You can now help NASA find new asteroids. At South by Southwest today, the space agency released its asteroid tracker desktop software, produced in conjunction with asteroid mining company Planetary Resources in an online competition. The software, which will run on any standard Mac or PC, will accept images from a telescope and run an algorithm on them to determine which celestial bodies are moving in a manner consistent with an asteroid. You can download the software here.
The new algorithm is the main achievement here — it's said to be able to identify 15 percent more asteroids in the asteroid belt (located between Mars and Jupiter) than previous solutions. The algorithm can not only identify possible asteroids, but attempt to match them to currently known near-Earth objects (NEOs). With the free app, any amateur astronomer can analyze images taken from their own telescopes. Possible new matches can also be sent to NASA for the agency's databases.
The new algorithm should prove especially useful to NASA as it struggles to keep on top of all of the NEOs that swirl around Earth. With a more efficient algorithm, the agency should be able to better keep track of asteroids that may be a threat to Earth. It will also be able to scout for possible candidates for future asteroid missions. That work will also be of particular interest to Planetary Resources, which hopes to mine asteroids some day in the future.