Sep 19, 2019

NASA emails reveal agency's surprise at asteroid's near-miss of Earth

Photo: Space Frontiers/Getty Images

Internal NASA communications show the agency's surprise after a football-field-sized asteroid narrowly missed Earth in July, according to emails acquired by BuzzFeed News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why it matters: The emails show that NASA officials believe the agency is lacking necessary infrastructure to reliably detect asteroids.

Context: The asteroid, called "2019 OK," passed about 40,400 miles above Earth's surface — roughly a fifth the distance from the Earth to the moon — at 55,000 miles per hour and could have "created localized devastation to an area roughly 50 miles across" if it struck land, according to a NASA news release.

The big picture: "The near-miss of the incoming asteroid points to a long-running fight between NASA and Congress to build a reliable way to watch for 'potentially hazardous' asteroids," writes BuzzFeed.

  • NASA relies on lawmakers to fund telescopes and spacecraft that can detect near-Earth objects.

What they said: In an email acquired by BuzzFeed, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, wrote, "This one did sneak up on us and it is an interesting story on the limitations of our current survey network."

  • "An asteroid of this size coming this close to Earth is a pretty rare event — on the order of about twice a century," according to Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Miriam Kramer: NASA is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to tracking potentially dangerous asteroids. While many Americans think that it should be a top priority for the agency, NASA doesn't yet have the tools it needs to be able to fully characterize the threat posed by these space rocks.

Go deeper: The future of asteroid tracking

Go deeper

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Twitter: Trump's Minnesota tweet on violated rules

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Twitter said Friday morning that a tweet from President Trump in which he threatened shooting in response to civil unrest in Minneapolis violated the company's rules. The company said it was leaving the tweet up in the public interest.

Why it matters: The move exacerbates tensions between Twitter and the president over the company's authority to label or limit his speech as well as the president's authority to dictate rules for a private company.

Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump threatens to "assume control" of Minneapolis over unrest

Flames from a nearby fire illuminate protesters standing on a barricade in front of the Third Police Precinct in Minneapolis on Thursday. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump threatened via Twitter early Friday to send the national guard to Minneapolis following three days of massive demonstrations and unrest in the city over George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody this week.

Details: "I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right," Trump tweeted after a police station was torched by some protesters.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Protests over George Floyd's death grip Minneapolis

Protesters cheer as the Third Police Precinct burns behind them on in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Cheering protesters set a Minneapolis police station on fire Thursday night in the third night of unrest following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in the city, per AP.

The state of play: Minnesota's governor on Thursday activated the state's national guard following violent outbreaks throughout the week, as the nation waits to see if the officers involved will be charged with murder.