Gifted High Schoolers Complete Asteroid Determinations

Summer Science Program students complete asteroid orbit determinations

by Richard Bowdon, SSP Executive Director

SOCORRO, N.M. – Thirty-five teenage scientists from New Mexico and 18 other states will go home Saturday tired, but proud. They have just completed “the educational experience of a lifetime” – the Summer Science Program (SSP) at New Mexico Tech. During every clear night over the past six weeks they could be found at Tech’s Etscorn Observatory, often past midnight, recording the speck of light from a distant asteroid. By day they learned how to measure the position of that little dot, and how to calculate the asteroid’s orbit precisely enough to predict its future position. In the last week, they submitted their observations to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In addition to their hands-on research, the high school students enjoyed behind-the-scenes tours of New Mexico Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory and EMRTC, as well as the Very Large Array and Apache Point Observatory. They also had the opportunity to learn from and interact with working scientists, including Tech professors Drs. Penelope Boston and Eileen Ryan.

Now in its 49th year, SSP attracts some of the world’s most gifted math and science students. For example, over half of the students arrived in Socorro this year having already earned a perfect score on the PSAT or SAT math test.

New Mexico Tech has sponsored SSP’s second campus since 2003. The program is free to New Mexico residents, thanks to funding provided by the state government. SSP is operated by an independent non-profit corporation. More information is available at