Nasa’s new program will face the threat of deadly near-Earth objects head on.
Washington based Planetary Defense Coordination Office will spearhead the ongoing search for asteroids and comets passing near Earth’s orbit, and will work with disaster relief agencies to develop emergency response plans.
The space agency says there are no known threats to date, but near approaches in the recent past are reminders of the potential hazards.
A strike from a mid to large sized asteroid or comet would have catastrophic effects around the world; it’s widely thought that a comet strike spurred the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Nasa’s new Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) will operate within the Planetary Science Division, in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington, according to Phys.org.
The office will work to characterize any potential impact threats.
Each year, roughly 1,500 near-Earth objects (NEOs) are identified, and more than 13,500 have been discovered since the Nasa-funded searches began in 1998.
Nasa has already identified more than 90 percent of NEOs larger than 1 kilometer, and has turned its sights on smaller, football field-sized objects.
‘Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,’ said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
‘While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent ‘Halloween Asteroid’ close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.’
The PDCO will expand upon existing partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Defense, among other U.S. and international agencies.
The space agency is working with the European Space Agency Asteroid Impact and deflection Assessment to develop methods for deflecting or redirecting hazardous objects that make me on course to strike Earth.
In the event of any pertinent discoveries, like an upcoming close pass or potential impact, the office will issue notices and coordinate response plans.
‘The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,’ said Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive for the office, with the title of Planetary Defense Officer.’
The new program is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
‘NSF welcomes the increased visibility afforded to this critical activity,’ said Nigel Sharo, program director in the agency’s Division of Astronomical Sciences.
‘We look forward to continuing the fruitful collaboration across the agencies to bring all of our resources—both ground-based and space-based—to the study of this important problem.’
The PDCO will also be preparing for circumstances in which impact cannot be prevented. In such a case, Nasa will provide information regarding impact time, location, and effects to FEMA, who would then prepare an emergency response.
‘FEMA is dedicated to protecting against all hazards, and the launch of the coordination office will ensure early detection and warning capability, and will further enhance FEMA’s collaborative relationship with NASA,’ said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
Talks of a centralized asteroid-detecting program have been underway for years, and now, a recently passed $50 million budget for 2016 will go towards NEO observation and planetary defense.