Report Of The Near Earth Objects Task Force Published
UK Government press release September 18, 2000
Lord Sainsbury, the Minister with responsibility for space, today published the report of the Near Earth Objects Task Force set up in January this year, to look at the potential risk posed by collision of the Earth with Near Earth Objects.
In publishing the report Lord Sainsbury said:
"The Task Force, under the able chairmanship of Dr Harry Atkinson, has done an excellent job in getting to grips with this complex issue, and in putting together views on how we should proceed.
I welcome the Task Force's approach, which includes proposals for collaboration with international partners. Over the next couple of months I will be considering the Government's response to the Task Force's recommendations in consultation with colleagues".
Notes to Editors:
1. In January 2000 the Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, announced the setting up of a Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). He invited the Task Force to make proposals to the Government on how the United Kingdom should best contribute to international effort on Near-Earth Objects; and specifically to:
a. confirm the nature of the hazard and the potential level of risks; b. dentify the current UK contribution to international efforts; c. advise HMG on what further action to take in the light of a. and b. above and on the communication of issues to the public.
2. The Task Force was chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, formerly of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and past Chairman of the European Space Agency's Council. Sir Crispin Tickell, British diplomat, and Professor David Williams, immediate past President of the Royal Astronomical Society, completed the team.
3. Near Earth Objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits bring them close to the Earth.
4. The Task Force met on a number of occasions and presented its report to the Director General of BNSC on 16 August 2000. The British National Space Centre (BNSC) provided the secretariat for the Task Force.
5. The Task Force has made 14 recommendations. They cover the British role in a greater international effort, improvement of our ability to detect any incoming objects, an assessment of risks, measures to mitigate any future impacts, and new national and international arrangements to cope with the many issues that are raised. The report is also a comprehensive review of current knowledge
6. A copy of the report and further information on NEOs can be found on http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk
UK, 18 September 2000
In January 2000 the UK Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, announced the setting up of a Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). He invited the Task Force to make proposals to the Government on how the United Kingdom should best contribute to international effort on Near-Earth Objects; and specifically to:
a. confirm the nature of the hazard and the potential level of risks;
b. dentify the current UK contribution to international efforts;
c. advise HMG on what further action to take in the light of a. and b. above and on the communication of issues to the public.
The Task Force was chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, formerly of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and past Chairman of the European Space Agency's Council. Sir Crispin Tickell, British diplomat, and Professor David Williams, immediate past President of the Royal Astronomical Society, completed the team.
Enormous numbers of asteroids and comets orbit the Sun. Only a tiny fraction of them follow paths that bring them near the Earth. These Near Earth Objects range in size from pebbles to mountains, and travel at high speeds.
Such objects have collided with the Earth since its formation, and brought the carbon and water which made life possible. They have also caused widespread changes in the Earth's surface, and occasional extinctions of such living organisms as the dinosaurs. The threat has only recently been recognised and accepted.This has come about through advances in telescope technology allowing the study of these usually faint objects, the identification of craters on the moon, other planets and the Earth as a result of impacts, and the dramatic collision of pieces of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994.
Impacts represent a significant risk to human and other forms of life. Means now exist to mitigate the consequences of such impacts for the human species.
The largest uncertainty in risk analysis arises from our incomplete knowledge of asteroids whose orbits bring them near to the Earth.With greater information about them, fairly accurate predictions can be made. The risk from comets is between 10 and 30 per cent of that from asteroids.The advance warning period for a potential impact from a long period comet may be as short as a year compared to decades or centuries for asteroids. Short period comets can be considered along with asteroids.
The threat from Near Earth Objects raises major issues, among them the inadequacy of current knowledge, confirmation of hazard after initial observation, disaster management (if the worst came to the worst), methods of mitigation including deflection, and reliable communication with the public. The Task Force believes that steps should be taken at government level to set in place appropriate bodies - international, European including national - where these issues can be discussed and decisions taken.The United Kingdom is well placed to make a significant contribution to what should be a global effort.
The recommendations of the Task Force are given with supporting arguments in Chapter 9.
Recommendations 1 to 9 cover the United Kingdom's scientific role within an international effort and Recommendations 10 to 14 the coordination of all aspects of the subject internationally, in Europe and in Britain.
Recommendation 1 -- We recommend that the Government should seek partners, preferably in Europe, to build in the southern hemisphere an advanced new 3 metre-class survey telescope for surveying substantially smaller objects than those now systematically observed by other telescopes. The telescope should be dedicated to work on Near Earth Objects and be located on an appropriate site.
