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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Britain 'should provide asteroid lead'
An international effort tracks the near-Earth objects

Britain should be providing a lead to the world in finding and tracking objects in space which might hit the Earth, Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik has told BBC News Online.

His comments follow the announcement that a newly-discovered asteroid - 2002 NT7 - could strike the Earth in 2019.

"We lead the world academically in this subject and we should be providing a lead on tracking the asteroid," he said.

He said Britain ought to increase its involvement in international cooperation on near-Earth objects.

"An effective survey would cost around 80 million over ten years: a million pounds a year for each G-8 country," said Mr Opik.

"Working out a way to deflect an asteroid would be much more expensive, but it would be an insurance policy for the planet."

Web presence

The UK has a Near-Earth Object information centre, set up to provide public information in response to a government task force recommendation.

Lembit Opik MP
Saving the planet 'depends on advance warning'
The site says that calculations on Wednesday give the 2002 NT7 asteroid a 1 in 60,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2019.

But it reminds readers that the asteroid's orbit is being recalculated daily using observations from three different areas of the world.

Referring to an older incident, the centre recalls: "Earlier this year the probability of asteroid 2002 CU11 hitting Earth was calculated as a 1 in 9,000 chance on one day.

"We now know the probability of this rock hitting us in the next 100 years is zero."

It says that UK equipment at the La Palma observatory in the Canary Islands is being tested to track near-Earth objects.

Salvation 'cheap'

Mr Opik wants to see the number of observing telescopes increased.

"It's all about lead time. If we have ten, 20 or 30 years' notice we can probably save the planet.

"If we have six months' notice we couldn't even evacuate a continent," he said.

The British Government enjoys access to some of the leading astronomers in the world on this subject.

"Why don't we show the world the lead in what is a cheap way to save the planet?" said Mr Opik.

See also:

24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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