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Astronomy crowd spots PLANET KILLER!

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Unravelling DNA, identifying exoplanets, and now, spotting near-Earth asteroids: is there anything that science can’t outsource to an Internet crowd?

The European Space Agency has announced that its Space Situational Awareness program, in which amateur astronomers pitch into to help analyze sky survey photographs, has turned up its first near-Earth object.

The newly-identified chunk of Sun-orbiting rock was identified in a four-night survey taken by the 1 meter apeture ESA instrument at Teide on Tenerife. While not the first asteroid found by the SSA project, it’s the first that passes close enough to Earth to be classed as a potential impact threat.

However, before readers grab their copies of Lucifer’s Hammer and start scouting for bunkers and canned beans, the reassuring news from the ESA is that with a likely closest approach of 30 million kilometers, the newly-discovered 2011 SF108 isn’t about to send us the way of the dinosaurs.

The discoverer, Rainer Kracht, has an enviable record for we non-astronomers, discovering 46 asteroids. Kracht said that on the night of the discovery, he was working with a team of seven other enthusiasts, “and I was lucky to be the one who found 2011 SF108 as part of this team”.

Kracht singled out another amateur astronomer, Matthias Busch, as contributing to the discovery by writing software used in the project.

The ESA’s release is here. ®

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