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Space Science

Video Showing Half a Million Asteroid Discoveries 154

An anonymous reader writes "Since 1980 over a half million asteroids have been discovered, mostly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, now thanks to this video you can see this activity condensed into a few minutes. At full resolution it's a mesmerizing experience as new discoveries are added and the video makes it possible to see patterns in the discovery positions, for example a large number appear in line between Earth and Jupiter as astronomers started looking for smaller jovian moons after Voyagers visit to the system."

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Video Showing Half a Million Asteroid Discoveries

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  • by Aussenseiter ( 1241842 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:21AM (#33381606)
    Celebrating 30 years of counting rocks in space. Here's looking at you, kid.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      I can't get the video to play. It works on Ilsa's computer.

      Come on, IE! You played it for her, you can play it for me!

  • by smitty777 ( 1612557 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:27AM (#33381680) Journal

    It's interesting how the video highlights the fact that the bulk of the asteroids seem to be discovered in a direction of the earth's orbit opposite the sun. Seems obvious when you think about it, but it really becomes apparent from watching the vid.

    • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:53AM (#33381966)

      discovered in a direction of the earth's orbit opposite the sun

      Yeah, we call that "nighttime" around here.

      • Brilliant! So you're assuming that all the discoveries have been made by people at night using telescopes. Oh, wait...we have these things called satellites around here.

      • by pz ( 113803 )

        discovered in a direction of the earth's orbit opposite the sun

        Yeah, we call that "nighttime" around here.

        Doesn't that mean the region within the earth's orbit will be substantially less studied than the region outside the earth's orbit? Moreover, given the confounding effect of figuratively staring in the direction of the sun, won't the same tools be far less sensitive than when looking at the night-time sky? Could it be that there are many more asteroids closer to the sun than us than we have observed?

        Is there a professional astronomer here who can give an authoritative answer?

  • by blcss ( 886739 )

    I'm wondering why I see no conspicuous clustering at the trojan points of Earth and Venus. Are asteroids there harder to detect?

    • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:33AM (#33381754)

      There are no known Venus trojans, but they would be hard to detect from Earth. Messenger is looking for Mercury trojans, which should be dynamically stable (and even harder to detect from Earth). While the Earth has a handful of co-orbiting asteroids, I am not aware of any solidly confirmed Earth trojans. There are 4 known Mars trojans [].

      None of these objects are of sufficient numbers to show in this video.

      • Startling that many more specks appear in the range of Mercury to Mars in the last half. In grade school, I heard of the asteroid belt beyond Mars, but there is a lot lurking at one astronomical unit from the sun.

        With so many pieces even as far as Jupiter one good bump could put the Earth in a collision course - is that enough incentive to do something?

    • size of the planets as well as greater interferience from other nearby bodies reducing the stability of the lagrange points.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      In addition to what mbone said, it's also the case that the terrestrial planets should have a much more difficult time capturing asteroids into their trojan points thanks to their smaller masses (and therefore shallower potential wells for the asteroids to get captured into).

      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        Very true. It's pretty mysterious why Mars should have any trojans at all, or if the ones it has are actually in stable orbits.

        • Well, it's also farther from the Sun. I'd have to check the equations, but for orbits around the planet, at least, that affects things in a linear fashion. Plus, it's had a lot of opportunities to capture asteroids, particularly at lower relative speeds. Earth, Venus, and Mercury, have had a lot fewer.

        • by saider ( 177166 )

          It is closer to the asteroid belt, where collision debris can provide more potential objects to capture.

    • I don't worry about trojans. I use Linux.
      • That's a risky strategy. While Linux is very effective at reducing sex and therefore unwanted pregnancies, it's not nearly as effective as a condom.
    • In addition to what's already been said; Trojans are only really stable in a simple (two body) system, or when the Trojan points belong to a body with a large gravity well.
      The Earth has the moon disturbing it's Trojans, and Trojan's all over the solar system are effected by Jupiter.

  • Planets? (Score:2, Insightful)

    If the video is showing meteors in their orbits it appears that we might have to question the validity of calling Mars and Earth planets. It looks like neither planet really meet the guideline of "clearing its neighborhood"...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mbone ( 558574 )

      The Earth, yes. Mars, no, not really, as you point out. You could consider Mars the largest asteroid.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sznupi ( 719324 )

      It's not about vacuuming the neighborhood (by that measure even Jupiter doesn't count), but whether or not the nearby debris is dominated by the gravitation of the body in question.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Also, there is something very wrong with saying "meteors in their orbits" (which just shows how much you are into all of this) - check for yourself what, it shouldn't take long.

