Planetary Defense Conference 2013

I’ve just returned from Northern Arizona University, or NAU, in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I spoke to students and faculty about some of the disruptive innovation I’ve been covering as a journalist, and how it’s being pulled off.

I also sat down with astronomy professor David Trilling, who is helping to organize the international conference on astroids and planetary defense. Called, well, the Planetary Defense Conference, the conference will bring together the brightest minds in the field of asteroids and asteroid impact mitigation for a week-long exchange of ideas on the NAU campus, April 15-19.

You can register and see how the agenda is shaping up at

Trilling tells me that FEMA, NASA, and academic institutions from around the globe will be represented. The topics covered will be everything from how we can best spot a potential incoming, down to what to do during during impact if it can’t be avoided—and everything in between, from potential ways to deflect an asteroid on that’s on a collision course with Earth, to how a civic-minded astronomer can alert the proper authorities to impending doom.

Trilling told me how weird it was to be thrust from relative obscurity into the spotlight following the near-miss of asteroid 2012 DA14 and explosion of another object above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, both on February 15. Suddenly everyone from Trilling’s mother to the national press wanted to know all he could tell them about the near Earth asteroids, or NEAs he’s devoted his career to finding and tracking.

Of the estimated 20,000 100-meter-diameter objects orbiting the sun close to Earth, Trilling told me, we only know where perhaps 100 are. That’s kind of a scary figure, since any of those 20,000 objects could be on a collision course with us, and each is large enough to take out a city.

It’s a threat that groups like the B612 Foundation have been trying, without much success, to get taken seriously by the mainstream for years. It took a near-miss and a near-impact to do it. The increased attention on this subject should make the 2013 Planetary Defense Conference the most closely followed one yet.