Tonight has been a dramatic night for astronomers camped out at the Keck II Remote Operations room in Kamuela, Hawaii. First there was fog, then the target was unreachable… but finally, they snapped the image everyone had been waiting for: the first infrared observation of Asteroid 2005 YU55.
As described excellently by Keck Observatory‘s communication officer Larry O’Hanlon, with the help of the astronomers and engineers in the busy control room, this particular night of astronomy was anything but boring.
To add an extra sense of urgency to the proceedings, O’Hanlon had set up a live feed direct from Hawaii so the world could see cutting-edge astronomy as it happened — fielding questions via Twitter and Facebook. And I seriously doubt anyone watching was disappointed (over 13,000 people had tuned into the live feed at time of writing).
Once the Keck II telescope locked onto its target, it took just one second to capture enough infrared photons to create an image. Although O’Hanlon — with the help of the Aloha shirt-wearing electrical engineer Andrew Cooper, principal investigator Bill Merline and other astronomers — warned they were only expecting “a couple” of pixels, the potato-shaped asteroid was easily discernible from the yellow-orange infrared picture (above).
It is worth noting that it may take “days,” according to Merline, to process this raw data, but everyone seemed happy by the excellent quality of the observation.
So, after a long night of participating in a Keck Observation campaign, we await further analysis of the tumbling space rock, but tonight’s #KeckAsteroidWatch event was a huge success. I look forward to my next Hawaiian cosmic adventure!
Image: A screenshot of Keck’s observation of Asteroid 2005 YU55 shortly after it was posted on the live stream from the #KeckAsteroidWatch event late Tuesday night (PST). NOTE: This is a RAW image, days of processing is required before any conclusions can be made about the nature of the asteroid. Inset is Andrew Cooper (left) and Larry O’Hanlon describing the observation. Credit: Keck Observatory.
Special thanks to Larry O’Hanlon and Keck Observatory for making the live video feed possible.