In this late Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, image made from dashcam video, a brightly lit object falls from the sky above a highway in the southern Michigan skyline. (Zack Lawler/WWMT via AP)
By Andréa Morris
WASHINGTON: NASA’s office of communications hosted a media teleconference today to announce the release of a new report from The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The report, titled the Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan, outlines procedures to help the federal government ready itself to deal with objects that could potentially collide with earth (NEOs) over the next 10 years. The report is available here:
The five goals outlined in the report:
Goal 1: Enhance NEO Detection, Tracking, and Characterization Capabilities.
Goal 2: Improve NEO Modeling, Prediction, and Information Integration.
Goal 3: Develop Technologies for NEO Deflection and Disruption Missions.
Goal 4: Increase International Cooperation on NEO Preparation.
Goal 5: Strengthen and Routinely Exercise NEO Impact Emergency Procedures and Action Protocols.
Speaking on the teleconference, Aaron Miles of OSTP began by sharing some encouraging facts: “Fortunately this type of destructive event is extremely rare. NASA and its partners have identified more than 95% of all asteroids that are large enough to cause a global catastrophe and none of those found pose a threat within this century.” Miles then demurred that impacts do happen from time to time. “110 years ago this month, an asteroid about 50 yards across entered the atmosphere and exploded over a remote part of Russia creating a blast that leveled an area of forest larger than 700 square miles.” He also cited the meteor of about 20 yards in diameter that caused damage and injured more than a thousand people in Chelyabinsk, Russia five years ago.
Miles points to a clear advantage moving forward: unlike other natural disasters, asteroids can be detected years in advance and a crash with earth can be prevented. Their rarity buys us time to implement strategies to alert us, prepare for, mitigate and deflect destructive collisions.
Leviticus Lewis, of the National Response Coordination Branch, FEMA says that there are currently no known threats of a strike with earth. Nevertheless, the low probability of a damaging encounter must be weighed against the serious devastation impacts can cause. NASA partnered with FEMA in 2010, and in 2015 the Planetary Impact Emergency Response Working Group (PIERWG) was established, meeting twice annually to make recommendations to government leaders and emergency managers.
Lindley Johnson of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, NASA Headquarters in Washington says NASA’s been probing the skies for just over 20 years for NEOs that pose a threat to earth (The Near Earth Objects program launched in May, 1998). The hunt for dangerous asteroids also helps provide statistical predictions for future threats. Concurrently, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) engineered to thwart earth-bound asteroids, is preparing for a test run. It’s scheduled to launch summer of 2021. Johnson says DART is targeting the near-earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and is expected to make contact with the asteroid in Oct 2022. Making contact involves the DART spacecraft crashing into Didymos at about six kilometers a second. The kinetic impact is expected to deflect the asteroid, knocking it off its present course and onto a different trajectory.
NEO tracking efforts is an international collaboration with space programs and institutions around the globe as well as the United Nations.