Mental Floss

See How NASA and Amateur Astronomers Track Asteroids

Caitlin Schneider

Considering all of the late ‘90s asteroid disaster movies, it's hard to believe that it took until 2005 for Congress to ask NASA (and the amateur astronomer community) to track all the near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters (459 feet, or about the size of a football field).

In the above video from the American Museum of Natural History, Denton Ebel, a meteorite specialist and curator in the Division of Physical Sciences, talks about the effort to identify and follow these objects with telescopes, cameras, and software. And while civilization-destroying collisions make for good plot devices, they don't make for useful research results. The identification of these asteroids and comets is more about preventing damage, should one head our way.

The efforts have increased in the last couple decades, with a steep rise in the number of objects discovered. You can see the observations on the website for the Minor Planet Center, which is maintained by NASA. And if you’re hungry for more asteroid content, check out the caption on the video.

Banner image screenshot via YouTube.