Brookline students track asteroid, set up live feed

 Sam Lapides (left) and Nick Veo kept a close eye on 2012 DA14 through a giant telescope at the Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools.
Sam Lapides (left) and Nick Veo kept a close eye on 2012 DA14 through a giant telescope at the Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools.

As a massive asteroid made its way toward Earth, three individuals closely tracked the 150-foot-wide object through one of the largest telescopes in the Boston area. The trio kept a close eye on 2012 DA14 as it hurtled through space about 17,000 miles from the planet, a distance closer than the moon, hours after a meteor cut through the atmosphere and inflicted widespread damage and injuries in Russia.

The three students monitoring the giant telescope at the Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools in Brookline on Friday night were as thrilled, and maybe more so, as they would have been had they been watching a high school basketball game or carving snow on a snowboard.

The students, Nicholas Weber, 16, of Jamaica Plain; Nick Veo, 16, of Belmont; and Sam Lapides, 17, of Wellesley, gathered at the observatory Friday,started tracking the asteroid, and set up alive online feed at 6 p.m. The asteroid, larger than the meteor that exploded over Russia, had not been expected to strike Earth, nor was it known to be correlated with the Ural Mountains region incident, said Ron Dantowitz, the director of the observatory.


“At the moment the two objects . . . do not seem to be related,” said Dantowitz. “However, time will tell once the studies of the object itself and the studies of the asteroid passing are better known.”

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As expected, the asteroid passed by harmlessly. It delighted astronomers who were able to watch it zip by.

‘‘It’s on its way out,’’ reported Paul Chodas of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The three high school students worked alongside the observatory staff to track 2012 DA14.

“It is about half the size of a football field across,” said Weber. “It’s most likely solid nickel and iron, or rock, just a collection of rocks. That’s partly what we’re trying to determine.


“The other thing we’re studying with this asteroid specifically is its effects on the tides, because it’s close enough to us and large enough to have its own gravitational field. It could, as the moon does, pull on the ocean and affect tides.”

Weber, Lapides, and Veo huddled in the telescope room, where they adjusted the machinery to keep track of the asteroid. The telescope is a quarter the size of the Hubble Space Telescope, Dantowitz said.

“The telescopes are part of our science program that serve both of our schools, and tonight the telescopes are run by some of our high school students,” he said.“They opened up the telescope, tuned up the telescope, found the asteroid, photographed it, and streamed it to the world, live through the Internet.”

More than half a million people checked out the live feed, according to Dantowitz.

The tracking and capturing images of the asteroid was far more than entertainment. “We’d like to see the path it’s going, we’d like to see if it’s tumbling at all, how it’s rotating, what it’s made of, or specifically how fast it’s moving,” Lapides said. “All this kind of stuff we can figure out with the data we take from the telescope.”

Derek J. Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@
. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.