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27 December 2012

Morocco: ASTEROID 4179 TOUTATIS REDUX


December 2012, Sahara desert, Morocco

Our Astronomy club Toutatis visited Morocco and the Sahara desert. We wanted to celebrate our 2 years anniversary of the club in a warm place, where we could have great skies.

As you may have noticed, our club is named after the Asteroid 4179 Toutatis      ( Read On the search for asteroid Toutatis and the origin of our astronomy club's name).
We wanted to catch the asteroid for ourselves and see first hand what kind of object the asteroid was. It was very exciting to search for 4179 Toutatis.
We had at our disposition a 400mm Meade telescope GOTO and the coordinates for the asteroid. But never the less, when we entered the coordinates and centered the asteroid in the eyepiece, we only saw light dots and it was very hard to tell what was a star and what was the asteroid (fast moving object). We then set the camera as the eyepiece and took short (30 sec. to 2 minutes) exposure to see if something would stick out as a longer "line". Believe me, at first there was nothing different on the camera screen. As we checked and rechecked the coordinates of the asteroid, we took an other series of short exposures to see if we got it this time. 

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis reveals itself
At our great surprise, we saw a line stand out on the camera screen and that is where I shouted: "We got it!!!" After 23 years of hearing about Asteroid 4179 Toutatis, i finally got to see it with my own eyes, well with the camera eyes. It was an exciting moment!  After many short exposures to set the focus right and to center the asteroid, I manage to take 60+ shots of it and make an animation of 4179 Toutatis as it hurdles through space.

You can see on the animation on the upper left, the asteroid is tumbling through space. We have in this animation 60 frames with an exposure of 30 seconds each for a total of 30 minutes of tumbling asteroid. If you look closely the "lines" should be of equal lengths, but you notice that they are not. This is due to the rotating asteroid in it's path. Very exciting!

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is by far the most challenging and the most rewarding object that I found in the night sky. Even with the coordinates, a good telescope and support while looking for it, it was still very exciting to search for Asteroid 4179 Toutatis.
Thanks to every one present during the session, here we have it: Asteroid 4179 Toutatis ladies and gentelman! Wouhhouu! :D

Please visit wikipedia Asteroid 4179 Toutatis HERE
Please see article on close up gif animation of rotating asteroid 4179 Toutatis HERE
Please read article and see photos of asteroid Toutatis by Nancy Atkinson on Universe Today HERE 

Read 4/7 posts on club's astronomy trip to Morocco. HERE