NASA has made available for all desktop computers an application that can help increase the number of asteroids discovered by amateur astronomers. It’s the result of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge initiative, which included the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge. Conducted in collaboration with Planetary Resources, a company interested in asteroid mining, in 2014, it offered $55,000 in prizes for those who developed improved algorithms to identify asteroids in the images captured by telescopes.
Jason Kessler, an executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge, explained that the initiative aims to seek non-traditional partnerships to bring ordinary people to work with NASA. In this case, the goal was to improve the algorithms that can examine images captured by telescopes to identify asteroids.
The competition was based on different sections that focused on some elements of the problem. Increasing the sensitivity in the asteroid identification was only one of the improvements. The other sections focused on minimizing false positives, ignoring the imperfections in the data and the ability of the software to run on all systems. The winners of the various sections were combined into a single program.
The use of software to analyze images of the sky makes it possible to examin large amounts of data. For astronomers, even with the help of amateurs, today it would be impossible to check all the images captured by the many existing telescopes using only their eyes.
The software made available today by NASA is only the last of a series of programs written over the years to identify asteroids. Thanks to the improvements made, it’s now also possible to analyze old images again and find asteroids that had escaped to old programs that were less sophisticated.
This new application can be freely downloaded and installed on your desktop, but also on your laptops. Amateur astronomers can use it to analyze the pictures they capture with their own telescopes. If the program finds an asteroid, the alert may be sent to the Minor Planet Center (MPC), at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which works with the initiative. There, the new identifications will be recorded.
Note. The application is still in its debugging process. At certain times it may not be available for download when a new version is being prepared.