Minor Planet Center & the Tamkin Foundation

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory gratefully acknowledge the Tamkin Foundation of Los Angeles for the establishment and continuing support of the Tamkin Foundation Computing Network. This high-speed computer network, currently comprising 22 computers, allows the MPC to determine more rapidly the orbits of newly-discovered minor planets and comets, including those that are on orbits that might one day impact the earth. The Tamkin Foundation's most recent gift has allowed the MPC to upgrade its public servers and provide additional user-friendly services to the international community of astronomers

A statement from Steve Tamkin, Vice-President of the Tamkin Foundation A statement from Brian Marsden,
late Director of the Minor Planet Center

``This is the Foundation's first investment in non-medical scientific research, and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership in supporting the Minor Planet Center's work. We are interested in maintaining the efficient functioning of the Center's computing capacity, because of the enormously important role it plays in identifying asteroids and comets that could come into close proximity to the earth. As an amateur astronomer with a deep interest in near-Earth asteroids and other objects, I am pleased that my family and I can be part of this essential research.''

``Accurate orbits for comets and minor planets (asteroids) are needed so that other researchers wishing to undertake studies of the physical nature of these bodies can be confident of actually finding the objects they wish to study! Accurate orbits are also necessary to allow radar observations (for both dynamical and physical studies), for the investigation of future impact scenarios for Near-Earth Objects or for the planning of space missions. Orbits are derived from positional observations made by professional and amateur observers all around the world. The monthly flow of new observations is more than 100 times greater than it was in 1990. This has necessitated the acquisition of more and faster computers. It is very rewarding for us that the Tamkin Foundation is supporting the computing technology that is integral to this research.''

The Tamkin Computer Network

The Tamkin Computer Network consists of three parts: an OpenVMS cluster; a Linux webserver setup; and a Linux Rocks compute cluster.

The OpenVMS cluster consists of nine single-CPU workstations and one four-CPU server. All the machines are running the extremely robust and secure OpenVMS operating system. The twelve Alpha-based machines are arranged as an OpenVMS Cluster, allowing all machines to share disk storage, execution and batch queues and other resources, as well as simplifying system management. Cluster uptimes are typically measured in years.

The Linux webserver consists of three dual-processor quad-core servers which are the public front-end of the MPC operation. The MPC webpages and cgi scripts are hosted on these machines.

The Linux Rocks compute cluster comprises nine dual-processor quad-core servers. These machines are used for running routine check procedures and for long-term and speculative computations.

Most of the software used at the MPC is written in-house in Fortran 95 (some older code is in Fortran 77). Orbits for objects with radar observations are computed using the free OrbFit software.