WANTED: Asteroid Hunters

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NASA is offering $35,000 in awards to citizen scientists who can help locate asteroids that pose a threat to earth. The “Asteroid Data Hunter” contest is the first in NASA’s “Grand Challenge” series announced in June that is centered on locating asteroid threats to human populations.

Entrants will compete to create algorithms that can improve the images ground-based telescopes capture of asteroids. The winning algorithim must, “increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems.” Details of the contest, which will take place over the next six months, were revealed at the South by Southwest conference in Austin on Monday as well as online. Registration starts March 17.

“Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc., which is partnering with NASA on the contest. “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.”

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