PLEASE NOTE:


*

UK GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCE SITE OF NEO INFORMATION CENTRE
-----------------------------------------------------


   "The government's near Earth objects task force set out 14
   recommendations, which included advanced new telescopes dedicated to
   searching the skies in both hemispheres, and a series of steps to
   cooperate with international teams to spot potential hazards and
   dream up ways to deflect them. Today's decision implements only the
   14th recommendation and, ironically, is announced three days after 
   Spaceguard UK, a private group led by Jonathan Tate, announced its
   own comet and asteroid information network, centred at Knighton in
   Powys. Privately, astronomers yesterday were grumbling about Britain's
   claims of a "leading role" in the search for dangerous objects in
   space. Some pointed out that Britain had so far done almost nothing.
   Others welcomed any action at all."
       --Tim Radford, The Guardian, 1 January 2001


(1) NATIONAL SPACE SCIENCE CENTRE TO BE THE
    UK INFORMATION CENTRE FOR NEAR EARTH OBJECTS
    DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

(2) INFORMATION CENTRE IS RESPONSE TO THREAT FROM ASTEROIDS
    The Guardian, 1 January 2001

(3) ASTEROID IMPACT STUDY CENTRE 'JUST A GESTURE'
    Daily Post, 1 January 2001

(4) ASTEROID IMPACT CENTRE SITE SELECTED
    BBC Online News, 1 January 2001

(5) CENTRE TO SEARCH FOR ASTEROIDS ON EARTH COLLISION COURSE
    Ananova, 1 January 2001


=================
(1) NATIONAL SPACE SCIENCE CENTRE TO BE THE
UK INFORMATION CENTRE FOR NEAR EARTH OBJECTS
 
DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY
P/2001/739                                      
December 2001

EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01HRS TUESDAY 1 JANUARY 2002

SHOOTING STARS ACROSS THE GALAXY

National Space Science Centre to be the UK Information
Centre for Near Earth Objects

The UK's first government backed Information Centre on Near Earth
Objects is to be sited at the National Space Science Centre in
Leicester, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury announced today.

The facility will also analyse the potential threat from NEO's
hitting the earth and provide an extensive range of information
about asteroids and comets.

The new centre will be operational by Easter 2002 and supported by
the Natural History Museum in London. It will also involve a
consortium which includes University of Leicester, Queens University
Belfast, W5 in Belfast, Queen Mary University London and the Royal
Observatory Edinburgh.

Lord Sainsbury said:

"The potential threat from NEO's to our planet has been an issue of
increased international interest and concern over recent years.

"By setting up an information centre we are helping the UK play a
full and prominent role in an area that requires international action."

The centre will include a website, exhibition and interactive
facilities displaying what asteroids and comets are and where they
can be found. The centre will:

-  provide information on the nature, number and location of NEOs;

-  explain how these objects can impact the Earth and its atmosphere;

-  provide information on the effects of planetary collision with
   comets and asteroids;

-  explore the history of impacts within our solar system;

-  explain the risks posed by NEO impact and the likelihood of
   occurrence, comparing them with more frequently encountered and widely
   understood hazards;

-  highlight the importance of missions to encounter and rendezvous
   with NEOs to increase understanding of their characteristics.

The centre will be a focus for sharing information with other sites
including the Spaceguard Centre in Wales. Subsequently other sites will
be able to update their information on NEO's.

Lord Sainsbury also published today an update report on the
"Implementation of the Recommendations of the NEO Task Force". Part of
the work has been to identify suitable telescopes, which can be used to
track NEO's. So far two telescopes on La Palma in the Canary Islands
have been identified as possible sites. The first of these - the Isaac
Newton - will be used as a pilot study after February 2002.

Notes to Editors:

1. NEO'S are asteroid or comets whose orbit brings them close to the
Earth. They are both believed to be the remnants from the formation
of planets. Most asteroids are composed of rock while comets can be a
mixture of rock organic molecules and frozen gasses.

2. The risk of being hit is remote, and there are currently no known
large asteroids or comets whose orbit puts them on collision course
with Earth. However, the potential for significant damage to the
Earth and its environment does exist.

3. The Earth's atmosphere protects against objects smaller than about
50m in diameter. Objects above 50m in diameter may survive passage
through the atmosphere but will impact the Earth less than once every
hundred years on average.

4. In January 2000 the Government set up a Task Force to look into
the potential hazards. In February 2001, and in response to the Task
Force's recommendations, Lord Sainsbury announced a 4-point package
to tackle the potential threat.

5. The Government's response to all the Task Force recommendations is
available on the Near Earth Object website at www.nearearthobjects.co.uk
together with the NEO Task Force Report. Details of the call for
proposals for the NEO Information Centre can be found online at
http://www.bnsc.gov.uk. The Task Force consisted of Dr Harry Atkinson
(Chairman), Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David Williams.

