NASA Volunteers Find Fifteen Rare “Active Asteroids”

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NASA Volunteers Find Fifteen Rare “Active Asteroids”

A grid of sixteen square images showing the sequential progression of a comet moving across the night sky, captured in time-lapse photography. Each frame presents the comet as a bright point with an increasingly pronounced tail, moving diagonally from the top-left to the bottom-right corner against a dense backdrop of stars. The comet's brightness and the length of its tail appear to intensify as it traverses the field of stars.

NASA’s Active Asteroids project

Henry Hsieh

Some extraordinary asteroids have “activity”—comet-like tails or envelopes of gas and dust.  NASA’s Active Asteroids project announced the discovery of activity on fifteen asteroids, challenging conventional wisdom about the solar system.

To find these fifteen rare objects, more than 8000 volunteers combed through 430,000 images from the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile. A paper about the results, now published in the Astronomical Journal, includes nine volunteers among the co-authors.

“For an amateur astronomer like me it’s a dream come true.” said volunteer Virgilio Gonano from Udine, Italy. “Congratulations to all the staff and the friends that also check the images!”

A close-up image of a comet in a star-filled night sky. The comet, located in the bottom right quarter, is bright with a prominent, elongated tail extending diagonally towards the upper left, indicated by a green arrow overlay pointing in the direction of the tail. The background is a dense mosaic of stars, and there's a large overexposed celestial body in the upper right corner, washing out a portion of the image with its brilliance.
Volunteers from the NASA’s “Active Asteroids” Citizen Science project identified a comet tail coming from
Asteroid 2015 VA108, one of the active asteroids spotted by volunteers from NASA’s “Active Asteroids” Citizen Science project. The object, indicated by the green arrow, orbits entirely within the main asteroid belt (located between Mars and Jupiter), but sports a tail like a comet.
Credit: Colin Orion Chandler (University of Washington)

Studying these rare active asteroids teaches scientists about the formation and evolution of the solar system, including the origins of water here on Earth. These objects may also aid future space exploration because the same ices that cause comet-like tails can power rockets or provide breathable air.

“I have been a member of the Active Asteroids team since its first batch of data,” said volunteer Tiffany Shaw-Diaz from Dayton, Ohio. “And to say that this project has become a significant part of my life is an understatement. I look forward to classifying subjects each day, as long as time or health permits, and I am beyond honored to work with such esteemed scientists on a regular basis.”

The Active Asteroids project was founded by Dr. Colin Orion Chandler, a LINCC Frameworks project scientist at the University of Washington and DiRAC Institute.  To join the project and help discover the next active asteroid, visit


Last Updated

Mar 15, 2024

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