    • Re:Planets? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:14PM (#33382222) Homepage

      It looks like neither planet really meet the guideline of "clearing its neighborhood"...

      Sure they have. It doesn't mean there can't be any other object in their orbit. Think of it in terms of ratios. Earth plus its moon, and Mars are both several orders of magnitude more massive than the sum of every other object in their orbits. Non-planets like Pluto or Ceres are several orders of magnitude less massive than the rest of the mass in their orbits.

      • Er, okay, "several orders of magnitude less massive" isn't correct... Ceres is about a third as massive as the rest of the belt, and Pluto is under a tenth as massive. They are still less than the mass of the other objects in their zones, while for instance Mars is over 100,000 times more massive than the other objects in its orbit. There's a table here [] showing these ratios for all the planets and dwarf planets.

  • This past couple of decades has certainly been an age of discovery that equals if not surpasses a similar expansion of knowledge about the universe that happened in the 15th-18th Centuries when knowledge about new continents and islands became common place throughout most of the world. Most of us have been doing mundane things and living our lives, but this is certainly something that deserves note. More planets are also being discovered, including asteroid belts in other star systems as well.

    What isn't b

  • Someone just faked that whole thing taking a fraps video of Osmos.
  • by boneclinkz ( 1284458 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:44AM (#33381860)
    For a potential video game. You pilot a small spaceship, and your job is to shoot asteroids with your laser cannon as they appear. When an asteroid is hit, it breaks into several smaller asteroids. You then have to shoot those asteroids until they break up into asteroids so small that they are no longer a danger. If an asteroid impacts your spaceship, you die.

    I think they should call it The Ship that Shoots a Laser Cannon.
    • Just for grins why don't you make it have a third person point of view. It could also appear to be a old fashion radar screen with just green outlines...
    • by bazorg ( 911295 )
      Lame name. How about " 'roid rage"?
    • Oooh! And then you could have a CPA in a Ford rental drive past every few minutes you have to shoot before he bean counts all your asteroids and audits you. Or, maybe something more contextual.

    • You might be joking but i would play a game that somehow fetches data from some public NASA server. Caches it and then fiddles with the scales so as not to make it too boring. And then you shoot those.
      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        Too bad so very few will have the chance to teleoperate future moon rovers / robots. I hope anybody doing them will at least put a live stream on the web...

  • Cool. And Scary. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:45AM (#33381870)
    Watching that video is incredibly cool and the geek in my is really impressed with it on many levels. I must admit, however, I also find it kinda scary. I guess ignorance is bliss - I know that there are a ton of rocks floating around out there but seeing it graphically presented like that just makes me think it's damn lucky we haven't be pulverized into the stone age...

    I'm going to focus, instead, on just how cool it was because, really, it was damn cool.
    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I know that there are a ton of rocks floating around out there

      A lot more than a ton. If you put all the rocks in the asteroid belt together you'd probably have a new planet. The asteroid Ceres [] is called a "dwarf planet" in wikipedia. The protoplanet Vesta [] is 530 km in diameter.

      • Yeah, you'd probably get a planet, but not a very large one. From the wiki []:

        The total mass of the asteroid belt is estimated to be 3.0×1021 to 3.6×1021 kilograms, which is just 4% of the Moon.

    • Take comfort in the fact that the dots on the video are thousands, perhaps millions, times scale size for the space they are presented in.

      Space is big, really big. Still a scary video, though.
      • Yes, but even so, there's evidence that at least two major extinction events were caused by asteroid impacts here on Earth over the last billion years, most notably the K-T event. Because of the relative emptiness of space, these impacts don't happen very often, but it's been tens of millions of years since the last major impact, so it'd really suck if the next one were only a few decades away.

        For the religious people out there: maybe God has been protecting us from these asteroids for a while, while we ha

  • It's full of rocks!

  • by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:29PM (#33382396)

    Lookie, you heathen scum! Creationism is vindicated! What's that you see glimmering by the end of the video? It's the eye of God!!! That proves He exists. Y'all scientists done hoist yerselves by your own atheistic little petards, aincha? Gaze into His ocular glory, that greenish, ominous, malevolent, downright wicked...hey wait a second, you're not fooling me, you used summa that false color tricknology to make Him look evil didn't ya?

