This is the first time an asteroid has been discovered by a school in the country.

Amanjot Singh and Sahil Wadhwa, both students of Ryan International in Rohini here, have created history of sorts by discovering the main belt asteroid named 2010 PO24.

The discovery, made on August 6, is unique as this is the first time an asteroid has been spotted by any school in the country. Amanjot and Sahil found it while participating in the “All-India Asteroid Search Campaign,” conducted by the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) in collaboration with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration.

Ever since the discovery, Sahil has been on cloud nine. “I have been interested in astronomy since Class VII. We were trained to use the software. [Dr.] Patrick Miller from the United States used to transmit pictures of celestial objects taken from his 32” and 24” telescopes to us. We used the software to analyse the pictures and after detecting the correct one, our discovery was confirmed,” said the Class XII science student.

Congratulating the students, SPACE president C.B. Devgun said it was a proud moment for the country's student community. “Through this programme, we have given school children an opportunity to be involved in real time science and an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of research at the international level. Selected schools have been given exclusive access to data sets of the sky, provided by the observatory, in order to look for asteroids. It is quite an achievement, especially as the whole nation is gearing up to celebrate Independence Day.”

When near earth objects (NEOs) are first discovered, the impact risk with earth is evaluated and placed onto the potentially hazardous asteroid list maintained by the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They stay on that list until the orbit has been further refined and the impact risk re-assessed. So far, all re-assessments, including this one, have led to the NEOs from being removed from the list. This is a very rare and important observation, said Mr. Devgun.

Students P. Jhaveri, A. Shah and M. Shastri from the Navrachana School, Vadodara, SPACE Nodal Centre, also made a virtual impactor observation (asteroids with a possibility of impacting the earth) discovery of 2010 NB2 on July 19 as part of the same programme. All students are members of various SPACE clubs across the country.

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