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Axios' NASA emails reveal agency's surprise at asteroid's near-miss of Earth cites Buzzfeed's A “Sneaky” Asteroid Narrowly Missed Earth This Summer. Internal Emails Show How NASA Scientists Totally Missed It. which links to the resulting huge (~100 MB) PDF of the response to their FOIA request.

Part of the Axios summarization:

Internal NASA communications show the agency's surprise after a football-field-sized asteroid narrowly missed Earth in July, according to emails acquired by BuzzFeed News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why it matters: The emails show that NASA officials believe the agency is lacking necessary infrastructure to reliably detect asteroids.

Context: The asteroid, called "2019 OK," passed about 40,400 miles above Earth's surface — roughly 5 times closer to Earth than the moon — at 55,000 miles per hour and could have "created localized devastation to an area roughly 50 miles across" if it struck land, according to a NASA news release.

The big picture: "The near-miss of the incoming asteroid points to a long-running fight between NASA and Congress to build a reliable way to watch for 'potentially hazardous' asteroids," writes BuzzFeed.

NASA relies on lawmakers to fund telescopes and spacecraft that can detect near-Earth objects.

What they said: In an email acquired by BuzzFeed, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, wrote, "This one did sneak up on us and it is an interesting story on the limitations of our current survey network."


Question: What is the "interesting story on the limitations of (NASA's) current survey network", or what is it most likely to be?

Quotes in the lengthy Buzzfeed article mention the speed of the apparent motion of the asteroid with respect to the stars, I'm wondering if there are certain NEO orbits that are particularly challenging to the automatic algorithms that analyze images.

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    $\begingroup$ I think I don't entirely understand the question. To me it sounds like the 'interesting story' simply is that they missed the asteroid until 24h to go. And this is an example of their limited detection capabilities. $\endgroup$ – user2705196 Sep 20 '19 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @user2705196 I have a hunch that the reason they missed this one will turn out to be very interesting. Have a look at my last sentence, then the Buzzfeed article, then the PDF. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 20 '19 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Nothing that exciting or scandalous. It was too faint in June to be detected by the automatic algorithms of PS1 against detector and the Full Moon, bad weather and the flyby geometry producing an extra slow apparent motion below the threshold of automatic moving object code resulted in a late detection. There are a lot of very small NEOs, some are going to come from directions or times that make them hard to observe. $\endgroup$ – astrosnapper Sep 20 '19 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ Strongly recommend this article by the Planetary Society on the state of NEO detection $\endgroup$ – astrosnapper Sep 20 '19 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @astrosnapper I'll give it a read today, thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 20 '19 at 22:59

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