Celebrate the Large and Long Program: Followup of newly discovered Near-Earth objects from the NEOWISE survey

Celebrate the Large and Long Program! is a series of blog posts which showcase the high-impact science under the Large and Long Program of Gemini Observatory.

What is the Large and Long Program?

The Large and Long Program (LLP) is one of five observing modes Gemini offers to users of our telescopes. These five modes categorize projects based on length and weather conditions required for the observations. Classically, Gemini accepts proposals on a six month basis and recipients awarded with observing time complete their observations within that given semester. Large and Long Programs, on the other hand, provide more flexibility for long term research and last anywhere from one to three years. This extended time frame promotes collaboration across communities and produces significant and high-impact science. Here, we ask past and present Large and Long Programs to share a little about their research and experience with Gemini Observatory.

Followup of newly discovered Near-Earth objects from the NEOWISE survey

A Gemini observation of 2014 HQ124, a 400m NEO that passed within 3 Lunar distances of the Earth only six weeks after discovery by NEOWISE and followup by Gemini-South. Animated version here.

1. Principal Investigator: Name and Affiliation?

Joseph Masiero, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

2. How would you describe your Large and Long Program?

Our Large and Long Program focuses on rapid followup of near-Earth asteroids discovered by the NEOWISE space telescope survey.  NEOWISE is an all-sky thermal infrared survey, and excels at finding dark, large asteroids coming close to the Earth. But the NEOWISE survey doesn’t allow the telescope to go back and confirm its discoveries, so we need help from ground-based telescopes.  The southern hemisphere has very few telescopes dedicated to NEO followup, so our LLP provides us the critical ability to track down these newly found objects.  We use GMOS-South to acquire astrometry of NEO candidate objects, and thus improve the measured orbits for these objects.  This data help us better predict where the object will be in the future, and if it poses a hazard to Earth.

3. Why is Gemini best suited for this research?

Gemini offers us critical access to the southern hemisphere sky, and the ability to quickly take followup observations through its queue observing system.  We use these features to quickly track down objects before their positional uncertainty grows too large.  Gemini’s large aperture ensure that even our faintest targets can be observed in only a small amount of time.

4. What has been the best part of your experience with the Large and Long Program?

The best part of our experience with the LLP has been the rapid acquisition and dissemination of our time-critical data.  The end-to-end Gemini system ensures that we can submit triggers, get observations, download data from the Gemini archive, and submit measured positions to the Minor Planet Center quickly enough to ensure these newly discovered near-Earth objects are not lost.

More about NEOWISE can be found here.

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