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Amateurs to “Crowdsource” Asteroids

2m Faulkes North Telescope at Haleakalā, Hawaii, USA. Credit: Faulkes Telescope Project

Any attempt to survey and catalog hazardous asteroids faces a number of difficulties.

Coming to aid the effort are amateur astronomers, ready to boost the European Space Agency’s (ESA) asteroid hunt as part of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness program.

A new partnership has been formed between the United Kingdom’s Faulkes Telescope Project and ESA.

ESA is turning to amateur astronomers to ‘crowdsource’ observations as part of Europe’s contribution to the global Near Earth Object (NEO) asteroid hunt. These efforts will add to the follow-up observations already done at ESA’s own telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Time and patience

At issue: Asteroids are jet black or at least very dark. Also, they can approach rather too close before anyone sees them, and they’re often spotted only once and then disappear before the discovery can be confirmed.

“The wider astronomy community offers a wealth of expertise and enthusiasm, and they have the time and patience to verify new sightings…this helps tremendously,” says Detlef Koschny, Head of NEO activity at ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program office.

Use of 2 meter-diameter telescopes in Hawaii and Siding Spring, Australia, will greatly enhance asteroid-spotting for the SSA program, enabling fainter object detection and tracking from a global telescope network, adds Nick Howes, Pro-Am Program Manager at the Faulkes Telescope.

This month, the UK’s Faulkes Telescope Project will become the latest team to formally support the SSA program.

The project has a strong record in public education and science outreach, and is a partner of the U.S.-based Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope network, which owns and operates two telescopes. Faulkes supports hundreds of schools across Europe.

By Leonard David

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