A new map released by NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Program reveals in stark detail just how frequently – around every other week – small asteroids have entered and disintegrated in the Earth’s atmosphere over a twenty-year period. A total of 556 separate day and nighttime events were recorded by U.S. government sensors between 1994 and 2013.
Fortunately for us, almost all of these fast-moving objects are destroyed due to the extreme atmospheric friction heating they receive, breaking up into harmless shards that burn up before hitting the ground. However, there are exceptions, most notably the Chelyabinsk event in Russia which was the largest asteroid to hit our planet in the last two decades.
Due to the severe threat posed by larger NEOs, NASA has made finding these hazardous bodies a high priority, increasing its investment in asteroid detection, characterisation and mitigation activities ten fold over the last five years. NASA is also developing strategies with partners in the U.S. and abroad to extend these activities, helping to identify asteroids that might pose a risk of hitting Earth and further developing our options for planetary defence.
We can all participate in the hunt for potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects through NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which aims to formulate a plan to find all asteroid threats to life on Earth and find a way to deal with them. NASA is also pursuing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to identify, capture and redirect a NEO to a stable orbit around the Moon for further study by astronauts in the 2020s. Among its many exploration goals, the mission could demonstrate asteroid deflection techniques for basic planetary protection.
More information about the map and data:
Details about ARM and the Asteroid Grand Challenge: