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Asteroid (7102) named for Neil Bone.

Neil Bone, Director of the BAA Meteor Section, has had an asteroid named in his honour. The following citation was published in Minor Planet Circular 65121:

(7102) NEILBONE = 1936 NB Discovered on 1936 July 12 by C. Jackson at Johannesburg. Neil Bone (b. 1959), a British observer and author of several books, founded the Aurora Section of what is now the Society for Popular Astronomy in 1981 and became director of the British Astronomical Association's Meteor Section in 1992. He also compiles the 'Society News' notes for Astronomy Now.


The observational circumstances of the original discovery are particularly interesting in that the asteroid was found by Yorkshire-born professional astronomer Cyril Jackson, working at the Union Observatory, Johannesburg. At the time of discovery, the minor planet was just 4 days ahead of an especially favourable close approach to the Earth ([Delta]= 1.296 AU) when it reached magnitude 14.3. Jackson was able to photograph the object on five nights spread over two lunations and reported it as being of magnitude 13, but it was then 'lost' for some 49 years before being recovered on 1985 July 17 from Klet Observatory in the Czech Republic.

The characteristics of (7102) Neilbone are very unusual for a main-belt asteroid in that its orbit is quite eccentric (e = 0.253) (no reflection on Neil, I might add!) and it is inclined almost 19[degrees] to the ecliptic (i = 18.66[degrees]). This means the object spends most of its time in the outer region of the Main Belt (aphelion distance = 3.864AU) before passing through perihelion at 2.305AU once every 5.42 years. The nearest possible approach to the Earth is 1.292AU, whereas near aphelion it can be almost 5.0AU distant. Without knowing its reflectivity or albedo, it is difficult to estimate its physical size, which may be in the range 10-30km. Its rotational characteristics are unknown at present.


The image of (7102) Neilbone shown below was taken on 2009 February 17 using the Faulkes Telescope North located on Mount Haleakala on the island of Maui, Hawaii, whilst the asteroid was passing through a star-rich area of the sky in the constellation of Perseus. The minor planet can be easily distinguished by the short streak caused by its motion relative to the stars over a period of just 12 minutes. It is currently approaching solar conjunction and so will soon be unobservable. However, it will next reach opposition on 2010 January 18 when it happens to pass through a very low phase angle, just 0.03[degrees]. We might therefore expect a distinct 'opposition effect' to occur which will significantly enhance its brightness. On average, only about 1 in 200 main belt asteroids attain a phase angle of 0.03[degrees] or less when at opposition and so next winter we shall have a good opportunity to study its physical characteristics in much more detail.

In particular, I am proposing that the Asteroids and Remote Planets Section launch a long-term observing project specifically to measure the extent of the 'opposition effect' and colours of a number of the more unusual asteroids, of which (7102) Neilbone will be among the first on the list of proposed targets worthy of study. A list of the brighter objects which reach especially low phase angle at opposition can be found in the 2009 Handbook, p. 55-56. A side effect of this project will be that objects on the list will also each have their rotational period determined, many for the very first time.

Currently, these types of observation are not being pursued to any great extent by the professional community of astronomers so the field is wide open for amateurs to make an impact. For instance, some minor planets occupy 'comet-like' orbits and as such, may be extinct comets which no longer exhibit cometary activity. Comet surfaces and low-albedo asteroids are expected to show little if any 'opposition effect' at low phase angle--we shall see. To properly carry out these types of observation, I anticipate that much use will be made of robotic telescopes so that the target objects can be followed through opposition despite inclement weather here in the UK. If you wish to participate in this project then please do get in touch with me--my contact details can be found on the inside back page of every Journal.

I would like to record my own delight on hearing the news that a low-numbered minor planet was to be assigned the name NEILBONE: a very well-deserved honour. I should also add that it was especially pleasing to have been able to secure an image in time for this note, thanks to the assistance of Dr Paul Roche and the Faulkes Telescope team based at Cardiff University. Well done Neil.

Richard Miles, Director
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Title Annotation:Asteroids & Remote Planets Section; asteroid named in Neil Bone's honor
Author:Miles, Richard
Publication:Journal of the British Astronomical Association
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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