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Graham Bell
Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomers’ League 
(comet co-discoverer)

Abstract: Graham Bell was educated at the University of Wyoming, where he majored in physics. He has also received graduate credits in mathematics and operations research from Florida State University and Colorado State University. He has been a life-long amateur astronomer, if reading with only occasional viewing qualifies one as an amateur astronomer. In 1997 he became a frequent observer when he received an 8-inch SCT as a birthday present. He has, since that time, become involved heavily in minor planet research, where his efforts have been devoted to improving orbital elements for Near-Earth asteroids and the discovery of a number of main belt asteroids. In 2000, he received the Edgar Wilson award for him shared discovery of comet P/1999X1 (Hug-Bell). Graham has given numerous talks on minor planets, and has been an organizer and regular participant in the annual international Minor Planet Amateur/Profesional Workshop. Graham Bell's research web page is http://gebell.home.mindspring.com/

Graham E. Bell is deeply involved in Minor Planet Research through his association with NEKAAL, the Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomers League. NEKAAL is the local astronomy club in Topeka, and several of its members, working with computer, telescopes and CCD cameras out of their Far Point Observatory, are involved in recovering the orbital data of asteroids, as well as working to discover new comets and asteroids. Asteroid research is often neglected by professional astronomers, who are working in bigger projects, and is thus one of the major opportunities for amateur astronomers to get directly involved in astronomical research.

Minor planets fall into two categories, asteroids and comets. These objects are essentially small bits of loose debris orbiting around in the Solar system.

Minor planets are classified into three categories:

  1. Near Earth Objects, or asteroids whose orbit can take them inside the orbit of the Earth,
  2. Main Belt Objects, or asteroids whose orbit is in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and
  3. Trans Neptunian Objects, or asteroids whose orbits is in the outer solar system past Neptune.

While still in outer space, these objects are called asteroids, or, in come cases, meteoroids. If an asteroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it is then called a meteor, and is detectable as it burns up during its fall. If one of these meteors is big enough to make it through the atmosphere without burning up completely, and actually hits the surface, it is then called a meteorite.

The main purposes of Minor Planet research is to find out how many comets asteroids and meteoroids there are, what is their origin and composition, and especially to find objectsthat might ever hit Earth.

During an observation of a specific object, the observer will attempt to determine its specific orbital data, and record its luminosity and light curve. Often, amateur astronomers doing Minor Planet Research will recover an asteroid that that been lost, or discover an entirely new object.

Most minor planets, being small objects, are very faint. Minor Planet observers use several techniques in their work. Both CCD and film is used to make images of asteroids. A CCD camera is more sensitive and can bring out fainter objects, but regular film is still useful. Once images are made, they are used to detect movement against the stellar background. This is done by comparing two or more images of the same are at different times, and seeing if any of the "dots" have moved. If motion is detected, then it is possible to measure the position of the minor planet at the moment the image was taken. A photometer is used to measure magnitudes.

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