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Arecibo radar observation of the asteroid that produces the Geminid meteor shower, 3200 Phaethon (left), model image from SHAPE (center), and view of 3200 Phaethon model (right).
Dr. Sean Marshall, an Observatory Scientist at AO, has been leading a biweekly tutorial session for fellow scientists, training them to use the sophisticated computer program called SHAPE to build computational models of asteroids.
“We have high-quality data for dozens of asteroids that could be used to determine their shapes and other physical properties through computer modeling, but there aren't enough people who know how to do that modeling,” said Dr. Marshall, sharing his motivation for initiating the tutorials.
Scientists use the SHAPE software to generate asteroid shape models using radar observations from telescopes like the Arecibo, Goldstone, and Green Bank Observatories, plus light curves acquired using optical telescopes from observatories across the planet. SHAPE was originally developed by Dr. Scott Hudson (Washington State University), and later refined by Dr. Christopher Magri (University of Maine at Farmington).
“The goal of this tutorial is to have more people who understand the details of how to do shape modeling, particularly within Arecibo's planetary radar group,” said Dr. Marshall. “The Arecibo Observatory has collected more radar images of asteroids than any other observatory, so it makes sense for people in our group to learn this process from start to finish.”
“The Arecibo Observatory has collected more radar images of asteroids than any other observatory, so it makes sense for people in our group to learn this process from start to finish.” - Dr. Sean Marshall, an Observatory Scientist at Arecibo Observatory
Dr. Marshall continued, “I had hoped to do this tutorial in-person with people at Arecibo, much like what I have done with summer NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) interns in the past, since it is easier to explain some concepts in person.” As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, the tutorials were moved to a virtual format.
“The upside is that several colleagues from other institutions across the country have been able to join us for the online tutorials,” Sean expressed. “It's nice to know that other people find this topic interesting!”
The Arecibo Planetary Radar Program is funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program. The Arecibo Observatory is operated by the University of Central Florida (UCF) in partnership with Universidad Ana G. Mendez - Universidad Metropolitana and Yang Enterprises Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Article written by Dr. Tracy Becker - AO Collaborator / SwRI Research Scientist
Head of Planetary Radar team
Keywords: arecibo, observatory, planetary, asteroid, Geminid, meteor, shower, NEO, earth, object, marshall, SHAPE, magri, Farmington, green, bank, NSF, nationa. science, foundation, Research, Experience, Undergraduates