CCNet-SPECIAL, 18 September 2000

     "The Task Force, under the able chairmanship of Dr
     Harry Atkinson, has done an excellent job in getting
     to grips with this complex issue, and in putting
     together views on how we should proceed. I welcome the
     Task Force's approach, which includes proposals for
     collaboration with international partners. Over the
     next couple of months I will be considering the
     Government's response to the Task Force's
     recommendations in consultation with colleagues".
        -- Lord Sainsbury, 18 September 2000


UK Government press release, 18 September 2000

Lord Sainsbury, the Minister with responsibility for space,
today published the report of the Near Earth Objects Task
Force set up in January this year, to look at the potential
risk posed by collision of the Earth with Near Earth

In publishing the report Lord Sainsbury said:

"The Task Force, under the able chairmanship of Dr Harry
Atkinson, has done an excellent job in getting to grips
with this complex issue, and in putting together views on
how we should proceed.

I welcome the Task Force's approach, which includes
proposals for collaboration with international partners.
Over the next couple of months I will be considering the
Government's response to the Task Force's recommendations
in consultation with colleagues".

Notes to Editors:

1. In January 2000 the Minister for Science, Lord
Sainsbury, announced the setting up of a Task Force on
Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). He invited
the Task Force to make proposals to the Government on how
the United Kingdom should best contribute to international
effort on Near-Earth Objects; and specifically to:

a. confirm the nature of the hazard and the potential level
   of risks;
b. dentify the current UK contribution to international
c. advise HMG on what further action to take in the light
   of a. and b. above and on the communication of issues to
   the public.

2. The Task Force was chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson,
   formerly of the Science and Engineering Research Council
   (SERC) and past Chairman of the European Space Agency's
   Council. Sir Crispin Tickell, British diplomat, and
   Professor David Williams, immediate past President of
   the Royal Astronomical Society, completed the team.

3. Near Earth Objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits
   bring them close to the Earth.

4. The Task Force met on a number of occasions and
   presented its report to the Director General of BNSC on
   16 August 2000. The British National Space Centre (BNSC)
   provided the secretariat for the Task Force.

5. The Task Force has made 14 recommendations. They cover
   the British role in a greater international effort,
   improvement of our ability to detect any incoming
   objects, an assessment of risks, measures to mitigate
   any future impacts, and new national and international
   arrangements to cope with the many issues that are
   raised. The report is also a comprehensive review of
   current knowledge

6. A copy of the report and further information on NEOs can
   be found on

Press Enquiries: 020-7215 2345
(Out of Hours : 020-7215 5110/5600)
Public Enquiries: 020-7215 5000
Textphone (for people with hearing impairments): 020-7215 6740


CCNet-SPECIAL, 18 September 2000


From Benny J Peiser <>

After more than two decades of continuous impact studies by
a relatively small group of British astronomers and impact
researchers, and years of lobbying by Spaceguard UK, the
British Government has today published a comprehensive
report by its Task Force on Potentially Hazardous
Near-Earth Objects. In first reactions to the report's
release, eminent scientists and Spaceguard UK have
welcomed the report, its main conclusions and
recommendations. The three authors of the report, Dr.
Harry Atkinson, Professor David Williams and Sir Crispin
Tickell deserve particular praise for the outstanding
quality of the report, it's main conclusions and the
scientific assessment of the overall impact hazard.

During the last 4 year, the CCNet has functioned not only
as a communication forum within the NEO research community.
It has also tried to contribute to the public understanding
of the general problems our civilisation faces from cosmic
debris. As the moderator of this international network with
its 1000+ subscribers, I am therefore happy to see that our
efforts have been bearing fruit today. It goes without
saying that the next months will be crucial if we want to
ensure that the British Government is going to translate the
report's main recommendations into action.

Benny J Peiser
CCNet Moderator






My 1973 novel 'Rendezvous with Rama' opens by describing
the two giant meteor impacts in 1908 and 1947 which could
have wiped out a major city - had they not occurred in
remote parts  of Siberia. It continues with the destruction
of Northern Italy in the summer of 2077:-
  "After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a
determination and a unity that no earlier age could ever
have shown. Such a disaster might not occur again for a
thousand years - but it might occur tomorrow. And the next
time, the consequences might be even worse.
  "Very well; there would be no next time. No meteorite
large enough to cause catastrophe would ever again be
allowed to breach the defenses of Earth.
  "So began Project SPACEGUARD..."
I am delighted, therefore, that the name I invented has
been adopted both by NASA and in the UK. However, I don't
agree with those who argue that we must use nuclear bombs
to deflect rogue asteroids. As I described in 'The Hammer
of God', there is a better way - given enough time. How
much time have we got?
-- Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 18 September 2000


