United Nations Action Team Reviewing Asteroid Impact Threat

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GOLDEN, Colo. — The Feb. 15 Russian meteorite impact and the close flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 later the same day came as the United Nations is discussing international response to near-Earth object impact concerns.

Detailed discussions about the Russian meteor explosion and Earth’s encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14 were high on the Feb. 15 agenda of Action Team-14 during the 50th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, held Feb. 11-22 at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna.

The multiyear work of Action Team-14 is focused on pushing forward on an international response to the impact threat of asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs).

Future threatening asteroids

“This event in Russia and the pass of the larger asteroid 2012 DA14 are good reminders that many thousands of objects like it pass near Earth daily,” said Ray Williamson, a senior adviser to the Secure World Foundation and a participant in the Vienna gathering.

The Secure World Foundation is a private operating foundation dedicated to the secure and sustainable use of space for the benefit of Earth and all its peoples.

Williamson said that some objects will be larger and cause considerable damage if they strike Earth. Furthermore, it is critical that efforts continue to identify and track asteroids in order to counter the largest ones before they do serious damage to population centers.

“Work is continuing within the United Nations on developing international responses to future threatening asteroids. Given the uncertainties concerning where such asteroids might strike Earth and how much damage they might do, international responses will be critical,” Williamson said.

Also taking part in the U.N. NEO working group is space scientist Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency’s European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

“The day before we thought it is great timing that 2012 DA14 flies by in the evening … and were shocked when in the morning we learned about the Russia event,” Koschny said. “What a coincidence. Was this a cosmic warning shot? It makes you think.”

Timely warnings

For its part, the U.N. Action Team-14 has been deliberating for years about the makeup and focus of an Information, Analysis and Warning Network, designed to gather and analyze NEO data and provide timely warnings to national authorities should a potentially hazardous NEO threaten Earth.

But gluing together a planetary defense strategy is not easy and includes a number of components: finding potentially hazardous objects, predicting their future locations, and providing warning about future impacts with Earth.

Furthermore, such a strategy also involves missions to deflect impacting asteroids by changing their orbit, as well as disaster preparedness management and, in the event of a NEO strike, shaping a mitigation and recovery plan to counteract consequences.

The need for an Information, Analysis and Warning Network had been identified in the September 2008 report: “Asteroid Threats: A Call for a Global Response,” a document prepared by an expert panel convened by the Association of Space Explorers to assist the work of Action Team-14.