6. The update to the Government response to the recommendations of the
NEO Task Force Report can be found at www.nearearthobjects.co.uk.
Other findings from the update report have emphasised that international
collaboration is vital amongst worldwide observation and orbit
calculation groups. There have been successful missions such as NEAR and
Deep Space 1. In 2002, the OECD Global Science Forum will consider a
co-ordinated proposal for an NEO activity.

Press Enquiries: 020 7215 6403/6140
(Out of Hours: 020 7215 3234/3505)
Public Enquiries: 020 7215 5000
Textphone for those with earing impairments: 020 7215 6740
Internet: www.dti.gov.uk 

Department of Trade and Industry
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET
Fax 020-7222 4382

================
(2) INFORMATION CENTRE IS RESPONSE TO THREAT FROM ASTEROIDS

>From The Guardian, 1 January 2001
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,626338,00.html

Tim Radford, science editor

The long-awaited government response to the threat of death from outer
space is to be a new information centre, the science minister, Lord
Sainsbury, announces today.

Lord Sainsbury more than a year ago received a far-reaching government
report on the menace of comets and asteroids which, periodically, hit
the Earth with the force of a thousand Hiroshimas.

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

The information centre on near Earth objects or NEOs - the term for
hurtling lumps of metal, ice and rock that present a traffic hazard in
space - will be based at the national space centre in Leicester, and
should be open by Easter.

It will be backed by 300,000 over three years from govern ment funds,
and experts based there will analyse the probabilities of a direct hit
by any of the hundreds of potentially hazardous objects so far
identified.

The centre will work with the Natural History Museum in London and a
consortium involving the University of Leicester, Queen's University in
Belfast, Queen Mary College, London and the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

But today's announcement still leaves astronomers hoping for more. Two
telescopes on La Palma in the Canary islands could be used to track NEOs
and one of them will be used for a trial period after February, the
announcement says.

Every week, the Earth collides with thousands of tons of dust and stones
hurtling through space at up to 20 miles a second. Every few years,
larger boulders hit the upper atmosphere and burn up.

In the past decade, planetary scientists have realised that in the long
run, even bigger impacts are inevitable. Every few hundred years
something 50 metres or more across explodes with colossal force.

The government's near Earth objects task force set out 14
recommendations, which included advanced new telescopes dedicated to
searching the skies in both hemispheres, and a series of steps to
cooperate with international teams to spot potential hazards and dream
up ways to deflect them.

Today's decision implements only the 14th recommendation and,
ironically, is announced three days after Spaceguard UK, a private group
led by Jonathan Tate, announced its own comet and asteroid information
network, centred at Knighton in Powys.

Privately, astronomers yesterday were grumbling about Britain's claims
of a "leading role" in the search for dangerous objects in space. Some
pointed out that Britain had so far done almost nothing. Others welcomed
any action at all.

"A desperate need for the global Spaceguard project is southern
hemisphere coverage: half the sky is uncovered at present. The task
force report highlighted this," said Duncan Steel, a physicist at
Salford University.

"And yet the UK has recently announced its withdrawal from the
Anglo-Australian Observatory. Between 1990 and 1996, I directed the only
NEO search programme ever to use British facilities, based at the
Anglo-Australian Observatory - but it was funded entirely by the
Australian government."

Copyright 2001, The Guardian

===============
(3) ASTEROID IMPACT STUDY CENTRE 'JUST A GESTURE'

>From Daily Post, 1 January 2001
http://icliverpool.icnetwork.co.uk/

By Claire Tolley
Daily Post Staff

A Liverpool researcher has criticised a new public information centre
on asteroids and comets as "window dressing".

The Government yesterday announced the creation of a new space science
centre to study the liklihood of Earth being hit by an object. Science
minister Lord Sainsbury said the information centre on Near Earth
Objects is to start scanning the skies for potential threats from Easter 2002,
in response to recommendations by a task force.

But Dr Benny Peiser, a researcher and asteroid impact expert at
Liverpool John Moores University, said the centre will not have the
facilities to carry out the necessary research.

Dr Peiser, who has been one of the key members of Spaceguard UK, a group
lobbying the Government to fund research into asteroids and comets,
believes the new centre does not go far enough.

He said: "I personally welcome this gesture but it is just a gesture.
At the new centre there will be no research undertaken and they will
also be really limited to the Government position on the whole issue.

"I think we still have to wait for more significant involvement and
contribution by the UK to the search for Near Earth Objects. That was
the main concern of the task force and this new centre doesn't solve
that problem."

The new facility will have a budget of only 250,000 for the next three
years after which it must support itself. Operating out of the National
Space Science Centre in Leicester, it will provide information on
asteroids and comets, the effect of impacts and the chances of
collision.

Lord Sainsbury said: The potential threat from NEOs to our planet has
been an issue of increased international interest and concern over
recent years. By setting up an information centre we are helping the UK play a
full and prominent role in an area that requires international action."

