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Asteroids and Comets

All the Little Things in the Solar System, and the Things They Can Do to Earth

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 reduce this uncertainty is to search the skies for these crumbs of the solar system. The Planetary Society has a long history of supporting amateur and underfunded professional astronomers in their efforts to discover and track potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. This is useful not only for planetary defense, but also for learning about the solar system's origin and evolution.

A fortuitous byproduct of our increasing ability to detect fainter objects is that, for the first time, we now stand a chance of discovering smaller, five- to ten-meter-sized rocks while they are still in space before they burn up in our atmosphere and scatter meteorites along the ground. We are now beginning to link meteorites that we can study in our labs with the data on orbits and compositions that we amass with astronomical observations. Every meteorite, every tiny asteroid has a story, and we can combine these stories together to answer fundamental questions about how the solar system formed and evolved. What were the ingredients that made Earth and the other planets? How are those constituents different now? How have asteroid and comet impacts shaped the origin and evolution of life on Earth (and, potentially, on other planets)? Can asteroids serve as stepping-stones for human travel to farther destinations?

Blogs About Asteroids, Comets, and the Impact Threat

Sky survey grant helps lead to a space science career

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/01/16 01:15 CST

Quan-Zhi Ye was an 18 year-old college student and the principal investigator of the Lulin Sky Survey when he won a 2007 Shoemaker NEO grant. He's now a Ph.D. candidate and provides an update on his work in meteor studies.

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Year of the 'Dwarves': Ceres and Pluto Get Their Due

Posted by Paul Schenk on 2015/01/15 12:18 CST | 1 comment

This year we achieve the first exploration of these curious but fascinating objects. Paul Schenk explains what we may learn about them.

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2007 Shoemaker Grant Still Yielding Asteroid Science

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/01/06 05:15 CST

Telescope purchased in 2007 with the support of a Shoemaker grant is still in service and has worked on over 100 near-Earth asteroids over its 8 years of operation.

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Asteroids, Comets, and the Threat

Asteroids and Comets Visited by Spacecraft

A comparison of all the asteroids and comets ever visited by spacecraft, up to date as of November 10 (when Deep Impact flew past Hartley 2). Vesta is not included.

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Sizing Up the Threat from Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)

Scientifically, it is useful to divide the impact hazard into two types of events: those with local consequences and those with global consequences. Global events, while much less likely, actually pose a greater risk.

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The Torino Scale

The Torino scale is a color-coded advisory system that enables near-Earth object (NEO) researchers to place objects within a potential threat range from zero -- where there is virtually no chance of collision, to 10 -- where global catastrophe is certain.

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Space in Images

Pretty pictures and
awe-inspiring science.

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