Five collegestudents combing through telescope images have found more than 1,300 previouslyundetected asteroids.
The newlydiscovered asteroids now make up about one in 250 known objects in the solarsystem, but none are known to be a threat to Earth—yet. Some asteroids haveorbits close to Earth's, so they pose a collisiondanger. NASA and other organizations have been involved for several yearsnow in efforts to find the bigger space rocks that could destroy the planet ora lot of its life.
"There'sno immediate danger, but anything that crosses Earth's orbit could, in ahundred, a thousand, a million years, crash into usif we reach the same point at the same time," said Andrew Becker, anassistant professor in astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle whoassisted the asteroid-hunting undergrads.
Becker saidhis students set out to find supernovae, or the remnants of exploding stars,but the asteroids blocked their view like a swarm of tiny flies.
"Ikept asking the students what they had found and they kept saying, 'More asteroids. No supernovae, but lotsof asteroids,'" Becker said.
University of Washington astronomy students Amy Rose, AmberAlmy, Amanjot Singh, Kenza Sigrid Arraki and Kathryn Smith made the discoveriesin 2005 and 2006. The 8.2-foot (2.5-meter) Sloan telescope at Apache Point, N.M., was used to collect the data that the students used, which they combed through withthe help of computer software
The MinorPlanet Center at Harvard University verified the astronomical finds and, if thestudents continue to collect data , each may get to name up to 260 asteroids.
"It'san amazing feeling - I feel like I'm jumping into research," said Rose, ajunior at the University of Washington. "It's not just taking tests andgoing to class."
The SloanDigital Sky Survey is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NationalScience Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, Japanese Monbukagakusho,Max Planck Society of Germany and Higher Education Funding Council for England.
- VIDEO: The Asteroid Paradox
- GALLERY: Asteroids Images
- All About Asteroids