Carrie Nugent has an usual job. She is a self-described asteroid hunter.
Even though it's not a career that frequently shows up on aptitude tests, the work is significant for several reasons. Asteroids are leftover building blocks of our solar system that have undergone relatively few chemical changes. Learning more about the paths of asteroids and their compositions can help us better understand how planets formed billions of years ago.
Surveying asteroids is an important part of basic space exploration, but protecting the planet is probably the most vital reason for this research.
If scientists can find all of the near-Earth asteroids and track their orbits, we have the technology to prevent them from colliding into Earth.
"It's a preventable natural disaster," Nugent said. "Why not prepare? Why not take the time to find these things now?"
So far, scientists at NASA have found over 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are 1 kilometer across or larger, and they are currently working toward finding asteroids that are roughly 140 meters across. The last estimate of this count, which is a couple of years old, says that roughly 30 percent of those asteroids have been found.
Learning the orbits of asteroids today can buy lead time for the future. There are some asteroids where we can predict their path up to 80 years and others where we can know their orbit for 800 years.
In a time of increasing divisions in the country and around the globe, there's something about asteroids that Nugent says is universally true: "We should really find the asteroids before they find us."
The good news is that asteroid hunters, like Nugent, are on it.
Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation.