Thursday, 1 December 2011

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: Update on 2011 RC17

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: Update on 2011 RC17: M.P.E.C. 2011-W34 , issued on 2011 Nov. 22, 02:33 UT, announced the discovery by Leonid Elenin (H15 ISON-NM Observatory, Mayhill) of a new...

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: New Comet: P/2011 W2 (RINNER)

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: New Comet: P/2011 W2 (RINNER): Cbet nr.2922, issued on 2011, November 29, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude 17.9) by Claudine Rinner on CCD i...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

So that's what a spacecraft going to Mars looks like

Our team is usually imaging comets, asteroids and logging tons of data with the minor planet centre, but on occasion we get to have a bit of fun, hence the idea to combine projects like #Project Snoopy, where we're trying to hunt down the lost Apollo 10 lunar ascent module, still in orbit around the Sun. Today however, we picked up (using a relatively small robotic scope) something a bit younger and closer to home. A few days ago, the Mars Curiosity rover launched on a multi million mile journey to Gale crater on the red planet. The Centaur upper stage of the rocket is still up with it, and our team managed to get a brief snapshot of it...

Here she is...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Talking Space

Since becoming a STEM ambassador and doing my first gig at a local secondary school with a few others from Wiltshire Astro Society, I think my passion to talk about all things space, from how our Sun works to 9 year olds through to tracking and finding comets and asteroids to undergraduates, which is where I find myself going this weekend, has grown.

Giving lectures to University students is something I used to do in my former life as a Product Development and Planning "guru" for Yamaha R&D, where I was lecturing also on a part time basis to the University of Westminster's Masters Degree program for a time on the topics of synthesis and acoustics, but space science is different.

Sure, I talk about comets to astro societies and at such prestigious locations as the Festival of Astronomy, but this is just usually to enthusiastic amateurs, and not people who wish to make a full time career out of astronomy. So this past few weeks, after finishing up my latest piece for ESA on the amazing LISA Pathfinder mission testing, I have spent a lot of time reading up on orbital eccentricity and general areas related to the type of work we at Faulkes have been doing with students and my amazing friends in Italy in hunting down comets, main belt asteroids and this new "Jupiter Trojan" area..

Writing lecture notes, you begin to realise just how demanding being a full time lecturer can be, as not only are they researching, writing and doing general admin/day to day work, they also mark, personal tutor etc as's a tough old gig, so respect is very very much due.

The scopes (Faulkes and La Palma) have been undergoing maintenance and upgrades these past few weeks, which has given me some much needed downtime to re-assess many things, but one thing is for certain, my passion for all things spacey just gets bigger and bigger, and a passion that extends to trying to enthuse others, in particular children in to astronomy, I hope can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Testing in the extreme

When I first got to work on this paper, I was quite literally peeling my jaw off the floor... basically the accuracy of measurements being performed here, is like nothing ever seen before...

Read on ...

Flares in the Crab

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Phobos Grunt

There's a lot being said about this mission online, mostly supportive of the ROSCOSMOS team, who, given the budgetary constraints faced by almost everyone globally, have attempted, what seemed to be the impossible. Using largely untested equipment, move a multi-tonne satellite, one of the largest ever, in to an orbit around the Martian moon Phobos, land a sample collection probe, and get that back to Earth. The failure, after what seemed like a perfect launch to get from low Earth orbit (at time of writing), is indicative of the level of risk they faced.

Does this mean the end of ROSCOCMOS with regards to deep space missions. The great galactic ghoul does seem to be attracted to Russian missions when it comes to Mars (but then look at the amazing success of their Venus missions), with so far 18/18 missions all failing in one way or another, but one has to admire the fact that they are trying something so audacious and complex, in these chastened times (unless you're a bank, in which case, what's chastened?), and even if it does fail, at the cost of <$170 million, according to estimates, it's a relatively small price compared to other missions.

