During a project sponsored by Space India and NASA, two schoolgirls aged 14 in the 10th grade discovered an asteroid near Mars that appears to be heading towards Earth.
Scientists scour space in search of asteroids, ultimately finding thousands per year, as they pose a significant potential threat to Earth. In 2013, for example, an asteroid heavier than the Eiffel Tower broke apt over central Russia, injuring over 1000 people in its aftermath.
Looking at images from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, the girls used specialized software to analyze the images. They noted that the asteroid is slowly shifting in its orbit close to Mars and is moving towards Earth. From their analyses, it appears that the asteroid won’t come near to Earth for another million years, however. Moreover, even at that point, according to current calculations, it will still be ten times as far as the moon from Earth.
“Asteroids have been discovered by a lot of students but what makes it more important is this asteroid is changing its classification and over a period of time, it will change its course,” says Akash Dwivedi, senior eductaor and astronomer at Space India.
Radhika Lahkani, one of the two girls who discovered the asteroid, said that later on in the program, two other people also came across the object. She added that until now, there have only been around 63 discoveries of similar asteroids and that the asteroid she found with classmate Vaideshi Vekarya is the first such discovery from Gujarat, India, in the last four years.
Although currently called HLV2514, the girls look forward to giving it another name. The opportunity to do so will come after NASA confirms its orbit. Both girls say that they want to pursue studies in astronomy ad space research.