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Asteroid Hermes is Found

Press Release From: Sky and Telescope
Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

image After eluding astronomers for 66 years, the long-lost asteroid Hermes has finally been retrieved.

Early on October 15th, Brian A. Skiff (Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search, Arizona) sent measurements of four CCD images obtained with the 23-inch Catalina Schmidt telescope to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the center, Timothy B. Spahr identified the suspect with other measurements submitted in the past seven weeks -- but not recognized as unusual -- by LONEOS and by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project in New Mexico. In addition, quick action by James Young (Table Mountain Observatory, California) secured a confirmation just before dawn on the 15th.

Judging by its brightness, Hermes is a minor planet about 1 to 2 kilometers across. So it could be somewhat larger than the 1937 estimates. In a famous exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Hermes was depicted as a sphere about the size of Central Park.

Hermes is by no means the last of the "lost asteroids" -- many thousands of others in the Minor Planet Center's database fall in this category because they could not be followed long enough for an accurate orbit to be determined. But Hermes is by far the most famous. It was discovered by Karl Reinmuth at Heidelberg, Germany, on October 28, 1937, and tracked for only five days. Although never officially numbered, it has been known by the name Hermes ever since.

In late October 2003, Hermes will be bright enough (magnitude 13) to be seen in 8-inch and larger amateur telescopes as it races westward across Cetus, Pisces, and Aquarius. By month's end it will be moving 7 degrees per day and gaining. Unlike the situation in 1937, when Hermes skimmed to within 800,000 km of our planet (two Earth-Moon distances), it will pass about nine times that far on November 4, 2003. Nevertheless, the possibility of future close encounters definitely puts this object in the PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid) class.

The preliminary ephemeris below has been calculated from the orbital elements by Brian G. Marsden on Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2003-T74, issued October 15th. It gives Hermes's right ascension and declination (equinox 2000.0) at 0 hours Universal Time on each date, its distance from the Earth (Delta) and Sun (r) in astronomical units, its elongation angle from the Sun, visual magnitude, and the constellation through which it is passing. (View or print the table with a fixed-space font like Courier.)

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Hermes (1937 UB)

Date RA Dec Delta r Elong. Mag. Const. (0h UT) h m o ' (au) (au) o Oct 15 01 46.2 +02 48 0.210 1.205 171 14.6 Psc Oct 16 01 43.6 +02 39 0.200 1.195 172 14.5 Psc Oct 17 01 40.6 +02 29 0.189 1.185 172 14.3 Cet Oct 18 01 37.4 +02 19 0.179 1.174 173 14.2 Cet Oct 19 01 33.7 +02 07 0.169 1.164 172 14.1 Cet Oct 20 01 29.6 +01 54 0.159 1.153 172 13.9 Cet Oct 21 01 24.9 +01 40 0.149 1.143 170 13.8 Cet Oct 22 01 19.5 +01 23 0.139 1.132 169 13.7 Cet Oct 23 01 13.4 +01 05 0.130 1.122 167 13.6 Cet Oct 24 01 06.4 +00 45 0.120 1.111 164 13.5 Cet Oct 25 00 58.2 +00 21 0.111 1.101 162 13.4 Cet Oct 26 00 48.6 -00 06 0.102 1.090 158 13.3 Cet Oct 27 00 37.3 -00 38 0.094 1.079 155 13.2 Cet Oct 28 00 23.7 -01 15 0.085 1.069 151 13.1 Psc Oct 29 00 07.4 -02 00 0.077 1.058 146 13.0 Psc Oct 30 23 47.4 -02 53 0.070 1.047 140 12.9 Psc Oct 31 23 23.1 -03 55 0.063 1.037 133 12.9 Aqr Nov 01 22 53.3 -05 06 0.057 1.026 125 12.9 Aqr Nov 02 22 17.4 -06 25 0.052 1.015 115 13.0 Aqr Nov 03 21 35.7 -07 44 0.049 1.005 104 13.2 Aqr Nov 04 20 49.7 -08 53 0.048 0.994 91 13.5 Aqr Nov 05 20 02.8 -09 41 0.048 0.983 79 14.0 Aql Nov 06 19 18.5 -10 04 0.051 0.973 67 14.7 Aql Nov 07 18 39.4 -10 07 0.055 0.962 57 15.6 Sct

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