11,400 ‘Citizen Scientists’ Help Discover 1,031 New Asteroids After Search Of Old Hubble Images
So-called “citizen science” initiatives are a powerful tool for astronomers looking for help to process huge datasets—and the Hubble Space Telescope makes a fine asteroid hunter.
They’re the two takeaways from the conclusion of Hubble Asteroid Hunter, a citizen science project to identify asteroids in 20 years of old data that has unearthed a whopping 1,701 asteroid trails.
Exactly 1,031 are new and previously unknown to astronomers—most of them faint and likely to be smaller asteroids than those detected in ground-based surveys.
The project, which today published its results in Astronomy & Astrophysics, had volunteers—members of the public keen to help out—sift through 37,000 images on the lookout for asteroids accidentally captured in Hubble’s images. The space telescope typically studies a particular object or area of the sky for about 30 minutes, with asteroid trails appearing as curved lines or streaks in these images.
Launched by the European Science and Technology Centre (ESTEC) and the European Space Astronomy Centre’s Science Data Centre (ESDC), the project had two ways of finding the asteroid trails:
Human intelligence: the over 11,400 members of the Zooniverse platform, the world’s largest and most popular citizen science platform, who classified and analysed the images.
Artificial intelligence: an automated deep learning algorithm built with Google Cloud AutoML Vision.
The search also unearthed new galaxies and nebulae.
Most of the 1,031 newly discovered asteroids are expected to be located in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, which hasn’t been studied much.
Work will now begin to take each of the 1,031 new asteroids and explore their orbits, their sizes and how quickly they rotate.
However, since the asteroids are faint and they were captured in old images it’s unlikely that scientists can piece together enough information about them to have Hubble capture them once again in its tight field of view.