Nasa has launched a new software that can help amateur astronomers detect new asteroids in an efficient way.
Developed in partnership with Planetary Resources of Redmond, Washington, D.C., the desktop software application showed a 15-percent increase in positive identification of new asteroids in our solar system’s main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
The application is based on an Asteroid Data Hunter-derived algorithm that analyses images for potential asteroids. It is a tool that can be used by amateur astronomers and citizen scientists.
The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge was part of Nasa’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.
“The Asteroid Grand Challenge is seeking non-traditional partnerships to bring the citizen science and space enthusiast community into Nasa’s work,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for Nasa’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.
“The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge has been successful beyond our hopes, creating something that makes a tangible difference to asteroid hunting astronomers and highlights the possibility for more people to play a role in protecting our planet,” he added.
Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and looking for star-like objects that move between frames, an approach that has been used since before Pluto was discovered in 1930.
With more telescopes scanning the sky, the ever-increasing volume of data makes it impossible for astronomers to verify each detection by hand.
This new algorithm gives astronomers the ability to use computers to rapidly check the images and determine which objects are suitable for follow up that leads to finding more asteroids than previously possible.
The desktop software application is free and can be used on any basic desktop or laptop computer.
Amateur astronomers may take images from their telescopes and analyse them with the application.
The application will tell the user whether a matching asteroid record exists and offer a way to report new findings to the Minor Planet Center, which then confirms and archives new discoveries.