In what sounds like the opening of a sci-fi blockbuster with a big explosions budget, NASA has created a new office -- the Planetary Defense Coordination Office -- that will track asteroids and comets that pass near the Earth’s orbit.
The office will also issue warnings of potential close calls, and in the case of a possible collision is responsible for coordinating emergency plans with the Department of Defense and FEMA, the agency said.
While the new office consolidates NASA’s asteroid and comet-related tracking efforts, the agency began financing surveys of near-Earth objects in 1998. Since then, more than 95 percent of the 13,500 recorded near-Earth objects have been discovered and the agency estimates 1,500 new objects are found annually
Today, NASA believes it’s discovered around 90 percent of all near-Earth objects that are 3,000 feet or larger. Next up is identifying smaller targets: the agency aims to discover the majority of objects 450 feet or bigger -- basically slightly larger than the size of your average football field -- by 2020.
All in all, this is good news for anyone kept up at night by fears of an asteroid collision. Not only is NASA on the lookout for potential threats, but it has a recently expanded budget to work with (federal funding has increased from $4 million in 2010 to $50 million in 2016).
“Defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said 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.”