Remote observations of a divorced binary asteroid
I am observing today.. again are you thinking? You are right, I am spending way to much time in a control room of a telescope, but tonight it is a bit special since I am observing from UC-Berkeley in a room where I can remotely control the 1m Nickel telescope at Lick Observatory.
I already mentioned the Lick observatory which is located nearby San Jose, CA so not very far from us (2h driving). About two years ago, to maximize the efficiency of the observatory and to reduce the budget cost, the observatory installed remote control rooms in several Universities of California (Santa Cruz, Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, Irvine, Davies). Using a VNC server we can connect to one of the computers at the observatory and control the telescope like if we were located in the control room. This is possible thanks to the high bandpass and also the reliability of the network provided by the university.
Today I am using the 1m-Nickel telescope to measure lightcurves of asteroids. I really enjoy using this telescope since only one person can control it, meaning, that right now, I am alone, listening to the music that I like and writing my favorite blog. I realized today that it is becoming increasingly rare for me to observe by myself. When an astronomer uses a medium (~ 3m) or large size telescopes (8-10m) and complex instruments like adaptive optics equipped with Laser Guide Star, he/she can expect to have at least 3 persons in the control room, the telescope operator and the AO specialist. I remember my first runs with AO and Laser Guide Star in 2001 at Lick, when there were ~4 people in the control room without including 2-3 visitors who were interested in seeing the Laser. That was definitely not a pleasant observing night… I also have often a student in training so the charm of being alone with the telescope and the starry night is becoming quite rare.
I am attaching below a picture of the remote room that I just took. It is located in the basement of one of the building of the university (no window ), so it is crucial for me to keep an eye on the all-sky camera and the weather station.
Right now the weather is clear and the seeing quite good (1.8 arcsec). However, the satellite map shows that a storm is coming and it will most likely start raining (or even snowing) pretty soon at the observatory. It is 2am already…
Several friends told me that they will love to come to observe with me. I think most of them think that I am looking through an eyepiece whereas everything is done with a computer and the data are definitely more boring than the pretty images you can find on the web.:-) Tonight I am observing one asteroid with the following romantic name: (56048) 1998 XV39. It does not look like it but it is an interesting target since we think it is a companion of a binary system which has been lost. My colleague, Petr Pravec from Ondrejov Observatory (Czech Republic), presented at the DPS meeting this year this recent discovery. They identified several asteroids which seem to have shared a similar orbit meaning that they were most likely a binary system (so gravitationally linked). We don’t yet completely understand what produced this astronomical divorce, so we are trying to study each of them to see common characteristics in the spin of each pair and in their total angular momentum.
So what exactly look like the data that I am collecting right now? Attached below a picture of the screen, I indicated the position of the asteroid… Nothing fancy right? From this small dot on the screen, we expect to derive the variation of light due to its spin and irregular shape, which could help understanding why a binary asteroid will ever want to divorce.
2:55 am, I am closing the dome. The clouds won this battle, however my colleague David Polishook from the Wise Observatory in Israel just sent me an email to let me know that he will continue to observe this target to get a complete coverage of the spin period.