During a project sponsored by Space India and NASA, two Indian schoolgirls discovered an asteroid slowly shifting its orbit and moving toward Earth.
Radhika Lakhani and Vaidehi Vekariya, both 10th grade students, were working on a school project when they discovered the asteroid, which they named HLV2514.
Hailing from the city of Surat in the western Indian state of Gujarat, both girls had participated in a Space India and NASA project, which allows students to analyze images taken by a telescope positioned at the University of Hawaii.
Aakash Dwivedi, senior educator and astronomer at Space India, said that students across India were taught how to spot the celestial bodies using software which analyzes images collected by NASA’s PAN Star telescope. Students then searched for moving objects in the pictures.
The project, Dwivedi said, was intended to involve and educate students in science and astronomy.
“We started the project in June and we sent back our analysis a few weeks ago to NASA. On July 23, they sent us an email confirming that we had identified a near Earth object,” said 15-year-old Vekariya.
Dwivedi explained that the asteroid is currently close to the orbit of Mars — but in 1 million years, it will change its orbit and move closer to Earth, although it will still be at a distance of more than 10 times the distance which exists between the Earth and the Moon.
“Asteroids are taken very seriously by NASA. Since this asteroid is changing its orbit it has become news,” said Dwivedi.
Vekariya said pupils could not celebrate the discovery, due to the pandemic, but added: “This was a dream. I want to become an astronaut.”