Young researchers hunt asteroids in Portuguese school

Six students, ages 12 and 13, participating in the Asteroid Search Campaign, have contributed to confirm the discovery of an asteroid and helped determine the orbit of another one. The International Asteroid Search Campaign is a project promoted by the Hardin-Simmons University in collaboration with Hands-on Universe. “My students are very excited”, describes the proud teacher, Ana Costa, while humbly accepting the congratulations for the well done work. "Gladly", she adds, "even the parents are now cooperating in the research."

Portugese kids - asteroid discoverers


The International Asteroid Search Campaign is a program for high school and college students who search real-time astronomical images for original discoveries or to help determine more accurately previously known asteroid orbits. Students download the images on a daily basis, perform the analysis with provided software tools, and report their discoveries, which ultimately are recognized by the Minor Planet Center (Harvard University) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

This project is promoted by Hardin-Simmons University (Abilene, Texas) in partnership with the Lawrence Hall of Science (Hands-On Universe, University of Caligornia at Berkeley), Global Hands-on Universe Associates, Astronomical Research Institute (Charleston, Illinois), and Astrometrica (H. Raab, Austria) with the support of Prof. Patrick Miller.

Proud with the discoveries of the various participating schools worldwide Prof. Miller explains that the contribution of the students is very important to the scientists. Students are able to confirm the existence of objects know as “Near Earth Objects” (NEO) and help improving calculations of the orbits of already known NEO. 

Many of the objects identified by students are already known by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA, Pasadena, California) and the Minor Planet Center. Their orbits bring them close to our planet and they might pose a threat. The fact that their existence is known does not mean that their orbits are well determined. To predict more precisely their paths, scientists need more observations. Since they don’t know the exact trajectory, new detections of the objects are crucial. Students participating in these campaigns play a major role by re-encountering already known asteroids, thus helping determine their orbits more accurately.

This was precisely what the six hunters in the Portuguese school Escola Secundária de Alvide have done. One of the objects they tracked as an asteroid was “2008 EC69”, whose orbit’s first prediction appeared to pose a threat to our planet. This observation helped eliminate the asteroid from the list of potentially dangerous NEO.  The other object was the “2008 GJ110”. Their observations contributed to confirm its discovery and their names appear now in the “Minor Planet Electronic Circular” (, as successful asteroid hunters!

Needless to say that the students interest for science has gained a total new dimension. This experience will be in these student’s hearts forever. Their enthusiasm will be forever in their teacher memory. “We are a group of six students and a teacher in our Science Club”, describes Ana Costa. “They can handle the computer far better than I do. I am glad I could give my students such an opportunity”.

Being part of the HOU family was fundamental to achieve this. Ana Costa was tutored by Leonor Cabral, one of our TRAs (Teacher Resource Agent). Leonor herself has had similar experiences with her students and helps disseminate successful projects in other schools. We thank both teachers for their excellent example of tutoring the new generation, and for giving a perfect example on how to build a new trend in education, a new paradigm in science education at schools.

This time the stars were the six boys: Carlos Filipe, Fábio André, Hugo Miguel, Mário Alexandre, Miguel Duarte and Rui Bernardo. Who knows who will be next!