Amateur skywatchers help space hazards team

Oct 13, 2011
In this animation , the newly discovered asteroid is the white blob moving left-to-right in the upper centre of the image. The white blob moving left-to-right at the lower centre is a known asteroid and the single pixle jumping at upper-centre-left is a digital artefact. Credits: ESA/TOTAS Survey Team

For the first time, observations coordinated by ESA's space hazards team have found an asteroid that comes close enough to Earth to pose an impact threat. The space rock was found by amateur astronomers, highlighting the value of 'crowd-sourcing' to science and planetary defence.


The discovery of asteroid 2011 SF108 was made by the Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey (TOTAS) team during an observation slot sponsored by ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme in September.
The four-night survey used the 1m-aperture telescope at ESA's Optical Ground Station at Teide on Tenerife in the .

This is not the first asteroid found under SSA sponsorship, but it is the first that qualifies as a 'near Earth object' – an object that passes close enough to Earth during its orbit around the Sun that it could pose an impact threat.

Images require human evaluation

During TOTAS observations, the telescope runs automated asteroid surveys for several hours using software developed by amateur astronomer and computer scientist Matthias Busch from the Starkenburg Amateur in Heppenheim, Germany.

ESA's Optical Ground Station (OGS)is located at the Observatorio del Teide on Tenerife, and is situated at an altitude of 2393 metres. Credits: ESA

However, potential sightings must still be evaluated by humans.

The team comprises 20 volunteers, most of whom took part in the manual evaluation of images captured during the session on 28/29 September.

Safe distance: 30 million km

"Images are distributed to the entire team for review, and any one of them could be the discoverer of a new asteroid," says Detlef Koschny, Head of NEO activity for SSA. "This time, the luck of the draw fell to Rainer Kracht."

"As volunteer work, it is very rewarding. When you do spot something, you contribute to Europe's efforts in defending against asteroid hazards."

The orbit of asteroid 2011 SF108 brings it no closer than about 30 million km to Earth – a safe distance.

The object is the 46th discovered by Mr Kracht, a retired school teacher who lives in Elmshorn, near Hamburg, Germany. "Eight of us reviewed images on the night of the discovery, and I was lucky to be the one who found 2011 SF108 as part of this team," says Mr Kracht.

"The discovery was only possible with the excellent software developed by Matthias Busch, who also spotted this object in the images on the second night and sent the observations to the Minor Planet Center."

To date, some 8000 NEOs have been discovered worldwide but many thousands more are suspected to exist, particularly in the size of metres to hundreds of metres. It is important to find and track these to determine if any pose an impact threat to Earth.

Explore further: SpaceX making Easter delivery of station supplies (Update 2)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Asteroid to Make Rare Close Flyby of Earth

Jan 24, 2008

Scientists are monitoring the orbit of asteroid 2007 TU24. The asteroid, believed to be between 150 meters (500 feet) and 610 meters (2,000 feet) in size, is expected to fly past Earth on Jan. 29, with its ...

New horseshoe orbit Earth-companion asteroid discovered

Apr 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Apostolos Christou and David Asher from the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland announced the discovery of an asteroid near Earth called Asteroid 2010 SO16 and their findings were published ...

The First of Many Asteroid Finds for WISE

Jan 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, the first of hundreds it is expected to find during its mission to map the ...

ESO Views of Earth-Approaching Asteroid Toutatis

Sep 29, 2004

Unique Photos from La Silla and Paranal Measure the Distance Today, September 29, 2004, is undisputedly the Day of Toutatis, the famous "doomsday" asteroid. Not since the year 1353 did this impressive "space rock" pas ...

Recommended for you

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

22 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

Apr 18, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

Apr 18, 2014

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...