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Q+A: Can NASA Really Predict - and Divert - Harmful Asteroids?

Asteroid in outer space

January 21, 2016

The name “Planetary Defense Coordination Office” evokes such sci-fi motifs as laser canons pointed skyward and angry, space ship-riding aliens.

In actuality, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) that NASA announced earlier this month deals with things that could pose a much more real threat to Earth: asteroids.

NASA was charged by Congress with seeking out and tracking near-earth objects — asteroids and comets “entering Earth’s neighborhood.” The office will also take the lead role in dealing with any potential risks to the planet.

More than 13,500 near-Earth objects have been discovered to date. They range in size from simply a meter or two all the way up to kilometers. And roughly 1,500 more are being discovered each year.

Now, with Congress earmarking $50 million to fund an office dedicated to these objects, are they really all that threatening? And is there actually the potential to stop one targeting Earth?

Drexel’s Gordon Richards, PhD, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, has already worked on a project dedicated to mapping the night sky and is signed on for another expansive project. He weighs in on what the new office could contribute to the scientific community and Earth as a whole.

Keep reading at the Drexel News Blog