The story is unfolding still, maybe they will recover it, maybe it will splash down in to the sea in the next 4 weeks...but, maybe humankind will take some inspiration from the effort being put in to doing something, not because it is easy...but because it is hard.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Mars 500 - The aftermath

What struck me at the end of the Mars500 mission was just how happy/together the crew looked. It's an incredible experiment for sure, locking 6 people (all male? this realistic?) into something which looked like a Swedish Sauna for 520 days, simulating docking, landing, orbits etc...but the three critical human (never mind the technical) factors which make it real still need to be tested

They being

1: The psychological effects of knowing that you're millions of miles away with absolutely no chance of a rescue should something go wrong. Mars500 crew knew they were in a hangar, and could step out at any that element still needs to be It's a good question, but probably the only way is to just do it, much like the Apollo program just "did it" to test systems. The effects of being removed from your family I think are also compounded by real distance.

2: Weightlessness and the effects on the body for 520 days - We've come close with ISS and MIR over the years, but this is still a step above that, and again, you're compounding the medical effects with a lack of a suitable radiation shield which the Earth provides.

3. The post mission effect. Trivial compared to the other two, but someone will be the first/second etc person to set foot on Mars. Look what that did to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Being able to manage that in the 60s without the massively increased media (good and bad) was tough enough...doing it in the digital age...ratchet that up a notch or six..

Congratulations though to a team who've proved many of the elements for long duration missions can be achieved, it's a small step for man, and a giant leap towards Mars

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

BBC News - Again

Looks like after asteroids, we now seem to be doing well on comets!

Almost There

Saving the James Webb is a long and winding process. Multiple senate/sub committee votes to pass/go through before the scope is in fact "saved" though it's looking likely to get its funding. The question though remains...what impact will a funded JWST have on other NASA science missions? The JWST is a hugely risky project for sure, a real "it has to work first time or nothing" job, but...if it does work, the results will be quite astonishing.

BREAKING NEWS: The U.S. Senate has just passed the CJS bill with full funding for JWST: Previously, a Senate subcommittee voted for full funding ($529 million), but it had yet to pass a full vote in the Senate. That happened today. A MASSIVE thank you to U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski for championing this bill in the Senate. | Next Up: The House and Senate will reconcile their bills to produce a final figure for JWST in FY2012.

Monday, 31 October 2011


What can I say, but a big thank you everyone who made the Salisbury Star Party a lot of fun. Met some new people, some old friends, some people I had only previously known via Twitter and Facebook and had some great chats in the pub about all sorts, ranging from what telescope to buy through to non-baryonic particle capture (with beer mats!)....(don't ask!!!). Had a night listening to one friend play some excellent guitar riffs and spend the Saturday giving and listening to terrific talks by a range of people from Dr Emily Baldwin, Ninian Boyle, Sally Russell and the legendary Damian Peach. All in all, despite the clouds, a great event...looking forward to next year, hopefully bringing a very excited (will be then) 6 year old along, as she wanted to come this time..!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Never give up !!!

So, after seeing the post from NASA saying to basically forget Comet we get this.. read it all...the second section (Starting Z Sekanina) is critical!! (Cropped version of the full CBET)

To say we're thrilled would be an understatement!

Giovanni Sostero, Ernesto Guido, and Nick Howes report on their attempts
to image comet C/2010 X1 (cf. IAUC 9226) after its solar conjunction, using
several robotic scopes that were operating under excellent sky conditions in
New Mexico and at Mauna Kea on Oct. 9.5 and 10.6 UT, yielding no sign of the
comet at low altitude. Several stacked exposures taken on Oct. 10.6 with the
2.0-m f/10 Ritchey-Chretien "Faulkes Telescope North" show no trace of the
comet within the 10' x 10' field-of-view centered on the comet's ephemeris
(limiting magnitude around 20.5). But after stacking unfiltered CCD images
taken in moonlight by Guido, Sostero, and Howes on Oct. 21.38 and 21.48 UT
remotely using the GRAS 0.1-m f/5 APO refractor at the Mayhill station in New
Mexico (field-of-view 3.9 deg x 2.6 deg; scale 3".5 pixels), they found
something moving on the sky background via blinking the two sets that were
separated by about 2 hours: an extremely faint and diffuse blob of tentative
size 14' x 8' (elongated toward p.a. 300 deg) with no obvious condensation
that is close to the ephemeris position (roughly 3'.5 east-southeast of the
prediction), moving apparently with the comet's motion.

