Searching for asteroids that could hit Earth, with a little help from the past

More than 100 previously unknown asteroids have been detected using a new tool that can sift through huge archives of existing data to search for potentially dangerous space rocks.

The findings were announced Tuesday by the B612 Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization that focuses on tracking objects in the solar system and protecting the planet from near-Earth asteroids.

The organization said its newly developed platform, known as Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping, or ADAM, is an open-source, cloud-based system that allows researchers to detect new asteroids without the need for collect additional astronomical observations or launch a new asteroid hunt. telescope.

Instead, the system’s algorithm connects points of light that are consistent with asteroid orbits from reams of archival night sky images. If the cosmic object is confirmed to be an asteroid, the algorithm can then calculate its orbit and begin tracking the space rock, according to the B612 Foundation.

As such, “any telescope with an archive can now become an asteroid research telescope,” said Ed Lu, former NASA astronaut and executive director of the B612 Foundation’s Asteroid Institute.

“We are using the power of massive computing to not only enable more discoveries from existing telescopes, but also to find and track asteroids in historical images of the sky that had previously gone unnoticed because they were never intended for search for asteroids,” Lu said in a statement.

Nearly 30,000 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered so far, according to NASA. Of these, the agency is particularly concerned about a small fraction of space rocks that measure at least 460 feet in diameter and dangle within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s orbit around the sun.

To test the Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping System, the platform was used to search for images collected over a 30-day period by the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, a federal research center in Tucson, Arizona. The images were taken from the lab’s collection of nearly 68 billion astronomical observations collected between 2012 and 2019.

The search yielded 104 newly discovered asteroids which have since been confirmed and added to the Minor Planet Center Asteroid Registry. The Minor Planet Center, founded in 1947, is the organization responsible for cataloging asteroids, comets, and other similar objects in the solar system.

“The work of the Asteroid Institute is essential as astronomers reach the limits of what is detectable with current techniques and telescopes,” said Mario Juric, associate professor of astronomy at the University of Washington who participated in the study. research, in a press release.

Juric co-created the new algorithm with Joachim Moeyens, a graduate student at the University of Washington.

The system uses Google Cloud to store large amounts of data and perform the elaborate calculations needed to verify each light point.

The Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping Platform offers scientists a new way to search for asteroids, adding to research already conducted by NASA and other space agencies.

“Discovering and tracking asteroids is crucial to understanding our solar system,” Lu said, “enabling space development and protecting our planet from asteroid impacts.”

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