Saving the Earth from your backyard
Over the last few hundred years, we've discovered more than 12,000 so-called "near-Earth objects" - bodies which pass within 1.3 AU of the Sun. However, this is only a fraction of the objects out there and Earth's history has shown us that encounters with such space rocks can result in dramatic effects on our world. Increasingly, large surveys such as NEOWISE are dominating the hunt for the next killer object, but that doesn't mean you can't help!
What Can You Do?
Even a relatively small telescope can help refine the orbits of asteroids nearby to the Earth. By contributing observations to the Minor Planet Center, amateur astronomers help researchers better predict the trajectories of these elusive objects. To aid in this effort, I developed a freely-available software package called PhAst, which streamlines the process of collecting the relevant data and accurately reporting it to the MPC. PhAst has been used at Kitt Peak National Observatory to help process followup observations for dozens of near-Earth objects and remains in use today. In addition to providing support for these observations, PhAst is also among the most powerful IDL-based astronomical image manipulation programs, with a wide variety of possible applications.