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Project Asteroids@home

Asteroids@home is a volunteer distributed computing project developed at the Astronomical Institute, Charles University in Prague, in cooperation with Radim Vančo from CzechNationalTeam. The project is directed by Josef Durech. It runs on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) software platform and uses power of volunteers' computers to solve the lightcurve inversion problem for many asteroids.

Why distributed computing?

With huge amount of photometric data coming from big all-sky surveys as well as from backyard astronomers, the lightcurve inversion becomes a computationaly demanding process. In the future, we can expect even more data from surveys that are either already operating (PanSTARRS) or under construction (Gaia, LSST). Moreover, data from surveys are often sparse in time, which means that the rotation period - the basic physical parameter - cannot be estimated from the data easily. Contrary to classical lightcurves where the period is "visible" in the data, a wide interval of all possible periods has to be scanned densely when analysing sparse data. This fact enormously enlarges the computational time and the only practical way to efficiently handle photometry of hundreds of thousands of asteroids is to use distributed computing. Moreover, the problem is ideal for parallelization - the period interval can be divided into smaller parts that are searched separately and then the results are joined together.

Why to study asteroids?

The large discrepancy between the huge number of all known asteroids and the small number of those with known basic physical parameters (shape, spin, period) is a strong motivation for further research.Knowing the physical properties of a significant part of the asteroid population is necessary for understanding the origin and evolution of the whole solar system.Thermal emission of small asteroids can significantly change their orbit (Yarkovsky efect), which can be crucial for predicting the probability of their collision with the Earth. To be able to compute how the thermal emission affects the orbit, we have to know the spin (and also the shape, to a certain extent) of the object.

Scientific objectives

The aim of the project is to derive shapes and spin for a significant part of the asteroid population. As input data, we use any asteroid photometry that is available. The results are asteroid convex shape models with the direction of the spin axis and the rotation period. The models will be published in peer-reviewed journals and then made public in the DAMIT database.

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