How to Discover Asteroids

Featured image credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

Did you know you could discover asteroids, near-Earth objects (and more!) right from the comfort of your home? Thanks to the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), this opportunity has been made available for free to students and asteroid enthusiasts all over the world.

But why study asteroids? According to NASA/JPL, asteroids provide insights into the early evolution of the solar system and possibly the origin of life on Earth. Cataloging their orbits could be useful for planetary defense. Finally, they could serve as pit stops and important mineral sources for future space exploration.

Surface of the asteroid Bennu. Image credit: NASA.

The IASC provide datasets taken from telescopes around the world, such as the Pan-STARRS in Hawaii. Once you sign up for a campaign, your job as a citizen scientist is to analyse these images and identify moving objects that are true asteroid signatures. The analysis is generally done with a software called Astrometrica (only available to Windows users). Finally, you submit a report to the Minor Planet Center, who will catalog your find. If the object you reported is re-observed within a week and confirmed to be an asteroid, it is classified as a provisional discovery, and you get to name it.

Home Page - IASC: International Astronomical Search Collaboration
An asteroid identified using Astrometrica. Credits: IASC.

For telescope owners, there are a number of asteroid observing programmes that you can contribute to, such as The Astronomical League‘s asteroid observing program or the University of Arizona’s Target Asteroids!. Hunting asteroids from your backyard is a great introductory post by Dennis di Cicco on observing asteroids with CCD-equipped telescopes. There are dozens more articles and tutorials online explaining how to submit asteroid measurements and observations, whether it’s with your own telescope or a remote one. With the increase in professional surveys, it’s gotten harder for amateur astronomers to discover their own asteroids, but tracking and submitting data on known objects is an equally important task.

Have fun hunting for asteroids!

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