Recommendation 2 -- We recommend that arrangements be made for observational data obtained for other purposes by wide-field facilities, such as the new British VISTA telescope, to be searched for Near Earth Objects on a nightly basis.
Recommendation 3 -- We recommend that the Government draw the attention of the European Space Agency to the particular role that GAIA, one of its future missions, could play in surveying the sky for Near Earth Objects. The potential in GAIA, and in other space missions such as NASA's SIRTF and the European Space Agency's BepiColombo, for Near Earth Object research should be considered as a factor in defining the missions and in scheduling their completion.
Recommendation 4 -- We recommend that the 1 metre Johannes Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma, in which the United Kingdom is a partner, be dedicated to follow-up observations of Near Earth Objects.
Recommendation 5 -- We recommend that negotiations take place with the partners with whom the United Kingdom shares suitable telescopes to establish an arrangement for small amounts of time to be provided under appropriate financial terms for spectroscopic follow-up of Near Earth Objects.
Recommendation 6 -- We recommend that the Government explore, with like-minded countries, the case for mounting a number of coordinated space rendezvous missions based on relatively inexpensive microsatellites, each to visit a different type of Near Earth Object to establish its detailed characteristics.
Recommendation 7 -- We recommend that the Government ? together with other governments, the International Astronomical Union and other interested parties seek ways of putting the governance and funding of the Minor Planet Center on a robust international footing, including the Center's links to executive agencies if a potential threat were found.
Recommendation 8 -- We recommend that the Government should help promote multi-disciplinary studies of the consequences of impacts from Near Earth Objects on the Earth in British and European institutions concerned, including the Research Councils, universities and the European Science Foundation.
Recommendation 9 -- We recommend that the Government, with other governments, set in hand studies to look into the practical possibilities of mitigating the results of impact and deflecting incoming objects.
Recommendation 10 -- We recommend that the Government urgently seek with other governments and international bodies (in particular the International Astronomical Union) to establish a forum for open discussion of the scientific aspects of Near Earth Objects, and a forum for international action. Preferably these should be brought together in an international body. It might have some analogy with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thereby covering science, impacts, and mitigation.
Recommendation 11 -- We recommend that the Government discuss with like-minded European governments how Europe could best contribute to international efforts to cope with Near Earth Objects, coordinate activities in Europe, and work towards becoming a partner with the United States, with complementary roles in specific areas. We recommend that the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory, with the European Union and the European Science Foundation, work out a strategy for this purpose in time for discussion at the ministerial meeting of the European Space Agency in 2001.
Recommendation 12 -- We recommend that the Government appoint a single department to take the lead for coordination and conduct of policy on Near Earth Objects, supported by the necessary inter-departmental machinery.
Recommendation 13 -- We recommend that a British Centre for Near Earth Objects be set up whose mission would be to promote and coordinate work on the subject in Britain; to provide an advisory service to the Government, other relevant authorities, the public and the media, and to facilitate British involvement in international activities. In doing so it would call on the Research Councils involved, in particular the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council, and on universities, observatories and other bodies concerned in Britain.
Recommendation 14 -- We recommend that one of the most important functions of a British Centre for Near Earth Objects be to provide a public service which would give balanced information in clear, direct and comprehensible language as need might arise. Such a service must respond to very different audiences: on the one hand Parliament, the general public and the media; and on the other the academic, scientific and environmental communities. In all of this, full use should be made of the Internet. As a first step, the Task Force recommends that a feasibility study be established to determine the functions, terms of reference and funding for such a Centre.
BRITAIN PLANS £25m SHIELD TO PREVENT ASTEROID COLLISIONS
From The Sunday Times, 17 September 2000
By Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
A GOVERNMENT team is to propose spending up to £25m on a plan that would safeguard Britain and the world from devastation by a giant asteroid or comet.
The Spaceguard initiative, expected to be announced tomorrow by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the science minister, could see Britain using a chain of telescopes to detect and monitor "near-Earth objects".
A report, from a commission appointed by Sainsbury, says that Earth faces a tiny but definite risk of being struck one day by an asteroid - a large lump of stone or metals travelling at tens of miles a second. This kind of impact is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
A monitoring station, possibly based at Armagh in Northern Ireland and linked to telescopes around the world, would be the first stage in a programme that would also investigate ways of knocking any approaching asteroid off a collision course with Earth.
One option could be to fire a nuclear missile that would explode close to the incoming rock and deflect it.
