Pan-STARRS telescope system discovers asteroid

  • Published
  • By Jeanne D. Dailey
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
An exciting discovery occurred this September when Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System researchers discovered an asteroid that came within 4 million miles of Earth in mid October.
The asteroid is about 150 feet in diameter, and was about 20 million miles away when discovered. Given the designation "2010 ST3," this is the first potentially hazardous object Pan-STARRS has discovered.
Dr. Robert Jedicke, a University of Hawaii PS1 Science Consortium member, stated, "Although this particular object won't hit Earth in the immediate future, its discovery shows that Pan-STARRS is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering
potentially dangerous asteroids. There is a very slight possibility that ST3 will hit Earth in 2098, so it is definitely worth watching."
The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope atop the dormant volcano Haleakala is an Air Force Research Laboratory funded facility constructed and operated by the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.
Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope installation began in 2005 and became fully operational in June 2010. It is a prototype that will be used to test the technology being developed for the complete system, which will consist of four identical 1.8-meter telescopes and digital cameras.
The four Pan-STARRS cameras will each be the largest digital cameras ever built. Each camera will have about 1.4 billion pixels spread over an area approximately 40 centimeters square.
When all four telescopes become operational, Pan-STARRS will deeply survey most of the night sky to the 24th magnitude several times a month in search of potentially hazardous objects in the solar system.
From the Hawaiian Islands, about 75 percent of the sky is visible over the course of a year, and Pan- STARRS will use its huge cameras to take broad pictures in minute detail.
The telescope takes an average of 500 images a night with a resolution of 1.4 billion pixels; the nightly data would fill 1,000 DVDs.
In addition, Pan-STARRS is expected to make important advances in a variety of other areas of astronomy through the discovery of distant objects such as variable stars,
supernovas and unexplained bursts from other galaxies.
Pan-STARRS stands out from other astronomical surveys in its ability to survey very large areas of sky in great detail and find moving or changing objects.
The Pan-STARRS observatory on Haleakala sits alongside the Air Force Research Laboratory Maui Space Surveillance System, a state-of-the art electro-optical facility that combines research and development with an operational mission, the only one of its kind in the world.
MSSS is part of the AFRL Directed Energy Directorate's Air Force Maui Optical and Super computing site, which also includes the Maui High Performance Computing Center, one of the most powerful computer systems in the Department of Defense. Pan-STARRS uses the MHPCC to reduce and store its data, which is sent from the observatory by fiber optic link.
To learn more about Pan-STARRS, visit