Volunteers working with The Daily Minor Planet have made the project’s first big discovery: an asteroid passing very near planet Earth. On the night of October 3rd, a telescope for the Catalina Sky Survey snapped four pictures of a far northern section of the sky. The next day, volunteers H. N. DiRuscio, X. Liao, V. Gonano and E. Chaghafi spotted a clear streak moving through each image and quickly notified the Daily Minor Planet team.
Other telescopes from around the world went on the hunt for this space rock to find where it was heading. Observations of the asteroid came in from New Mexico and Croatia confirming the asteroid’s trajectory. It was found that the asteroid would pass by Earth about twice as far as the moon the next week and that it was about 50 meters (164 feet) in diameter!
The Catalina Sky Survey is a NASA funded project to find dangerous Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) based at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona. The Daily Minor Planet is a citizen science project hosted by the Zooniverse that asks volunteers to review animated nightly images taken by this survey to determine if they are real asteroids or false detections.
The Daily Minor Planet team has already submitted observations of over 1,000 main belt asteroids and a few dozen NEA candidates since it started in May of this year. This is the first one to be independently confirmed and published by the Minor Planet Center.
Fortunately, further observations of this object ruled out any possibility of this asteroid hitting the Earth. But the Daily Minor Planet volunteers continue to search! New data is uploaded after each clear night of observing, so there are always new discoveries to be made. To join the search, visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/fulsdavid/the-daily-minor-planet