Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) have discovered more than 1,000 trails that probably originate from previously unknown asteroids.
They searched through archive data from the Hubble Space Telescope from the past 20 years, as the institute in Garching near the southern German city of Munich announced. The findings could provide insights into the conditions in the early solar system.
Data was analysed that is otherwise filtered out as noise or interference in most observations. "One astronomer’s trash can be another astronomer’s treasure," said Sandor Kruk, head of the asteroid study.
The detective work combined human and artificial intelligence: First, some 11,500 volunteer lay scientists helped identify clues to asteroids in the more than 37,000 composite images. The astronomers used this to train a machine-learning algorithm that continued to search through the remaining archival data.
The final dataset contained 1,701 trails, according to MPE. A good third were assigned to known asteroids, leaving 1,031 unidentified trails that are now being investigated in more detail.
The objects were probably smaller than typical asteroids detected from the ground, it said. But they had a similar speed and distribution in the sky to those in the so-called asteroid belt, it said.
"The asteroids are remnants from the formation of our solar system, which means that we can learn more about the conditions when our planets were born," said study leader Kruk.
By December 10, 2021, more than 1.1 million comets and asteroids in our solar system had been listed by the Minor Planet Centre, according to the study authors. It collects such discoveries made worldwide.