By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Astronomy lovers can protect the Earth from asteroids with free NASA program
33c013278bb8416e4ef8c577af5e6334910610297cc901f8acf40cb57307b12f
The Big Dipper rising behind the Catalina Sky Survey 60" telescope. - photo by Natalie Crofts
AUSTIN, Texas Amateur astronomers can help NASA protect the planet by becoming an asteroid data hunter.

A new computer application developed to identify more asteroids was released by the agency Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. It can be downloaded for free and NASA is encouraging citizen scientists to use the program to analyze their pictures of the night sky.

If someone thinks theyve spotted an asteroid, the programs algorithm can determine whether it has been reported before. If the asteroid appears to be new, a report is sent to the Minor Planet Center to be confirmed and archived.

Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and looking for star-like objects that move between frames, an approach that has been used since before Pluto was discovered in 1930, a statement from NASA reads. With more telescopes scanning the sky, the ever-increasing volume of data makes it impossible for astronomers to verify each detection by hand.

This new algorithm gives astronomers the ability to use computers to autonomously and rapidly check the images and determine which objects are suitable for follow-up, which leads to finding more asteroids than previously possible, NASA explained.

Ultimately, NASA hopes that crowdsourcing the hunt will make it possible to identify all of the asteroids before they pose a threat to Earth.

The new algorithm powering the application is the product of NASAs Asteroid Grand Challenge, which launched in 2014 and invited researchers to submit algorithms that could more accurately identify asteroids captured on camera. Several winning algorithms were combined to create one used in the application.

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, program executive Jason Kessler said in a statement.

The Asteroid Data Hunter application can run on desktops and laptops, according to NASA. It is available for download online.