CCNet, 91/2000 -  20 September 2000

     "Cherie Booth yesterday praised the work being done at
     a Liverpool telescope factory which aims to play a
     vital role in saving the earth from asteroid strikes.
     The Prime Minister's wife was paying a visit to the
     telescope manufacturing company belonging to Liverpool
     John Moores University. The QC, who is JMU Chancellor,
     was given a demonstration of the world's largest
     robotic telescope, which is being constructed at the
     Birkenhead site. [...] Ms Booth said: 'I think it is
     absolutely fantastic and exciting. It is great that
     Liverpool is providing a facility not just for the
     nation, but for the world.'"
       -- Daily Post, 20 September 2000

     "Astronomers in the United States have long dominated
     the search for asteroids and comets that might someday
     collide with Earth. But if the recommendations of a
     just-released study are adopted, Great Britain
     stands to become a major player as well."
          -- Sky & Telescope, 19 September 2000

    DAILY POST, 20 September 2000
    SKY & TELESCOPE, 19 September 2000
    SpaceViews, 19 September 2000
    Michael Paine <>

    ABC News, 19 September 2000

    Joan and David Dunham <>

    Adrian Jones <>

    Alasdair Beal <>
    Michael Paine <>

     John Mccue <>

     Michael Martin-Smith <>


From DAILY POST, 20 September 2000


By Rob Brady

Cherie Booth yesterday praised the work being done at a
Liverpool telescope factory which aims to play a vital role
in saving the earth from asteroid strikes.

The Prime Minister's wife was paying a visit to the
telescope manufacturing company belonging to Liverpool John
Moores University. The QC, who is JMU Chancellor, was given
a demonstration of the world's largest robotic telescope,
which is being constructed at the Birkenhead site.

When completed next summer, the 2.5m Liverpool Telescope
will be positioned 2,400 metres above sea level at La Palma
in the Canary Islands. This will give it crystal clear
views of the night sky, enabling the two-metre diametre
lens to penetrate deep into space.

Its main purpose will be to study little-known astronomical
objects such as quasars, supernovae exploding stars and
sources of gamma ray bursts. The telescope will be remotely
operated via computer by JMU staff based at the
university's Astrophysics Research Institute at Birkenhead.

But it will also have a vital role to play in the search
for asteroids and comets on a collision course with the

Ms Booth posed in front of the telescope's huge blue frame,
the rotated the massive steel structure with the press of a
button. Finally, she chatted with the main staff who had
crowded into the construction shed to see her.

Ms Booth said: "I think it is absolutely fantastic and
exciting. It is great that Liverpool is providing a
facility not just for the nation, but for the world.

"The telescope is massive and it's blue, which is great for
Everton fans." [hmmm....]

She also revealed that she hoped the telescope would one
day pin-point the star "bought" for new son Leo as a
christening present by her father, Liverpudlian actor Tony

As task force of experts set up by Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury is calling on the Government to build a
three-metre diametre telescope to detect incoming objects.
JMU scientists say they have the expertise at the
Birkenhead factory to produce such equipment.

The telescope could be built by Telescopes Technologies,
the university-owned commercial manufacturer, which is also
producing the Liverpool Telescope.

Professor Mike Bode, head of the Astrophysics Research
Institute, said: "We have the technology here to build a
three-metre telescope to take part in this search for
asteroids and comets.

"The Liverpool Telescope will primarily be used to study
objects billions of light years away deep in the universe,
but it will also be used for things much closer, such as
asteroids and comets which could hit the Earth. It will
transform the way we explore the universe because it can
search the sky automatically and download its observations
to a PC."

Schools will be able to book time on the telescope, with
its images beamed into the classroom via the internet.

Copyright 2000, Daily Post

MODERATOR'S NOTE: The school project, mentioned in the last
paragraph, is the second of the three telescopes currently
in production. It is funded by the Faulkes Foundation
and will be available to *all* British schoolchildren who
wish to learn how to search the skies.



A British Blueprint for NEO Protection

Astronomers in the United States have long dominated the
search for asteroids and comets that might someday collide
with Earth. But if the recommendations of a just-released
study are adopted, Great Britain stands to become a major
player as well. Yesterday the Task Force on Potentially
Hazardous Near-Earth Objects released its 59-page report,
which contains 14 recommendations for accelerating the
discovery and characterization of NEOs. The three-member
task force was formed in January by Lord Sainsbury,
Britain's minister for science, and it drew heavily on
experts from around the world.

