Be a Citizen Scientist by Hunting Asteroids

GeekMom Science

If you’d like to balance your video game-playing karma, head on over to the new web app Asteroid Zoo and try your hand as a real-life asteroid hunter.

Last year, GeekMom shared news of Arkyd, a Kickstarter project to both mine asteroids for resources and make space telescopes that are accessible to the public, including schoolchildren. Planetary Resources, the people behind Arkyd, has teamed up with the citizen science workshop Zooniverse to create a game-like opportunity for the public to scan our skies for asteroids. The job reminds me of the recent crowd-sourced search for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

Asteroid Zoo doesn’t offer a very game-like interface, but it still sucked me in. The web app displays a short series of space images collected by the Catalina Sky Survey, so you can mark them for possible asteroid tracks. You get assistance from a tutorial and a Talk forum.

Seeking asteroids by looping through a four-frame sequence. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Planetary Resources can use data from these “sightings” to help pinpoint asteroids for their eventual asteroid mining efforts. NASA is also interested in asteroid detection and will use the data to test future asteroid-detection software. They are partnering with Planetary Resources to offer rewards for the creation of asteroid-finding algorithms.

Result of a sequence with 1 asteroid and 1 artifact identified. Screen capture by K. Moore.

Get a preview of the app in the video above or head on over to Asteroid Zoo and try your luck.

For more on Arkyd, Planetary Resources, and asteroid hunting, check out Fund This: Organic Yarn, Blast into Space and App Camp for Girls and Are You My Asteroid-Busting Hero? …Sign in Friday Morning.

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