New NASA programme to protect Earth from asteroids, comets

  • NASA has started a new programme for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) — comets and asteroids that pass by the Earth’s orbit — to ward off any potential impact threats to our planet.

  • More than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes have been discovered to date — over 95 per cent of them since NASA-funded surveys began in 1998. About 1,500 NEOs are now detected each year.
  • The Planetary Defence Coordination Office will take a leading role in coordinating inter-agency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats.
  • In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, based on credible science data.
  • Astronomers detect near-Earth objects using ground-based telescopes around the world as well as NASA’s space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope.
  • Tracking data are provided to a global database maintained by the Minor Planet Centre.
  • Once detected, orbits are precisely predicted and monitored by the Centre for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
  • Select NEOs are further characterised by assets such as NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility, Spitzer Space Telescope and interplanetary radars operated by NASA and the National Science Foundation.
  • With more than 90 per cent of NEOs larger than one kilometre already discovered, NASA is now focused on finding objects that are slightly bigger than a football field — 140 metres or larger.

 

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