Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and B. Sunnquist and J. Mack (STScI)
Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI) and the HFF Team
Every year on 30 June, the global “Asteroid Day
” event takes place to raise awareness about asteroids and what can be done to protect Earth from possible impact. The day falls on the anniversary of the Tunguska event
that took place on 30 June 1908, the most harmful known asteroid related event in recent history.
This week, a team of astronomers, planetary scientists and software engineers based at ESA and other research institutes has launched a new citizen science project: the Hubble Asteroid Hunter
. The project was developed as part of the Zooniverse
– the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.
The new project features a collection of archival Hubble images where calculations indicate that an asteroid might have been crossing the field of view at the time of the observation. Everyone can participate! By identifying the asteroids potentially present in these images and marking the exact position of their trails, you too can help the team improve the asteroid orbit determination and better characterise these objects. Precise knowledge of the orbit is particularly important for so-called near-Earth asteroids, those potentially flying close to our planet.
A couple of years ago, while observing distant galaxies lying billions of light-years away, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope serendipitously spotted several asteroids, small Solar System objects that reside ‘only’ a few tens to hundreds of millions of kilometres from Earth. As seen in this image, the curved or S-shaped streaks in this image are trails created by asteroids as they move along their orbits. Rather than leaving one long trail, the asteroids appear in multiple Hubble exposures that have been combined into one image. This picture was first published
in 2017 and shows the parallel field for the galaxy cluster Abell 370
, featuring a total of twenty asteroid trails, belonging to seven unique objects.
Asteroids are mainly found in an area called the ‘main belt’, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. More than 700 000 asteroids have been identified to date, and predictions indicate that many more might be out there, each left over from the early days when planets were taking shape around the Sun.