Small Near-Earth Asteroids in the Palomar Transient Factory Survey: A Real-Time Streak-detection System
Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) in the 1-100 meter size range are estimated to be ∼1,000 times more numerous than the ∼15,000 currently cataloged NEAs, most of which are in the 0.5-10 kilometer size range. Impacts from 10-100 meter size NEAs are not statistically life-threatening, but may cause significant regional damage, while 1-10 meter size NEAs with low velocities relative to Earth are compelling targets for space missions. We describe the implementation and initial results of a real-time NEA-discovery system specialized for the detection of small, high angular rate (visually streaked) NEAs in Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) images. PTF is a 1.2-m aperture, 7.3 deg2 field of view (FOV) optical survey designed primarily for the discovery of extragalactic transients (e.g., supernovae) in 60-second exposures reaching ∼20.5 visual magnitude. Our real-time NEA discovery pipeline uses a machine-learned classifier to filter a large number of false-positive streak detections, permitting a human scanner to efficiently and remotely identify real asteroid streaks during the night. Upon recognition of a streaked NEA detection (typically within an hour of the discovery exposure), the scanner triggers follow-up with the same telescope and posts the observations to the Minor Planet Center for worldwide confirmation. We describe our 11 initial confirmed discoveries, all small NEAs that passed 0.3-15 lunar distances from Earth. Lastly, we derive useful scaling laws for comparing streaked-NEA-detection capabilities of different surveys as a function of their hardware and survey-pattern characteristics. This work most directly informs estimates of the streak-detection capabilities of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF, planned to succeed PTF in 2017), which will apply PTF’s current resolution and sensitivity over a 47-deg2 FOV.
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
- Pub Date:
- March 2017
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- Accepted 11-September-2016 to Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP)