Press Release

U.K. Government invites plans for national Near Earth Objects centre

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2001
Filed under , ,

The Government today invited organisations to submit plans for a UK centre for
Near Earth Objects (NEOs). NEOs are asteroids or comets whose orbit brings
them close to the Earth.

Plans for the centre, which will provide accurate information and increase
public understanding of NEOs, will be sought from a range of academic
institutions, museums and public information centres. The Science Minister,
Lord Sainsbury, said:

“There are currently no known large NEOs whose orbit puts them on collision
course with Earth but while the risk of being hit is very remote, the
potential for damage exists.

“I believe it is important that reliable information on NEOs can be made
available to the public and hope that organisations will be able to respond
positively to our call for proposals.

“This call represents the latest step in the Government’s four-point package
in response to recommendations made last year by the Near Earth Object Task
Force. “

The centre will have a fully interactive exhibition, will host a web-site and
provide education packs. The aim of the centre will be to:

* provide information on the nature, number and location of NEOs;

* explain how these objects can impact the earth and its atmosphere;

* provide information on the effects of collisions of comets and asteroids
with planets;

* explore the history of impacts within our solar system;

* explain the risks posed by NEO impact and the likelihood of occurrence,
comparing them with more frequently encountered and widely understood

* explain the value of observation from the ground for detecting and tracking
NEOs; and,

* highlight the importance of space missions to encounter and rendezvous with
NEOs to increase understanding of their characteristics.

NEOs are believed to be the remnants from the formation of planets. Most
asteroids are composed of rock while comets can be a mixture of rock organic
molecules and frozen gases. The Earth’s atmosphere protects against most NEOs
smaller than about 50m but larger objects can penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere.
Fortunately large impacts occur infrequently and objects above 50m in diameter
impact on the Earth less than once every hundred years, on average.


1. The Government’s response to all the NEO Task Force recommendations is
available on the Near Earth Object website at
and the NEO Task Force report can be found online at

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

Department of Trade and Industry

1 Victoria Street

London SW1H 0ET

SpaceRef staff editor.