PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet, 001/2000, 5 January 2000


     QUOTE OF THE DAY

     "Stone me! An asteroid strike is the first scare story of the
     century. Three wise men have been gathered to decide how best to
     avert an asteroid tragedy which threatens to wipe out all  
     civilisation - never has the Blair government devised a policy move 
     with such an epic tone.... Fighting off an intergalactic menace may
     also prove the perfect test for the British know-how and bottled
     millennial optimism responsible for the Dome and the... er, river of
     fire."
          -- BBC, 4 January 2000



(1) UK SCIENCE MINISTER ANNOUNCES TASK FORCE ON POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS
    NEAR EARTH OBJECTS
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(2) UNITED KINGDOM SETS UP IMPACT THREAT TASK FORCE
    BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000

(3) SAVING THE WORLD FROM ASTEROIDS
    BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000

(4) THE END IS NIGH, AGAIN
    BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000


======
(1) UK SCIENCE MINISTER ANNOUNCES TASK FORCE ON POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS
NEAR EARTH OBJECTS

From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

Department of Trade and Industry
London, England

30 December 1999

P/99/1064

SCIENCE MINISTER ANNOUNCES TASK FORCE ON POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS
NEAR EARTH OBJECTS

A Task Force to look at the potential for risk posed by Near Earth Objects
(NEOs) has been announced by Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury.

The three-strong team will make proposals to the British National Space
Centre on the nature of the hazard and the potential levels of risk. It
will also consider how the United Kingdom should best contribute to
international effort on NEOs.

The Task Force will be chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, formerly of the Science
and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and past Chairman of the European
Space Agency's Council. Two other appointees, Sir Crispin Tickell and
Professor David Williams join Dr Atkinson.

Lord Sainsbury said: "The risk of an asteroid or comet causing substantial
damage is extremely remote. This is not something that  people should lie
awake at night worrying about. But we cannot ignore the risk, however
remote, and a case can be made for monitoring the situation on an
international basis.

"I hope that the setting up of this Task Force will help the UK play a full
and prominent role in international discussions on this important issue. I
am delighted to be able to announce such a well-qualified team of experts
and I look forward to receiving their report by the middle of 2000."

Notes to Editors:

1. Near Earth Objects are either asteroids or comets. Many NEOs have been
   identified and their orbits determined using ground-based telescopes,
   including some of NASA's, in a number of countries, although many  
   remain to be surveyed.

2. Of the known NEOs, none is believed to pose a significant risk to the
   Earth in the foreseeable future. However, on a time-scale of many
   millions of years, the Earth has been hit by objects of sufficient
   size to cause serious damage, including the object which is thought to
   have impacted the Earth about 65 million years ago, with global
   consequences including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

3. The British National Space Centre has responsibility for co-ordination
   with the work of other agencies on the threat to the Earth from space
   debris and NEOs.

4. Dr Harry Atkinson, a New Zealander by birth, has had many years of
   experience in dealing with science and technology internationally.
   This has involved both intergovernmental organisations (such as the
   ESA) and the co-ordination of activities between national agencies
   (including NASA). He was attached to the Cabinet Office in the early
   1970s, on the staff of the Chief Scientific Advisor, where his tasks
   included reviewing all governmental activities in environmental
   pollution.

   Subsequently, in the Science Research Council his responsibilities
   included astronomy and space. This involved UK co-operation with other
   countries in many space science missions, and in ground-based
   astronomical facilities in Australia, South Africa, Hawaii and La
   Palma.

   He helped to set up the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility at
   Grenoble and the EISCA facility in the Arctic Circle; and was
   concerned with the high-flux Beam Reactor (ILL), also at Grenoble.
   Until a year ago, he was Chief Scientist of the British insurance
   industry's Loss Prevention Council.

5. Sir Crispin Tickell has been Chancellor of the University of Kent
   since 1996 and has a distinguished diplomatic career. He was Permanent
   Secretary of the Overseas Development Agency, 1984-87, British
   Permanent Representative to UN, 1987-90, and Warden of Green College,
   Oxford, 1990-97.

   Sir Crispin has played a prominent role in presiding, chairing and
   advising committees and associations on environmental issues. These
   include Chairmanship of the International Institute for Environment
   and development; the Climate Institute of Washington; Earth Watch
   (Europe) and the Advisory Committee on the Darwin Initiative for the
   Survival of Species since 1992. He is author of a wide range of
   environmental publications.

6. Professor David Williams holds the Perren Chair of Astronomy at
   University College London and is President of the Royal Astronomical
   Society. He was previously Reader in Mathematics and Professor of
   Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Manchester Institute of
   Science and Technology, UMIST, and has worked at NASA's Goddard Space
   Flight Centre. He is co-author of titles on interstellar chemistry and
   astrophysics, and has published over 200 articles in learned journals.

