Report calls for improved asteroid detection

Mindy Sparks
June 22, 2018

A new multiagency report outlines how the US could become better prepared for near-Earth objects - asteroids and comets whose orbits come within 30 million miles of Earth - otherwise known as NEOs.

In addition to enhancing NEO detection, tracking and characterizing capabilities and improving modeling prediction, the plan also aims to develop technologies for deflecting NEOs, increasing worldwide cooperation and establishing new NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols.

"The nation already has significant scientific, technical and operation capabilities that are relevant to asteroid impact prevention", Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defence officer said in a statement.

These smaller rocks might not be true "planet killers", but they could still cause some serious damage if they end up on a collision course with the Earth.

The full proposal is a 20 page document entitled "The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan", and mostly deals with addressing the fact that Earth as a whole doesn't have a firm, singular plan in the event of a legitimate Near-Earth Object (NEO) strike. Slightly more than 800 are 140m or bigger. The preparedness plan involves all Near-Earth Objects (NEO) these are large space rocks that are within 30 million miles of the planet and might strike Earth. But such short notice would give the world time, at least, to evacuate the area it might hit, he said.

Ground telescopes are good at picking up asteroids zooming into the inner solar system and approaching from the night side of Earth, Johnson said. What's hard to detect are rocks that have already zipped past the sun and are heading out of the solar system, approaching from the day side.

According to the report, casualties could be in the millions if a similar event struck NY.

A giant space rock wiped out the dinosaurs when it smacked into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula some 65 million years ago. Over the next 10 years, NASA and other USA agencies like FEMA and NOAA are hoping to get a more solid strategy together.

It will also develop technologies for NEO deflection and disruption missions, increase worldwide cooperation on NEO preparation, as well as establish NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocol, the statement said.

When asked where the funding for this would come from, Miles said that the plan comes largely from existing resources in the USA government, but it's about utilizing those resources and monies in a smarter and more efficient way.

The bottom line, officials said, is the US government wants to be prepared to decide which action is best if needed. NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft will reach the asteroid Bennu later this year and return samples in 2023, and Japan's Hyabusa 2 is closing in on the asteroid Ryugu, with samples to be returned in 2020. But beyond this, there are some plans to actually destroy asteroids in new ways, which include using robots to take down an NEO heading this way - unlike most science fiction movies, there are no plans to send a crack team of astronauts to blow up the meteor themselves. Missions like this lasting months or years make it hard if not impossible for humans, given current technology, he noted.

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