Astounding Video Shows 30 Years of Asteroid Discoveries

by Nancy Atkinson on August 26, 2010

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This incredible video by Scott Manley/Armagh Observatory (and recommended by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter) shows the locations of all the known asteroids starting in 1980, adding more as they are discovered (highlighted in white so you can pick out the new ones.) But the final color of the asteroids tells you more about them: Earth crossing asteroids are red, Earth Approachers (with a perihelion less than 1.3AU) are yellow, while all others are Green.

In the video you can see the pattern of discovery follows the Earth around its orbit and most discoveries are made in the region directly opposite the Sun.

The orbital elements were created by Ted Bowell. See this webpage for more info.

More from the notes on You Tube:

“You’ll also notice some clusters of discoveries on the line between Earth and Jupiter, these are the result of surveys looking for Jovian moons. Similar clusters of discoveries can be tied to the other outer planets, but those are not visible in this video.

As the video moves into the mid 1990′s we see much higher discovery rates as automated sky scanning systems come online. Most of the surveys are imaging the sky directly opposite the sun and you’ll see a region of high discovery rates aligned in this manner.

At the beginning of 2010 a new discovery pattern becomes evident, with discovery zones in a line perpendicular to the Sun-Earth vector. These new observations are the result of the WISE (Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer) which is a space mission that’s tasked with imaging the entire sky in infrared wavelengths.

Currently we have observed over half a million minor planets, and the discovery rates show no sign that we’re running out of undiscovered objects.”

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 26, 2010 at 3:41 PM

Yes, the video is astounding, but remember that the total mass of the Asteroid Belt is estimated to be 3.0 to 3.6 × 10^21 kilograms — which is only about 4 percent of the mass of the Earth’s Moon — and of that total mass, about one third is accounted for by Ceres alone.

agmartin August 26, 2010 at 3:58 PM

The green asteroids were almost invisible when I originally watched the video. Increasing the resolution of the video from the default of 240 pixel helps a little.

HeadAroundU August 26, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Does UT get paid for pop-up hyperlinks? They are very annoying.

Aqua August 26, 2010 at 5:46 PM

Simply AMAZING! and ZINGY! Amazingy Grace? Or pure luck that we haven’t been hit more often? Or maybe we HAVE? Anyone close enough to witness a large impact did not survive? Clovis and the ‘Red Paint People’ possible victims?

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 26, 2010 at 6:33 PM

@HEADAROUNDU,

You’re probably using IE7 or IE8 browser, aren’t you? Instead, use either Firefox or Google Chrome browser with AdBlock, and then you’ll have no problems with annoying adverts nor pop-up hyperlinks.

HJG731103 August 26, 2010 at 9:29 PM

THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE , SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE. NEVER DID IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT WE ARE SO SURROUNDED BY SO MANY ASTEROIDS. GREAT STUFF

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 26, 2010 at 11:35 PM

The final pattern with a concentration of Earth crossers surely is an observational artifact? Wouldn’t you expect a taper from the belt sun-wards?

@ HEADAROUNDYOU:

You prompted me to tweak my FF & NoScript combo. That worked, and now the pages load fast again. (As I suspected, those script popups are like killer slugs.)

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 26, 2010 at 11:37 PM

Oh, and now posting doesn’t kill the return to page either. That should be on the server side, so it’s effing funny those popups ever made it as viable web functionality. Must be darn good commission!

hydrazine August 27, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Very informative and interesting video. And, yes, I know there isn’t really all that much mass flying around but with this film you can’t help the feeling that the inner Solar system is a touch crowded. I am surprised, though, by the apparent number of asteroids inside Mars’ orbit. It seems there should be little trouble finding one that’s easy to send a probe to. But I guess it tougher than it looks.

Regards,
/hydrazine

dalebotha August 27, 2010 at 3:03 AM

Whoa! Thats incredible! I had no idea there were so many…cool! Great animation too! It really captures it!

Aqua August 27, 2010 at 9:36 AM

This animation is worth visiting more than once!~ I wish they had included comets as a separate color. This is a North polar projection, it would be way double extre groovy cool to see a rotation around to a South polar projection!

simon August 27, 2010 at 1:25 PM

After looking at this video I had a look at the Asteroid Belt article on Wikipedia. In this article it claims 100,000 asteroids had been discovered by 1982 which is around x10 higher than the counter in the video ????

ToSeek August 27, 2010 at 5:01 PM

Per the description on the Youtube page, the animation should be credited to Scott Manley, not Arecibo.

agmartin August 27, 2010 at 7:06 PM

@Simon
Wikipedia is wrong. Someone typed 100000 into JPL Small-Body Database Browser and found that the first observation of the object was in 1982. They assumed incorrectly that they are numbered in order of discovery. The objects are assigned a number only after their orbit is well determined. 100000 Astronautica (1982 SH1) was the 100000th asteroid to be assigned a number during Oct 2000.

agmartin August 27, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Oops was looking at the wrong column 100000 Astronautica (1982 SH1) was assigned its number during 2005.

Bravehart August 27, 2010 at 8:06 PM

Now you know why no other civilization has contacted us, they simply do not
see us! But we are well advised not to temper with this, since it also does
protect us! we are in need of a cleanup from man made garbage!
We have polluted our air, land, oceans and SPACE! When I look upon this, I would not even want to know us, we are a real dumb species.
We can do something about this COLLECTIVELY? Do not debate, show me
the BEEF!

Aqua August 27, 2010 at 8:46 PM

I’d like to see the orbital periods of the NEO Nickel Iron asteroids! BONANZA and BONUS if there’s a big chunk close enough, say inside Mars orbit, that we could some day park in lunar orbit for processing?

What’s that you say? You want to build an Ark? Expecting rain?

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 28, 2010 at 2:20 AM

Now you know why no other civilization has contacted us, they simply do not
see us!

Not only is exoplanets detectable near debris, disks, we have ourselves _directly seen_ the planets.

This is inanely wrong. The rest is simply inane. So, yeah, no debate. :-D

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 28, 2010 at 2:40 AM

Aqua, why would you want to “park” the NEO? (And if so, why not in close solar or Lagrange orbit?)

It should be far easier and more economical to brake or boost the mined material towards Earth than the whole thing. Even if you eventually would mine all of it, say if the asteroids is pure enough, you wouldn’t want to have cost and delay upfront.

Far quicker to start to mine and lug those ore containers as they come. That would also give you a habitat volume post haste; space is a brutal environment.

If you suggest an (eventually) automated collection, perhaps. That would give a manned presence to specific and economical volumes of space, and the mining would proceed as the NEOs come. Maybe such an operation would pay the associated overhead of the start up, even in case it’s so iffy that the first couple of catches would have to be manually assisted. [He, "space cowboy", nice title.]

Then again, maybe in that case you just want to smash them into the Moon and mine the pieces? Not too close to the Moon habitat, mind.

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 28, 2010 at 2:46 AM

“mine the pieces” Or impact volume, if not a gentle one. Dunno if thermal processing would help of hinder mining.

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