NASA Approves Continued Development of Asteroid Hunting Space Telescope

A critical element in planetary defense and the search for dangerous asteroid continues to plod along. The Neo Surveyor, previously named NeoCam has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. While getting approval to move to the next stage of development, the earliest date this new telescope could launch is 2026.

In 2005 congress mandated NASA with the task of detecting and cataloging at least 90 percent of Near Earth Asteroids (NEO’s) 450 feet in size by 2020. NASA failed to meet that deadline. One NASA scientist estimated that about two thirds of the NEO’s larger than 450 feet remain to be discovered.

Earth is under constant threat of an asteroid impact.

It’s curious that it typically takes an meteor impact or a close call for our government and NASA to take action. In 2013, several months after the Chelyabinsk, Russia meteor blast, the end of life space telescope WISE was reincarnated as NEOWISE to conduct a survey of asteroids. Then after the close call in July 2019 of 2019 OK, a previously undiscovered 427-foot wide asteroid that passed within 40,000 miles of Earth, NEOCam received funding after waiting in the wings for years.

Both of these close calls were from undetected asteroids. If 2019 OK had struck a city like Los Angeles, millions of people could have perished in the blink of the eye by an unknown, unseen terror from the sky.

At least continued development of NeoSurveyor has been approved without any recent threat event. Let’s hope that NASA and JPL continue to be diligent in their search for possible threats from space.

From JPL and Astronomy Magazine:

The infrared space telescope is designed to help advance NASA’s planetary defense efforts.

NASA has approved the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor) to move to the next phase of mission development after a successful mission review, authorizing the mission to move forward into Preliminary Design.

The infrared space telescope is designed to help advance NASA’s planetary defense efforts by expediting our ability to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit, collectively known as near-earth objects, or NEOs.

“NEO Surveyor will have the capability to rapidly accelerate the rate at which NASA is able to discover asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard to the Earth, and it is being designed to discover 90 percent of asteroids 140 meters in size or larger within a decade of being launched,” said Mike Kelley, NEO Surveyor program scientist at NASA Headquarters.

Following completion of the goal to discover 90 percent of all NEOs larger than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in size in 2010, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-155) directed NASA to discover 90% of NEOs larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size. The agency is diligently working to achieve this directive and has currently found approximately 40% of near-Earth asteroids within this size range.

“Each night, astronomers across the globe diligently use ground-based optical telescopes to discover new NEOs, characterize their shape and size, and confirm they do not pose a threat to us,” said Kelly Fast, program manager for NASA’s NEO Observations Program.…

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An asteroid came ‘exceptionally close’ to hitting Earth… Again!

Largest Asteroid of 2021 to Zoom Past Earth in March, Closest Approach in  200 Years

If you check websites like or NASA’s CENEOS (Center for Near Earth Object Studies) and view the list of projected asteroid close approaches, you won’t find the little bugger that just snuck past us.

That’s because 2021 GW4 was discovered just days before it nearly smacked into Earth! As I have said repeatedly, “It’s not the asteroids we know about, it’s the ones we haven’t found yet that scare me!”

From Yahoo! News:

There will be no “Armageddon” type of situation on Earth, this time, after an asteroid the size of car just missed hitting Earth on Monday April 12th. 

The asteroid, known as 2021 GW4, traveled at 18,700 miles per hour when it passed the planet. At its closest, the asteroid was just over 12,000 miles away from Earth’s surface at 9:01 a.m. ET. For reference, most geostationary satellites are around 22,000 miles awa,y and the moon is roughly 238,900 miles away.

The asteroid was first discovered on April 8 at the Catalina Sky Survey in Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.

Astronomer and founder of the Virtual Telescope Project Gianluca Masi said it was “an exceptionally close encounter.” He captured an image of the asteroid when it was over 186,000 miles from Earth and can be seen in the middle of the image with an arrow pointed at it. 

Telescope image of asteroid 2021 GW4, which came close to hitting Earth.

“We repeat this is an absolutely safe close approach. Asteroids of that size coming so close are relatively rare, but so far this year we had four objects coming within 0.07 lunar distance from Earth’s center: 2021 GW4 is the largest of these four rocks,” Masi said.

NASA estimated that the asteroid was between 3.5-7.7 meters long, and tracked how close its orbit came to Earth’s. The size is the reason why people were not able to see it without a telescope.

Earth has dodged a couple of space bullets recently after NASA announced the 1,100-foot-long asteroid Apophis would not hit Earth in the next 100 years. That asteroid is projected to come within 20,000 miles of Earth on April 13,

It’s common for space rocks similar to 2021 GW4 to hit Earth as it happens about once a year, according to NASA. However space rocks smaller than 25 meters, over three times the size of 2021 GW4, often burn up and create, “an impressive fireball” as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA estimates that it would take an asteroid more than half a mile long to cause worldwide effects after impact.

Source: An asteroid just came ‘exceptionally close’ to hitting Earth (

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