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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Your Sky: Live Comet and Asteroid Orbital Elements

The implementation of JPL Orbital Elements format in Your Sky permits importing current orbital elements for periodic comets and asteroids directly from the JPL DASTCOM database into Your Sky. I've put together the plumbing needed to do this, with the usual modicum of Cron jobs, shell scripts, Perl programs, duct tape, and chewing gum, so from now on the Your Sky object catalogues of periodic comets, asteroids by name, and asteroids by number will be updated daily from the current JPL database, bringing the latest newsflashes on these dribs and drabs of the solar system directly to your desktop.

When I was a kid, there were fewer than 2000 numbered asteroids. There are now almost 100,000, and more than 1600 comets with known orbital elements. There's a lot of stuff out there! Did you know there are heavenly bodies named 9007 James Bond, 13070 Seanconnery, and 16452 Goldfinger?

Turning to comets, on December 18th, 1680, Isaac Newton observed the Comet of 1680, now designated C/1680 V1. Where is it now? A single click, using its orbital elements as computed by Newton and contemporaries named Halley, Euler, Pingre, Encke, and Wolfers, shows the comet receding into the void, already more than 250 astronomical units from the Sun in the constellation of Auriga.

Posted at July 10, 2005 00:27