by Wei Long
Beijing - August 15, 2000 - China began the construction of a new astronomical observatory dedicated to the detection and study of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), Xinhua News Agency reported on August 3.
According to Yang Jiexing, an astronomer who is in charge of the project at the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, the new observatory is being built in the Tieshanshi State Forest Park in Xuyi County in the eastern Jiangsu Province.
The chosen location has an unobstructed view of the horizon and a very dark sky, with the number of clear nights reaching 210 in a year.
The observatory will house a telescope with a mirror diameter of 1.2 metres to observe near-Earth asteroids and comets. The observations will be used to determine precise orbits of these objects and find out if they pose any threat of colliding with Earth in the future.
Completion of the observatory is planned for 2002. The estimated cost of the project is more than 10 million yuan renminbi ($1.2 million US). Funding comes from the local government, the State science and technology department, and contributions from Hong Kong.
Upon completion the new observatory will join an international network of observatories to monitor near-Earth objects.
Since the mid-1990s China has been active in studying asteroids. The Xinglong Station of the Beijing Astronomical Observatory (BAO), which is about 180 km northeast of Beijing, is among a dozen observatories in the existing asteroid monitoring network. Here the Schmidt telescope, which is smaller than the telescope that will go in the new observatory, is equipped with a CCD camera to observe minor planets under the Schmidt CCD Asteroid Program (SCAP).
SCAP found its first NEA, 1997 BR, on January 20, 1997. As of January this year SCAP is credited with discovering five NEAs, two of which are potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).
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