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Does the thought of an asteroid falling out of the sky keep you up at night? Although an asteroid is unlikely to hit any time soon, such an impact could instantly destroy our ozone layer, destroy an entire city, or wipe out most life on earth.

According to Dr Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation, we’re not seeing these space rocks coming:

“data from the nuclear weapons test warning network… detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts, “It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare — but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown [were] detected in advance, is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a “city-killer” sized asteroid is blind luck.”

Well instead of worrying, you can make a difference this weekend with NASA’s 2014 International Space Apps Challenge. This year’s SpaceApps includes a number of opportunities for Makers to help explore asteroids and communicate the message of how important of a problem this is. Start off by learning the state of the art for hunting and studying asteroids. This Thursday, April 10 at 4pm Eastern/1pm Pacific (20:00 GMT) there will be an Asteroid Challenges Google+ Hangout to discuss what asteroids are made of, how they are detected, and how we can model their trajectories in space. Panelists will include:

Questions can be asked on Twitter using #Asteroid #SpaceApps or in the comment stream for the Google+ Event page.

Now Make Something

The International Space Apps Challenges’ website has a whole section dedicated to Asteroids, including:

    • Design an open-source platform for sharing crowd-sourced asteroid imagery—including observations that have already have been logged, as well as newly observed Near Earth Objects. Consider integrating tools to make it easy for amateur astronomers around the world to contribute both primary and follow-up imagery
    • Asteroid missions come together thanks to space mission simulators, physics-based game engines, asteroid databases, and data visualizers. Each application excels at certain aspects of a mission: One simulator is great at propulsion, another provides the capability to create the spacecraft cockpit, and the asteroid databases provide details about the ephemera. However, mission simulations can be limited to a single computer. Though a few simulators and game engines provide a networking capability, they can only exchange data with other copies of the same application. This challenge is to create a solution that would integrate a variety of simulators, game engines, databases, and data visualizers into a mission simulation that is distributed across the Internet.
    • Develop a game to travel across the solar system, going from asteroid to asteroid. You must decide which asteroid to visit and mine next, given a field of asteroids that vary in location, composition, size, and more. A major part of this challenge is learning over the course of the International Space Apps Weekend what the purpose and value of an asteroid resource industry could be and incorporating it into the game.
    • Amateur astronomers have made many discoveries. Create an open source network of quick-response robotic telescopes that would enable fast follow-up observations of potentially-threatening asteroids. Solutions should enable telescopes in all hemispheres to be controlled from a central location quickly, much like moving a webcam. Ideal solutions will integrate hardware and software, though ambitious Autonomous Robotic Observatories network concepts and methods for building and maintaining the network would be highly desirable.
    • How would you send humans to explore an asteroid? How would you send a spacecraft to survey the asteroid belt? And how would you deflect an asteroid that was on a threatening course with Earth?
    • Create an asteroid movie with real asteroid observation data. Asteroid observation movies typically visualize an asteroid’s trajectory, spin rate, shape, albedo, bi-directional reflection, texture, roughness, strength and composition.
    •  Creating data aggregators and visualizations of asteroid data can educate the public about the need to explore asteroids and protect the Earth from them.

Sign up for the challenges and start putting ideas on the challenges’ hackpad; maybe then you’ll be able to rest easy. Shortly before the event, you will be able to create Project pages that describe your proposed solution to the Challenge. Then, over the weekend of April 12-13, online and at various event locations worldwide, you and other makers may start to collaborate on solutions to your projects. From there, the SpaceApps website will fill you in on what honors await the winners of the various challenges. Good luck! The Google Hangout can be watched here

Matthew F. Reyes

Matthew F. Reyes

Founder of Exploration Solutions, Inc, distributor of the future in research, education & technology projects. Matthew supports NASA Ames Research Center and others in Silicon Valley as an independent contractor. Matthew is an occasional contributor to Make Magazine and a guest editor for #DIYSpaceWeek