Subject:          Yet more on the El Paso airburst
To:      (Cambridge Conference)
Date sent:        Thu, 9 Oct 1997 23:02:06 -0500 (CDT)

A news report at

suggests the El Paso authorities have identified
an impact site about an acre in size some 27 miles
east of El Paso and 20 miles north of a border patrol

It will be interesting to see if this really turns out
to be an impact site or just an unrelated fire (shades
of the Honduras "impact" of last year).

Subject:          More on El Paso airburst
To:      (Cambridge Conference)
Date sent:        Thu, 9 Oct 1997 21:09:05 -0500 (CDT)

Here is a link with a report on the El Paso airburst.  Looks like a nice
bolide, but no damage resulted.  Evidently the early media reports
exaggerated the effects.

Subject:          Meteorite over El Paso, Texas (fwd)
To:      (Cambridge Conference)
Date sent:        Thu, 9 Oct 1997 19:14:42 -0500 (CDT)

David Early says the Dallas media reported an airburst over El Paso, Texas
today, October 9, 1997.  I haven't found any online reports about this event

Forwarded message:
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 1997 17:42:59 -0500
Subject: Meteorite over El Paso, Texas

A local news program here in Dallas just reported that a large meteor
exploded in the air over El Paso, Texas today. Apparently the explosion
was fairly strong and frightened a number of people.

The news report stated that the staff at McDonald Observatory confirmed
that the explosion was caused by a meteor, but they have not found any
meteorites at this point.

Does anyone have any addition information about this? I have checked the
McDonald website but they do not have a press release about it. I also
checked the website for the only newspaper in El Paso, but the paper
ceased operation this week so their website hasn't been updated in several

Any information would be appreciated.


Date sent:        Thu, 09 Oct 1997 12:21:05 -0400 (EDT)
From:             Benny J Peiser <
Subject:          NEO News (10/8/97)
Priority:         NORMAL

from: David Morrison <

Dear Friends and Students of NEOs:

Following are two items of interest.

First is a press release this summer from the European Southern
Observatory reporting the photometric detection of a satellite
orbiting the NEO Dionysus. IN a recent report, Stefano Mottola writes
that "we are still observing Dionysus from Chile, and although the
eclipse/occultation events are not visible any more (since the
geometry has changed) we hope we can determine the pole  orientation
of the main body and thus the orientation of the orbital plane (which
we believe is close to the object's equatorial plane). We plan to
submit a publication as soon as all the data have been collected, and
this should happen by the end of the year. The most up-to-date
reference is the ESO press release and the references therein.
You can find an on-line version of the PR (with graphs) at the
following URL:"

Second is a listing with brief abstracts of several recent
publications dealing with NEOs.

David Morrison



In the course of the major observational programme of asteroids by
the Institute of Planetary Exploration of the German Aerospace
Research Establishment (DLR) in Berlin, two of the staff astronomers,
Stefano Mottola and Gerhard Hahn, have discovered a small satellite
(moon) orbiting the asteroid (3671) Dionysus. The new measurements
were obtained with the DLR CCD Camera attached at the 60-cm Bochum
telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile.

This is only the second known case of an asteroid with a moon.

Moons and planets

Until recently, natural satellites were only known around the major
planets. The Moon orbits the Earth, there are two tiny moons around
Mars, each of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
has many more, and even the smallest and outermost, Pluto, is
accompanied by one.

However, the new discovery now strengthens the belief of many
astronomers that some, perhaps even a substantial number of the many
thousands of minor planets (asteroids) in the solar system may also
possess their own moons. The first discovery of a satellite orbiting
an asteroid was made by the NASA Galileo spacecraft, whose imagery,
obtained during a fly-by of asteroid (253) Ida in August 1993,
unveiled a small moon that has since been given the name Dactyl.

(3671) Dionysus: an Earth-crossing asteroid

In the framework of the DLR asteroid monitoring programme, image
sequences are acquired to measure an asteroid's brightness variations
caused by the changing amount of sunlight reflected from the
asteroid's illuminated surface as it spins, due to its irregular
shape. The brightness variations may be used to derive the asteroid's
rotational properties, such as speed of rotation and spin axis

Asteroid Dionysus was put on the observing list because it belongs to
a special class of asteroids, the members of which occasionally come
very close to the Earth and have a small, but non-negligible chance
of colliding with our planet. Most of these objects move in highly
elliptical orbits that lie partly inside, partly outside that of the
Earth. They are accordingly referred to as `Earth-crossing asteroids'
or Apollo-type asteroids, after the proto-type of this group, (1862)
Apollo, that was discovered in 1932 by Karl Reinmuth in Heidelber.

