NASA gets $35 million to make sure asteroids don't destroy Earth

Artist's representation of what NASA's Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM)NASA/JPL

  • US President Donald Trump’s new ‘minibus’ fiscal spending bill for 2020 allots $35.6 million to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) to keep asteroids from hitting Earth.
  • The Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM) will send a telescope attached to an infrared camera into space to make asteroid detection more efficient.
  • Data from NEOSM will also help scientists determine which near-Earth objects are possible targets for robotic or human exploration.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) isn’t the only space agency tracking space objects. But it’s the only one to poised to receive $35.6 million to ensure that asteroids don’t destroy Earth.

Asteroids aren’t on the top of risk list of threats that can end human existence. Yet, many experts believe that even if they aren’t ‘dinosaur destroying’, a potential asteroid impact could have long-lasting effects on the planet.

Artist's representation of what NASA's Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM)NASA/JPL

US President Donald Trump’s ‘minibus’ fiscal spending bill — which provides NASA with a budget of $22.63 billion in all — will allow the agency to develop its Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM).

Unlike the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), NEOSM won’t actually be capable of destroying any incoming asteroids. But, if successful, it will be the first line of defence able to track and discover any NEOs hanging nearby.

Where can you find the asteroids?

NEOSM will fly a small space telescope into space along with an infrared camera. The aim is to identify an asteroid or near-earth objects that are at least 140 meters in diameter — big enough to inflict damage on a regional or a global scale.

Currently, most asteroids are detected using cameras on a wide field of view telescopes — and most of them on-ground. NASA's 8-year old wide-filed infrared survey explorer (WISE) telescope has used a similar approach to find at least 230 new near-earth objects.

Artist's representation of what NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)NASA/JPL

If a new object is detected, orbit intersection calculations are carried by independent systems like NASA’s Sentry or the European Space Agency’s NEODyS.

They carry out observations of the trajectory, speed and distance to determine whether or not the space rock is ‘ potentially hazardous’.

While $35.6 million may seem like more than enough money to accomplish the requisite goal, NASA had originally asked for $150 million for planetary defence.

Asteroids aren’t going to hit Earth — why are we looking for them?

There are ten of thousands of asteroids in space. Whether it’s an interstellar visitor like Oumuamua, or Apophis — the ‘ God of Chaos’ asteroid — the main goal is to identify more than a million asteroids.

Earth is privy to last-minute visitors like asteroid 2019 OK in July 2019.

Artist's representation of what NASA's Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM)NASA/JPL

In addition to spotting unwanted visitors before they get to the planet, the NEOSM will also track asteroid trajectories. In case, a ‘potentially hazardous’ space rock changes direction due to gravitational keyhole or the Yarkovsky effect — NEOSM should be able to track the change.

In the future, NASA also hopes that the NEOSM will deliver data accurate enough to determine which near-earth objects are ideal for human or robotic exploration.

See also:
Not an asteroid but massive volcanic eruptions in India might have set off mass extinction 66 million years ago

Elon Musk says we have no defence against asteroid ‘God of Chaos'

What happens when an asteroid actually hits Earth