Astronomers show how the use of the cloud can lead to the discovery of asteroids

This visualization shows orbits for dozens of recently discovered asteroids. (Asteroid Institute / Foundation B612)

Astronomers used cloud-based techniques introduced at the University of Washington to identify and track asteroids by the hundreds or more. Achieving them can significantly accelerate the search for potentially dangerous space rocks.

The technique uses an open source cloud analysis platform known as Analysis and mapping of asteroid detection, or ADAM; plus a newly developed algorithm called Restoration of heliocentric orbit without a trace, or TOP. The THOR algorithm was created Joachim Moyens, an employee of the Asteroid Institute at UW; and Mario YurichUW’s director DiRAC Institute.

The combination of ADAM and THOR may seem like a cross between biblical history and Marvel comics, but the superpower of this dynamic duo is strictly scientific: when ADAM launches the THOR algorithm, the software can determine the orbits of asteroids, even previously unidentified asteroids. astronomical observations data.

“Discovering and tracking asteroids is crucial to understanding our solar system, developing space and protecting our planet from asteroids,” said former NASA astronaut Ed Lou, chief executive. Asteroid Institute B612 Foundation, says today in a news release. “If THOR works on ADAM, any telescope with an archive can now become a telescope to search for asteroids.”

To demonstrate the power of technology, Moheens used THOR to analyze 30-day images from NOIRLab Sources Directorya collection of nearly 68 billion observations made by telescopes of the National Optical Astronomical Observatory between 2012 and 2019.

“The ADAM platform of the Asteroid Institute is ideal for the THOR algorithm,” Moyens explained. “Built on Google Cloud, ADAM’s innate scalability and computing power allow us to fully maximize the potential of THOR as an discovery algorithm and ultimately allow us to find those asteroids that have so far gone unnoticed in archival datasets.”

Moeyens selected a sample of more than 1,300 detected asteroids made with the help of THOR, and transferred this sample to the International Astronomical Union Small Planet Center. A service center an authoritative list of asteroids. eventually added 104 asteroids to its list. Most of the new asteroids are in the main belt, between Mars and Jupiter. None of them pose a threat to the Earth.

Testing new asteroid search techniques could pave the way for the discovery of thousands more asteroids that are hidden in datasets from NOIRLab and other groups of telescopes.

Such events could not have happened at the best of times.

When it comes to the discovery of an asteroid, the ability to describe its orbit is a must. Nearly all of the more than 750,000 asteroids on the Center’s Small Planets list have been identified by tracking shifts in their orbits, often starting with shifts observed overnight.

In recent years, computers have removed a lot of fatigue from this tracking task. However, relying on overnight tracks, which astronomers call “traklets”, can only take you so far.

“Astronomers are reaching the limits of what can be detected by modern methods and telescopes,” said Yurich. “Our team is excited to work with the Asteroid Institute to map the solar system using Google Cloud.”

The cloud-based ADAM-THOR technique can view archival views of the night sky taken at different times and then extrapolate this data to pinpoint the same asteroid at different points in its orbit.

Moeyens said the “no-track” search technique should not be limited to archival searches. “With the further development of ADAM-THOR will be able to detect real-time asteroids from observations coming from telescopes around the globe,” he said.

The rate of real-time discoveries is expected to increase if Vera K. Rubin Observatory (and his Simony’s telescopenamed after Seattle’s software billionaire Charles Simony) will appear online in Chile in 2024.

UW DiRAC Institute due play a key role in the analysis of Rubin Observatory data. And the Asteroid Institute will also play a big role – thanks to financial incentives for the B612 fund.

Last week, the B612 Foundation announced it had received $ 1.3 million in contributions to support the Asteroid Institute and the ADAM project. The fund also received a commitment from Tito’s Handmade Vodka to meet additional contributions of up to $ 1 million.

“We are humiliated and inspired by the generosity of our funding partners,” – Danica Remy, President and CEO of B612 Foundation, said in a news release. “Their support over the years and in the future, together with the corresponding challenge of Tito, helps us to scale our technical team and expand our scientific, technical and educational partnerships.”

Remy told the B612 Foundation that was established 20 years ago to raise awareness of the dangers and potential benefits of asteroids, has a three-year goal of raising more than $ 4 million to promote ADAM. “These tools will allow ADAM to analyze historical and future data from the Vera Rubin Observatory and its hereditary survey of space and time, which will reveal new asteroids and orbits,” she said.

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