========
(2) UNITED KINGDOM SETS UP IMPACT THREAT TASK FORCE

From the BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_590000/590668.stm

Taskforce tackles asteroid threat

An expert taskforce to assess the threat of an asteroid strike on Earth
has been appointed by the UK government. The men who will examine the risk
of the Earth being destroyed by an object from outer space were named on
Tuesday. The task force will be chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, past chairman
of the European Space Agency's Council. The other members will be
environmentalist and former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David
Williams.

Welsh MP Lembit Opik, who first suggested setting up a body to monitor the
threat, warned in the Commons in March that the risk of being killed by an
asteroid was 750 times higher than winning the National Lottery.

The Montgomery Liberal Democrat MP met Lord Sainsbury in July, urging him to
set up a body to examine the possibility of objects from space striking the
Earth.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has now asked the three-man team to look at
the potential for risk posed by asteroids and comets - termed "near-Earth
objects".

The team will make proposals to the British National Space Centre on the
nature of the hazard and will consider how the UK should best contribute to
international effort to prevent a strike.

Announcing the members of the task force, Lord Sainsbury said: "The risk of
an asteroid or comet causing substantial damage is extremely remote. "We
cannot ignore the risk, however remote, and a case can be made for
monitoring the situation on an international basis.

"I hope that the setting up of this task force will help the UK play a full
and prominent role in international discussions on this important issue."

He said he was "delighted to be able to announce such a well-qualified team
of experts", adding that he looked forward to receiving their report by the
middle of 2000.

Sir Crispin Tickell said: "One of the purposes of the taskforce is to put
together the evidence to identify what is coming towards us. "Last year, an
object passed between the Moon and Earth which, if it had hit us, would have
done a lot of damage."

Asteroids can devastate the Earth

Many near-Earth objects have been identified and their orbits determined
using ground-based telescopes in a number of countries, although many are
yet to be surveyed.

Of those known, none is believed to pose a significant risk to the Earth in
the foreseeable future, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.
However, on a time-scale of many millions of years, the Earth has been hit
by objects of sufficient size to cause serious damage.

These include the object which is thought to have hit the Earth about 65
million years ago, and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Copyright 2000, BBC

===============
(3) SAVING THE WORLD FROM ASTEROIDS

From the BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_590000/590622.stm

A gentle push, not a nuclear blast, would be the best way to deal with an
asteroid threatening the Earth, according to a member of the UK government's
taskforce which was announced on Tuesday.

Although Hollywood heroics involving space acrobatics and nuclear bombs have
more dramatic potential, blasting an asteroid which is arrowing in on Earth
could be the worst option.

Professor David Williams, of University College London and formerly of
Nasa's Space Science Data Centre, told BBC News Online that detonating a
rocky object would simply create lots of individual asteroids which could
rain down destruction over a larger area.

He said that a better option would be landing a solar-powered engine on the
object that would then gently push the asteroid out of its collision course.


"The approach would be trapping sunlight, turning it into electricity to
power an ion gun and exerting a very small force on the object, but over a
long time. This would just nudge it out of the orbit it is currently in."

Dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite

A very small shove on an asteroid whilst it is far away could mean the
difference between hitting the Earth and by more than half a million
kilometres (300,000 miles), said Professor Williams.

The engine could be created using technology available today. And expertise
required to place the engine on the object, is being gained from missions to
the asteroid Eros and to a comet, by Rosetta mission.

Two-year warning

Estimates of the likely period of warning of a doomsday asteroid vary from
two years to 20.

Austin Atkinson, an author on asteroids, believes that 20 years would be
enough time to reach and deflect an object but added "It is very hard to get
a rocket from Earth to reach an object within two years."

The purpose of the taskforce is to assess how the UK can contribute to the
global asteroid watch. Mr Atkinson said: "I think everyone is delighted that
Lord Sainsbury has set up this taskforce. Let's hope they argue in favour of
setting up an observation post in Britain."

Space probes have been sent to investigate asteroids

Professor Williams added: "The UK is not going to save the world, but will
contribute to the co-ordinated worldwide effort in this regard."

Asteroids near Earth travel at between 20 and 30 kilometres per second,
making them both hard to intercept and hard to see. International efforts
currently centre on watching the orbits of asteroids more closely in order
to make more accurate predictions of their future course.

The chances of a serious asteroid strike on Earth are very small but the
consequences are so catastrophic that, when averaged out over time, the
chances of being killed by a major impact are 1 in 20,000, the same as being
killed in an aeroplane crash.

Asteroids bigger than two kilometres (1.25 miles) would quite probably wipe
out the human race but are only expected once every million years or so.

However, space objects in the range 50 to 100 metres could kill tens of
millions of people if they struck a city.

Nuclear blast

One such object was a 60m-wide comet that exploded over Siberia in 1908 with
600 times the energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It laid waste to a
40km-wide patch of forest. Events like this are expected every 100 to 300
years.

Dr Matt Genge, from London's Natural History Museum, described what would
have happened if the Siberian comet had hit London.

