Meeting Information

Defending Planet Earth from NEOs

February 23, 2011
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Date: Wednesday–February 23, 2011

Speaker: Dr. Michael F. A'Hearn, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland

Topic: Defending Planet Earth from NEOs

Time and Location: Talk starts at 1:00 pm with Q&A to follow. It will be held in one of the first floor conference rooms at the American Center for Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD. This is located off River Road, between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.

Abstract: In 2008 the U. S. Congress directed NASA to fund a study by the NRC of the threat to Earth from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and of what the U.S. should do in regard to this threat. The NEO hazard is one in which very rare events can be globally catastrophic. Unlike many catastrophic events on earth (earthquakes and their resultant phenomena, hurricanes and other hazardous atmospheric phenomena, certain health epidemics), the impact of NEOs can in most cases be predicted and techniques either already exist or can readily be developed to prevent the catastrophe. In other words, insurance payments can prevent the damage rather than compensating the victims afterward. The political question is how much to spend on insurance, i.e. on the detection and mitigation effort, rather than on other domestic priorities. The scientific/engineering questions include how to predict catastrophes and how best to mitigate the damage they might cause.

This talk will address the scientific and engineering questions as they were addressed by the NRC panel. Just what is the threat? How do we best detect a threatening NEO? How do we best mitigate against such a threat? What would various initiatives cost?

Biography: Prof. A'Hearn earned his B.S. degree in physics from Boston College in 1961 and earned his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin in 1966. Since the fall of 1966, he has been on the faculty of the University of Maryland, moving through the ranks from Assistant Professor to his current rank as Distinguished University Professor. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, has held various offices in the AAS, in the DPS (including chair), and in the IAU. He is also a member of the ION and AIAA and has served on a variety of panels for the NRC. Among other things, he was the Vice-Chair of the NRC Panel, and chair of the Mitigation Sub-Panel, that wrote the report "Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies."

Prof. A'Hearn's research has been primarily on the small bodies of the solar system, specifically comets and asteroids, although he has also worked on problems of interstellar dust. More recently he has been active on missions to comets, being the PI for the Deep Impact and EPOXI missions and participating actively in the Stardust NExT and Rosetta missions.

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