The UK’s first government backed Information Centre on Near Earth
Objects is to be sited at the National Space Science Centre in
Leicester, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury announced today.

The facility will also analyse the potential threat from NEO’s
hitting the earth and provide an extensive range of information
about asteroids and comets.

The new centre will be operational by Easter 2002 and supported by
the Natural History Museum in London. It will also involve a
consortium which includes University of Leicester, Queens University
Belfast, W5 in Belfast, Queen Mary University London and the Royal
Observatory Edinburgh.

Lord Sainsbury said:

"The potential threat from NEO’s to our planet has been an issue of
increased international interest and concern over recent years.

"By setting up an information centre we are helping the UK play a
full and prominent role in an area that requires international action."

The centre will include a website, exhibition and interactive
facilities displaying what asteroids and comets are and where they
can be found. The centre will:

– 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 planetary collision with
comets and asteroids;

– 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
understood hazards;

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

The centre will be a focus for sharing information with other sites
including the Spaceguard Centre in Wales. Subsequently other sites will
be able to update their information on NEO’s.

Lord Sainsbury also published today an update report on the
"Implementation of the Recommendations of the NEO Task Force". Part of
the work has been to identify suitable telescopes, which can be used to
track NEO’s. So far two telescopes on La Palma in the Canary Islands
have been identified as possible sites. The first of these – the Isaac
Newton – will be used as a pilot study after February 2002.

Notes to Editors:

1. NEO’S are asteroid or comets whose orbit brings them close to the
Earth. They are both 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 gasses.

2. The risk of being hit is remote, and there are currently no known
large asteroids or comets whose orbit puts them on collision course
with Earth. However, the potential for significant damage to the
Earth and its environment does exist.

3. The Earth’s atmosphere protects against objects smaller than about
50m in diameter. Objects above 50m in diameter may survive passage
through the atmosphere but will impact the Earth less than once every
hundred years on average.

4. In January 2000 the Government set up a Task Force to look into
the potential hazards. In February 2001, and in response to the Task
Force’s recommendations, Lord Sainsbury announced a 4-point package
to tackle the potential threat.

5. The Government’s response to all the Task Force recommendations is
available on the Near Earth Object website at
together with the NEO Task Force Report. Details of the call for
proposals for the NEO Information Centre can be found online at The Task Force consisted of Dr Harry Atkinson
(Chairman), Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David Williams.

6. The update to the Government response to the recommendations of the
NEO Task Force Report can be found at
Other findings from the update report have emphasised that international
collaboration is vital amongst worldwide observation and orbit
calculation groups. There have been successful missions such as NEAR and
Deep Space 1. In 2002, the OECD Global Science Forum will consider a
co-ordinated proposal for an NEO activity.

Press Enquiries: 020 7215 6403/6140

(Out of Hours: 020 7215 3234/3505)

Public Enquiries: 020 7215 5000

Textphone for those with earing impairments: 020 7215 6740

Department of Trade and Industry

1 Victoria Street



Fax 020-7222 4382