Though our planet is in no immediate danger, NASA has a contingency plan and is prepared to deal with the eventuality that a near-Earth object (NEO) might come too close to us and crash on Earth’s surface.
During a teleconference hosted earlier today at 1 p.m. EDT (17:00 GMT), the space agency unveiled a 20-page report describing the course of action that can prevent a possible near-Earth object from becoming a threat to our planet, Space.com reports.
“While no known NEOs currently pose significant risks of impact, the report is a key step to addressing a nationwide response to any future risks,” NASA officials said in a statement.
NEOs are defined as asteroids or comets that buzz our planet from as close as 30 million miles of its surface. NASA has been keeping tabs on these close-approaching celestial bodies ever since the 1970s and has contributed to the discovery of more than 95 percent of all known NEOs.
According to Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, scientists have detected more than 18,300 NEOs to date, and only around 8,000 of these bodies measure more than 328 feet (100 meters), notes FOX News.
NASA notes that the chances of one of these near-Earth objects hitting our planet are very low. However, the space agency has come up with a five-step strategy to ensure that Earth is protected “in case this type of very low-probability but very high-consequence natural disaster should occur.”
Detect, Predict, Deflect/Disrupt, Prepare, Enact
Titled “The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan,” the 20-page document presented today outlines five strategic goals meant to increase our understanding of NEOs and to make sure we are prepared in the event of an emergency situation.
“The document identifies actions to enhance the federal government’s coordination and preparedness posture during the next 10 years to address potential hazard posed by NEOs,” NASA officials stated in a news release announcing today’s teleconference.
- The first goal on the five-item list is enhancing the detection of these objects, by improving the way NEOs are tracked and characterized.
- The space agency shows that another top priority should be the improvement of modeling predictions that detail the orbits and trajectories of NEOs.
- In case a potentially dangerous NEO is detected, NASA plans to have in place mission strategies to either deflect (change course) or disrupt (break apart) the object.
- To make sure that Earth is kept safe from a potential asteroid impact, the space agency proposes intensified international cooperation on NEO preparation.
- Last but not least, NASA points out that NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols need to be established.
“The nation already has significant scientific, technical and operation capabilities that are relevant to asteroid impact prevention,” said Johnson.
The new plan will serve to “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected,” he pointed out.