Planetary Resources, a company that proposes to mine Earth approaching asteroids for their abundant minerals, and Zooniverse announced on Tuesday the start of Asteroid Zoo, the latest citizen science crowd source project. The project joins a number of other such projects, such as Galaxy Zoo and Moon Zoo, which invites the public to identify and classify celestial objects and features. As the name implies, Asteroid Zoo will engage the public in spotting hitherto undetected asteroids.
The way it works is that participants will search terabytes of imaging data collected by Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) for undiscovered asteroids in a fun, game-like process from their personal computers or devices. The findings that are collected by the public will be used by scientists to develop the next generation of asteroid hunting telescope and use them to perform follow up observations of asteroids. These telescopes, incidentally, include the ARKYD planned by Planetary Resources to hunt for asteroids to visit and eventually mine.
Planetary Resources was able to help set up Asteroid Zoo as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign conducted in 2013 to fund the first ARKYD. Planetary Resources paid a grant to Adler Planetarium, where the Zooniverse has a large development team. Amazon.com has also contributed to the effort by hosting the CSS imaging data on its servers and making it available for the Asteroid Zoo effort.
There are a couple of reasons for hunting Earth approaching asteroids besides the obvious scientific value. Planetary Resources has a business interest in locating as many of these types of asteroids as possible. A single asteroid, loaded with water and volatiles, or else with platinum group and other minerals, would yield almost unimaginable wealth, perhaps in the trillions, to the first company that can capture and mine one. However there is also a planetary imperative. One of those asteroids, if left undetected, could hit the Earth and wipe out humanity, just as one did the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,