NEO News: Spaceguard: How Are We Doing?


Alan Harris (JPL) and David Morrison (NASA Ames)

The Spaceguard Goal as adopted by NASA is to discover 90% of the near Earth asteroids (NEAs) larger than 1 km (actually, brighter than absolute magnitude H=18) before the end of 2008. This is a summary of progress through the end of 2001, with more than 100 new discoveries of NEAs brighter than H=18, bringing the total to 587 as of January 28, 2002. The total number of known NEAs of all sizes is 1743.

The following table shows the discoveries of total NEAs and of NEAs brighter than H=18, listed by month and observing team during 2001. The months are actually lunations, full moon to full moon, starting with the full moon of January 9, 2001, and ending with the full moon of January 28, 2002, a total of 13 "months." The observing groups listed are LINEAR (MIT), LONEOS (Lowell Observatory), NEAT-Maui (JPL), NEAT-Palomar (JPL; new), Spacewatch-I (Kitt Peak), and Spacewatch-II (Kitt Peak; new)

       LINEAR  LONEOS  NEAT-M  NEAT-P   SW-I   SW-II   Other |  Total

Jan   22  6    1  0    3  0    -  -    1  0    -  -    0  0 |  27   6
Feb   19  6    1  0    2  1    -  -    1  0    -  -    0  0 |  23   7
Mar   15  5    8  0    4  1    -  -    1  0    -  -    2  0 |  30   7
Apr   12  3    6  1    2  1    -  -    2  0    -  -    0  0 |  22   5
May   11  3    4  2    7  3    5  1    2  0    -  -    0  0 |  29   9
Jun    9  4    2  1    0  0    5  3    0  0    -  -    0  0 |  16   8
Jul    1  0    5  2    3  0   13  4    0  0    -  -    0  0 |  22   6
Aug   18  4    3  2    7  3   12  1    3  0    -  -    0  0 |  43  10
Sep   47 17   10  2    0  0    7  2    1  0    -  -    0  0 |  65  21
Oct   35  4    0  0    3  0   11  1    4  0    2  0    0  0 |  55   5
Nov   35  7    3  1    1  0    2  0    1  0    3  0    0  0 |  45   8
Dec   45  8    2  0    2  1    4  1    1  0    0  0    2  0 |  56  11
Jan   48 13    1  1    4  0    4  1    3  0    0  0    1  1 |  61  16
------------------------------------------------------------|--------
Tot  317 80   46 13   38 10   63 14   20  0    5  0    5  2 | 494 119
The next table groups the discoveries into 6-month intervals for easier comparison with earlier years. It also drops the final lunation:

	LINEAR	LONEOS	NEAT	SpacewatchOther		Total

01-1	 88  27	 22   4	 28  10	  7   0	 2  0		147  41

01-2	181  40	 23   7	 65  13	 15   0	 2  0		286  60
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Tot     269  67	 45  11	 93  23	 22   0	 4  0		433 101
It is particularly notable how much LINEAR's discovery rate picked up in the second half of the year. A preliminary look at discovery magnitudes suggests this is largely due to reaching to fainter magnitude, around visual magnitude V=19.5, while previously the limit was near V=19.0. Both NEAT systems are getting down to around V=19.5 too. It is this improvement in the detection limits that keeps the discovery rate so high; without such improvements we would expect a drop-off as the survey becomes more complete. The average discovery rate for 2002 is 9 per lunation, approximately the same as in 2000 (10 per lunation)

We can also ask how long it will take at the present discovery rate to find 90% of the NEAs brighter than H=18. The present total number of discovered NEAs of H We may be still a little shy of the mark for 90% completion by the end of 2008, but not seriously so for the nominal population of 1000. If there are as many as 1200, then we will have to go deeper (perhaps beyond magnitude V=20) to reach the goal in 2008. Or we would need to increase sky coverage, for example by adding a telescope at a Southern Hemisphere site whose long winter nights (hopefully clear) would complement the short and often cloudy summer nights in the US Southwest.

Detailed modeling of the survey and analysis of the discovery statistics is in preparation by Harris and will be published later in the professional literature.

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