At least two big impacts were recorded during the last century alone. The first, at Tunguska in Siberia in 1908, devastated an area the size of greater London. The other, in Brazil in 1947, left several huge craters. Both fell in unpopulated areas and nobody was killed.
Last week astronomers announced that a huge asteroid would cross Earth's orbit today at a range of 2.6m miles. In astronomical terms this is a tiny distance - and others will come much closer.
In 2027, a rock measuring half a mile in diameter, travelling at 50 miles per second and known as 1999 AN10, will hurtle past Earth at a distance of just 200,000 miles. It will pass close by several more times - with nobody yet able to predict whether it will hit the planet.
The British commission includes Professor Harry Atkinson, who has worked for the European Space Agency and other international bodies, and Sir Crispin Tickell, the former British ambassador to the United Nations. It was set up in January.
The threat is already taken seriously by America and Japan, which have established their own Spaceguard projects. Nasa has said it plans by 2006 to track all asteroids with diameters greater than 1km that will cross the path of Earth.
An asteroid that size would wipe out most life and there would have been many such events early in Earth's 4.6 billion-year history. Now, however, the risk is much lower because most potential collisions have already happened. The last big asteroid, about six miles in diameter, was the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The commission's report says Britain's role could be to find smaller objects, between 50 yards and about half a mile in diameter, of which there are many thousands.
Up to six telescopes would have to be built - some designed to detect near-Earth objects, others to track them continually and a third group to analyse the light they reflect in order to find out what they are made of.
The aim of Spaceguard would be to ensure that Earth had sufficient advance warning - hopefully decades - to investigate and then take preventive action.
A Whitehall source said: "We accept there is a risk and want Britain to take a leading role in dealing with it."
Sainsbury wants other European countries to help finance the network, which would be computerised and would enable astronomers to build up a huge database from which they could predict which objects presented a threat.
Mark Bailey, director of the Armagh Observatory, a world-renowned centre for the study of asteroids and comets, where the project would probably be based, believes the world is now so heavily populated that even a small impact could kill millions. "Asteroid and comet impacts have changed human history in the past and it could happen again," he said.
The biggest risk to Earth is from comets that appear at random from the Oort Cloud - a huge sphere of icy rubble that surrounds the solar system. They move very fast and could reach Earth within months of being spotted.
Dr Bill Napier, an astronomer who specialises in comets and asteroids, believes the only solution is to set up a fleet of rockets carrying nuclear bombs that could be detonated half a mile from any threatening object.
"You would only have to nudge them a few metres to send them safely past Earth to avoid Armageddon," he said.
Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.
THE COSMIC TIME BOMB WAITING TO GO OFF: GOVERNMENT URGED TO ESTABLISH SPACEGUARD AGAINST DEADLY COMETS
From The Guardian, 16 September 2000
By Tim Radford, science editor
Scientists will urge the government to set up a guard against destruction from outer space, in an official report to be published on Monday. A task force will report that collisions with "near earth objects" such as asteroids and comets are no longer the stuff of science fiction: they represent a real threat. A collision with one the size of a small village could wipe out a third of the human race.
A 100-metre object crashes into the planet every 10,000 years - triggering a 100 megaton explosion in the air, larger than the largest H-bomb ever tested. A 1km object scores a direct hit on the planet every 100,000 years - with the force of 10m Hiroshimas.
The near earth objects task force, led by Professor Harry Atkinson, a scientist who has worked both for the European space agency and Nasa, was set up in January to consider the growing evidence of danger and to take advice from astronomers.
His report will urge the government to release £20m for a new telescope in the southern hemisphere to comb the skies, and to "buy" time on a network of new or existing telescopes in Australia, Hawaii and the Canary islands to track the solar system's "loose cannons". The task force - made up of Prof Atkinson, Sir Crispin Tickell, the former British ambassador to the UN, and Professor David Williams of University College, London - will also recommend close partnerships with European and US astronomers to ensure systematic global coverage.
The report will suggest support for space-based instruments to sweep the skies for potential cosmic traffic accidents and British involvement in European and US satellites which could rendezvous with asteroids far away and study them more closely. And it is expected to urge a kind of British "spaceguard" research centre, perhaps at the Armagh observatory in Northern Ireland, to keep disaster experts, astronomers, media and government in touch with each other.
One problem is that the US - which funds a "minor planet centre" at Harvard - controls the detailed astronomical information from observers all over the world. The report could urge that Britain share some of the cost. "It's an unhealthy state of affairs even if the US is an ally, when one country controls the information," said one researcher.
