Long term, asteroids probably represent one of the greatest threats to mankind -- and NASA is doing something about it.
Worried about an asteroid ending life as we know it? You can rest a little easier, as NASA is creating an office to tackle the problem.
As far as likely extinction events of mankind go, asteroid impact is probably up near the top — after all, asteroids have caused mass extinction events here on Earth in the past. So NASA announced recently that it was creating a directorate for “detecting and tracking near earth objects (NEOs),” according to a CNBC report.
It’s called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, and it will be tasked with figuring out ways to handle threats from asteroids that could find their way to Planet Earth. It will supervise all NASA projects that find and characterize asteroids and comets.
A total of 13,500 NEOs have been discovered, with about 1,500 being detected each year. None appear to be an imminent threat, but that doesn’t mean one couldn’t suddenly emerge. Back in 2013, a meteor made headlines after it smashed into the Earth in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Asteroid impact is actually one of the leading reasons NASA is exploring the possibility of settlements on Mars — it’s always good to have a backup, especially when you’re talking about the survival of the species.
NASA’s budget for observing NEOs is about $50 million in the fiscal 2016 federal budget. That’s 10 times what it was before President Barack Obama assumed office back in 2008.
“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a 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.”