The most significant recommendation, at least in terms of
potential cost, requests that the British government
construct a 3-meter telescope in the Southern Hemisphere
that will be dedicated to NEO searches. The task force
believes such a telescope could track down smaller objects,
those less than 500 meters across, which far outnumber
their larger kin and thus strike Earth more frequently on
average. The cost for such an expensive undertaking could
be shared among several European partners, the report says.
Another recommendation is to use an existing 1-meter
instrument, the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma in
the Canary Islands, solely to follow up observations of
close-approachers after their discovery. And the report
calls for the establishment of a British Center for Near
Earth Objects, to coordinate the country's NEO research
and to serve as a clearinghouse for information.

Reaction to the report has ranged from favorable to
enthusiastic among astronomers who study asteroids and
comets. "I am particularly impressed by the
internationality of the Report," comments Brian Marsden,
director of the IAU's Minor Planet Center. The
recommendations are "suitably ambitious," notes Duncan
Steel, who coordinated Australia's search effort before its
government funding ended in 1996. The proposed 3-m
observatory would be especially welcome, since at present
only one modest telescope is searching for NEOs from the
Southern Hemisphere. Steel says that the task force's plan,
if adopted, "would place the UK as the number two nation
globally in such activity." If fully implemented, the
program would cost the British government about 10 million
($15 million) annually.

Copyright 2000, Sky & Telescope


From SpaceViews, 19 September 2000

A report released Monday recommends that the British
government make a multi-million dollar investment in search
programs and other efforts to deal with the threat posed by
near-Earth asteroids and comets.

The "Report of the Task Force of Potentially Hazardous Near
Earth Objects", released Monday, concluded that the United
Kingdom can and should play a major role in the search for
objects that could collide with the Earth.

"The threat from Near Earth Objects raises major issues,"
the report, drafted by a committee of three scientists
appointed by the government earlier this year, concluded.
"The United Kingdom is well placed to make a significant
contribution to what should be a global effort."

The task force recommended in the report that the UK become
more involved in programs to detect and monitor NEOs. Its
leading recommendation was that the country work with
others in Europe to build a 3-meter (118-inch) telescope in
the southern hemisphere that would be dedicated to
searching for NEOs. Such a facility would fill a gap in
current search efforts, which are mostly based in the
northern hemisphere, and would be able to detect smaller
objects that current telescopes.

"We have considered the possibility of using older existing
telescopes for the systematic survey and discovery of these
objects, but have generally rejected the idea because
adapting such equipment would be expensive and the
resulting telescopes would not be competitive for long,"
the report noted. "Only a new dedicated would make a
satisfactory contribution to the world effort."

The report did recommend that other ground- and space-based
telescopes in use or under development also be drafted into
the effort to both search for new NEOs and track existing
ones. In most cases, these facilities, such as ESA's
proposed GAIA astrometry mission, would perform NEO work in
addition to other tasks.

The task force also recommended that the UK support other
research to better understand the composition and nature of
NEOs, through ground-based telescopes and small spacecraft
missions, and fund studies to look into the consequences of
a NEO impact with the Earth and ways to deflect and
incoming object.

In addition to suggesting that international and European
organizations be created to coordinate and share
information about NEO work, the task force concluded the UK
should set up its own organization for NEO work. The
British Center for Near Earth Objects would coordinate
national NEO work and also provide information to the
public "should the need arise."

The cost of the entire program was not included in the
report, although the task force admitted that some of its
recommendations, such as a 3-meter telescope, would be
"expensive." Outside experts have estimated that such a
program would cost the British government up to as much as
10 million pounds (US$14 million) a year. By comparison the
US, the leading nation in current search efforts, spends
only a few million dollars a year.

Lord Sainsbury, the British science minister, thanked the
task force for the report but was noncommittal on how the
government would act upon those recommendations.

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

The report was widely applauded by scientists both in the
UK and around the world involved with NEO work. Duncan
Steel, a British astronomer involved with NEO studies,
called the report's recommendations "suitably

"They are ambitious in that they would place the UK as the
number two nation globally in such activity," he explained,
adding that if the UK did build a 3-meter 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."

"These recommended actions would significantly extend the
current efforts to discover and track the thousands of
potentially hazardous objects in near-Earth space," said
Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object program
office. "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."

Spaceguard UK, a British organization that supports
expanded NEOs searches, welcomed the report but cautioned
that the government must back the report's language with
action. "Spaceguard UK applauds the [science] minister,
Lord Sainsbury, on his timely decision to investigate the
most serious natural hazard facing Great Britain," the
organization said in a statement. "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."

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

Copyright 2000, SpaceViews


From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny,

My recent press release/article and the UK report were
unfair to Rob McNaught who, on a professional basis (with
US funds), is doing very significant follow-up work and
making some discoveries using the 1.0-m telescope at Siding
Spring. My apologies to Rob.

Yesterday Rob was interviewed on the Australian national
radio show PM.

Transcripts are at (audio at

With tongue in cheek, I mentioned the Olympics in my
opinion piece at (CCNet 19 Sep) because I thought
it had to have 'Olympics' in the title to get noticed in
the USA. I was wrong. It seems that dozens of US regional
papers have picked up the UK Task Force story. Excite has
several items listed:
and Yahoo currently has its headline 'UK Report Calls for
More Asteroid

I can't say the same for Australia. I have found one article at The

Michael Paine


From ABC News, 19 September 2000
audio at:

This is a transcript of PM broadcast at 1800 AEST on local

Renewed funding call for asteroid tracking

PM - Tuesday, September  19, 2000  6:53

COMPERE: Well, there's growing pressure on the Federal
Government to reinstate funding for asteroid tracking. That
comes after the release of a British report urging the
British Government to put more funds into tracking
asteroids. One of the report's recommendations is for a
dedicated telescope in the southern hemisphere to minimise
the risks. In 1996, Canberra withdrew funding for the only
satellite tracking program in central New South Wales.

Robert MacNaught was affected by that decision, but he's
now funded by NASA to track asteroids in the southern
hemisphere, using the telescope at the Siding Springs
observatory in central New South Wales. He told Rebecca
Carmody the risk of an asteroid colliding with earth is a
real danger and it's something the Australian Government
must recognise with funding.

ROBERT MACNAUGHT: Well, very much so. There's been a
general scientific consensus in this for quite some time.
Part of the problem is that we don't really know how big a
danger the earth is, and simply the first step would be to
ascertain just how significant this danger is.

REBECCA CARMODY: The report proposed a dedicated telescope
for asteroid tracking in the southern hemisphere. Is that

ROBERT MACNAUGHT: Yes, there is an advantage having
telescopes in both hemispheres, and also to some extent
different longitudes in the earth. Up until now there has
been no dedicated telescope in the southern hemisphere,
they've all been in the north at moderately north
latitudes. That means that much of the southern sky simply
isn't being observed at all, and objects that they've
discovered in the north and pass into the southern sky and
become lost through not being adequately followed up.

REBECCA CARMODY: Who's funding your work?

ROBERT MACNAUGHT: The funding is directly from NASA. It's
through the University of Arizona, which is collaborating
with the Australian National University in using one of the
telescopes at Siding Springs observatory to follow up
asteroids that have been discovered elsewhere. We need to
keep tabs on them to calculate more accurately what their
orbits are and predict their future passages to the earth.
In addition, the same funding will go towards refurbishing
an old telescope at Siding Springs observatory which will
then be used in searching for various asteroids, not just
following up discoveries made in the north.

REBECCA CARMODY: In 1996, the Howard Government withdrew
funding for Australia's only asteroid tracking program at
Siding Springs in which you were involved. Has there been
any replacement funding since?

ROBERT MACNAUGHT: No, there has been none at all. It was
actually quite a blow because at the time Australia was
only a little way behind America in contributing to nearer
asteroid work and discoveries. Since then there have been
fairly substantial changes in technology, and the American
research programs have gone forward in leaps and bounds,
but to some extent the rest of the world has been left
behind, they have really been dragging their feet.

REBECCA CARMODY: When a decision was made at the time, some
astronomers said it's made Australia the laughing stock in
the scientific world. Is there an opportunity to recover
from that or make amends by getting it more involved in
asteroid tracking now?

ROBERT MACNAUGHT: There certainly are opportunities for
involvement. The British report does identify existing
telescopes in Australia which the British have a direct
financial involvement with, the [indistinct] Australian
telescope and the 1.2 metre Schmidt telescope, both near
Coonabarabran. Rather than refurbish those telescopes to be
dedicated to search for asteroids, the suggestion they
could be used in their sort of current roles, particularly
the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian telescope, it could be used
to look at asteroids and study the light reflected off
them, trying to [indistinct] compositions they have,
whether they're largely metallic or stony or possibly
comets with [indistinct]. It's important to know what the
composition of the nearest asteroids are, to have some idea
how one would try to deflect them to mitigate a potential

COMPERE: Robert MacNaught from the Siding Springs
observatory, speaking to Rebecca Carmody.

* Transcripts on this website are created by an independent
transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the
accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised
to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the
accuracy of the transcripts.

2000 ABC



Joan and David Dunham <>

>From The BBC News Online, 16 September 2000

>No one has ever been killed, or even injured by an asteroid . .

That's not true - a woman in (USA) Georgia was badly
bruised by a large meteorite that crashed into her home in
1953. But maybe it was too small to be classified an
"asteroid"? More recently in Uganda, a village was pelted
with stones from the breakup of a large meteor, and a boy
was hit on the head by a small rock, but the account didn't
mention him being injured by it.

David Dunham


From Adrian Jones <>

Dear Benny,

just a note about possible mechanisms to deflect an
incoming NEO. It is not quite correct to limit our arsenal
purely to nuclear weapons, as this may depend on the nature
of the impactor itself. For example, it was suggested some
time ago, I think by Jay Melosh, that an icey body, such as
a comet, may perhaps be deflected by long period asymmetric
jetting from directing solar radiation at the surface by
mirrors (sort of school boy exploding ant with a magnifying
glass analogy). This strengthens the need to provide early
warning, and also to be able to identify as far as possible
the nature of the impactor itself.

Adrian Jones, UCL.

Dr Adrian P Jones
Department of Geological Sciences
University College London
Gower Street

Tel: 0171 504 2415/2408
Fax: 0171 388 7614


From Alasdair Beal <>

Dear Benny,

I am pleased to hear that there is to be research into the
possible dangers from asteroids crossing the Earth's orbit
but nonetheless the scientists involved should be wary
about what they might be getting themselves into when they
talk of aiming nuclear missiles at suspected incoming
asteroids. The people who would be in command of these
missiles, the US armed forces, have other agendas which
involve watching and firing nuclear missiles at objects in
space - and some of these are not so innocent. For example,
US Space Command claims that its objective is to achieve
military dominance of space and it hopes to be able to wage
war both in and from space by the year 2020. The problem is
that there is a major overlap between the detection
equipment and weapons involved in this project and those
being discussed for Spaceguard.

I have absolutely no doubt that the motives of Bill Napier
and others involved in Spaceguard are genuine and bona
fide. However, they need to be careful to ensure that what
they intend as a genuine humanitarian project, for the good
of everyone, does not become used instead as a
'respectable' scientific cover for dangerous military
developments which have quite different objectives. The
extent to which science can be twisted in these things can
be seen in the claim that asteroid AN10 passing 200,000
miles away in 26 years' time poses a major potential
threat. Only last year NASA were reassuring us that there
was nothing at all to worry about when the plutonium-laden
Cassini space probe passed only 700 miles from Earth. If a 
lump of rock 200,000 miles away is a big enough danger to
justify possibly firing nuclear missiles at it, what should
we be doing about a plutonium-laden object passing only 700
miles away? Of course some will say 'we didn't need to
worry about that because it was American' but that is
hardly a scientific argument. If scientists are going to
speak out about the danger of rocks passing by 200,000
miles away, then why be silent about the risks from
plutonium-fuelled projectiles 700 miles away? OK one
comment is going to be popular with US Space Command and
the other is not - but science needs to be bigger than such

This is tricky territory and I hope that the scientists
involved keep a clear, critical eye on how the project
develops. When they sit down to dinner with their new
partners, they would do well to remember to bring suitably
long spoons to sup with ...

