Citizen Scientists Can Now Help Discover NEAs Using Asteroid Zoo
June 25, 2014

Citizen Scientists Can Now Help Discover NEAs Using Asteroid Zoo

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) are space rocks that will pass close by our planet with a potential risk of impact. NASA, astronomers and scientists search the sky continually for these types of asteroids. Now, with the launch of Asteroid Zoo, the general public can assist in the search for undiscovered NEAs.

Asteroid Zoo was launched on June 24, 2014 by Planetary Resources and Zooniverse allowing the general public, citizen scientists and students to assist NASA, asteroid miners and scientists in discovering new NEAs.

The program enables the participants to view images collected by the Catalina Sky Survey in a game-like environment from their computer or other devices. The findings will be used to develop advanced automated asteroid-searching technology to use with telescopes including Planetary Resources’ ARKYD, the world’s first telescope for public use.

“With Asteroid Zoo, we hope to extend the effort to discover asteroids beyond astronomers and harness the wisdom of crowds to provide a real benefit to Earth,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc. “Furthermore, we’re excited to introduce this program as a way to thank the thousands of people who supported Planetary Resources through Kickstarter. This is the first of many initiatives we’ll introduce as a result of the campaign.”

The Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for ARKYD raised $1.5 million and over 18,000 people pledged support from all over the world. The substantial public interest prompted Planetary Resources and Zooniverse to create Asteroid Zoo for detecting new NEAs. Among other contributors to the project is, which is hosting the CSS imaging on their servers for public data set.

“Zooniverse believes in doing projects that make authentic contributions to science. So, in addition to being excited to share the data from this massive asteroid hunt with the whole astronomical community, we’re especially pleased that Asteroid Zoo will also focus on improving machine learning solutions to finding asteroids. In the future, we hope to use the classifications provided by volunteers to improve automated searching and suggest new methods by which machines might take up the strain,” said Chris Lintott, an astronomer at the University of Oxford and Zooniverse Principal Investigator.

There is an estimated 60 million asteroids orbiting the sun and approximately only one percent, or 620,000, objects are currently being monitored in our Solar System. Nearly half of all NEAs have been discovered by CSS and 93 percent of them were found in the last 15 years. Over 90 percent of the "Potentially Hazardous Asteroids" are known, but less than one percent smaller than 328 feet have been found. Even an asteroid this small could cause catastrophic damage upon impact.

Last year, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Planetary Resources to design and implement crowdsourcing algorithm challenges to help detect, track and characterize NEAs; it is called Asteroid Data Hunters, and phase one is completed.

The data gathered by Asteroid Zoo will feed into future NASA challenges and both Asteroid Zoo and Asteroid Data Hunters will be open-sourced and available to the public.