This year NASA has created a new office to deal with one of the biggest doomsday scenarios, an approaching object from space. Yes, NASA does have groups in place searching for nearby asteroids or comets or their formal term Near Earth Objects (NEOs), but with increased funding for an area in need, NASA determined the effort should be organized under one office, Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). If that isn’t the coolest name for a group, I don’t know what is. This new office will be in charge of monitoring the funds for the research and will also be in charge of organizing responses with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). If there is ever a threat, not some fake internet hoax, you would hear it from the PDCO.
Although NASA has detected about 90% of objects larger than 3,000 ft (~9 football fields), only 25% of NEOs in the next category, ranging from 450 ft (~1 football field) to 3,000 ft, have been discovered. These objects are large enough to be considered hazardous if they impacted Earth. Just this past October, we had a close call with the Halloween Asteroid in this category which flew right by Earth (about 1.3 times the distance to the moon), and it had only been discovered a month before its approach.
Congress has recognized this need for funding in the NEO area giving NASA budget increases since 2012 to tackle this issue. The most recent increase in the 2016 budget has given NASA the ability to create this office to better coordinate its efforts. The expectation with these funds is to get the number from 25% detected to 90% of these mid size objects by the 2020s.
These increases in money not only goes towards the detection but also to research for possible solutions to the problem. Cue Bruce Willis and gang walk up, just kidding. Blowing up an asteroid would definitely not be the ideal solution. Projects using gravity trackers, like the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), would be more likely. If you forgot NASA is already planning to use ARM in its Mars plans, so we might be able to see the technology work without the threat of impending doom. 😉
Oh and before I leave you, I have some links to videos and websites that might interest you if you are an Armageddon junkie.
NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge – It’s website dedicated on this subject matter that started in 2012
NASA JPL has an asteroid widget that lists the next 5 closest approaches to Earth
NASA’s list of NEOs
Asteroid Watch on Twitter