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Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research
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Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research

The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project is a cooperative project between the United States Air Force, NASA and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory for the systematic discovery of near-Earth asteroids. LINEAR is responsible for the majority of asteroid detections since 1998. As of February 26, 2004 LINEAR had detected 198,450 new objects of which at least 1404 were near earth asteroids and 128 were comets.

It began operating a near-Earth object (NEO) discovery facility using a one-meter aperture GEODSS telescope in 1996. GEODSS stands for Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance and these wide field Air Force telescopes were designed to optically observe Earth orbital spacecraft. The GEODSS instruments used by the LINEAR program are located at the Lincoln Laboratory's experimental test site in the White Sands Missile Range at Socorro, New Mexico. Data is then sent to the Lincoln Laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Between March and July 1997, a 1024 × 1024 CCD pixel detector was used in field tests and, while this CCD detector filled only about one fifth of the telescope's field of view, four NEOs were discovered. In October 1997, a large format CCD (1960 × 2560 pixels) that covered the telescope's 2 square degree field of view was employed successfully to discover a total of 9 new NEOs. Five more NEOs were added in the November 1997 through January 1998 interval when both the small and large format CCD detectors were employed.

Beginning in October 1999, a second one-meter telescope was added to the search effort. In 2002, a third telescope of 0.5 meter aperature was brought on-line to provide follow-up observations for the discoveries made by the two 1-meter search telescopes. Currently, LINEAR telescopes observe each patch of sky 5 times in one evening with most of the efforts going into searching along the ecliptic plane where most NEOs would be expected. The sensitivity of their CCDs, and particularly their relatively rapid read out rates, allows LINEAR to cover large areas of sky each night. Currently, the LINEAR program is responsible for the majority of NEO discoveries.

The project's principal investigator is Grant Stokes, with co-investigators Jenifer Evans and Eric Pearce.

In addition to discovering tens of thousands of asteroids, LINEAR is also credited with the discovery or rediscovery or co-discovery of several periodic comets, including 11P/Tempel-Swift-LINEAR, 146P/Shoemaker-LINEAR, 148P/Anderson-LINEAR, 156P/Russell-LINEAR, 158P/Kowal-LINEAR.

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