School students in India have discovered and named 18 new asteroids as part of a global science programme launched by NASA.
Indian school students have recently discovered and named 18 new asteroids as part of a global science programme, confirmed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), an organisation that assigns official names and designations to celestial bodies.
STEM and Space, an organisation working towards the learning of astronomy and space science in India, conducted the International Asteroid Discovery Project, along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) as part of a NASA citizen science project.
“Over the last two years, 150 students from all around India participated in this two-month-long campaign to find asteroids, making this the largest asteroid discovery project in India,” Mila Mitra, Co-founder and Academic Head of STEM and Space, told PTI.
High-quality astronomical data was provided by IASC — an online scientific program for kids to discover Asteroids and Near-Earth Objects (NEO), during this project, and students from India and all across the globe analysed it.
How Indian students discovered asteroids
NEOs are rocky objects in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter, which pose a challenge to Earth as they may get perturbed out of their orbit and pose a threat of impact.
According to Mitra and her team, NASA has initiated programs like IASC to track such asteroids regularly, also open to citizen scientists and students to enable the discovery and tracking of more asteroids.
She explained that in the project the students use advanced software analysis, “spending nearly two-three hours each day” to look for asteroids and report their findings. Of the 372 preliminary asteroids flagged by the students, 18 were finally declared to be “provisional” or confirmed discoveries of asteroids, Mitra noted.
While talking about the discoveries made by the students, the STEM and Space co-founder further added, “IAU confirmed these findings last month.”
Experiential learning for students
While talking about the project further, Mitra stated that she believes that such programs can bring the experiential learning of science, technology, engineering, and medicine, or STEM, via the domain of space with a gamut of hands-on learning workshops.
However, she said more efforts need to be taken to extend the reach of such programs to government-run schools and those in rural parts of the country to make the citizen science projects more equitable.
Mitra noted that all the discoverers received Provisional Discovery Certificates from IASC and NASA for their scientific contribution in discovering asteroids.