Astronomers Discover 27,500 New Asteroids Lurking in Archival Images

Most of the new asteroids are in the main asteroid belt, but more than 100 are near-Earth asteroids.

By Jason Dorrier at Singularity Hub: In tandem with Google Cloud, the Asteroid Institute recently announced they’ve spotted 27,500 new asteroids—more than all discoveries worldwide last year—without requiring a single new observation. Instead, over a period of just a few weeks, the team used new software to scour 1.7 billion points of light in some 400,000 images taken over seven years and archived by the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab).

To discover new asteroids, astronomers usually need multiple images over several nights (or more) to find moving objects and calculate their orbits. This means they have to make new observations with asteroid discovery in mind. There is also, however, a trove of existing one-time observations made for other purposes, and these are likely packed with photobombing asteroids. But identifying them is difficult and computationally intensive.

Working with the University of Washington, the Asteroid Institute team developed an algorithm, Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery, or THOR, to scan archived images recorded at different times or even by different telescopes. The tool can tell if moving points of light recorded in separate images are the same object. Many of these will be asteroids.

Running THOR on Google Cloud, the team scoured the NOIRLab data and found plenty. Most of the new asteroids are in the main asteroid belt, but more than 100 are near-Earth asteroids…

More here.

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