Asteroid Zoo makes the hunt for asteroids easier than ever. Space mining company Planetary Resources and science crowdsourcing service Zooniverse joined forces to create the latest public astronomy project. By getting thousands of people around the world to identify asteroids in telescope images, the project will enhance planetary science, protect the planet Earth, and send humanity towards a future in space.
Asteroids are the rubble left over from the Solar System’s formation. They hold the key to unraveling our planet’s history and understanding how planetary systems form. At the same time, asteroids pose both a threat and an opportunity for modern civilization.
Craters cover the surfaces of planets and moons across the Solar System, recording billions of years of asteroid impacts. Last year’s explosion over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk reminded us that asteroids still threaten our planet.
But asteroids may make space-based civilization possible. The metals, organic compounds, and water locked inside these rocks will supply the raw materials for future industries in space - and humanity’s expansion beyond our home planet.
Whether defending against disaster or prospecting for resources, the first step is finding the asteroids whose orbits bring them close to Earth. The search for asteroids was once left to amateurs. Few professionals took it seriously until the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter. Now professional search programs produce almost all of the asteroid discoveries. Professionals use a technique called sky surveys: automated telescopes that take pictures of the sky every night while computer algorithms crunch the data to find signs of asteroids. The Catalina Sky Survey is the most productive search program with over 100,000 discoveries to its name.
But it could do better. Computer algorithms work best when an asteroid appears bright and sharp in an image. If the asteroid is faint and fuzzy, software gets confused. The folks with Asteroid Zoo believe that another 10,000 asteroids lurk in the CSS data - 1,000 of them near-Earth objects that could threaten our planet. By searching images from the Catalina Sky Survey for hints of asteroids, you will help fill in the missing gaps - and improve future asteroid searches.
Check out our Feature Articles about similar crowdsourced space projects:
- Asteroid Mappers Crowdsources the Surface of Vesta
- Planet Hunters, the Crowdsourced Search for Exoplanets
- Mercury Mappers Crowdsources the First Planet
- Moon Zoo and Moon Mappers Crowdsource Lunar Craters