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Record number of asteroids spotted

Feb. 25, 2011 at 3:28 PM   |   Comments

HONOLULU, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Astronomers using a telescope on the island of Maui in Hawaii said they discovered 19 near-Earth asteroids Jan. 29, the most ever found in a single night.

Scientists at the Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui, said the record demonstration of the year-old telescope's capabilities was made possible by recent software improvements and refinements in observational techniques, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.

In the past, the telescope had generated false detections that made it difficult to discern real and phantom asteroids, astronomers said.

During the Jan. 29 demonstration, the astronomers took four exposures, one after the other, to ensure accurate observation, Pan-STARRS project head Nick Kaiser said.

While the project receives funding from NASA and the U.S. Air Force for its asteroid-detecting activities, it is also involved in other studies, Kaiser said.

"We're not funded exclusively for this, but we thought we'd do it as a demonstration," he said. "We hope to generate more funding for (asteroid detection)."

While the chance of near-Earth asteroids actually colliding with Earth is remote, roughly a 1-in-1,000 chance, knowing their whereabouts will allow governments to act should the unlikely actually develop into a real threat, Kaiser said.

"It's like the risk developing a rare disease," he said. "The chance that it will actually happen is small, but the risk, whatever it is, is real. You want to find out if it will happen."

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