We’ve long said that humans generally worry about the wrong asteroids. Tabloids love to publish headlines about “potentially hazardous asteroids,” a category created by NASA that can be a bit misleading. The truly worrisome rocks are the smaller ones that we aren’t tracking.
The US National Science and Technology Council knows about this problem—and thankfully, it plans to do something about it, according to a report the council released yesterday.
A 2005 congressional mandate stated that NASA would try to keep track of 90 percent of the near-Earth objects larger than 460 feet (140 meters). We’re only a third of the way there, reports Quartz, and even then, our existing catalogue might be flawed, according to a recent paper. But before something can be tracked, it must be documented, and even that effort is behind scheduled, according to the new report:
Since 2005, the number of NEOs catalogued in this range has almost tripled, while the total number of catalogued NEOs has increased by almost five times. Nevertheless, according to a 2017 report from NASA’s NEO Science Definition Team, current observational capabilities are suited to only finding less than half of all 140 meter objects by 2033, and planned improvements will still fall short of the timeline that Congress directed.