We present initial results from the Citizen Science project “Active Asteroids” hosted on the Zooniverse platform. Active asteroids are bodies which have asteroidal orbits but which display comet-like activity such as a coma or tail. Active objects such as comets and sublimation-driven active asteroids help us characterize both how water was delivered to Earth as well as the location of volatiles throughout the solar system. However, active asteroids are rare, with fewer than 30 discovered since the first active asteroid, (4015) Wilson-Harrington, was identified in 1949. Even fewer sublimation-driven active asteroids, such as the subset known as Main Belt Comets, have been found. Consequently, our understanding of active asteroids remains limited.
The infrequent discovery rate is predominately due to observational challenges, primarily the faint nature of the objects and their associated activity. We set out to find more of these objects with the help of online volunteers, collectively known as Citizen Scientists, who come from myriad backgrounds. After undergoing brief training, volunteers are asked to classify thumbnail images of small solar system bodies as visibly active or inactive.
Preparations for this project yielded the discovery of a new active object (C/2014 OG392 Pan-STARRS) and helped characterize two others: (6478) Gault and (248370) 2005 QN173. Preliminary results from our project indicate volunteers are able to identify active objects: the majority correctly identify activity in a training set of images known to show activity, and participants typically disqualify inactive objects, as verified by our science team. Here, we give an overview of the Active Asteroids project, present initial results, discuss ongoing work, and provide a project roadmap for the future. The project can be found online at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/orionnau/active-asteroids .
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant No. 2018258765 (COC) and grant No. 2020303693 (JKK). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Funded in part by NASA grant No. 80NSSC19K0869 and NASA grant No. 80NSSC21K0114.