Asteroid Hunting Contest Offers $35,000 To Citizen Scientists
March 10, 2014

Asteroid Hunting Contest Offers $35,000 To Citizen Scientists

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Citizen scientists are being asked to take part in NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter contest with a chance to take home some nice rewards.

NASA said that its contestants are being offered $35,000 in awards over the next six months for those who develop algorithms that help to identify asteroids. The contest is being conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources, a company that aims to eventually mine asteroids.

Those who wish to be involved in the competition are being asked to create an account on the contest series website and learn more about the rules. The first phase in a series of phases within the contest starts on March 17.

"For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems," Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director, said in a statement. "We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis."

The contest challenges participants to develop significantly improved algorithms to identify asteroids in images captured by ground-based telescopes. According to NASA, the winning algorithm will: increase the detection sensitivity; minimize the number of false positives; ignore imperfections in the data; and run effectively on all computer systems.

"Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are," Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program executive, said in a statement. "By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge."

Gustetic, along with Grand Challenges Program executive Jason Kessler, will be hosting a panel at the South by Southwest Festival on Monday entitled “Are We Smarter than the Dinosaurs?” This panel will provide an outline of the Asteroid Data Hunter contest series and other efforts to deter asteroid threats.

"Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun. We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich," Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc, said in a statement. "Applying distributed algorithm and coding skills to the extensive NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey data set will yield important insights into the state of the art in detecting asteroids."