The Planetary Society’s Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant program seeks to assist amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and under-funded professional observers contributing to vital NEO research. Since 1997, the Society has awarded 43 Shoemaker NEO grants totaling about $270,000 to observers from 16 different countries on 5 continents. The grants are solely funded by the dues and donations of Planetary Society members, whose voluntary dues and donations help support targeted research and development programs in a number of areas.
Grant recipients have played critical roles in tracking small asteroids that were discovered by major asteroid survey programs, and providing the crucial follow-up observations to determine precise orbits for these objects. For example, two 2007 award winners worked together to discover and perform follow-up observations of a newly discovered object. Quan-zhi Ye, from mainland China, and a group at Lulin Observatory in Taiwan discovered near-Earth object 2007 NL1, then asked fellow grant winner Jean-Claude Pelle in Tahiti to do followup observations. Pelle was able to succeed when other observatories were clouded out. A 2005 and 2010 grant recipient, David Higgins, discovered that a previously known asteroid -- (6084) Bascom -- is actually a binary. Other Shoemaker NEO Grant winners have contribued tens of thousands of observational measurements used to define the exact orbits of NEOs to help determine if they are a threat to Earth. NEO grant winners are also helping to understand the physical characteristics of NEOs, which will be critical for any future efforts to deflect them from striking Earth. Read the project updates for further information on these and other activities of past grant winners.
Through these observations and others, supported by Society members and their donations, the Society is playing an active role in helping to ‘retire’ some of the risk of impact from NEOs and to reveal the properties of these interesting and valuable targets for future exploration.
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further.