The new department will focus on avoiding asteroid collisions
(Mirror Daily, United States) – Earth is in better hands, as NASA created a new department for planetary defense that will gather all related organizations under its wing. Now, all those who are working toward monitoring space objects will be together. Hopefully, that means more efficiency and speed in detecting potential threats.
According to John Grunsfeld from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, the agency and interagency partners take the matter very seriously. That means no ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Deep Impact’ jokes. After incidences like the 2013 Chelyabink fireball and the more recent ‘Halloween Asteroid’, they are making a better effort to not be caught unprepared again.
The asteroid that flew by Earth on October 31st was relatively unknown until it was close to our planet. In fact, its discovery was worryingly slow, and the consequences are better left unsaid if it would’ve resulted in an impact. Thankfully, it was not the case. NASA is preparing for such ‘sudden’ appearance to never occur again.
That is why they now have officially unveiled the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) that will overtake NASA’s efforts of detecting near-Earth objects (NEOs). That means that others who have been tasked with similar jobs, such as JPL’s Near Earth Object Program, the NEOWISE infrared telescope, and several others will work under the new PDCO.
It’s estimated that there currently are 13,500 NEOs already discovered. A good majority of them, 95%, have been found since NASA-funded surveys started undertaking the mission back in 1998. Today, there are around 1,500 new NEOs discovered each year, tracked, and well researched into their patterns. Along with it arrives information about their potential collision with our planet.
According to the space agency, 90% of all the large NEOs are discovered, meaning those that are well above 3,000 feet (1 km). However, it’s been suggested that only 25% of mid-size NEOs have been so far tracked, which means space objects of 450 feet (140 m) or larger.
Enter the new PDCO.
The new planetary defense strategy will be focused on finding the rest of the NEOs that have been so far neglected. In fact, their 2020 goal is to discover and successfully track a minimum of 90% of all mid-sized asteroids or comets within our solar system. Better efforts will be directed at finding these NEOs and avoiding surprise encounters, even if they are innocent fly-bys.
The PDCO’s responsibilities will also stretch toward developing tools that will deflect or redirect potential threats to our planet. If such a measure will not be available, they will also be in charge with notifying other government agencies with the timing, location, and potential effects of the impact.
Reportedly, the 2016 year budget for NEOs detection and observation reached $50 million, so more research will hopefully be underway soon.
Image source: dlr.de