Objects from space hit the earth all the time - at speeds of more than 10 miles a second. Most burn up harmlessly, as shooting stars. Hundreds have landed as small rocks. There is no record of any human being killed by a comet or asteroid - but a large one could destroy civilisation. The aim, the task force report will say, is to detect a potential collision years or, better still, decades in advance, giving governments of the world time to take measures.
"What they are talking about is setting in motion ways in which we could really deflect one of these things. That is the contentious one, because that involves nuclear weapons," said one astronomer last night. "It doesn't say that, but we know it does. If you are going to deflect one, you have got to use a nuclear weapon. There is no other way to do it."
This would mean launching a robot spacecraft to meet an asteroid, and then triggering a precisely calculated explosion which would knock it off course so that it would miss its date with the earth.
Other bodies in the solar system are pock-marked by asteroid craters. The earth's asteroid scars have been removed by erosion - but there have been a number of collisions identified by planetary scientists. The most famous coincided with the death of the dinosaurs 65m years ago, but a 100-metre object exploded over Siberia in 1908 and wiped out 2,000 sq miles of forest. Two large asteroids have passed alarmingly close to earth in the last few years. US and French astronomers recently calculated that 900 asteroids, all 1km across or larger, are whizzing around the solar system on orbits that cross that of the earth. But Europeans want to start tracking smaller objects.
"A 200-metre object plonking into the Atlantic would effectively take out all the cities around the seaboards. Those smaller events occur rather more frequently - they are talking about a once every several thousand years event," said Duncan Steel of the University of Salford, one of the leading authorities on asteroids and comets. "The report highlights the way in which Britain can make a real contribution to the international programme - in essence to become No 2 in the world, behind the US. This would put the UK in a Europe-leading role."
Jonathan Tate, a British army officer who several years ago began pressing for governments to take the threat from space seriously, is the director of SpaceGuard UK. He argued that a crash from a 1km asteroid - a one-in-100,000-years event - could kill 25-30% of the human race within a year. Assuming a UK population of 60m when it happened, that would work out at an average of 150 deaths a year over that 100,000-year period. One authority values a human life at £850,000.
"That actually works out at £123m a year to do nothing," he said. "One of the major effects of this report will be to dispel, for once and for all, the giggle factor associated with the impact hazard. No sane person can any longer regard this as either funny or science fiction."
Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, has been pushing the government to take the issue seriously for two years. "If the report confirms a clear and present danger of an impact of global significance, and that we can do something about it with today's technology, I shall be happy," he said yesterday.
Copyright 2000, Guardian Newspapers Limited
UK SCIENTISTS URGED TO INSURE AGAINST THE DANGER OF BEING FLATTENED BY A GIANT ASTEROID
From The Guardian, 16 September 2000
By Duncan Steel
The search for petrol may be at the front of our minds this weekend. But for those who want distraction, there is another big problem to worry about. We in Britain should take the threat more seriously of collision with large rocks from space.
Last December 30, lost among the millennium celebrations, Lord Sainsbury announced the formation of a top-level task force consisting of Sir Crispin Tickell, Dr Harry Atkinson and Professor David Williams, to investigate the asteroid hazard. Their report is due to be published on Monday. They are to confirm that the hazard we face is not trivial, and to recommend a suite of actions that the UK might implement, as a participant in a global programme aimed at ensuring that we are not taken unawares.
Although the US is by far the dominant player in this field, the UK is well placed to lead European efforts to tackle this surprising danger. We must secure the future of the human race against attack from above.
We have got all our eggs stored in one basket. It's called the Earth. We must keep it safe. The dinosaurs couldn't see their nemesis coming. We can, and having realised the danger it would be negligent of us to adopt an ostrich-like stance.
Forget, for the moment, Bruce Willis and the other heroes of those cosmic disaster movies Armageddon and Deep Impact. The way the universe really works is this. In our yearly orbit around the Sun, many space rocks pass us by. Some are large, some small. Some come near, but most keep their distance. The Earth collects about 40,000 tons of celestial debris each year, mainly tiny grains producing the familiar shooting stars seen on a dark night. But every so often a whopper slams into us.
Of concern are those bigger than about a kilometre: maybe a mile at the outside. A crater 10 miles wide and several miles deep would be excavated by one of these. By dint of the extreme speed, the energy released on impact would be equivalent to about 100,000 megatons of TNT. Around 10m times the Hiroshima bomb.
