Discovering the smallest observed near-earth objects with the space surveillance telescope
February 26, 2019
The Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) is an advanced optical sensor designed and tested by MIT Lincoln Laboratory for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is currently in the process of being integrated into the Space Surveillance Network. By operating the telescope in a manner normally intended for the discovery of small, artificial space objects, SST is serendipitously sensitive to the detection of very small asteroids as they traverse close to the Earth, passing rapidly through SST's search volume. This mode of operation stands in contrast to the standard approach for the search and discovery of asteroids and near-Earth objects (NEOs), in which longer revisit times restrict survey sensitivities to objects moving no faster than about 20 degrees/day. From data collected during SST's observation runs in New Mexico, we detail the discovery of 92 new candidate objects in heliocentric orbit whose absolute magnitudes range from H=26.4 to 35.9 (approximately 18-m to 25-cm in size). Some of these discoveries represent the smallest natural objects ever observed in orbit. We compare the candidate objects with bolide observations.