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Astronomical Observatory: Cool Images


Named Calvin Asteroids: Asteroid 375005 Newsome (2007 FM42)

What event has just occurred?

How was this asteroid discovered?

What does its unusual orbit tell us about its history?

Why was this name chosen?

What event has just occurred? Asteroid 375005 (2007 FM42), discovered 26 March 2007 by Calvin freshman Melissa (Haegert) Dykhuis (‘10), was officially given the name "Newsome" (Minor Planet Circular 108284, 2017 June 30).

How was this asteroid discovered? Asteroid Newsome was discovered on 26 March 2007 by Calvin freshman Melissa (Haegert) Dykhuis, during an asteroid discovery lab for the spring Physics 134 class, and given the provisional designation 2007 FM42. Right away, the asteroid proved itself to be unusual, moving at a high speed and in a direction nearly perpendicular to the path typical of most asteroid discoveries. The high speed was indicative of an unusually close object, while the odd direction of motion was indicative of an orbit significantly inclined to the orbit of the Earth.

The asteroid’s non-standard orbit led its discoverers on a merry chase through the stars to track it down for follow-up observations. The serendipitous initial discovery, confirmed by a second observation one night later, was enough to claim the asteroid as a Calvin find, but the asteroid’s high velocity coupled with the uncertainty in its orbital parameters resulted in a large positional uncertainty for the next month’s observational follow-up. The recovery effort to establish (375005) Newsome’s orbit required multiple sets of images along the asteroid’s possible path; through careful inspection of this large chunk of sky, the asteroid was recovered, reducing the uncertainty on its orbit for future observations. Additional observations over the next several months and years reduced that uncertainty sufficiently to permit the asteroid to be given a permanent number and a name.

Asteroid Newsome

This four-frame animated loop shows the discovery images of (375005) Newsome. North is up and east is to the left, and there are 30 minutes between images. The 19.7 magnitude asteroid begins at the bottom center of the image and moves at 1.3 arcsec per minute in a direction just 24 degrees west of north.

Its small orbital size (semimajor axis a = 1.908 AU) places the asteroid between the orbit of Mars and the main belt of asteroids. Its small orbital eccentricity (e = 0.075) and large orbital inclination (i = 23.2 degrees) places it in a semi-stable orbit that does not cross the orbit of Mars. It takes just 2.63 years to orbit the Sun. Its absolute magnitude (H = 18.4) implies a size less than a kilometer across. Precise orbital parameters and observation history can be found at the Minor Planet Center. They also have a cool interactive orbit sketch. For current astronomical coordinates, distance, and brightness go to the Minor Planet Center Ephemeris page, type the name "Newsome" in the text box, and click on the "Get ephemerides" button.

What does its unusual orbit tell us about its history? Asteroid Newsome’s orbital size, eccentricity and inclination place it among a group of asteroids known as Hungaria asteroids (and it is the only asteroid discovery credited to Calvin College in this dynamical region). These asteroids are thought to be a remnant of an extension of the main asteroid belt that was destabilized early in the history of the solar system when Saturn moved out to its current location, and hence have been given the name E-belt asteroids. Gravitational interactions over a protracted period have driven most E-belt objects into the inner solar system. Collisions of these objects with our Moon may have formed the majority of mare basins we see there today.

Why was the specific name chosen? The asteroid is named for Deb Newsome (b. 1957), a missionary who has worked at a rural literacy center in Gambia, West Africa, for over 27 years. Deb’s passion for astronomy inspired the asteroid’s discoverer, Melissa (Haegert) Dykhuis, in her early interest in the starry skies. As a 12-year-old astronomer, Melissa scoured the night skies for objects of interest, identifying every star in almost every constellation — even the stars that weren’t supposed to be there. Puzzled by a bright "star" out of place in the constellation Taurus one winter, Melissa asked Deb for help… and was first introduced to the planet Jupiter. Melissa has been keeping an eye on the unruly sky ever since, and is pleased to have one of her most interesting asteroid discoveries named in honor of her mentor and friend. The formal citation as published by the IAU is as follows:

"Deb Newsome (b. 1957) is an amateur astronomer who has lived and worked in Gambia, West Africa as a missionary at a rural literacy center for over 27 years. Her backyard telescope expertise and astronomical insight has inspired young stargazers under clear African skies."

Deb Newsome


The photograph shows Deb Newsome, circa 2006, at home in the village in Ndungu Kebbeh, Gambia, West Africa.







[Text by M. Dykhuis and L. Molnar, posted 11/4/2017.]


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