Radhika Lakhani and Vaidehi Vekariya, two 10th grade schoolgirls from Surat, India, have discovered a new asteroid. The object is currently dubbed HLV2514 and has been classed as a near-Earth object (NEO), the class of cosmic bodies that can get dangerously close to our planet. But don't worry, this asteroid is not expected to get anywhere near close to our planet for a very long time.
The asteroid is part of the Amor asteroids. These objects' closest distance to the Sun is larger than Earth’s furthest point from the Sun, and most of these objects spend much of their time in orbits closer to Mars than Earth so do not cross our planet’s orbit. What’s interesting about HLV2514 is that it will eventually move closer in about a million years.
The two students were working on data from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii as part of an outreach project organized by SPACE India along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), a NASA-affiliated citizen scientist group. Lakhani and Vekariya looked through many images collected by the telescope, selecting what may look like a Near-Earth object; a task that much easier said than done.
"We started the project in June and we sent back our analysis a few weeks ago to NASA. On July 23, they sent us an email confirming that we had identified a near-Earth object," Vekariya, who is 15 years old, told CNN.
“We had tagged around 20 objects of which this one proved lucky. We have given it a random name at present and we may get an opportunity to name the asteroid once its orbit is confirmed by NASA. It may, however, take a few years’ time,” the two budding scientists told the Times of India.
The object was confirmed by IASC director Dr Patrick Miller in an email to SPACE, saying: “In the last campaign, your team reported HLV2514 as a new asteroid. It is, in fact, a near-Earth object (NEO). This NEO is near the planet Mars, and over time (~10^6 years) will evolve into an Earth-crossing asteroid. Mars-crossing asteroids are called Amors. Earth-crossing asteroids are called Apollos. Congratulations!!"
The effort to discover near-Earth asteroids and comets is very important. The vast majority of bodies that could be considered as world-ending have been classified, but there are still many dangerous ones to be found.