Mumbai: IIT-B students who discovered closest asteroid to Earth recognised by ASI
Three students of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), who had last year discovered the closest asteroid to have crossed the Earth without touching it, have been recognised by the Astronomical Society of India (ASI).
Kritti Sharma, Kunal Deshmukh and Harsh Kumar received special mention under the ‘New Discovery Award 2020’ from the ASI. In August last year, the students discovered an SUV-sized asteroid that soared barely 2,950 km above the surface of the Earth. Named ‘2020 QG’, this was then the closest known asteroid to fly by the planet without impacting it.
On August 16, the students, who are part of a large international collaboration searching for Near-Earth Asteroids, discovered this object just hours after it passed by the Earth using data from the robotic Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in California.
While this record was surpassed by a comet 2020 VT4 discovered by the ATLAS telescope system in November 2020, the students at IIT-B have been recognised by the ASI, one of the largest groups of professional astronomers in the country.
“It is nice to be recognised. It encourages us to continue our work in the field,” said Sharma, a 21-year-old hailing from Panchkula in Haryana.
“Kunal Deshmukh and Kritti Sharma, students at the IIT-B, play an essential role in asteroid discovery using the Caltech Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in California. They scan images for candidate asteroids in near-real-time as they are taken by ZTF and consequently allow very fast identification of exciting asteroids such as 2020 QG. Fast identification is essential so that other telescopes around the world can perform follow-up observations to determine the orbit of the asteroid. If it were not for their work, 2020 QG would have only been found hours later, losing crucial time for additional observations,” said Thomas Prince, Ira S Bowen, professor of physics; Allen VC Davis and Lenabelle Davis, leadership chair, Keck Institute for Space Studies; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, senior research scientist and director, WM Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech.
IIT-B director Subhasis Chaudhuri said, “The trio routinely uses the GROWTH-India telescope to image and verify asteroid candidates found in sky surveys, and report the results to the Minor Planet Centre of the International Astronomical Union. Between them, they have discovered over 43 asteroids in the last one and a half years, with more being added each week.”