Under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union, it is the official organization in charge of collecting observational data for minor planets (asteroids) and comets, calculating their orbits and publishing this information via the Minor Planet Circulars. It runs a number of free on-line services for observers to assist them in observing minor planets and comets. The complete catalogue of minor planet orbits (MPCORB, sometimes referred to as the 'Minor Planet Catalogue) may also be freely downloaded.
The Minor Planet Center was set up at the University of Cincinnati in 1947, under the direction of Paul Herget. Upon Herget's retirement in 1978, the MPC was moved to the SAO, under the direction of Brian Marsden.