Arushi Nath

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) annually hosts a General Assembly. It is the major annual event of the Society, which brings together astronomers, citizen scientists, families and youth around Canada for engaging presentations, demonstrations, and sharing knowledge and experiences on their astronomy-related observations and projects.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s 2022 General Assembly was hosted virtually from 24 – 27 June. Over four days, almost 50 events and talks took place under the themes Reach In, Reach Up and Reach Out. The talks were on a range of topics, from astrophotography to exoplanetary transits and atmospheres and space outreach.

During the event, I was invited to present my ongoing work on planetary defense to protect Earth from possible asteroid collisions. The title of the presentation I gave on 26 June 2022 was “Strengthening Planetary Defense: Detecting Unknown Asteroids using Open Data, Math, and Python.

Presentation Schedule at RASC 2022 General Assembly

For my project, I took images from 4 robotic telescopes located at different latitudes to get full sky coverage. I wrote algorithms in Python to query European Space Agency’s GAIA and NASA’s Horizon sky catalogues to find all known stars and asteroids. I used mathematical and statistical tools such as mean, standard deviation, and histograms to create custom-sized masks to remove known objects in the images obtained from robotic telescopes. The remaining objects were classified as possible asteroid candidates.

My algorithm detected 3 ‘preliminary’ asteroids in 20 sky images. My algorithm’s plate solving ability determined their Right Ascension and Declination coordinates using the telescope’s focal length and celestial location. I reported this information to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) by creating a Minor Planet Center report for my images.

It was an exciting opportunity to share my year-long research project with a wider audience. I received a lot of questions, for example one was about how my algorithm removed noise from the sky images. One was on the coding libraries I had to use. Another was on the future steps I planned to take with this project. In all, it was an amazing experience and I can’t wait for next year’s RASC general Assembly.

I also competed in the Canada Wide Science Fair 2022 with this project. There it won 5 awards, including

  • the Best of the Canada Wide Science Fair Award (Innovation)
  • Gold Medal
  • Excellence in Astronomy Award from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  • Top of the Category Award in Curiosity and Ingenuity, and
  • Youth Can Innovate Award.
Awards won at 2022 Canada Wide Science Fair including the Best of the Fair (Innovation) Award!

For more information on my project, check out my project blog:

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