A six-member team of Indian citizen scientists discovered four new near-earth asteroids during an asteroid search training program conducted with the collaboration of NASA, International Astronomical Search Cooperation and Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Science and Technology. Near-earth asteroids are frozen rocks orbiting the sun with the closest approach to the sun of less than 1.3 astronomical units. An astronomical unit is a distance between the earth and the sun. These asteroids can sometimes cross the earth’s orbit and come very close. If such an asteroid is larger than 140 metres in diameter, it is considered potentially hazardous. Astronomers monitor all potentially hazardous near-earth objects. The citizen scientists underwent a 45-day training program under the Saptarishi India Asteroid Search Campaign, conducted by the All India Asteroid Search Programme. The members of the search team used data and images captured by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, a space telescope based in Hawaii, United States.
Choosing science communicators and science teachers for the asteroid search program set a new paradigm, said Kuchipudi Gurrayya, one of the members of the team that made the discovery, Deccan Chronicle reported. Gurrayya, vice-principal of Sri Sathya Sai Gurukulam School, Andhra Pradesh, is the coordinator of Venus Visa Club, a science club registered with Vigyan Prasar.
The team of discoverers was led by Meka Susatya Rekha, a science teacher who has won the National Teacher Award. Rekha, who teaches at a school in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for her teaching efforts. Other four members of the team include M. Suresh from Vijayawada, K. Kiran Kumar Reddy from Kadapa, Neelakantaiah from Chittoor, and P.V.L.N Sriram from Vijnana Bharati, a science popularization organisation based in New Delhi.
The six-member team will also participate in a Special Asteroid Campaign that will take place on the 75th Independence day this year.