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NASA discovers 10,000th near-Earth object

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By Euronews
NASA discovers 10,000th near-Earth object

<p>More than 10,000 asteroids and comets that can pass near Earth have now been discovered. The 10,000th near-Earth object, asteroid 2013 MZ5, was first detected on the night of June 18, 2013, by the Pan-<span class="caps">STARRS</span>-1 telescope, located on the 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui. Managed by the University of Hawaii, the PanSTARRS survey receives <span class="caps">NASA</span> funding. </p> <p>Ninety-eight percent of all near-Earth objects discovered were first detected by <span class="caps">NASA</span>-supported surveys. </p> <p>“Finding 10,000 near-Earth objects is a significant milestone,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for <span class="caps">NASA</span>’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program at <span class="caps">NASA</span> Headquarters, Washington. “But there are at least 10 times that many more to be found before we can be assured we will have found any and all that could impact and do significant harm to the citizens of Earth.” During Johnson’s decade-long tenure, 76 percent of the <span class="caps">NEO</span> discoveries have been made. </p> <p>Near-Earth objects (<span class="caps">NEO</span>s) are asteroids and comets that can approach the Earth’s orbital distance to within about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers). They range in size from as small as a few feet to as large as 25 miles (41 kilometers) for the largest near-Earth asteroid, 1036 Ganymed. </p> <p>Asteroid 2013 MZ5 is approximately 1,000 feet (300 meters) across. Its orbit is well understood and will not approach close enough to Earth to be considered potentially hazardous. </p> <p>“The first near-Earth object was discovered in 1898,” said Don Yeomans, long-time manager of <span class="caps">NASA</span>’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Over the next hundred years, only about 500 had been found. But then, with the advent of <span class="caps">NASA</span>’s <span class="caps">NEO</span> Observations program in 1998, we’ve been racking them up ever since. And with new, more capable systems coming on line, we are learning even more about where the <span class="caps">NEO</span>s are currently in our solar system, and where they will be in the future.” </p> <p>Of the 10,000 discoveries, roughly 10 percent are larger than six-tenths of a mile (one kilometer) in size – roughly the size that could produce global consequences should one impact the Earth. However, the <span class="caps">NASA</span> <span class="caps">NEOO</span> program has found that none of these larger <span class="caps">NEO</span>s currently pose an impact threat and probably only a few dozen more of these large <span class="caps">NEO</span>s remain undiscovered. </p> <p>The vast majority of <span class="caps">NEO</span>s are smaller than one kilometer, with the number of objects of a particular size increasing as their sizes decrease. For example, there are expected to be about 15,000 <span class="caps">NEO</span>s that are about one-and-half football fields in size (460 feet, or 140 meters), and more than a million that are about one-third a football field in size (100 feet, or 30 meters). A <span class="caps">NEO</span> hitting Earth would need to be about 100 feet (30 meters) or larger to cause significant devastation in populated areas. Almost 30 percent of the 460-foot-sized <span class="caps">NEO</span>s have been found, but less than 1 percent of the 100-foot-sized <span class="caps">NEO</span>s have been detected. </p> <p>When it originated, the <span class="caps">NASA</span>-instituted Near-Earth Object Observations Program provided support to search programs run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory (<span class="caps">LINEAR</span>); the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (<span class="caps">NEAT</span>); the University of Arizona (Spacewatch, and later Catalina Sky Survey) and the Lowell Observatory (<span class="caps">LONEOS</span>). All these search teams report their observations to the Minor Planet Center, the central node where all observations from observatories worldwide are correlated with objects, and they are given unique designations and their orbits are calculated. </p> <p>“When I began surveying for asteroids and comets in 1992, a near-Earth object discovery was a rare event,” said Tim Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center. “These days we average three <span class="caps">NEO</span> discoveries a day, and each month the Minor Planet Center receives hundreds of thousands of observations on asteroids, including those in the main-belt. The work done by the <span class="caps">NASA</span> surveys, and the other international professional and amateur astronomers, to discover and track <span class="caps">NEO</span>s is really remarkable.” </p> <p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/3QLl-9mvuPI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>Within a dozen years, the program achieved its goal of discovering 90 percent of near-Earth objects larger than 3,300 feet (1 kilometer) in size. In December 2005, <span class="caps">NASA</span> was directed by Congress to extend the search to find and catalog 90 percent of the <span class="caps">NEO</span>s larger than 500 feet (140 meters) in size. When this goal is achieved, the risk of an unwarned future Earth impact will be reduced to a level of only one percent when compared to pre-survey risk levels. This reduces the risk to human populations, because once an <span class="caps">NEO</span> threat is known well in advance, the object could be deflected with current space technologies. </p> <p>Currently, the major <span class="caps">NEO</span> discovery teams are the Catalina Sky Survey, the University of Hawaii’s Pan-<span class="caps">STARRS</span> survey and the <span class="caps">LINEAR</span> survey. The current discovery rate of <span class="caps">NEO</span>s is about 1,000 per year.</p> <p>Read also:</p> <p><a href="http://www.euronews.com/2013/06/19/nasa-calls-for-help-to-find-asteroids/" rel="external"> <span class="caps">NASA</span> calls for help to find asteroids</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.euronews.com/2013/05/02/nasa-captures-sun-burst-on-camera/" rel="external"><span class="caps">NASA</span> captures sun burst on camera</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.euronews.com/2013/04/12/obama-s-asteroid-grab-as-he-shoots-for-mars/" rel="external">Obama’s asteroid grab as he shoots for Mars</a></p>