This amazing video is significant on a couple of fronts. First it shows how much other stuff we share our solar system with. Second it is a lovely visualization of seeing, learning and becoming aware. It is the sum total of what humans know about asteroids in our solar system, and like all good learning it gets better over time as we perfect patterns and then ways of seeing and understanding. And like all good learning, it takes and becomes memory, knowledge and then part of our everyday experience.
Over 30 years of constant and repeated practice with constant improvement and inquiry, this is the kind of discovery tat can be wrought. The purest form of discovery: finding things that have always been there.
And here is a more technical explanation of what you are seeing here:
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.
Currently we have observed over half a million minor planets, and the discovery rates snow no sign that we’re running out of undiscovered objects.