NASA Contest Will Pay Asteroid Finders [Video]


NASA has teamed up with asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc. to offer people the chance to win cash prizes totaling $35,000 through NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. The contest is set to begin on March 17 and run through August. Basement scientists of all kinds may enter their computer algorithms to identify asteroids that will approach Earth. Not only will the asteroid finders’ winning algorithms benefit mankind, but contest winners will also receive pay in the form of cash for their work.

Winning algorithms must meet a number of criteria. They must minimize the amount of false positives returned and increase the sensitivity of asteroid detection. Additionally, they must be able to ignore data imperfections as well as run effectively across all computer systems.

The Asteroid Grand Challenge is part of NASA’s Data Hunter contest series. The goal behind the asteroid contest is not only to increase detection of near-Earth asteroids but also to eliminate threats. Program executive and co-presenter at SXSW Jenn Gustetic says that it is necessary to first know from where an asteroid impact might come before protection measures can be implemented. To that end, they are looking to add the power of both innovators and citizen scientists across the globe to those researchers and data collectors already in place.

Planetary Resources chief engineer and president, Chris Lewicki, indicates that they are looking forward to the partnership with NASA through this contest. The pay incentive that NASA’s contest will provide should increase the amount of people who may possibly be asteroid finders. Current detection of asteroids only track approximately one percent of those objects that are orbiting the sun.

In fact, just last year in February a meteor unexpectedly came down in Russia. The Chelyabinsk meteor exploded 18.4 miles up, in an air burst that released the equivalent of 500 kilotons of TNT. This is about 20-30 times greater than the release of energy from Hiroshima atomic bomb. Because of this explosion, about 1,500 people were injured and required medical treatment and about 7,200 building sustained damage.

Another example would be the Tunguska event. While this happened in 1908, before most modern technology, it is generally agreed that the devastation caused by the Tunguska event was the result of an asteroid detonating in the sky above Siberia. A scientific expedition to the area was not accomplished until 1927. What scientists found when they reached the site was 830 square miles of forest destroyed. An estimated 80 million trees were knocked down by the blast that occurred by the explosion. Like Chelyabinsk, the Tunguska event happened above ground, in the air. It is estimated that the energy from the Tunguska blast would have measured about 10-15 megatons of TNT.

While these are just two examples of space rock that have entered Earth’s atmosphere before detection, throughout history there have been other occurrences. The goal of the Asteroid Grand Challenge contest is to alleviate future happenstances of unexpected meteors. In order to attract as many asteroid finders as possible, NASA, in conjunction with Planetary Resources, Inc., will pay those who contest winners found to have the most effective designs. Challenge organizers hope to be able to choose from a wide variety of solutions in the quest for asteroid location algorithms.

By Dee Mueller


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