Europe Opens New Asteroid-hunting Center

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Europe has a new hub that will help coordinate scientists’ efforts to detect and track potentially dangerous asteroids.

The European Space Agency inaugurated its Near-Earth Object (NEO) Coordination Center May 22, cutting the ribbon on a facility that officials said will strengthen Europe’s contribution to the hunt for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets.

The new facility — which is located at the ESA Center for Earth Observation in Frascati, Italy — will support asteroid hunters, serve as the main access point for European NEO data networks and provide data in near-real time to scientific institutions, international organizations and policymakers, ESA officials said.

Earth has been pummeled by space rocks repeatedly throughout its 4.5-billion-year history, and the planet will continue to be hit into the future, as the dramatic events of Feb. 15 show.

On that day, a powerful fireball exploded without warning over Russia just hours before the 40-meter asteroid 2012 DA14 cruised within 27,000 kilometers of Earth, coming closer than the planet’s ring of geosynchronous satellites.