A team of Nigerians in Space Science, under the umbrella of Astronomers Without Borders Nigeria (AWBNigeria), a non-governmental organization responsible for popularizing Astronomy and spreading space science education, awareness and developments in Nigeria, were among those who discovered asteroids during the just concluded asteroid search campaign organized by International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), a NASA affiliate under which this search campaign was carried out. The Nigerian team made these discoveries through analyzing some image sets by using a special computer software called Astrometrical. These image data are taken by the PAN – STARRS, a telescope at the University of Hawaii.
These asteroid search campaigns allow participants around the world to make important discoveries of Main Belt asteroids (MBAs) and occasionally of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Image data for general asteroid search campaigns are provided by the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at the University of Hawaii. IfA uses the 1.8-m Pan-STARRS telescope located on Haleakalā to take images along the ecliptic where most asteroids are found.
The AWB Nigeria team, led by Miracle Chibuzor Marcel, a graduate of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, had participants ranging from university undergraduates and young professionals from diverse STEM backgrounds, drawn from different parts of the country.
The team had to undergo a training on the use of the asteroid search software by the team leader and thereafter, the image sets were downloaded and analyzed accordingly. During the entire search window, twenty-seven sets of images were received by the team at different time intervals, out of which tens of unknown moving asteroids were detected. At the end of the campaign, it was confirmed that the Nigeria team has made three preliminary discoveries of 3 different asteroids: P11iDr9, P11iEYU and P11iEZq.
Team Nigeria received accolades from Cassidy Davis, the IASC coordinator for their efforts. In the coming months, their observations will undergo further studies which include determining the asteroids’ orbits and orbital parameters, after which the discoverers will finally have the opportunity to name their discoveries.
According to available information on International Preliminaries, it was observed that Nigeria, Ghana and Benin Republic, which were trained by the AWB Team leader, were the only African countries that participated from the Sub Saharan region. These countries also made preliminary discoveries. The AWB team hopes to coordinate more African countries to be a part of future asteroids search.
Asteroids pose a very big danger to the lives on Earth as their orbits change significantly. One of them could someday head towards Earth. A typical instance of this is the Mount Everest sized Asteroid which hit and eliminated all the dinosaurs off the coast of Mexico 6.5 million years ago. More recently, in 2013, a NEO exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia injuring more than a thousand people. That is why this campaign is very important to NASA.