The recognition of the hazard of comet/asteroid impacts by
the UK scientific community is to be welcomed. Whilst the
cometary impact that caused the extinction of the
dinosaurs, is psychologically evocative, such an event is
exceedingly rare and the risk of events on this scale has
to be seen in perspective. A much more frequent occurrence
would be the impacts of smaller bolides that could strike
populated areas and cause substantial damage on a much more
frequent basis. We know now that impacts of smaller bodies
have taken place over the past 12000 years and have
punctuated the history of human civilization. The first in
the series of recent impacts probably led to the emergence
of the Earth out of the last ice age.

Britain's initial plans include the setting up of a centre
to coordinate worldwide telescopic searches for near-Earth
objects (asteroids and comets) that might be in
Earth-crossing orbits, threatening us in the future. This
program will probably centre on Armagh Observatory where a
group of scientists led by Professor Mark Bailey has
pioneered work on related matters.

A more substantial risk from comets arises not from direct
hits, but from near misses. Indeed we ourselves had
proposed that the extinction of the dinosaurs and of 75% of
all plants and animals some 65 million years ago was
caused, not by the direct impact with the Chicxulub comet,
but though a protracted period of cometary dusting of the
Earth's upper atmosphere, and this would have had serious
climatic consequences. The great increase in mountain
glaciers and the dry period during the early part of the
17th century may well have been caused by a similar event,
though on a much smaller scale.

Climatic consequences of cometary dusting is being modelled
by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University
in collaboration with Dr. Bill Napier at Armagh
Observatory. We hope to compute the extent of climate
change to be expected in any dusting episode, and consider
what steps might be possible to alleviate the worst effects
for mankind.

-- Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, 18 September 2000



18th September 2000

Today, after a four year campaign by the members and
associates of Spaceguard UK, the British government has
published the report of the Near Earth Object Task Force. 
The members of the Task Force are Dr. H H (Harry) Atkinson
(Chairman), Professor David Williams and Sir Crispin
Tickell. Their terms of reference were to confirm the
nature of the impact hazard, identify current UK
activities, and make recommendations on future action.

The Task Force has consulted with leading experts in the
UK, Europe and the United States, many of whom are members
of Spaceguard UK, and has investigated the magnitude of the
hazard, projects currently underway around the world and
the requirements for a comprehensive international
programme to counter the threat of cometary and asteroidal
impacts. The team has worked enormously hard, and has
produced a report of unprecedented authority and clarity.

The hazard posed to the UK by impacts has been verified,
and can no longer be ignored, dismissed as something that
happens too rarely to be of consequence or regarded as a

The report emphasises that because the impact hazard is
international in scope, so must be the solution. However,
there are critical gaps in the current international
(mainly US) programme in the conduct of follow-up
observations, the detection of smaller, but still hazardous
objects and the education and informing of the public.  The
Task Force has made practical and affordable
recommendations to start the process of filling these gaps.

While there is justifiable emphasis on international
co-operation, the report also addresses the question of
national interest, and the requirement for an expert
domestic advisory service for the public, government, media
and relevant authorities regarding the environmental hazard
posed by natural extraterrestrial objects.

The British government's initiative has raised significant
interest in the United States and Europe, and Spaceguard UK
applauds the minister, Lord Sainsbury, on his timely
decision to investigate the most serious natural hazard
facing Great Britain. However, he is no doubt well aware
that actions speak louder than words, so the national and
international membership of Spaceguard UK will await the
government's plan of action with great interest. Decisions
have been promised by Christmas 2000.

The hazard has now been validated, and hopefully we will
soon have the tools to reduce the risk to manageable levels


J.R. Tate,
Director, Spaceguard UK         
Tel:  (Home)  01980 671380
(Work) 01980 675923
(Mobile) 0796 819 5625


The Armagh Observatory welcomes the NEO Task Force report,
especially its independent confirmation of the level of
risk posed by comets and asteroids of all sizes. The
recommendation that the UK should play a leading and
influential role in any international programme to assess
and mitigate the risk recognises the UK's unique range of
expertise in this area and its potential to contribute to
the desired international Spaceguard programme.

The Observatory also welcomes the recommendation to set up
up a British National Centre for NEOs. Such a body would
provide a forum for the study of the extraterrestrial
hazard to civilization in all its multidisciplinary
aspects, liaise with international partners, provide an
advisory service to government, and communicate results to
the public.

--Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory, 28 Sept 2000


Dear Benny,

My immediate response to the UK NEO Task Force report can
be summarised in two words: "suitably ambitious."

The set of 14 recommendations put forward represent a suite
of responses to the recognition of the impact hazard that are
appropriate, given the present level of activity in the UK
and elsewhere. The total cost involved if (big 'if') they
were all implemented would amount to about 10M per annum.
That is a great deal of money, given the other everyday
concerns of the layman and taxpayer. On the other hand, it
is much less than the annual expectancy of loss for the UK
alone through asteroid/comet impacts anywhere on the Earth
(that amounts to around 100M p.a., but with a large uncertainty).
Thus the recommendations, if put into action, are substantial,
and yet not as high as one might spend on a purely rational
basis. But politics and public relations are not rational,
and thus I support fully this suite of possible steps,
regarding them as being suitably ambitious.

They are ambitious in that they would place the UK as the
number two nation globally in such activity; indeed, if the
first recommendation were enacted (a dedicated three-metre
aperture search telescope) then the current US NEO search
activity would be outstripped. That would, one would imagine,
provoke a response from the far side of the Atlantic.

It is clear that here the task force was thinking in terms
of the UK leading a major European effort, bringing on board
other nations who have yet to respond to the Council of Europe
motion in 1996. If the other major European nations involved
in front-line astronomical research were to collaborate in
this, then we would soon be a large way towards getting the
Spaceguard target (however that is conceived by different
parties) being achieved. It seems very likely that an excellent
mechanism for achieving this NEO goal would be through UK
membership of the European Southern Observatory, a matter which
has been the subject of discussion in the UK in recent months
for other motivations. There is a good symbiosis here.

That, along with such things as looking to use the data stream
from VISTA when it comes on line in 2004 to look for chance
detections of NEOs, looks to the future several years. Immediately,
though, the UK has the opportunity to respond to the present NEO
activity in the US by making available observation time (and
observers) for NEO follow-up using the various telescope systems
that this nation already has in operation. Recommendation 4 suggests
that the one-metre JKT on La Palma be dedicated to astrometric
follow-up. Brilliant. Recommendation 5 talks about other UK assets.
Examples are the AAT and UKST in Australia, INT and WHT on La Palma,
JCMT and UKIRT in Hawaii. If (say) three nights per lunation could
be given over to NEO physical observations, plus astrometry of
fainter NEOs, then that would be a major help to the worldwide

Similarly, the report recognises that although we understand the
impact hazard in broad scope, there is still much science to be
done before we really get to grips with NEOs. That's judicious,
that's right. It is not necessarily as simple as one might think..

Overall: at least 9 out of 10 for the report.
Now we need to hope that the government will earn a similar
mark for implementation.

-- Duncan Steel, 18 September 2000

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CCNet-SPECIAL, 18 September 2000









The Task Force is to be complimented on an excellent Report. I am
particularly impressed by the internationality of the Report. Of course,
the potential impact by an NEO on our planet is an international problem,
and in discussing how the U.K. should respond to it the Task Force is ever
mindful of how this should be done in a manner that appropriately involves
other nations.

As one who first read the IAU Circulars with reports on discoveries
of potentially threatening comets and asteroids now very nearly 50 years
ago, I think we should not underestimate the progress we have made since
then. This progress was becoming particularly evident 30 years ago, thanks
in particular to the observational contributions in the U.S. of Tom Gehrels,
Eleanor Helin and Elizabeth Roemer, together with the strong support of Gene
Shoemaker; and as by then editor of the IAU Circulars and becoming more
involved with the Minor Planet Center I saw this progress firsthand. As
photographic techniques began to give way, some 10 years ago, to the CCD,
activity burgeoned on several fronts, culminating with the LINEAR project
just 3 years ago.

While LINEAR, Spacewatch, NEAT, CSS and LONEOS are clearly going to
continue to contribute to--even dominate--our knowledge of NEOs for some
years to come, it is equally clear that we have to look ahead.  The northern
sky is now being surveyed, essentially to saturation, to a level that nicely
yields kilometer-sized objects, as well as a fair fraction of
subkilometer-sized objects. In having as its first Recommendation the
construction of an advanced survey telescope for the southern hemisphere,
the Report shows how the rate of discovery of the fainter and smaller
objects can be significantly increased.

