"Asteroid hunters." It sounds like some Hollywood blockbuster / straight-to-DVD "classic" that already exists, but now you, yes you, can be one... from your PC. NASA has launched a desktop app that recruits civilians to help identify asteroids from telescope photography, helped by a special asteroid algorithm. Scientists announced the desktop app at SXSW during in a panel discussion where they elaborated on how
muggles citizen scientists were helping their efforts to identify and tag asteroids. The app is another collaboration between NASA and Planetary Resources. (It's apparently all under a Space Act agreement, which is the coolest act we've heard of in a while.)
The app is able to detect asteroids thanks to an algorithm that specifically sniffs out asteroids from images taken by Earth-based telescopes. Apparently the sheer volume of images being captured these days makes it impossible for astronomers to verify all detections by hand. Here, computers are doing the heavy lifting, filtering down to the images that warrant further investigation. "The beauty of such archives is that the data doesn't grow stale, and with novel approaches, techniques and algorithms, they can be harvested for new information. The participants of the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge did just that, probing observations of the night sky for new asteroids that might have slipped through the software cracks the first time the images were analyzed," said Jose Luis Galache of the Minor Planet Center.
Amateurs can even take their from their telescopes and analyze them with the application. The application can tell them whether a matching asteroid record already exists and can report new findings to the Minor Planet Center, which confirms and archives any new discoveries. You can start the hunt by downloading the program here.