Enabling Amateurs: Precovery

Enabling Amateurs is a series of reference articles about the technology, techniques, and other things that make amateur space exploration possible.

Precovery is the search of astronomical archives for transient objects such as asteroids, exoplanets, and supernovae. The word itself a portmanteau of the words previous and discovery. It implies a search for objects that someone already discovered, but some precovery projects search for previously undiscovered objects in archived images.

Precovery lets astronomers studying asteroids, comets, and exoplanets refine their calculations of an object’s orbit. It also lets astronomers find images of supernovae captured in the days between its light first arriving at Earth and someone first observing it.

Other precovery projects search archives for new discoveries. A sky survey’s algorithms may look for one kind of object; supernova surveys, for example, may not look for asteroids. The algorithm itself may miss objects below its detection threshold.

Current professional-amateur precovery projects include:

  • Sungrazer Project: The US Naval Research Laboratory asks amateurs to search for sun-grazing comets in recent images from solar space observatory archives.
  • Near-Earth Asteroid Precovery: The Spanish Virtual Observatory asks amateurs to search for signs of asteroids in images from the Sloan Digitized Sky Survey and the VISTA Hemisphere Survey.

Past professional-amateur collaborations include: