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An asteroid being named after you or discovering a Comet so bright that it outshines the moon in the night sky or owning a rock worth millions- all these sound adventurous, thrilling, and blow your minds off, right?

So, if you remember one of my previous blogs, Space Rock Hunt-1, this blog is a continuation of the same wherein I will talk of hunting comets and asteroids.

Let’s Get Hunting

We shall now learn various ways to hunt the space rocks and what opportunities do you get to contribute to the field of Space Science.

COMET HUNT

In the past, many comets have been discovered by the astronomers using powerful Earth based telescopes. These comets were named after their discoverers for example the famous comet Hale-Bopp was named after the two observers who discovered it first- Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp. As science has advanced with the coming of satellites and spacecrafts, so has advanced the comet hunt. Spacecrafts like LINEAR, SOHO, SWAN or WISE are great comet spotters. The scientists or amateurs who analyze the data and images from these spacecraft often spot comets. These comets have the name of the spacecraft in their names. For example the comets C/2020 F8 SWAN and C/2020 F3 NEOWISE.

Even the present day astronomers and amateurs use their telescopes to hunt for comets. Being professionals, they use CCDs to photograph a part of the sky and analyze the images using softwares on their computers. But to begin with comet hunting, it is advised to start off with a pair of binoculars or a small dobsonian telescope and night skies should be dark and clear.

Comets are often called the ‘hairy stars’ due to their long tails. However, comets do not have tails when they are away from the Sun, so there are a few points to be kept in mind before you report the object, that you suspect to be an undiscovered comet, to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT).

Firstly you need to make sure that the object is not an already known object. Also, it could be an internal reflection in the telescope/binocular optics. So, it is necessary that you observe it for a few hours every night and mark its position and check whether there is any movement relative to the stars or not. This is also important because comets move really fast and so their position in the sky must change in the given interval of time. Once you are sure with your discovery, you can report it to CBAT after carefully reading and following all the guidelines mentioned on their official website.

ASTEROID SEARCH

Asteroids are the most widely hunted space rocks by the Citizen Scientist Community all over the globe. The number of currently known asteroids are more than 995,369 and the number goes on increasing with the several asteroid discoveries being made during each campaign.

The animation depicts a mapping of the positions of known near-Earth objects (NEOs) at points in time over the past 20 years, and finishes with a map of all known asteroids as of January 2018.
Credit: Twenty Years of Tracking Near-Earth Objects | JPL

The International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) is a citizen science program brought to you by NASA in collaboration with Hardin-Simmons University, Texas and Pan-STARRS, Hawaii. The Pan-STARRS1 is a 1.8m observatory which provides high quality data of the sky to the citizen scientists who then analyze the data to search for any moving objects which follow certain parameters. The data is analyzed using a software, quite popular among astronomers, called Astrometrica.

If a moving object, previously unknown, is reported then it is a Preliminary Discovery which can later change into a Provisional Discovery if reported again by another individual/group. However, the individual/group gets the credit for NEO (Near Earth Object) Confirmation. If the same object is reported yet another time by an individual/group then the credit is given for NEO Observation. After tracking the object for 3 to 5 years and precisely determining its orbit, the provisional discovery is then converted into a numbered discovery and the provisional designation is replaced by a permanent designation which is a number. This object is then catalogued by Minor Planet Center (MPC) in Harvard.

Once the provisional discovery has been converted to a numbered discovery, the citizen scientist or the group of citizen scientists get to name their discovery. A name can be proposed to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) which officially designates names to all the objects in the Solar System.

In order to make a discovery, firstly you need to be a part of any such campaign. You can either register your citizen scientist group or if you are an individual then you can become a part of any such group/organization that holds Asteroid Search Campaigns. In India, there are various societies, groups, organizations etc. that host the Asteroid Search Campaigns and individuals can be a part of the campaign by simply registering themselves with the organization.

Even we at Spaceonova will start hosting Asteroid Search Campaigns soon. So, stay tuned with us as we create a space ecosystem where limit tends to infinity.

This blog was all about hunting Comets and Asteroids. To know about hunting Meteorites stay tuned with me for another blog, a continuation of Space Rock Hunt-2. Till then, start exploring, start hunting.

Clear Skies!

References

[1] “In Depth.” NASA, NASA, solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/asteroids/in-depth/.

[2] “In Depth.” NASA, NASA, solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/comets/in-depth/.

[3] Miller, Patrick. “International Astronomical Search Collaboration — Astronomical Discovery Program for High School and College Students.” NASA/ADS, ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2012AAS…21943104M/abstract.

[4] Pan-STARRS Releases Largest Digital Sky Survey to the World, www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/panstarrs_release/.

Author

Manreet

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