This document was last updated 2013 May 10.
The following questions will be posed, then answered:
You will also need a computer to capture the images and software to perform the reductions. Various software packages are advertised in popular astronomy magazines:
An accurate clock/watch set to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is a must and this must be checked regularly (as a minimum, at the start of each observing session) against a reliable standard.
Access to e-mail is also important, both for reporting observations to and receiving designations from the Minor Planet Center (MPC).
You must not attempt to derive positions by overlaying charts on your images or by estimating positions by eye. The accuracy of these positions will not be sufficient.
It is the recommendation of the Minor Planet Center that observers should migrate to using the UCAC-4 catalogue.
The following sources MUST NOT be used for comparison-star coordinates:
Various radio stations around the world transmit UTC. The following table of stations is reproduced from the British Astronomical Association Handbook by kind permission of Max White.
Station Call Transmission Time of Details of Sign Frequencies Transmission Signal /KHz Mainflingen, Germany DCF77 77.5 continuous Second marker 100 ms Minute marker 500 ms 59s omitted Prangins, Switzerland HBG 75 continuous Markers interruptions of carrier wave. Second marker 10ms; minute marker double pulse; hour maeker triple pulse Moscow, Russia RWM 4996 continuous Except 08 & 38m past hour 9996 Morse ID 09 & 39m 14996 Fort Collins, U.S.A. WWV 2500 continuous Second marker 5 ms pulse (29s and 59s omitted) 5000 Minute marker 800 ms pulse 10000 Male voice announcement 52s-60s 15000 20000 Kauai, Hawaii WWVH 2500 continuous Second marker 5 ms pulse (29s and 59s omitted) 5000 Minute marker 800 ms pulse 10000 Female voice announcement 45s-52.5s 15000 20000 Ottawa, Canada CHU 3330 continuous Second marker 01s-28s 7335 30s-50s 14670 Minute marker 500 ms pulse 51s-59s Long hour marker Puncheng, China BPM 5000 continuous Second marker 10ms; minute marker continuous 30m. 10000 continuous Call sign in Morse and voice at 29-30m and 59-60m. 15000 0100-0900 UTC time signals give out at 00-10, 15-25, 30-40, Z tranmsission 45-55m. Chung-Li, China BSF 5000 continuous Second marker 5ms; minute marker 300ms 15000 except 35-40m Taejon, S. Korea HLA 5000 continuous Second marker 20 ms Minute marker 800 ms at 1000 Hz tone Hour marker 800 ms at 1500 Hz tone Voice announcement 52s Nazaki, Japan JG2AS/ 40 continuous Second marker 500ms; 59th second 200-ms JJF-2 interruption of carrier wave. Morse call sign at 15 and 45m. Buenos Aires, LOL1 5000 1700-1800 Morse ID; voice 04, 09. Then every 5m Argentina 10000 2000-2100 past hour 2300-2400 Caracas, Venezuela YVTO 6100 continuous Second marker 100 ms pulse 52s-57s voice announcement of time Minute marker 500 ms pulse 30s marker omitted
Observations of both minor planets and comets, formatted as specified in the link above, must be reported via e-mail to email@example.com.
Do not report more than one position for each time of observation!
When there is no trailing of the minor planet image (or you are measuring the middle of a trail) the time of observation is the mid-exposure time. If you are measuring both ends of a trail, then one end is associated with the start of the exposure, the other with the end. Alternatively, if the trail is very short, you can simply report the mid-point. However, you must not report both a trail-end and mid-point measures from the same trail.
Note that reported magnitudes must be derived from the individual frames: do not obtain a magnitude from one frame and then copy it on all the other observations! Also, ensure that you report the magnitudes with the astrometry: do not say "Photometry to follow"!
Always report positions for every moving object in your images. Do not assume that just because an object is numbered that continuing observations are not important. The inclusion of well-known objects, particularly when there are also observations of unidentified objects, serves as a useful check of the quality of your measurements.
