From Detection To Diversion: Current Tools For Asteroid Defense

  1. Introduction
  2. Detection
    1. Ground-based telescopes
    2. Space-based telescopes
    3. Radar observations
  3. Diversion
    1. Kinetic impactors
    2. Gravity tractor
    3. Nuclear devices
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
  5. Conclusion
  6. Additional Resources


Asteroid impacts on Earth have been known to cause catastrophic events such as mass extinction throughout history. The threat of a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) hitting our planet is something that scientists take seriously. Fortunately, there are several tools available for detecting and diverting asteroids before they can pose a significant risk. In this article, we'll explore some of the current tools used for asteroid defense and how they work.


A close-up of scientists and engineers in a high-tech laboratory, focused on their work to defend Earth from asteroids

Ground-based telescopes

Ground-based telescopes are the most common tools used for asteroid detection. These telescopes use visible light to detect asteroids and are capable of detecting objects as small as 100 meters in diameter. The data collected from these telescopes is used to determine an asteroid's orbit and trajectory. Several major observatories around the world, including the Pan-STARRS Observatory and the Catalina Sky Survey, are dedicated to detecting and tracking asteroids.

Space-based telescopes

Space-based telescopes, such as NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the upcoming NEOCam mission, can detect asteroids in the infrared spectrum. This allows them to detect colder, darker asteroids that might be missed by ground-based telescopes. They are also able to detect asteroids that are closer to the Sun than Earth, which is impossible for ground-based telescopes. Future missions, such as the European Space Agency's Hera mission, will use space-based telescopes to study and characterize PHAs in detail.

Radar observations

Radar observations involve transmitting radio waves towards an asteroid and measuring the time it takes for the waves to bounce back. This method is highly accurate and can provide detailed information about an asteroid's size, shape, and composition. NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar and the Arecibo Observatory are two of the most powerful radar facilities used for asteroid observation. Radar observations can also be used to track the trajectory of an asteroid more accurately, which is essential in determining whether it poses a risk to Earth.


Dynamic and engaging, this photorealistic image captures the thrilling challenge of diverting an asteroid path through space

Kinetic impactors

Kinetic impactors involve colliding a spacecraft with an asteroid at high speed. The impact from the spacecraft would impart enough force to change the asteroid's orbit, deflecting it away from Earth. NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, set to launch in 2021, will test this technique on the asteroid Didymos.

Gravity tractor

A gravity tractor involves positioning a spacecraft near an asteroid and using its gravitational pull to gradually alter the asteroid's orbit. The spacecraft would need to remain near the asteroid for several years to have a noticeable effect. NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission involved using a gravity tractor to tow a small asteroid into a stable orbit around the Moon, where it could be studied by astronauts.

Nuclear devices

The use of nuclear devices has been proposed as a last resort in the event of an impending asteroid impact. One scenario involves detonating a nuclear device near an asteroid, which would vaporize some of the asteroid's material and create a jet of gas that would propel the asteroid off course. However, this method is controversial and carries significant risks, including the possibility of fragmenting the asteroid and creating multiple smaller impacts.

Frequently Asked Questions

A stunning photorealistic depiction of a sleek spacecraft in orbit around a lush, intricately detailed asteroid
  • How often do asteroids hit Earth?

    Asteroids of various sizes hit Earth on a daily basis. However, most are small enough to burn up in the atmosphere and pose no risk.

  • What is a potentially hazardous asteroid?

    A potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) is an asteroid whose orbit brings it within 0.05 astronomical units (7.5 million km) of Earth's orbit.

  • What is the likelihood of an asteroid impact?

    The likelihood of an asteroid impact is low, but the consequences can be devastating. The probability of a PHA impacting Earth in the next century is estimated to be around 0.01%.

  • How far in advance can asteroids be detected?

    Asteroids can be detected years or even decades in advance, depending on their size and orbit.

  • What is NASA doing to prepare for a potential asteroid impact?

    NASA has several programs in place to detect, track, and study asteroids. They are also developing technologies to deflect asteroids if necessary.


Asteroids pose a real and potentially catastrophic threat to our planet. Fortunately, there are several tools available for detecting and diverting asteroids before they can cause harm. Ground-based and space-based telescopes, as well as radar observations, allow us to detect and track asteroids with great accuracy. Kinetic impactors, gravity tractors, and nuclear devices are all potential methods for deflecting asteroids away from Earth. By continuing to develop and improve these tools, we can better protect our planet from the threat of asteroids.

Remember to stay informed about asteroid news and to support ongoing research efforts to better understand and mitigate the risks posed by these celestial objects.

Additional Resources

An asteroid smashes into a lone space probe, filling the frame with debris and tension

For more information on asteroid defense, visit:

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