Click the video below to watch an illuminating animation of all of the asteroids we’ve discovered since 1980. Then hold your loved one/puppy/Nintendo DS tight as the 5th to 500,000th rocks from the sun get thicker, and closer, and thicker, and closer…
The animation was apparently posted before it was completely finished, prompting its creator, Slashdot user “szyzyg,” to offer up explanation of the cooler bits in the video:
Many of the discoveries in the 1980s were still made visually by minor planet hunters who knew what they were looking for. One of the earliest “bursts” in the video is most likely related to observations of Jupiter searching for new moons around the giant planet, they’d look for objects moving on the plates and then make an orbit determination to see if it was a moon, it’s waaaaay cooler to find a moon since they’re a rarer commodity, but if you merely find an asteroid at least you get a chance to name it.
By the time we get to the mid 1990’s we start to see automated sky search programmes like LINEAR, LONEOS, Spacewatch and the Catalina Sky Survey and these are primarily searching for asteroids in opposition since they’re closer to Earth and at peak brightness so you can see a discovery cluster radiating out from the Earth.
In the last 8 months you see WISE which is a satellite performing a full sky survey in the infrared, its scans the sky at 90 degrees to the sun, so its discovery pattern is very distinctive.
This is why we can’t have nice dinosaurs.