A Deeper Look into Asteroid Zoo

by Terry Melo

Asteroids are the key to finding the origins of our solar system. Inside of asteroids are minerals that can enable us to know what our solar system is made of. Hopefully, asteroids will give us greater clues so we can make greater conclusions. Asteroid Zoo gives citizen scientists the opportunity to catch asteroids in pictures taken from the Catalina Sky Survey that scientists might have missed.

Asteroid Zoo presents the pictures in different frames numbered from 1-4. The Catalina Sky Survey took pictures of the same part of the sky but at different times. The pictures are taken about 10 minutes apart from one another to ensure the capture of an asteroid, since asteroids move while stars do not (stars are the brighter lights in the images). But why do scientists need your help? They need an extra pair of eyes to make sure they did not miss any potentially harmful asteroids in the pictures. Once you get on the website and start hunting, a tutorial is waiting for you below the “Help” tab. Unless you are an experienced Asteroid-Zoo hunter, a tutorial is a great first step for your experience so you can know exactly what you will be looking for.


               The welcome screen from Asteroid Zoo, showing a background image from the Catalina Sky Survey. 

The three classifications in Asteroid Zoo listed for the items in the picture are Asteroids, Artifacts, or Nothing. When you begin asteroid hunting, along with the transition of the frames, there is also a transitioning question: “Not visible?” This is valid when the asteroid you were tracking is no longer visible in the next frame. A possible asteroid might disappear in some frames because it might trail off the field of view. When an asteroid is not found but unusual objects in the picture are, they can be identified as Artifacts. Artifacts consist of a “star bleed”, “hot pixel/cosmic ray”, or “other.” Satellites can be confusing and ultimately classified as “other” because they have the same movement as asteroids in the sky. If there is nothing visible in the picture, then “Nothing” would be the classification for that picture. Asteroid Zoo and its many classifications should not be a challenge for you now. Below is an example of what an asteroid from Asteroid Zoo looks like in all four frames from!

asteroidexampleNote: The figure shows four different pictures from Asteroid Zoo that capture the movement of an asteroid. Looking from figure one through four, the asteroid moves towards the right. The red circle in the first frame outlines the moving asteroid. The yellow line stays in the same position so it can help you keep track of the moving asteroid.

Citizen scientists vary from the curious visitor in a museum to the lawyer interested in the night sky. In order to connect with Zooniverse projects, citizen scientists simply need connection to the website. Then, they can explore the many projects available. There are citizen science projects ranging from astronomy to climate. By helping to solve problems and find answers, Zooniverse has expanded from a single mind getting excited about solutions to an organization promoting individual thinkers to come together and collaborate in hope of discovering a greater idea.


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