What is the Minor Planet Center?
The Minor Planet Center, or MPC, is the single worldwide
location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements
of minor planets, comets and outer irregular natural satellites of
the major planets. The MPC is responsible for the identification,
designation and orbit computation for all of these objects. This involves
maintaining the master files of observations and orbits, keeping
track of the discoverer of each object, and announcing discoveries to the
rest of the world via electronic circulars and an extensive website.
The MPC operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, under
the auspices of Division F of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
All of the MPC's operating funds come from a NASA's Near-Earth Object
Observations program grant. Much of the computer equipment that the MPC
uses was provided by the Tamkin Foundation.
The MPC accomplishes this work with a staff of 6 full-time employees.
The MPC has 6 full-time employees.
Tim Spahr, MPC Director
Tim obtained astronomy and physics degrees from
The University of Arizona in 1992, followed by
MS and PhD from The University of Florida in
1998. Working with longtime friend Carl
Hergenrother, Tim helped develop a minor
planet survey using the Catalina Schmidt and
old photographic techniques. This survey resulted
in the discovery of 1996 JA1, a Near-Earth
Object that passed between the Earth and Moon
in May 1996.
After graduate school, Tim worked under Steve
Larson at the University of Arizona on the
Catalina Sky Survey. His job consisted of writing
software for astrometric measurement of minor
planets, as well as detection of minor planets
in CCD images.
Recruited by Brian Marsden to work at the MPC in 2000,
Tim eventually took over as Director in 2006.
In addition to a lifelong interest in comets, Tim
enjoys birdwatching and bird photography.
Gareth Williams, MPC Associate Director
Gareth obtained his BSc(Hons) in Astronomy at University College, London, more
years ago than he cares to admit. He began working at the MPC in 1990, when
there were less than 5000 numbered minor planets, after working on orbits as
an interested amateur for more than a decade.
Gareth was responsible, contrary to what is currently (June 2013) written on
Wikipedia, for the identification of the last two lost numbered minor planets:
(878) Mildred, 1991; and (719) Albert, in 2000. His favorite identification,
though, remains that for (5011) Ptah.
Gareth obtained his PhD from the Open University (Milton Keynes) in 2013, working
remotely and part-time. An expert in orbit determination and identification
of objects, his thesis work was on the intrinsic brightnesses of minor planets.
Outside the MPC, Gareth is involved with his wife back-stage in local community
theatre and local community cable TV.
Sonia is a programmer for the MPC and is a longtime observer of minor planets.
Mike has worked at the MPC since 2009 as
an IT Specialist. He created the MPC's public facing relational database,
web interface and related pages. He is presently engaged in modernizing
the MPC observation processing, orbit computation and related operations.
He received an SB in Mathematics from MIT in 1977, and has been engaged
in computer programming ever since. During the 1980s he undertook a
visual comet hunting project and discovered three comets with the aid of
a 6-inch refractor.
José Luis Galache
José Luis studied physics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid,
Spain. He continued with an MPhys in Nuclear Astrophysics at the
University of Surrey, UK and a PhD in Astronomy at the University of
He joined the MPC in 2009 and spends his days thinking
up ways to make the MPC compliant with the 21st century while juggling a
research interest in Near-Earth Objects, especially those that might be reachable by a
human mission. He would be available for said mission should he be asked
(back seat of the rocket is fine).
In his rapidly disappearing free time, José Luis enjoys street photography, playing guitar and reading The Economist to his newborn son.
James joined the MPC in 2012 and is currently undergoing rigorous training in the dark arts of minor planet orbit calculations and modern web site management.
James' background is in data processing and analysis. He has analyzed data for a variety of astronomical research programs including infrared spectroscopy of planetary nebulae, image enhancement to detect extremely faint dwarf galaxies and galactic tidal streams, and space telescope mutli-orbit mosaic imaging to understand galaxy evolution over cosmic time. His BSc in astronomy and physics is from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He brings experience from previous jobs feeding and caring for both Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope.
In addition to a personal and professional interest in astronomy, James enjoys brewing fermented beverages and working with his hands in the workshop and garden.