Asteroid centre to assess chances of fatal impact

The risk of an asteroid strike wiping out mankind will be investigated by a new British research centre, the Government announced today.

The risk of an asteroid strike wiping out mankind will be investigated by a new British research centre, the Government announced yesterday.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Science minister, believes public concern at the chances of annihilation have been heightened by recent Hollywood movies such as Deep Impact and Armageddon.

He hopes the National Aster-oid and Comet Information Centre will give accurate information on the risks of an impact. The centre's aim is to reassure the public that the chance of a repeat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid such as the one believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs is "very remote".

Museums and other public information bodies will be asked today to submit bids to run the centre. The Government will provide £250,000 to cover the cost of the centre during its first three years, after which it will have to be self-financing.

It must provide exhibitions, a website and data on the comparative risk of asteroid strikes, compared with other hazards, and the potential for damage if the Earth was hit. The announcement of the planned centre is the Government's first response to recommendations made last year by its Near Earth Object Task Force. Lord Sainsbury said: "There are currently no known large asteroids or comets whose orbit puts them on collision course with the Earth but, while the risk of being hit is very remote, potential for damage exists.

"I believe it is important that information on asteroids or comets is made available to the public and hope that organisations will be able to respond positively to our call for proposals."

The task force has made 14 recommendations on action needed to improve the Earth's security. Its proposals included fitting all European space probes with asteroid detectors, building a giant telescope dedicated to hunting these objects, and fitting existing telescopes with the latest asteroid detection software.

Jonathan Tate, director of Spaceguard UK, said if all the recommendations were implemented Britain would be the undisputed leader in the detection of near earth objects. "I am delighted by the announcement of the centre. My concern is that this will be a wonderful shop window but the shop will be empty if the other recommendations are not carried out. At present there are more people working in a standard Marks & Spencer store than detecting asteroids around the world."

However remote, the dangers of asteroids hitting the Earth are real. Many scientists believe an asteroid strike 65 million years ago was responsible for a worldwide climate change that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Space objects larger than 50 metres in diameter strike the Earth at least once or twice every century, with the latest recorded major asteroid impact occurring in Siberia in 1908, when thousands of square kilometres of forest were flattened.

Other big asteroids or fragments of comets struck Brazil in 1930 and eastern Russia in 1947. An unconfirmed asteroid is believed to have landed in the southern Pacific in 1974.

Scientists believe there are 100 million asteroids in space, with 1,400 objects greater than 1km in diameter having the potential to collide with Earth.

The Earth is also at risk of being hit by as many as 500,000 objects bigger than 200 to 500 metres across, the smaller having the capacity to destroy an area the size of Ireland while the largest could wipe out an entire continent.

Astronomers admit there are likely to be many more objects on collision courses that have not yet been discovered.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk / Trainee Application Support Analyst - Hampshire

£25000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor