31st Annual Meeting of the DPS, October 1999
Session 28. Near Earth Asteroids
Contributed Oral Parallel Session, Tuesday, October 12, 1999, 2:00-3:30pm, Sala Plenaria

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[28.03] A New Protocol for the Operation of the Minor Planet Center

E. Bowell (Lowell Observatory)

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is a clearinghouse for asteroid and comet astrometric observations made worldwide. Typically, observers submit observations, which are then checked, in some cases designated and/or linked, and published. The publication timescale for most observations is monthly, though observations of some NEAs are published daily, as are orbits of unnumbered asteroids. The present method of operation has led to a number of difficulties for outside users. For example, orbit computers are frustrated by the slow turnaround time of most astrometric data, and are as a consequence unable to keep their databases current. In addition, most single-night observations of unidentified asteroids are never published, which results in the loss of thousands of asteroids, some of them NEAs, and precludes users from undertaking much identification and linkage work. Also, the time lag in publishing observations of NEA discoveries leads to many-fold redundancy in astrometric observing and draws resources from other NEAs in need of observation.

To remedy this situation I suggest a new protocol for operating the Minor Planet Center. First, all MPC data will be generated, updated, and freely disseminated to users in real time. Thus, should they wish, users could maintain up-to-the-minute copies of MPC files. Second, contributors to the MPC must be validated for technical conpetence. It follows that protocols for observing, establishing astrometric data accuracy, computing identification and linkage probabilities, computing orbits, etc., will have to be devised and adopted by the community. Third, users will be able to contribute at all levels, including designating observations and suggesting that asteroids or comets be numbered. Users could be prompted for tasks (e.g., orbit computation) required at any instant. Thus the MPC will act as a gatekeeper, bookkeeper, and arbiter of a largely automated data processing system that will spread the workload among hundreds of individuals, many of whom will be amateurs. I will illustrate the above precepts with specific examples of data submission, analysis, and the generation and dissemination of data products.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: ebowell@lowell.edu

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