Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Asteroid Hunters.(New Mexico & The West)

Byline: John Fleck Journal Staff Writer

* Armed with a pair of super-sensitive telescopes, a crew of systems engineers scours the skies for 'wandering stars'

STALLION RANGE CENTER Grant Stokes, Frank Shelly and their colleagues never intended to turn an astronomical field on its head. "We're not astronomers," Stokes said recently, sitting in a block building atop a small hill near the north end of White Sands Missile Range. "We're systems engineers."

Outside a pair of telescopes stood ready, waiting for the sun to set so they could get to work.

Down a hall and around a corner, Shelly's computers hummed expectantly, ready to suck up and analyze the data the telescopes collected.

Over the last three years, those computers and telescopes have revolutionized the hunt for asteroids.

Originally developed for Air Force satellite hunting, the system has proven remarkably adept at finding city block-size chunks of rock hurtling through our solar system.

In just three years, the upstart project known as LINEAR the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Program has moved into third place on the International Astronomical Union's all-time list of most prolific asteroid-discovering observatories.

They are ahead of astronomers who have toiled for decades at the task, trailing only the European Southern Observatory and the king of the hunt, the venerable Palomar Observatory in California. …

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