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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
MP 'vindicated' by asteroid warning
Nasa simulation
An asteroid could devastate Earth
Liberal Democrat MP and sky-watcher Lembit Opik said he feels vindicated after astronomers warned that a giant asteroid could be on a collision course with Earth.

Scientists told BBC News Online that a preliminary orbit suggests that 2002 NT7 is on an impact course with Earth and could strike the planet on 1 February, 2019 - although the uncertainties are large.

Even so, they described the asteroid - rocky or metallic objects scattered throughout the solar system - said it is the most threatening object yet detected in space.

Mr Opik - Montgomeryshire member and Welsh party leader - said: "I have said for years that the chances of this asteroid having an impact which could wipe out most of the human race is 100%."

He has pushed the issue in the House of Commons several times since 1998 and successfully campaigned for an all-party taskforce to be established to assess the potentially catastrophic risk posed by orbiting rocks.

Lembit Opik
Lembit Opik warned of continents being wiped out
A self-confessed star-gazer, he was also instrumental in setting up the Spaceguard UK facility to track near-Earth objects from Knighton, Powys, at his constituency.

Further observations of 2002 NT7 may show its course veers away from the planet.

But researchers have forecast an impact would wipe out a continent and cause global climate change.

"There is a good chance this particular object won't hit us, but we know that a large object will hit us sooner or later. This is the closest approach we have seen so far," Mr Opik said on Wednesday.

"It does sound like a science fiction story and I may sound like one of these guys who walks up and down with a sandwich board saying the end of the world is nigh, but the end is nigh.


He predicted an electromagnetic pulse would "fry" most of the electronics on earth.

"If this object hits the Earth it will probably set back civilisation by many years - there is no way of under-selling the danger.

"Seventeen years is not a long time to divert it, if it really is coming our way."

But the Ulsterman added the caveat that mass destruction is not inevitable because the asteroid could be pushed off course by mobilised space agencies on Earth.

"We should be extremely worried ... it's time to sit up and take notice, but my guess is it will probably be a near miss," he added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Whitehouse
"The rock hurtles through space at 17 miles per second"
Dr Donald Yeomans, Nasa
"The threat is very minimal"
Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik
"In cosmic terms it's a very close call"
See also:

24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
15 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
05 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
08 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
23 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
30 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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