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Observing the Flyby of NEO Asteroid XP14

Posted by Ralph Aguirre   07/05/2006 12:00AM

As Sunday evening July 2nd, 2006 rolled around, I couldn’t resist the challenge to see if I could find XP14, since I already knew where it was going to be in the sky, and knew that part of the sky was visible from my back yard.

So at about 11:30pm PST, I set up my 100mm 45 deg angle binoculars in the darkest corner of my lawn, giving me a clear view of the sky to the northeast, where Cassiopeia was located, where XP14 was suppose to fly by.
I did some star magnitude checks around M57, and found I could s ee as deep as magnitude 12.7 with my binoculars, at 40x after my eyed were dark adapted. After midnight I started searching for XP14, below Cassiopeia, using a few charts I copied off of the web.

Sitting patiently and comfortably in my observing chair, and started slowly watching for any stellar movement in the eyepieces. My field of view at 40x in my binoculars was 1.4 degrees, so I did very little panning of the sky, and using my Telrad mounted to my binoculars, I pointed them in the area of the sky where the asteroid was to be at.
I didn’t see any movements. Like a statue frozen to my chair and binoculars, I watched patiently, repositioning my binoculars about ever 10 minutes, knowing that that XP14 was moving at small increments every 10 minutes or so, from the charts I pulled of the net.

Exactly at 1am, I was looking between the two stars in Cassiopeia, Navi which is Gamma-Cassiopeia, and Ruchbah which is Delta-Cassiopeia, which many were saying would be the easiest time to find XP14. For myself however, I still wasn’t able to see the asteroid.

Finally at 1:30am, I gave up on the binoculars, and set up my C14, and by 2:30am, I was back at it, this time with much more aperture. Using my focal reducer and my 31 Nagler, I was seeing about one degree field of view at 80x. After about 10 minutes of referencing my star charts and positioning my scope exactly in the proper area, I noticed what appeared to be a tiny star separating from another star. It was moving much much slower than I had thought. I watched it for a few minutes, easily tracking it with the slow motion controls of my hand controller.

I tightened down the RA and Dec gears on my G11, and positioned the slow moving object on one side of my field of view, and quickly removed my focal reducer and peeked back in. It was still there, this time at 125x. Still very small, but more obvious. I watched it for a few m ore minutes, and had determined this was XP14. I put in my 20 Nagler, bumping the magnification up to nearly 200x, and observed it more closely. It was definitely moving faster in the eyepiece now, but still it would take several minutes to travel across the entire field of view, so tracking it manually with my hand controller was not a problem. The object was larger now, but no longer just a traveling dot of light. It was still very small, but no longer just a tiny do of light.
I put in my 12 Nagler and watched it closer. It was white and just slightly less than a perfect tiny ball. I tried my 9 Nagler at 435x, but it became more difficult to track, and the view I was getting wasn’t any better, so I returned to my 12 Nagler at 325x and watched it for the next hr. It passed right beside a tiny cluster of stars which I found out to be NGC 7762 and at times the asteroid would seem to be brighter than at other times. Finally, about at 4am, I stopped my viewing and sa t there thinking about what I had just witnessed.

It was exciting to watch, not so much because it was such a spectacular visual object to witness in an eyepiece, because it really wasn’t anything more than a tiny ball of light traveling through the sky. Mostly it was exciting because it was a space traveler racing through space, giving us astronomers on earth a chance to see it as it passes by our planet. It's these opportunities, which makes this hobby so exciting, and having the passion to want to experiences these types of astronomical events, is to me, what makes amateur astronomy so exciting and rewarding.

Also, I almost want to believe that I didn’t notice the asteroid in my 100mm binoculars, because the field of view was so large, it would have taken the asteroid nearly 15 minutes or more to travel across the entire field of view in the eyepiece, so I was expecting a faster moving object than what I was actually seeing in th e eyepiece.

Hopefully, others had a chance to witness this Near Earth Orbiting asteroid, since this event was one of those rare times that something like this was positioned perfectly for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere to see fly by.

Ralph Aguirre
Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society Astronomer