Recognizing that mere discovery, in the absence of follow-up, is to no
avail, the Report also properly addresses, particularly in Recommendations 4
and 5, the importance of both astrometric and physical follow-up. While we
have in recent years both seen and appreciated the contributions by amateur
astronomers to the astrometric process, it is already abundantly clear that
there is a need for greater and immediate access to larger, professional
telescopes for these purposes. As evidence for this, IAU Circular No. 7492
and Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2000-S04, issued just today, shows how
an object can remain on The NEO Confirmation Page pending confirmation that
it is in fact a comet, rather than an asteroid.

I am of course pleased to see the favorable mention given by the Report
to the Minor Planet Center and would welcome the support proposed in
Recommendation 7. In this connection, I do want to stress the commitment of
the Minor Planet Center, indeed "broadly under the wing of the International
Astronomical Union", not only to serving the international community of
astronomical observers, but to working with qualified groups in all nations.

In considering how we go beyond the astronomical aspects of the NEO
problem, indeed touching on how we might proceed if a real NEO threat were
recognized, the Report outlines in its final recommendations the development
of possible courses of action. I welcome the need to do this, but as an
astronomer, I leave such discussions to others more experienced in these

Dr. Brian G. Marsden, Director, IAU Minor Planet Center, and
Associate Director for Planetary Sciences, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.
2000 Sept. 18


Dear Benny,

I have read the UK Task Force Report this morning, and
would like to offer to you and the CCNet some comments on

Let me start congratulating the group led by Harry Atkinson
on the results of their effort: the report is very
comprehensive and very much to the point. I think that it
provides the UK Government with a very good basis for
assessing the possible involvement of United Kingdom in NEO

What I have particularly appreciated in the report is its
international connotation. Of course this is a report to a
national government and it is clear that much emphasis had
correctly to be put not only in assessing the local
capabilities and expertises, but also on specific actions
that the UK might take. On the other hand I find the report
quite well balanced and very objective: the roles of
individual nations (especially the US) and institutions
(including The Spaceguard Foundations and its several
branches) are clearly stated and acknowledged. The 14 final
recommendations take into account this aspect, that is
clearly stated on page 30: "To understand and try to cope
with the threat requires an international response".

I just would like to add a personal comment. Many
scientists, including myself, have devoted many years to
the often painful attempt to reach governments in order to
convince them that a little effort in this field,
especially if internationally coordinated, could in the
future make the difference between a "normal" scientific
activity and a dreadful catastrophe. We don't need to be
alarmed by the cosmic threat, but we DO need to be
concerned. Let me say that, in the end, if such a good
report has seen the light, it has also been thanks to the
efforts of many people, in the UK and in other countries.
Notwithstanding some debates and discussions we have made a
good job.

Now, the future is to some extent in the hands of the
governments, at least for what concerns the European
participation to the activity. Things are moving, as
demonstrated by the increasing attention that ESA, ESO,
ESF, and the EU are providing to the subject. The
Spaceguard Foundation has done a lot in this respect since
the beginning, by helping the Council of Europe to approve
its now famous Resolution 1080 (1996). The fact that there
is such a good report should also be considered a great
achievement of all the people that have provided their time
and efforts in the last decade, starting with the NASA
Working Groups that led to the Spaceguard Survey report,
and continuing with the set-up and subsequent activity of

We will continue along these lines, but everybody must
understand that what we are now doing in Europe has to be
done in other countries as well, especially in the southern
hemisphere. According to the very limited possibilities and
power that the SGF has, we will continue in this activity.

With best regards

Andrea Carusi
President, The Spaceguard Foundation


The report of the British Task Force on Near-Earth Objects, and the
recommendations therein, represent a very positive step toward
establishing an international response to the very real threat of
asteroid and comet collisions with Earth.  These recommended
actions would significantly extend the current efforts to discover
and track the thousands of potentially hazardous objects in near-Earth
space. This comprehensive report will remain a classic in the field
and it should go a long way toward educating the public on the only
type of natural disaster that could be averted with current technology.

Don Yeomans
Manager, NASA Near-Earth Object Program Office.


Benny Peiser has asked me to review the just issued report
of the NEO Task Force set up by an act of Parliament last
January. Of course, in this short time, I haven't read it
all. But a quick reading does permit some reaction.  

The attention and recommendation for increased observations
and understanding of near Earth objects are most welcome. 
That is probably the greatest benefit of the task force
report. The important influence of these objects on
terrestrial planet history, including and especially on
Earth's evolution, is now known to be profound. But, almost
all of our knowledge about the population of such objects is
inferred from statistical arguments based on observing
perhaps 10% of the population. Whether there is a threat or
not, or what the nature of it might be, depends on
details; details which we just don't have. Thus the call
for new knowledge is very welcome.   

