Astro-enthusiasts discovered 1,700 asteroids in Hubble Images

The participants of the Hubble Asteroid Hunter project, which united the efforts of both professional scientists and astro-enthusiasts, announced the results of their work. They were able to detect over 1,700 asteroid tracks on archival images of the Hubble telescope. About two-thirds of them were left by previously unknown small bodies.

Hubble Asteroid Hunter Project

On the International Asteroid Day in June 2019, an international team of astronomers with the support of the Zooniverse platform announced the launch of the Hubble Asteroid Hunter project. Within its framework, astro-enthusiasts from all over the world got the opportunity to search for asteroids in Hubble telescope images.

Mosaic of 16 Hubble telescope images with asteroid tracks. Source: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Kruk (ESA/ESTEC), Hubble Asteroid Hunter citizen science team, M. Zamani (ESA/Hubble)

In total, 11,400 volunteers took part in the project. They viewed 37 thousand images taken by ACS and WFC3 cameras installed on Hubble between April 2002 and March 2021. Their goal was to search for characteristic traces. The fact is that on average, the duration of one Hubble observation session is 30 minutes. During this time, an asteroid that has come into the field of view of the telescope cameras leaves a curved trace or stripe on its images.

Traces of asteroids against the background of the galactic cluster Abell 370. Source: NASA, ESA, and B. Sunnquist and J. Mack (STScI)

At the first stage, the project participants identified more than a thousand traces, which were then used as training material for a machine learning algorithm. It then re-analyzed the photos. This led to the final result in the form of 1701 confirmed traces on 1316 Hubble images. The project participants also noted other interesting astronomical objects in the photos, such as gravitational lenses, galaxies and nebulae.

Thousand Unknown Asteroids

About a third of the traces found can be identified and attributed to already known large asteroids. This left 1031 are faint and likely to be smaller asteroids and unknown bodies. The vast majority of them are located in the Main Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The trace of asteroid 2001 SE101 on the background of the Crab nebula. Source: ESA/Hubble, M. Thévenot (@AstroMelina)

As part of the next stage, the project participants will explore 1031 traces to determine the size, rotation period and other characteristics of asteroids. Since most of these bands were photographed by Hubble many years ago, it is now impossible to trace the bodies that left them to determine their orbital characteristics. However, astronomers can use the parallax effect to determine the distance and impose restrictions on their orbits. And the analysis of the change in the light curve will make it possible to measure the rotation periods of asteroids and make a conclusion about their shape.

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time