Discover The 644,633 Asteroid – New Citizen Science Program Is Addictive, Fun

While most Earth-approaching and potentially hazardous asteroids 1 km and larger have been discovered, there are many thousands of smaller objects still waiting to be found and tracked. You can help scientists do it by participating in the Asteroid Zoo project, an offshoot of Zoouniverse, a citizen science Web portal, and Planetary Resources.

Enjoy the satisfaction of finding the missing TV remote in the house when your spouse inadvertently puts it in the refrigerator?  If you have those sort of finely-honed hunting instincts, then the Asteroid Zoo needs you.

2013 map showing the orbits of over 1,400 potentially hazardous asteroids. 140 meters across and will pass within 4.7million miles of Earth — about 20 times the distance to the Moon. None is expected to strike our planet within the next 100 years. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The new citizen science project offers everyone a chance to discover new Earth-approaching objects (NEOs) through crowdsourcing. Asteroid Zoo uses over 3 million photos shared by the Catalina Sky Survey. Your goal is to click is to find moving dots – asteroids – as the multiple images ‘flicker’ before your eyes. This is similar to the way American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh found Pluto back in 1930 using a blink comparator. You’ll also find artifacts like digital noise or bits of fuzz in some of the photos, which the survey wants you to note as well.

There are 644,632 known asteroids in the solar system at the moment. Who know – you might just discover the next one. Asteroid Zoo plans to use the results of the project to find near Earth asteroid (NEA) candidates that will be used in scientific papers and research. Some may even prove to be possible targets for future exploration.

Screen grab from Asteroid Zoo showing a typical search image with viewing options. Credit: Zooniverse

Click HERE and then press the ‘start hunting’ button. You can choose to learn more about the program or immediately start hunting asteroids. The interface is extremely well thought out and very easy to use. Click ‘Play’ to see four images run in a loop. If an asteroid’s been caught in the sequence, it will scoot across the photos while the stars remain still.

The ‘4 up’ option for asteroid picture selection. Credit: Zooniverse

You can choose to watch either an animated loop or four static images – the ‘4 up’ option. There’s even an ‘invert’ option to shows white stars on a black sky instead of the default black stars on white.

I found the hunt easy and addictive like a cellphone video game. After 35 searchers I flagged a number of artifacts and actually found one asteroid, though it had already been discovered earlier.

Anyway, give it a try. You can do as few or many as you like and come back anytime you want. What an easy way to participate in science with the added carrot that anyone could make an important discovery.

To stay on top of developments, check out the Asteroid Zoo blog.

6 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Holy cow, there 644,632 of those things floating around now?
    Last time I checked was in the Chesley Bonestell book, “Conquest of Space”, which had a chapter about the 1600 asteroids at the time called “Vermin of the skies”.
    Wonder when we’ll get to a million?

    1. astrobob

      Hard to believe there was a time – and it wasn’t long ago – when there were so few known. I’m betting on being around when we hit a million.

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