One Year After Chelyabinsk Meteor Strike, NASA Ramps Up Asteroid Detection Efforts

One year since an asteroid exploded over Russia, NASA has ramped up its efforts aimed at identifying and coping with the threat of near-Earth objects.

The Chelyabinsk meteor that entered the Earth’s atmosphere above Russia on February 15, 2013, exploded with 20-30 times the energy of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. It is the largest known object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska event in 1908.

Despite exploding over 18 miles up in the atmosphere, the asteroid had enough explosive power to shatter windows down on the ground, injuring 1,500 people seriously enough to seek medical attention.

Because the asteroid was undetected prior to atmospheric entry it generated international media attention and a renewed interest in the threats posed by near-Earth objects.

What has changed in the past year?

In the year since, NASA’s NEO Program Office, which is responsible for the detection and tracking of potentially dangerous asteroids and comets, saw its budget effectively doubled, going from $20.4 million in FY2013 to $40.5 million in FY2014. The NEO Program Office has already detected over 90 percent of near-Earth objects (NEOs) larger than one kilometer and is now focusing its efforts on finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than 140 meters in size.

In 2013, NASA announced the Asteroid Grand Challenge, an effort to enhance collaboration between private industry, academia, government agencies and citizen scientists in the detection of asteroids. Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining startup, has already partnered with NASA as a part of the Asteroid Grand Challenge to help develop crowdsourced software solutions to improve the detection of near-Earth objects.

NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission is also moving forward with the aim of capturing an asteroid and moving it into a stable Earth orbit in order to study it. The mission would involve the development of technologies that could one day be used to protect us from objects that threaten Earth.

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Image Credit: Aleksandr Ivanov