NASA Planetary Defense: The Asteroid Hunters


Two search projects, one in Arizona, the other in Hawaii, account for about 90% of all
near-Earth object discoveries. [wind] – Catalina Sky Survey and
other survey programs are really sort of the
start of the whole planetary protection ecosystem. It starts with discovery, goes onto followup and
characterization, impact risk analysis mitigation studies, but
you can’t followup and you can’t
characterize and you can’t calculate
the impact risk of something you
don’t discover. In order to find a
near earth asteroid, we take four images
of a patch of sky separated by about
five minutes. – And we take those
four images and we blink
them really fast and it creates this little
animation so we can see that the stars in the
background are static as they should be and if there’s anything
that’s moving, it’ll pop out. – [Eric] And our software
compares those images and identifies things that are
not moving, which are stars, and removes those. Identifies things that are
transient from frame to frame and tries to
link those up. – We’ve probably seen about
a million asteroids in the last seven years that
PanSTARRS has been operating. It’s like picking a needle
out of a haystack. We’re looking
for distinctive motion and when we see distinctive
motion in asteroids we report them to the
Minor Planet Center. The Minor Planet Center
is the sort of world clearing house for
near earth asteroids. The Center for
NEO Studies, takes the observations
from the Minor Planet Center and computes the
high precision orbits that we use to
make predictions. CNEOS is also kind of an
early warning system for newly discovered
asteroids. We take the
early data and we compute
whether or not that asteroid
could hit the earth. If there’s a chance, we’ll send out
an early warning, an alert, for
follow-up observation, so that we can
get more data and then we would
know perhaps, whether it can hit
the earth or not. – Asteroid impacts
are a fact of life. The earth has
been impacted by asteroids continually through
its history. – We saw in 2013 in Russia a fairly small, by the standards
of what we’re finding, asteroid did hit
the earth. I feel a little bit like a
guardian of the planet and doing my bit to try
to protect people. It is a long
term process, it’s going take many,
many years to find all of the dangerous asteroids. – [Eric] The goal is to find
near-earth asteroids before they find us.

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