First of all, I want to be very clear that I am not making this up. Yes, I know it sounds like something I would write, but it is not. This is real, people. We live in this world.
There’s a new program over at NASA, one that might be of particular interest to any badass astrophysicists with a hero complex. It’s called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.
This program isn’t exactly new: it’s a formalization of a program that’s been around for a while. The primary mission of this office: to seek out new life…no, wait, that’s not right. To find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit, that’s the one.
This office will also be responsible for taking “a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats.” That’s a direct quote from a NASA press release that was issued on Jan. 7th.
I’m still not making this up, I swear.
What exactly will they be coordinating, you may want to know. Well, NASA isn’t specifying that exactly, but perhaps they’re thinking of programs like the EU sponsored NEOShield, an initiative that is developing ways of using nuclear weapons to deflect rogue asteroids that threaten life on earth.
Okay, look, if you still don’t believe that this is real then go google it. I won’t get mad, I swear: I wouldn’t believe you if you were telling me about this either.
NASA’s first Planetary Defense Officer (that’s the actual, official job title) is Lindley Johnson, easily the most badass government employee of all time. I’m basing that evaluation solely on the job title, but come on, what other evidence do you need?
Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I will sleep better tonight knowing that the future of life on our planet is being safeguarded by a bunch of real-life superheroes. In my imagination, I see them pacing around Arecibo Observatory in their tights and their capes, just waiting for the alarm to go off and call them to their secret underground base to board their rocket ships, at which point we the viewer will be forced to watch a two minute transformation sequence every single time before they can get on with saving the world….
Okay, maybe I’m mixing up my genres a bit here. But seriously guys: “Planetary Defense Officer.” I just can’t help myself. I would totally read that comic.
If you want to follow along with what the PDCO is up to, there’s a website that lists all the NEOs (near earth objects) that we are currently tracking and their approach times. There’s even a widget if you don’t want to bother with a website. Just go to http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/ and you can see…
HOLY CRAP! I had no idea that there was so much junk whizzing by the planet all the time. Lots of little stellar debris, sure, but objects big enough to be worth tracking individually? This is crazy! There are dozens of them on this list, and this is just stuff passing by in the next month or so.
I think I just figured out why calculating trajectories for things like deep space probes is so complicated. There’s a lot of stuff out there to navigate around.
Anyway, there’s nothing to worry about: the Solar System might be a complicated, dangerous place, but NASA has their top people looking out for us. We can feel safe knowing that the brave men and women of the PDCO are on the job. They will watch the skies for us, safeguarding this beautiful planet that we call home.
Remember: Science Never Sleeps.