Rocks… In… Spaaaaaace

You know those odd features in some SDSS images that look like intergalactic traffic lights?

examples of asteroids in SDSS images

Stop! Asteroid Time.

They aren’t intergalactic at all: they’re asteroids on the move in our own solar system. They move slowly compared to satellite trails (which look more like #spacelasers), but they often move quickly enough that they’ve shifted noticeably between the red, green, and blue exposures that make up the images in SDSS/Galaxy Zoo. When the images from each filter are aligned and combined, the moving asteroid dots its way colorfully across part of the image.

These objects are a source of intense study for some astronomers and planetary scientists, and the SDSS Moving Object Catalog gives the properties of over 100,000 of them. Planetary astronomer Alex Parker, who studies asteroids, has made a video showing their orbits.

I find their orbits mesmerizing, and there’s quite a lot of science in there too, with the relative sizes illustrated by the point sizes, and colors representing different asteroid compositions and families. There’s more information at the Vimeo page (and thanks to Amanda Bauer for posting the video on her awesome blog).

One of the most common questions we receive about asteroids from Galaxy Zoo volunteers is whether there will ever be a citizen science project to find them. So far, as the catalog linked above shows, the answer has been that computers are pretty good at finding asteroids, so there hasn’t been quite the need for your clicks… yet. There are some asteroids that are a little more difficult to spot, and those we’d really like to spot are quite rare, so stay tuned for a different answer to the question in the future. And in the meantime, enjoy the very cool show provided by all those little traffic lights traversing their way around our solar system.

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3 responses to “Rocks… In… Spaaaaaace”

  1. Bob Zinn says :

    How about some keyboard shortcuts? I HATE needing to ‘click on buttons’ when pressing a key on the keyboard could do it easily.
    I strongly suggest that zooniverse projects NEVER require clicking on anything that is not selecting a point in an image.
    In other words, map some keys to the buttons so that we can use one hand on our mouse to select points in an image and one hand on our keyboard to tell the project what to do next.

    WHY is this not being done???????

    It makes things SO much easier.

    Of course, I can, and often do, use a program like ‘AutoHotKey’ to define hot keys that will click on particular buttons, but this take time and doesn’t work well when the buttons might move around on the screen under some circumstances.ioneqeeuq_

    • Brooke Simmons says :

      Hi Bob,

      I agree, keyboard shortcuts are pretty awesome. A lot of new Zooniverse projects do have them, though it depends on the project. It’s likely the Zooniverse developers won’t have a lot of development time to spare for adding those features to older projects, but the good news is that that kind of update isn’t limited to Zooniverse developers! Most of our project code is on GitHub, so if you really, really want to add your own shortcuts to Galaxy Zoo, you can fork the GZ repository, add the features you want, and then submit a pull request. That has been done for one or two projects and it’s a great example of open collaboration. (


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