US Space Force sends decades of fireball data to NASA to study planetary defenses

(ORDO NEWS) — An agreement between NASA and the US Space Force recently authorized the public release of data collected over decades by US government sensors on fireballs (large, bright meteors, also known as fireballs) for the benefit of science and planetary defense.

This action is the result of a collaboration between NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and the US Space Force to further advance our nation’s planetary defense efforts, which include the search, tracking, characterization, and cataloging of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

The recently released data provides information about how fireballs change in brightness as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, so-called light curves, which could expand the ability of the planetary defense community to model the effects of collisions with larger asteroids that could one day pose a threat to Earth.

Fireballs, very bright meteors that can be seen even in daylight, regularly – on the order of a few dozen times a year – occur as a result of our planet’s collision with asteroids too small to reach the earth, but large enough to explode on impact with the Earth’s atmosphere.

US government sensors capture these atmospheric collisions, and fireball data is fed into the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Objects (CNEOS) fireball database, which contains data from 1988 on nearly a thousand fireball events.

Now planetary defense experts will have access to even more detailed data – in particular, information about the light curve, which reflects the change in optical intensity within a few seconds after the destruction of an object in the atmosphere.

This unique set of data has been highly sought after by the scientific community, as the decay of an object in the Earth’s atmosphere provides a scientific insight into the strength and composition of an object depending on the altitudes at which it decays and collapses.

The approximate total radiant energy and the pre-entry velocity vector (ie direction) can also be better determined from the bolide light curve data.

“The growing archive of fireball reports hosted on NASA’s CNEOS Fireballs website has greatly expanded scientific knowledge and contributed to the White House-approved National Near-Earth Object Impact Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan,” said Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at Headquarters. NASA apartment.

“The release of new fireball data demonstrates another key area of ​​collaboration between NASA and the US Space Force and further improves our understanding of these objects and our preparedness to respond to the threat of NEO impacts on Earth.”

Recently, a small asteroid about 2 meters in size was discovered in space, so small that it did not pose a danger to the Earth, but it approached the Earth and crashed into the atmosphere southwest of Jan Mayen, a Norwegian island located almost 470 km from the eastern coast of Greenland and northeast of Iceland.

Although this asteroid, designated 2022 EB5, was much smaller than NASA’s mission of detecting and warning, CNEOS continued to update NASA’s PDCO impact location predictions as observations were collected prior to the 2022 EB5 impact, offering the planetary defense community a realistic scenario for verifying the traceability of HPOs and providing assurance that that the collision prediction process and models are adequate to provide timely and accurate notification of a potential collision of a larger object if one is detected on a trajectory towards the Earth.

Like other fireball events, the 2022 EB5 impact was captured by US government sensors and reported by the US Space Force, confirming the time and location predicted by CNEOS, and added to the NASA JPL CNEOS archive of these events.

Another notable fireball event in this released dataset is a meteor that was detected on January 8, 2014. This object is of interest to the scientific community, as it has been suggested that it may have an interstellar origin due to the high speed of movement in the atmosphere.

Further analysis led by the US Space Command confirmed the object’s high-velocity impact, but the short duration of the collected data – less than five seconds – makes it difficult to definitively determine whether the object is indeed of interstellar origin.

NASA created PDCO in 2016 to manage the agency’s ongoing planetary defense efforts. NASA has been tasked with detecting 90% of NEOs larger than 140 meters. The agency is working diligently to comply with this directive and has now detected about 40% of near-Earth asteroids larger than this size.


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