New Delhi: How about naming a new asteroid in the sky? In the next three months, many students across India will search for new asteroids and name them as part of a unique astronomy project connected to US space agency NASA.
The data collected by the students will contribute to NASA`s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program. It will offer students a chance to go through exclusive sky data and search for their own asteroids.
The project, running between May 17 and June 30 and from July 1 to Aug 13, is being introduced in India for the first time and about 30-45 schools will be involved in it. This year 11 countries on four continents are participating.
It will enable students to work in parallel with professional astronomers and expose them to actual research being done in astronomy.
Behind involving school students in the project is the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), an international educational outreach programme.
"The process involves using astronomical data analysis software to go through exclusive data files of the sky provided by the IASC to each school," CB Devgun, SPACE director, said.
The data files have images of the sky taken in the night with 24-inch and 32-inch telescopes at the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) Observatory in the US.
"Students are given a chance to sift through data with specialised software to make original discoveries of asteroids. If they find a new one, they will get a chance to name the asteroid, and even otherwise observations may contribute to database information tracking near earth objects," said Devgun.
Students from other countries have in fact found such objects in the last campaign, he added.
SPACE last week conducted a workshop for 13 schools in the capital and neighbouring states to train them how to use the system.
Asteroids are very small planet-like objects that generally go around the sun in orbits located between Mars and Jupiter, but are sometimes nudged by gravitational forces out of their own orbits and can come into contact with Earth.
Devgun said asteroids larger than about 50 metres could be expected to reach the Earth`s surface at an interval of about 100 years, causing local disasters.
"These collisions are unlikely, but programmes such as NEO at NASA precisely track these objects as, if predicted in advance to be in a trajectory that collides with Earth, warnings can be generated and methods to avert them can be sought," he said.