The Planetary Society recognizes the threat that asteroids and comets–known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)–represent. While an asteroid strike could have devastating effects, the good news is that an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster that is completely preventable. Our role in planetary defense ranges from our Laser Bees project to redirect asteroids, to our Shoemaker NEO grant program to support astronomers who seek to discover, observe and track NEOs.
We are also committed to educating about the asteroid threat and The Planetary Society’s 5 Step Plan to Prevent Asteroid Impact. As a special edition of our Random Space Fact video series, we have produced a series of 6 fun, short videos to introduce you to the asteroid threat and The Planetary Society’s 5 Step Plan:
Is there an asteroid or comet out there that poses a risk to life on Earth? The answer is certainly "yes," but we don't yet know where the next major impactor will come from or when it will crash. The best way to size up the threat and reduce this uncertainty is to search the skies for these crumbs of the solar system, categorizing asteroids and comets using the Torino Scale.
The Planetary Society / Kim Orr
An Asteroid This Way Comes
What are near-Earth objects and how could they affect us?
Shoemaker NEO Grant Program
The Planetary Society established the Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grant program to award amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and professional astronomers who, with seed funding, can greatly increase their programs' contributions to NEO research. 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.
The Planetary Society is very involved with the IAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC). Held every 2 years, the event brings together international experts from all aspects of the asteroid threat issue. Attending are experts on finding, tracking, characterizing, and deflecting asteroids, as well as those involved with asteroid missions, and those involved, like The Planetary Society, with educating the public and international leaders.
The Planetary Society is a primary sponsor of the PDC and Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts serves on the organizing committee. We also typically host a public event tied to the conference. You can watch the May 1, 2019 PDC public event at the University of Maryland featuring Bill Nye, several asteroid threat experts, and NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green, or listen our own Planetary Radio Live portion of the show as host Mat Kaplan interviews asteroid threat experts.
We've been working with a team at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow in Scotland to study a new technique which uses concentrated light to gently move an asteroid – a project we called "Mirror Bees" – using mirrors on several spacecraft swarming around an asteroid to focus sunlight onto a spot on the asteroid. As part of the initial Mirror Bees project, researchers found that lasers are more effective than mirrors and can be used from greater distances. So, now the project is called "Laser Bees."
What do we do if an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth? At this point, the answer is not clear, so The Planetary Society has partnered with researchers to discover ways to protect Earth when we one-day find a dangerous space rock.
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