    Next time show us His true colors -- red, white and blue.

  • Very creepy...

  • by szyzyg ( 7313 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:48PM (#33382614)

    I hadn't quite finished this, I wanted to record a voiceover, but a friend submitted it before I was ready.

    So essentially the video shows asteroids which are known, so in the early portions around 1980 we have less than 10,000 and by the start of this month we have over half a million. Asteroids are highlighted on discovery and within a second they fade to the colour appropriate to their orbit (Green, Yellow and Red), asteroids are usually observed intensely around discovery and once an orbit is determined observers can go back and follow up to refine the exact elements, I only show the discovery, not follow up measurements. This does mean that a number of the objects that are being plotted have orbits that may be so poorly determined that they are 'lost in space' because they were only observed for a short time and by the time people attempted to follow up they were lost.

    At the start of the videos, the 1980's, CCD's weren't used for astronomy, photographic plates were the primary technology for imaging the sky, furthermore, there were no digital systems for identifying asteroids on these plates, so while many asteroids were no doubt imaged they were generally not of interest to the observers who were probably taking nice pictures of nebula or other photogenic phenomena. Many of the discoveries in the 1980's were still made visually by minor planet hunters who knew what they were looking for. One of the earliest 'bursts' in the video is most likely related to observations of Jupiter searching for new moons around the giant planet, they'd look for objects moving on the plates and then make an orbit determination to see if it was a moon, it's waaaaay cooler to find a moon since they're a rarer commodity, but if you merely find an asteroid at least you get a chance to name it.

    By the time we get to the mid 1990's we start to see automated sky search programmes like LINEAR, LONEOS, Spacewatch and the Catalina Sky Survey and these are primarily searching for asteroids in opposition since they're closer to Earth and at peak brightness so you can see a discovery cluster radiating out from the Earth.

    In the last 8 months you see WISE which is a satellite performing a full sky survey in the Infrared, its scans the sky at 90 degrees to the sun, so its discovery pattern is very distinctive.

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      I'd love to see more of the animation at the end, showing the dynamics of all these objects. That's fascinating!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Jace Harker ( 814866 )

      I would love to see the original, full resolution video. Could you upload it somewhere, or perhaps put it up on BitTorrent?

      Also, what data sets did you use in the preparation of this movie? I would be interested to see the orbit specifications for all of these asteroids.

    • Blessings on you, the Creator for your Intelligent Design ;)
      Have you considered a horizontal split-screen, with the current perpendicular angle above the ecliptic, and another view parallel (or maybe offset 15 degrees or so) to the ecliptic?
      Again, awesome work, thanks for making it.
  • There's lots of rocks out there. I wonder how much mass they all add up to. The theory in The Twelfth Planet ( [] ), which sounds a bit farfetched since the author states it is gathered from ancient tablets that were dictated to us by aliens, is something like: There was a big planet around where Earth is now. This 12th planet (Moon, Sun + Pluto also being 'planets') with a 3600-year orbit came into our solar system and came really close to
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The orbital mechanics of that is insanely complicated (and unlikely). Plus, where is this "twelfth planet" now? Why did it cause so much havok on only a single approach and hasn't done squat since?

      • dnno, it was suppose to have been here 600 BC, will be here 3000 AD. would be somewhere we haven't detected. he did say it triggered the great flood. didn't say why it hasn't messed stuff up since its other approaches. any strange things hapening in ancient history aroudn 600BC?
  • How big are these asteroids? They must be tiny on average otherwise I don't see how we can still be here. We are swimming in the things.

    Also why hasn't the asteroid belt become a planet? What prevents the rocks for grouping together?

    • How big are these asteroids? They must be tiny on average otherwise I don't see how we can still be here. We are swimming in the things.

      From a few hundred kilometers across down to dust particles. There are around a million objects over 1km in size.

      Also why hasn't the asteroid belt become a planet? What prevents the rocks for grouping together?

      I think the leading theory is that Jupiter's gravity disturbs the belt enough that it can't accrete into a planet.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      They're tiny. And the probably didn't become a planet (or large planetoid - even all together they're not very big) because Jupiter's gravity keeps things well stirred up.

  • What are those rocks made of? And given that their made from some heavy elements, what could either Venus, or Titan offer to lighten objects up?

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