NASA's newest branch has one job: Protect the Planet from humongous asteroids

No, it’s not something out of Armageddon — NASA really is serious about so-called near-Earth objects (NEOs). It’s so serious, in fact, that there is now a whole office within the agency dedicated to tracking potentially threatening asteroids and comets. Not only does the new Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) track these objects, but it’s also tasked with working with other governments on potential mitigation strategies should a threat arise.

About 1,500 new NEOs are detected every year, with a total of about 13,500 found so far. While chances of a direct hit that causes widespread destruction are pretty minute (about one every thousand years) smaller meteor impacts happen with far greater frequency, about once every five years or so.

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” NASA’s John Grunsfeld says. “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 office plans to issue warnings for close-by encounters as well as potential impacts as the need arises. It also will work with federal, state, and local emergency management offices on contingency plans should an asteroid strike. One of the PDCO’s key goals is the improved detection of smaller meteors, like the ones that caused the events Grunsfeld speaks of.

Approximately 90 percent of NEOs that are one kilometer or larger have been identified, which is the size that scientists believe is the minimum for widespread extinction events. However, only a quarter of the smaller NEOs are known, and these medium-sized ones can still kill thousands when they hit Earth — the most recent of which is thought to have occurred in Ch’ing-yang, China in 1490. NASA wants to have 90 percent of these asteroids catalogued by 2020.

It is quite possible however, even with NASA’s strengthened commitment to NEOs, that an impact may occur with little or no warning, it admits. While millions more in federal money is set to pour into detection efforts, the science of NEO detection is still in its infancy and by no means perfect.

The NASA Inspector General’s office slammed the agency’s detection work as recently as September 2014, citing a poor organizational structure that lacked “overarching program oversight, objectives and established milestones to track progress.” At that time, it was feared that NASA would miss its 2020 goal for 90 percent detection — but now, with a bigger budget and a purpose-built asteroid detection branch, that goal is looking much more attainable.


Data stolen from includes partial SSNs and immigration status

Around 75,000 users have had their user data stolen from government site, including information on their immigration status, whether they were pregnant, and partial social security numbers.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

Ancient continent discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica

Antarctica could be hiding the remains of a long-lost continent. Scientists created a 3D map of the crust beneath the Antarctic ice sheet which shows a similarity to the crust in Australia and India, suggesting they used to be joined.
Emerging Tech

Rocket Lab steps into spotlight with its first commercial rocket launch

Rocket Lab has deployed multiple small satellites into orbit in its first notable commercial launch. Its New Zealand-born boss said the success means "rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites."
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.