Earlier we have seen NASA seeking help from people to hunt asteroids. That’s not all. We have also seen NASA giving students a chance to name an asteroid that may hit Earth in future. And lately, NASA has invited computer programmers to become an asteroid hunter.
Since 1998, NASA has led the global search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) through its Near Earth Object Observation Program. Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and find the star-like objects that move. Until now, scientists and researchers have identified around 90 percent of near-Earth objects that are larger than 1 km. But now, NASA wants to find such NEOs from that 90 percent that are larger than just 140 meters.
So, NASA has invited computer programmers to participate in a Asteroid Data Hunter contest and create a better algorithm which will help the agency locate more of these modestly-sized asteroids, potentially providing critical information about objects that could potentially cross Earth’s orbit. In other words, the computer programmers have to develop a software that will automatically spot asteroids in photos taken by large ground telescopes. The software has to work better than existing software, which depends on comparing telescope photos of the same patch of sky, taken at different times, to determine which objects in the photos move.
It is to be noted here that the Asteroid Data Hunter contest is a part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, an overall program to develop ways to detect if an asteroid threatens Earth, and is being conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc and is managed by NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation through the NASA Tournament Lab. In the mean time, the agency already has planed to capture an asteroid and sent astronauts to study it.
On the other side, the point of the Asteroid Grand Challenge is to partner with organizations outside of NASA, including citizen scientists, for asteroid-impact prevention. Prospective competitors can create an account on the TopCoder.com website and learn more about the rules and different phases of the competition. According to statement from Planetary Resources – the winning solution(s) will win a total of $35,000 in prizes.
In a description of the contest, NASA’s Tournament Lab said, “The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computers.”
However, you can find out more about what NASA wants for its asteroid-spotting software on the contest’s website. There are also links there for registering for the contest, which opens March 17.