NASA is teaming up with Bellevue-based Planetary Resources to offer $35,000 in prizes in a series of contests over the next six months to people who create software that can help detect asteroids orbiting the Sun. Planetary Resources will provide searchers with sets of star field data, and the contestants will need to put together the best algorithms they can to try and accurately find as many asteroids as possible.
Winning algorithms will need to take in data from ground-based telescopes, increase detection sensitivity over the programs currently in use, minimize false positives and handle imperfections in the available data.
While finding a bunch of asteroids may not seem like something worth thousands of dollars, it’s important, potentially lifesaving work. We don’t know of any asteroids about to crash into the planet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. The asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia last year wasn’t detected until after it had entered the atmosphere. Given the current state of asteroid detection, there could be many more similar objects out there.
“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 a press release.
These contests are a part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, a program that’s designed to crowdsource solutions to a potential asteroid threat to Earth.
In addition to the planetary defense benefits that such a program will bring, Planetary Resources also stands to benefit. More known asteroids means more potential sites for the company’s asteroid mining activities, which have drawn widespread interest. We named Planetary Resources one of the 10 most innovative startups in Seattle last year, and it has received investments from tech luminaries including Richard Branson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
The first contest will kick off a week from today, on March 17. People interested in signing up to participate can do so here. Check out a video about the Asteroid Grand Challenge below: