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Scientists help track all 775,092 known asteroids

May 13, 2018

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A five-person team of scientists at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff helps maintain a giant database of the orbits of all 775,092 known asteroids in the solar system.

The team, thanks to funding from NASA, now is working to update the database and beef it up with information about the objects’ physical characteristics like color, mass, shape, size and rotational period, the Arizona Daily Sun reported .

Hundreds of thousands of those types of measurements have already been made and are stored in other databases or archives, team member Nick Moskovitz said.

The goal of the NASA-funded project is to bring all of that into one place so researchers can better analyze it and make connections between different datasets.

“You can put in a query on a single object and it will tell you everything we know about that one object,” Moskovitz said of the project concept.

Another goal of the project is to create a public portal at asteroid.lowell.edu so the 8,000 professional astronomers around the world the 10 to 100 times more amateur astronomers can submit their own asteroid observations and query the data.

Moskovitz also has helped create a full-horizon camera array that scans the skies for meteors. The cameras can be used to trace the meteor’s trajectory, either back to its possible origin in the solar system or downward to its landing spot on Earth’s surface. That can help point researchers like him in the right direction for finding meteorites.

Studying the objects can help gain an understanding of how the solar system got to its current state and open a window deep into history, Moskovitz said.

He said rocks on Earth could be 10 million years old while the youngest meteorite is more like 2 billion years old.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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