If you saw the Golden Globes last weekend, you probably saw Morgan Freeman and thought: “He’s getting too old to make presidential decisions about impending an asteroid strike.”
Well, fear not, as NASA has just announced the launch of a new Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), an agency designed to coordinate efforts if near-Earth objects loom dangerously close.
“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 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.”The space agency has been involved in global planning for planetary defense for quite a while, and the new office will enhance and expand on those attempts, working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies, NASA said.
Along with detecting and tracking space-based threats, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of potential impacts. The PDCO also will continue to plan for the response to an actual impact threat, working in conjunction with US agencies and their international counterparts.
“The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” said Lindley Johnson, the lead program executive for the new office.
In the present system, astronomers identify near-Earth objects with ground-based telescopes and NASA’s space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope. Tracking information is supplied to a global repository maintained by the Minor Planet Center, an organization endorsed by the International Astronomical Union.
Once found, an object’s orbit is exactly projected and observed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. All tracking efforts are managed and funded by NASA’s longtime NEO Observations Program, which will continue under the new office.