Irish astronomers over the moon after second asteroid find

 

LIKE CELESTIAL buses, you wait 160 years for a new asteroid and then two come along at once.

Raheny, Dublin-based amateur astronomer David Grennan has discovered a new asteroid following a couple of nights' observation last week which involved looking for moving objects against the fixed backgrounds of the stars.

The Minor Planets Centre at Harvard University confirmed his observations and gave the asteroid the unromantic designation 2008US3. Mr Grennan will be invited by the International Astronomical Union to name it after further observations.

The asteroid - a small celestial body like a tiny planet which lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - is between three and six kilometres in diameter. It had been repeatedly missed by sky surveys carried out by professional astronomers who map the sky. "I'm amazed that something so big could be missed," said Mr Grennan.

Prior to this month, the last asteroid discovered in Ireland was found at the Markree Observatory in Co Sligo in 1848.

In October, amateur astronomer Dave McDonald located a previously-undiscovered object from his observatory in Celbridge, Co Kildare. It has been named 2008 TM9.

Mr Grennan said they had decided to look in areas that have not been surveyed and where there are not many asteroids.

"We thought we'd stack the odds in our favour, but we did not think we'd hit the proverbial jackpot so soon. We thought it would take years," he said.