NASA will not warn us about asteroids over Twitter during the shutdown

October 1, 2013

Would Bruce Willis have been a non-essential federal employee? (Walt Disney Studios)

Important Internet space update: In the event of a government shutdown, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Near Earth Object Office will not be warning the public about "potentially hazardous" asteroids and comets that could approach Earth via Twitter.

Yes, this was a service NASA was providing. But don't worry too much, they later clarified that even in the event of a shutdown many astronomers and observatories will still be watching the sky. And it's actually sort of a big deal. Just this past February, an asteroid known as 2012 DA14 thought to be around 150 feet across came nearer to Earth than the Moon and even some weather and communications satellites. If it had been on a collision course with Earth, it would have resulted in an explosion equivalent to around 2.4 million tons of TNT.

But we only discovered that asteroid around a year before it flew past us and we didn't really have a Bruce Willis type plan to deal with it if it had set its sights on Earth. Ed Lu, a former astronaut and head of a nonprofit dedicated to protecting humanity from asteroids, told NPR at the time that "[t]here's no way we could have stopped this," adding that there's  "[n]othing we could have done" except maybe to evacuate the area.

Aren't you comforted by the fact that 97 percent of NASA is currently furloughed now?

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson | September 30, 2013