As it plunged downwards, sonic booms would thunder from the sky, just before
the comet exploded with tremendous force. Dr Genge said: "You'd get a large
shock wave and thermal flash. It's almost exactly the same as a nuclear air
burst.

"Let's say you're a very fast thinker. In the microseconds you have left,
the first thing is that everything would burst into flames, including you.
You'd be knocked off your feet by the shock wave and then dragged back again
towards the explosion as all the air rushes back in."

After the blast, London would be a wasteland of flattened, charred buildings
and blackened corpses.

The three-man task force will make its recommendations by the middle of
2000.

Copyright 2000, BBC

============
(4) THE END IS NIGH, AGAIN

From the BBC News Online, 4 January, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_590000/590484.stm

The end is nigh, again

Stone me! An asteroid strike is the first scare story of the century.

Three wise men have been gathered to decide how best to avert an asteroid
tragedy which threatens to wipe out all civilisation - never has the Blair
government devised a policy move with such an epic tone.

Days into 2000, airliners have stayed aloft and lottery ticket machines
still churn, allaying fears that the millennium bug would propel us back to
the dark ages of 1900.

Disaster lottery: It could be you

The week has also seen the departure of the last peace protesters camped
outside the former nuclear missile base at Greenham Common.

Before the announcement that a taskforce was being set up to look into
the dangers posed by an asteroid striking the Earth, it was looking like we
in the UK had nothing special to worry about in the 21st Century.

Nuclear holocaust was one of our overriding fears before 1989, with even the
most optimistic souls occasionally doubting the sanity, or humanity, of
those with their fingers on the button.

The millennium Bug caused just as many sleepless nights, particularly with
its nail-biting countdown to the High Noon-esque zero hour of 0000 GMT on
New Year's Day.

Fire and brimstone

While nuclear destruction would be due to the folly of a few and the bug
meltdown the result of the short-sightedness of programmers - annihilation
at the hands of a giant space rock has a decidedly biblical quality.

However distant the prospect of a deadly asteroid strike - supposedly it's
750 times more likely than your chances of winning the lottery, so no
worries there - it does have that ring of final retribution.

This drama has not been lost on Hollywood, robbed of its Russki villains.
Following a brief dalliance with pestilence in the Ebola-inspired film
Outbreak, the studios have bet the farm on killer asteroids.

Movies about killer rocks, of course, pre-date the end of the Cold War. But
the wonky special effects of such flops as 1979's Meteor, starring Sean
Connery and Natalie Wood, precluded any real thoughts of global destruction.


Digital jiggery-pokery in 1998's twin offerings Deep Impact and the more
bluntly-titled Armageddon, gave us a believable picture of what devastation
an asteroid could do to our planet.

Where there's a Willis...

Apart from awakening us to this new apocalyptic danger, the films also
proposed some fairly straightforward solutions.

Gainfully employing existing "Star Wars" anti-missile satellites is soon
revealed to be no match for the hands-on approach.

Movie special effects have a 'deep impact'

Landing a crew of US and Russian astronauts on the rock, or a bunch of
semi-trained navvies under Bruce Willis in Armageddon's case, is therefore
endorsed as far and away the best option.

Should their nuclear demolition job on the asteroid fail to do the trick,
Deep Impact advises us to dig - with the great, the good and the lucky given
entry to underground shelters.

While it's doubtful Mr Blair's asteroid taskforce will suggest sending a
manned mission - even one including Bruce Willis - to tackle a "global
killer", it will presumably call for British action should one hove into
view.

In on the act

It may be that the UK is nettled by its constant exclusion from Hollywood
disaster films, not to mention the howls of anger when World War Two epic
Saving Private Ryan ignored British participation in the conflict.

In the movies, Russia is usually America's partner of choice - overcoming
political differences for the greater good.

Mr Blair may be hoping that with Russia kept busy stopping its Mir space
station crashing unexpectedly into the planet, the UK may be allowed to
share the laurels with the United States.

Armageddon: 'Get me to a mineshaft!'

Fighting off an intergalactic menace may also prove the perfect test for the
British know-how and bottled millennial optimism responsible for the Dome
and the... er, river of fire.

Should an asteroid make it through unscathed, sadly the UK doesn't boast the
number of safe holes in the ground it once did. When coal was king the
country was literally peppered with deep shafts. We may have to rely on the
benevolence of other mining nations.

Not all of humanity can be accommodated underground, Deep Impact used a
lottery to allocate places - and if there's one thing the UK can run it's a
lottery. Your chances of picking a lucky, lifesaving ticket? Probably less
than being hit by an asteroid.

Copyright 2000, BBC

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*

CCNet-ESSAY, 5 January 1999
---------------------------

THOUGHTS AT THE START OF THE FALSE MILLENNIUM

By Brian G. Marsden <bmarsden@cfa.harvard.edu>



CCCMENU CCC for 2000

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