Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 January 28
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Astronomy From An F-18
Credit : Dan Durda and Alan Stern (SwRI)

Explanation: In an era of blossoming ground and space-based observatories, astronomers are also pushing the envelope with airborne instrumentation - successfully capturing an asteroid occultation from a high performance jet aircraft. This blinking animation represents two digitized frames from inflight data of asteroid number 308, Polyxo, passing in front of or occulting a faint star near the center of the field. The camera used, known as the SouthWest Ultraviolet Imaging System (SWUIS) -A, was mounted in the cockpit of a NASA F/A-18 jet (inset lower left). A former US Navy fighter aircraft, the F/A-18 was able to maneuver to the precise position to record the occultation while cruising above clouds and much of Earth's obscuring atmosphere. Using the SWUIS-A data to time the occultation will reveal the size of the asteroid which is otherwise too small to be imaged by even the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Future SWUIS-A airborne missions may include a hunt for Vulcanoids, a suspected population of small asteroids circling the Sun inside the orbit of Mercury.

Tomorrow's picture: Saturnday

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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