This amazing little video charts the location of every asteroid discovered since 1980. As we move into the 1990s, the rate of discovery picks up quite dramatically because we’re now working with vastly improved sky scanning systems. And that means that you will especially want to watch the second half of the video. Below the jump, I’ve pasted some more information that explains what you’re seeing. Thanks to @WesAlwan and Mike for sending this great little clip our way.
“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.
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.”
This explanatory text comes from this YouTube page.
Interesting. I wonder how they keep track of all of those random pieces of rock floating around our solar system?