This is the threshold at which a global upset of the environment would be caused (putting it mildly), and we may expect at least a quarter of the human race to perish. How often might that happen? Answer: about once every 100,000 years.
Now, is that anything to be concerned about? As a scientist, I have to compare it against other risks. If the kill-rate is one in four people, the chance of dying that way is one in 400,000 per annum. If you have a remaining life expectancy of 40 years, this means there is a one in 10,000 probability that an asteroid catastrophe will end your days. Statistics for airline disasters indicate that the average westerner's chance of dying in a plane crash is around one in 30,000. So asteroids are more dangerous than jetliners. We spend billions on the latter, and essentially nothing on the former.
Compare the risk against other major catastrophes, such as nuclear power stations or chemical plants exploding. The government has safety guidelines for such things. Take that one chance in 100,000 per annum level of occurrence as reference: the guidelines say that if some accident has that likelihood and it would kill more than 100 people, then money should be spent if it is feasible to reduce the risk. If the death expectancy is more than 10,000, then the risk is defined as being "intolerable", and it must be tackled.
A massive asteroid impact anywhere around the globe has that annual probability, and no matter where it hits one may expect more than 10m Britons to die. The safety guidelines indicate, then, that this is super-intolerable. The government must act.
The average voter still thinks people such as I are joking when we argue that there is a significant hazard posed by asteroids running into the Earth. Bruce Willis has fooled you. As a matter of fact, it is about as funny as cancer, or mass murder. Not to realise that some things are dangerous without having it painfully proven to you is dumb. Hydrogen bombs have never killed anyone. But we can imagine the consequences of a war in which they are used in anger.
What can we do, having recognised the danger? All that is advocated at this stage is a surveillance programme aimed at answering one question: is there a major impact due within the next century? Most likely the answer is "no".
It is like taking out car insurance: you hope you won't need to make a claim. But if the answer is "yes" then, with adequate warning, we can take ameliorative action. The only viable method we know to divert an identified impactor involves nuclear weapons, but it is not like in the movies. We are talking here about having 10 or 20 years to get out there and give it a small but sufficient nudge such that it misses our planetary home, and does not deliver its far more powerful punch.
The parallel with cancer is a pertinent one. Cancer screening costs relatively little and most often the result is negative. But if a tumour is found, then all the feasible cures are unpleasant, and they may only be used if the cancer is picked up early enough. And you won't find it if you don't look.
Ah, but you have never heard of anyone dying due to an asteroid strike? No, there have been no really large impacts during recorded history. Of course not. You wouldn't be here to read about it if there had been. But there was a 15 megaton event over Siberia in 1908 that would have flattened the whole of London if the circumstances had been only slightly different. And Chinese records tell us of a meteorite explosion killing tens of thousands in the 15th century.
Statistics can be misleading. Take air crashes. I'm a member of the Qantas frequent flyer club, an airline that has never had an accident. Does that mean that next time I board a Qantas jet to Sydney I have zero risk of dying? Circumstances can change quickly. Until recently Concorde was regarded as a paragon of air safety. Two decades ago virtually everyone, weather forecasters included, thought that hurricanes never hit England.
The only nation spending any sensible amount on asteroid defence is the United States. And I do mean "defence" - the two most productive search telescopes are owned by the US Air Force. In effect we too, need to declare war on the heavens.
Duncan Steel is reader in space technology at the University of Salford.
Copyright 2000, Guardian Newspapers Limited
A BRITISH BLUEPRINT FOR NEO PROTECTION
From SKY & TELESCOPE
Astronomers in the United States have long dominated the search for asteroids and comets that might someday collide with Earth. But if the recommendations of a just-released study are adopted, Great Britain stands to become a major player as well. Yesterday the Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near-Earth Objects released its 59-page report, which contains 14 recommendations for accelerating the discovery and characterization of NEOs. The three-member task force was formed in January by Lord Sainsbury, Britain's minister for science, and it drew heavily on experts from around the world.
The most significant recommendation, at least in terms of potential cost, requests that the British government construct a 3-meter telescope in the Southern Hemisphere that will be dedicated to NEO searches. The task force believes such a telescope could track down smaller objects, those less than 500 meters across, which far outnumber their larger kin and thus strike Earth more frequently on average. The cost for such an expensive undertaking could be shared among several European partners, the report says. Another recommendation is to use an existing 1-meter instrument, the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, solely to follow up observations of close-approachers after their discovery. And the report calls for the establishment of a British Center for Near Earth Objects, to coordinate the country's NEO research and to serve as a clearinghouse for information.
