Asteroid Hunting–Yeah?! You and What Army?

Oh, that army.  The crowd of smart folks NASA hopes to use in developing a new method to track the asteroids lurking in space above the Earth.  NASA is calling this crowdsourced contest the “Asteroid Grand Challenge Series.”  It will be open to any person who is a “topcoder.”  According to the Topcoder site, nearly 600,000 people are constantly tackling problems using their platform, in the hope of some monetary gain, and a possible boost in street-cred.

Asteroid Archer

This challenge is attempting to change the sad, sad fact we don’t know too much about the asteroids in our neighborhood.  And it would only take one really big no-notice asteroid strike on Earth to make us wish that the we had accepted the salesman’s bomb-shelter option for the house.

This is the first part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge Series.  It’s called “Asteroid Data Hunter,” and falls in line with the NASA’s challenge goals mentioned in the video at the top of the page:  1) detect the asteroids out there; 2) develop a great way to track them so Earthlings know where these things are; 3) characterize the asteroids–it’s good to know what wants to kill you (especially Roger, the ninja who’s been stalking you); 4) mitigate–maybe figure out a way to deflect the asteroid away from Earth or destroy it.  It’s all up to you and the other 600,000 folks chewing away at these problems.

All NASA wants the army of topcoders to do is to greatly improve the way to find asteroids in the pictures taken by telescopes on Earth.  Easy, right?  But will it be easy to make sure the data hunting algorithm doesn’t identify stars, satellites, planets and moons as asteroids?  And while you’re trying to minimize those false positives, will you still have the increased detection sensitivity in the algorithm that NASA wants?  Of course, you’re a Mac master, but what about running the algorithm on those complicated Windows machines?  Or even worse–making it compatible with all 11 of the computers in the world running Linux?  If your big brain hasn’t been scared off, maybe you should give it a shot.

Registration for Data Hunter opens on March 17, 2014.  The Topcoder site has provided a link to remind you when registration opens, right here.  NASA is aiming to get done with both phases of Data hunter by August 22, 2014.  Did I forget to say the NASA press release for Data Hunter mentions there’s awards valued at  $35,000 to the people who help better the detection part of the Grand Challenge?

Wait!  Where are you going…?

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