Using the old photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Space Agency (ESA) along with more than 1,900 citizen astronomers are keeping track of at least three lakh near-Earth asteroids. The joint efforts will determine whether the Earth is in danger of getting hit by an asteroid. It is to be noted that asteroids are small, rocky objects. Asteroids can bring tsunamis, shock waves and flattening winds that could be catastrophic. However, a car-sized asteroid (space rock) slams into the Earth's atmosphere about once in a year. On the other hand, an asteroid large enough to threaten the existence of life on Earth arrives once every few million years.
According to a report of ibtimes, earlier this year, the ESA had decided to analyse the trails of passing-by asteroids with an aim to learn more about the space rocks. The space agency launched a global initiative known as the Hubble Asteroid Hunter. With the help of platform Zooniverse, the ESA is able to work with amateur astronomers across the world to spot the imprinted trails of asteroids in Hubble photos.
Ever since the program began in June, over 1,900 volunteers signed up as amateur astronomers for the ESA. Through the joint efforts, the ESA was able to identify over 300,000 asteroid trails in about 11,000 Hubble photos.
Analysing and reviewing the Hubble photos, the ESA is keeping track of the trajectories of the asteroids. By noting the location of the featured cosmic region in the photo as well as the date when it was taken by Hubble, the space agency is able to determine the speed of asteroids as well as their general trajectories.
The ESA said, “Now that volunteers have perused the platform to spot and mark asteroid trails, it is astronomers' turn to get to work. Knowing the date and time when the Hubble images were taken, they can use the trails marked in the pictures to infer asteroids' positions and velocities."
"This means they can determine the orbits and future trajectories of known and previously unknown asteroids with greater precision than before," it added. The space agency further stated that being able to identify these details is very important in determining if Earth is at risk of getting hit by an asteroid in the future.
"This knowledge is especially important for near-Earth objects - precisely determining the orbits of these asteroids can help protect our planet from possible impacts," the agency said.