Spare Time Comet Hunting

By: Iryna Blazhevych

Imagine discovering comets in our universe from the comfort of your home. Comet Hunters is one of the many projects on Zooniverse where main belt comets are identified and differentiated from asteroids. Main Belt comets were not long ago discovered in our universe. They are located in the Solar System’s asteroid belt and have traits typically assigned to comets, such as a tail. The reason this project exists, is because only ten of these main belt comets have been discovered up to date, which leads to a very limited understanding of them.

With the Zooniverse platform, anyone can help with the discovery of these main belt comets. All volunteers need to do is create a Zooniverse account and then they are all set to identify and analyze the photos of comets and asteroids given to them. Volunteers will either classify new or old photos of the asteroids. When classifying the asteroids, all volunteers need to do is look at two side by side images taken in space and decide whether the asteroids are visible in the middle of the photo. If the answer to the previous question is yes, then the volunteer must determine whether or not the asteroids have tails. With such easy steps, volunteers can get through a classification in under a minute. There is also an option in which when the volunteers are done classifying the images, they can talk to other volunteers that did the same classification. This can be a useful tool in both finding new observation in the images and debated on what the right classification is to get the most valid answer.

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The classifications that volunteers do are not in vain. With them, astronomers in the Comet Hunters team can identify and track these main belt comets. When a new potential main belt comet is chosen, it is observed with both ground and space telescopes, and determined whether or not it is a main belt comet. With this information, the origins of our Solar System can be studied, since asteroids and comets are leftover masses from the creation of the planets. It will also increase the discovery rate of main belt comets in the future. Every classification the volunteers do leads to a broader understanding of our Solar System and the objects with which we share it with.


Zooniverse. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2017, from


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