CNM Students Discover New Asteroids

March 16, 2016 -- When Dr. Patrick Miller, founder of the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), visited a CNM astronomy class on Monday, students in the class informed him that they had discovered two new asteroids in deep space.
March 16, 2016

Miller was in Albuquerque Monday and Tuesday to meet with CNM’s astronomy and physics classes and give a public lecture about the IASC asteroid search program that involves more than 500 schools around the world. He is currently a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Tex., and has been in the classroom for 40 years, starting in 1973 as a graduate student in mathematics at the University of New Mexico.

CNM is a participant of IASC, an online astronomy outreach program for high schools and colleges. Through the program, students make original discoveries of asteroids orbiting Mars and Jupiter. The discoveries are sent to the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University where they are officially recognized.

“The students in my class who discovered the two asteroids were really excited,” said Alina Gabryszewska-Kukawa, a CNM astronomy instructor. “They came for regular lessons and didn’t expect to make an original discovery. The asteroid discoveries made science real for them.”

Researchers at the University of Hawaii created images the students studied using high-powered telescopes. The images were prepared and made available to participating schools, including CNM. Each school receives different images to analyze, resulting in asteroid discoveries that are truly unique.

Asteroids are airless, rocky masses revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets. They are leftovers from the formation of our solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Most are small, but some are large like the one a high school teacher discovered taking a training with Miller. It was three football fields in length and appeared to be on a collision path with Earth in the year 2047. Later calculations indicated that if it was on a collision course, it would be at a much later date.

Miller said he taught mathematics for 35 years at UNM and other colleges. He obtained his Ph.D. in astronomy in 2008 and wanted a way to get students more hands-on with the subject. In 2006, he founded IASC, starting with five schools. That number has grown to 500 over the past decade and is expected to be near 1,000 soon.

In order to view the images, students must use a computer program, Astrometrica. The program is loaded onto six computers in the CNM Student Resource Center, but students can also load it on their laptops so they can make discoveries at home.

Last fall 15 CNM students participated in IASC and found 13 potentially new asteroids. Gabryszewska-Kukawa said that she anticipates the number of participating students to increase as a result of Miller’s visit.