The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge tasks competitors to develop an algorithm that is capable of identifying asteroids using images from ground-based telescopes. Our objective is to increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and ensure that the algorithm can run effectively on all computers – and we’re about 75% of the way there.
Asteroids pose both a possible threat and an opportunity for Earth: they could impact us, causing damage, OR possibly be mined for resources that could help extend our ability to explore the universe.
Since 1998 NASA has led the global search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) through its Near Earth Object Observation Program. NASA has also led the federal government in researching how crowdsourcing can help solve tough problems through efforts like the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) supported through a contract with Harvard University and topcoder.
This fits in perfectly with Planetary Resources’ mission, which is to harness the resources in NEOs to extend humanity’s economic sphere of influence into the Solar System – so naturally, a non-exclusive partnership between Planetary Resources and NASA was developed with the goal of working together to improve asteroid detection by using crowd sourced algorithms.
How Does Asteroid Detection Currently Work?
Scientists find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and find the starlike objects that move. With many telescopes scanning the sky during the time around the new moon, the large data volumes prevent individual inspection of every image. Traditionally, the identification of asteroids and other moving bodies in the Solar System has been achieved by acquiring images over several epochs and detecting changes between frames. This general approach has been used since before the discovery of Pluto and continues to this day.
Why Did We Launch The ADH Challenge?
With the vast amount of data available now flowing from modern instruments, there is no good way for professional astronomers to verify every detection. In particular, looking in the future as large surveys grow ever larger, the ability to autonomously and rapidly check the images and determine which objects are suitable for follow up will be crucial. There is a long history to adapting programs to find these moving objects with some improvements along the way. For example, the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) uses a crowded field galaxy photometry program (Source Extractor) that identifies centroids of targets that are distinctly separate from other objects. This output is fed into a custom program that sees which sources move. However, analysis implies that at best the CSS data pipeline is 80 – 90% accurate and there are (based on CSS discovery numbers) several thousand additional objects that could be recovered per year. Starting from a fresh position allows specific optimizations of data analysis, which would be useful as a general moving object pipeline system for other observatories as well.
Current Project Status
Our first contest kicked off in March of 2014 and over the last 8 months, we’ve developed two different versions of an algorithm and are now actively working to complete the project (targeting December, 2014).
- Develop an original algorithm that will allow the discovery of new asteroids by analyzing images.
- Create software that is so easy that citizen scientists, hobbyist astronomers and even professional organizations/institutions will want to download it.
- Ensure that the new algorithm can help to increase the amount of asteroids being detected.
What will the final software look like?
- It will be open source and able to run effectively and within a reasonable amount of time on a common everyday laptop.
- It will contain a super-simple user interface that anyone can use.
- It will be open source (folks can tinker, expand and improve the software if they opt to).
- It will be easy-to-install using a one-click installation process.
- It will contain a user guide to help support the asteroid-detection initiative.
So what’s coming up, and how do I register? Simply select any of the contest names below to find out more about each specific contest, and register to participate.
Name Contest Type Start End Status Create Marathon Match Problem Statement Content Creation 03/17/2014 04/04/2014 Completed Marathon Match Phase 1 Marathon Match 05/07/2014 05/14/2014 Completed GUI Wireframes Wireframes 08/10/2014 08/25/2014 Completed Create Storyboards (UI Design) Application Front-End Design 08/25/2014 09/08/2014 Completed Marathon Match Phase 2 Marathon Match 09/17/2014 09/18/2014 Completed System Architecture Architecture 09/30/2014 10/19/2014 Completed Back End Services Module Assembly Assembly Competition 10/18/2014 11/03/2014 In-progress Front End Module Assembly Assembly Competition 11/04/2014 11/20/2014 Not Yet Started Find Issues & Defects Bug Hunt 11/21/2014 11/28/2014 Not Yet Started Fix Defects Assembly Competition 11/30/2014 12/16/2014 Not Yet Started Project Delivery 12/22/2014 12/22/2014
*PLEASE NOTE: The contest start and end dates are estimates only, and may shift forward or backwards depending on contest progress. To verify a contest start date, please select the contest name to view the registration page.
- Video: Every Asteroid Discovered Since 1980.
- NASA Asteroid & Comet Watch.
- Planetary Resources.
- NASA-JPL Near Earth Object Program.
- JPL – Keeping an Eye on Space Rocks.
- International Astronomical Union (IAU) Minor Planet Center.
- NASA Science Mission Directorate.
- JPL Solar System Dynamics.
