NASA calls on world to develop asteroid-hunting technology

11 Mar 2014

NASA will offer US$35,000 worth of prizes to any ‘citizen scientist’ who can successfully create an algorithm that will make it easier to detect asteroids hurtling through space.

The space agency’s announced its Asteroid Data Hunter contest series will span over the next six months with the hope of eventually making it easier to detect an asteroid that could potentially be on a collision course with Earth, something which is almost impossible to do before it is too late, using current technology.

The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimise the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems.

Managed by the NASA Tournament Lab, the entire contest series runs through August and is the first contest series contributing to the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.

Huge potential in resources

Aside from potentially life-ending consequences of an asteroid heading towards our planet, there are also a number of positives that have until now fallen only in to the realms of science fiction.

Chris Lewicki is president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, one of the content’s partners and an asteroid mining company who sees the hurtling chunks of rock, ice and minerals as having huge potential: “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. 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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic