Space watch for Earth-bound asteroids

The Government is expected to approve construction of a £10m telescope early in the New Year which would be dedicated to finding comets and asteroids before they hit Earth.

The Government is expected to approve construction of a £10m telescope early in the New Year which would be dedicated to finding comets and asteroids before they hit Earth.

The Science minister, Lord Sainsbury, is expected to accept one of the main proposals in a Government task force report - to develop a telescope with European partners to track "near-Earth objects" that could threaten the planet.

Scientists from the Government's expert team are now urging it to begin devising ways to deflect the objects when they have been identified.

Their report suggested detonating a nuclear bomb in space to deflect asteroids, using space craft to nudge objects out of their orbits, or erecting solar panels like sails on an asteroid, using the sun's radiation pressure to change its course.

The ideas may sound like the script from the Hollywood blockbuster Deep Impact which is to be screened on BBC1 on Tuesday. However, the scientists warned: "This is not science fiction."

An asteroid travelling at more than 20 miles per second missed the Earth by 480,000 miles last week, a near-miss in astronomical terms. The 50-yard wide asteroid, called 2000 YA, appeared unexpectedly above London at midnight on Friday. Space experts said it would have left a crater about 20 times its size if it had struck.

Massive asteroid and comet strikes on Earth have been well documented, including one 50 yards across which exploded 15 miles above Siberia in 1908. A comet hitting the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago is thought to caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Nasa will launch its own Deep Impact mission to the comet Tempel 1 in 2004. The probe will release a half ton lump of pure copper to cause a huge crater in the comet so that its composition can be studied from Earth.

The threat posed by the Mir Russian space station as it falls to Earth next week has also highlighted the real risks from impacts of objects from space.

Harry Atkinson, the chairman of the Government task force on "near-Earth objects," said: "We hope all our recommendations will be taken up but the telescope is the important one. We need to know where the objects are coming from. That is the high priority. It needs to be dedicated, working all the time."

Dr Atkinson said his three-man team began as sceptics but became more convinced of the need for action as they investigated the threat.

A telescope to hunt for objects in outer space on a path to Earth could be established in co-operation with European partners in the inter-governmental European southern observatory in Chile, which Britain has recently joined.

While the chances of a direct hit on Britain are remote, an object only 50 yards across hitting the mid-Atlantic would set up a shock wave which would cause devastation on the shores of the Continent, Britain and the eastern seaboard of the US.

Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP who led the successful Parliamentary campaign to persuade the Government to take the outer-space threat seriously, said a "sheath in space" or "cosmic condom" could be the best way of deflecting asteroids or comets comprising rocks and gas.

"You could have a big plastic cosmic condom or space sheath to collect near-Earth objects and tow them away to safety," he said.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week