Guido, Sostero, and Howes confirmed their detection of the comet's
"cloud" in observations obtained on Oct. 23.4 with the same refractor, the
cloud being roughly 40' long with a 6' extension near the expected position
of the comet. Images are posted at website URLs and (with an "X" marking the the ephemeris position in
the second image); an animation showing the motion with respect to the
X-marked movement of the expected comet's position is shown at website URL Sostero, Guido, and Howes then subtracted the field
stars to obtain the images posted at URL They
note that the sunward part of the "cometary cloud" appears much sharper
compared to the anti-solar direction; the diffuse shape of the comet appears
to be somehow "conical", about 1.5 deg long overall, with a maximum
thickness of about 10' on the side toward the solar direction, and the oval
shape of the "cometary cloud" then thins significantly tailward (p.a. about
300 deg). The "brightest" part of this extremely faint blob of light is
located about 4'.3 in p.a. 77 deg (east-northeast) when compared to the
nominal position of the MPC ephemeris.

Z. Sekanina, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, writes that the deep CCD images
of the disintegrated comet taken in the past few days, especially the high-
quality processed image from Oct. 23.37 UT by E. Guido et al., show enough
detail to allow simple modeling and a preliminary interpretation of the
surviving tail. The sharp cigar-shaped trail near the southern end of this
dust-ejecta cloud points at position angle 290 +/- 1 deg, which, interpreted
as a synchrone, implies a fairly brief dust-emission event centered on Aug. 16
+/- 4 days, in fair agreement with a rather sharply peaked light curve on
Aug. 13-14 and with Mattiazzi's report of the comet's notable fading from Aug.
17 on (CBET 2801). Despite the near-zero inclination of the comet's orbital
plane to the ecliptic, the geometry from the earth has been relatively
favorable. Because of the small geocentric distance, the earth was on the
Aug. 23 almost 7 deg below the orbit plane, when this picture was taken, and
since the sheet of dust in the plane was spreading toward the earth, it
projected essentially to the north of the trail in an approximately 160-deg-
wide fan. The prolonged radius vector was directed at p.a. 277 deg and thus
made an angle of 13 deg with the sharp trail.
Because of their fan-like distribution in the orbit plane, the image
shows not only the ejecta from the first half of August, but from the comet's
entire active period, starting far from the sun on the way to perihelion.
(Comets arriving from the Oort cloud are generally known to be considerably
active at large heliocentric distances on their way in; C/2010 X1 is one such
example.) Because the bright tip of the cigar-shaped trail lies on the line-
of-variation, it apparently represents the location of the most sizable debris
ejected during the mid-August dust-emission event; relative to the ephemeris
position, the perihelion time was late by some 0.06 day (Sept. 10.79 instead
of 10.73 TT), and this deceleration is equivalent to a sudden change in the
orbital velocity of more than 50 m/s, primarily in the direction away from
the sun. Whereas the comet's orbital motion may have non-gravitationally
decelerated even before the mid-August event (though not enough to detect
computationally), the bulk of the effect should be due to the evolution in
the past 10 weeks or so. Since this velocity change is too high for fragments
several meters across or larger, they must have been short-lived (like in the
case of C/1999 S4; e.g., Weaver et al. 2001, Science 292, 1329) and soon must
have given birth to ever smaller fragments in a cascading fashion. The
largest debris surviving to date is perhaps in the centimeter range.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Making a Difference

I just got this email, re our work on the Save the James Webb Space Telescope. This makes us all so proud to be making a small difference...and hopefully making our scientific futures brighter

"I just want you to know that YOU are massively appreciated. I had the privilege of attending a JWST exhibit dedication ceremony this morning in Baltimore, and met with leaders from Northrop Grumman, NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Goddard Space Flight Center. The unanimous message conveyed was glowing praise for what saveJWST has achieved. They were all inspired by our grassroots effort. Moreover, they were surprised to learn about the geographical diversity of our group. It was an amazing morning. Thank you for everything you've contributed to this campaign. Capitol Hill is hearing us, and space science leaders admire our work!"

