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New HSC Images On Comet Hunters

We have new HSC images available on Comet Hunters from last August now available now on the site. With more asteroids, there are more chances to identify cometary activity. If you don’t spot a tail, that’s okay too. You’re helping us figure out how frequent these cometary outbursts are.

Also today, the Hyper Suprime-Cam Survey, which we get our asteroid images from, just had their first public data release. You can read more about it, and see some stunning images from the HSC camera here.

Happy Comet Hunting!

Making a Push on the Suprime-Cam Search and Waiting on New HSC Images

I wanted to give an update on both Comet Hunters Searches

HSC Search: Thanks to your help, we’ve completed all the live HSC images. We’re currently working on processing more images. We had some data processing challenges that are not solved. We hope to get new images on site by the end of February. Stay tuned for to this space for more updates.

Archival Search: We’re working towards the first paper, that will focus on the Suprime-Cam Archival Search. We’ve started to work on some of the paper text and analysis. One of the next steps is to compare to what automated analysis suggests might have a point-spread function.  We think this would be an interesting comparison. We’d like to include as much completed Suprime-Cam observations in our analysis as possible. If  you can spare some time, please classify an image or two on the Archival Search today at http://www.comethunters.org

Happy 1st Birthday Comet Hunters!

Image credit Will Clayton – flikr

Today marks one full year of Comet Hunters. It’s amazing how time flies while you’re having fun and exploring the Solar System! Thank you for all of your time and  contributions. We really appreciate it. We couldn’t do this without the Comet Hunters volunteer community.

Over this year, the science team has been developing the analysis pipeline to combine the multiple classifications of each subject together. We’ve also reviewed possible comet candidates and also  launched the Hyper Suprime-Cam search. In Year 2, we’ll work towards  the project’s first science papers. I’ll be marking Comet Hunters’ birthday by sitting down in a coffee shop and writing some text about how the Comet Hunters website works for the start of our first science paper draft. Stay tuned to this space in the future for more paper and progress updates.

Help celebrate Comet Hunters’ first birthday by classifying an image or two at http://www.comethunters.org

Help Build a Better Zooniverse while Searching for Main-Belt Comets

Starting today you might see some new things popping up on Comet Hunters. These new features and surveys have been developed by the Zooniverse that may one day end up on all future new Zooniverse projects. The Comet Hunters  community was selected to help to try these features out. During the next four weeks, selected Comet Hunters volunteers will receive an invitation to participate as you are classifying images in the HSC search workflow.  If you just want to get on with the comet search, not to worry. You can opt out of participating or check out the Archival search which is exactly the same as before.

Thanks in advance for your help. Your feedback and interactions will help the Zooniverse to improve the current set of web tools and  build better future Zooniverse projects.

Do Something Great with the BBC’s Sky at Night

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Image credit: BBC/Sky at Night http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03xx5pm

A week and a half ago, during a trip to visit Oxford Zooniverse Headquarters, I traveled to Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory outside of Cambridge to meet with the Sky at Night’s co-presenter  Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock. We talked about main-belt comets and how the public could get involved in Comet Hunters to  search for these elusive breed of comets residing in the Solar System’s asteroid belt. In particular, I discussed the new HSC survey data that recently went live on the project. website.

Below is a link to a clip from Maggie encouraging people to join Comet Hunters.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03xx5pm

This is part of the BBC’s Do Something Great Campaign, which promotes and encourages ways for everyone to get involved in volunteering and doing good. We’re thrilled to be involved in this effort with the Sky at Night.

Help astronomers find main-belt comets today at http://www.comethunters.org and if you’re based in the UK check out the Sky at Night’s latest episode on iPlayer.

Introducing the Hyper Suprime-Cam Survey Main-belt Comet Search

As of today, Comet Hunters has a new dataset and a new look. You’ll notice there’s now a button called ‘HSC Survey Search’ on the front page of the website.  We are thrilled to announce the incorporation of data from the Hyper Suprime-Cam Subaru Strategic Program. Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) is the largest field-of-view camera ever stuck on an 8-10-m class telescope. HSC covers nine times the size of the full moon in a single pointing!

What makes this so exciting is that the asteroid images you can review now on Comet Hunters from this survey are as from as close to right off the telescope as we can get. This means we can follow-up and try to catch the asteroid still in the act if Comet Hunters spots a tail. No one has ever looked at these images for main-belt comets before. Your eyes will be one of the first to view these images. Who knows what we’ll find!

The old Comet Hunters classification interface you know and love is still around. It’s now under the ‘Archival Data Search’ on the Comet Hunters front page. Looking for main-belt comets in the archival Suprime-Cam data is still extremely useful, and we’ll be keeping that classification interface going in parallel to the HSC Survey Search. You’ll notice the HSC images are a bit different than the Archival Data Search. There’s a tutorial and help buttons that will show you how find tails in the HSC images. You can also find more information on the Research and FAQ pages as well.

Dive into the HSC Survey data and help search for main-belt comets today!

New Comet Hunters Data Available!

Thanks to everyone who has helped out with Comet Hunters so far.  As noted in a previous blog post, with your help, we’ve completed the first batch of images from launch and have compiled a preliminary list of potential comet candidates based on your classifications, and are currently in the process of vetting those candidates.