The orbital characteristics of Dionysus lead to moderately close
approaches to the Earth every 13 years, with the one in 1997 being
the first since its discovery that is favourable for extensive
observations. On July 6, 1997, it passed within 17 million km of our
planet. At that time it was visible from the southern hemisphere with
a moderately-sized telescope as a relatively fast-moving object.

The strange lightcurve of asteroid (3671) Dionysus

The observers hypothesised that these lightcurve features were due to
an eclipse by an unknown object moving in an orbit around (3671)
Dionysus, thereby covering part of the illuminated surface of the
asteroid at regular time intervals. Fortunately, this hypothesis can
be checked, because the phenomenon should then repeat itself
periodically. Accordingly, the DLR scientists made a prediction for
the next occurences of dips in the lightcurve, based on the time
difference between the two observed events.

Confirmation of the satellite

Contacts were made with observers located at other observatories, in
order to secure lightcurve coverage over a longer period of time than
was possible from La Silla alone. As a result, a series of lightcurve
measurements were performed from June 3 to 9 in close cooperation
with Petr Pravec and Lenka Sarounova working at the Ondrejov
Observatory, near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Luckily, the weather conditions were favourable at both sites and the
dips in the lightcurve were indeed observed at the predicted times.
Based on the four well observed events, it was then possible to
determine a period of 1.155 days for their occurence. Thus, the
hypothesis of a satellite orbiting around Dionysus was confirmed. As
a result, the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center
located in Cambridge (MA, USA) promptly gave a provisional
designation to the new satellite - S/1997 (3671) 1.

How big is Dionysus?

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the world's largest infrared telescope was
being trained on Dionysus to obtain information about its size and
composition. Alan Harris, also a scientist from the DLR in Berlin,
and John Davies from the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii,
observed the thermal infrared radiation emitted by Dionysus with the
3.8-m United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) situated on Mauna
Kea. Similar observations over a broader spectral range were also
made by the European Space Agency's orbiting Infrared Space

The thermal or "heat" radiation emitted by an asteroid depends on its
size and the amount of sunlight it absorbs (darker bodies being
warmer). In the case of Dionysus the measured radiation was much
weaker than expected, indicating that the asteroid has an
intrinsically bright (reflective) surface and is only about 1 km in
diameter. This is much smaller than (253) Ida, the only other
asteroid known to have a moon, which is about 60 km across.

Further observations

Eventually it should be possible to determine the orbital radius of
the satellite, its size and the inclination of its orbital plane. In
order to obtain the data necessary for these determinations,
observations will be continued during the present period of good
visibility that lasts until September-October 1997. For this reason
the discoverers have initiated an international observation campaign
devoted to the study of this intriguing object and now involving
astronomers from many countries.

How common are such satellites?

Satellites in orbit around small bodies in the solar system -
asteroids and cometary nuclei - have been predicted on theoretical
grounds for a long time, even though there is no consensus among
planetary scientists about the actual numbers of such systems.

Hints about the existence of asteroid satellites also come from the
presence of double impact craters on the Moon and other planetary
surfaces. This suggests that the projectiles forming these craters
were `double' asteroids. Moreover, measurements obtained when an
asteroid passes in front of a relatively bright star (a so-called
`occultation') have on a few occasions shown features which could be
interpreted as due to the presence of a satellite. However, because
of the difficult nature of such measurements, it has never been
possible to draw unambiguous conclusions.

The existence of double asteroids was invoked earlier by Petr Pravec
and Gerhard Hahn to explain the unusual features observed in the
lightcurves of two other Earth-approaching asteroids 1991 VH and 1994
AW1. In the case of Dionysus, however, it is possible to predict
eclipse events and to confirm them by subsequent measurements.

There is therefore mounting evidence that asteroid binary systems
might be comparatively common. Observational programmes like the
present one by the DLR and Ondrejov groups will help to verify this



[The abstracts of recent articles on NEOs were circulated yesterday
on the CC-list; Benny J Peiser].

CCCMENU CCC for 1997

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