Nasa has a new Grand Challenge: save the world.
The space agency is already working with astronomers around the world to find and track potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids.
But while it's been able to find about 95% of the large asteroids near Earth so far, it still doesn't know about the other 5%. And of those it has found, Nasa isn't sure which ones are likely to strike our planet. Which is pretty critical information, as you can imagine.
As a result Nasa has decided to get serious. It has now launched a new 'Grand Challenge' designed to find, track and evaluate all of the asteroids near to the Earth, and is calling on everyone to take part. Including you.
Announced at Nasa's headquarters in Washington, the initiative will involve partnerships with government agencies, international space programs, academics and 'citizen scientists'.
It will work with other groups, such as the European Space Agency's own recently launched NEO Coordination Centre in order to pool data - and try and find new ways to search for useful insights from it.
Nasa said that projects like GalaxyZoo, in which internet users categorise galaxies by size and shape, is one inspiration for the new challenge. By drawing in mass participation in the project, Nasa will more easily be able to sort and track asteroids as they whizz above our heads.
Their initiative will work in conjunction with Nasa's upcoming attempt to land first a spacecraft on and redirect an asteroid, and then potentially human explorers on its surface (as long as Congress doesn't cancel the project first).
"Nasa already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," said Nasa Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.
"This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterising asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem."
The agency has now released a 'Request For Information', calling on technically minded civilians, engineers and scientists to submit ideas and proposals to search for both deadly asteroids, and those it might be possible to land on and explore.
Overall this is probably a good idea. Nasa chief Charles Bolden recently admitted that Nasa's best hope against a deadly asteroid was currently 'prayer'. Here's hoping the guys who landed on the Moon can figure out how to do a bit better than that.
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