With a lot of uncertainties surrounding planet Earth, it may soon come across an asteroid travelling towards it. In any case near-Earth objects (NEOs) like an asteroid comes close to Earth, NASA will be ready.
NASA recently established its new asteroid detection program dubbed as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office is accountable for supervision of all projects to detect, track and identify potentially catastrophic objects like comets or asteroids that pass near the orbit of planet Earth.
"Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously," said the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld.
How Will The PDCO Protect The Earth From NEOs?
So how does NASA detect NEOs? The office is equipped with a space-based infrared telescope called NEOWISE, which tracks asteroids and other objects near the Earth's orbit. It transmits data to NASA's Center for NEO Studies.
Aside from tracking and detecting potentially dangerous objects, it also gives warnings of any probable impacts grounded on scientific data.
"The office also will continue to assist with coordination across the U.S. government, participating in the planning for response to an actual impact threat, working in conjunction with FEMA, the Department of Defense, other U.S. agencies and international counterparts," NASA explained.
When NEOs are considered potentially harmful, these will be studied further through the use of NASA's InfraRed Telescope Facility, Spitzer Space Telescope and interplanetary radars.
At present, if the PDCO detects a NEO directly travelling towards the Earth and poses detrimental collision, there's not much it can do other than issue an early warning and alert FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
The most it can do is inform agencies of the location, timing and potential effects from the collision. For most asteroid movies, there would always be an asteroid team to blast the asteroid or a weapon of some sort. For now, there isn't anything like this yet.
NASA is in the process of developing redirect missions and asteroid capture systems. The joint US-European Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission plans to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to determine if this would alter the path of the object.
The mission, however, would have to wait until 2020 but it would nonetheless give scientists an idea if it is possible to deflect an asteroid that could potentially collide with Earth.