Astronomers found an asteroid treasure in the Hubble archive

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Astronomers found an asteroid treasure in the Hubble archive

Astronomers who examined an archive of data collected by NASA’s veteran telescope Hubble have found a treasure trove of asteroids. The study uncovered the 1701 asteroid trail.

Astronomers found an asteroid treasure in the Hubble archive

Researchers launched a project with citizen scientists in 2019 to identify asteroids that were overlooked in data collected earlier by the Hubble Space Telescope. The project, called “Hubble Asteroid Hunter”, was aimed at examining the data to identify asteroids previously thought to be parasites.

More than 37,000 images were scanned from observations made by Hubble, ACS and WFC3 cameras between April 30, 2002 and March 14, 2021.

Observations with these cameras usually take 30 minutes. That’s why moving asteroids appear as lines in the data collected from these observations, astronomers said. However, it can be difficult for computer systems to detect that such lines are asteroids.

Sandor Kruk, of the research team, said: “Due to Hubble’s orbit and movement, the lines appear curved in the images. Which makes it difficult to isolate asteroid tracks. Rather, it is difficult to tell a computer how to detect them automatically.”

Kruk, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, continued:

  • “That’s why we needed volunteers to prepare an initial classification. We then used this classification to train a machine learning algorithm.”

In the project, 11,482 citizen scientists examined thousands of images and investigated the lines. Traces of 1488 asteroids were identified in 1 percent of the images.

Then, with the help of the trained algorithm, the number of possible asteroids increased to 2,487. Kurk and his team reviewed the images, reducing the number and reaching a total of 1,701 asteroid traces.

About a third of these traces were previously known asteroids. However, the remaining 1,031 marks have not been identified. More observations are needed, experts said.

The researchers aim to continue their work to determine how far away the asteroids are and their trajectory.


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