Yesterday morning, NPR's Morning Edition ran a nice radio segment about Gary Hug, hard core amateur astronomer and winner of a 2009 Planetary Society Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) grant winner. I also appear in a quick sound bite.
Gary is one of the more than 30 astronomers who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Shoemaker NEO grants to improve their ability to study near Earth objects. Grants typically upgrade hardware at existing facilities to take observers to the next level in NEO finding, tracking, and/or characterization. The radio piece gives you a nice sense of Gary's backyard, or back-field, observatory. As Gary discusses, most NEOs are currently found by professional surveys, though not all (e.g., next year's very close passing asteroid 2012 DA14 was found by Shoemaker NEO winners in Spain). One of the key necessary roles that observers like Gary fill is follow up observations, which are crucial to determining orbits. It doesn't do you any good in Earth protection if you know an asteroid is out there but don't know if it is on a collision course with Earth.