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.
Asteroids and Comets
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.
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.
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."
Blogs about Planetary Defense
From Italy, Bruce Betts gives background and information at the start of the Planetary Defense Conference, which addresses the asteroid threat. Bruce summarizes steps to prevent asteroid impact.
Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/03/31 11:04 CDT
Thanks to a new focal reducer and re-aluminized mirror from a Shoemaker NEO grant, a 0.81-meter telescope in Italy is performing astrometric follow-up observations and physical studies of asteroids.
Planetary Defense Projects
Our Advocacy Program provides each Society member a voice in the process.
Funding is critical. The more we have, the more effective we can be, translating into more missions, more science, and more exploration.