NASA powers up real-life game of Asteroids

NASA is laying on a real-life version of arcade-classic Asteroids as part of a new competition to help protect the planet from unwanted objects with a prize fund of $35,000 [£21,000].

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The Asteroid Data Hunter contest is on the look out for programmers that are able to use new algorithms to pick out asteroids heading for planet earth by using ground-based telescopes.

“For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems," said Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director. "We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.”

The prizes will be offered to scientists that are able to devise algorithms that are able to recognise asteroids better than the current solutions on offer with the competition running for a total of six months.

NASA stated that the winning solution must increase detection sensitivity, minimise the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems.

Asteroid detection is currently only tracking one percent of the objects that orbit the sun, according the Planetary Resources, which is helping Nasa with the contest.

"We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc. “Applying distributed algorithm and coding skills to the extensive NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey data set will yield important insights into the state of the art in detecting asteroids.”

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The competition kicks off on 17 March, running until August and entrants are invited to create an account at this link where a detailed set of rules as well as details of each phase of the contest can be found.

Image Credit: Flickr (Nicholas R. Wilson)