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Citizen scientists spot close approaching asteroid professionals might have missed

Britt Jones

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| Last updated 

Citizen scientists spot close approaching asteroid professionals might have missed

Featured Image Credit: Science Photo Library/Andrzej Wojcicki/Mark Garlick/Getty Images

Calling all space lovers! If you’ve got an itching to save the planet from astronomical destruction, now might be your chance to do it without the faff of being qualified.

This is down to the fact that a new system has been created by astronomers which allows almost any person to help them in spotting asteroids close to Earth.

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Since creating this system, they’ve finally found success this month after an asteroid was spotted.

Enlisting the help of ‘citizen scientists’, professional astronomers are able to pass on asteroid spotting to those who are passionate about the cause, especially because of their incredibly packed workloads.

Using the Catalina Sky Survey, created the Daily Minor Planet project to crowd-source individuals that are up for the task.

Could you save Earth from a pesky asteroid? Credit: Getty Images
Could you save Earth from a pesky asteroid? Credit: Getty Images
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It was just this month on October 3, that Catalina pictured four images of the same section of sky and after computers detected movement within the images, they uploaded them to the project to see whether anyone thought it needed further investigation.

This project allows people to log in and check for object that moved in a way that was different from other stars, where they would then decide whether there was something that needed to be looked at.

It was these four images that allowed four volunteers, H. N. DiRuscio, X. Liao, V. Gonano and E. Chaghafi to spot a strange streak in the images.

After reporting their finding, the Daily Minor Planet team alerted astronomers around the world that were in a position to look at the object.

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The locations that took a peek were New Mexico and Croatia which confirmed its existence and were able to calculate its size and orbit from data collected.

NASA then determined that the object (designated 2023 TW) is approximately 50 meters across which is the size of two tennis courts.

The citizen scientists had their first success this month. Credit: Getty Images
The citizen scientists had their first success this month. Credit: Getty Images

Though it’s not something that could create a dinosaur-ending event if it hit Earth, it’s definitely big enough to do some damage, which is why the news that it was unlikely to directly hit our planet was a relief.

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2023 TW went on to pass us on October 9 at 615,000 kilometres, which is just under twice the distance of the Moon.

But that wasn’t all that happened as a few days later, a smaller asteroid dubbed ‘2023 TV3’, discovered the usual way (not the citizen route) passed us nine times closer than 2023 TW.

Thankfully, 2023 TW was the first asteroid that turned out to be something tangible upon further investigation, as thousands of other referrals since the project began in May have been beyond the orbit of Mars.

Even though a few dozen have been considered for investigation after appearing to be close to Earth, they eventually turned out to be unverified.

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However, due to the severity of a large asteroid going unnoticed close to our planet, NASA considers it worth continuing, even though most movements will end up being harmless to us.

Are you going to live out your scientist dreams and join the hunt?

Topics: Technology, Science, Space, NASA, News

Britt Jones
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