NASA Unveils Plan to Protect Earth From Asteroids, Other Near-Earth Objects

asteroid ida
This is the first full picture showing both asteroid 243 Ida and its newly discovered moon to be transmitted to Earth from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Galileo spacecraft--the first conclusive evidence that natural satellites of asteroids exist. Ida, the large object, is about 56 kilometers (35 miles) long. NASA/JPL

The White House and NASA announced a new preparation plan Wednesday that could be used in the event a near-Earth object is on a collision course with the planet.

These objects would typically be asteroids that enter Earth's atmosphere and fail to burn up, making it to Earth's surface in the form of a meteorite.

The new plan—called the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan—outlined five goals, all cenetered around reducing the risk of any near-Earth object impacts in the future.

Goal one of the strategy involves improving the country's capabilities to detect the near-Earth objects in the first place, as well as track them and identify them. This leads into the second goal of modeling the objects more accurately, ideally making the movement and path of the object easier to predict.

Once the path of the object is known, then the appropriate authorities can take action against it—either deflecting it or disrupting it—the third goal of the strategy outlines.

Goals four and five have less to do with the objects directly and more to do with the response and the work to be done before and after the objects arrive. Goal four is to increase the cooperation between agencies across nations that have information on any near-Earth objects. The fifth goal, meanwhile, is to "strengthen and exercise procedures and protocols" for not only assessing threats but also communication, response and recovery around those threats.

The possibility of a near-Earth object actually colliding with Earth and causing significant damage is incredibly unlikely—but it is possible. The Chelyabinsk meteor that fell in Russia in 2013, for example, injured more than 1,500 people.

Astronomers proactively search for any objects that could pose such a threat ,and the new strategy combines those efforts with new goals as well so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Adding the five new goals to the work that's already being done to prevent such devastation will "Dramatically increase the nation's preparedness for addressing the NEO hazard and mitigating any threat," NASA said in a press release.

The work detailed in the plan is set to happen over the next 10 years in the hopes that once all of the goals are achieved, they will "Ensure the nation can more effectively respond in case this type of very low-probability but very high-consequence natural disaster should occur."