First PanSTARRS camera now in action

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A revolution in asteroid searching is underway. Between WISE and now PanSTARRS, the rate of asteroid discovery should soar during the next year, ... 10618.html

World's Largest Digital Camera Begins Hunt for Killer Asteroids
By Tariq Malik Managing Editor
posted: 18 June 2010
01:42 pm ET

A new telescope in Hawaii being billed as the world's largest digital camera has begun searching the sky for potentially killer asteroids that could endanger our planet Earth.

With a main mirror about 60 inches (1.8 meters) wide, the new telescope on Maui's Haleakala volcano peak is somewhat small when compared to the large 10-meter Keck telescopes atop the Hawaiian peak of Mauna Kea.

But the telescope's 1,400-megapixel camera is a digital giant, with 1.4 billion pixels spread across 40 centimeters to snap photos of the night sky automatically, night after night, to find potentially dangerous asteroids. A typical domestic digital camera may have 5 million pixels on a chip a few millimeters across, telescope officials said.

"Although modest in size, this telescope is on the cutting edge of technology," said astronomer Nick Kaiser, who is leading the asteroid hunt, known as the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). "It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space."

The asteroid hunt actually began on May 13, when the new Pan-STARRS telescope PS1 started its space rock survey. That was when "the world became a slightly safer place," project officials said in a statement this week. [More asteroid photos.]

The telescope is prototype for the more ambitious P4 observatory, a telescope that would be four times more powerful than P1 and sit atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea. As it is, P1 is expected to map about 75 percent of the night sky during its initial asteroid search.

Over the next three years, the new telescope is expected to find 100,000 asteroids and determine which, if any, pose a collision threat to Earth, researchers said. The observatory should also catalogue about five billion stars and 500 million galaxies, they added.

The new telescope is designed to take more than 500 photos of the sky every night and send 4 terabytes of data (the equivalent of 1,000 DVDs) to the Maui High Performance Computing Center for analysis. The computing center will compare the images with each other and older observations to find any objects that have moved or changed in brightness, Pan-STARRS researchers said.



I have been a fan of PS1, however it had been out of commission due to jitter for some time, and their site still does not indicate it is back in operation:

PS1 started regular observing in March 2009, providing scientific date to the PS1 Scientific Consortium.

During commissioning and early scientific observing the following landmarks were noted:

An observing rate of several hundred fields per night in five passbands was achieved.
The IPP (Image Processing Pipeline proved capable of processing a whole night’s data (600 images) in 15 hours
The MOPS (moving object pipeline) works well: 4000 known asteroids have been detected, plus 7 new ones which have been reported to the minor planet center.
Nine new supernovae have been discovered.
During the first few months regular observing, concerns arose about image jitter and local atmospheric seeing effects. Although the telescope is sometimes capable of producing excellent images over the entire field with sub-arcsecond resolution, problems with image quality were detected in an unacceptably large fraction of the images PS1 was producing. It was therefore decided to suspend regular observing in September 2009 in order to address these problems.

The telescope will be back on the air by Thanksgiving 2009: testing of the modified mirror support will occur in December/January. Several thermal imaging experiments will be also performed around the telescope. It is hoped to resume full science operation shortly after this.


With Kepler having released data, and WISE spotting PHAs and such I was curious about Pan-STARRS has anyhting in the way of updates. They have at least indicated that they are in operation, and have somelinks to some interviews, but nothing definitive to tell how they are doing.

Here is the text of an interview on ABC from back in June:

SHANE MCLEOD: The world's biggest digital camera has been set up on an mountain in Hawaii to spot potentially hazardous objects in the Solar System. The camera is part of a new telescope that maps large parts of the sky each night. Dr Nick Kaiser is the principal investigator for the project from the University of Hawaii he spoke to Brendan Trembath.

NICK KAISER: Our telescope takes somewhere between 500 and 800 images a night and these are not your average image because our detector is rather special. It has 1.4 billion pixels so the amount of data we collect each night is literally astronomical.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: That is an incredible digital camera.

NICK KAISER: It is. That is the special thing about this. It is all made possible by huge advances in the technology. That combined with the excellent observing sites on, that are available on the mountains in Hawaii.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Why is the information that it is collecting so valuable?

NICK KAISER: Well, what is new about this observatory is that instead of looking at individual objects or small patches of the sky, we are looking at the whole sky. We have a very wide field of view telescope.
This was quite a challenge to make and we have got this huge detector that I have already mentioned and it enables us to image seven square degrees of the sky each exposure. That is about 40 times the area of the full moon. What we are able to do is detect anything which moves or any stars which change in brightness.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: So it could help you hunt asteroids?

NICK KAISER: Oh yeah, very much so. That is one of the major strategic goals. We plan to be able to detect nearly all objects which are bigger than about 300 metres in size and to give you a sort of background as to what they do, those kind of things hit the Earth on average once every 70,000 years so they are a pretty rare events but when they do collide with Earth, they release about 1000 mega-tonnes of TNTs worth of energy and that is like 50 of the largest nuclear bombs going off at once so they are really quite devastating.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: That is a horrific thought but could the Earth really do anything if your telescope did pick up such an asteroid heading for Earth?

NICK KAISER: We are not looking to find things on their last approach to the Earth so it is not like we are going to yell watch out, you know, duck, something is coming and wait for the ground to shake. Rather we are going to make a census of all these objects in the solar system.
What we do is we detect them several times. We can figure out what their orbits are and then we can ask, okay is this object actually going to hit the Earth anytime in say the next 100 years.
So if we find something, if Earth is unlucky enough to be about to be hit by something, the kind of warning would be 10, maybe 30 or 50 years. So you have plenty of time to prepare for this and what you have to do is send something out that can deflect the objects slightly out of its current orbit so it won't actually collide with the Earth.

SHANE MCLEOD: Dr Nick Kaiser from the Pan-STARRS project at the University of Hawaii speaking to Brendan Trembath.


Guest : Pan-STARRS discovers its first potentially hazardous asteroid
September 27, 2010

This is the Pan-STARRS PS1 Observatory just before sunrise on Haleakala, Maui. Credit: Rob Ratkowski

The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) PS1 telescope has discovered an asteroid that will come within 4 million miles of Earth in mid-October. The object is about 150 feet in diameter and was discovered in images acquired on September 16, when it was about 20 million miles away.

It is the first "potentially hazardous object" (PHO) to be discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey and has been given the designation "2010 ST3."

"Although this particular object won't hit Earth in the immediate future, its discovery shows that Pan-STARRS is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering potentially dangerous asteroids," said Robert Jedicke, a University of Hawaii member of the PS1 Scientific Consortium, who is working on the asteroid data from the telescope. "This object was discovered when it was too far away to be detected by other asteroid surveys," Jedicke noted.

Two images of 2010 ST3 (circled in green) taken by PS1 about 15 minutes apart on the night of Sept. 16 show the asteroid moving against the background field of stars and galaxies. Each image is about 100 arc seconds across. Credit: PS1SC
Pan-STARRS expects to discover tens of thousands of new asteroids every year with sufficient precision to accurately calculate their orbits around the sun. Any sizable object that looks like it may come close to Earth within the next 50 years or so will be labeled "potentially hazardous" and carefully monitored. NASA experts believe that, given several years warning, it should be possible to organize a space mission to deflect any asteroid that is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.


BTW, (since the article is kind of vague) this asteroid hasn't shown up on the JPL Sentry close approach page yet. If the CA distance is accurate, it would be ~ 16 X the Lunar Diatnce. I'll keep an eye out.
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