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Sunday, 19 August, 2001, 02:00 GMT 03:00 UK
UK centre to study asteroid threat
A computer image of an asteroid striking the Earth
The Earth has little to fear, new research centre will say
The potential risk of catastrophe from an asteroid striking the Earth will be explored at a new interactive science centre in the UK.

The government is setting up the innovative research and education centre to better inform the public about the possible effects of asteroid impacts.

Science minister Lord Sainsbury believes that reassurances will be given that the chances of disaster are "very remote", thanks to the new National Asteroid and Comet Information Centre.

Comet Nasa
Comets are balls of ice and dust
This week museums and public information bodies will have the chance to say why they should run the centre.

Scientists believe that the cosmic bodies may have been responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs.

The initiative is part of the government's response to recommendations made last year by its Near Earth Object Task Force.

The centre will provide a fully interactive exhibition, website and information packs on the comparative risk of asteroid strikes, compared to other hazards, and the potential for damage if the Earth was hit.

Collision course

Lord Sainsbury said: "There are currently no known large asteroids or comets whose orbit puts them on collision course with the Earth, but while the risk of being hit is very remote, the potential for damage exists.

"I believe it is important that information on asteroids or comets can be made available to the public and hope that organisations will be able to respond positively to our call for proposals."

Space objects larger than 50 metres in diameter strike the Earth less than once every century.

The last known major asteroid impact happened in Siberia in 1908, when thousands of square kilometres of forest were flattened.

See also:

05 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Skywatchers await comet
05 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Meteorite records early Solar System
24 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Clues to life's origins
29 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
'Cells' hint at life's origin
08 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
'Quick' demise for the dinosaurs
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