We’ve Found 10,000 Near-Earth Objects. How To Step Up The Search?

by Elizabeth Howell on June 27, 2013

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Asteroid 2013 MZ5 as seen by the University of Hawaii's PanSTARR-1 telescope. Credit: PS-1/UH

Asteroid 2013 MZ5 as seen by the University of Hawaii’s PanSTARR-1 telescope. Credit: PS-1/UH

That pale white dot up there? No. 10,000 in a list of near-Earth objects. This rock, 2013 MZ5, was discovered June 18. It is 1,000 feet (300 meters) across and will not come anywhere near to threatening Earth, NASA assures us.

But what else is out there? The agency still hasn’t found every asteroid or comet that could come by Earth. To be sure, however, it’s really trying. But is there more NASA and other agencies can do to search? Tell us in the comments.

A bit of history: the first of these objects was discovered in 1898, but in recent decades we’ve been more systematic about finding them. This means we’ve been picking up the pace on discoveries.

Congress asked NASA in 2005 to find and catalog 90 per cent of NEOs that are larger than 500 feet (140 meters) in size, about enough to level a city. The agency says it has also found most of the very largest NEOs, those that are at least six-tenths of a mile (1 kilometer) across (and none so far discovered are a threat.)

That’s not to say smaller pieces wouldn’t do damage. Remember that Russian meteor this year that blew out windows and caused injuries? It probably was only 50 feet (15 meters) across.

The two main smoke trails left by the Russian meteorite as it passed over the city of Chelyabinsk. Credit: AP Photo/Chelyabinsk.ru

The two main smoke trails left by the Russian meteorite as it passed over the city of Chelyabinsk. Credit: AP Photo/Chelyabinsk.ru

Still, NASA says once it achieves its latest goal (which it is supposed to be by 2020), “the risk of an unwarned future Earth impact will be reduced to a level of only one per cent when compared to pre-survey risk levels. This reduces the risk to human populations, because once an NEO threat is known well in advance, the object could be deflected with current space technologies.”

The major surveys for NEOs in the United States are the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey, the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS survey and the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Air Force and NASA. Worldwide, the current discovery rate is 1,000 per year.

In May, the European Space Agency also opened a new “NEO Coordination Centre” intended to be the one-stop shop for asteroid warnings in Europe (and worldwide, of course.) More details here.

EDIT: And NASA also recently issued an Asteroid Grand Challenge to private industry to seek solutions to find these space rocks. Check out more information here.

What more can be done to find and track threatening space rocks? Let us know below.

Credit: NASA

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Martin June 27, 2013 at 7:56 PM

Even though none of the currently known objects are a threat to earth, couldn’t that change if the orbits of any of these 10,000 objects is altered by a close encounter with a planet or a moon?

Grimbold June 27, 2013 at 10:45 PM

Yes and no. It’s true that gravitational perturbations by other solar system objects can have significant effects on the orbits of these asteroids. But the people evaluating the threat levels include these effects in their calculations as best they can.

Isabel Herron June 30, 2013 at 8:57 PM

like Billy replied I am dazzled that a person can get paid $4420 in 1 month on the internet. did you look at this website w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

Aqua4U June 28, 2013 at 9:27 PM

The Chelyabinsk incident created a momentary world wide sensation that hopefully does not fade any time soon. The recent announcement that Russia is interested in partnering with the United States and others to create defensive measures for future threats is very encouraging. The weakest link is the realization that similar objects may not be easily observed due to those orbits which are sunward obscured. Remnants from sun grazing cometary or asteroidal bodies come to mind here. Not only would those objects be difficult to pick out in the solar glare but also may only be detected when too close for us to mount any kind of defensive measures.

Launching observation stations located in solar Lagrangian points, or on the lunar far side for 24/7 views would not come cheap, but would prove their value if they saved us from annihilation? Shall we send this line of reasoning to congress so they can hem and haw about the expense?

Planemo June 28, 2013 at 10:59 PM

Hey Aqua buddy. I just KNEW you’d be here and one of the 1st to post here too ;-). I must wait a few more weeks to get the rest of my ordered parts for my new t-scope to be xcompletely assembled. This actually cost 1/3rd the total cost also! Yes, I must wait a few more weeks. When all is said, ordered, and assembled. It has been so well worth the effort. Thanks to you. I got off my butt and made it happen. Again, thanks for the push! ;-)

Aqua4U June 29, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Good to hear Bro! Parts eh? What are you building? Inquiring minds want to know….. ~@; )

Planemo June 29, 2013 at 3:22 AM

Thanks buddy ;-). About a 3 weeks ago or so. You gave me those four t-scope websites. I asked a very good friend who works through different Universities/colleges and scientific research institutions supplying them all with all kinds technical parts and supplies. I got a hold of him and the rest is history. He recognized “Mikes Workshop”. He has used links from Mikes site to order parts and other accessories. He has already sent me a ‘used’ base and tripod. They are all till in the box(s). He called me Wednesday eve explaining to me he better do the assembling because its very sensitive and precise. I’ll just leave it up to him to do the rest. A 3.5K scope new is costing me 1.2K assembled too ;-). Oh ya, its an exchange bartering
thing of equal value. Thanks again for the idea buddy!

xihao855 June 30, 2013 at 2:42 AM

tinyurl.com/l3cselt…………..

Prism2Spectrum July 1, 2013 at 1:57 PM

On ESA’s – “Space Situational Awareness” site, linked above:

“Dramatic proof that some of these [ NEOs ] could strike Earth came on 15 February, when an unknown object thought to be 17–20 m in diameter exploded high above Chelyabinsk, Russia, with 20–30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The resulting shock wave caused widespread damage and injuries, making it the largest known natural object to have entered the atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event.”

Came across this beautiful Don Davis illustration of the “meteor” passong over Chelyabinsk: http://paradoxolbers.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/chelyabinsk-bolide-meteorite-don-davis.jpg

(Need to learn NOT to click, when in edit mode!)

JonHanford July 1, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Great find, I’m a big fan of D. Davis’ art. Thanks for sharing.

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