The term “space weather” refers to the variable conditions on the sun and in space that can influence the performance of technology we use on Earth. Extreme space weather could potentially cause damage to critical infrastructure – especially the electric grid – highlighting the importance of being prepared. Astro-hazards refers to potentially disruptive impacts of such things as derelict satellites, meteors, asteroids, and comets. Impact events can range from insignificant but visually appealing “shooting stars” to significant events such as the recent meteor impact in Russia in February of 2013 and other historical larger impact events. Despite efforts to predict potentially hazardous near earth objects, recent events demonstrate that sometimes little or no warning precedes these disasters.
Photo credit NASA.
Space Weather: What Emergency Managers Need to Know, a publication from Emergency Management, an all-hazards publication for emergency management, public safety and homeland security stakeholders charged to protect our communities, critical infrastructure and the security of our nation.
Background on comets, meteors, and asteroids
Cornell Department of Astronomy’s Near Earth Object information page
Pennsylvania State University’s Astronomical Hazards to Life page
Arizona State University’s Meteorite page
Recent meteor strike in Russia
NASA has been charged by Congress to survey for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and develop plans for diverting them from impacting the Earth. Information about the NASA program is available at the "Near Earth Object Program" website. In particular, if you have heard about the potential for a collision between Earth and Apophis in 2029 or 2036, there is a comprehensive discussion of this object there.
There is also a program called "SpaceWatch" that is independently surveying for NEOs.
NASA has received some criticism for their work preparing for the diversion of any potentially hazardous asteroids. An organization called the "B612 Foundation" is working on this independently.