Two 13-YEAR-OLDS from Vikhe Patil Memorial School in Lohegaon are being credited with the discovery of six preliminary asteroids. Arya Pulate and Shreya Waghmare took part in the Kalam Centre Asteroid Search Campaign organised by Kalam Centre in association with International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), under which participants got the opportunity to locate near-Earth objects or main-belt asteroids.
Chasing her passion towards the study of space and celestial bodies, Pulate utilised her time at home to attend online webinars and courses on astronomy. “I was attending webinars and courses organised by Homi Labs. I attended one called the ‘Making of an astronaut’ with Sunita Williams and the talk inspired me,” she said.
While doing an online course on interstellar travel, Pulate chanced upon the Kalam Centre Asteroid Search Campaign and enrolled herself. “It had to be a team of two, so I teamed up with my friend Shreya,” she said.
After rigorous selection, both were part of the worldwide event organised from November 9 to December 3. “We were trained and guided through online meetings with members of the Kalam Centre. We were introduced to a software called Astrometrica, which we had to put on our devices; it helped us locate celestial bodies,” Waghmare said.
The team, named SLV III, got practice image sets taken by Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) located at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, US. Subsequently, they received real-time images of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, in which they had to locate moving objects. “It was rather interesting as we were told to look out for black spots that moved or changed positions. We then had to tag what we felt were asteroids. We had to use letters and numbers to name them. I remember naming one ‘AVP2007’, which is my initials and year of birth,” Pulate said.
Waghmare said factors such as signal to noise ratio (SNR), line graphs and comparisons between images helped them locate the asteroids. “Arya and I divided the sets we received. We sometimes shared online screens to locate together and tried to avoid keeping a backlog. We made a report as soon as we detected what could be an asteroid, or its shadow,” she said.
Pulate said although the experience of discovering asteroids was exciting, she has been passionate about space since she read about Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. “After I read about Kalam, I was intrigued with what lies in the vast cosmos. I have a telescope and I keep a track of any celestial movement, such as the Great Conjunction. While I am still debating between becoming an astronaut and a scientist, I do want to study more about wormholes, black holes, exoplanets, and also aliens that are extraterrestrial beings,” she said.
Waghmare said her interest in space was in the stars and the moon cycle. “I always keep a lookout for the moon and its different phases. After this campaign, I am definitely opting for similar campaigns that will help me broaden my horizon,” she said.
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