the Spacewatch asteroid survey project, which uses a 91-centimeter telescope of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory on Kitt Peak to scan the sky electronically for asteroids that can come close to the Earth, often much closer than is possible for Albert. Williams has been vigilant in checking the frequent new discoveries of Earth-approaching asteroids by all the survey groups (there are now four or five around the world) to find any link with asteroids discovered earlier.

Williams has dreamt about finding the lost asteroid (719) Albert since he was still in school in England. And, in fact, it was his work on identifications of asteroids, and particularly those in the main belt of asteroids orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, that brought Williams to the attention of MPC Director Brian G. Marsden. As recently as the late 1970s, more than 20 of the then-2000 asteroids in the numbered sequence were lost. At the time Williams joined the MPC staff in 1990, all but two of the lost numbered asteroids had been found. A year or so later, Williams was able to identify (878) Mildred in recent images. Down to only one lost numbered asteroid, Williams checked every asteroid reported to the MPC in hopes of spotting the long-lost Albert.

As a result, on May 9, when Williams was putting together the information on an unknown near-earth-object captured by the Kitt Peak telescope he noticed that its orbit plane looked "an awful lot like Albert's!" Over the course of an hour, he attempted to link the new observations with those of 1911. As it turns out, the Spacewatch rediscovery images were made when Albert was just moving in from the most distant, or aphelion, point of its orbit. At a distance of some 418 million kilometers from the Earth and 531 million kilometers from the Sun, it had a magnitude of 21.6, near the detection limit of Spacewatch. Still, the images were strong enough to allow comparison--and determination that the new object was indeed the old, missing Albert.

Although Albert's orbital period changes slightly because of planetary perturbations, it is remarkable how close it is to four and two-sevenths years, particularly in the early years after discovery. This means that seven revolutions of Albert about the Sun take just 30 years--so that when it returned in 1941 the object had nearly the same brightness, sky position, and minimum distance (30.5 million kilometers) from the Earth as when first discovered. Of course, Albert escaped detection in 1941, probably because most of the astronomers who might otherwise have observed it were involved in less peaceful activities. And, 30 years later again, in 1971, it would have been a little farther away and fainter.

The 30-year cycle also means that Albert will be close and bright again in 2001. It comes to a distance of 43 million kilometers on September 5 next year, allowing an excellent opportunity for careful study. That study could include a determination of its size, rotation period and other physical characteristics. At present, Albert's estimated 3.2-kilometer diameter is scarcely more than a guess.

Albert was named in 1913 in honor of Baron Albert Freiherr von Rothschild, a benefactor of the Vienna Observatory. And, for those who fear the asteroid could one day crash into us, we note that it will not come much closer to the Earth than it did in 1911 and 1941 at any time in the foreseeable future.

--Brian Marsden

GIVING A SCIENCE SPIN TO THE BOSTON MARATHON

Thanks to an unusual collaboration between Boston's WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), viewers of the 2000 Boston Marathon were treated to something never before seen during coverage of the famous foot race. For a feature called "Testing the Limits," runner and education graduate student Dayna Muller was wired with telemetry that provided vital information on her progress and physical condition (current pace, previous mile pace, heart rate, calorie consumption and current position) and broadcast live during the race, as well as displayed in near-real-time on WBZ's website.

"Testing the Limits" was part of an educational campaign called "SportSmarts," conceived by Matthew Schneps of the CfA's Science Education Department to increase people's understanding of science as well as the role of science in sports. The marathon project was designed to follow the progress of one "average" runner throughout her training. Thus, viewers could watch Muller's training regime in a series of short segments that aired during WBZ's "Five O'Clock News Hour" for eight weeks preceding the race. Then, on Marathon Day, viewers could discover the importance of carbohydrates to a runner, how much water is lost during extended exercise, the effects of physical stress on muscle tissue, and other key science aspects of long-distance running.

IN MEMORIAM

John Wolbach died at his home in Sudbury on Sunday, April 16. Since 1948, Wolbach had been a devoted employee, constant supporter, and beloved friend of HCO. His major interests were in solar activity and climate changes over time and he authored several publications on sunspots and solar prominences. His contributions include his support for the Wolbach Library and generous gifts toward the Magellan project in Chile. A memorial volume of thoughts about John Wolbach, written by friends and colleagues, will be available soon for browsing and reminiscing in the library that bears his name.

* * *

Rodney Marks, 32, an Australian citizen and Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow serving as the Winterover Scientist for SAO's Project AST/RO (Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory ) at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, died of natural causes on Friday, May 12.

Rodney Marks
Rodney Marks

Marks was spending the period from November 1999 through November 2000; and, before deploying to the South Pole last October, he passed all of the stringent medical/dental/psychological exams required by the U.S. Antarctic Program for winterovers. Marks had previously wintered at the Pole in 1998 for the SPIREX/Abu (near-infrared) project.

At the time of his death, AST/RO was in the early stages of what promised to be its most successful winter observing season ever. Marks was doing a superb job running the observatory, getting the data, and working on new observational techniques. However, as he and a colleague were walking from the AST/RO building in the Dark Sector back to the main South Pole base, Rodney began to have breathing difficulties and to feel quite badly. He checked himself into the base medical facility.

He began to develop very serious symptoms while under the care of the doctor. The base emergency trauma team was called in to help, and the doctor consulted with colleagues by satellite. Reportedly, Marks recovered somewhat and could converse with his attendants, but at some point his heart stopped and resuscitation efforts failed. It will not be possible to determine the specific cause of death until after the station opens in November. There is nothing to suggest that his death was related to his work, to the environment at the South Pole, or to any toxic or infectious agent.

Born in Geelong, Australia, Marks held a bachelor's degree with 1st Class Honors from the University of Melbourne and a doctorate in physics from the University of New South Wales. His thesis research was on the characterization of the South Pole site for astrophysical observations.

* * *

Harrison E. (Harry) Radford, 72, a retired member of the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division, died May 5, after a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Harrison Radford
Harrison Radford

A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, who received his MS and PhD degrees from Yale, Harry joined the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1969, as a physicist in the Radio and Geoastronomy Division, after nearly a decade with the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST). His work with the Bureau, which included measurements by microwave spectroscopy of the OH radical at 18 cm that led to its detection at radio wavelengths in the interstellar medium, earned him the Department of Commerce's Silver Medal for Meritorious Service in 1963.

At SAO, Radford became internationally known for his pioneering laboratory experiments that led to the discovery of complex hydrocarbon molecules in space. In 1982, he was honored with the Senior Scientist Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for his contributions to molecular physics and his role in laying the foundation for the new interdisciplinary science of astrochemistry. He retired from SAO in 1996.

Radford is survived by his wife Alfa, of Arlington, MA, three daughters, two stepchildren, and 4 grandchildren. Donations in his memory may be sent to ALS Foundation, MDA District, 275 Turnpike Street, Canton, MA 02021; or, The First Church in Belmont "Building Fun," 401 Concord Avenue, Belmont, MA 02478.

Previous Page   Next Page