That is so awesome... and am honoured to be part of a team trying out best to make a difference

ESA - Herschel - Herschel detects abundant water in planet-forming disc

ESA - Herschel - Herschel detects abundant water in planet-forming disc

Star Party Time

Salisbury Star Party has begun. This Saturday 29th Oct is the main speaker day with Dr Emily Baldwin, Ninian Boyle, Damian Peach, Sally Russell and me hopefully giving a wide range of talks on astronomy, imaging, sketching, science and what's going on in the universe.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Sky and Telescope HOMEPAGE!!!

This is very cool - Our observations of Comet Elenin made the prestigious S&T magazine's homepage

Here's the linked article from Oct 25th's homepage

Another new comet - Faulkes Telescope students on a roll

It looks like another possible comet confirmation for Faulkes. Student D. Cirelli using Faulkes North this morning, imaging a region we suggested may contain an interesting object (posted by the IAU Minor Planet Centre on their NEO confirmation page)

After our team analysed the images, it's clear that the object imaged is indeed a comet. A submission has been filed with the minor planet centre. The comet, still to be named is magnitude 19.7 with acompact coma about 4"x 3" elongated towards PA 250 with a sharp central condensation, tail about 20" long also at PA 250"

Monday, 24 October 2011

Objects of desire

So, now that I have Faulkes Telescope admin rights, I am able to start posting up objects for follow on/observations/targets. Hopefully our team will be able to generate really interesting lists of objects along with Snoopy over the coming months to fire up the imaginations of everyone using the scopes.

This weekend sees the Salisbury Star Party for me, as a guest speaker on the Saturday, I do hope that the current weather subsides and we get some nice clear skies for the day and night., but if not, we'll still have a lot of fun, and the coffee will be hot. Tonight I built up a new Calcium K line solar telescope, which will get its first outing this weekend, all being well, I hope the calculations worked and that it performs as I hope.

Today we'll be doing a lot more imaging though on the 2m scopes in Siding Spring if the weather holds, a lot done yesterday, almost 3 hours of images taken on NEO targets and comets/asteroids... my Italian colleagues were in raptures with the amount of data coming in. Now that we know the nature of the cloud near comet Elenin, we may also try to see if we can find anything more substantial with Faulkes too, in that cloud...

Watch this space!!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: Another recovery attempt on C/2010 X1 (Elenin)

Remanzacco Observatory - Comets & Neo: Another recovery attempt on C/2010 X1 (Elenin): Today, we imaged again the field of C/2010 X1 (Elenin) remotely, from the GRAS network (Mayhill station, NM). We used two scopes, nearly s...

Faulkes team images Trojan Jupiter Comet .... our team scores a massive success

This is a WORLD FIRST!!!

COMET P/2010 TO20 (LINEAR-GRAUER) Observations obtained by I. Melville, A. Kasprzyk, N. Howes,E.Guido and G Sostero with the 2.0-m f/10 Ritchey-Chretien "Faulkes Telescope South"
at Siding Spring shows a cometary appearance; six stacked 60-s R-band
exposures taken in good seeing conditions on Oct. 19.6 UT show a sharp central
condensation, a compact coma about 5" in diameter, and a wide, fan-shaped tail
at least 45" long toward p.a. 250 deg.  Five stacked 60-s R-band follow-up
images taken by Sostero, Howes, and Guido with the 2.0-m "Faulkes Telescope
North" at Haleakala on Oct. 20.4 again show a sharp central condensation, a
compact coma about 6" in diameter, and a tail at least 30" long toward p.a.
247 deg.

