24/7 Space News
New Horizons team adds AI to Kuiper Belt Object search
A "stack" of images from one night of observing with the Subaru Telescope's Hyper Suprime-Cam, showing myriad stars that illustrate the difficulty of spotting an undiscovered Kuiper Belt object. The animation below shows movement - across the center-right of the frame - of a newly discovered KBO in one of these images.
New Horizons team adds AI to Kuiper Belt Object search
by Staff Writers
Laurel MD (SPX) Mar 16, 2023

By early 1930, Lowell Observatory junior astronomer Clyde Tombaugh had spent months poring over hundreds of telescopic photo plates in the search for a single moving object - which would turn out to be Pluto, the ninth planet.

Nearly a century later, the team that famously explored the planet Tombaugh discovered is expanding its own search for new targets of discovery - and doing it with technology that would have astounded Tombaugh.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft followed up its historic flyby of Pluto in 2015 with the first-ever close encounter with a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), called Arrokoth, in 2019-a billion miles beyond distant Pluto. Four years later the spacecraft is yet another billion miles farther out and continues to speed through the outer reaches of the solar system, now more than 5 billion miles from Earth. As New Horizons has crossed the Kuiper Belt, it has been taking advantage of its unique location and capabilities to study dozens of other KBOs in multiple ways that can't be done from Earth.

Key to this is discovering KBOs to study near the path of New Horizons. Those searches use two of the world's largest telescopes - the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory's Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile. The New Horizons team has enhanced these searches using artificial intelligence - machine learning data-analysis tools, developed in 2021 and refined last year, that dramatically increase the team's KBO detection rates over what human scouring of the data yielded in the past.

Using machine-learning AI software, science team members Wes Fraser and JJ Kavelaars of the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Center, National Research Council of Canada, have sped up and made those searches far more productive. This software employs a convolutional neural network, a deep-learning algorithm that can take an input image, assign importance to various objects in the image, and be able to differentiate one object from another. The team has applied its tool to data acquired with the giant Hyper Suprime-Cam camera on the Subaru Telescope, as part of a search for targets for the New Horizons spacecraft. "The software network's classification performance is extremely good, significantly cutting back on 'false' candidate sources," said Fraser. "An entire night's worth of search data requires only a few hours of human vetting. Compare that to the weeks it used to take to do this!"

Given its size and wide field-of-view - the largest of any operating giant telescope - the Subaru Telescope is the best tool on Earth for finding new KBOs for New Horizons to study or even fly by. The first search, in May-August 2020 (along with some follow-up time in October), produced about 87 new KBOs found in the direction New Horizons is traveling.

When the team reran 2020 search data through the AI software, it not only worked 100 times faster, but it turned up 67 more KBOs that human searchers had not found in the images. Some of those more than 100 newly detected, ancient KBOs are scheduled to be observed by the instrumentation aboard New Horizons through 2024.

Even further boosting the Subaru effort is a more efficient sky filter the mission provided for the telescope that began operations on Subaru in 2022.

"This is a new, game-changing tool we'll be taking advantage of for years to come," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

None of the KBOs found is close enough for New Horizons to fly closely past, but nearly 20 passed close enough (millions of miles) for the spacecraft to observe from a distance - revealing information on their surface properties, shapes, rotational periods, and close-in orbiting moons that could not be achieved by any other method except New Horizons.

On the prospect of a new flyby target KBO for New Horizons, team members point out that the search for such an object is a longshot - a cosmic needle-in-a-haystack challenge - but they also recall that the search for Arrokoth took four years, before they discovered Arrokoth.

"The potential for groundbreaking discoveries in another KBO flyby is too great, so we continue searching," said Stern. "We are in this for the long game, and AI is here to help!"

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute, in San Antonio and Boulder, Colorado, directs the mission via Principal Investigator Alan Stern, and leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Related Links
New Horizons
The million outer planets of a star called Sol

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
A new ring system discovered in our Solar System
Sheffield UK (SPX) Feb 09, 2023
Scientists have discovered a new ring system around a dwarf planet on the edge of the Solar System. The ring system orbits much further out than is typical for other ring systems, calling into question current theories of how ring systems are formed. The ring system is around a dwarf planet, named Quaoar, which is approximately half the size of Pluto and orbits the Sun beyond Neptune. The discovery, published in Nature, was made by an international team of astronomers using HiPERCAM - an ext ... read more

Virgin Orbit suspends operations, in wake of failed orbital launch

THE NEW GUYS: The Historic Class of Astronauts that Changed the Face of Space Travel

SpaceX cargo resupply mission CRS-27 scheduled for launch Tuesday

NASA SpaceX Crew-5 splashes down after 5-month mission

Rocket Lab launches 34th Electron in second mission from Virginia

World leading propulsion system now integrated onto Australian-made satellite

SpaceX lofts SES-18 and 19 C-Bands birds for US coverage

NASA connects all major structures of Artemis II Moon Rocket Core Stage

Engineers keep an eye on fuel supply of NASA's oldest Mars orbiter

Spring Past the Marker Band: Sols 3776-3777

Geologists Love a Good Contact: Sols 3773-3775

ExoMars rover testing moves ahead and deep down

China's Shenzhou-15 astronauts to return in June

China's space technology institute sees launches of 400 spacecraft

Shenzhou XV crew takes second spacewalk

China conducts ignition test in Mengtian space lab module

Astronomers sound alarm about light pollution from satellites

LeoLabs expands space safety coverage with new site in Argentina.

Satellite constellations multiply on profit hopes, geopolitics

HawkEye 360's latest satellite cluster begins operation

Ultrafast beam-steering breakthrough at Sandia Labs

ReOrbit Signs a Deal With SatixFy to Co-Develop the On-Board Processor for ReOrbit's Highly Flexible Software-Defined Satellite Gluon

MIT 3D-printed revolving devices can sense how they are moving

Venezuela, China, Biden and extraterrestrials: the disinformation of AI

Scientists have new tool to estimate how much water might be hidden beneath a planet's surface

RNA base in asteroid samples suggests origins of life on Earth

Terminator zones on distant planets could harbor life

Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer could reveal chemistry leading to life on Titan

New Horizons team discusses discoveries from the Kuiper Belt

New Horizons team adds AI to Kuiper Belt Object search

Study finds ocean currents may affect rotation of Europa's icy crust

Inspiring mocktail menu served up by Space Juice winners

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.