Montage of our solar system

"Destination Earth: JPL's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking Program" will be the theme for two free public lectures, one on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in JPL's von Karman Auditorium, the other on Friday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. in The Forum at Pasadena City College. Seating is limited and will be on a first-come, first- served basis.

The lecture will be presented by Eleanor Helin, principal investigator of the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program. Helin has been active in planetary science and astronomy for nearly 35 years at JPL and Caltech. She initiated the Planet- Crossing Asteroid Survey from Palomar Observatory in the 1970's, coordinated the International Near-Earth Asteroid Survey in the 1980's, and now leads the NEAT program.

NEAT is an autonomous celestial observatory located at the U.S. Air Force's Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance site on Mt. Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii. It is designed to complete a comprehensive search of the sky for near-Earth asteroids and comets.

Since beginning operation in December 1995, NEAT has discovered more than 15,000 objects, including 26 near-Earth asteroids, two long-period comets and the very unique object temporarily numbered 1996 PW, the most eccentric asteroid yet known.

NEAT is the first autonomous observing program of its type. No JPL personnel are required to operate the telescope on site in Hawaii. A Sun Sparc computer runs the observing system through the night and transmits the data back to JPL each morning.

This lecture is part of the von Karman Lecture Series sponsored monthly by the JPL Media Relations Office. A web site on the lecture series is located at For information call the JPL Media Relations Office at (818) 354-5011.

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