President & Chief Asteroid Miner
Mr. Lewicki has been intimately involved with the lifecycle of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers and the Phoenix Mars Lander. Lewicki performed system engineering development and participated in Show moreassembly, test and launch operations for both Mars missions. He was Flight Director for the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the Surface Mission Manager for Phoenix. The recipient of two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals, Lewicki has an asteroid named in his honor: 13609 Lewicki. Chris holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona. At Planetary Resources, Mr. Lewicki is responsible for the strategic development of the company’s mission and vision, engagement with customers and the scientific community, serves as technical compass, and leads day to day operations.
Senior Optical Systems Engineer, Staff Astronomer
Dr. Matthew Beasley is a core team member at Planetary Resources, Inc. He completed a Ph.D. in Astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was the Principal Investigator of the University of Colorado ultraviolet sounding rocket program and oversaw six Show morelaunches that resulted in two Ph.D.’s and several scientific publications. In addition to his sub-orbital experience he was part of the instrument team for the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (currently installed on the Hubble Space Telescope). He moved to Planetary Resources in 2012 and there has spent his time designing optical instrumentation for attitude control, laser communication, and asteroid evaluation
Karim R. Lakhani
Lumry Family Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Principal Investigator, Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science.
Karim R. Lakhani is the Lumry Family Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the Principal Investigator of the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab at the Institute for Quantitative Show moreSocial Science. He specializes in the management of technological innovation in firms and communities. His research is on distributed innovation systems and the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities. He has extensively studied the emergence of open source software communities and their unique innovation and product development strategies. He has also investigated how critical knowledge from outside of the organization can be accessed through innovation contests. Currently Professor Lakhani is investigating incentives and behavior in contests and the mechanisms behind scientific team formation through field experiments on the topcoder platform and the Harvard Medical School.
Data Scientist, Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab
Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences, Harvard
Dr. Rinat Sergeev is a Data Scientist at the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab (NTL). Rinat works as a lead science and technical expert on exploring and utilizing crowdsourcing approaches in application to Big Data challenges,Show morefaced by NASA and Government. In his role, Rinat provides full guidance and support on all aspects of the project from problem definition/formulation, to resolving all issues through execution, working closely with all parties involved. Rinat received his PhD in Physics of Semiconductors in Ioffe Institute, Saint Petersburg. Following his innate curiosity, he pursued challenges in a variety of academic fields, from Quantum-Mechanical Processes to Immunology and Epidemiology. His research interests include conceptual analysis, analytical approaches and models in multiple areas. Currently, Rinat is a growing specialist of machine-learning algorithms and algorithmic challenges. His personal interests include Math puzzles, strategic games and politics.
Director, Advanced Exploration Systems Division
NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
As Director for the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Jason Crusan is the senior executive, manager, principle advisor and advocate on technology Show moreand innovation approaches leading to new flight and system capabilities for human exploration. He serves as the AES Senior Manager, leading the 500-600 Civil Servants with an active portfolio of 20-30 engineering and design projects. He leads integration with the Space Technology Mission Directorate and the other HEOMD programs such as the International Space Station and the Exploration System Division Programs. Crusan holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics, a Master’s in Computer Information Systems, and is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in Engineering Management at George Washington University. Mr. Crusan is married and has two children.
Director, Minor Planet Center
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Dr. Tim Spahr has been studying asteroids and comets since the early 1990s, and his personal interest in these objects started 15 years before that. Spahr is the Director of the International Astronomical Union Minor Show morePlanet Center, operated at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The MPC is the world’s nerve center for asteroid and comet observations. Prior to his work at the MPC, Spahr was a member of the original Catalina Sky Survey team during 1998-2000, where he wrote software to detect moving objects in CCD frames, as well as measure their positions precisely. Tim’s dissertation research was completed at the University of Florida studying celestial mechanics and observational biases present in asteroid surveys.
Program Lead, Robotic Precursor Mission
NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Division
Victoria Pidgeon Friedensen is a member of the Advanced Exploration Systems Division at NASA HQ and leads the Robotic Precursor Activities domain: a diverse portfolio of flight system and instrument development Show moreprojects, research and analysis efforts, and mission concept studies that provide critical data to inform system and mission design to directly enable NASA’s human exploration program. Ms Friedensen’s last robotic mission, LCROSS, verified that there is water on the Moon, for which she received a NASA Exceptional Service award. In addition to flight project management, Ms. Friedensen specializes in risk management and social policy. As an anthropologist specializing in culture and risk perception, Ms. Friedensen’s work focuses on the interface between technology and society by understanding social acceptance of technologies and risk. She brings expertise in public perception of risk to the Asteroid Data Hunter project. Ms. Friedensen was born in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and calls herself a ‘NASA-brat’. She holds degrees in anthropology and science and technology policy.