Today, NASA announced that it’s asteroid hunting season. The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge is a $35,000 series of competitions to help identify asteroids in images taken from ground-based telescopes. The competition – which launches on March 17th and runs through August – focuses on developing new algorithms to significant improve asteroid identification software. The goal is to develop asteroid-finding algorithms that increase detection sensitivity, minimize false positives, bypass imperfections in data, and run effectively on all computers.
Since 1998, NASA has led the global search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) through its Near Earth Object Observation Program. Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and find the star-like objects that move. With many telescopes scanning the sky, there is a large amount of data to look through. Right now, existing computer algorithms scanning this enormous amount of data are about 80-90 percent efficient.
Scientists and researchers have already identified 90 percent of near-Earth objects that are larger than one kilometer. That’s why NASA’s NEO program is now focusing on increasing resolution – by finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than just 140 meters. Better algorithms would help NASA locate more of these more-modestly-sized asteroids, potentially providing critical information about objects that could potentially cross Earth’s orbit.
The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge is being conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. and managed by NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation through the NASA Tournament Lab. Prospective competitors can create an account on the TopCoder.com website and learn more about the rules and different phases of the competition.
Prize competitions such as the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge are helping Federal agencies tap the ingenuity of citizen solvers to solve tough problems – in fact, over 300 incentive prizes have been offered by nearly 60 Federal agencies on the award-winning Challenge.gov.
The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge is part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, a global call to action to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. NASA's work on the identification and characterization of near-Earth objects for further scientific investigation is part of the agency's asteroid initiative, which includes locating potentially hazardous asteroids and identifying those viable for redirection to a stable lunar orbit for future exploration by astronauts.
You also can get involved with the Asteroid Grand Challenge by putting your name into the running to work on a new Presidential Innovation Fellows crowdsourcing project at NASA. Apply now to help build the processes and infrastructure NASA needs to communicate, coordinate, and implement the Asteroid Grand Challenge’s broad call to action, seeking the best and brightest ideas from non-traditional partners to enhance and accelerate the work NASA is already doing for planetary defense.
Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at OSTP
Phil Larson is Senior Advisor for Space and Innovation at OSTP