Search The Skies for Objects Out to get You

This is how science helps find asteroids, frame by frame. Now you can help them, too. Image from the European Space Agency.

One of my favorite sites, TheVerge.com, covered this year’s SXSW (South By SouthWest) activities. They posted this article about an application NASA and Planetary Resources released during SXSW for public downloading. The application, called Asteroid Data Hunter (ADH-not the greatest name), will allow people to upload images of the stars. Then the application will sift through the images to see if there’s a possible asteroid within them.

That capability, the automated comparison of differences in each picture, seems to be the story about ADH. NASA says the program can identify more asteroids because of a new algorithm developed as part of a related competition.

Why use this application? It’s sort of like a celestial “Neighborhood Watch” program. Knowing what’s normally in your neighborhood allows you to recognize when something different and possibly bad is occurring. ADH will help NASA determine which asteroids might be on a trajectory that intersects with Earth one day. Those asteroids, called Near Earth Objects (NEOs), have gained some notoriety lately, thanks to events such as the asteroid impact near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. It might be good to be able to identify NEOs, and maybe do something about it.

For Planetary Resources, a participant’s efforts might help them identify asteroids that could one day be mined. Yes, that’s “mined,” as in prospectors looking for and digging up gold, silver, and anything else useful and desirable to humans. No word on whether Planetary Resources would give a percentage of profit to any ADH participants who gave the company a profitable tip. That might actually encourage more participation, by the way.

While the application is free, the intended participants may be more narrow than either NASA or Planetary Resources anticipated. First, if you want to participate, it’s probably helpful if you have a telescope…probably one with a camera mounted to it. You might need special software to help make sure you’re aiming at the right part of the sky, consistently.

But, if you have all of that, then all you need to do is download the application (available right here), search the skies with your telescope, and help save the world AND get someone else rich. Aren’t you the generous hero?

In the meantime, if you don’t have all that equipment, but are interesting in NEOs and what people are doing to possibly keep them from hitting the Earth, then I recommend heading over to the Earth Shield Program website. It’s very interesting.

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