Discovery vs discovery

I had a really great chat last night with an astronomer working with the NSO and IOP schools projects about the nature of the term discovery. Our team of asteroid hunters and comet watchers have filed probably close to 40 new objects with the minor planet centre since we started our project, all uncatalogued minor planets, according to both astrometrica (the software we use which interrogates some of the largest known databases in the world) and with the minor planet centre's own MP checker system.

Some of these come back (a small no. in our case) after a few weeks of checking by the MPC as known objects which were simply not in their database (it's a huge task for them too!), some come back as previously observed, but only for one night perhaps some years ago, and some are assigned preliminary designations to our team (this is a large proportion)..

However.. we can only claim full and final "discovery" after the asteroid has gone round the Sun a few times (multi oppositions) and has been tracked (which is why we do follow on to secure orbits/get a better set of data for the orbit) and then every so often we will re-image the object to keep a track on it.

So.. whilst we have "discovered" close to 40 asteroids, many of them are still in this "pending" state, and we'll be doing solid scientific follow on to ensure that the fantastic Faulkes Telescopes do get full naming rights on these in the future.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Why "Space is Ace"?

Some years back, a wonderful individual whom I met on an astronomy forum came out with the immortal line "Space is ace...not bobbins" (Bobbins being a Northern English expression for something which is bad/not great)

Now, this person, who had a great job etc, was diagnosed with cancer, a quite aggressive form of cancer, and potentially could have died, she lost almost everything in the process of fighting this dreadful illness, her house, her job...pretty much the lot... and yet, came out the other side, still smiling, still wonderful and still passionate about space and the stars..

There are many people in this world who inspire others, I'm lucky to know a lot of inspirational the blog title is for her, she who inspired me to never look down on others, never forget how good life is, and always look up at the wonders of the sky.

Another fine comet...

So today our team picked up the usual round of NEO data from the Minor Planet Centre, and ...well one of them stood out just a bit... most likely, due to the orbit, it was going to be a comet...

So, thanks to a good mate who had time on the scope today, and a student at UCGLAM we managed to get about 40 minutes worth of time imaging it, and was a comet hello to an as yet, un-named new comet..

Faulkes Telescopes

Today I was officially appointed as the Faulkes Telescope Pro-Am programme manager. To say I am flattered and honoured would be an understatement. My role will be to work on new projects like BBC Stargazing Live, the asteroid detection and comet recovery projects with my fantastic colleagues in Italy, expanding this into new areas, projects like Project Snoopy, and working with professional research observatories around the world, collaborating with schools, and amateur observers to inspire future generations of astronomers. To have been able to work with and use the twin Faulkes telescopes, set up by the visionary that is Dill Faulkes, a man who has inspired not only me, but many who's lives he's touched is a joy, and I hope I can do the team proud with some great science, whilst keeping astronomy fun.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Big Projects - Big Scopes

Today has been another very interesting day. Our team imaged Comet 213P, which turned out to have lost its fragments, but gained an asteroid in the field of view, so that was a bit of a result...but the interesting discussions (between returning some review kit to magazines and suppliers) turned out to be an email exchange with a team working in the Canary Islands on NEO and asteroid imaging, who'd like (we hope) to team up with our team using the twin Faulkes scopes. The amazing number of doors that open when you focus on just doing good work and science, trying where possible to motivate younger people, is, frankly incredible. this space, there may be some big collaborations coming soon...

Update on the fragmenting comet 213P Van Ness

Comet 213P Van Ness Imaged with the 2m
Faulkes Telescope at F10
Just a quick one...we imaged this with 120s R band exposures (R = Red filter) which, 120s with a 2m telescope means you get in VERY DEEP!!.. we took about 30 mins of images in 120s bursts, stacked em all together, and managed to detect objects down to magnitude 22..

No fragments seem to be present near the comet, but...12 degrees above the ecliptic, we did find a totally new minor planet magnitude 20.3 - a good day then! Here's the comet, and a lot of faint fuzzies in the background

Exciting Times

Well, I just came back from my first STEM ambassador meeting. Fantastic people, and I am very much looking forward to encouraging as many kids as possible to look up at the skies above us.

