(ORDO NEWS) — By combining artificial intelligence and a multitude of keen human eyes, astronomers have discovered 1,701 new asteroid trails in NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope archive data of more than 37,000 images spanning two decades.
The project, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, reflects both Hubble’s value to scientists as an asteroid hunter and how the public can effectively participate in citizen science initiatives.
On International Asteroid Day in June 2019, an international team of astronomers launched the Hubble Asteroid Hunter Project, a citizen science project aimed at identifying asteroids in Hubble’s archived data.
The initiative was developed by researchers and engineers from the European Science and Technology Center (ESTEC) and the European Space Astronomy Center (ESDC) Science Data Center in collaboration with Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular citizen science platform, and Google.
Astronomers have collectively identified over 37,000 composite images taken between April 2002 and March 2021 using Hubble’s ACS and WFC3 instruments. With a typical observation time of 30 minutes, asteroid trails appear as curved lines or streaks in these images.
Over 11,400 members of the public have classified and analyzed these images. More than 1,000 footprints were identified, which served as a training set for an automated algorithm based on artificial intelligence.
A combination of citizen science and artificial intelligence resulted in a final dataset containing 1,701 footprints across 1,316 Hubble images. The project participants also noted various other astronomical objects such as gravitational lenses, galaxies and nebulae.
About a third of the discovered asteroid trails have been identified and attributed to known asteroids at the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union, the largest database of objects in the solar system.
This left 1,031 unidentified trails that are faint and likely to be smaller asteroids than those found by ground-based observations.
The vast majority of these asteroids are expected to be in the Main Belt between Mars and Jupiter, where asteroids of this small size are still poorly understood. These trails could give astronomers insightful clues about conditions in the early solar system during planetary formation.
The project highlights Hubble’s potential for imaging faint, previously unknown asteroids and represents a new approach to finding asteroids in decades-long astronomical archives that can be effectively applied to other datasets.
In addition to illustrating Hubble’s value as an asteroid hunter, the project also reinforced public interest in participating in scientific research and the value of citizen science efforts.
Next, the project will examine 1,031 bands of previously unknown asteroids to determine their orbits and study their properties, such as sizes and rotation periods. Since most of these asteroid bands were taken by Hubble many years ago, it is now impossible to track them to determine their orbits.
However, with the help of Hubble, astronomers can use the parallax effect to determine the distance to unknown asteroids and impose restrictions on their orbits. As Hubble moves around the Earth, it changes its perspective by observing an asteroid that is also moving in its orbit.
By knowing the position of Hubble during the observation and by measuring the curvature of the bands, scientists can determine the distances to the asteroids and estimate the shape of their orbits. Some of Hubble’s Longer Observations
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