Two teams of school children from Delhi have successfully pointed at two unknown asteroids.
Named 2014 00372 and 2014 OU6, the two asteroids were chanced upon by four students in a global search campaign. The discoveries will now be placed in the global minor body catalogue maintained by the International Astronomical Union (Paris).
Aryan Mishra and Keerti Vardhan, two class IX students of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Vasant Vihar, and, Akshat Sharma and Kshitij Jindal of class XI of Bal Bharti Public School, Pitampura, chanced upon the discovery during the All India Asteroid Search Campaign.
The children, who went through a month-long workshop before the discoveries, were elated. “It was an amazing experience working on the software; I feel privileged for the opportunity given to me,” said Akshat.
“I never thought that I'll discover any asteroid but I was interested in reading about them,” said Aryan Mishra.
The children spent two-three hours on each sitting, and were guided by the space science mentors.
The search is conducted globally by the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), and in India by SPACE, a Delhi-based science popularisation organisation that conducts space-related events and competitions for school-children.
As part of the programme, schools and independents organisations register teams of two, who undergo a month-long workshop to understand the operation of the search software.
There are about 75 teams registered from around the country. Once the programme starts, the IASC releases real-time data of space from which the students make their observations through a software, and send daily reports to the IASC.
The asteroids discovered by the children, categorised as Near-Earth Objects (NEO) along with comets, are bodies that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter earth’s neighbourhood, and is thus important to keep a close watch on them.
Amit Verma, CEO of SPACE, who has been conducting the search programme in India since the last five years, say that the lack of a structured system led them to form one. “While in school, there was no way to pursue astronomy and we did whatever we could on our own. It is encouraging to have these kids discover the asteroids, because scientists from established bodies like NASA and the European Space Agency, and PhD students are constantly on the lookout for asteroids,” he said.
He also said that there has been an asteroid discovery every year.
Another team from Manipur, of Dhairya Bhimwal and Ronaldo Laishram, had carried out a preliminary discovery which awaits validation. If proven, their observation could also be a discovery.