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Sunday, April 21, 2012

Ceremony set for May 2 for project involving 3 telescopes at San Pedro Mártir Observatory in Baja California that will measure Kuiper Belt objects

Realm beyond Neptune is named for Dutch-American astronomer who died in Mexico City in 1973

      By David Gaddis Smith

      A ceremony is to be held May 2 to mark the beginning of the TAOS II project that will enable the San Pedro Mártir Observatory in Baja California to find and measure san pedro martir observatorysmall Kuiper Belt objects, Frontera reported (PDF).

     TAOS II stands for Transneptunian Automated Occultation Survey; its three 1.3-meter telescopes are to be 100 times more sensitive in detecting occultations of distant stars by small belt objects than the current TAOS I (Taiwan American Occulation Survey) project taking place at Lulin Observatory on Taiwan. TAOS was tasked with trying to find small belt objects with diameters from 500 meters to 30 kilometers. The TAOS II telescopes will be equipped with high-speed cameras producing vast amounts of data. Frontera said the project would cost $15 million. San Pedro Mártir has 250 clear nights a year on average.

     The project at the observatory in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir in the far reaches of the municipality of Ensenada involves the Autonomous National University of Mexico in kuiper belt nasaMexico City; the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taipei, Taiwan; Yonsei University in South Korea; and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

      Pluto, long considered the ninth planet after being discovered in 1930, is now considered instead to have been the first Kuiper Belt object seen from Earth. Pluto is now called a dwarf planet, as are several other bodies in the belt, including Eris.

NASA diagram: Eris is a dwarf planet, like Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt.

      gerard kuiperThe Kuiper Belt is named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who proposed its existence in 1951. Kuiper, born in 1905, became a U.S. citizen in 1937 and died while on vacation in Mexico City in 1973.

      The belt, discovered in 1992, is 4.5 billion to 7.4 billion kilometers from the sun, beyond the last planet, Neptune. NASA says: "This distant realm is populated with thousands of miniature icy worlds, which formed early in the history of our solar system."

 qb1 kuiper belt      NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, will reach the environs of Pluto in 2015 and later study other Kuiper Belt objects. It may determine which dwarf planet is bigger, Eris or Pluto.

QB1 (circled) was discovered in the Kuiper Belt in 1992 by David Jewitt and Janet Luu using the 2.2-meter Mauna Kea telescope in Hawaii. Photo credit: The European Southern Observatory, which said the brightness of QB1 was about 6 million times "fainter than what can be seen with the unaided eye."

     

Photo of San Pedro Mártir Observatory from Jsanchezd.

 

Update, April 22: Mexico said to break Guinness record for having most telescopes pointed at the moon, 2,978, including the Grand Millimeter Telescope inaugurated in Puebla in 2006. Story, Frontera (PDF).

Mexico has set a large number of Guinness records. Former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, in his 2011 book Mañana Forever, says it would be far better if Mexicans concentrated on more important matters.