Asteroid 16 Psyche

August 29, 2009 — Leave a comment

Whilst away in France, I had very dark skies almost every night. As usual I set myself a little goal whilst I was away, and this year it was to try to observe a few of the fainter Solar System bodies, including some asteroids. 16 Psyche is one of those asteroids and I did indeed manage to spot in on two consecutive occasions, in order to observe its relative motion compared to the background stars.

16 Psyche was the first asteroid to be given a number upon its discovery. Until then asteroids were given symbols like the planets. Psyche is thought to be 253km in diameter and is of iron-nickel composition. It may be the remnant core of a larger body that was at some point blasted apart during the early days of the Solar System.

Psyche is obviously moving through the sky but when I saw it (and at the time of writing) it resided in Capricorn, ideally placed for my location in the late evening. At around magnitude 9.5 it isn’t visible to the naked eye.

The trick the finding asteroids is to look in the same place more than once. Finding the starfield where you expect the asteroid to be, you take a photo or sketch what you see. Then you go back a fews hours later, or the next night and look again at the same spot. If you’re in the right place, you’ll see that one of the stars has moved – that is most-likely your asteroid.

I observed Psyche two nights in a row and indeed could see, even without referring to my sketch of the area around it, that it had moved in the field of view. I thought this was pretty cool but was frustrated by my lack of photography facilities – I have no CCD or other telescope imaging device. Ah! I thought, I know what to do – I’ll go online and use SLOOH, the pay-as-you-go robotic telescope network.

Psyche Animation

The result is two images from the next two nights showing two more successive motions of Psyche. These are the images seen here.

I’m very pleased with my first asteroid find. I also then went on to spot asteroids 88 Thisbe and 7 Iris, although no pictures I’m afraid. I didn’t manage to find the Comet 22P/Kopff, which was a shame. The weather, and limited nights in the garden, got the better of me in the end.

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