Join Donate

Planetary RadioMay 8, 2019

Planetary Radio Live Defends Planet Earth!

Please accept marketing-cookies to listen to this podcast.

Download MP3

On This Episode
Nancy Chabot thumbnail
Nancy Chabot

DART Mission Coordination Lead and Planetary Scientist, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

Gerhard Drolshagen

Chair, Space Missions Planning Advisory Group, European Space Agency

Kelly Fast
Kelly Fast

Near-Earth Object Observations Program Manager, NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office

Rüdiger Jehn
Rüdiger Jehn

Space Situational Awareness NEO Segment Comanager, Planetary Defence Office, European Space Agency

Carrie Nugent - thumbnail
Carrie Nugent

Professor, Computational Physics and Planetary Science, Olin College

Headshot of Bruce Betts
Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer

Leaders of the global effort to avoid a catastrophic Near Earth Object impact gathered at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference. On the evening of May 1st, The Planetary Society partnered in an exciting PDC public event at the University of Maryland College Park. Presentations by Society CEO Bill Nye and NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green were followed by Planetary Radio Live. Join Mat Kaplan and his outstanding guests who are trying to save the world. The evening rolled on through a live version of What’s Up with Bruce Betts.

Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference

Antonio Peronace

Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference
Mat Kaplan and his Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference public event. From left to right: Mat, Nancy Chabot, Gerhard Drolshagen, Kelly Fast, Rüdiger Jehn, and Carrie Nugent.
Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference

Antonio Peronace

Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference
Mat Kaplan and his Planetary Radio Live panel at the Planetary Defense Conference public event. From left to right: Mat, Nancy Chabot, Gerhard Drolshagen, Kelly Fast, Rüdiger Jehn, and Carrie Nugent.

Trivia Contest

A priceless Planetary Society KickAsteroid rubber asteroid and a 200-point astronomy account.

This week's question:

What is the name of the approximately 930-meter asteroid that will fly by Earth at only .65 lunar distances in June of 2028?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, May 15th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

What comet’s debris is responsible for the Eta Aquarid meteor shower?


The answer will be revealed next week.

Question from the April 24 space trivia contest:

1036 Ganymed is the largest Near Earth Asteroid. What is the second largest NEA?


The second largest NEA is 433 Eros or, by some measures, 3552 Don Quixote.


NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.

[00:00:00] Defending our world at the planetary defense conference this week on planetary radio.

Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the planetary Society with more of the Human Adventure across our solar system and beyond the International Academy of astronautics has just completed the 2019 planetary defense conference the planetary Society. Was there as a participant. Sponsor and we helped create a live public event on the evening of May 1st.

I was there to host planetary radio live right after the outstanding presentations by NASA Chief scientist. Jim green and Society. CEO Bill Nye here is the wonderful planetary radio live conversation. We recorded that evening followed on stage by alive. What's up with Bruce Betts. This is planetary radio live.

[00:01:00] We are at the University of Maryland College Park Make Some Noise Terps.

I'm Mat Kaplan of the planetary Society. I am thrilled to be here. For the 2019 planetary defense conference scientists planners government officials media types like me gather every couple of years to share what we've learned about near-earth objects or NEOS these fascinating asteroids and comets would be worthy of study.

Even if they didn't pose a threat to civilization, but they do that underlying theme is always present at these gatherings in a. We're going to meet five of the experts. We're here with hundreds of their colleagues. It's a really distinguished group. And I know you're going to enjoy hearing from them later.

We'll welcome planetary Society Chief scientist. Bruce vets to the stage for this week's [00:02:00] what's up with a live space trivia contest and some rubber asteroids to toss out. So let's get to it. First up and we're just doing them in order here. Nancy. Shabbo is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics.

Laboratory. She was my guest not long ago when I was at APL and she's back tonight primarily to talk about the amazing Dart Mission. That's a near-earth asteroid impact our mission that we will be talking to her about a little bit later in the conversation. She is the dark coordination lead John.

Can spy the way Johns Hopkins University is one of the primary sponsors of the planetary defense conference, so please welcome Nancy.

This is just Gerhard will shock and cherish the UN mandated space missions planning Advisory Group. That's SMP. [00:03:00] AG. It is really one of those great space acronyms. You know what they say. Same page. I think it's because we may regret it. If we don't all get on the same page regarding the asteroid threat, he has headed the group since its Creation in 2014 and has been with Isa the European Space Agency for over 30 years.

Isa is another of the pdc's primary sponsors, please welcome gerhardt.

fast is here from NASA's planetary defense coordination. Which is part of the planetary science division of the space agency is she is the near Earth object observation program manager. You ready? Guess where she got her PhD in astronomy. That's right. She's a terrapin.

[00:04:00] Jelly, conducted a lot of research at The Goddard space flight center before moving to NASA HQ. She is the program scientist for the infrared telescope facility. On a mountain in Hawaii and the deputy program scientist for the maven Mission, which is currently orbiting Mars and tasting the atmosphere of that planet.

It's a really terrific Mission. You will not be surprised to hear that NASA is also a primary sponsor of the planetary defense. It's mathematician rudiger yenna and I hope I got it halfway, right? Thank you rudiger and his European Space Agency colleague detlef Kush knee co-manage issa's planetary defense office within the space safety office now as such.

He's the European counterpart of NASA's planetary Defence officer Lindley Johnson Lily who is sitting out in the audience right now and actually who nominated all these panelists first talk to wave when we say hi. We were [00:05:00] there he is.

So you saw some of the telescopes that NASA supports and or operates which are looking for these objects up there. European Space Agency is doing the same thing and all of this work has to be carefully coordinated and that's some of what we will talk about in a moment last up on our panel is Carrie Nugent.

She is a professor of computational physics and planetary science at Olin College her research focuses on asteroid detection. She's an a science Communicator. She likes to remind audiences. This is a line. We hear a lot that an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster that we have the technology to prevent.

She is also a Ted senior fellow. I highly recommend you check out her 2016 Ted Talk, which is about all of this stuff. She is the author of asteroid hunters and she hos. Her own podcast competition for us the space [00:06:00] pod podcast, please welcome Carrie Nugent.

So carry your last up, but I'll give you the first question. Having the technology as you've pointed out that we essentially have it's still being refined. We're still a long ways from being prepared to deal with those big rocks that are headed our way, right? Absolutely. I just want to take a second to thank you for having us here.

I know everyone here loves talking about asteroids and it's just a real pleasure to tell you guys about this. So yes, as you said an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster. We have the technology to prevent and that's like a very surprising thing to most people to learn because you know in movies and TV shows and asteroid impact is always like a metaphor for an act of God.

It's like standing in it's like a symbolism for things human can't humans can't control at all. But it turns out that if you study the physics of asteroids, you can learn that you can actually [00:07:00] prevent an impact and we're going to talk more about this. I'm sure but the key to this is that asteroid orbits are very predictable.

So if we can measure an asteroids orbit, we can generally predict for most of them are going to be several dozen years in advance. If we really like buckle down and study something really closely we can learn where they're going to be hundreds of years in advance, which is crazy. So now you can start to understand that if you have hundreds of years or maybe decades to prepare you can really build something and design something really cool.

That'll get this asteroid out of the way. The key is getting that time right? You want to observe the sky. Now, you want to map the asteroid population and you really want to know what's out there so that you can figure out if something's coming and do something about it. And that's what this conference is all about.

There's people from all over the world gathered here to talk about finding asteroids. And there's a lot of really great work done in this field looking around this audience. You can see they're all brilliant and well-informed, but for the few who may not be aware of it, please define a near-earth object an eel.

Absolutely, so there's lots of planets in the solar [00:08:00] system and then there's lots of smaller things and we can fight about what they're called, but don't necessarily have to write here and the much smaller things are distributed all throughout the solar system. So there's things that hang out by Pluto and there's a whole bunch of things in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and then there's the various near-earth asteroids that hangout close to Earth's orbit.

And I like to think of them as neighbors. It's always good to get to know your neighbors, you know, sometimes they're friendly and they're that's great and sometimes they're not friendly you want to know the many ways so you can be aware of it. Near-earth asteroids get close to Earth's orbit.

There's also near-earth comets which get close to Earth orbit. And if you just want to call asteroids and comets the same thing we call those near-earth objects or NEOS. So you hear us tossed around NEOS quite a bit Kelly how many of them are out there for the near-earth objects the ones that we know about we actually just.

Went past 20,000 the 20,000 Mark. So

yeah.  Lot more defined and that's the thing a lot more to find. Yes. It depends [00:09:00] on what size you're talking about from the large one. We think we have a pretty good handle on things that are one kilometer and larger in size. Thankfully they're larger. They're easier to find and they would do more damage and probably found like 98% of those.

Don't find too many every year but it's the ones that are smaller. They're still you could cause Regional damage on Earth. We use a metric of hundred and forty meters in larger in size estimated about 25,000 of them out there and we're only about a third of the way. They're working our way through.

All right, but we're making progress making progress. Nancy you've got to slide this is impressive it gives us some really dramatic comparison talk a little bit about this. Well, this is going back to the dart mission that we were talking about a little earlier, which is the double asteroid redirection test mission.

The one that we're going to run into that binary asteroid in order to see how asteroid deflection might work. The one that you are coordinating all the science for the one that I meant the coordination lead for but I guess I'll take this opportunity since we're doing it [00:10:00] audience interaction and there's a lot of other people in the dart team here from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics lab and also the University of Maryland and scientists.

If you're on the team, can you like stand-up? Go ahead. Don't be mad. We got. Thank you.

That's right. As bill says they're just trying to save the world and it takes a team obviously. So yeah, we've got a we've got a whole team of people and the graphic that was up a second ago is just showing the relative sizes because it's a good idea to sort of see. What are we really talking about here?

And so this is a double asteroid system. Hence the name of the mission the two asteroids there. Did am Jose is the bigger one. Did a Mosby is the smaller Moon one. That's the one we're going to impact with the little spacecraft. It's got really long solar panels and if the solar panels are all the way spun out, it's like 19 metres, but actually the body of the spacecraft is only about 2 meters or so, so sort of person sighs.

