NASA contest offers prizes for citizen asteroid hunters

NASA is asking citizen scientists to help identify space rocks. NASA/MSFC/MEO/Aaron Kingery

Think you can find Earth-threatening asteroids faster than NASA? Then there is a contest designed just for you: the space agency is calling for citizen scientists to find new and improved ways to track down space rocks. And this isn't just for the good of all mankind - there's $35,000 in prize money.

The "Asteroid Data Hunter" contest starts on March 17 and runs through August. A partnership between NASA and Planetary Resources, Inc., the contest asks participants to create computer algorithms that can identify asteroids that are nearing Earth. They will be using images captured by ground-based telescopes.

) "Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are," Jenn Gustetic, NASA Prizes and Challenges Program executive, said in a statement. "By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge."

"For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems," said Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director. "We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis."

The contest is part of NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge, a program designed to find all potentially dangerous asteroids before they have a chance to reach Earth's atmosphere, where they could harm people and property.

"Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the sun," Planetary Resources president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki said in the statement. "We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations or resource rich."

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