Teaming Up to Monitor Asteroid Threats

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A visualization of some of the asteroids in our solar system. Paul Chodas

A visualization of some of the asteroids in our solar system.

Paul Chodas


Earlier this week, two federal agencies—NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration—announced that they will work together to monitor potentially dangerous asteroids while also exploring methods for deflecting or destroying objects that could threaten Earth.

The threat posed by asteroid impacts is real, and a range of strategies to protect the planet, from blasting an asteroid aside to using a rocket to steer it off course, have been discussed over the years.

In 2013, the Museum together with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) hosted a panel of astronauts from around the world to discuss the hazards posted by near-Earth objects and how space agencies and governments can work together on detection and deflection strategies.


 “There are swarms of them orbiting between Mars and Jupiter,” said moderator and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson. “And some of them have orbits that come in a little too close, and cross the orbit of Earth around the Sun.”

 Some of these objects, Dr. Tyson explained, pass unnervingly close by our planet more often than we might think. In 2013, an asteroid the size of a large truck exploded in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Just this March, an object known as 2014-YB35, estimated to be almost a kilometer (0.6 miles) across and capable of doing damage on a global scale, came within 23,000 miles of Earth, missing the planet by a hair’s breadth in cosmic terms.

To learn more about how near-Earth asteroids are being mapped, monitored, and studied, watch this video from Science Bulletins.

And to better understand the threat asteroids pose—and the potential ways they could benefit mankind—listen to this podcast from MIT professor Richard Binzel, presented as part of the Hayden Planetarium’s Frontiers in Astrophysics. Visit the Museum’s Ross Hall of Meteorites for more about meteorites, asteroids, and comets.