The report provides a set of very reasonable
recommendations. Citing a need for new telescopes goes
beyond current government policies around the world and may
set a off a debate in the astronomy community. But the
recommendations also include making good use of existing
telescopes and facilities. The recommendations to use space
missions more, and to conduct rendezvous with many
asteroids with microsatellite missions are also welcome. 
It should be noted, however, that Britain is a very minor
player in space missions and to play a significant part in
them they will have to increase their budget for space

That Britain will consider taking a part in funding and
carrying out the search for new knowledge would also be
good. Britain has let its support for science, especially
space science, languish in recent years. Whether it would
be appropriate for NEO research to receive dominant
priority in space science or environmental studies in
Britain is another question - one that will be surely be
debated when the task force report reaches parliament and
other levels of science policy in Great Britain.  But,
there is nothing wrong with a country taking on a
particular role of excellence or contribution, and to the
extent that Britain would take on such a role with NEOs, we
can only welcome it. 

The report is very well presented - both in form
(organization and appearance) and substance. The task force
should be congratulated on getting the salient material in a
compact form - useful for government action. I had feared
there might be some of the hysterical language, invoking
doomsday, which often accompanies NEO discussion among those
in the field. But the report contains little of that -
albeit it does state, "Impacts present a serious risk to
humans and other forms of life. Means now exist to mitigate
the consequences of such impacts for the human species." 
There are both overstatements. But the emphasis on the
report, even when discussing risk and mitigation is on the
need for knowledge. And the recommendations to get that new
knowledge do not suggest a crisis or crash program, but a
responsible multi-faceted approach of data gathering and

The section on risk nicely puts NEOs in the context of
other environmental risks. Governments by now are used to
dealing with environmental warnings and have a pretty good
understanding of their politics. The report cited the large
numbers involved, but well concluded that the answer is not
in statistics but in deterministic data. 

The call for space based observatories to monitor NEOs may
generate some controversy. This is a very expensive
recommendation to implement. In a country that gives so
little support to space science and exploration, one can
expect a debate about priorities. Even in America and
Russia (in the past), which have broad space science
programs, the NEO threat has made little impact on those
deciding space mission priorities.   

Most of the arguments for space based observations, and for
developing means of mitigation to deflect or destroy NEOs
occur in a military context. The report deals with this -
specifically citing a need for more research about dealing
with the threat by military means. The task force seems to
imply that civilian groups do the organization of studies
and efforts to deal with NEOs. At least they call for open
research and discussion. They also call for international
cooperation - a clear necessity for a global issue, but they
are almost silent about Russia. It is a startling omission
- considering that Russia has enormous facilities (from
astronomical to military), large space science capabilities
and has a long tradition of excellence concerning minor
planets. If the discussion turns nuclear, certainly Russia
is relevant. Russia, in general, can be considered a giant
underused facility for the study of NEOs, and many of the
international recommendations ought to be re-thought with
Russia taken into account.

My quick reading of the report is positive - this is a
healthy contribution to considering a new science and
technology role in Great Britain. The report adequately
deals with the issues. To those who have studied the issue
we must note that the task force provided no new insights or
results not already published. But the audience was not us
- it was elected representatives who must be asked to make
policies and funding decisions. The report confined itself
to just the NEO discussion, and thus putting that discussion
in the context of other government decisions and issues
still remains to be done. The broader political and social
questions of priority setting, in the face of many other
environmental, astronomical and space science priorities
will have to occur on another playing field. This report
provides information for that consideration.

Louis Friedman, Executive Director, The Planetary Society
18 September 2000 


Dear Benny

My initial reaction to the report is that it seems the rest of the world
has given up on Australia. The message it conveys is that maybe
Australia is a good place to locate the all-important Southern
Hemisphere 3m telescope but don't count on the Australian Government
making a contribution.

The 1990 start of Duncan Steel's AANEAS project rates a
mention in the chronology but its demise, through
withdrawal of government funding in 1996 is omitted.

By coincidence I have just received another "pass the buck"
email from Australia's Minister for Defence so I cannot
blame the UK task Force for ignoring Australia (or should
that be Australians).

Michael Paine

The CCNet is a scholarly electronic network. To subscribe/unsubscribe,
please contact the moderator Benny J Peiser <>.
Information circulated on this network is for scholarly and
educational use only. The attached information may not be copied or
reproduced for any other purposes without prior permission of the
copyright holders. The fully indexed archive of the CCNet, from
February 1997 on, can be found at

CCCMENU CCC for 2000