Join the Data Hunters: Look for Asteroids on Your Computer

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"Asteroids" may be a classic video game, but the Asteroid Data Hunter app that's just become available for desktop computers is no idle pastime: It's a software package that sifts through image data from Earth-based telescopes, looking for previously detected asteroids and flagging space rocks that haven't been seen before.

The app was developed by NASA in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc., a commercial venture that's gearing up to mine near-Earth asteroids. It's the result of a TopCoder competition that offered $55,000 in prizes for better asteroid-hunting algorithms. An experimental analysis of images taken of the solar system's main belt asteroids showed a 15 percent increase in the positive identification of new asteroids when the Asteroid Data Hunter app was used, NASA said in a news release.

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The project was conducted under the aegis of NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge. The software release was announced on Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas — the same venue where the coding competition was announced last year.

The Asteroid Data Hunter app is available for Windows and Mac computers, and a Linux version is in the works.

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— Alan Boyle