Western student first to spot new asteroid

Western University graduate astronomy student Cole Gregg spotted a previously undiscovered asteroid flashing through the night sky. Photo courtesy of Western University.

Remotely using a telescope on the other side of the ocean, a Western University student has become the first person in the world to lay eyes on a previously undiscovered asteroid.

Cole Gregg, a graduate astronomy student, was studying at home last Wednesday when he decided to use the internet to access a telescope at an observatory in Nerpio, Spain. He is one of several astronomers with remote access to the mountaintop telescope.

As Gregg observed the night sky through the scope, he spotted a bright dot moving rapidly. He contacted Western astronomy professor Paul Wiegert and together they determined the object to be a small asteroid, between 50 to 100 metres in diameter speeding past Earth.

“Although my current project is focused on searching the sky for asteroids, you never are fully ready to see one that no one has yet and all from the comfort of my own home. There is something very cool about that,” said Gregg.

A still image of an asteroid (circled), temporarily designated ALA2xH. Image courtesy of Western University.

A still image of an asteroid (circled), temporarily designated ALA2xH.

The asteroid has been temporarily designated ALA2xH. Its observation measurements were sent to the Minor Planet Center (MPC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which confirmed Gregg was the first to observe it. The asteroid is now listed on the MPC’s ‘near-earth object confirmation page’ which estimates its orbit in hopes of capturing an image of it a second time.

“We have been attempting to image ALA2xH again since the initial observation, but without luck due to weather and unavailability of the telescopes,” Gregg added.

Being the first to spot an asteroid is a “rare treat,” according to Wiegert, who is also Gregg’s research advisor.

“Astronomers around the globe are continuously monitoring near-Earth space for asteroids so this is certainly a feather in Cole’s cap.”