Astronomical Research
Dedicated to expanding human knowledge
DISCOVERY SUBMITTALS:  There are two (2) basic requirements for submitting a minor planet discovery: a) two or more nights of tracking and b) checking that the minor planet is not already in the MPC data base.  If the minor planet is already in the MPC data base, the observation is still turned in as an "observation", not a discovery, if the MPC list it as needing additional observations.

A quality observation requires three nights of data with three data points per night. Six (6) parameters are necessary to unambiguously define an unperturbed orbit.  These are: 1) eccentricity, 2) semimajor axis, 3)inclination, 4) longitude of ascending node, 5) periapsis and 6) mean anomaly at epoch.  Three images per observation, three observations per night and three nights gives one twenty-seven (27)data points with which to work.  This is enough to establish the quality of the observations.  MPC643 is proud of the quality of their observations.  See Wikipedia for explanation of orbital elements.

MINOR PLANET CENTER:  The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the nerve center of minor planet and comet tracking for the IAU.  An explanation of its responsibilities and its authority can be seen at MPC Harvard University.  Their website provides a list of tools for astronomers and access to the official database of all the minor planets.  The current location of all the discovered minor planets can be found at Ephemeris Service.

NUMBERING OF A MINOR PLANET:  The numbering of a minor planet is the final stage in its discovery process.  The number is a sequential number assigned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).  The IAU assigns this number only after the error-bars of all six orbital parameters are within a defined range.  This will take observations from at least five (5) apparitions, sometimes more.  At this stage, the IAU considers that the minor planet will never be lost.

REASSIGNMENT:  It is a great disappointment to have one's "discovery" reassigned but it is a reality based upon rules.  Just seeing a minor planet first does not necessarily give one discovery credit.  The discovery observations must be over a long enough period to tie into later observations by other observatories.  If the original discovery observations do not tie into later observations but the later observations tie into the original discovery data, the later observations take precedence in giving discovery credit.

LOST:  The observations of a single night is enough to re-image the minor planet three or four nights later.  With observations three nights apart, one can usually find the minor planet up to two weeks later.  With observations over two week, one can find the object two or three months later.  Two to three months is the longest time an observer can track a minor planet in one apparition but this is usually good enough to find the minor planet in the following apparition.  With observations from five apparitions, the orbital elements are usually well enough defined to not lose the minor planet.

A discovery is generally lost because there were not enough observations over a long enough period in the initial discovery apparition.  This can be beyond the observatory's control.