The future of planetary defense

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Asteroids and comets have impacted Earth in the past and will do so in the future. While the frequency of impacts is reasonably well understood on geologic timescales, it is difficult to predict the next sizeable impact on human timescales by extrapolation from population statistics alone. Fortunately, by identifying and tracking individual objects, we can make precise predictions of any potential close encounters with Earth. As more advance notice is provided, the range of possible mitigation options expands. While the chance of an impact is very small, the potential consequences can be severe, meaning that sensible risk reduction measures should be undertaken. By implementing surveys, the risk of an unforeseen impact can be greatly reduced: the first step is finding the objects. Fortunately, the worldwide community of professional and amateur astronomers has made significant progress in discovering large near-Earth objects (NEOs). More than 95% of NEOs capable of causing global devastation (objects larger than ~1 km in diameter) have been discovered, and none of these pose an impact hazard in the near future. Infrastructure is in place to link observations and compute close approaches in real time. Interagency and international collaborations have been undertaken to strengthen cooperative efforts to plan potential mitigation and civil defense campaigns. Yet much remains to be done. Approximately 70% of NEOs larger than 140 m (large enough to cause severe regional damage) remain undiscovered. With the existing surveys, it will take decades to identify the rest. Progress can be accelerated by undertaking new surveys with improved sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)789-793
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • asteroid
  • comet
  • impact
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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