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Developments in British Science
Britain sets up Task Force on Near Earth Objects

A task force to look at the potential risks posed by Near Earth Objects has been set up by British Science Minister Lord Sainsbury.

The three-strong team will make proposals to the British National Space Centre on the nature of the hazard and the potential levels of risk. It will also consider how the UK should best contribute to international effort on Near Earth Objects.

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are asteroids or comets. Many NEOs have been identified and their orbits determined using ground-based telesopes, though many remain to be surveyed. Of the known NEOs, none is believed to pose a significant risk to the Earth in the foreseeable future. However over the course of the Earth's history, it has been hit by objects of sufficient size to cause serious damage, including the object which is thought to have impacted about 65 million years ago, with global consequences including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The task force will be chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson, formerly of the Science & Engineering Research Council (SERC) and past Chairman of the European Space Agency. Two other appointees, Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David Williams, will join Dr Atkinson.

Lord Sainsbury said, ��the risk of an asteroid or comet causing substantial damage is extremely remote. This is not something people should lie awake at night worrying about. But we cannot ignore the risk, however remote, and a case can be made for monitoring the situation on an international basis.��

��I hope that the setting up of this task force will help the UK play a full and prominent role in international discussions on this important issue. I am delighted to be able to announce such a well-qualified team of experts, and I look forward to receiving their report by the middle of 2000.��

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