Calculating Orbits of Asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt

The International Astronomical Search Campaign

The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow
The International Astronomical Search Campaign is looking for astronomy leaders of tomorrow

Space news (astronomy leaders of tomorrow: The International Astronomical Search Campaign)

An asteroid is a piece of solid rock with an irregular body ranging in size between 500 meters and hundreds of kilometers. The majority of these bodies can be found in the main asteroid belt, a region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago, NASA scientists estimate there are as many as 40,000 asteroids contained within this main asteroid belt, with a combined mass less than the Moon. Confirming the identity and calculating the orbit of the asteroids contained within this belt is part of the space mission of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward
The IASC plans and campaigns are expected to drive the human journey to the beginning of space and time forward

The International Astronomical Search Campaign (IASC) is an educational outreach program created to allow high school and college students around the country to participate in identifying and calculating the orbit of every rocky body within the main asteroid belt. Originally created and developed by Patrick Miller of Hardin-Simmons University in the state of Texas, this program has helped tens of thousands of students in 250 schools and 25 countries on five continents learn more about astronomy.

Students can help determine the identify and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt
Students can help determine the identity and orbit of asteroids in the main asteroid belt

Students participating in the program download images taken of an asteroid within the main asteroid belt in the last few hours by telescopes (24 and 32 inches) located in the Astronomical Institute in Illinois. Students must determine the identity and calculate the three-dimensional orbit of an asteroid using Astrometrica, a software package users need to download directly from the IASC website, within a three-day window.

The telescopes take three images of an asteroid at six-minute intervals,  which means it would have moved around five pixels in relation to distant background stars in each image. Astrometrica highlights objects in each image fitting these criteria by putting a red circle around them.

In order to determine an object is an asteroid, students must sort through objects that have moved in the images, and ones that are static. They do this by taking a look at the fit of the point spread function, the signal-to-noise ratio, and any change in the size of an object in the images. If an object has moved in a relatively straight line, stayed about the same size, has a signal-to-noise ratio greater than five, and is approximately round in shape, then it’s probably an asteroid.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time today!

A typical International Astronomical Search Campaign lasts about 45 days, during which new asteroids are often discovered, identified, and their orbits determined. This is your chance to become an astronomy leader of tomorrow, by participating in the International Astronomical Search Campaign, and WISE’s mission to identify and calculate the orbit of every rocky body in the main asteroid belt.

You can find more information and news on the space mission of NASA’s WISE spacecraft here.

You can find more on the current campaigns of the International Astronomical Search Campaign here.

Schools desiring to take part in the International Astronomical Search Campaign contact the IASC Director, Dr. J. Patrick Miller by email at:
iascsearch@hsutx.edu.

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