Asteroid Zoo Engages Public in Search for Near Earth Asteroids that are Potentially Hazardous, Resource Rich or Possible Human Destinations.
Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, and Zooniverse today launched Asteroid Zoo (www.asteroidzoo.org), empowering students, citizen scientists and space enthusiasts to aid in the search for previously undiscovered asteroids. The program allows the public to join the search for Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) of interest to scientists, NASA and asteroid miners, while helping to train computers to better find them in the future.
Asteroid Zoo joins the Zooniverse’s family of more than 25 citizen science projects! It will enable participants to search terabytes of imaging data collected by Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) for undiscovered asteroids in a fun, game-like process from their personal computers or devices. The public’s findings will be used by scientists to develop advanced automated asteroid-searching technology for telescopes on Earth and in space, including Planetary Resources’ ARKYD.
“With Asteroid Zoo, we hope to extend the effort to discover asteroids beyond astronomers and harness the wisdom of crowds to provide a real benefit to Earth,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc. “Furthermore, we’re excited to introduce this program as a way to thank the thousands of people who supported Planetary Resources through Kickstarter. This is the first of many initiatives we’ll introduce as a result of the campaign.”
Planetary Resources’ partnership with Zooniverse was announced in the midst of the company’s successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for ARKYD – the world’s first space telescope for public use. Last year, Planetary Resources exceeded its original US$1M goal and raised over US$1.5M with more than 18,000 people from around the globe pledging their support, ranking Planetary Resources’ effort among the top 25 campaigns in Kickstarter history. It was then the organizations decided to create Asteroid Zoo, leveraging the public’s interest in space and asteroid detection. The challenge is made possible, in part, by a grant from Planetary Resources to Adler Planetarium, where the Zooniverse has a large development team. Also contributing to the project is Amazon.com by hosting the CSS imaging data on its servers as a public data set.
Chris Lintott, astronomer at the University of Oxford and Zooniverse Principal Investigator said, “Zooniverse believes in doing projects that make authentic contributions to science. So, in addition to being excited to share the data from this massive asteroid hunt with the whole astronomical community, we’re especially pleased that Asteroid Zoo will also focus on improving machine learning solutions to finding asteroids. In the future, we hope to use the classifications provided by volunteers to improve automated searching and suggest new methods by which machines might take up the strain.”
Of all the asteroids ever discovered, 93 percent were found in only the last 15 years and nearly half of the NEAs were discovered by CSS. Approximately 620,000 objects are currently tracked in our Solar System – representing only one percent of the estimated 60 million asteroids orbiting the Sun. Using Asteroid Zoo, anyone with a computer or mobile device can now join in the search to track unknown asteroids. While over 90 percent of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids are known to scientists right now, less than one percent of asteroids smaller than 100m have been found. These asteroids are still capable of regional disaster, such as massive damage to a metro city.
NASA has also listed planetary defense as a top priority, having signed a Space Act Agreement with Planetary Resources last year to design and implement crowdsourcing algorithm challenges in the effort to detect, track and characterize NEAs. This algorithm challenge, called Asteroid Data Hunters, has completed phase 1 and is approaching the start of the next marathon match. It is anticipated that the data set gathered by Asteroid Zoo will feed into future NASA challenges. Data compiled and used in Asteroid Zoo and Asteroid Data Hunters will both be open-sourced and publicly available.