Happy New Year!

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The long, long journey has ended…

Dale Rutter / NASA

About six million years ago, a small comet, which we now know as Comet Elenin, under the influence gravitational perturbations unknown to us, strayed out of its orbit and went on to its first, and as we now know, last encounter with the Sun. During its long journey, man appeared on the Earth, who, in the early 21st century, made his way so as to discover a distant wanderer…

Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin) was discovered a year ago, December 10, 2010. At that time nothing predicted the “fame” attained by this comet, informally known as the “Great Doomsday Comet of 2011”. It is still unclear why this comet was selected for this role, but it happened that its influence was supposed to be responsible for a shift in Earth’s magnetic poles, terrible earthquakes, and, simply, a collision with the Earth. Other charlatans said that alien spacecraft were flying behind it, and its occupants would soon take over the Earth … As we can see now, when the comet, not having caused anyone harm, became interplanetary dust; nothing of the sort happened.

The whole story was another example of the pressure of hysteria, intimidating people, and just making money. So it was in 1997 with Comet Hale-Bopp, so it was with Comet Elenin. I hope that in the future, the number of people believing in all the lies written about Comet C/2010 X1 will lessen. But unfortunately, it is clear that such stories will be repeated in just a few years as the wheel of history turns. But the real truth and science will prevail again!

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MPC statistic for November – December 2011

The new monthly MPC circular released – MPC 77125- 77510.

ISON-NM statistic for the previous month (September 7 – October 7):

Number of measurements: 8686

Measured objects: 2159

Discovered objects: 88*

Sky coverage: 460 sq. degrees

Observing nights**: 23

* include unusual object on cometary orbit 2011 RC17

** – include partial nights

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The first supernova discovered at the ISON-NM observatory

L. Elenin / ISON-NM Observatory

The first supernova discovered at our observatory, was found in survey images from November 18, 2011. In the course of checking archival DSS photographs of the “suspicious” galaxy PGC 2095477 with a star next to it, I was surprised to see that the star was not in them. That meant it was entirely possible that it was an exploding supernova. The object was seen in four images; it was magnitude 18.7m and was clearly not an artifact of the image. After measuring its coordinates, the process began of checking the object against known supernovae, variable stars and Solar System objects. Finally success!, This object turned out to be unknown!

After placing it on the optical transients confirmation page of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, CBAT, with the designation PSN J06580768 +3713117, over the next few days, several confirmations of the object were obtained from optical observatories. But for the official recognition of the supernova discovery, spectral evidence was needed, and that took a little over a week. During this time, at our observatory two more estimates of the supernova’s brightness were obtained, and it became clear that at the time of discovery on November 18, it was still getting brighter! By November 22th it had already increased its brightness almost one magnitude and reached 17.9m. By November 28th, it had again returned to a value of 18.5m.

On November 30th the long-awaited CBAT circular officially recognizing the supernova discovery was released, assigning it the designation SN 2011ij. Along with this, the circular included data on the spectral observations of the supernova at the 1.5-m telescope of the FL Whipple Observatory. Interpretation of the data showed that SN 2011ij is a type Ia supernova, and the time the spectrum was taken was about seven days after maximum brightness. This estimate is very well correlated with our observatory’s optical observations. We were lucky, because most supernovae when discovered are already fading. In our case, having an estimate of its brightness near maximum, one can accurately calculate the distance to its host galaxy PGC 2095477.

As mentioned above, while this is our first such discovery, I hope that in the future at the observatory, the search for supernovae will be carried out in semiautomatic mode.

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A new unusual object was discovered at the ISON-NM observatory

A new object receiving the designation 2011 RC17 was discovered in the course of a sky survey on Sept 2, 2011, but it only became known a few days ago… This happened because, at the time of discovery, the object had too low an MPC rating, which indicates whether the object might be interesting or it might be a typical main belt asteroid. In this case, the program that determines the rating was mistaken; consequently, the object was not flagged by our observatory for follow-up and had every chance to leave without revealing its true nature.

That did not happen, in part, because the object was detected initially in the morning sky, far from the antisolar point and moved closer to it only a month and a half later. This area of the sky is heavily studied by the surveys, and the object was found again. It happened on September 23 at Mt. Lemmon Observatory. After that, the object was again lost for a month before its opposition. Near opposition the object was observed by several observatories, and not until the second half of November were all of these disparate measurements related and identified as one object, discovered by our observatory 2.5 months ago!

That is how such an unknown object so quickly got such a precise orbit, so that now it will not be lost. By itself, this is an illustrative story, a short history of how the mechanism works for searching for new objects in the solar system. But also the new asteroid itself – 2011 RC17, turned out to be not very simple. In terms of orbital elements it defies classification, it is most like a Centaurs, but this group of asteroids moves between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune without coming into the inner solar system. Asteroid 2011 RC17’s perihelion distance is slightly less than 3 a.u., i.e., it comes just inside the main asteroid belt.

Such an orbit is closer to that of a comet, and naturally, it was immediately suggested that this object may be the nucleus of a comet, inactive at the present time. Maybe so, but unfortunately, there is no sign of cometary activity in this object. Now asteroid 2011 RC17 is already moving away from the Sun, and if cometary activity is not observed there now, it can hardly appear before the asteroid’s next approach to the Sun, which will take place in exactly 16 years. At that time, we will again try to solve the mystery of this interesting object.

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