Saturday, 31 October 2009

2009 October notes: 2009 TM8, 2009 UD, 2009 UV18, LCROSS and 9U01FF6

Apollo 2009 TM8 made a very close approach to the Earth early on Oct. 17th about 48 hours after discovery by the Catalina Sky Survey. It was followed from Great Shefford from soon after sunset on Oct. 16th when it was moving at an apparent speed of 180"/min, through to 04:20 UT the next morning by which time it had accelerated to 285"/min. It reached its closest to Earth at 03:37 UT at a distance of 0.9 LD. The brightness stayed fairly constant, around mag. +17.5 all night, the decreasing distance from Earth being offset by increasing phase angle but the large increase in apparent speed made it a more difficult target as the night wore on.

Another newly discovered Apollo, 2009 UD passed Earth at 2 LD on Oct. 20 and was observed on the morning of Oct. 17th for 2 hours and again for 3 hours the next morning when it was at about 3 LD and mag +17.0. Over 1,000 images were obtained in those 5 hours and allowed the determination that this ~15 metre diameter object rotates very fast with a period of 83.7 seconds with an amplitude of about 0.7 magnitudes.

2009 UV18 was an interesting LINEAR discovery from Oct. 22, relatively bright at mag. +18 and unusually large for a new discovery, estimated at over 2 km diameter. With a low inclination and the Earth approaching the ascending node of the orbit the size of the orbit was initially rather indeterminate and attempts at trying to identify it with a known minor planet failed, even though it ought to have been relatively bright in earlier apparitions. Then, on Oct. 29, Rob Matson, well known for precovery work with online image databases managed to find it on old NEAT images from Jan 2004, fortunately only 2.5° from the predicted place, even though the uncertainty was estimated at up to 90°.

The orbit of 2009 UV18 is similar to a Jupiter family comet and although it appeared stellar in images taken on Oct.23 and Oct. 26th it is probably worth keeping an eye on as it approaches perihelion this January in the morning sky. The last favourable return appears to have been in May 1993 when it should have reached mag. +16 and before that spring 1976 at mag +17.

The LCROSS mission was followed one final time on the night of Oct 8/9th. The spacecraft was only 6.4° from the gibbous Moon and internal reflections in the telescope made it a difficult target. Unfortunately the sky clouded over before the LCROSS shepherding spacecraft separated from the Centaur at 02:50 UT, the last images obtained that show LCROSS were taken at 01:56 UT but were so light polluted they could not be measured. The image of LCROSS was taken about an hour earlier, before the glare from the Moon became too strong, less than 11 hours before impact with the Moon.

What initially appeared to be a Near Earth Asteroid discovery was reported by the Catalina Sky Survey on Oct 26 and received their temporary designation 9U01FF6. It was 19th magnitude and moving at 10"/min but was already closer to Earth than the Moon. After follow-up from other observatories that same day it was found to be in a very unusual 31.5 day period, highly eccentric geocentric orbit, taking it to within 82,000 km of Earth (0.2 Lunar Distances) at perigee and out to 761,000 km (2.0 LD) at apogee. With an absolute magnitude of +30.9 it would only be 1-2 metres in diameter if it were a natural object, but smaller if artificial (with a higher albedo assumed). Further observations were made from Great Shefford on the evening of Oct. 27th and the last positions reported this perigee came from the OAM Observatory at La Sagra in Spain early on Oct. 28th.
9U01FF6 is fainter than mag. +21 for most of its orbit but will next be at perigee around Nov. 28th and should reach +16th magnitude but moving as fast as 250"-500"/min on the evening of Nov. 27th. Hopefully it will be recovered in the days leading up to that but observability is probably limited at most to only 2-4 nights each perigee. It is likely to be an unusual artificial satellite but further observations at the end of November are encouraged.

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