Space has proven to be the final frontier for Madisonville High, the official name given earlier this month to a Main Belt asteroid discovered by Madisonville High School science teacher Denise Rothrock and two of her students.
The celestial body formerly known as Asteroid 2008 SE209 is located 2.9 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun with an orbital period of 4.9 years. It is one of two discovered by Rothrock, a 1982 Texas A&M University biomedical science graduate, and her students in 2008 as part of the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) Asteroid Search Campaign.
The Nov. 2 naming announcement by Harvard University's Minor Planet Center capped an adventure that began four years ago with a summer professional development opportunity, courtesy of the Texas Regional Collaboratives (TRC) for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching.
Rothrock, who lives in Bryan and teaches physics and astronomy at Madisonville High, had attended the 2008 Summer Astronomy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley with the help of funding provided by the Texas A&M-College Station Regional Collaborative, directed by Carolyn Schroeder through the Texas A&M Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE).
As one of 18 teachers participating in the three-week course, Rothrock learned about the IASC Asteroid Search Campaign, a free educational outreach program for high schools and colleges that gives students a unique look at astronomy and teaches them how to make original discoveries of Main Belt asteroids.
As part of the summer course, Rothrock not only received training in how to use the IASC but also instruction in the Internet-based software Hands-On Universe, an astronomy curriculum for middle schools and high schools. Using downloadable images taken from the 24-inch and 32-inch telescopes at the Astronomical Research Institute Observatory and the software program Astrometrica, she and her then-middle school students set to work in fall 2008 analyzing the images obtained from the IASC website.
They labeled known asteroids for identification and use in measurement while also recording any unrecognizable object as a possible new discovery.
To their shock and amazement, they learned in early 2009 that they had discovered two previously undocumented asteroids – two of the four identified during the IASC's 2008 campaign run, which lasted from Oct. 1 to Dec. 5 and, in Texas alone, included 16 different schools representing six regions.