Madhur Tankha

NEW DELHI: To give school children a chance to discover, identify and name their own asteroids, the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) in association with International Astronomical Search Collaboration has launched a new “All-India Asteroid Search Campaign”.

Unique opportunity

The innovative astronomy project is aimed at creating curiosity about asteroids among the student community. It also gives them a unique opportunity to go through exclusive sky data and search for their own asteroids. If they succeed in discovering a new one, they will get a chance to name the asteroid. The training workshop has just been completed and all the selected schools are gearing up for the great asteroid hunt.

Describing asteroids as small planet-like objects, SPACE president C. V. Devgun said they generally move around the Sun in orbits located between Mars and Jupiter, but are sometimes nudged by gravitational forces out of their own orbits and can come into contact with Earth: “These are called Near Earth Objects (NEO). 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 the objects. If predicted in advance, warnings can be generated and methods to avert them can be sought.”

Mr. Devgun said for the first time Indian school students would be able to study the data and undergo training to identify asteroids. “Earlier this project was done only at graduation and post-graduation levels. Now a Class VII student who is computer-savvy can be a part of this project. Like one asteroid was named after the late Indian-born American astronaut Kalpana Chawla, students who succeed in discovering asteroids will be allowed to give them their names. In the whole exercise, we are just acting as a facilitator,” he added.

International project

About 30 to 45 schools from Delhi, the National Capital Region, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad will be involved in this project. Currently, 11 countries on four continents are participating.

The programme will continue from May 17 to June 30. Phase II will then proceed from July 1 to August 13 and will witness the participation of over 30 selected schools from across the country.