On 3 February 2021, Arushi and Artash, members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada gave a presentation on the research they had been carrying out on Asteroid Apophis at the online meeting of the Recreational Astronomy Night.

The closure of doors to physical schools due to COVID-19 lockdowns meant more time trapped at home. But it opened up windows to observe the night skies and carry out observations. While observing the night skies from our telescope is fun and it allows us to stay up late in the night, there are limitations to what we can visually observe from Toronto downtown – a light polluted city (Bortle Scale 9). So we turned our attention to robotic telescopes.

Artash had participated in the 6th IAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC 2019) held at Maryland, USA. He gave a poster presentation on apply machine learning algorithms to predict risk index (Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale) of an asteroid colliding with earth. It won him the honorable mention award during the Award ceremony. https://hotpoprobot.com/2019/05/03/learnings-from-the-2019-planetary-defense-conference-poster-presentation-and-simulation-exercise/ Since then, he has been actively pursuing space projects where he could learn more about asteroids and roped in Arushi too, to participate in these projects. One such project was doing asteroid astrometry by applying our observation and programming in Pythons skills. Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that involves precise measurements of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies.

Measuring the position of an asteroid is essential to determining and improving accuracy of its orbit. Could we take our space, robotics, and programming knowledge to the next level by applying it on a real dataset? Could we create algorithms which would search for asteroids in astrophotography images, determine their celestial coordinates, calculate their motion velocity, and perhaps even predict their trajectory and how close they will pass to Earth? The idea itself was exciting and the 3D model of the asteroid Apophis from the 6th IAA Planetary Defense Conference 2019 at our home was a constant reminder of the importance of planetary defense. We decided to proceed with the idea and see how far we could go.

Why Asteroid Apophis?

Upon its discovery in 2004, Apophis was briefly estimated to have a 2.7% chance of impacting the Earth in 2029. Additional measurements later however showed there was no impact risk at that time and earlier this year the asteroid was removed from NASA Sentry Database of potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

It took us several months to design our project, search for robotic telescopes, create observation plans, take observations, write python routines and carry out calculations and analysis. The project was definitely more complex than we initially thought. However breaking the big project into smaller goals and spreading the project over several months allowed us to acquire new knowledge to complete this project.

It was a great accomplishment to be able to finally present this project at the online meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada-Toronto. Click here to watch the presentation: https://rascto.ca/content/video-do-it-yourself-asteroid-astrometry-using-python-arushi-and-artash-nath

As with all our projects we have created an online tutorial using Jupyter Notebook. The tutorial is available on our GitHub account (http://www.github.com/Artash-N) and is a work in progress. It has allowed other youths to learn from our project and access our code.

Read about our entire journey:


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