Over 1,000 New Asteroids Discovered Hidden in Hubble Archives
Researchers have found over 1,700 asteroid trails in archived Hubble data from the last 20 years. As time passes and more and more telescopes perform more and more observations, their combined archival data keeps growing. The astronomers released the results of their project in a new paper titled Hubble Asteroid Hunter I. "One astronomer's trash can be another astronomer's treasure," Kruk said in a press release. The data they searched for was largely discarded from other observational efforts not focused on asteroids. "The amount of data in astronomy archives increases exponentially, and we wanted to make use of this amazing data," said Kruk. The streaks go to the heart of the problem: computers struggle to detect them. "Due to the orbit and motion of Hubble itself, the streaks appear curved in the images, which makes it difficult to classify asteroid trails – or rather it is difficult to tell a computer how to automatically detect them," explained Sandor Kruk. "Therefore, we needed volunteers to do an initial classification, which we then used to train a machine-learning algorithm.
The work of the citizens who took part trained a machine-learning algorithm to search the rest of the images quickly and accurately. Above: This mosaic consists of 16 different data sets from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope studied as part of the Asteroid Hunter citizen science project. Follow-up observations will confirm how many of them are newly-discovered asteroids and determine their orbits. These asteroids have escaped detection because they're fainter and likely much smaller than most asteroids detected from the ground. All asteroids are remnants from the Solar System's early days, mostly from before the planets formed. "The asteroids are remnants from the formation of our Solar System, which means that we can learn more about the conditions when our planets were born," Kruk explained. Above This image from the study is a sky-map of the Solar System Objects (SSOs) identified in the Hubble archived images. More and more researchers are making use of archival data like this. "The use of archival data produced by imaging campaigns whose primary science goals lie outside the Solar System is common practice in asteroid science.
For example, in 2019, researchers used archival images from exoplanet surveys to identify over 1800 asteroids, with 182 potential new discoveries. Astronomers want a complete understanding of the Solar System's asteroid population because it helps clarify the Solar System's history. "A detailed description of the small bodies in the Solar System puts constraints on the different Solar System formation scenarios, which make concrete predictions on the size and orbit distribution of objects as a function of time," the authors explain. "We instead decided to produce such a survey from a large archival dataset," the authors write. He also said that their approach is a game-changer, and they intend to use it again. "Using such a combination of human and artificial intelligence to scour vast amounts of data is a big game-changer, and we will also use these techniques for other upcoming surveys, such as with the Euclid telescope. As far as the "… other serendipitous finds…" in the images, Kruk declined to share what those other finds might be.
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