Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if an asteroid could come crashing down on everyone, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake?

Well, if it is up to Nasa and South African science process developer Olorato Mosiane, that will never happen.

Mosiane is one of the young scientists working on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, and he’s one of only 12 planetary and data science graduates who are currently attending NASA’s summer workshop on asteroid defence.

As part of the Young Professionals Development Programme (YPDP), the group is at the Nasa Frontier Development Lab (FDL), and has been tasked to come up with solutions to the threat of asteroid impacts.

“Asteroids that collide with Earth are one cosmic danger that it’s now possible to mitigate. As part of the ongoing challenge, NASA engaged Trillium Technologies to devise a workshop to radically accelerate the development of new analytic tools to aid mitigation of a potential impact,” Nasa explained.

Trillium co-founder and Director, James Parr, explains why the programme is so important.

“Grand challenges, such as detecting and characterising the potentially hazardous asteroids we can’t see, demand ingenious new applications of emerging technologies,” says Parr. “With FDL, we aimed to create a platform combining emerging talent in machine learning and planetary science to find genuinely new methodologies for planetary defence.”

Mosiane is originally from Mafikeng in the North West, and is busy with his master’s degree in astrophysics at North West University as part of the SKA SA’s graduate development programme. In terms of his work at SKA, he focuses on machine learning applications in detecting and mitigating radio frequency interference.

For FDL, he is part of Team New Tools, which according to Nasa is aimed at “creating three-dimensional shape models of asteroids using radar data and optical light curves.”

This is important works, since its aim is to improve the speed and automation of radar shape modelling by using machine learning and other techniques.

Having a part of SKA in our backyard is pretty cool, but it is really awesome that we can train young scientists in the US at Nasa, so that they can bring that knowledge back home.

[Image – CC by 2.0/3D shoot]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.