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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 16:01 GMT
Opik urges asteroids action plan
Delta II rocket carrying the Deep Impact spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral on 12 January
Nasa's rocket carrying the Deep Impact spacecraft
A Welsh MP has called on the Government to embrace an action plan to combat the threat of asteroids.

Lembit Opik's comments follow Nasa's launch of its Deep Impact research mission to crash a projectile into Comet Tempel 1.

The Montgomeryshire MP welcomed its launch, but said the Near Earth Object Task Group's 14-step plan had to be implemented without delay.

It includes assessing the impact a large asteroid would have on Earth.

Mr Opik, who tabled a Commons motion, said: "The successful launch of the Deep Impact space probe marks a milestone in our understanding of comets and what they're made of.

"But it's also vital information to those seeking ways to protect us from a catastrophic impact from a large object from space."

If a comet smashed into an ocean basin, it could generate a tsunami a 1,000 metres high
Lembit Opik MP

Mr Opik, who is leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, has had a longstanding interest in the subject of asteroids or near earth objects (NEOs).

He works closely with the Spaceguard Centre, in Knighton, Powys, which acts as a focus for UK interest in asteroids.

"To put it in perspective, if a comet smashed into an ocean basin, it could generate a tsunami 1,000 metres high together with untold devastation from fire and molten lava," said Mr Opik.

"It could kill hundreds of millions of people, but unless we know what these things are made of, we won't be able to plan a way to divert them."

The MP added: "The Deep Impact project will push back the frontiers of our knowledge and give us a much better chance of protecting ourselves from Armageddon.

"I also hope the Government will now implement the 14 recommendations from their own Near Earth Object Task Group without delay."

Lembit Opik MP
Mr Opik has had a longstanding interest in asteroids

The UK task force on NEOs was set up in 2000 following an upsurge in interest in potentially hazardous rocks from space that could strike the Earth.

The task force made 14 recommendations including the use of telescopes, the analysis of data and studies of NEOs.

But last year scientists said the UK government's interest in NEOs had cooled, and it had not implemented the recommendations it said it would.

But a spokesman for the British National Space Centre, part of the Department of Trade's science division, said it had examined the suggestions.

"The government has set up an NEO Information Centre to provide information to the government, public and the media on NEO issues," he said.

He added that they had arrangements with the Cabinet Office's civil contingencies unit to keep them fully informed on the NEO risk, as well as working with international agencies.


SEE ALSO:
Comet probe Deep Impact launches
12 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature
Government 'ignores' space threat
12 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature
Earth almost put on impact alert
24 Feb 04 |  Science/Nature
Taskforce tackles asteroid threat
04 Jan 00 |  Science/Nature
Britain 'should provide asteroid lead'
24 Jul 02 |  Science/Nature


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