Identify an Asteroid


Occasionally an astrophoto will randomly capture an asteroid. The Jet Propulsion Lab Small Body Identification Database can be used to determine if any known asteroids are within a field of view.


  1. Query the Jet Propulsion Lab Small Body Identification Database specifying time, observing location, coordinates and field dimensions. It will return a list of asteroids within the field of view, if any. Observing location can be approximate.

  2. If an asteroid is in the field, use the Small Body Database to generate an ephemeris in 10 minute intervals. Many asteroid orbits have high inaccuracy. If the asteroid's orbital elements have high uncertainty values, identification is unlikely.

  3. Plate solve the image prior to stacking. Stacking will blur the asteroid.

  4. Open the plate solved image in Aladin Sky Atlas and set the reticule to the coordinates of the asteroid for the image date and time.

  5. Confirm identification of the transient object by looking at the same field in Sky Map it is a transient object.

Asteroid 64284 (2001 UE6)

During an imaging session of M83 on 2016-05-30 starting at 13:12 UT an asteroid crossed the field. I identified it as Asteroid 64284 (2001 UE6), discovered on Oct 20, 2001 by Nomen, J. at Ametlla de Mar, Spain. The time between the first and last image was approximately 28 minutes. For this asteroid, the orbital elements have very low uncertainty since its orbit was calculated using pre-discovery images as far back as 1975. According to the JPL Small-Body Database Browser the asteroid is a main belt asteroid and has a period of 4.08 years. At the time of the image the asteroid was magnitude 18.95 at a distance of 2.1 AU.

The animation contains 4 aligned images. The asteroid is moving from near the center towards the lower right. Each frame is a 180 second exposure on a 17" reflector. The diagram shows the asteroid's position in the solar system at the time of observation.

   2016-May-30 13:12:06     13 37' 55.38"   -30 03' 19.0"
   2016-May-30 13:22:06     13 37' 55.17"   -30 03' 16.2"
   2016-May-30 13:32:06     13 37' 54.97"   -30 03' 13.4" 
   2016-May-30 13:42:06     13 37' 54.76"   -30 03' 10.6" 
   2016-May-30 13:52:06     13 37' 54.55"   -30 03' 07.7"