Art by Minami Seira

Video Created by Scott Manley

This is a view of the solar system showing the locations of all the asteroids starting in 1980, as asteroids are discovered they are added to the map and highlighted white so you can pick out the new ones. The final colour of an asteroids indicates how closely it comes to the inner solar system.

Earth Crossers are Red
Earth Approachers (Perihelion less than 1.3AU) are Yellow
All Others are Green

Notice now the pattern of discovery follows the Earth around its orbit, most discoveries are made in the region directly opposite the Sun. You’ll also notice some clusters of discoveries on the line between Earth and Jupiter, these are the result of surveys looking for Jovian moons. Similar clusters of discoveries can be tied to the other outer planets, but those are not visible in this video.

As the video moves into the mid 1990’s we see much higher discovery rates as automated sky scanning systems come online. Most of the surveys are imaging the sky directly opposite the sun and you’ll see a region of high discovery rates aligned in this manner.

At the beginning of 2010 a new discovery pattern becomes evident, with discovery zones in a line perpendicular to the Sun-Earth vector. These new observations are the result of the WISE (Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer) which is a space mission that’s tasked with imaging the entire sky in infrared wavelengths.

The scale of the video at 1080P resolution is roughly 1million kilometers per pixel, and each second of video corresponds to 60 days.

Currently we have observed over half a million minor planets, and the discovery rates show no sign that we’re running out of undiscovered objects, scientific estimates suggest that there are about a billion asteroids larger than 100metres (about the size of a football field) .

Orbital elements were taken from the ‘astorb.dat’ data created by Ted Bowell and associates at

Music is ‘Transgenic’ by Trifonic – they’re awesome guys, give them some love.

Check out todays asteroid map

Quite a few journalists, bloggers and tweeters are attributing this to NASA or Arecibo Observatory – while they do fine work they had nothing to do with this. If you write a story you can credit it to Scott Manley.

[Thanks to Feannag]

6 thoughts on “Asteroid Discovery: 1980 – 2010

  1. I saw this video a few days ago and loved it, it gave me one of those “we are really just a small part of the universe and we’re supremely lucky to still be here” moments.

    I love finding new music from odd locations; I’ve been listening to Trifonic pretty much none stop since watching this video.

  2. that’s actually quite interesting, or scary (the earth crossers). Have there always been that many naturally? or it just seems many after we’ve developed more advanced methods to observe them?

    It’s like on earth itself, hurricanes/twisters/earthquakes, are just a natural way in which nature disperses the energy that is built up in 1 region. It just seems to be disastrous and devastating ‘cos man has planted himself in that dispersion path, no?

    1. You ask a very important question. It must be due to new systems “These new observations are the result of the WISE (Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer) which is a space mission that’s tasked with imaging the entire sky in infrared wavelengths.”

      We’ll be fine though, the date for 2012 is not accurate apparently ๐Ÿ˜›

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