Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2000 January 28
Explanation: In an era of blossoming ground and space-based observatories, astronomers are also pushing the envelope with airborne instrumentation - successfully capturing an asteroid occultation from a high performance jet aircraft. This blinking animation represents two digitized frames from inflight data of asteroid number 308, Polyxo, passing in front of or occulting a faint star near the centre of the field. The camera used, known as the SouthWest Ultraviolet Imaging System (SWUIS) -A, was mounted in the cockpit of a NASA F/A-18 jet (inset lower left). A former US Navy fighter aircraft, the F/A-18 was able to maneuver to the precise position to record the occultation while cruising above clouds and much of Earth's obscuring atmosphere. Using the SWUIS-A data to time the occultation will reveal the size of the asteroid which is otherwise too small to be imaged by even the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Future SWUIS-A airborne missions may include a hunt for Vulcanoids, a suspected population of small asteroids circling the Sun inside the orbit of Mercury.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.