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Arkansas Sky Observatories Sets Record for 2016

P. Clay Sherrod

The dangerous Earth-crossing asteroid/NEO Apophis which is predicted
to have a very close encounter with the Earth in April, 2029

Arkansas Sky Observatories (ASO), atop Petit Jean Mountain, has reached a milestone in observations by all private observatories world-wide. The primary studies at the observatories – all in cooperation with NASA, Harvard/Smithsonian Observatories and the Tokyo Observatory – has always been Near Earth Objects (NEOs), asteroids and comets which intercept the Earth’s orbit at some time in the future and pose hazards of destruction on Earth.

The study of NEOs has come to the forefront for NASA and various branches of many governments and nearly all facilities devoted to the refinement of the orbits of these bodies – some 45,000 of them – are funded through grants and foundations.

Not so with ASO, which is one of the nation’s oldest privately funded research observatories, operated and owned by P. Clay Sherrod who established the protocol for the research in 1970 when the observatory was only one of four “confirmation stations” of the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams at Smithsonian-Harvard.

On December 31, 2016, Sherrod topped 12,111 measurements (for 2016 only) of the motions of asteroids and comets submitted and accepted as accurate to the Harvard Minor Planet Center and Tokyo Observatory. This is the largest submission ever for a private, non-funded observatory in a single year.

Since computer digitization in 2001, ASO has amassed nearly 94,000 measurements, now being able to log over 100 objects nightly through total robotic operation of three observatories in Arkansas. The goal is to surpass 100,000 orbital measurements by year-end 2017.

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