It had been hoped the Government's decidion to create the space science
centre would pave the way towards the task force recommendation to build
a 10-15m telescope in the southern hemisphere. Liverpool John Moores
University would be among the front runners to build such a telescope
through its subsidiary, Telescope Technologies Ltd.

But the Government is still negotiating with international partners and
no decision had been made over whether that recommendation will go
ahead.

Dr Peiser added: "The Government is looking into using two smaller
telescopes in the northern hemisphere. But they won't be able to do what
the task force asked, to provide a large telescope looking in the
southern hemisphere where there aren't any search telescopes."

In the absence of a decision on the telescope, JMU has become part of a
comet and asteroid information and research network which shares
knowledge between universities in the UK.

The extent of the risk that Earth will be hit by a Near Earth Object has
been the subject of controversy. Recent scientific research reported
humans have a one in 5,000 chance of being wiped out by an asteroid
impact over the next century.

Astronomers analysing data from a study called the Sloan Digital Sky
Survey calculated that the Solar System contained about 700,000
asteroids big enough to destroy civilisation. The figure is about a
third of the size of previous estimates, which had put the number at around
two million.

But Dr Peiser said the scientists' research had been based on looking at
the population of asteroids in the asteroid belt and extrapolating from
them as to how many might be Near Earth Objects. He said the research
was highly controversial and wasn't acepted by a majority of asteroid
reseachers.

Copyright 2001, Daily Post

=============
(4) ASTEROID IMPACT CENTRE SITE SELECTED

>From the BBC Online News, 1 January 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1736000/1736080.stm
 

Britain's new centre to analyse the risk of asteroid impact on Earth and
inform the public will be at the National Space Science Centre in
Leicester, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has announced.

The government announced its intention to open a near Earth object (NEO)
information centre in February 2001 as part of its response to a report
by its task force on NEOs, and invited bids to run it.

There were other bids to run the centre, including one by Spaceguard UK,
a Powys-based group which spent years lobbying the government to take
the threat of asteroid impact seriously.

The government says the new centre will open in Leicester by Easter 2002
and will share information with other sites, including the Spaceguard
centre.

Pilot study

It will analyse the potential threat posed by NEOs and inform the public
about asteroids and comets, it says.

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

He also said that two telescopes on the Canary Islands had been
identified as possible sites for NEO tracking.

A pilot study using the Isaac Newton telescope at La Palma will begin
after February 2002, he said.

The announcement of the new centre was welcomed by Lembit Opik, the
Liberal Democrat MP who has been a campaigner for more research.

"At last the government is making good Lord Sainsbury's commitment to
put hard cash into this long campaigned for project," he told the Press
Association.

He added that he wanted the National Space Science Centre to work with
Spaceguard UK because the issue of asteroid collision was too important
for one group to tackle alone.

Atmospheric protection

The government emphasises that the risk of a large asteroid impact in
the near future is remote.

"There are currently no known large asteroids or comets whose orbit puts
them on collision course with Earth.

"However, the potential for significant damage to the Earth and its
environment does exist," it says, adding:

"The Earth's atmosphere protects against objects smaller than about 50
metres in diameter.

"Objects above 50 metres in diameter may survive passage through the
atmosphere but will impact the Earth less than once every hundred years
on average."

Near Earth objects are asteroids or comets, believed to be remnants from
the formation of the planets, whose orbit brings them close to the
Earth.

Most asteroids are made of rock, while comets can be a mixture of rock,
organic molecules and frozen gases.

One of the theories put forward to explain the extinction of the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago is that they were wiped out by the
catastrophic impact of a large asteroid.

Copyright 2001, BBC

=============
(5) CENTRE TO SEARCH FOR ASTEROIDS ON EARTH COLLISION COURSE

>From Ananova, 1 January 2001
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_484316.html?menu=news.scienceanddis
covery

The likelihood of Earth being hit by an asteroid or comet is to be
studied at a new space science centre, the Government has announced.

The information centre on Near Earth Objects is to start scanning the
skies for potential threats from Easter 2002, Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury said.

Operating out of the National Space Science Centre in Leicester, the
facility will provide information on asteroids and comets, the effects
of impact and the chances of collision.

Lord Sainsbury said: "The potential threat from NEOs to our planet has
been an issue of increased international interest and concern over
recent years.

"By setting up an information centre we are helping the UK play a full
and prominent role in an area that requires international action."

Scientists recently reported humans have a one in 5,000 chance of being
wiped out by an asteroid impact over the next century.

The odds are more comforting than a previous estimate of one in 1,500
over a 100-year period.

Astronomers analysing data from a study called the Sloan Digital Sky
Survey calculated that the Solar System contained about 700,000
asteroids big enough to destroy civilisation.

The figure is about a third of the size of previous estimates, which had
put the number at about two million.

Copyright 2001, Ananova

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