Wednesday, June 26, 2013

10,000 and Counting

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has just announced the discovery of the 10,000th Near Earth Object (NEO). NEO's are comets and asteroids that pass within about 28 million miles of the Earth. We want to find and keep track of  NEO's to insure that they do not pose a threat of collision with our planet.

While finding 10,000 of these leftovers from the formation of the solar system is a milestone, the fact that there are an estimated 10 times more to be found is sobering. The world has had its' attention focused on asteroids this year due to the February explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia that coincided with the predicted flyby the same day of a NEO. We have had other high profile NEO flybys this year, notably 1998 QE2 earlier this month.

With NASA's Asteroid Initiative Redirect Mission and NASA's 2014 budget seeking to double the NEO hunt funding from $20 million to $40 million, perhaps the NEO finds will increase. This is pretty cheap planetary defense when you consider the costs in human lives and property damage from a city-killer asteroid.

While we have found over 90% of the big rocks - over a kilometer in size - that could cause damage on a global scale, it is the rocks in the 100-foot size, like Chelyabinsk that we have to find. There could be a million or more of them. It is estimated that there are about 15,000 NEO's in the 460-foot range but they are easier to find.

Simply put, we need more detection capability from ground and space-based assets. With the current assets we have the discovery rate is about 1,000 NEO's a year. We have to do better but it will require the funds necessary to do so. Let's hope the funds get approved so we can watch the skies with more "eyes".

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Sky Guy in VA

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