Perhaps I could add that this time. I mean also either is [00:11:00] planning a mission which hopefully goes through this here our mission to look what happened after that had impacted. How big is a greater how effective was the deflection so this all contributing to learn and also support the same page in a real case.

What can we do rudiger was I more or less correct when I said that your work is roughly equivalent to NASA. Planetary defense office the work that you and death left you. Yes. Absolutely. We in Europe. We always try to copy NASA that I will pick up idle. So we we follow your Approach at I try to do the same in Europe with a little bit less money, but more or less.

Yes, but you make it stretch it pretty far. I would say we try your best. Yeah Nash is doing a lot of work from the ground to find these near Earth objects issa's also very involved. We have some got we got some nice telescopes. I have to admit that discoveries are 99% done by the US surveys pan-starrs Catalina.

[00:12:00] So we are building the flyer telescope which you see in the lower left corner, so we try to catch up there as well, but it's not yet. They're currently we use our telescope mainly for follow-ups when Catalina or pan-starrs discover a new object. The very first moment, we just see a little Motion in the sky moves a few pixels and we don't know is it an impactor is the main Builder is it just one of the net friendly neighbors or the bad neighbors?

And that's when we come in and we point out telescope to follow up. To find them again. If we find them six hours later 12 hours later one day later. Then we have enough observations to make a nice orbit and know whether they are dangerous or just a friendly neighbors because you can't just find and we gotta know where they're going.

Yes, I'm gonna come back to you in just a second but Kelly because Ruettiger mentioned pan-starrs and the Catalina Sky survey. Could you tell us what those are. Yes, those are telescopes that are supplied [00:13:00] by pan-starrs by the University of Hawaii and the Catalina Sky survey by the University of Arizona and a NASA funds them to scan the skies every night to looking for asteroids that haven't yet been discovered and their special telescopes that can look at wide swaths of the sky to try to see asteroids in the star field.

There's something moving against the stars when they find those discoveries possible. Caffrey's, they report them immediately to the minor planet center, which is the Clearinghouse for information on positions of small bodies any kind of small body in the solar system and then they're put on a website as rigor was saying other observatories will then go after those and get more observations so that you have enough observations to get along enough Ark that you can get in Orbit and figure out where it is where it's been and where it's going.

Pretty good. What's this next slide? What? Why does it start with a wanted poster? Yeah exactly there. Is this object [00:14:00] 2017 RH 16. This was for more than a year on our top Wanted list. These are the asteroids which might hit the earth. We don't know whether they hit the earth and we have a few data's we have seen them in the sky and they pose a risk we have currently 850 of these candidates.

In our catalog, these are objects which risk larger than zero that they will hit the earth in the next 100 years and they we we have to search for them. Are they really a danger or not? And this case after really careful search? We found where it was and we could confirm that is actually not on a collision course.

We removed it from our risk list and we could take it off here. You see the 10 most risky objects just yesterday. We put with took our 10-meter telescope pointing at one object. And usually after we see it they drop or the completely the risk is eliminated in this case. Now, we have a new [00:15:00] number four because we discovered it at a point where it's still dangerous, but I can assure you.

It's the year 2080 when the impact risk is always still have some time to react. So this really is like the FBI Most Wanted list except things are cosmic threats Cosmic criminal. Yeah. Yeah, at least potentially criminals Gerhard. Let's get to your work for Isa the European space. And the SMP AG same page.

What does it do? Well, I mean I liked very much the presentation by Bill Nye because he more or less already explained it. I mean, he showed impacts have happened all the time impacts have happened everywhere in the world. And he also showed that are potentially very different methods in deflecting them preventing an impact, but it was realized some time ago that you need a coordination and best some type of.

Dwight coordination it's not possible that one in case of a real impacting threat decides all we move it this [00:16:00] way and we use a nice mirror bees or the other one prefer a big bang and they want to move it the other way. So you need some coordination and after years of discussion, the United Nations decided to groups should be established to coordinate worldwide the activities iawn.

That's called. I won we decided to pronounce it and on the right you have this group same page that you already mentioned. It's a network to find objects to calculate the orbit and put if required to give warnings and the same page they deal. With potential methods to deflect an object to coordinate ways to coordinate research and potentially also to reach consensus for should be done.

I must say and here in this connection. It shows how they interact with each other with the parent governments and then on top also to inform the United Nations. That you see again some acronyms. Actually. I must say [00:17:00] I think we have much cooler acronyms and what we have heard before these are much more difficult to remember.

So on top is the United Nations committee for the peaceful uses of outer space and then the office of outer space Affairs so they could deal worldwide Distributing the information and the aim of this group is to coordinate activities to be ready in case a real one is heading towards us. So there is a protocol.

We have this process that begins with these groups and if they perceive a real threat and it's time to alert the world that happens in this way more or less. Yes. I mean the i1 is the one who should issue a warning and some procedures are still being worked out. We have the process of doing it and same page who look at the potential space mission to deflect an object will only get into action if the object is big enough.

And the risk is high enough. Actually, we will only consider a space mission if the object is bigger than [00:18:00] about 50 meters and has a higher than 1% impact chance and some procedures are still being worked out on this but it's a ongoing work and we are really looking at options what could be done? I mean all these nice methods presented they can be applied depending on the size of the object and how much time you have to deflect.

And we've got to slide that you've provided as well that goes through at least four of these techniques others have been suggested but I guess these are the main candidates. These are some of the main candidates little on the top left. You have a standoff nuclear explosion on the top-right a kinetic impactor.

And actually the dot mission is exactly. Trying to do this at the bottom left. There is his gravity tractor having a heavy spacecraft. That's just trying to slowly pull the asteroid win on the right. I mean, there are two options. You can fire at this. We had some seen the mirror bees, but you can do it with a single laser also with an iron beam.

You can try to push the object [00:19:00] away and there are at least a dozen methods that have been proposed. I think these are some of the more realistic ones that are being considered but laser be sound so much better than I on bees. That is a great lead-in to Dart which we've already heard a little bit about Nancy.

You gave us a little bit of an introduction and we know roughly how big it is now, but tell us what you're up to hear you and the dart team me and the dart team are building a spacecraft to run into an asteroid. So that's a pretty much what we're up to. Yeah, kinetic impactor technology, so. You know right now this mission is going to be NASA's first dedicated planetary defense mission to do these Technologies to demonstrate this technology of a kinetic impactor where you would nudge the position of an asteroid slightly just to change its path going forward on Dart is scheduled to launch in July of 2021.

So that's not very far off. So when I say people are starting to build we really are some of the [00:20:00] Prototype parts are getting together things are actually coming together people are writing the computer codes to make this possible. Impact is going to be in a late-september of 2022. So we've had other spacecraft even all the way back to Deep Impact which impacted something Comet right much more recently much more gentle impacts.

If you will like Hayabusa to the very successful jaxa, Japanese space agency Mission, osiris-rex studying its Rubble pile. Now, is this really the first time that we're going to see if we can change the trajectory of an. That's what we're doing with this been particular to is this asteroid that we're targeting this did a Mosby the moonlit that's going around the main asteroid.

The one that we showed on that other graphic was about the size of the Great Pyramid. If you would this is the sort of size that we were just talking about which is the one that you really want to kind of do the test on because it's the one that proses potentially the largest threat potentially if you would find it.

There's a lot of those out there. We're still [00:21:00] looking to find them one of those there. So we're just doing this test now. On one that we can that's very applicable to the situation as compared to the cometary are the small impact the Hayabusa did which we're still learning a lot from also what really makes this Mission special is that we can make this measurement we're going to this double asteroid.

That's really key to. Enabling this Mission. How does that work? Well, it's very clever actually, so Dart is a very focused mission is going to run into the smaller asteroid. You want to see how much you've moved it though, right? You're not going to be able to do that with the spacecraft because the same spacecraft because trust me it's going to be going at 15,000 miles per hour and it will be destroyed.

But we can see how this Moon orbits around the larger asteroid from earth-based telescopes. So using the assets that we already have here on Earth will be able to measure how effective this deflection is. And right now it takes about 12 hours for the moon to go around the main asteroid. We think we're going to change that by maybe about 10 minutes or so.

So it's just a little nudge. [00:22:00] We don't really know if it'll be 10 minutes 5 minutes 20 minutes. That's why we're doing this. And this is a good start. I want to talk about some of the other science that we were hearing this morning in the planetary defense conference. But before we leave this slide, there's a little companion there.

If you look on the the sort of halfway down on the left just to the left of Dart itself. That's that's looks familiar to me because I'm from the planetary Society. That's a cubesat. It is it's a cubesat so Dart is a NASA Mission and the Italian space agency is contributing a cubesat and we're going to kick this.

Sad off somewhere between two and five days ahead of time. It has a camera on it. And so it's going to be able to take some images of the impact. It's also going to fly by very fast and so we still need the earth-based telescopes to see how much you deflect that because that has to build up over time.

But this little cubesat companion should capture some images of the final demise of our Dart spacecraft. So this is going to take some pretty amazing coordination, right? I mean, basically, You've got a [00:23:00] speeding bullet hitting another speeding bullet and another one along for the ride to watch what happens?

Told you this was fun. So we have a lot of fun on this Mission. It's challenging and one of the things that's challenging is that you can't actually make out that smaller asteroid until less than an hour really before you're about to impact it. So all of this targeting has to be done. Onboard and so we're going to have the camera.

It's the same it's adapted from the camera that took pictures of Pluto these amazing images of Pluto. We're adapting that camera. We're putting it on this spacecraft on board. It's going to be able to distinguish that smaller moon from the larger asteroid. And then that's what's going to enable this impact that happen.

And that's the technology that will go on to Future missions potentially to Kelly. I just wanted to add a comment that you mentioned Matt the Deep Impact mission. And how that might have been a Pathfinder for Dart and that was indeed. That was a science Mission. It was a comet where an impactor was sent into it to to bring up [00:24:00] material to study the interior of a comet and it wasn't to deflect it.

But the process of doing that helped develop technologies that could feed into something like. And you may or may not know that Deep Impact was a University of Maryland Mission led by dr. Mike Ahern so.

So just want to mention here that University of Maryland is part of feeding into planetary defense Mission and we have University of Maryland team members proudly on the dart team. So yes, ye go Terrapins. Um. There's one other factor involved with dart something. It has to accomplish New Horizons made that wonderful fly by on New Year's Eve of that far distant object has plenty of time to return its data.

I think it's what Jim they're taking over a year to get the data back partly because it's so far away in the data rate is so low. You don't have that luxury, right? You've got to get what you're going to learn from [00:25:00] dark before it gets smashed to atoms. But we have the advantage of being much closer to Earth than Pluto.

So yeah, I mean did a most is not a threat to the Earth not on a collision path with the Earth, but we are doing this at a time when we're minimizing the distance between Earth and this asteroid to use the telescope so it's going to be about. Seven million miles away or so and the data rate will be much much faster than Pluto was able to to stream back to us.

And so we're going to actually send back an image roughly once every second and this just going to keep streaming back from the camera until it doesn't anymore if you're old like me and I was very very young. Are you can remember the ranger missions which smacked into the moon back in the 1960s. Oh god, I've really dated myself.

Rudiger there are other missions that you might want to bring up that are coming. You talked about one, which I think you said you're hoping might get you an asteroid named after you and I will point out that everybody up here [00:26:00] except rudiger and me has an asteroid named after them. Can we get this fixed?

And Europe we want to buy to build fly a telescope and fly is the the little zest has fancy eyes. With facets and we want to copy nature a bit. We want to have collect the light reflected on the mirror. Send it back on a beam splitter and then we split it on 16 cameras. So exactly like the eye of the fly.

We have facets. We do we copied in our telescope. The trick with this we get a huge field of view so we can scan the whole Sky within 48 hours pan-starrs and Catalina. They have fantastic telescopes, but they have a much smaller field of view. So it takes longer and then they see it and let's assume something is coming from this direction, but you scan the sky over there.

You might see it's too late. And with this new concept of telescope. We hope that we can cover the whole sky [00:27:00] in 48 hours return it every night repeated and not missing any object which could approach us. I just got to add and it's not an asteroid impact mission. In fact, it's over but the Rosetta Mission which is one of the greatest successes in the history of space exploration in my humble opinion, which went to Camille muffat gerasimenko.

I'm glad you said it thank you Mission. We learn every time we go to one of these objects, don't we? Yes, it's all these objects are different. We can always learn new things about and Rosetta our people our operators were not prepared for such a strange shape. This was like a rubber duck with to binaries are connected and we had to build the gravity model.

We want to approach you want to really fly around and make close-up photos and it was a big challenge basically on the fly to adapt the models and to calculate the the tiny Gravity Force. And to learn how this [00:28:00] special comment looks like this morning at the planetary defense conference. There was just presentation after presentation by scientists who are doing work to prepare for the dark Mission many of them developing mathematical models for how this might work so that we know what to look for.

It's amazing to me that so much science is coming out of a mission that hasn't even launched. Yeah, well this relates back even to some of the questions that had come up earlier that we are talking about is that you need to know what this asteroid is. Like. Is it a bunch of sand? Is it a solid rock?

These were the questions that naturally you want to ask in? These are the different types of models that people are doing different sized particles on the surface. What's your impact going to be like if you class into a boulder? What's it going to be? Like if you come at a crazy angle? What's it going to be?

Like if you have a shape that you know, looks like you know. Turn off Garrison. Minko then you know, what's that going to be like this is exactly the work that we're doing and we're doing this ahead of time because we want to [00:29:00] you know have our predictions and then we're doing a test. This is how you do science, right?

You make your predictions you think, you know, it's going to happen you get the data and and you see how it went Kelly I should do you and Lily after we saw some of those presentations this morning that really what it said to me was one. Nancy and her team need to aim Dart very carefully so they hit big boulders but not too big kidding second that we really need to get Congress to fund.

Oh, I don't know 19 or 20 more Dark missions because it's going to something different is going to happen every time. Well, and that is the point actually something different is going to happen every time it's customized to the asteroid and there's so many different asteroids out there of different sizes different orbits different composition.

And so it might not necessarily be a bunch of darts. It might be one of the other techniques that's been discussed here. And so for those who think that all we just have to have the mission sitting on the pad ready to go when we find something that's a problem. That's really not going to be the [00:30:00] case and that's why if we find them first then there's the time.

To actually plan it out. Well to maybe send a mission out to characterize it first understand. What is it made of does it look like a rubber duck? What you know, is it roughly or what and then you go and you design your deflection Mission if you have the time to do that, and so if you find them first you can do that and then you can investigate the possibilities.

Will shift gears a little bit and talk about what is happening just about a mile from where we are tonight the planetary defense conference, which is we speak continues for another couple of days. One of the things that I have loved. I've been to two or three of the previous conferences and it started with first one I went to and they're doing it this time is the so-called scenario Gerhard.

I'm hoping you can talk a little bit about this and and what it involves because it is one of the most. Dramatic and involving things I have ever been to with a group of hundreds of scientists because there's a little bit of play acting going on. That is correct. I mean the last PTC [00:31:00] conferences we have come up with some artificial.

Object that we put on the trajectory so that it would hit Earth with a certain probability and the same thing is happening now again, and then everyday more information becomes available and it is been discussed what could be done what should be done and we will learn from it. And then we deflected so it's perfectly something that same page should address because their deal with this method.

It's an exercise. It's an artificial object. I must say so it's now the third day and just before we came here is that the latest information shows that it's heading towards Denver. So if you have any remember this size, it's a no. No, no, it's very careful. It's all made up. It's all make-believe and then I'll quit.

Upset of course. We also want to learn from these exercises. It's important for this un group. But also we have to see what information we can gain [00:32:00] when we fly to the object and observe how it reacts. But right now this is an exercise and it will go until Friday when we finally know will it be successful to deflect it or not?

It will be an exciting situation the scenario considers more than science. I mean when I was there the people were pretending to be. Public Safety oriented people who would have to handle Mass evacuations who would have to get the word out to the public the media would be heavily involved in this is it does it still have this sort of comprehensive approach?

Yes. They're all involved. Everyone is still involved. We have the FEMA. So the emergency response agencies. We have the communication people from the media and they are discussing how to pass this information on to the public and then of course is spacecraft designers, so. Everything everyone is still involved and we want to see what would be a realistic reaction at this time.

How would people react it's also analyzed the object has a given size. [00:33:00] What would be really the damage on the ground for this object? And what do we know what information is missing? It's an attempt is made to make it as realistic as possible. But again, it's an exercise. It's not really on its way Carrie.

I just want to give a shout-out to dr. Paul showed us who designs these scenarios. He's like God. Yeah, he's great.

And he spends a lot of time making it as challenging and as hard for us as possible and he's like very diabolical about it. And so it's pretty fun to like have him like crafting this plan and we're always trying to adapt to that as well. He just they just trickle out the details and at one that I was.

One of the deflection missions failed and it was headed toward Bangladesh really it gets very emotional people get really into it and voices go up. I was actually kicked out of a discussion group by Rusty schweickart Apollo astronaut Apollo 8 astronauts because I made a bad joke. He [00:34:00] said get out of here media.

We also have a third group. We have the Europeans. We have the Americans and we have the rest of the world in this game the rest of the world there were not quite happy when they realized that when the US make a deflection Mission when they move it away from Denver, it moves more and more towards Africa.

So they they're very worried and watching what the US are doing. Yeah. Think about it the political decisions that have to be made if you're going to put nuclear weapons on the. Of a rocket and you say it's going to deflect an asteroid there might be some Nations around the world carry. I'll let you address this that might not take kindly to that.

They might be suspicious. Well, it's interesting because you know, we're all scientists and we want to look at the data and make the best most logical Choice possible. But when it comes down to it, the science is very easy and dealing with the politics is very hard and I think that's why it's so important to have these simulations where we can run through the different things.

[00:35:00] We can talk to different stakeholders. And when you have great representatives from all over the world here, you can really get more voices in on this conversation. I think that the whole asteroid Community would love it. If even more of the world was involved as well. We really want this to be a worldwide affair because it matters to everybody one of the few times you will hear a.

Say and other scientists agree with her the science is easy.  We have so much more to do to show that we are going to be ready for that rock that wants to do to us what its ancestor did to the. One of the things that is coming up and carry you may be able to address this as well or Kelly is a project called Neo cam which I believe is a follow-on to carry a project you're working on called neowise.

Yes. There was a part of a science solicitation commission proposed called Neo cam which would look for near-earth asteroids neowise. [00:36:00] Does that except it was designed to be an astrophysics Mission and so but asteroids. They photobomb anything they're going to go across your field of you. No matter what, but what if you could build something that was really optimized to do this that was looking in the right place and looking in the right way looking in the infrared to see the sizes as Kerry has talked about and so right now at Nasa there is development on the instrument part of what came out of that that mission concept, Neo Cam and we're waiting to see where that goes.

So much progress is being made we have so far to go still. I want to ask each of you where you hope we will be 10 years down the line that would be five planetary defense conferences from now, and I want to go farther than that because you know, it's really hard to make predictions, especially about the future right Old Line Jerry.

So I'm an optimist. So I'm going to be real optimistic here. Maybe the other scientists are going to laugh at me a little bit but 10 years from now. Let's say [00:37:00] everybody in this room context their congressional representative and they say this is really important to me. I mean contacting your Congress congressional representative is always good.

You should always be calling them up on whatever you're concerned about. But if you're concerned about this give them a call maybe that will happen. Maybe we'll get a ton of new funding and it's possible for us to discover over 90% of the near-earth asteroids that are a hundred and forty meters across our big.

That poses a hazard to Earth. We could just rule out the possibility of a collision all together. That'd be really really cool. And then we'd all have to do something else, but that'd be fine with me.  Lots still to learn out there. Hey, let's go right down the line rudiger. Would you tell us? Yeah my personal.

Hope would be that in 10 years all the nations work together and that we don't have to send us Mission Russian Mission Chinese European mission that we join up our forces that the same page is finally working perfectly. We know what to do. And we have a common approach because if an asteroid is approaching the Earth, we all have to work together as a global threat.

It's not for one nation. So in 10 years, I think this is [00:38:00] doable if we want to

Kelly. Well, that's all well said because really the ultimate goal is for us to work ourselves out of a job. And so we're working hard on that because we've and we can do that if we keep at it. Gerhard yeah, my wish is similar to what really gets a 2 as chair of same page. I hope that in 10 years time we have sort of a lookup table.

But if there is a real threatening object, we know what could be done technically to deflect this object same page as the name says is an Advisory Group. They will not take a decision but that we could in each case give a recommendation technically this and this is feasible to the decision-makers.

That would not waste any time. It's just a decision to be taken as quickly as possible. So interesting that several of you really have focused more on the political and policy side of this than the science or technology side Nancy. You'll get the last word [00:39:00] on this one. Well, I'm with Carrie. I mean we should just figure out what's out there.

This is something that's imminently doable identifying where these objects are in keeping track of them. So we understand how big a threat this is or isn't I mean, that's something that we could do very easily without very much resources if we were interested in doing. I told you this would be a great panel, please thank our terrific panelists all at the planetary defense conference.

It's time for what's up on planetary radio. So I am joined by the chief scientist of the planetary Society Bruce fats.

So we'll do all the stuff that we usually do during this segment and Dean with that contest for the folks at home. And the people who are here with us at the University of Maryland. Tell us what's up in the night sky. All right in the evening Sky Mars is working hard to [00:40:00] stay visible, but you still have to look fairly low in the west and the early evening.

It will be looking reddish like a kind of bright. Not that bright star and in the pre-dawn in the East Venus super bright, but also very low down in the East but coming up around midnight. Now, I actually even earlier 10 or 11. We will have Jupiter looking very very bright in the East and then a couple hours later Saturn coming up looking yellow.

Excellent. We've got this week in space history was this week in 1973 that Skylab launched and started its space station stays that amazing space station, which is just not remembered by as many people as it ought to be you liked Scylla a lot. I wanted to run there was a track if you were up there you could run around a track on the inside skin of Skylab and it just looked like more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

We will get you a barrel of monkeys and see their [00:41:00] old hag. He's in space wouldn't that be fun now would be fun. So anyway, we move on and I would like your help on three. I'm going to ask you to say random space Fact one, two three.

So bad. In April 2029 Friday the 13th Apophis a roughly 350 meter asteroid will come closer to Earth than our geostationary satellites. Oh my it will be visible with the naked eye from about half the world including Europe and moving across the sky at get up to approximately 3rd magnitude and brightness looking like a kind of bright star so that will be exciting, but it's not going to hit.

You're not you wouldn't get us. I'm I would kid you about nearly everything other than massive massive destruction and death.  Alright, so last time around I asked you. What is [00:42:00] the second largest near-earth asteroid with Ganymede? Being the largest is occasionally happens. I hadn't thought through the entire details of this what answers do we get and I'm willing to give two of them consider two of them as right answers.

I would guess about three quarters of the respondents came up with the one that I think you had in mind. 433 Eros. Yes and 433 arrows has a long axis. It's oblong. It's what the near Shoemaker spacecraft observed and has a long axis of over 34 kilometers, but a mean average diameter of about 16, which leaves open what I guess some other people said which was Don Quixote which has a somewhat higher average.

Diameter at over 18 kilometers. So we take either answer. How'd we do who won we let Yes. It's a real thing choose [00:43:00] among the people who have a correct answer or in this case one of the two correct answers and this time chose Justin Taylor in Exeter, California. He said indeed it's the second largest near-earth asteroid.

It's banana-shaped 433 Eros. This is interesting. I've heard from Justin before he has been known to binge on eight hours of past planetary radio episodes. He says he loves listening being present for the future of space exploration. And he thanks us you and me for unearthing his passion for space science with which drove him to start his ba in environmental science.

Wow, cool. So Justin you are going to get a. Planetary Society kick asteroid sit with me but strife. As will some people here tonight and along with that a 200 point. I telescope dotnet account. I telescope is the [00:44:00] worldwide network of remotely operated telescopes, which anybody can use to look for a near-earth asteroids.

Why not? We always get great stuff from other listeners as well Norman kizuna in the UK. He said Eros one of the first asteroids visited by spacecraft the first one orbited the first one soft landed on all done, of course spy. Near that is correct David sproat also in the UK. He says it's also an nma A near Mars asteroids.

So it threatens the Martians as well as we should get together and work with the Martian. So we are trying to collaborate broadly.  Richard ants in McGrath Canada. He says next week's question should be what is the largest near-earth rubber asteroid? And finally we have any fans of the expanse out there either the books of the TV show.

Just a handful. Okay, you're the only ones who get this. You will get this Jordan kicked in San Luis. [00:45:00] Obispo said be sure to visit Eros before the Proto molecule arrives. Okay, finally. Do you know that we have a poet? Indeed. We do Dave Fairchild and Shawnee, Kansas. Here is his submission for this week for three three arrows his Stony and shaped like a shoe or a peanut or such it currently crosses the orbits of Mars and Shoemaker showed us as much and since it is larger a factor of 5 on the chicxulub impact or scale.

I'm hoping the conference for Planet defense is kicking that asteroids tail.