The former submission address mpc@cfa is deprecated. It will continue to work for observation submissions until 2013 Mar. 1. On this date, forwarding of observations batches to the automated routines will cease.
Note that "Allowed Sender" systems will not work with our automated routines that send out information as e-mail returned to certain addresses will bounce.
The first time you submit astrometric observations (see Q. 15 for details on what observations your initial batch must contain), you must report:
The longitude and latitude must be specified to an arcsecond or better. A useful tool for determining your site's coordinates is the Google Earth package: you should quote your long. and lat. to a precision of 0".1 or better. Note that we now use Google Earth to check out the given coordinates. If we have a query as to the location, we may ask for clarification based on our description of the environment shown around the given coordinates in Google Earth.
If you do not use Google Earth, it is important to note that the longitude and latitude that you supply must be geographic coordinates, not geocentric coordinates.
It is also important that you specify COD XXX in the observation header for your initial batch. Do NOT use, for example, COD 000 or COD 999, as these are assigned codes and may cause your initial batch to be processed as if it contained observations from the code you used. Neither should you attempt to use a currently-unused code.
A convenient way to supply the above information in a form that is preserved by the automated processing routines is to use the COM keyword. E.g.:
COM Long. 239 18 45 E, Lat. 33 54 11 N, Alt. 100m, Google Earth
Note that if you request an observatory code during MPC preparation time, you will experience a longer than usual delay before an observatory code is assigned. Note also that assignment of new codes is done in batches every week or so.
If you fail to supply sufficient observations in your initial batch or fail to supply all required information, you will experience a longer than usual delay before an observatory code is assigned.
No, in the sense that we cannot dictate what you choose to call your observatory.
Yes, in the sense that we don't have to use your observatory's name in the MPCs.
However, we are fairly liberal in the observatory names that we allow into the MPCs. At least two amateur-owned sites have names with connections to the popular TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Where is the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable? This is determined on a case-by-case basis. Using a popular character from the well-known TV series The X Files as an example, "Scully Observatory" would probably be acceptable, but "ScullyIsAGoddess Observatory" wouldn't.
You should not start by observing fast-moving objects! It is important that you gain experience by observing "routine" objects before attempting to observe "unusual" objects. We also expect you to prove that you can produce good astrometry of known objects before you begin to discover new objects.
Even if you interested only in comets, it is required that you follow these guidelines for your initial batch. In general, comets are harder to measure than minor planets. If we have a new observer reporting comet observations of bad or indifferent quality we do not know if it is simply a problem due to the comet (big, bright difficult-to-measure image) or a problem with the measurement/reduction process. If we have received minor planets from a new observer in the initial batch, we will have already have determined that the measurement/reduction process is acceptable.
You should not make only one observation of each object per night. Neither should you make many more than three observations per objects per night--it is a waste of your time and rarely helps the orbit solution.
However, to make observations of a potentially new object in groups many hours apart on a single night can be useful, particularly in the case of an newly-discovered object that may be close to the earth.
For multi-opposition objects the preferable regimen of observing is observations on pairs on night in each dark run around each opposition until the object is numbered.
Some observers have set up their own web pages, generally to encourage follow-up their own discoveries. Such sites are collected together here.
Ephemerides for minor planets can be generated using the Minor Planet Ephemeris Service.
However, every reported observation must have a designation. If you don't know the designation of a particular object, or are not bothering to identify objects, use an observer-assigned temporary designation.
Discovery asterisks on submitted observations must only appear on observations with observer-assigned temporary designations. They must never appear on submitted observations with MPC-assigned designations.
The acknowledgement now contains a 'junk' rating for the message that was submitted. The junk rating is the percentage of the submitted message that was not useful (i.e., material that was not observational records, observational header or e-mail header). Many messages arrive with junk ratings of more than 50 percent (in some cases, more than 90 percent!). If you get a poor junk rating, you should examine what you are actually sending and try and cut out some of the junk that some PC mailers seem to insert.
Note also that the acknowledgement is automatic and simply informs you that we have received your message. It says nothing about the formatting of the observations contained therein or their quality.
