CCNet 93/2002 - 29 July  2002
** Please note that I will be on holiday until mid August **


    Benny Peiser <>

    NASA NEO Office, 28 July 2002

    Sky & Telescope, 28 July 2002

    Sunday Express, 28 July 2002

    The Sunday Telegraph, 28 July 2002

    The Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 28 July 2002

    NEO Information Centre, 29 July 2002


>From Benny Peiser <>

As astronomers and impact experts generally expected, and as CCNet has
been stressing, new observations yesterday of asteroid 2002 NT7 by Austrian
amateur astronomer Ernst Meyer have all but ruled out the
much reported potential impact risk for Feb 1 2019.

Three new observations of the asteroid reported by the "Private
Observatory Meyer/Obermair" in Davidschlag near Linz, Austria
(;obs;1;200 )
have now removed the 2019 "virtual impact".

Late last night, NASA also confirmed that the new observations "rule out
the potential Earth Impact In 2019" (

While the now world-famous virtual "Doomsday" impactor has been removed
for 2019, NT7 has not been entirely dropped from the list of virtual
impactors. It is likely, however, that further observations will
eliminate any remaining impact risk.

Six other "virtual impacts", all with largely negative Palermo Scale
values remain on Pisa University's Impact Risk Page for 2002 NT7


As NEODyS's Risk Page makes clear, only the virtual impactors in
2060/02/01.690 and 2060/02/01.689 in the table above are rated as Torino
Scale 1 (which merit careful professional monitoring, but warrant no
public concern whatever).

Before celebrating too quickly, however, it would be pruded to caution
interested observers that further observations in the near future could
result in new virtual impact dates, perhaps even ones with a positive
Palermo rating.

There is even a very small possibility that the next sets of observations
may lead to new virtual impact dates and a prolonged period of fluctuating
impact probabilities, perhaps even raising NT7 temporarily back to a
positive Palermo Scale NEA before the object will eventually be dropped
from the list of virtual impactors for good.

As the wise saying goes: It isn't over until the fat lady sings!

Benny Peiser
29 July 2002


>From NASA NEO Office, 28 July 2002

Asteroid 2002 NT7: Potential Earth Impact In 2019 Ruled Out
July 28, 2002

With the processing of a few more observations of asteroid 2002 NT7
through July 28, we can now rule out any Earth impact possibilities for
February 1, 2019. While we cannot yet completely rule out an impact
possibility on February 1, 2060, it seems very likely that this
possibility will be soon ruled out as well as additional positional
observations are processed. Because the SENTRY system tracks a multitude
of test particles in an effort to map the uncertainties of the
asteroid's future positions, some of these test particles can take
slightly different dynamical paths. Hence there are currently two
entries for 2060 in our IMPACT RISK table
( The entry with the higher risk (larger
Palermo Technical Scale) would be the value that would then take


Sky & Telescope, 28 July 2002

July 28, 2002 | Astronomers continue to monitor a newly discovered
Earth-crossing asteroid, even though it now appears that no collision
with our planet is possible in 2019, as had been initially thought.
Designated 2002 NT7, the wayward object was first spotted on July 9th by
the LINEAR telescope in New Mexico. Two weeks later NASA's orbital
specialists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had pegged the impact
probability on February 1, 2019, at about 1 in 250,000, whereas Italian
dynamicists put the odds nearer to 1 in 90,000. Both teams agreed that
the threat warranted a 1 on the 1-to-10 Torino impact-hazard scale.
However, thanks to observations made on July 28th by Austrian amateur
Erich Meyer, new orbit determinations have eliminated that possibility.
There remains a remote chance that 2002 NT7 might strike Earth in 2060
or in the even more distant future.

Notably, in the past couple days apparently no professional either took
the time to observe this relatively bright (17th-magnitude) object or to
turn up a prediscovery image. The explanation, it seems, is that
virtually all professional asteroid observers worldwide are converging
on Berlin, Germany, for a big meeting this coming week. Thus, just when
fresh observations of 2002 NT7 were most crucially needed, the usual
cast of professionals were airborne or otherwise en route to the

NASA's impact risk page for this object is

The University of Pisa's corresponding risk page is;main

Details about Meyer and Erwin Obermair's 60-cm f/3.3 Cassegrain
reflector are at

Copyright 2002, Sky & Telescope


>From Sunday Express, 28 July 2002

By Tim Shipman, Deputy Political Editor, and Hamish MacKenzie

Tony Blair must act now or risk the end of the world as we know it,
experts said last night, just days after scientists revealed that a
killer asteroid 750 million times as destructive as the Hiroshima bomb
may be on collision course with Earth.

