NASA Prepares Planetary Defense And No, It’s Not Against Aliens

Amidst growing concern about near-Earth objects, NASA is setting up a well-funded Planetary Defense Coordination Office to deal with the possibility of Earth being struck by an asteroid.

In what is dubbed the “unlikely” event of an asteroid heading too close to Earth, NASA is making preparations to save the planet from such a potential apocalyptic collision.

There have been several Hollywood movies about Earth being threatened by asteroids and other approaching space bodies, including Deep Impact from back in 1998 and The Apocalypse from 2007, but this time it is the real deal. If an asteroid comes close to clipping our planet, NASA will be ready and aware via its Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

This response by NASA comes at a time when scientists are discovering just how many asteroids, comets and pieces of space junk are out there, potentially threatening Earth.

Back in 2010, NASA spent $4 million on its program to track asteroids and other objects in near-space. In 2012, they reportedly received $20.4 million and in 2014 NASA’s budget doubled to $40 million.

However, according to a statement by NASA there is going to be a much larger budget available in 2016, with $50 million going towards setting up the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

One might ask, if it is unlikely for Earth to be struck by a passing asteroid, why budget so much to prevent it happening? However, according to scientists, collision-course concerns are a matter of scale and not likelihood.

According to Leonard David in a article from July 2010, “There is a growing choir of concern regarding Near Earth Objects, or NEOs – spotting them and dealing with any Earth-threatening gatecrashers.”

He went on to say that while the probability of the “Earth being struck by a huge asteroid or comet is small,” the potential consequences of such a collision are “so calamitous that it is prudent to appraise the nature of the threat and prepare to deal with it.”

John Grunsfeld, an administrator at the Washington-based NASA Science Mission Directorate said in a report, “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.”

As reported by CNN, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office will include the position of Planetary Defense Officer, which sounds like a really cool title. The office’s mission will include the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs), including asteroids and comets which get within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth’s orbit around the sun (7.5 million kilometers) and are large enough — i.e. greater than around 30 – 50 meters (98 – 164 feet) — to reach the Earth’s surface.

Planetary Defense must also track and issue warnings and will even try to redirect the potential threats. Should it be too late to redirect them and a potential dangerous object is hurtling towards the surface of the Earth, the team will then coordinate with the U.S. government in an effort to respond to the impact threat.

Currently near-Earth objects (NEOs) are detected by astronomers using ground-based telescopes worldwide, along with NASA’s space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope.

With the introduction of the new NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office, we can all feel a little safer, and who knows, if ET does decide to visit the Earth, we should at least get a warning in advance.

[Photo via NASA/Public Domain]