This website offers a collection of tools designed to assist with planning and observing asteroids. The tools were originally developed and managed by Ted Bowell, Bruce Koehn, and Larry Wasserman at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Asteroid observations collated by the Minor Planet Center are used to fit orbits for each minor planet. These orbits are used to calculate high precision ephemerides that include estimates for positional (right ascension/declination) errors based on an algorithm originally developed by Karri Muinonen (University of Helsinki).
Currently, asteroid.lowell.edu is undergoing an evolution. We have been funded by NASA to modernize the front and back end of this system. When this system was originally created in the 1970’s, the known asteroid population and associated physical properties (e.g. spectral types, rotation properties, albedos) was relatively small and centralized. Since then the number of known asteroids and amount of physical data has dramatically increased. New surveys will be coming online in the near future that will grow the dataset exponentially. These developments would make it difficult to maintain the asteroid.lowell.edu system with the current infrastructure.
asteroid.lowell.edu services are reliant on a database that is historically maintained as a static, one dimensional flat file. Work is ongoing to migrate to a relational (PostgreSQL) database. Some of the currently available tools already make use of this new format. Further, the original backend was developed almost exclusively in Fortran, IDL, and ETA. Although these languages are powerful, they are being rapidly replaced with more flexible and modern object oriented languages. Our future development will heavily rely on Python, one of the most widely used and actively developed modern languages. Over the next several years, much of the code base will be transitioned to Python.
Our tools are free to use and will be open sourced as development stabilizes.
The most significant change coming to asteroid.lowell.edu will be the addition of physical properties to the current catalog of orbital elements. We will centralize physical properties from major sources and make them queryable through our services. Since we also provide ephemeris information, links between orbital properties, ephemerides, and physical properties will easily be made. This will allow for novel questions to be answered, such as “What are all the S-type, near-earth asteroids, smaller than 5km in diameter, that are observable next Tuesday?”. Currently, there is no one service that can answer that question.
This is an ongoing project with a small team. We consider these tools to be in a “beta” stage and as such there may be hiccups here and there. You can check for updates on the updates page and if any critical issues arise you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The research and computing needed to generate astorb.dat were funded principally by NASA grant NAG5-4741, and in part by the Lowell Observatory endowment. astorb.dat may be freely used, copied, and transmitted provided attribution to Dr. Edward Bowell and the aforementioned funding sources is made. Hypertext links to this WWW site are welcome.
This research has made use of data and/or services provided by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.