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AstroAI @ SXSW 2024

AstroAI @ SXSW 2024

Will an Asteroid Hit Us Tomorrow

Revolutionizing Astrophysics with AI

Tuesday, March 12, 2024 from 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM, CT in Salon C of the Hilton Austin Downtown

Come visit our session: https://schedule.sxsw.com/2024/events/PP1145780

We are astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics who utilize AI to answer pressing questions in astronomy.

Questions like: Will an asteroid hit us tomorrow?

The Minor Planet Center (MPC, hosted at the CfA) is the single worldwide location for receiving and distributing positions of minor planets, comets and moons. The MPC is responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computation for all of these objects. This involves maintaining the primary data on their observations and orbits, keeping track of the discoverer of each object, and announcing discoveries to the rest of the world.

The MPC utilizes AI and ML algorithms to help quickly and accurately determine the orbits of asteroids. A reliable orbit is necessary for determining if any of these asteroids are on a potential collision path with Earth.

The MPC is part of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which oversees and coordinates NASA-sponsored projects to find, track, and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could impact Earth. The MPC is keeping a close eye on all of these asteroids and the skies are safe. So please do keep your dinner reservations for tomorrow!

Asteroid and spacecraft.
Image From: https://science.nasa.gov/planetary-defense-dart/

Planetary Defense

The work of the planetary defense community is critical in safeguarding the Earth from the potential threat of asteroid impacts. This international multidisciplinary effort involves astronomers, engineers and policymakers, and international partners, focusing on detecting, tracking, mitigating, and communicating about Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

Detection and Tracking

Surveys and Telescopes: The community uses ground-based and space-based telescopes to discover and observe asteroids and comets that could come close to Earth. Programs like the Catalina Sky Survey, Pan-STARRS, and the upcoming NEO Surveyor space telescope are designed to find NEOs.

Cataloging and Monitoring: The Minor Planet Center (MPC) plays a key role in collecting and cataloging data on NEOs, calculates their orbits in real-time, and determines if they pose any threat to Earth, as well as providing a centralized database for the global astronomical community. This facilitates ongoing monitoring and analysis of potential impact risks.


Physical Properties: Understanding the size, shape, composition, and spin of NEOs is vital for assessing their impact risk and planning mitigation strategies. Missions like OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 have returned samples from asteroids, providing invaluable data on their physical and chemical properties.

Orbital Dynamics: Accurate modeling of NEO orbits over time allows scientists to predict future close approaches and potential impact scenarios. These complex calculations, that account for gravitational influences and other forces affecting an asteroid's path through space, are performed by the MPC and other collaborators such as the NASA/JPL Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).