Reaction to the report has ranged from favorable to enthusiastic among astronomers who study asteroids and comets. "I am particularly impressed by the internationality of the Report," comments Brian Marsden, director of the IAU's Minor Planet Center. The recommendations are "suitably ambitious," notes Duncan Steel, who coordinated Australia's search effort before its government funding ended in 1996. The proposed 3-m observatory would be especially welcome, since at present only one modest telescope is searching for NEOs from the Southern Hemisphere. Steel says that the task force's plan, if adopted, "would place the UK as the number two nation globally in such activity." If fully implemented, the program would cost the British government about £10 million ($15 million) annually.
Copyright 2000, Sky & Telescope
BRITISH REPORT RECOMMENDS INVESTMENT IN ASTEROID SEARCH
From SpaceViews, 19 September 2000
A report released Monday recommends that the British government make a multi-million dollar investment in search programs and other efforts to deal with the threat posed by near-Earth asteroids and comets.
The "Report of the Task Force of Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects", released Monday, concluded that the United Kingdom can and should play a major role in the search for objects that could collide with the Earth.
"The threat from Near Earth Objects raises major issues," the report, drafted by a committee of three scientists appointed by the government earlier this year, concluded. "The United Kingdom is well placed to make a significant contribution to what should be a global effort."
The task force recommended in the report that the UK become more involved in programs to detect and monitor NEOs. Its leading recommendation was that the country work with others in Europe to build a 3-meter (118-inch) telescope in the southern hemisphere that would be dedicated to searching for NEOs. Such a facility would fill a gap in current search efforts, which are mostly based in the northern hemisphere, and would be able to detect smaller objects that current telescopes.
"We have considered the possibility of using older existing telescopes for the systematic survey and discovery of these objects, but have generally rejected the idea because adapting such equipment would be expensive and the resulting telescopes would not be competitive for long," the report noted. "Only a new dedicated would make a satisfactory contribution to the world effort."
The report did recommend that other ground- and space-based telescopes in use or under development also be drafted into the effort to both search for new NEOs and track existing ones. In most cases, these facilities, such as ESA's proposed GAIA astrometry mission, would perform NEO work in addition to other tasks.
The task force also recommended that the UK support other research to better understand the composition and nature of NEOs, through ground-based telescopes and small spacecraft missions, and fund studies to look into the consequences of a NEO impact with the Earth and ways to deflect and incoming object.
In addition to suggesting that international and European organizations be created to coordinate and share information about NEO work, the task force concluded the UK should set up its own organization for NEO work. The British Center for Near Earth Objects would coordinate national NEO work and also provide information to the public "should the need arise."
The cost of the entire program was not included in the report, although the task force admitted that some of its recommendations, such as a 3-meter telescope, would be "expensive." Outside experts have estimated that such a program would cost the British government up to as much as 10 million pounds (US$14 million) a year. By comparison the US, the leading nation in current search efforts, spends only a few million dollars a year.
Lord Sainsbury, the British science minister, thanked the task force for the report but was noncommittal on how the government would act upon those recommendations.
"I welcome the Task Force's approach, which includes proposals for collaboration with international partners," he said in a statement Monday. "Over the next couple of months I will be considering the Government's response to the Task Force's recommendations in consultation with colleagues".
The report was widely applauded by scientists both in the UK and around the world involved with NEO work. Duncan Steel, a British astronomer involved with NEO studies, called the report's recommendations "suitably ambitious."
"They are ambitious in that they would place the UK as the number two nation globally in such activity," he explained, adding that if the UK did build a 3-meter telescope "then the current US NEO search activity would be outstripped. That would, one would imagine, provoke a response from the far side of the Atlantic."
"These recommended actions would significantly extend the current efforts to discover and track the thousands of potentially hazardous objects in near-Earth space," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object program office. "This comprehensive report will remain a classic in the field and it should go a long way toward educating the public on the only type of natural disaster that could be averted with current technology."
Spaceguard UK, a British organization that supports expanded NEOs searches, welcomed the report but cautioned that the government must back the report's language with action. "Spaceguard UK applauds the [science] minister, Lord Sainsbury, on his timely decision to investigate the most serious natural hazard facing Great Britain," the organization said in a statement. "However, he is no doubt well aware that actions speak louder than words, so the national and international membership of Spaceguard UK will await the government's plan of action with great interest."
"The hazard has now been validated," the organization concluded, "and hopefully we will soon have the tools to reduce the risk to manageable levels."
Copyright 2000, SpaceViews