Increasingly, reports of the discovery of potentially hazardous asteroids are appearing in the mass media (for example, asteroid XF11 a few years ago, and more recently asteroid NT7). In the first instance, the impact hazard posed by any given new discovery is generally based on just a few position measurements over a period of a few days along with orbital extrapolations over decades. Clearly, once a potentially hazardous asteroid is identified, there is an urgent need to gather more positional data since the earlier an accurate impact hazard can be forecast then the more time is available to do something about the threat. In the Plate Library of the United Kingdom Schmidt Telescope at the ROE we have an archive of nearly 20,000 plates taken over the previous few decades. The wide field covered by each plate results in a reasonable chance of `precovery' images being available over previous years for any given new discovery. You will develop a computer code that will take a set of predicted positions for any given asteroid (an ephemeris) and a plate catalogue. Your code will then match up positions with plates and flag any plates that may have the asteroid present. If time allows, you will be able to eyeball the plates to search for your predicted asteroid image.
Minor planet data resources:
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory online ephemeris generator
Web interface to the Minor Planet Ephemeris Service, IAU Minor Planet Centre
(some noteworthy potential Earth-bashers to input into these ephemeris generators include 1950 DA, 1998 XF11, 2002 NT7 and 2003 QQ47).
List of potentially hazardous asteroids (IAU Minor Planet Centre)
Predictions for future NEO close approaches (IAU Minor Planet Centre)
Schmidt plate data resources:
Catalogue of plates taken on the United Kingdom Schmidt Telescope
Catalogue of plates taken on the Palomar Oschin 48 inch Schmidt Telescope (post-1985 for the second Palomar Sky Survey)
Catalogue of plates taken on the Palomar Oschin 48 inch Schmidt Telescope for the first Palomar Sky Survey
Catalogue of plates taken on the European Southern Observatory 48 inch Schmidt Telescope
SuperCOSMOS Sky Survey (online access to digitised Schmidt survey plates)
SLALIB (a positional astronomy subroutine library for Fortran77)
JSky (general purpose Java resources for astronomy)
Some aspects of the formation and evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy and its satellites within the Magellanic system are still uncertain. Clues as to the dynamical history of the system come from the distributions of stars of various populations in space and velocity. The SuperCOSMOS Sky Survey project aims to catalogue all objects in the sky down to around m=21. By scanning plates taken in different colours and at different epochs, the motions and colours of the stars in the entire southern hemisphere have been measured (for more details, see SSS). Using these data, you will plot observational Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams and examine their morphology in order to identify populations of stars associated with our own Galaxy and various components of the Magellanic system. You will then colour-select groups of 1000s of stars from these components and determine their mean tangential velocities in order to examine the kinematic relationship of the identified components within the Milky Way/Magellanic system.