Project: Asteroid Data Hunter App
A citizen science challenge has spawned a citizen science app.
In 2014, NASA announced an Asteroid Grand Challenge. In a series of contests, participants were asked to develop improved algorithms to find asteroids in telescope images. The challenge offered more than $50,000 in prizes, and concluded in December.
The winning solutions from each contest have now been combined to produce a desktop application to hunt asteroids. The app is available for Windows (7.1+) and Mac (10.2.X+) users, with a Linux Ubuntu version coming soon. You can grab the app at this link.
Astronomers search for asteroids by comparing images taken of the same piece of sky over time, to see what has moved. This used to be done by hand, but with the proliferation of quality imagery from a number of ground-based telescopes, there is now a glut of data to mine. Computers can process data imagery very quickly… with the right algorithm.
Asteroids are a major focus for NASA right now. Asteroids have struck Earth in the past, often with devastating consequences. One of the best known recent impacts was the Tunguska event, where an impact or explosion knocked down millions of trees over a huge section of Siberia in 1908.
On the positive side, we may soon be able to capture asteroids to mine them for their resources, both for use here on Earth, and to help establish colonies on other planets or moons. Asteroids are known to contain water (in the form of ice), and elements like iridium, palladium, and platinum.