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Delhi school boys discover new asteroid

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New Delhi,  (IANS) Wonders never cease to exist. Two Delhi students have discovered a new asteroid as part of a unique astronomy project connected to the US space agency NASA.

Amanjot Singh and Sahil Wadhwa, both Class 12 students of Ryan International School, discovered a main belt asteroid (2010 PO24) on Aug 6 as part of the All India Asteroid Search Campaign (AIASC).

Asteroids are very small planet-like objects that generally go around the sun in orbits located between Mars and Jupiter. Sometimes these are nudged by gravitational forces out of their orbits and can come into contact with Earth.

'I am really excited about it,' Sahil, who wants to pursue a career in astronomy, told IANS.

'Our task was to sift through the data and analyse it. Every day we used to send our findings to scientists in NASA and they used to tell us if we were successful in discovering an asteroid, a near earth object or a second time confirmation of the asteroid.'

The campaign conducted between May 17 and June 30 and from July 1 to Aug 13, was introduced in India for the first time and about 30-45 schools were be involved in it. This year 11 countries on four continents participated in it.

Behind involving school students in the project was the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), an international educational outreach programme.

The students went through exclusive data files of the sky provided by the IASC using astronomical data analysis software. The data files had images of the sky taken in the night with 24-inch and 32-inch telescopes at the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) Observatory in the US.

Sahil and Amanjot are looking forward to naming the asteroid discovered by them, though the process will take almost six years as per the international rule.

Three other students from Navrachana School in Vadodara, Gujarat, have made a Virtual Impactor Observation (VIO) discovery of a Near Earth Object (NEO) discovered during the same programe July 19.

An NEO is an object in the solar system whose orbit brings it in close proximity to Earth. A VIO is carried out to determine whether the NEO is likely to hit the Earth or not.

When NEOs are first discovered, the impact risk with Earth is evaluated. If that risk is high enough, the NEO is placed on to the potentially hazardous asteroid list maintained by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

'The observation made by students has led to NEO being officially removed from the list. This is a very rare and important observation,' C.B. Devgun, SPACE director, told IANS.

Devgun said asteroids larger than about 50 metres could be expected to reach the Earth's surface at an interval of about 100 years, causing local disasters.

'These collisions are unlikely, but programmes such as NEO at NASA precisely track these objects as, if predicted in advance to be in a trajectory that collides with Earth, warnings can be generated and methods to avert them can be sought,' he said.


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