Rest a little easier tonight, Earthlings: NASA has just launched a new office aimed at protecting the planet from potential doomsday asteroids.
The Planetary Defense Coordination Office will oversee all of the space agency's efforts to detect and track near-earth objects, and coordinate with other federal agencies as well as other nations if and when it becomes necessary.
The head of the department, Lindley Johnson, even has an awesome new title: Planetary Defense Officer.
NASA has been stepping up its efforts to protect the planet from a devastating impact, most recently teaming up with the National Nuclear Security Administration to work on a plan to use nuclear weapons to deflect an asteroid.
If the agency and other international organizations aren't able to deflect the celestial body, NASA said the new department could work to prepare people on Earth by alerting those in the potential impact zone and assisting emergency response agencies such as FEMA.
"The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense," Johnson said in NASA news release.
Johnson was executive of the Near-Earth Object Program, which is now part of the new office.
NASA detects about 1,500 new near-Earth objects every year, and the agency believes it has found 90 percent of objects that are 3,000 feet or bigger.
Now, they hope to detect smaller but still potentially dangerous objects about 450 feet or larger -- about 75 percent of which are currently undetected.
"Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in the release. "While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent 'Halloween Asteroid' close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky."
The federal budget approved last month includes $50 million for near-earth object observations and planetary defense, up from just $4 million in 2010, according to NASA.
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