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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
UK asteroid centre opens
UK Government Near Earth Object Task Force chairman Harry Atkinson, PA
The bigger ones are more of a worry
The UK's first government-backed centre to provide public information on asteroids and other near-Earth objects opens to the public on Saturday.

Part of the National Space Centre in Leicester, the project is receiving 300,000 of government money to feed an increased public appetite for knowledge about objects relatively close to Earth.

"By setting up an information centre we are helping the UK play a full and prominent role in an area that requires international rescue," Space Minister Lord Sainsbury said.

Experts at the centre will analyse the risk of any of the hundreds of currently known near-Earth objects actually hitting the planet.

The centre will provide information to the public on the nature, number and location of near-Earth objects, what might happen if one hit Earth and how likely this is.

Low probability, high consequence

It is extremely unlikely that an asteroid impact of the scale that may have wiped out the dinosaurs will take place within the lifetime of anyone alive today.

But, as the UK government's NEO website makes clear, such an impact would be catastrophic:

"NEO impacts are an example of low probability, high consequence events where a single, large impact, although extremely infrequent, could cause millions of fatalities.

"For many generations, there could be no significant event or events that cause only regional damage," it says.

Close approach

An asteroid big enough to wipe out a whole country passed within half a million miles (805,000 kilometres) of the Earth in January.

The distance is close in cosmic terms, but still three times further away than the Moon.

Astronomers recently calculated that there is a one in three hundred chance of one particular kilometre (0.6 mile) wide asteroid hitting the Earth in the year 2880.

UK policy is to improve detection systems and co-operate with other countries to investigate longer term strategies to deflect an incoming object.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Asteroid could hit Earth in 2880
07 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Space rock hurtles past Earth
01 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Asteroid impact centre site selected
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