COD 608 OBS ... MEA ... ... Rest of header ... Observations from code 608 COD 644 OBS ... MEA ... ... Rest of header ... Observations from code 644Failure to format the message as shown above will result in the batch being rejected by the automated routines. Note that later headers do not inherit anything from earlier headers. So you must include, at a minimum, OBS/MEA/TEL/NET lines on later headers.
It all depends on the source of the bounceback message. obs@cfa is an e-mail alias that forwards incoming messages to two different user accounts: one is a personal e-mail accounts of MPC staff members; the second is the e-mail account for the AUTOACK procedure (the automated routine that sends out acknowledgements and that extracts messages into the processing queues).
You should resend your message if the bounceback indicates that autoack@ubasti or obs@cfa is the source of the failure.
You do not need to resend your message if the bounceback comes from any other e-mail address.
Note that following the Editorial Note on MPEC 2010-U20 the assigmment of a new provisional designation does not mean that you will be credited with the discovery of the object when it is numbered. The afore-mentioned MPEC should be read to see the new rules regarding discovery credit and the grandfathering of old multiple-opposition objects. The use of the terms "discoverer" and "discovery" in this document are to be interpretd according to those rules.
New designations are assigned upon the receipt of observations from two nights, not necessarily from the same observer. The two nights should be fairly close together, certainly within a week of each other. See the note on the required coverage on each night. You may use the on-line New Object Ephemeris Generator to generate ephemerides to enable you to find the object after the first night.
If there are a number of observers involved at a particular site and assignment of credit for the discovery of particular objects is important, ensure that the observer-assigned temporary designations reflect the names of the discoverers. For example, at a particular site there are three observers--Byers, Frohike and Langly. Objects discovered by Byers alone are reported with temporary designations beginning By (e.g., By0001), objects discovered by Byers and Langly jointly by designations beginning BL or ByLa (e.g., BL0001 or ByLa01). Similarly, designations beginning FrLa indicate objects discovered by Frohike and Langly.
It is preferred that discoveries are made by a single individual, although discoveries by pairs of discoverers are accepted. Claims for discoveries of specific objects by three or more discoverers are treated as site discoveries, where no individuals are named as the discoverer. An exception to this is allowed for discoveries of TNOs, where up to four individuals may be listed, recognizing the difficulty of obtaining sufficient observations of these (typically very) faint objects.
Note that this linking process requires the earlier observations be on a different night (at least 12 hours separation) and to be of good quality (the automated routines currently reject linkages where one or more observations appear to be off by 1".5 or more).
When removed from the NEOCP, the inner-solar-system objects that get put on to MPECs are as follows:
In the past, objects with perihelia beyond 1.3 AU and eccentricities between 0.4 and 0.5 and/or inclinations above 40 degrees might appear on an MPEC if there was not much activity. This was deemed to be somewhat arbitrary (particularly in light of the fact that the major surveys were counting how many discovery MPECs they had!).
If it turns out that an NEOCP object is identical to an object that has already received a provisional designation that has been published in the MPCs and the MPSs (i.e., the permanent publications), the observations that have already been published are not republished on the MPEC announcing the object (i.e., a temporary publication). Such cases are indicated by the lack of a discovery asterisk amongst the listed observations and the use of 'Additional observations' as a heading, rather than 'Observations'.
Note that objects that are placed on the NEO Confirmation Page will not be assigned designations until they are removed from the page.
If observations are received at the MPC before 4 p.m. local time, we try, but cannot guarantee, to assign new designations that same day.
Note that all newly-assigned designations are provisional: they are only finalised when the observations are published in the next MPS batch. Each month a number of newly-assigned designations are retracted before the observations are published: such designations are flagged as being "omitted".
By0001 (03244 ByLa01 J99A18T ByLa02 (J81U78A By0004 (By0003 By0003 (J99A08HThis may be interpreted as follows: By0001 is the numbered object (3244); ByLa01 is a new object 1999 AT18 that is credited to Byers and Langly; ByLa02 is the known unnumbered object 1981 UA78; By0003 and By0004 refer to the same object, now designated 1999 AH8, which is a recent discovery by another team.
In short, provisional and permanent designations not prefaced with `(' are your discoveries. Note that if you are mining data from some source other than your own setup (e.g., SkyMorph), the lack of `(' indicates only that the designation is newly assigned, as credit for the discovery lies with the producer of the mined data (e.g, NEAT in the case of observations measured from SkyMorph data). Provisional and permanent designations will be in the packed form, as used on the observation record.
New designations are not assigned to objects observed on only one night, although you may receive designations if such objects can be identified with already-known objects.
Observers with at least one discovery credit may request the (roughly) monthly receipt of a DISCSTATUS report, which lists their discoveries, as well the current disposition of each object. Requests to be added to the mailing list for DISCSTATUS reports must be made to the normal submission address (subject line must be "DISCSTATUS" and the message must indicate to which e-mail address the report is to be mailed).
Note that for new objects, it is imperative that you get at least 30 minutes of coverage on each of the nights. As a general rule, the MPC will not assign designations to MB objects observed on only two nights where the coverage on one or both nights is less than 30 minutes.
If you are stacking images, try and ensure that you produce at least two stacks (remembering that the stacks have to be independent, so an image cannot be used in more than one stack). If you can produce only one stack, ensure that the observation is marked as a stack ("K" in column 14). If you produce more than one stack, mark the observations as stacked unless there is another note you wish to use (such as "F" or "V"). If you are observing at a site that uses codes to distinguish between different programs, the "K" should appear on the submitted observation, but will be replaced by the program code during processing.
The observations will be subject to the normal checking procedures of the Minor Planet Center but will be published only if they can be identified with some already-designated object. They are then checked against recent one-night stands. If a match is found the object can receive a designation. The discovery will be credited to the earlier observation: if earlier undesignated observations are then identified, the discovery credit does not change. If no match is forthcoming, the one-night stand observations are filed. These files are checked regularly against new orbits and matches are extracted and published under the already-assigned designation.
If you wish someone else to follow-up your new discovery, you may use the New Object Ephemeris Generator to generate ephemerides to enable your colleague to find the object after the first night.
If someone does follow-up for your new objects, you will get credit for the discovery even if you have obtained only one night's observations. However, there is nothing preventing your colleague from getting two nights on your new object and then reporting it to us as a new object. In such a case, credit will be given to your colleague. For this reason, you should not distribute observations of the new object and you should only send ephemerides to colleagues that you trust.
It is recommended, however, that if you are reporting a possible new NEO, that you include "NEOCP" in the subject line of your e-mail (alternatives are "NEO" or "FMO"). Possible new comets (that are not on the NEOCP) should have "COMET" in the subject line. Similarly, use "TNO" or "SAT" for batches containing observations of potential new TNOs or natural satellites.
If observers decide to check the residuals for known objects prior to submission, they are advised to use the consistency of the residuals (particularly night-to-night), rather than the size of them, as the discriminator for rejecting observations.
A careful observer with normal equipment is quite capable of obtaining nightly measures that are consistent to within a few tenths of a second of arc.
Observations that are not submitted in the proper format are subject to delay.
Note that the different processing classes are dealt with at different rates. This should not affect the order in which "new" objects are processed.
Once identified (or recovered as a result of a direct search), observations should be made on pairs on nights in each of two dark runs at each opposition until the object is numbered. For main-belt objects this can occur after the object has been observed at four oppositions (although this depends on the number and distribution [preferably two nights in each of two dark runs in at least three of the oppositions] of the observations as well as their quality); NEOs can receive a number after two or three well-observed oppositions. In addition, objects to be numbered require the uncertainty parameter, U, must be less than or equal to two. Note that newly-identified multiple-opposition objects are not eligible for numbering: numbering of such objects can only take place after the first multiple-opposition orbit has appeared in the MPCs and after further observations have been reported (these can be at the latest opposition, or at an earlier or subsequent opposition).
