Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Code Red

NASA tracks asteroids as part of its everyday duties, with, among other things, an aim at determining which ones stand even the slightest chance of hitting Earth, how much of a chance, and the ETA just in case they do. The problem is, when an asteroid does whizz by Earth, odds are good that it's actually an asteroid NASA hadn't even picked up. It kind of wrecks everything to smithereens when the asteroids you most need to know about are the ones you can't pick up with your current methods.

So NASA, somewhat lacking for a solution, has decided to go the X-prize route. They're putting up a bounty for a way to better detect the close-range asteroids in what they're calling the Asteroid Grand Challenge. The first phase of the challenge, Asteroid Data Hunter, kicks off on Monday and runs through August, split up into a series of sub-challenges. Here, what's being sought is an improved algorithm to sort through the images in ground-based telescopes and better find any asteroids that may be lurking in those images. To do this, you are going to need to know some coding; specifically, you'll need to be a member of TopCoder.

The opening challenge, which will close on April 2nd, will consist of NASA providing 180GB worth of data, and you are to write code that can reject false positives from a list of asteroid detections stemming from that data. Manage this better than anyone else, and you'll win $1,275; 2nd place will get $638. If it's particularly reliable, there's a $255 bonus on offer as well. The total purse for the entire contest is $35,000.

Alternatively, the contest could end when an asteroid the size of Cleveland smacks into us out of nowhere. So you may want to be quick with that coding.

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