A Progress Report on the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project

R. M. Elowitz, G. H. Stokes, M. Bezpalko, M. S. Blythe, J. B.. Evans, E. C. Pearce, R. W. Sayer, F. C. Shelly, H. E. M. Viggh (MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project is a MIT Lincoln Laboratory effort cooperatively sponsored by the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The objective of the LINEAR project is to substantially contribute to the NASA goal of cataloging 90 percent of the Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) with sizes larger than 1 km, within the next 10 years.

Since March 1998, the LINEAR project has been hosted on a 1-meter diameter telescope located at the Lincoln Laboratory Experimental Test Site (ETS) on the White Sands Missile Range near Socorro, New Mexico. Beginning in October 1999, the LINEAR system added a second 1-meter telescope to routine operations, thus doubling the search capacity. Each telescope is equipped with a large format 2560x1960 back-illuminated frame-transfer CCD along with associated camera/processing elements developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory for United States Air Force space surveillance applications. Since March of 1998, LINEAR has contributed 70% of the world wide discoveries of NEAs. As of January 1, 2000 the LINEAR project has discovered 74 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (also referred to as PHAs), 22 Atens, 150 Apollos and 140 Amors type Near Earth asteroids. In addition, LINEAR has discovered 33 comets [37 to 2000 January 25] since the project began, and the first two asteroids with retrograde orbits that show no indication of cometary activity. Future plans for the LINEAR project include further automation of operations and processing enhancements that will increase the already impressive discovery rate of the LINEAR program.

Looking at some of the LINEAR sky plots it is apparent that there is still plenty of sky that LINEAR doesn't search. There are vacant areas five hours of RA either side of the Sun, north of 80 degrees declination and south of -30 degrees declination. This leaves plenty of hiding places where amateurs might discover the next comet. [Jon Shanklin]