Contrary to popular Hollywood legend, asteroid hunting has seldom been the preserve of a lone hero fighting against the odds to save humanity. In reality it’s a much more collaborative affair.
For instance, in response to the 2013 asteroid strike in Russia, the UN underlined the need for a collaborative response to such events.
So, rather than phoning up a Bruce Willis style individual, the recommended UN response was to collaborate on the problem internationally. These teams will share information about any incoming asteroids (the International Asteroid Warning Group) and decide who will coordinate Earth’s response (the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space).
NASA engaging the crowd
The challenge resulted in a new application developed out of an algorithm created for the event, which the agency hope will significantly increase the number of asteroid discoveries by citizen scientists.
When the algorithm was put to work on a host of images taken of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it resulted in a 15 percent increase in the positive ID of new asteroids.
The agency recently enthused about the role of citizen scientists in the asteroid hunting process at SXSW, where they announced the launch of a new desktop based application to help citizen scientists do their thing.
The tool, which is based upon the algorithm that emerged from the Asteroid Challenge, aims to help citizen scientists and amateur astronomers locate asteroids.
The Challenge itself was designed to uncover better, smarter algorithms for use in asteroid detection, with the $50,000 prize fund distributed last December. It’s great to see the winning insights already put to good use.
“The Asteroid Grand Challenge is seeking non-traditional partnerships to bring the citizen science and space enthusiast community into NASA’s work,” NASA said.
“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.”
The new application is available for free download via TopCoder here.