Alasdair Beal

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Let's be realistic: the *only* reason why
we are psychologically and theoretically able to cope with
the implications of the impact hazard is due to the fact
that our civilisation has recently discovered how to
transform Uranium into nuclear energy - a most powerful
energy source that has the potential to both destroy and
protect the world we live in. It is this availability of
this high energy which grants us the *only* trustworthy
argument to reassure a concerned public about our
capability to deal with the impact threat should it ever
materialise at some stage in the future. As Arthur C.
Clarke has pointed out in his recent statement on CCNet,
given enough time we will certainly be able to develop
alternative methods for destroying or deflecting an
asteroid or comet on collision course with earth.
Nevertheless, as long as nobody can answer Arthur's main
question: "how much time have we got?", we have no other
option but to hope that good luck (or whatever may rule the
dynamics of our universe) will grant us enough time to
develop less ambivalent technologies for planetary defense.
Until such time, we have no other option but to rely on the
technologies of self-defense currently available to
us. May I also add that European critics of American
military policies would be wise to remember that we owe our
freedom to a large extend to the repeated help and
assistance of the U.S. at times when Europeans were
desperate for military support.



From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny,

From several sources the estimated average interval between
impacts by a 100m asteroid is around 1,000 years, not the
10,000 years quoted in several of the 'speculative'
preperatory stories. I have roughly estimated that
inhabited areas of Earth would be struck by a 100m
asteroid, on average, once every 8,000 years. See

There seems to be an assumption that nuclear weapons would
be needed to deflect a dangerous asteroid. The research I
did for my story
(copy at )
suggested that, given decades of warning, a solar mirror
that vaporises the surface of the asteroid would be a
viable alternative to nuclear weapons.

On another matter, the story 'Human Missions to
Titan, Ganymede, Deep Space In NASA's Future' reports
(very) long term plans for deep space human missions,
including to asteroids "that could be used to make
propellants, in space construction or for commercial
ventures". Story at

Michael Paine


From John Mccue <>

The remarkable observations released on 11 Sep. of the nearby neutron
star RX J1856.5-3754  from the European Southern Observatory (VLT,
Kueyen} raises questions in other areas, as all good observations do.
The age of this supernova remnant, given the extent of the almost total
nebular dissipation, is estimated as 100, 000 years, its distance as 200
light-years. The latter figure suggests that its appearance to early
mankind in these prehistoric times would have at least resembled the
full moon. What went through their minds at the time, I wonder?

This catastrophic explosion will have taken place during the late
Pleistocene period of terrestrial history and dangerous radiation,
especially from gamma rays will have bathed the earth. Stephen Thorsett
(Astrophysical Journal, May 10th., 1995), of Princeton, estimates that
gamma ray bursts occurring within 200 light-years would expose the
atmosphere to as many gamma rays as the detonation of all the world's
nuclear weapons. The ozone layer would disappear for several years,
allowing deadly ultra-violet radiation to reach the earth's surface
causing mass extinctions.

As is well known, a wave of such extinctions occurred during the last
glacial period which took place from 100, 000 to 10, 000 years ago, in
the late Pleistocene era. Curiously, the species extirpated were mainly
large mammals such as sabretooths, sloths and mammoths. Did the
supernova contribute to these extinctions? Indeed, is deadly
ultra-violet more likely to kill animals than plants?

Dr. John McCue, FRAS,
Stockton Sixth Form College, UK.


From Michael Martin-Smith <>

Louis Friedman writes:
>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

Exactly so! Britain could, if she so chose make a real
contribution in developing reusable CHEAPER access to
space, using the astronautical engineering talent which up
to now has been woefully neglected. Such cheap access to
space would give our descendants much more positive options
in confronting the Impact threat, espcially from those
possible impactors which are either too large or which
approach too rapidly - eg new comets - to allow of simple
deflection strategies.

Michael Martin-Smith

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From Hans Rickman <>

The IAU compliments the UK Task Force on their achievement
in producing a fine report, which makes the essential point
that the effort of assessing the impact hazard by charting
and studying the population of potential impactors has to
be international. At the same time, it is clear that very
significant funding is needed, and the IAU supports the
recommendation to the UK government to take a lead in
establishing a decisive European effort that involves both
ground-and space-based studies, in close coordination with
other international partners.

I note that several of the concluding, specific
recommendations very appropriately mention the IAU as an
important actor in coordinating international research and
information activities on NEOs, including the need for a
robust international footing for the IAU Minor Planet
Center. The IAU will be pleased to collaborate with
governmental partners both in Europe and elsewhere to
secure the role of the international scientific community
in setting up or reinforcing the necessary structures, and
hopes that the UK government will decide to follow up the
Task Force recommendations with appropriate political

Hans Rickman,  IAU General Secretary

CCCMENU CCC for 2000