Four students from city schools have discovered two unknown asteroids, which is set to be placed in the global minor body catalogue maintained by the International Astronomical Union in Paris.
Aryan Mishra and Keerti Vardhan, two class IX students of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, as well as Akshat Sharma and Kshitij Jindal of class XI of Bal Bharti Public School, chanced upon the 'near earth' bodies during a nationwide asteroid search campaign. The search was conducted globally by the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) and in India by SPACE, a city-based body that works towards popularisation of science and astronomy and provides training to students and amateur astronomers for asteroid hunting. "Once the discoveries will be reconfirmed the students will get the chance to name the asteroids," said an official from SPACE.
The 'near-earth objects' discovered by the students are asteroids that have been nudged by gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter earth's neighborhood. "It is therefore important to keep a close watch on these objects for the safety of the Earth," said the official.
While the discovery by Aryan Mishra and Keerti Vardhan of has been designated as '2014 00372', the finding by Akshat Sharma and Kshitij Jindal of Bal Bharati Public School has been designated as '2014 OU6'. "It was an amazing experience working on the software. I feel privileged for the opportunity given to me" said Akshat Sharma.
Aryan Mishra of Chinmaya Vidyalaya said, "Discovery consists of what everybody has seen, but not which nobody has thought. I never thought that I'll discover any asteroid but I was interested in hunting comets and reading about asteroids." "Feeling very happy that Aryan and I have discovered an asteroid. Can't explain how excited I am to name it, dreams come true!!", says Sharma.
Last year a team of two students - Shourya Chambial and Gaurav Pati from Amity International School, had discovered a new Main Belt asteroid during Phase II of the campaign. The discovery was named as '2013 LS28'. "It is a wonderful endorsement of the efforts of the students, their teachers, the school and the team from space. This will surely catapult these students to a global platform to pursue a career out of it," Amit Verma, CEO, SPACE said.
This year, said Verma, marks the fifth year of a countrywide campaign for students, which first began in the year 2010.
Under the project, participants get to access images of the sky taken by 24 inch and 34 inch telescopes positioned in Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) Observatory in the US.
Students search for asteroids after downloading and analysing data with specialized software. "All observations contribute to the Near Earth Object (NEO) data compiled by NASA and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)" said a SPACE official. "The project has provided opportunities to more than 500 students and amateurs in India to discover asteroids and near-earth objects," said the official.
He said, so far there has been one comet confirmation, 96 preliminary discoveries and 18 provisional (confirmed) discoveries, amongst which a 'Trojan', an extremely rare asteroid, was also discovered in 2011.