Discovery of 6Q0B44E
- There have been a few questions about this object since people became
more aware of it earlier today, so I'll take address what I know so far.
Steve Larson, Rik Hill and I took the opportunity of a break in the
monsoons to finish aligning the optics on our Schmidt after we cleaned
the optics earlier this summer. After everything was satisfactory, I
settled in for a few nights of surveying. During the course of the night
our software picked out B44E at 19.5 magnitude moving about 4.5 degrees
a day. As is typical, I sent in my obs to MPC and I also sent them down
to Rob McNaught at our sister survey at Siding Springs so he could
provide some follow up. Later I attempted my own follow up, but the
object was not visible due to its low altitude.
I was in contact with Tim at MPC before I finished up for the night and
he had place B44E on the page.
When I awoke, Rob's follow up obs were in my inbox as was a note from
Tim stating that it was likely man-made and the object was now on the
Space Junk page. He also commented that with Rob's follow up, the orbit
fell in place rather nicely and that one more set of obs from me that
night would be sufficient to nail it down. Tim had also said that he had
alerted Chodas & Chesley for their input.
I ran my obs through Bill Gray's Sat_ID with the latest TLEs and came up
with nothing. Finding a candidate being placed on the "elsewhere" page
as "Not a minor planet" isn't uncommon. We are finding Bill Sat ID very
helpful in culling out man-made objects, so they don't get submitted and
put up on the page, but I hadn't run these obs through before sending
them off to MPC.
After that I sent all of the obs on to Tony Beresford as I thought he
would appreciate the challenge of figuring out what this might be. Being
more knowledgeable about satellites, I figured he'd nail it down rather
Rob had sent his obs to Bill Gray and at Rob's request, I sent mine
along to him as well.
Using the ephemerides from the Space Junk page, I scheduled additional
observations for last night. Shortly before the object rose above 30
degrees, Tony sent an ephemeris that he had produced. The two were very
similar, within arc seconds.
After obtaining and submitting two more sets of obs, I sent those
results to Tony, who in sort order came up with the current 80.x day
B44E will be visible in larger telescopes for a few more weeks, then
fading to 26th magnitude, until early November when it'll brighten again
to around 21st magnitude.
I'd like to thank Tony and Bill for their efforts.
It isn't surprising this flying desk hasn't been spotted earlier.
It'll be interesting to find out if it's a product of NASA or nature.
(Opinions expressed by me are my own. They may not reflect those of my
employer and should not be mistaken as official statements.)
Catalina Sky Survey
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85719
- This object is clearly in orbit around the Earth, but the orbit is very
distant and therefore quite unstable. I get a slightly shorter orbital
period, about 78 days, a perigee well beyond 1 lunar distance, and apogee
at about 2 LDs. This, together with the fact that the geocentric orbit
plane is currently inclined about 60 degrees to the ecliptic, suggests to
me that B44E is a captured object. The whole situation is very reminiscent
of J002E3, which was identified as the captured Apollo 12 S-IVB third
stage. This object, however, is much fainter: if it is a rocket stage, it
is must be a small one, such as an Agena, Centaur, IUS or Luna.
Like Bill, I ran the object backward in time, but the data arc is really
too short to say with much certainty when the object was captured. All
that can be said right now is that it has been orbiting the Earth for at
least a couple years, and will continue to do so for at least three more.
Perhaps the reason we haven't seen this object until now is that it passes
through oppposition region in a direction nearly perpendicular to the
ecliptic and traverses the region in just a couple days.
- Paul Chodas wrote:
"... I get a slightly shorter orbital period, about 78 days..."
I shouldn't have given an orbital period of "80 days, plus or minus
a small fraction", without specifying the epoch. At epoch 2006 August
21, the period (based on the osculating orbit, and including only the
mass of the earth) is 72.36 days. For an epoch of 31 August, it's
80.14 days. Just a matter of where the moon happens to be at the time.
"...Perhaps the reason we haven't seen this object until now is that
it passes through opposition region in a direction nearly perpendicular
to the ecliptic and traverses the region in just a couple days."
Yup. I was originally puzzled as to how this guy could have been
floating around for three to ten years (rough guess based on the dozen
virtual dwarf asteroids/virtual space junk orbits I tried) without being
detected, but then I looked at a few of the ephemerides... it usually
doesn't come this close to opposition. This was a good apparition,
near perigee and opposition at the same time.
A reminder: the Usual Suspects would like to see any astrometry
people get for this object. So please e-mail your astrometry to:
Anything e-mailed to the latter address will, of course, appear
for all to see on the astrometry_distro Yahoo group:
Again, ephemerides can be generated for this object from:
- Ephemerides for 6Q0B44E can now be obtained from Horizons, based on a
solution Paul Chodas just provided. This includes a nominal solar radiation
If you obtain additional astrometry, please copy Paul.Chodas@...
on the MPC submission. No need to copy me.
It was added to Horizons as a "spacecraft" for software reasons ONLY; this
is NOT a conclusion regarding it's nature. So web users will find it under the
"spacecraft" menu. Telnet and e-mail users can access it as 6Q0B44E, or
"B44E" for short. Or "B4", for that matter.
Because it had to be added as a spacecraft, you won't automatically get plane
of sky uncertainties.
However, the orbit and covariance are on the orbit data sheet, so you can
just cut-and-paste them back into the program. It will then think it is
an asteroid and compute the uncertainties.