As the Prime Minister prepares for action to oust Saddam Hussein,
leading astronomers, including Sir Patrick Moore, warned that the real
weapons of mass destruction facing Earth could come from outer space,
rather than Iraq.

British firms who hope to cash in on the need to defend mankind joined
calls for more Government funding for asteroid research. Labour is
accused of implementing just one of 14 recommendations made more than a
year ago by a top-level committee which drew up the most authoritative
parliamentary study of the problem anywhere in the world.

The MP who first raised the issue to serious public prominence has
written to Mr Blair, urging him to work with President Bush to
accelerate the development of an early warning telescope network.

Rogue asteroids and killer comets, which were blamed for wiping out the
dinosaurs, have until recently been regarded as the domain of
Hollywood's science fiction writers, with blockbusters such as
Armageddon and Deep Impact.

But the world got a taste of the chilling reality last week when it was
announced that a humbly named space rock called 2002 NT7 has become the
first asteroid ever to be rated as "impact risk positive".

The 1.25 mile-wide rock will pass within 30,000 miles of Earth in
February 2019 - a near miss in space terms - but scientists say the risk
of it smashing into our planet is 28 times more likely than winning the
lottery. The shock wave from such a strike would cause giant tidal waves
and fires worldwide as well as a "nuclear winter" effect.

In a letter seen by the Sunday Express, Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet
member Lembit Opik tells Mr Blair: "Your Near Earth Object Task Force
proposed clear action steps for the UK and internationally.

"The costs are low. A full tracking programme is 1million a year for
each G8 country - a tiny price for a global insurance policy."

Sir Patrick Moore, who plans to dedicate August's edition of The Sky at
Night to the asteroid threat said: "We need international cooperation.
If we see these things coming, we just might be able to divert them."

But he warned that there would be little hope if an object the size of
2002 NT7 slammed into Earth. Asked what we could do, he said: "Repeat
slowly after me. Our Father, who art in heaven...."

Mr Opik said: "All life in Britain and Europe would be incinerated, half
the Atlantic would evaporate. There would be a 40km-wide crater and the
blast would spread out and destroy everything within 2,000 miles. An
iron-cored asteroid would frazzle most electronics on the planet. We say
there'll always be an England, but it would be a burning ember ...."

The campaigners' first priority is to get funding for telescopes
dedicated to spotting rogue rocks and then to develop the technology to
blow them off course with nuclear weapons. Currently, scientists only
spot one in five of the space rocks that threaten earth. And they are
only looking for asteroids that are more than 1km wide. They often miss
those that would merely flatten a city or lay waste to a continent (like
asteroid 2002 MN, which was only spotted after it had passed between
Earth and the moon last month).

The last time a 50-yard-wide asteroid hit the Earth in 1908, 700 million
acres of forest were obliterated in Siberia, knocking a man standing 60
miles away unconscious.

US Space Command is concerned that an unseen asteroid hitting the Earth
could spark nuclear war between uneasy neighbours. Brigadier General
Simon Worden, deputy director of operations at US Space Command, said:
"If one of these things hits India or Pakistan today, it would be
awfully hard to explain that it wasn't the other guy."

Spotting asteroids is not easy. Andy Phipps of Surrey Satellite
Technology Ltd explains: "Some are inside the Earth's orbit, so you have
to look towards the glare of the sun. Others often appear in shadow,
black against the black of space."

Already, the "end-of-the-world" business is in full swing. The British
space industry is worth 2.9 billion a year. SSTL, based at the Surrey
Space Centre in Guildford, is the first company outside the US to win an
order for spacecraft from the US Space Command. It specializes in
micro-satellites which Nasa hopes to use to set up an early warning and
disaster monitoring system.

And if plans advance for a new outer-space telescope, the contract could
go to Telescope Technologies Ltd., owned by Liverpool John Moores

But the impetus for action in Britain has been lead by Spaceguard UK.
Its boss, Jay Tate, is unimpressed with the progress made by Science
Minister Lord Sainsbury. He said: "A year after the task force, all that
has happened is a department has been nominated to take the lead - the
British National Space Centre. The Government is in Sir Humphrey mode.
The less you intend to do something, the more you talk about it."

Professor Bailey, the Armagh Observatory director said: "We're no longer
a first-rank country in a field where we ought to be playing a leading
role. It would be crazy to let this project whither on the vine.

"I support what Lembit Opik is doing because he has been foremost in
recognizing that the risk is of a nature that overwhelms every other
natural catastrophe the Government could conceivably face.

"To assume that it won't happen on our watch is to gamble with the end
of life as we know it."

Copyright 2002, Sunday Express


>From The Sunday Telegraph, 28 July 2002;$sessionid$LJLSLXAAAG1ADQFIQM

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

It is a space race with more at stake than superpower prestige. British
scientists are at the forefront of efforts to deflect objects on a
collision course with Earth after the revelation that an asteroid might
strike our planet on February 1, 2019.

Proposals for ways of protecting the Earth from Near Earth Objects
(NEOs) are being prepared for a conference sponsored by Nasa, the US
space agency, in Washington DC in September.

While popular attention has centred on using nuclear missiles to blow up
incoming NEOs - the solution used in Armageddon, the Hollywood film
starring Bruce Willis - scientists now fear that such an approach would
actually create thousands of smaller asteroids all still heading for

Instead, a number of methods of nudging asteroids off-course are being
examined, including attaching either a rocket engine or a "solar sail"
to their surface and pushing them away from our orbit.

American scientists last year held talks with Nasa about the possibility
of using a nuclear engine attached to an incoming asteroid to deflect
it. The engine would be flown to the asteroid on a conventional rocket:
it would then land and fix itself to the object's surface. Firing the
engine would push the asteroid far enough off its path to miss Earth.

"It is like pushing a beach ball across a swimming pool using your
nose," said one scientist present at the talks.

Dr William J Merline, a senior research scientist at the Southwest
Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said: "We believe the most
useful technique is that of using rocket propulsion. A nuclear weapon is
probably not the best solution to deflecting an incoming asteroid. The
use of rocket propulsion would require significant lead time before
impact, but in the most probable scenario we would have sufficient

Another option being considered is to attach a "solar sail" to an
asteroid rather than an engine. The sail would also be flown to the
asteroid on a conventional rocket and embedded into its surface. Once in
place, it would capture photons - particles of light emitted by the Sun
- which would drive it just as a conventional sail on a boat is driven
by wind, thereby nudging the asteroid off course.

Other scientists, however, argue that a more dramatic intervention is
required. Dr Duncan Steel, an expert on asteroids at Salford University,
said: "A rocket motor could just end up burying itself. There's little
doubt that we would have to use a nuclear weapon."

According to Dr Steel, a nuclear explosion some distance from the NEO
would unleash a shock wave of radiation that would vaporise material
from the surface, gently moving the object off course.

The race for solutions to asteroid collisions was given fresh impetus
last week when astronomers revealed that they had detected an asteroid,
code-named 2002 NT7, which may strike the Earth on February 1, 2019.
Measuring about 1 mile across and travelling towards the Earth at more
than 60,000 mph, it would strike with the violence of a million H-bombs.

Astronomers are now carrying out further observations to plot the
precise trajectory of 2002 NT7. While scientists believe that these will
show that it will miss the Earth, they also insist that it is only a
matter of time before a catastrophic impact does take place.

The Telegraph can reveal that earlier this month, officials from the
Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency visited the
University of Surrey, whose scientists are world leaders in
microsatellite technology, to discuss the possibility of creating a
defensive shield in space.

The microsatellites, which are cheap and easy to launch, could form a
network of "watchdogs" stationed in deep space to give early warning of
possible NEOs. Equipped with an optical telescope, each microsatellite
would be capable of spotting NEOs, which are notoriously small and dark,
and alerting ground-based observatories.

Microsatellites could also be used to land on an incoming NEO and
investigate its mass, size and composition. Such information will be
crucial to deflecting any object heading for Earth, say researchers.

"One thing we surely need to do is learn what asteroids are like, so
that we could effectively interact with one if we needed to," said Clark
Chapman, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. "We just don't
know enough about asteroid surfaces and interiors to understand whether
we could bolt something onto it, dig into it, or affect it from above
its surface."

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002


>From The Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 28 July 2002

Is a giant asteroid really on course for Earth? And if so, what are we
going to do about it? Magin McKenna finds that the people in the know
are ready for anything ... well, almost

Science can be remarkably precise in calculating the size of a mammoth
asteroid circling the sun at 15 miles a second (it's 1.99 kilometres
wide), and just as accurate in predicting exactly when the space rock
would, if it took a particular course, collide with Earth (it's 11.47am
on February 1, 2019). What it cannot do is pin down whether an impact
that would blast Earthlings back to the stone age will actually happen.
The chance of a collision with asteroid 2002 NT7, first spotted on July
9 at a US defence department-sponsored lab in New Mexico, is 200,000 to
one. To put that into perspective, we are twice as likely to be murdered
than to die in the firestorms, tidal waves and global volcanic eruptions
that would take place if we took a hit.

'The threat is scientifically interesting because it's the largest one
we've found,' says Paul Chodas, a scientist at Nasa's Near Earth Object
Programme in California. 'But it should be of no concern to the public.
In all likelihood, the probability will go to zero and the object will
not hit us.'

But, adds Chodas, because astronomers only spotted the asteroid two
weeks ago they cannot know for sure if it is on a collision course that
intersects Earth's orbit around the sun. They only know that it 'might'

NT7 would pack the same punch as 30 million Hiroshima bombs if it
smashed through Earth's atmosphere in 17 years' time. The devastation of
such a powerful blow would stretch out for weeks or even months,
depending on where in the world the asteroid hit.

'So much stuff would be thrown up into the atmosphere that the sun would
be blocked out,' explains Benny Peiser, an anthropologist at Liverpool
John Moores University who has written about the influence of asteroids
on human evolution. 'Harvests would fail. There would be mass

On the bright side, NT7 is not nearly as powerful as an asteroid thought
by many academics to have crash-landed in New Mexico 65 million years
ago and led to the demise of the dinosaurs. And astronomers expect that
over the next few weeks the chance of a collision in 2019 will be ruled
out completely, although it is still up in the air as to whether NT7
will intersect with Earth's orbit when it makes four more close passes
between 2044 and 2078.

Lembit Opik, a Liberal Democrat MP who has campaigned since 1999 for the
government to act against asteroid hits, is finding it difficult to
contain an excitement that borders on the smug. 'My initial reaction to
the news was 'I told you so',' says Opik, singing the last four words.
'This is the most likely object to hit Earth, and it's huge. It could
wipe out most of Europe.'

Opik predicts a multi-megaton asteroid-to-Earth impact in the next 30
years, but hopes such a collision would not result in mass death. 'But I
hope it will be big enough to make people afraid of a larger threat,' he

Asteroids, which are basically great big lumps of rock in orbit, remain
one of the greatest and least understood natural threats to humankind.
We have only become aware of the danger they pose in recent years as
space tracking technology has improved, but already they have impinged
on global consciousness thanks to films such as 1998's Armageddon (where
Bruce Willis tries to nuke one from the inside to stop it hitting Earth)
and Deep Impact (where it's Robert Duvall who gets to save us all). Yet
science isn't always so alert: earlier this month an asteroid the size
of a football field came dangerously close to the Earth's orbit but was
not spotted by astronomers until three days later. And this could be why
NT7 has so many jaws dropping.

Most asteroids of its size typically have a one in two million chance of
hitting us, says Peiser. NT7 is also the first asteroid to register a
positive reading -- of 0.06 -- on the Palermo hazard scale, which was
developed to assess the dangers of flying objects from space. But even
smaller asteroids, which are more difficult to spot because they don't
radiate as much light, could have a devastating effect if they hit
populated areas. For instance, a small asteroid that hit an uninhabited
Siberian forest in 1908 released an energy equivalent of 1000 Hiroshima
bombs, says Peiser.

He also warns of other threats from asteroid explosions. This summer in
particular has brought a number of close calls. In June, when the
conflict between India and Pakistan neared boiling point, US
early-warning satellites caught a flash of light above the
Mediterranean. The explosion was confirmed by Nasa to be an asteroid --
but had it gone off a few hours earlier it might have tipped India and
Pakistan into nuclear war. Neither nation has sensors to distinguish
between an asteroid and a nuclear explosion from an enemy missile.

It is also speculated that on July 4 -- American Independence Day -- an
explosion above an Israeli passenger jet flying over the Ukraine was
caused by a small asteroid that broke through the Earth's atmosphere.
And Nasa's Paul Chodas says it is 'plausible' that an explosion that
downed a Russian plane over the Ukraine last October, killing all 78 of
its mostly Israeli passengers, could also have been caused by an

At present Nasa does not track asteroids smaller than one kilometre in
width. Roughly 30 or so small asteroids burn up in Earth's atmosphere
each year. Nasa knows of some 675 near-Earth asteroids larger than a
kilometre, but estimates there may be up to 1200 lurking dangerously
close. It has now set a goal of identifying all asteroids that will ever
veer within Earth's orbit, says Chodas -- who adds that at least it is
impossible for new asteroids to form in the galaxy.

Astronomers believe NT7 orbits the sun every 837 days , and travels in a
tilted orbit between Earth and Mars. It is also moving faster than any
other asteroid previously seen in the Milky Way. Despite the
unlikeliness of a collision with Earth, these factors highlight what
some scientists see as a need to strengthen and focus attempts to deal
with threats from asteroids and comets. Nasa's Near Earth Object Centre
was only established in 1994 after a comet collided with Jupiter. 'There
needs to be a planetary system of defence,' says Peiser. 'Europeans are
lagging behind, and should take their share of the responsibility.'

Only a handful of observational laboratories operate around the world
with the purpose of tracking asteroids, and each has only a handful of
people, says Chodas. 'I would say funding is something of a limiting
factor,' he adds.

Most of these laboratories are using telescopes that are between one and
two metres in diameter, which makes it even more difficult to track
smaller asteroids . A much more accurate six-and-a-half-metre telescope
is said to be in the pipeline.

The US currently leads the world in funding for asteroid surveillance
research, spending $3 million annually. Britain recently established its
own Near-Earth Object Task Force, which published a report and
recommendations on asteroid threats in 2000, but the information is
still being evaluated. In total the British government has spent just
600,000 on possible collision research and has two telescopes stationed
in the Canary Islands that are used for observation of asteroids and
other space matter. But some parts of the world are without cover, as no
nation has telescopes stationed in the southern hemisphere.

Chodas is at pains to point out that asteroids appearing in the southern
hemisphere would eventually be detected in the northern skies, but
admits: 'It is not something that is looked at in great detail by
disaster or emergency agencies. It's something that's being considered,
but we haven't made any progress in this area.'

Using the NT7 asteroid as a hypo thetical example, Chodas says that if
scientists determined tomorrow that the massive piece of rock was
hurtling towards Earth at a rapid speed, they would need to act fast in
order to curb its devastating aftermath. Unfortunately there is no
current plan of action.

'Nasa and other agencies would want to immediately plan missions to
rendezvous with the object and study it,' he says. 'With 17 years' lean
time in this case, there would probably be a reconnaissance study to see
how the asteroid is constructed -- whether it's a dead comet or a pile
of rubble.'

After picking apart the nature of the matter that made up the asteroid,
scientists could then contemplate how to gently nudge its orbit a few
centimetres off course, in order to deflect it from reaching Earth. 'The
best mechanism for deflection would depend on how much lean time was
available,' Chodas explains. 'Nuclear deflection is an option suggested
by many -- but I think that is a last resort.'

In Turin, Claudio Maccone of the city's Centre for Astrodynamics has
developed what he deems the best strategy for deflecting asteroids.
Although he has worked closely with Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
his recommendations have not been well received because they strongly
suggest that nuclear missiles launched into space would provide the
best, most accurate way of turning an asteroid off its course. In
Maccone's theory, the missiles would only be effective if governments
set up satellites around the moon that could provide an accurate picture
of asteroids' movement from space. The land-based systems currently used
often provide hazy viewpoints with large margins of error. Maccone
emphasises that the nuclear missiles would need to hit the asteroids at
a 90-degree angle so as to avoid a reverse effect of the asteroid
breaking up and raining down in smaller particles through the

But he is quick to point out that his theory is just that -- a theory --
and that he anticipates it will not be used because of the stigma
associated with nuclear technology. 'We are unfortunately crossing over
from pure science to politics,' he says. 'People would not understand
putting up nuclear weapons in space. They regard that as a revival of
the cold war or some threat.'

Maybe, then, Bruce Willis could be persuaded to give it a shot? After
all, he did the trick in Armageddon.

'I don't think it will come to that,' says Peiser confidently. 'We'll
have robots doing it by that point.'

 2002 smg sunday newspapers ltd

>From NEO Information Centre, 29 July 2002
The Asteroids, Comets. Meteors Conference is an international scientific
meeting that focuses on all aspects of Solar System small bodies
including Near Earth Objects. It provides scientists with an opportunity
to report their latest research findings, share knowledge and discuss
ideas with other scientists.

This year's Asteroids, Comets, Meteors Conference will be held in
Berlin, Germany from July 29 to August 2, 2002 and is organised by the
DLR Institute of Space Sensor Technology and Planetary Exploration, the
Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy, and the Technical University of


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