"Volunteering as a STEM Ambassador is your chance to promote your skills to young learners, actively encourage them to enjoy STEM subjects, and inform them about the unique career opportunities that are available to them.

By volunteering as an Ambassador, you could be opening up life-changing opportunities for many young people in your area. Anyone who has a desire to inspire children and young people in STEM subjects can become an Ambassador. The main qualities that all Ambassadors share are enthusiasm and commitment, along with a passion for what they do."

Between this and the new project work which our team is now discussing with ESA, relating to NEO and Asteroids, it looks like a busy few months ahead.

Quantum of Solace?

Thought I would share this with anyone who'd interested in really cool science -

Quantum Levitation is the title...most of you will be thinking "Back to the Future Hoverboards" though

Today on the big scopes

I feel very lucky to have access to two research grade telescopes on an almost daily basis. Being able to contribute to real science with observations of comets, supernova, nova, flare stars, asteroids and collaborate with two unique and brilliant colleagues in Italy, as well as with other scientists and researchers in Chile,Japan, the Canary Islands, Australia and the USA is a thrill and an honour.

Today on Faulkes we're aiming them at some NEO targets and also a comet which we detected fragmentation in a while back. Comet 213P Van Ness appeared in the late summer to be chucking out large lumps from the back, and those lumps, which we either detected as unique first discovery detections, or helped confirm a team in Japan's observations are what we are looking for again. Trying to build up a good understanding of why and what makes comets fragment is a good area of research, with many excellent theories, good experimental and observational data to support them. Our aim is to augment that and try to play our part in understanding these cosmic interlopers.. wish us luck!!

It is a "deceased" is no more....

Citing the Python team, and their famous "parrot" sketch is one way to start a post about a now missing comet, but Comet C/2010 X1, aka "Comet Elenin" (aka the Comet of Doom according to a large and quite vocal group of people online) is gone. After being struck by a large outburst from our nearest and dearest star, also known as "The Sun" which has a habit of popping out these big old explosions known as Coronal Mass Ejections, the comet has all but vanished. I am sure that some of the massive sky survey telescopes may pick up some clouds of dust or fragments, but when me and our team decided to try and find it using the 2m wide (almost the size of the Hubble Space Telescope) Faulkes Telescope atop a mountain in Hawaii, using one of the most sensitive cameras on the planet, well....we simply couldn't see it.

The data we had from the IAU minor planet centre should have put it smack bang in the middle of where we were imaging, but, and this is with a lot of images "stacked" (composited on top of each other in essence) it was not there...

So, with apologies to all the people who thought the world was coming to an end courtesy of this comet (And to be fair to both sides, in 1908, our planet may have been struck by a comet fragment in Tunguska, which did flatline vast area of land)'s not going to happen this time folks...not to say that in a few decades a large lump of rock known as Apophis ( won't hit us (slim chance, but it does exist), but for now, we are safe.

The projects I work on with various professional and other amateur astronomers around the world is hunting for these I like to think I am doing my little bit to help keep the planet safe

A plethora of piccies

Not so much a blog post, more a link that people who are interested can click on if they like to have a look at some of my images of things up in space..

I hope you like them, feel free to say if you do/don't and hopefully it will inspire others to have a go at astro imaging

In the Beginning

So, the first blog is the they say

After rambling on Twitter and Facebook for some time (@nickastronomer on Twitter if you're so inclined) I decided to start a blog. To kick things off, I thought I'd start off with a post from a project I am working on with the Faulkes Telescope Team to find a long lost spacecraft..

