Catalina Sky Survey observatoryTime lapse image by Richard Kowalski, CSS

On top of Mount Lemmon, just outside of Tucson, is a 60” telescope that tracks the skies each night looking for Near Earth objects or NEOs. The impact of one of these large NEOs could have devastating consequences to civilization as we know it.

Object strikes Jupiter

This dark marking, the size of the Pacific ocean, is Jupiter's latest impact scar, a debris plume created as a small asteroid or comet disintegrated after plunging into the gas giant's atmosphere. What if something this size had hit earth? Many scientists say it's just a matter of time. Steve Larson

Steve Larson, director of the Catalina Sky Survey, or CSS, says, “We have the technology to find these objects so it would be irresponsible not to look for them.”

The CSS is one of five NASA funded surveys to carry out a U.S. congressional mandate to find and catalog at least 90 percent of all near-earth approaching objects at or larger than one kilometer in diameter, or about two-thirds of a mile. Larson says, “we’re about 85 percent there.”

Ed Beshore, CSS

The Catalina Sky Survey is the only NEO survey that covers both Northern and Southern hemispheres. CSS co-investigator Ed Beshore says that "over the course of a long winter night we can observe as many as 20,000 objects.” In 2008, CSS discovered a record number of 565 Near Earth Objects.

(Story by Pam White)