University Program Fosters Young Astronomers on Six Continents


Photo: Pratham Alag and Rishabh Jain at R.K. Puram Public School in Delhi, India; with overseeing teachers (second row)

Some 430 previously uncharted asteroids have been discovered as a result of a program started six years ago by Hardin-Simmons University professor, Dr. Patrick Miller. In that time, the program has grown so much that 230 of those discoveries have come just over the last year.

Most recently, two students in India attending R.K. Puram Public School in Delhi, made a preliminary discovery of a Main Belt asteroid, now given the designation of AVK0039. Students, Pratham Alag and Rishabh Jain, discovered the asteroid as they participated in the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), pronounced “Isaac,” and the All-India Asteroid Search Campaign.

IASC, an Internet-based space-watching program for high school and college classes, is based at the HSU Holland School of Sciences and Mathematics. Since its beginning in October 2006, serving only five schools from the United States, it has grown to serve more than 500 schools, involving some 7,000 students in 60 countries on six continents.

Miller explains, “The objective of the search campaign is two-fold: to keep an eye out for objects in space that could be potentially dangerous to Earth, and to prepare young scientists for future endeavors.”

Under the guidance of their teachers, students analyze images with free software tools, searching for new asteroids and confirmations of near-Earth objects. Some recent asteroid search campaigns have included students from Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, China, England, Germany, Greece, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sao Tome, Taiwan, United States, and Uruguay.

Pratham and Rishabh’s discovery has been submitted to the Minor Planet Center (Harvard). Once the near-Earth object is confirmed, it will be given provisional status. The students will eventually be given the chance to name the asteroid. Beaming, one Puram school official states, “Their discovery is one worthy of great pride.”

ISAC is currently run with a staff of volunteer astronomers, but has the ability to double in the number of schools it serves, says Miller. “With the eventual development of a permanent paid infrastructure, IASC will quickly grow to 1,000 participating schools.”

IASC’s collaborators include:

Lawrence Hall of Science (University of California at Berkeley), Astronomical Research Institute (Westfield, IL), Global Hands-On Universe Association (Portugal), Sierra Stars Observatory Network (Markleeville, CA), Tarleton State University (Stephenville, TX), The Faulkes Telescope Project (Wales), Yerkes Observatory (Williams Bay, WI), Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green, KY), Las Cumbras Observatory (Santa Barbara, CA), G.V. Schiaparelli Astronomical Observatory (Italy), and Astrometrica (Austria). Special project collaborations include the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (University of Hawaii), National Astronomical Observatories of China (Beijing), Astronomers Without Borders (United States), Space Generation Advisory Council (Vienna, Austria) and Target Asteroids! (University of Arizona, Tucson).


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