He doesn't usually get applies, but that's great. Why don't we do the contest for the people here will do the contest. I will throw a rubber asteroids. I cannot guarantee oil hit the right person. Please pass them along to the winter raise your hands. Matt will call on you and we have volunteers running.

Excellent. We have the microphone PS. Yeah. We need you back. Thank you very much. [00:46:00] Okay, here's the first question. All right name both missions currently active at asteroids. Both missions currently act. I'm not sure Rick benzyl MIT professors allowed to enter. Hi. What's your name is? I'm Katie and the two missions would be Hayabusa 2 and no serious wrecks.

That is correct.

And here goes the asteroid

well done. All right in what year was the tunguska impact tunguska impact in Siberia. Let's go all the way to the back there gentleman with his hand up. Hi. What's your name, sir? My name is Charlie. The tunguska impact was in 1908. That is correct.  A long throw here's the windup the windup and the pitch.

Oh God, it is so hard to predict the trajectories of [00:47:00] asteroids. You know, I had it and then the yarkovsky effect non grab humor named one of the top two telescopic discovering surveys as measured by discoveries in 2018. And here we were just talking about let's go to the other side. There's a woman with her hand only about halfway up now.

It's up high. Catalina Sky survey that is crack Catalina and pan-starrs.

Here Comes, oh gosh at least terrible. Sorry. I'm sorry Wilson. I'm sorry. Oh the humanity a couple more. Alright couple more. Let's see. What is Lindley Johnson's title at Nasa and literally you don't put up your hand. He's right here.  How about the young person right here with the [00:48:00] NASA t-shirt?

What's your name? William and Keith planetary defense officer. How does correct it's not a yes?

Okay, there you Defence officer very cool title. And here's an asteroid will try a different throwing technique. I hit it around so you're not like Lindley for Honor nephew. Are you? Okay? What asteroid? Did near Shoemaker Explorer you're paying attention. Oh, come on folks. We just went here guy in the fell orange shirt right there on the aisle your name, sir.

My name is your booth asteroid Eros. That is correct. Asteroid Eros. Fantastic.


we do one more extra bonus [00:49:00] time rubber asteroid who wants one more they'll raise their hands out of a plot. I don't blame them. Here we go. What?  Is the largest asteroid or smallest dwarf planet?  largest asteroid smallest dwarf. Planet in our solar system that we know of weight in the back. I see right next to someone else who has his hand up.

Sorry buddy with your hand up it. Oh no, that is incorrect. Let's how about right over here? Yeah. I think that Sarah is it is indeed series Sherry.

Oh, he ran off. Oh good going for it. Excellent motivation. All right. Thank you. Everybody for participating we're going to now we're going to put the next trivia Contest out there for the folks at home the listeners to planetary radio. Please don't shout out the answer.  [00:50:00] Although I'd be really impressed if you knew the answer just because I find it challenging.

What is the name of the 930 meter approximately asteroid? It will fly by Earth at only .65 just lunar distances to the Moon. Sorry lunar distances in June 2028. I can hear a pin drop but they were so good and not yelling out the answer. I don't even know if all the sisters courtesy do a paper by I should say by Lance Benner and Marina Bros Havoc at the conference that I did not know.

This is the year before Apophis. There's another very large asteroid flyby. Give us the question one more time. All right. I'll try not to stutter this. What is the name of the 930 meter asteroid that will fly by Earth at .65 lunar distances in June of 2028 go to planetary dot org slash radio [00:51:00] contest.

You've got till May 15, that would be Wednesday May 15 at 8:00 a.m. Pacific time. And if you get it, right and are chosen by random dot org a planetary society and rubber asteroid will be yours along with the 200-point. I telescope dotnet account by the. Rusev a 930 meter asteroid hit the earth.

We'd probably know about it wouldn't we? Yeah, I mean, so you'd notice. Except for a whole segment of people who would not know what hit them.  It's a good night Bruce. All right, everybody go out there look up in the night sky and think about whether a terrapin could be used to stop an asteroid.

Thank you and goodnight.

He is Doctor Bruce Betts the chief scientist of the planetary Society. This is. Planetary radio live coming to you from the [00:52:00] University of Maryland at College Park the proud home of the Terrapins many of whom are in our audience.

Tomorrow a lot of the other people in this room will go back to saving the Earth at the planetary defense conference. It has been a great pleasure to join all of you this evening. Once again, thank you for joining us. And Ad Astra everybody. Good night.

Our thanks go to the International Academy of astronautics the University of Maryland College Park NASA 360 and all the sponsors and others who made this year's planetary defense conference possible. I'm off to the humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC that begins on May 4. If registrations are still open is this episode comes out you can learn more at H to m dot explore Mars dot-org.

[00:53:00] Planetary radio is produced by the planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by our members who believe Earth is worth defending Mary. Liz Bender is our associate producer Josh well-composed our theme which was arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan. Ad Astra.

View Full Transcript

Listen more: interview, Planetary Radio Live, Shoemaker NEO Grants, near-Earth asteroids, meteors, comets, Earth impact hazard, asteroids, Planetary Radio, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, Planetary Society People, Planetary Society, Bill Nye

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Mat Kaplan
Support Planetary Radio

Keep our weekly radio program broadcasting online and on the air around the world.