19:57 GMT +3 hours25 May 2016
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The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) 1 telescope on Maui's Mount Haleakala, Hawaii has produced the most near-Earth object discoveries of the NASA-funded NEO surveys in 2015.

NASA Forms Doomsday Asteroid Task Force

© NASA. University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy / Rob Ratkowski
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America’s space agency is ready to do battle against incoming asteroids and other dangerous extraterrestrial objects heading for Earth: a special task force with a solid budget has been formed for the job.

The financing for the Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) monitoring program has grown since 2010, from $4 million to $50 million, with the Chelyabinsk meteor’s 2013 dramatic and unexpected entrance into Earth’s atmosphere a turning point making US authorities understand the asteroid threat ought to be taken seriously, according to a recent NASA release.

Beginning in 2016, a special NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) task force will be responsible for identifying NEOs. PDCO will coordinate various activities between many national and international observatories and governmental bodies, including the Pentagon and the European Space Agency.

​“In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, based on credible science data,” NASA said. An Asteroid Watch Widget has also been published on the agency’s website.

Currently there are about 1,500 NEOs identified and added into the database each year. NASA’s ambitious plan is to discover and identify 90 percent of NEOs at the size of, or a bit larger than, a football field in diameter – 140 meters (450 feet) – by 2021, as most of the bigger objects (1 km / 3,000 ft in diameter) have already been added, NASA reported.

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in the statement. “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.”

A remodeled version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the launcher’s first mission since a June failure in Cape Canaveral, Florida, December 21, 2015
© REUTERS/ Joe Skipper
One immediate planetary defense goal for the newly-formed task force is to create a viable technology that can change the course of an asteroid approaching our planet.

NASA and the Nuclear Security Administration have separately studied potential threats that could obliterate cities or the entire planet. For years, the two agencies examined cosmic fragments, designed rocket interceptors, and conducted simulated tests to see how asteroids could be prevented from entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

The two agencies sealed an agreement in summer 2015, working together to safeguard the planet’s survival in the event of an incoming celestial object. A goal of their collaboration is to develop a plan that involves using nuclear device detonation to intercept asteroids.

​The NASA-funded asteroid survey was first launched in 1998. To date, it has discovered over 13,500 NEOs in many sizes.

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Tags:
Meteor, fireball, monitoring, observatory, Asteroid, asteroid, meteor, Nuclear Security Administration, NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), Pentagon, John Grunsfeld, Washington, DC, United States
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  • FlorianGeyer
    " to create a viable technology that can change the course of an asteroid approaching our planet."

    The US could pass a law making asteroid impacts illegal I suppose or send John Kerry to mediate .
  • cast235
    Russia should be following suit. Giving the observatories to universities. And prepping a super space observatory, that should be withing Russia's space base, after ending of this one in a few years.
  • michael
    it's about time. This has been doing the rounds in the astronomy community for decades!
  • Ivan Buckeye
    And as an added benefit...watching for those Soviet, viz. Russian, space missiles. Looking for asteroids is the story for Americans. It's what hides behind the curtain of these projects that don't get the light of day in the west. American space programs have always been military domain, with the occassional school teacher or foreign military privleged class. There's no civilian space program...anywhere, ever. A greater return is with military advantage in dealing with space to reap goodies on earth...in other peoples lands. Americans shouldn't try to sugar-coat their actions so heavily. Call a spade a spade.
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