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Croatian astronomical observatory the most successful after NASA

Višnjan Observatory

14 March 2019 – The Višnjan Observatory, located on Tičan near the Istrian village of Visnjan in Croatia, is the second most successful in exploring asteroids that could pose a threat to the Earth, according to recently published statistics by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Croatian team has done 54.5% of work in the tracking near-Earth objects (NEO) which are near the Earth and pose a potential threat to it. This puts them only behind NASA and in front of the US Army and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Headed by Korado Korlević, a prolific astronomer and discoverer of minor planets. The Višnjan observatory was founded in 1992, as a public observatory. It worked in the field of astrometry  and search of a new asteroids. 

Korlević says that astronomers in the world sometimes call Višnjan the Wallmart of world astronomy, in the sense of having the best price-to-product ratio as the all the work which is being produced is fine without any institutional funding.

“For example, the European Space Agency has two observatories in this business. They are together six times worse than us, Korlević told Index.

Until today, more than 12,000 near-Earth objects are known with the number growing every month. American astronomers from Hawaii, Arizona, California and South America form the backbone of the network for detection and follow-up, while Višnjan has become increasingly prominent as their important ally in Europe.

“Americans are not surprised by our success because there are plenty of scientists in their queues who spent part of their childhood in Višnjan,” Korlević added. 

The secret to the Croatian team’s success comes down to two factors. First, in order to understand, one needs to bear in mind that this is a project in which a large number of observatories around the world are jointly involved. Namely, after a NEO is detected by an observatory in Hawaii, other observatories need to take over its monitoring. Otherwise, the body is lost.

Višnjan is are around 12 hours from Hawaii and therefore is almost in an ideal position to keep track of the objects they discover. The International Astronomical Union declares that the NEO has been discovered by joint work.

Višnjan Observatory

The second, and most important part of the secret of Višnjan’s success is the development of new methods that enabled the team to be the best with a small amount of money.

“You need to create the best practices. We started working the way others did not work. We expect now some will start to follow us because it is the most effective, although it is very difficult to do. We have been improving in more areas, from optimising observation to accepting that for a larger telescope, not every cloudy night is just as cloudy if infrared light is used. More recently, we see that other people are starting to work during cloudy nights,” Korlević concludes. 

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) directly credits the Višnjan Observatory with the discovery of more than 108 minor planets, while over 1,294 discoveries are credited to Korlević.

The observatory is home of several summer programmes for youth in astronomy, archeology, marine biology and other disciplines.

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