Cash prizes await "citizen scientists" who can improve algorithms that help NASA find and identify asteroids in our solar system, the agency says. A contest to find more asteroids begins next week, in what NASA calls an attempt to crowdsource innovation.
"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says.
Contestants can win money in several phases of the Asteroid Data Challenge, which runs through August. To do so, they must register at TopCoder and submit work that meets several criteria.
"The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computers," NASA says.
The contest series is being run with Planetary Resources, a company that hopes to mine asteroids. It's part of the Asteroid Grand Challenge, which NASA first announced last summer.
"Our solar system has millions of asteroids," NASA says in a video announcing the program. "We've discovered many of them. But our challenge is to find the rest, and know what to do about them."
Concerns about fast-moving objects coming from space that could cause calamities on Earth rose to new heights last year, after a meteor about 22 yards in diameter unexpectedly broke through the atmosphere and exploded over Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people.
"The dinosaurs would have cared if they'd known about this problem," the NASA video says. "Let's be smarter than them."