Discovery of 2022 FH
Another night at the observatory. Luis Gerard sat at the desk. The room was void of light, but he knew the massive nine hundred millimeter tube was behind him on the heavy steel fork mount, panning with the movement of the sky. He was so excited while it was being constructed, but as public interest died off, so did his enthusiasm. There wasn't a single visitor that night, and why should their be? The air was still and clear but the full moon disrupted contrast of any faint fuzzies. Nothing interesting to look at, and the massive telescope was being wasted.
On the computer monitor before him was the view from the scope. The Praesepe. Clusters were unaffected by moonlight and the subtle nuances of this one gave him a glimmer of happiness. He had the scope all to himself. Everyone else took the night off. They were smarter than him, choosing to go out and have a good time rather than babysit an empty observatory.
The computer clicked as it recorded each five second exposure. Tracking was perfect, and he let the program run on auto-pilot as he stared in wonder at the reddened image before him, counting the little blips of light. The stars scattered gently from the center, each of them easily distinguishable from the next. The pattern so familiar, he recalled seeing it for the first time in his binocular.
He lifted the coffee cup next to the keyboard and put it to his lips, tasting the cool bitterness. His eyes squinted and his lips puckered. The Beehive cluster would have to wait. He hopped up and walked around the gigantic telescope tube, and down the stairs into the lobby. Light from the room stabbed at his dark-adapted eyes. With the handrail as a guide, he squeezed his eyes closed as he proceeded down by feeling his way to each step.
As he adapted to the light in the room, he stomped toward the warm Bunn coffee pot sitting on it's warmer by the sink. The black liquid reached up to the little white “-8-” marked on the pot. The college could afford a big fancy telescope, but not a modern coffee-maker. He dumped the cold coffee from his cup into the little sink, and poured a fresh cup from the relic. He considered buying another machine with his own money. The problems with this one started with it's age, and ended with a permanent brown spot on the counter. Back to the stairs.
He toed carefully through the darkness of the observing dome. His eyes would take another thirty minutes to regain night vision. Using the red glow of the monitor as a guide, he robotically took one cautious step after the next until reaching the safety of his desk chair, a left-over from the science department, graciously donated by the trash pile behind the building, and salvaged by the astronomy team.
For giggles, he fired up his photo stacking software to verify the scope tracking. He stacked the most recent image onto the first. A few pixels wouldn't be a problem but any more would require a scope recalibration. At the least it would give him something to do. He had four hours to kill.
The image software was basic, and allowed him to flip through each exposure. As he tapped the “next image” button with his finger, all of the cluster stars stayed perfectly aligned, but something at the bottom was off. A streak showed up in each picture, and in a slightly different spot. He shook his head, wondering how he had the luck to catch a passing satellite while trying to make a simple image.
Every photo revealed the intruder. It moved slowly, too slowly to be an ordinary satellite. He pulled up his planetary software to check the location of Pluto, which was on the opposite side of the Earth and not visible. Ceres? That was by the horizon. He searched down a number of known objects, all of them failing to match the track of this streak. What was it?
He set the scope to track it, verifying declination and right ascension with time stamps. If this was a discovery, he wasn't going to miss it. He logged into the archived data records, entering the object's coordinates. A list of variable and other stars in the area appeared, along with Messier 44. “No kidding?” he thought sarcastically to himself. No comets or asteroids appeared on the list, and he was clear of artificial satellites.
“Ha.” he exclaimed. “Finally found one.” With nobody around to share the discovery, he pulled up the submission information, babbling happily to himself about his new discovery and looking forward to how jealous his coworkers would be in the morning. His excitement about the job was renewed. If it wasn't for the quiet night, the moon, and the lack of co-workers, he'd have never found it.
The tiny dark asteroid would become quite important later on. It was classified as 2022 FH, originally thought to be an M-type, but later found to contain large amounts of silicas and ice as well. The perfect target for a near-Earth object suitable for a profitable mining operation. Luis Gerard would become a name that even non-astronomers would be familiar with, as the discoverer of the first extraterrestrial mining site.
Now, about that coffee pot…