NASA to award asteroid-finding citizen scientists with cash prizes

As much as $35,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to those who develop the best asteroid-finding algorithms.
By Brooks Hays  |  March 11, 2014 at 1:07 PM
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NASA wants help locating asteroids. And so they have teamed up with private company Planetary Resources Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., to offer an open platform contest for amateur asteroid hunters.

The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge calls on citizen scientists to submit improved algorithms for identifying asteroids using telescope imagery. As much as $35,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to those who develop the best algorithms.

"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said yesterday in a news release.

In a message to would-be contest participants, NASA explained: "The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems."

Open-source problem solving has been a hot topic for government innovators wanting to tap into the power of the web and the intelligence of the public. It's also been an intriguing idea for federal policy officials looking to do more with less. And NASA has been at the forefront.

Last year, NASA invited some 9,000 coders and programmers from across the globe to participate in its second annual International Space Apps Challenge. The two-day online collaboration even encouraged participants to construct mobile apps, or “space apps,” that could organize and visualize NASA data.

Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the White House, has been working on liberating more and more government-collected data for the public to use. And though he's been quite busy cleaning up the PR mess, he's also been working on spurring innovation through publicly-sponsored open-source contests.

"I think [prizes and competitions] are a very exciting new tool that government has in its toolkit to get better results at a lower cost," Park told Mashable in 2012. "You can greatly broaden and deepen the range of players that can help solve the problem."

[NASA] [Mashable]

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