Now this sounds fun. NASA is looking for help in detecting near earth asteroids, and is offering up $35k for the winning algorithm. Sorry, you don’t get to make your depth of 800 feet. You’re going to have to use your math skills for this one.

NASA is looking for a few good people to work up improved algorithms to identify asteroids in images captured via telescopes. Sure, it doesn’t sound as cool as a Michael Bay film, but $35k is $35k. The contest starts on March 17 and will offer up the $35k in awards over the next six months for amateur astronomers that come up with fresh ideas. See, they do have a team of people thinking stuff up. It’s you.

Jason Crusan, NASA’s Tournament Lab director released a statement on the use of the Lab to solve problems; “For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems.”

In a comforting statistic, currently only one percent of objects that orbit the sun are being tracked. So, bust out the TI calculators and get busy. I majored in political science, so I will look on as a fan of the rebooted Cosmos.

For those looking for the top prize, here’s what your algorithm must do:

  • Increase the detection sensitivity
  • Minimize the number of false positives
  • Ignore imperfections in the data
  • Run effectively on all computer systems

“Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are,” Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program executive said in the news release. “By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge.”

More details about the contest can be found here. Seeing as NASA’s budget is nowhere near what it needs to be, it is leaning heavily on the amateur scientists out there.


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