NASA has released a new desktop application for asteroid detection, developed by NASA and Planetary Resources Inc. based on an algorithm from NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge.
Amateur astronomers can use the application to analyze images. The application will tell the user whether a matching asteroid record exists and offer a way to report new findings to the Minor Planet Center, which confirms and archives new discoveries.
The desktop application, which is free, currently runs on Macintosh and Windows computers. A Linux version is coming soon. The application can be downloaded at http://www.topcoder.com/asteroids/asteroiddatahunter.
The improved algorithm has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers. Analysis of main-belt asteroid images using the algorithm showed a 15 percent increase in positive identifications.
The application was announced during a panel discussion at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas on Sunday.
The Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge was part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. The challenge was conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources under a Space Act Agreement, which was announced at the South by Southwest Festival in 2014. The Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge offered prizes totaling $55,000 the development of improved algorithms for the identification of asteroids in images captured by ground-based telescopes. The winning solutions were combined to create an application that increases detection sensitivity, minimizes false positives, ignores imperfections in the data, and runs effectively on all computer systems.
“The Asteroid Grand Challenge is seeking non-traditional partnerships to bring the citizen science and space enthusiast community into NASA’s work,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. “The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge has been successful beyond our hopes, creating something that makes a tangible difference to asteroid hunting astronomers and highlights the possibility for more people to play a role in protecting our planet.”
“We applaud all the participants in the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge. We are extremely encouraged by the algorithm created and it’s already making a difference. This increase in knowledge will help assess more quickly which asteroids are potential threats, human destinations or resource rich,” said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer at Planetary Resources. “It has been exciting for our team to work with NASA on this project, and we also look forward to future space-based systems leveraging these results.”