The selection of objects for numbering is an automatic process performed just before the preparation of each batch of MPCs. There is no need to ask us "What do I need to do to get such-and-such numbered?". Simply follow the guidelines above and the object will be numbered when it is ready.
Proposed names are judged by the fifteen-member Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN) of the International Astronomical Union. Except in very unusual circumstances, new names may not be assigned until a minimum of two months have elapsed since the objects were numbered. If the CSBN has objections to the name or the accompanying citation, this process can take much longer.
Names become official when they are published in the Minor Planet Circulars. Note that the CSBN condemns the preannouncement of names, even if any such preannouncement indicates that a name is only a proposal.
When several provisional designations belong to the same numbered minor planet, one of these provisional designations is defined as the prinicipal designations (this is decided when the object is first identified) and it is the discoverer of this principally-designated object that is defined as the discoverer of the numbered object.
An alphabetical list of current minor planet names is available. A list of the discovery circumstances of the numbered minor planets is available.
Other than those restrictions, almost any other type of name is acceptable.
Names should not be too similar to an existing name. In order to check whether your proposed name (or one very similar) has been used already, consult the the alphabetical list of minor-planet names and use your browser's 'Find' facility.
Names should preferably be one word. For individuals, use the surname (family name) if possible. If you run two or more parts of a individual's name together to make the name, do not use mid-word capitalization. Proposers should remember that names of minor planets are not the same as the names of people. Ideally, if a name is to honor a person, it should simply "suggest" that person, in a manner that is as unobtrusive as possible.
Please remember that the purpose of naming minor planets is for identification, not commemoration.
Note that the CSBN reserves the right to edit the citation for publication.
There is a special format for submitting names. This format is necessary to expedite processing of the proposal. The first line consist of an "index entry" containing the proposed name, the number of the object to which the name is to be applied and a very short summary of the citation. Then follows a blank line. Then the citation in the form that it will appear in the MPCs. Single name proposals or batches of proposals must be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The index line can extend to column 80, but the other lines must not go beyond column 78. Lines must have ragged-right margins (i.e, do not right-justify the lines), neither should words be hyphenated across line breaks. Submitted files must be plain ASCII: do not send any kind of WP/DTP/HTML file! Diacritical marks must be indicated in the TeX format.
This is best illustrated with a couple of examples from the batch of names in the 2000 Jan. 24 batch of MPCs (the column ruler at the top is simply to show you where the entries in the index line fall: e.g., the index description begins in column 31 and the number ends in column 27):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 12345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890 Flagsymphony 6582 Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra (6582) Flagsymphony = 1981 VS Discovered 1985 Nov. 5 by E. Bowell at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory. The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 50th season in 1999-2000. It is considered by many to be the best symphony orchestra in a small community in the U.S.A. Baton Rouge 11739 Louisiana state capital (11739) Baton Rouge = 1998 SG27 Discovered 1998 Sept. 25 by W. R. Cooney, Jr. and M. Collier at Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital, is located on the banks of the Mississippi river and derives its name, French for ``red stick'', from an Indian marker at the site seen by a French expedition in 1699. The city is home to the Highland Road Park Observatory, where this minor planet was discovered.When printed in the MPCs the example citations above took up 2.2 and 3.8 lines, respectively.
It there are multiple names being proposed at the same time, each index-citation block is separated from other blocks by a blank line, as in the example above.
Submitted citations are subject to editing.
From time to time, the question arises as to whether inclusion of observations in the MPCs can be construed as publication in the `refereed' astronomical literature. The Minor Planet Center stresses most emphatically that astrometric observations of comets and minor planets submitted for publication in the MPCs are indeed subjected to close, critical study, and that erroneous observations are returned to their authors for amendment. Particular care is taken to ensure that all observations presented are correctly identified. The MPCs are designed specifically to handle the publication of astrometric observations of comets and minor planets and there is no need also to publish in other journals.
The contact details MUST include:
Precovery refers to the identification of images of a single-apparition object at an earlier opposition.