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Saving Earth from asteroids to microbes: Planetary Protection Vs Planetary Defense

The terms planetary protection and planetary defense might sound similar but possess different roles. Know the difference between them.

Updated on: Jul 19 2023, 11:48 IST
Know the difference between planetary protection and planetary defense (Pixabay)
Know the difference between planetary protection and planetary defense (Pixabay)

We all have been hearing about the terms planetary protection and planetary defense being used by the official in a different yet similar manner. But do you actually know what they mean and how researchers and astronomers used these terms?

Both of the terms include “planetary” so their meanings and behaviours must be comparable. However, this is the only resemblance between them; their distinct responsibilities are what set them apart. They have very different outlooks in terms of the agency’s role in protecting Earth, and other planets as well.

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“These similar sounding efforts are often confused in the media and in casual conversation,” said Nick Benardini, NASA Planetary Protection Officer. “Both seek to protect Earth from potentially hazardous space threats, but otherwise they could not be farther apart from one another.”

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Continue reading to know about the terms planetary protection and planetary defense

Planetary Protection Vs Planetary Defense

According to NASA, solar system bodies need to be protected against contamination from Earth life, as well as Earth from possible life forms that may return from other solar system bodies. Therefore, the protection of Earth and the solar system are known as planetary protection. It explores the solar system in a sustainable manner adhering to the Outer Space Treaty.

“For Planetary Protection, it’s all about protecting the Earth’s biosphere from harmful contamination (microbial life) brought back from target bodies, like Mars, that have the potential to harbour life”, said Benardini.

On the other hand, planetary defense explores Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets. These objects orbit around the sun like other planets but their orbit can bring them very close or to the Earth’s atmosphere. The NEOs are identified within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit. It is also known as applied planetary science which tracks and registers potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

Benardini added, “Planetary Defense is protecting the Earth from Near-Earth Objects that could cause a potential impact event,”

There is another way to differentiate the two terms, planetary protection mostly gives emphasis to microorganisms on the micrometre to nanometer scales and organic contamination measured at the atomic level. Whereas, the planetary defense looks out for huge space objects on the kilometre-to-meter scales. They both have different tools to measure such as planetary protection needs a microscope to observe these objects and Planetary Defense needs a telescope

Understanding the two terms is essential as there will be more space exploration in future by NASA and other space agencies.

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First Published Date: 19 Jul, 10:34 IST