Taskforce To Monitor the Threat of an Asteroid Strike
- Taskforce To Monitor the Threat of an Asteroid Strike
From BBC News Online
An expert taskforce to monitor the threat of an asteroid strike on Earth has
been appointed by the government.
The men who will examine the risk of the earth being destroyed by an object
from outer space were named on Tuesday.
The task force will be chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, past chairman of the
European Space Agency's Council. The other members will be environmentalist
and former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David Williams.
Welsh MP Lembit Opik, who first suggested setting up a body to monitor the
threat, warned in the Commons in March that the risk of being killed by an
asteroid was 750 times higher than winning the National Lottery.
This is not something that people should lie awake at night worrying about
but we cannot ignore the risk, however remote.
The Montgomery Liberal Democrat MP met Lord Sainsbury in July, urging him to
set up a body to examine the possibility of objects from space striking the
Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has now asked the three-man team to look at
the potential for risk posed by asteroids and comets - termed "near Earth
The team will make proposals to the British National Space Centre on the
nature of the hazard and will consider how the UK should best contribute to
international effort to prevent a strike.
Blasts from the past 66m BC: Six-mile wide asteroid hits Mexico, causing
global destruction 50,000BC: Asteroid strikes Arizona with the force of a 15
megaton nuclear bomb June 1908: Meteor impacts on Siberia, 770 square miles
of forest destroyed October 1992, football-sized space rock destroys a car
in New York [Source: National Geographic] Announcing the members of the task
force, Lord Sainsbury said: "The risk of an asteroid or comet causing
substantial damage is extremely remote.
"We cannot ignore the risk, however remote, and a case can be made for
monitoring the situation on an international basis.
"I hope that the setting up of this task force will help the UK play a full
and prominent role in international discussions on this important issue."
He said he was "delighted to be able to announce such a well-qualified team
of experts", adding that he looked forward to receiving their report by the
middle of 2000.
Sir Crispin Tickell said: "One of the purposes of the task force is to put
together the evidence to identify what is coming towards us.
"Last year, an object passed between the moon and Earth which, if it had hit
us, would have done a lot of damage."
Asteroids can devastate the Earth
Many near earth objects have been identified and their orbits determined
using ground-based telescopes in a number of countries, although many are
yet to be surveyed.
Of those known, none is believed to pose a significant risk to the earth in
the foreseeable future, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.
However, on a time-scale of many millions of years, the earth has been hit
by objects of sufficient size to cause serious damage.
These include the object which is thought to have hit the Earth about 65
million years ago, and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
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