Scientists have used a new tool to discover more than 100 asteroids which had not been previously identified.
The method uses a complex computer method called an algorithm to search for asteroids that were undetectable in the past. They were not detectable because existing telescopes and image review tools could not recognize them.
Historically, the US space agency NASA has used powerful ground-based telescopes and its NEOWISE spacecraft to identify asteroids and other near-Earth objects. NASA also uses followed systems to track the movements of asteroids.
Scientists place great importance on identifying and tracking near-Earth objects, as some of them could pose threats to our planet. With this in mind, NASA launched a spacecraft last November that aims to demonstrate a possible method of defense against asteroids that could threaten Earth.
The discovery of 104 new asteroids was recently announced by the non-profit American Asteroid Institute. The organization hopes the new asteroid search tool will lead to the discovery of many more asteroids in the years to come.
The Asteroid Institute is part of the B612 Foundation. The institute explains on its website that it aims to combine computing, instrumentation and astronomy to find and track asteroids.
Ed Lu is the director of the B612 Foundation. He is also a former NASA astronaut. He praised the new tool in a statement announcing the organization’s latest discovery. “Discovering and tracking asteroids is Crucial to understand our solar system, enable space development and protect our planet from asteroids impacts“Lu said.
The institute calls its discovery tool Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping, or ADAM. This system uses the algorithm to “link points of light in different images of the sky which are consistent with asteroid orbits.
The tool is trained to find asteroids based on existing data and to calculate their orbits well enough to be recognized by international astronomy organizations.
Lu said the ADAM tool and algorithm allows “any telescope with a archive” to become an asteroid search telescope.
The Asteroid Institute collaborated with technology company Google on the project. Google says its cloud computing system supports the computing power needed for the asteroid discovery system.
“We have always dreamed of cloud computing becoming a true tool of science and the announcement of today’s and tomorrow’s asteroid discoveries shows that dream is becoming a reality,” said Scott Penberthy. He is the Director of Applied AI at Google.
Researchers from the University of Washington also collaborated on the project. Joachim Moeyens is one of these researchers. He reported that he searched a 30-day window of images during the discovery operation.
The images come from the source catalog of NOIRLab. The catalog is a collection of nearly 68 billion observations made by telescopes operated by the Arizona-based National Observatory for Optical Astronomy between 2012 and 2019.
After making his first round of asteroid discoveries from the images, Moeyens sent his results to the Minor Planet Center. The NASA-supported center is an international body responsible for officially recording observed near-Earth objects. The center was able to recognize and confirm the 104 asteroid discoveries of Moeyens.
Moeyens and other researchers say the latest identifications are just the beginning. They predict that their asteroid search tool will result in thousands of new discoveries in the future.
I am Brian Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Asteroid Institute, University of Washington, and Google.
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words in this story
asteroid – nm a rocky object that revolves around the sun like a planet
Track – v. to record the progress or development of something
crucial – adj. extremely important or necessary
impact – nm an act or event in which something strikes another thing
consistent – adj. always behaves the same way
calculate – v. find an amount or number using math
archive – nm a collection of historical documents that provides information about the past, or a place where they are kept
catalog – nm a list of things combined into one source