Credit: Timothy Warchocki/National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


In December 2018, an asteroid exploded in the upper atmosphere over the Bering Sea (western Pacific Ocean).

That incoming object unleashed an explosive force initially estimated to be nearly 200 kilotons, or over 10 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Spotted by various sensors

This event, which was detected by various sensors and spotted by a Japanese weather satellite, demonstrates that Earth is frequently hit by objects, some of which could cause significant damage if they hit a populated area.

Chelyabinsk sky rendering is a reconstruction of the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013. Scientific study of the airburst has provided information about the origin, trajectory and power of the explosion. This simulation of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion by Mark Boslough was rendered by Brad Carvey using the CTH code on Sandia National Laboratories’ Red Sky supercomputer. Andrea Carvey composited the wireframe tail. Photo by Olga Kruglova.
Credit: Sandia National Laboratories.

The 2018 event occurred almost 6 years later when another incident over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk caused serious damage.



Currently, NASA funds a network of ground-based telescopes and a single, soon-to-expire space-based asset to detect and track large asteroids that could cause major damage if they struck Earth.

The mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope early in production.
Source: Howard Lester/LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Report tasks

In 2018, NASA asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to establish the ad hoc Committee on Near Earth Object Observations in the Infrared and Visible Wavelengths to investigate and make recommendations about a space-based telescope’s capabilities, focusing on the following tasks:


— Explore the relative advantages and disadvantages of infrared (IR) and visible observations of near Earth objects (NEOs).

— Review and describe the techniques that could be used to obtain NEO sizes from an infrared spectrum and delineate the associated errors in determining the size.

— Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these techniques and recommend the most valid techniques that give reproducible results with quantifiable errors.

This consensus report — Finding Hazardous Asteroids Using Infrared and Visible Wavelength Telescopes – is available for free download at:

Leave a Reply