In 2000 I bought a home in Arizona. I was still working in Silicon Valley and commuted, worked remotely between the two locations. I had a lifelong goal to retire at age 50. And I did in my own way. I quit my full-time position at Netscape and moved into the home in Tucson in 2002., a few weeks after my 50th birthday. The goal was astronomy. I used to travel to see friends here before I bought a home and would travel with a small Meade ETX90 Telescope in a backpark in the overhead bin 😉
As I had lots of free time, I also wanted to give back to the community and began to research volunteerism, and identified places and projects I could help with. Elections in 2002 were up , and being very much interested in election fraud, especially here in AZ where that had been many stories over the years I wanted to be part of the process. help the process and monitor for any bizarre events that maybe indicated election fraud.
So I asked to volunteer for the primary elections.. but they would not allow that so I applied for a job manning a polling station. This I did and I will write about that experience somewhere else. I then volunteered to help seniors do their taxes. I was all set to start that, and then saw a posting for help for a public outreach project from the University of Arizona Spacewatch Project.
Perfect I said !!.
The project tracks near earth objects such as asteroids , so they can track their orbits and identify if there could/would be potentially hazardous to Earth by colliding with us. I was invited up to the Spacewatch Telescopes, met the scientists and astronomers. Had a great lunch, and a tour of the telescopes. To me. I was like a little kid A dream come true. My brother, who was my mentor in life and a very smart man that helped design VTOL aircraft would have been so proud. Sadly he passed away only a few months earlier
Anyway,. the goal was to intensify the search for asteroids. and make the reviewing of the images an outreach project for the local community. This we did, and it was extended to global participants. known astronomers from around the planet who had been involved in Asteroid and Planetary Space Science. It became apparent that they might need some help organizing all this and I believe that was why they hired me to help.
After a few days or test runs, it was apparent we needed someone to manage all the remote volunteers and track results ourselves also. So I set up a Portal site FmoGroup. Org . This allowed the volunteers and the astronomers to meet , discuss and post our findings. There was also a lot of waiting ., sometimes an hour or three before the first images were produced. So it became a social portal where we met,. chatted. I eventually added in some pastimes like a few games for the volunteers to play. I eventually built a full chess club from some dormant software ( which then I supported for about 5 years after the project.. called the Fmo Chess Club.)
Anyway, this was great fun at many levels. I tend to manage things or add systems to a process to help things run. Meanwhile back to the project.
So these were the two telescopes used. The 0.9m telescope would scan regions of the sky three times, each time taking images of that section of the sky. It would scan certain sections,. and the process would take a few hours to complete. Certain factors would affect the timeline, especially weather. During this time. the observers would be waiting and logged in to an online site awaiting images to be downloaded.
Below are examples of the three passes the telescope would make for a section of the sky.
Here below is an example of one image. Given the exposure time and shutter speed , fixed objects would appear as the should . So planets, stars etc appear stationary as they do to the naked eye when we stargaze. But as we know, we have shooting stars. tho in fact they are also (FMO ) Fast Moving Objects from our vantage point. And they appear as a long streaked line. In this image below there is possible an asteroid or meteoroid shown . See if you can see it.
So each night , we would give our time and volunteer to review images downloaded. To give you an idea, I started on the project around Oct 2003, and at the end of the project in late 2006, I have reviewed around 7000 images or more.
And then this happened…..
The streak indicated a fast moving object passed the telescope during the very short time between passes. Given the time location and length ( i.e. speed) , calculations were then done to determine its orbital characteristics.
The News Frenzy
THIS WAS THE FIRST ASTEROID DISCOVERED by our project that was verified and thus garnered a lot of publicity globally.
At this point when the news broke. the day became crazy. The next morning the phone did not stop ringing , despite the fact I was unlisted 😉 Thank you Bob 🙂 I got interviewed by NPR, CBS and more. When I did a search online I found I was in a newspaper story in every country in the world. This was an example of how the news ‘wire’ actually works and 99 percent of the stories are based on one or two source reports. But it was very exciting for me!
I had fan mail. gifts,. requests for me to sign a photo and mail it back and so on. The irony was that I was very much living a reclusive life , unwinding from 50 years in IT and loved the peace and tranquility , and then chaos ensued.
I think the following report is my favorite.
The Mars Rovers were active as was a major story on the Hubble , and there, right underneath was this third story, my asteroid discovery! I sent this to my mum who was not well and stuck in some care home run back home in England. It was in most science sections, all across the globe. Nuts 😉
Below is an orbital diagram that Marco did for each discovery.
Below is a certificate we decided to put together for anyone who found an FMO. We did have about 20 FMO’s or so discovered eventually. This was suggested by someone, and I mocked up this from some free software.
We also were lucky enough to have an FMO volunteer,. donate some Meteorites to be used as gifts for others who had discovered objects. I would ship them out with a certificate. All very communal and fun. A great collaboration of people coming together to aid a project all done for free.
Below is a somewhat a related but sad story.
The was a lady who would be logged in every night , Kay. She would play Mahjong , a game I had added to the fmogroup site. She never really said much in chat. I did get a few conversations in with her , usually at 2am at night when it was quiet. Tried to find out more . She lived in California and said she was not working, tho did not say retired. She did sound sad to me She was online every night. And a few days before the first fmo was discovered she stopped logging in. I decided I would send her a Meteorite. I had her address online so I thought I would double check. I searched for her online and found that someone at her address had died in an obituary section .. She had inferred her husband was not well. it turned out he had died of cancer. I searched some more and found a phone number. I called that and no reply.
A week later , I decided I would send her the meteorite and a message. I then went online to see if I could locate the address AND FOUND ANOTHER Obituary for same address. She had died on cancer too!! They both died within a few weeks of each other. So sad.
I then left it for a week or so. I did another search and found another family name at the funeral for her. I cross checked that , it was her son. I called him up and took a while for him to work out I was not some crank caller . We chatted for a while. He was so thankful for the call. He said she had taken to searching the stars for a solution to their condition which explained why she was so soulful
I kept in contact with xmas cards for a few years and then I think her son moved/ End of this story.
I subsequently discovered another MPC tagged asteroid , 2005 UH1 to go with 2004 BV18
Anyway, they named 15462 stumegan to thank me for my discoveries and my volunteerism in setting up the fmogroup site.
So this ends the story of my Spacewatch FMO Project and the discoveries made.
More about the project can be found here :