If and when the interplanetary asteroid apocalypse comes, NASA plans to be prepared.
In a little noticed move this week, the space agency announced that it had created a directorate for "detecting and tracking near earth objects (NEOs)."
The new Planetary Defense Coordination Office—which, despite its science fiction-sounding name, is part of a very real effort to ward off the potentially deadly impact of asteroids that may hit the planet—is charged with supervising "all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth's orbit around the sun."
NASA was careful not to say there was an imminent threat, though it stated that more than 13,500 NEOs had been discovered to date, and about 1,500 were detected annually by the space agency. In 2013, the planet had a near-brush with a "super fireball" meteor that entered the Earth's atmosphere near Chelyabinsk, Russia.
"Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its inter-agency partners, and the global community take very seriously," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.
The Chelyabinsk event and a more recent incident on Halloween "remind us of why we need to remain vigilant, and keep our eyes to the sky," he added.