Letter: Unseen asteroids

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Unseen asteroids

Sir: You report on the effects of an oceanic asteroid impact on coastal areas ("Asteroids' tidal wave threat", 8 January).

A spacewatch programme to monitor the skies in order to detect potentially dangerous space objects and give advance warning (possibly tens of years) is technologically quite feasible. However, such a project would require a long-term commitment as well as a unique blend of skills and techniques. These include the capacity to build remotely controlled robotic 2m class telescopes incorporating advanced optical and infra-red imaging techniques, and proficiency in the science of celestial mechanics. Very few countries can muster such resources, but until recently the UK had this capability in the form of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Cambridge. Not any more.

Last July the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the RGO's parent organisation, with the tacit consent by the Minister for Sciences, decided to close the RGO. An attempted management buy-out was turned down last December.

A modest investment would enable the UK to play a forefront role in a potentially lifesaving enterprise. Instead, the required infrastructure is being dismantled. Does this not tell us something about the competence of the powers that be in scientific matters?

Dr E J ZUIDERWIJK

Bar Hill, Cambridgeshire

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