Our thanks to many (too numerous to list) who have
notes on this discovery. Of our sixty plus designations in the past year,
this of course is the crown jewel, even if it remains forever beyond 18th
Richard, if indeed a discovery scenario is required, then one you shall
My apologies to those who would have preferred a shorter version of this.
While most of us devote the majority of our time to asteroids, the hope of a comet discovery seems to continually linger in the back of our minds doesn't it? Every out-of-focus object which moves causes the heart to skip a beat, until you realize that you just have another poor image of an asteroid.
In 1998, we at Farpoint got three asteroid designations, one of those being 1998 RX60. 1998 RX60 is the first of our diesignations to be reachable as it approaches its second opposition a few months from now. Anxious to recover this object, we were taking 6 minute images of the predicted field. The clouds had just cleared out a few hours earlier. Several objects were moving in the field, including one involved with a star, and one which we presumed to be 1998 RX60. The object we were after was still very weak, so we increased the exposure time to 10 minutes. At ten minutes, the one which was involved started looking a little fuzzy, but other objects were still clean. Switching to 20 minute exposures (a lifetime when you are waiting to see what you have) confirmed in our minds at least, that we had an object with a discernable tail at pa ~285.
Our normal approach is to use two telescopes for discovery and follow up work, divide up the images, and go home at sunrise to do the astrometry, That process was altered Friday morning, as we shut down one scope while I did astrometry. Gary continued imaging our new object. As soon as we had five good datapoints, I sent these to the Minor Planet center, then fired off a note to Tim Spahr asking for his assistance. We wanted a bigger scope on this one, and Tim was far enough west to assist after our sunrise, which was imminent We got three more observations for the Minor Planet Center, then shut down at twilight.
Unfortunately, Catalina was clouded out, and Tim was unable to get additional images. But it turns out that Catalina had imaged the appropriate part of the sky earlier. He eventually found an image taken November 11 which contained our object. I know he searched several sets of images, and I doubt he really understands how much we appreciate that.
Larry Robinson and crew in Kansas CIty also were attempting to assist, but they had some coulds and were unable to get deep enough.
Friday night (Saturday morning actually) was supposed to be a night of sitting home waiting to see if anyone would get the object, which had been posted on the NEOCP. The coulds were pervasive. Fortunately (unless sleep and health are considered) the clouds thinned, and we were able to begin imaging sometime after 2:00 am local time. Again, the object was initially involved with a star. Switching to 20 minute shots, we were able to obtain about 5 images with a good signal to noise ratio, all showing the tail, before twilight. Again, astrometry was done on site, but I waited to get home to ship these data to the MPC, as I wanted the Acknowledgement to come to me, not go to an abandoned observatory.
In the meantime, Carl Hergenrother and Lenka Sarounova both observed the comet, and both confirmed that it was indeed a comet. Brian Marsden linked this object to two one nighters, from LINEAR, dating back to October 10 and December 7.
We still don't know if RX60 was recovered, but haven't given that much thought these past two days.
Folks, the process works well! Less than 48 hours after we discovered comet P/1999 X1 (HUG-BELL) the object was designated and had better than a 60 day arc.
Its been fun.
Thanks for all the well wishes..
Graham and Gary