Press Release

Help Us Find and Track Dangerous Asteroids and Comets!

By SpaceRef Editor
May 27, 2004
Filed under , ,

Dear Society Member,

This past January, those of us in the asteroid-
detection business were on the edge of our seats.
An object large enough to cause tremendous damage to
the Earth and its citizens — asteroid AL00667 —
appeared to be on a collision course with Earth …
due to arrive in just three to four days!

Thankfully, follow-up observations showed that asteroid
AL00667 would miss hitting the Earth. We could breathe
a sigh of relief…this time.

But if this rock had indeed been hurtling relentlessly
toward Earth, there would have been virtually nothing
we could have done to avert destruction.

Alarmingly, there is still very little NEO research
being conducted in the world right now. A handful of
international scientists and engineers are aided by
a pioneering and passionate group of amateur
enthusiasts — all of them on shoestring budgets,
many having to borrow telescope time. We simply
must give them the resources they need to make more
and earlier discoveries and to have faster
follow-up observations.

And that, of course, is where The Planetary Society
comes in. You and your fellow Members know just
how dedicated The Planetary Society is to Near-Earth
Object detection and tracking.

Indeed, with your staunch commitment to this essential
but neglected branch of astronomy, we have helped
talented professional and amateur astronomers find
and track countless potentially hazardous asteroids
and comets. The remarkable tool we use is our Gene
Shoemaker NEO Grant Fund, named for one of the world’s
foremost experts on NEOs and their role in shaping
the Earth.

Each year we receive many promising proposals from
astronomers all over the world. Some need to update
their ageing equipment, while others wish to automate
systems to increase their search efficiency.
Whatever their needs, they are united in the effort
to identify NEOs and chart their trajectories.

Your contribution, combined with those of your
fellow Members, will help The Planetary Society
identify and reward these deserving astronomers…
and help them find and track asteroids and comets
that could one day hit Earth.

Support NEO research at:

Scientists acknowledge that a catastrophic impact is a
rare event — statistically unlikely to happen within
our lifetimes. But they stress that a smaller impact
causing serious damage, injury and even death could
happen at any time.

An asteroid of just 165 feet (50 meters) across could
cause a huge explosion in Earth’s atmosphere, leading
to damage on the ground…a 460-foot object could blast
a huge crater into the Earth’s surface, or create a
devastating tsunami if it lands in the ocean.

And an object with a diameter greater than .6 miles
(1 kilometer) could have frightening global

That is why it is imperative that we find these
bodies and track their paths through our solar system.
With enough advance warning, we have a chance to
prevent disaster.

And that brings us to the second problem: advance
warning is very difficult to ensure without more
astronomers with more up-to-date equipment in more
parts of the world devoting themselves to the search.

Once a NEO is spotted — even if it is by a professional
survey — we need immediate follow-up observations,
which requires astronomers to be ready and available
in both hemispheres. It doesn’t do any good to know
an asteroid is there if you don’t know if it has
Earth’s name on it.

In real terms, we must properly equip astronomers to
enhance their ability to detect and track more
uncharted NEOs. Without these crucial preparations —
as we saw with AL00667 — we would have precious
little time to prepare.

But long lead times require many observations and
much more coordination among world observers. And
despite the threat, national governments are not
giving NEOs any political or budgetary priority,
and they are resisting international cooperation,
even on a global issue like this.

Professional astronomer Alan Harris has been so
impressed with the accomplishments of our Shoemaker
Fund grantees that he told me, “The Planetary Society
and its NEO Grant recipients have contributed
enormously to this important branch of astronomy. In
particular, NEO follow-up observations are critical
to assessing impact danger, and your grant winners
have excelled at these.”

There is no program like ours on Earth. The Planetary
Society’s Gene Shoemaker NEO Grants Fund provides
small, but highly leveraged funds to devoted observers
and researchers.

But I can tell you, no matter how many proposals the
Shoemaker Fund’s prestigious international panel gives
the “thumbs up” to…many truly meritorious requests
will have to be turned down…unless we can raise the
money to fund these promising programs.

The Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant Fund is stretched to the
breaking point, and with every day of delay, good
projects somewhere in the world die for want of
financial backing. That’s why I urge you to help
the Society and these dedicated sky-watchers — with
the most generous gift you can afford today.

Contribute to NEO research at:

You and I and all interested citizens really DO have
a vital role to play in the exploration of our cosmos.
Your contribution to the Society’s Gene Shoemaker NEO
Grant Fund will make a profound difference for science
and for the safety of humankind.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Louis D. Friedman

Executive Director

P.S. If you haven’t received it already, you will
probably be getting a letter about this grant project in
the mail. If you have already sent in your
donation we thank you.

SpaceRef staff editor.