Unistellar is inviting its citizen astronomers to provide guidance for a NASA mission to the double Trojan asteroid Patroclus, in the early hours of May 9.
SAN FRANCISCO AND MARSEILLE—May 5, 2021—In the early hours of May 9, the double Trojan asteroid Patroclus will occult (pass in front of) a bright star. Unistellar, a startup that makes state-of-the-art, simple-to-operate digital telescopes, is inviting its network of citizen astronomers to help NASA detect and record the event. In October 2021, NASA will launch the Lucy probe, the first mission to the Trojan asteroids: Lucy will visit seven Trojans, and Patroclus will be the last one it visits, in 2033.
The May 9 occultation will take place around 1:30 a.m. PT (4:30 a.m. ET) and will be detectable in parts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.
“Even from their backyards, Unistellar’s citizen astronomers can increase our knowledge of a NASA probe target and help guide the Lucy mission on its journey,” said Franck Marchis, Unistellar’s Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute. “It is a fantastic scientific goal and highlights the unique power of the Unistellar network and its telescopes.”
Patroclus is an asteroid orbiting Jupiter. It is called a Trojan asteroid because it is a type of asteroid thought to hold key information about the origin of planets and life in our solar system. As NASA puts it, Trojan asteroids are “time capsules from the birth of our solar system” made of “the primordial material that formed the outer planets.” Patroclus is also a binary asteroid; it has a companion, called Menoetius, of almost the same size (112 kms, vs 122 kms for Patroclus).
Occultations help astronomers make important measurements about astronomical objects. In this case, Patroclus passing in front of a bright star will help astronomers from Unistellar and the SETI Institute, Unistellar’s citizen science partner, more accurately assess the shape, size, trajectory, and orbit of Patroclus, to guide the Lucy probe on its journey.
Technology expands the thrill of space science to novice astronomers
Detecting such critical space events has been previously reserved for professional astronomers or advanced amateurs with an extensive astronomy background. Now, even novices can contribute.
Unistellar’s eVscope and eVscope eQuinox are simple, powerful digital telescopes that enable everyone to actively participate in space exploration. Citizen astronomers can help the Lucy probe fly safely near distant asteroids.
“If a citizen astronomer detects one of the Lucy targets, that will be a significant contribution of the Unistellar’s network to space exploration,” added Marchis. “This is an achievement those citizen astronomers will remember when Lucy visits the asteroid Patroclus in 2033. By contributing their time and energy, they will have added another piece of knowledge in our solar system.”
Unistellar is the start-up behind the eVscope and the eVscope eQuinox, the most powerful and simple-to-operate digital telescopes that bring the wonders of the universe to life in seconds – even in urban settings. Thanks to a partnership with the SETI Institute, these game-changing consumer telescopes allow users to become citizen scientists and contribute to cutting-edge research on exoplanet transits, asteroid occultations, comets, and much more.
The Unistellar eVscope received a CES Innovation Award in 2018 in the category Tech for a Better World and was nominated for a SXSW 2019 Innovation Award. Nearly 5,000 digital telescopes are now operating in Europe, Japan, and North America, participating in an unprecedented observing experience.
Ludovic Nachury, Head of Communication
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