We are pleased to announce that new data is now available!  We’ve fixed some issues with our data processing software (in particular, a bug that led to a large number of off-center asteroids that many of you noticed), and so this new set should be easier to analyze and classify.  With the newly uploaded batch of brand-new images as well as some re-processed images that we’ve shown before, we hope to identify many more main-belt comet candidates with your help.  Good luck and happy hunting!

First Set of Images Complete but More Coming Soon

You might have noticed the blue banner currently on the Comet Hunters website. That’s because thanks to your help, we’ve completed the classifications needed to retire all the images that were live on the site. The team has been working to process a new batch of asteroid images. We’ve taken our time to improve on some of the data reduction issues you might have noticed in the launch images (streaked asteroids, more off center asteroids images, and some bad quality images). By having people spot and comment on these features in the images, we’ve been able to refine the data processing pipeline for this next batch of images. We will have those images live ASAP. Stay tuned to this space.

Most of the Comet Hunters science team  chatted today, and we’ve decided to put on Talk our top comet candidates based on your classifications. As we’ve found thanks to your classifications and Talk comments, overlaps with background sources are a huge source of false positives for 8-m class telescope images of asteroids when you’re searching for comet-like tails. If you’re interested, we could use your help to review other images to see if the potential tail is a background galaxy or star when you view the same area after the asteroid has moved. More details here.

Opportunity for a Summer Student to Work on Comet Hunters Data

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Image credit: ASIAA

Many of the Comet Hunters science team are based at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Academia Sinica (ASIAA)  in Taiwan. As part of the 2016 ASIAA Summer Student Program, we’re looking for an undergraduate or masters student to come to Taipei for July and August to help work on Comet Hunters. Over the summer, the student will help develop a suite of tools to help quickly vet and validate candidate Main belt comet  discoveries identified by Comet Hunters.

ASIAA operates in English, and all research will be conducted in English.  The description of the project can be found here. You can find the requirements,rules, and restriction of the program here.

Apply by March 25th. If you have questions or if you would  like to know more, you can contact me via email at  mschwamb AT asiaa.sinica.edu.tw or post in the comments below.

Comets Lurking in the Asteroid Belt

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Asteroids and comets are small bodies (several hundred miles across, or less) leftover after the construction of our Solar System’s planets. Asteroids are commonly assumed to be mostly rocky or metallic with the majority orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.  Comets on the other hand are a mixture of rock, dust, and ice with orbits more very elongated or hyperbolic orbits that typically originating from the outer Solar System and Oort Cloud (reservoir for long period comets)  As a result of their icy composition, when comets come close to the Sun and get hotter, they become “active” as their ice sublimates (changes from solid to gas), releasing gas and dust, creating the distinctive fuzzy halo (known as a coma) and tails that we associate with comets.

The assumed separation between comets and asteroids was seriously challenged in 2006 with the discovery of main-belt comets (MBCs), which have orbits in the main asteroid belt but have been observed showing cometary activity. Most of the MBCs known today were discovered by telescopes dedicated to surveying the night sky, which so far has been the most efficient way to discover these extremely rare objects. Unfortunately, these dedicated telescopes are rather small (less than 2 meters, or 6 feet, across). Much larger telescopes are available, but these are typically used by individual astronomers to conduct specific observations, and are not used for general surveys. However, the images taken by these telescopes is archived and later made publicly available after a certain amount of time (typically one year), and it turns out that we can re-purpose these observations to search for active asteroids.

Left: Images of the first three main-belt comets (MBCs) to be discovered, each showing the fuzzy appearance and tails characteristic of cometary activity - Image credit: H. Hsieh

Left: Images of the first three main-belt comets (MBCs) to be discovered, each showing the fuzzy appearance and tails characteristic of cometary activity – Image credit: H. Hsieh

 

Asteroids frequently appear by chance in astronomical observations of other targets (such as stars or galaxies). By compiling accidental, or “serendipitous”, observations of asteroids in archival observations of other targets, we can effectively conduct a “survey” of public data archives using much larger telescopes than are currently available for dedicated all-sky surveys. This is important because we believe that we should be able to discover many more active asteroids if we can detect fainter activity, and the way to detect fainter activity is to use larger telescopes. Detecting activity itself is not easy, however. Comets can have a wide variety of appearances, and while computer algorithms can be designed to detect some comets, it is difficult to design an automated system to detect all the different types of comets that might exist. In contrast, the human eye is much more flexible in terms of spotting different combinations and levels of “fuzziness” and tails that could indicate cometary activity.

For Comet Hunters, we have extracted images of known main-belt asteroids from the archives of the Subaru Telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the world (at 8.2 meters, or 27 feet, across), located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, one of the best astronomical observing sites in the world. None of the objects we are targeting have been previously known to show activity, but most have so far only previously been studied using small telescopes that may have missed faint activity. By going through and classifying the images on this website, you will help us identify candidates for new comets that we will then analyze in detail and possibly re-observe with follow-up observations to confirm the activity. If we can confirm a comet candidate is real, you will have helped discover a new comet! You will also have helped us along the way to our goal of greatly increasing the number of known active asteroids, and in doing so, contributing to the progress of this new and exciting field of astronomy.

Fancy giving it a try?

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