Citizen scientists found a foreground asteroid passing the Crab Nebula in an old image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
A new look at a 2005 Hubble image showed an asteroid trail photobombing the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is one of the night sky’s most famous objects.
So, a team of ESA astronomers and software engineers started the Hubble Asteroid Hunter citizen science project in June. The project pushes the public to help them look through the Hubble image archive in search of asteroid trails.
“Knowing the date and time when the Hubble images were taken, they can use the trails marked in the pictures to infer asteroids’ positions and velocities,” ESA said in a release on Monday. “This means they can determine the orbits and future trajectories of known and previously unknown asteroids with greater precision than before.”
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German enthusiast Melina Thévenot spotted an asteroid in a 2005 image, one of nearly 300 Hubble observations of the nebula. She then processed the image to highlight the asteroid’s path.
Thévenot combined views taken in blue, green and red filters to create a striking photo. The faint trail of 2001 SE101, a main-belt asteroid discovered by the ground-based LINEAR survey in 2001, appears as a curved streak that crosses from lower left to upper right near the center of the nebula.
Examining old Hubble images for asteroid data will be useful for scientists who are studying near-Earth objects (NEOs). These objects could potentially threaten our planet.
The Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova blast first seen in 1054. It was the first object listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in his famous catalog of comet-like objects. The explosion left behind a fast-spinning neutron star at the center of the nebula.
The Crab Nebula lies near the ecliptic plane where most asteroids orbit so it’s not unexpected that an asteroid might “photobomb” one of Hubble’s observing sessions.
The ESA team plans to post a new set of images to the Hubble project soon. So there will be an opportunity to join the 1,900 volunteers and become an asteroid hunter.