Following a successful summer of asteroid hunting, a team of amateur astronomers are hoping to team up with scientists at the University of Glamorgan to search the sky for space debris, but this time it is a distinctly man-made object they are after – the Apollo 10 Lunar Module ascent stage.
The late 1960’s saw the most ambitious and incredible achievement in the history of mankind, culminating with the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon. The practice run for this, Apollo 10, launched in May 1969, and aimed to carry out all the stages of the Apollo 11 mission except the lunar landing.  Apollo 10 still holds the record for the fastest human beings have ever flown; along with the distance record for the farthest mankind has ever been from the Earth.
Once it had completed its historic mission, the Lunar Module ascent stage, known as “Snoopy” (named after the famous “Peanuts” cartoon character), was sent off in an orbit around the Sun - and 42 years later, it’s still out there somewhere, travelling through space.
Now, the Faulkes Telescope team at the University of Glamorgan will be working with UK amateur astronomer Nick Howes, along with Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero of the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy, to attempt what could be an
almost impossible task - finding Snoopy. And this time, they are inviting schools to help with the search.
“The whole history of Apollo is remarkable and include some of the most inspiring scientific and explorative missions in history” said Howes. “After the success of our recent asteroid detection project, where we regularly discovered extremely faint, fast-moving objects, we were considering what we could do next” he continued.
This new and exciting challenge was just what Howes, a long time fan of the Apollo missions, was looking for.  “After the fantastic coverage work experience student Hannah Blyth gained in helping us find over 25 new asteroids we thought this would be an
exciting way to engage schools again” he said.
With several other Apollo stages still out there, the team will not only be trying to locate Snoopy, but will be working with various experts in attempts to recover these too.
Comprehensive surveys looking for Near Earth Object (asteroids that come within about 3 million miles of Earth) have previously failed to find Snoopy, but the team are encouraged by their success in finding so many small, faint asteroids recently. But the team is under no illusions about the daunting complexity of this challenge.
“To say it’s like finding a needle in a haystack is doing a disservice to the haystack. Whilst there are records of the last known movements and orbital information for Snoopy, this is going back over 40 years. The module has been affected by the gravity of the Sun, Earth and Moon for all that time, and all sorts of other factors mean we need to search a very big chunk of sky for this thing” said Dr. Paul Roche, head of astronomy at Glamorgan University, “But, to paraphrase President Kennedy, we are trying these things ‘not because
they are easy but because they are hard’ – this will be a real test for the hardware and the students involved”.
The project, which is enlisting help from multiple UK schools, will attempt to post regular coordinate data which the teams will then examine on a daily basis. “There will be a huge search field to examine, so this is not something which will happen overnight. It could take weeks, months, years - or we may possibly never find it. But we’re going to try, and as a bonus, the areas we’ll be searching will hopefully throw up new asteroids, so there will be useful results whether we find Snoopy or not” commented Dr. Sarah Roberts, Education Director of the Faulkes Telescope Project at Glamorgan.
“Getting students involved in analyzing real scientific data, and looking for moving objects in a field full of stars is good science” continues Dr Roche “and whilst many students start off using the Faulkes Telescopes to image “pretty” things like nebulas or galaxies, we are always trying to move them on to do more exciting projects, and this one will hopefully do that”.
After looking at records in the NASA archives which give the last known speed and direction of the module, the team know it will be moving very quickly, so even if they do find it, initially it will just be a moving blur on the sky. But they are encouraged by the re-discovery of the Apollo 12 third stage rocket, which was imaged in 2002.
The team are working with Mike Loucks of US-based “Space Exploration Engineering”. Mike worked to reconstruct the Apollo 13 trajectory in 2000 and specializes in cis-lunar mission analysis and design. Mike said, “When I first heard about this project I was very intrigued. I did similar work in 2003 to investigate the trajectory of an Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket stage.  Using the techniques from both of those cases, along with some advanced trajectory tools we use to fly real lunar missions; hopefully we can narrow down the search areas to something manageable and give the team a fighting chance of finding Snoopy.”
“Whilst there is every chance we won’t find it, it’s like the lottery - unless you play, you don’t win” says Howes - and with odds not far short of the lottery, this is a truly ambitious project. “We’re looking at this like SETI@Home, the search for radio signals from ET”, continued Howes, “The chances of finding anything in that are tiny, but millions of people tried. With our Snoopy project, we hope to involve hundreds of schools users, with the bonus of finding dozens of new asteroids and maybe some comets in our search areas means
we’ll be doing great science at the same time”.