Upgraded IAWN Capabilities–Telescopes & Web Sites

In the past several months, some significant upgrades in capability have taken place.  We will take this opportunity to present details on these upgrades here, as well as their effect.  These upgrades have allowed a large increase in discoveries of NEOs over the previous year.  With a couple further immediate upgrades in capability, we expect another surge in discoveries when we compute annual tallies in about a year.


Upgraded CCD detector for Mount Lemmon Survey telescope

The most important capability upgrade in 2016 was the installation of a monolithic 10K X 10K CCD for The Catalina Sky Survey’s Mount Lemmon (observatory code G96)  1.5m reflector.  This new detector allowed for approximately 5 times the area coverage as the previous camera, and the results were impressive.  G96 had more than a 100% increase in discoveries over the previous year.  This increase is almost entirely responsible for the 20% increase in discoveries from the previous year.

Upgraded CCD detector for Catalina Sky Survey telescope

In addition to the upgraded chip for G96, Catalina was also able to secure and install an identical 10K chip for the Catalina Sky Survey Schmidt telescope (observatory code 703).  After some tweaks, this system is now performing well and the resulting sky coverage is truly impressive.  703 can cover the entire observable sky from their site in ~ 3 nights of observing.


ATLAS telescope(s)

The ATLAS Project has installed and begun operation of a 0.5m telescope capable of covering the entire observable sky from their site in Hawaii every few nights.  Some adjustments to the optics are in progress that will allow for fainter limiting magnitudes; however the combination of this telescope with the CSS Schmidt will result in the entire observable northern hemisphere sky being observed every couple of clear nights.  ATLAS has also proposed for additional systems, and if successful they will also install one in the southern hemisphere.

Pending upgrade:  A new CCD camera for the Pan-STARRS 2 telescope.

The Pan-STARRS project  will also provide a major upgrade boost, commensurate with those described above.  A second 1.8-m telescope with a large field of view will begin operation shortly.  It is expected that the telescope’s capabilities will be very similar to the existing system (PS1) and thus should result in another surge in NEO discoveries, particularly at fainter limiting magnitudes than most other facilities.

Because of all of the upgrades described here, we hope for another major increase in NEO discoveries by year end.


New CNEOS web page

JPL’s Center for NEO Studies has completed a major overhaul of their web services and has completed initial release to the public.  Part of this upgrade is an application programming interface (API) service.  This system can be linked here. We encourage users to give this site a good look, and we also look forward to more good stuff from the folks at JPL in the near future.








The 4th IAWN Steering Committee Meeting

On 13 October 2016, the IAWN Steering Committee met in Pasadena, California. Those present and virtually present (via Adobe Connect) included Detlef Koshny, Michael Kuppers and Gerhard Drolshagen (ESA); Giovanni Valsecchi (IAPS-INAF), Line Drube Alan Harris (DLR); Linda Billings, Rob Landis, Victoria Friedensen, Kelly Fast, and Lindley Johnson (NASA); Michael A’hearn (University of Maryland); Tim Spahr (NEO Sciences); Romana Kofler and Daniel Garcia Yarnoz (UNOOSA), Makoto Yoshikawa (JAXA); Sung Ki Cho (KASI); and Clemens Rumpf (UKSA).

Rob Landis began with a general welcome and introductory remarks. His presentation also contained a summary of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), a plug for the new IAWN web page, an updated list of IAWN signatories, and a short discussion of IAWN in some upcoming meetings and exercises.  Rob’s presentation is here .

Romana Kofler next discussed the interface between the IAWN and the UN’s Office of Outer  Space Affairs.  Her presentation (here) discusses three main items for IAWN from the OOSA perspective:  general communication on NEOs for the public, object-specific communication with member states in the event of a warning, and lastly capacity-building through UN-SPIDER.

Next up, Detlef Koschny gave a very detailed presentation on ESA’s NEO-related activities.  In particular, Detlef summarized various studies and workshops, and also discussed some astrometric follow-up observations that included observing some NEOs near 27th magnitude!

Gerhard Drolshagen, also of ESA, followed Detlef with a summary presentation of IAWN-related activities.  Included in this discussion was an attempt at generating a new impact rating scale, in the spirit of the Torino, Palermo, and Broomfield scales, in hopes of creating some means of communicating this information with the public.  Gerhard also discussed communication of a credible threat–this is a subject returned to frequently during this Steering Committee Meeting.

Lindley Johnson next discussed notification criteria here.  This relatively simple-looking set of slides took awhile to discuss.  Criteria for reporting impacts, and possible impacts, is a knotty subject where actual announcements need to be carefully crafted and discussed.  As many other participants noted in the lively discussion at the meeting, there are actual concrete examples of scientists being charged with crimes for improperly discussing or predicting (or failing to predict!) earthquakes in Italy.  One expects that there will be plenty of lively discussion about not only reporting criteria, but actual wording of reports of impact alerts in the future.

Following a lunch break, Tim Spahr and Rob Landis led a discussion of thresholds and communication (presentation here).  They both stressed the subject is difficult, and that various interested parties might have different criteria (essentially size and impact probabilities) for notification.  Further, the tendency to hyperbolize impact threats by the media was driven home by the appearance of a humorous but true article in the Daily Mail (see the presentation for details).   Lastly, the presentation showed some of the content on the developing IAWN.net web presence.

Linda Billings ended the formal presentation block by discussing recent work on impact scales (presentation here.)  She stressed the need for common language and avoiding discussion of impact probabilities with the public, as the general public does not operate well in probability space.  Linda’s presentation also puts forth a standard template for close approach and impact announcements; the IAWN close approach reports are using this template partially, and will embrace it fully in the the next version or two of the reporting software.


The meeting concluded with a discussion of future IAWN meetings at UNCOPUOS in late January 2017, and at the next Planetary Defense Conference in Tokyo, Japan (web site here).