Internet users discover a thousand new asteroids in old images from the Hubble telescope

Asteroids captured as streaks in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. / NASA / ESA

Science | Astronomy

They are small objects, most of them from the belt between Mars and Jupiter

The combination of the work of 11,482 Internet users and an artificial intelligence (AI) system has allowed astronomers to identify 1,031 new asteroids in 37,323 old Hubble images. The project reflects both the value of this observatory as an asteroid hunter and the way in which the public can participate in scientific initiatives, they have highlighted from the NASA and ESA space telescope office.

On the occasion of International Asteroid Day 2019 – celebrated each year on June 30 in commemoration of the 1908 Tunguska impact – an international group of astronomers launched the idea of ​​searching for asteroids in the Hubble photographic archive, a telescope that carries in orbit 32 years. The scientists identified more than 37,000 candidate images, with exposure times of 30 minutes, taken between April 2002 and March 2021.

11,482 Internet users analyzed the photos in search of straight or curved lines that would reveal the existence of asteroids. With a thousand traces identified, an AI was trained to identify this type of body. In the end, the combination of the work of Internet users and AI resulted in the detection of 1,701 asteroids in 1,316 images. More than a third of the tracks (670) could be attributed to asteroids registered with the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, but 1,031 turned out to be new.

The new tracks are faint and correspond to objects too small to be detected from ground-based observatories. According to the authors of the study, published in the journal 'Astronomy & Astrophysics', most (95%) form part of the Asteroid Belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. The next step will be to try to characterize these 1,301 objects –establish their sizes, rotation periods...–, something that in many cases will not be possible given the age of the images.

In addition to the thousand new asteroids, Internet users have discovered gravitational lenses, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in old Hubble photos.

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