OPEN LETTER to the Australian Federal Government from International Scientists


The Hon John Howard, MP, Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Peter McGauran, MP, Minister for Science

The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, MP, Minister for Education, Science and Training

Senator the Hon Robert Hill, Minister for Defence

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP, Minister for the Environment and Heritage

1 February 2002

Australia’s contribution to Spaceguard

Spaceguard is the name given to an international effort to search the
skies for asteroids that might collide with the Earth. The name was
coined by Sir Arthur C Clarke in a 1973 novel that described how
mankind set up an asteroid detection and defence network after a
large asteroid struck Italy and devastated southern Europe. Since the
novel was written the risks and grave consequences of asteroid
impacts have been recognised and studied. Scientists around the globe
are now working to ensure that Clarke’s scenario of a sudden, deadly
impact does not occur.

The United States is the main contributor to the search effort, with
several telescopespandicated to Spaceguard. Japan recently
constructed a new telescope facility for Spaceguard work and Europe
is in the process of setting up search telescopes and the vital
support systems to analyse the data from the searches.

Rob McNaught from Siding Spring in New South Wales runs the only
professional asteroid tracking project in the southern hemisphere.
This operation is funded mostly by the United States and is
associated with the Australian National University. It was set up in
recognition of the need for Spaceguard telescopes in the southern
hemisphere. Gordon Garradd, an astronomer from Loomberah in New South
Wales, receives some funds from NASA for critical southern hemisphere
follow-up observations using a home-made telescope.

However, a much greater search effort, including a larger telescope,
is needed to detect asteroids that pass through southern skies. It
would cost several million dollars to set up a suitable facility in
Australia but some of this might be covered by contributions of
equipment from the USA.

Operational costs should be less than $1 million per year. This is a
highly cost effective investment in the prevention of loss of life
and severe economic damage from asteroid impacts.

McNaught and Garradd were previously in a team of Australian
astronomers, led by Dr Duncan Steel, who searched for asteroids
between the late 1980s and 1996. They found about one third of new
threatening asteroids discovered during this period, demonstrating
Australian expertise and the importance of searching southern skies.
Australian government funding for the project was withdrawn in 1996
and the team disbanded.

The United Nations and the OECD have recognised the potential hazard
to our civilisation from asteroid impacts. This month the OECD is
looking at the issue as part of its Global Science Forum and recently
asked developed nations to indicate their plans to contribute to the
Spaceguard effort.

A major global Spaceguard effort could provide decades of warning
prior to an impact. This would be sufficient time to refine the space
technology needed to nudge a threatening asteroid into a harmless
orbit, or to evacuate the predicted impact area. Without Spaceguard
there would be too little warning to prevent a disaster. This is
clearly demonstrated by the recent close approach of a 300m wide
asteroid. It was discovered only a few days before it passed by the
Earth and, had it been on a collision course, there is little that
could have been done to prevent possibly millions of casualties when
an area the size of Tasmania would have been devastated.

We note that a spokesperson for Science Minister Peter McGuaran said
that the Government would look into renewing the funding of a
dedicated Australian Spaceguard programme (The Age, 9th January). We
welcome this reassessment of the issue and look forward to Australia
rejoining the international effort to deal with the asteroid threat.


Paul Abell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA

Olga T. Aksenova, Blagoveschensk State University, Russia

Gennady V. Andreev, Astronomical Observatory of Tomsk State University, Russia

John Anfinogenov, Tunguska Preserver, Siberia, Russia

Yana Anfinogenova, Siberian State Midical University, Russia

David Asher, Bisei Spaceguard Center, Japan

Mark Bailey, Armagh Observatory, UK

Mike Baillie, Queen’s University, Belfast, N. Ireland

Michael J Barlow, University College London, UK

Andrea Boattini, IAS, Area Ricerca CNR Tor Vergata, Italy

Jiri Borovicka, Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

Mark Boslough, Sandia National Laboratories, USA

Peter Brown, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western
Ontario, Canada

Larisa Budaeva, Tomsk State University, Siberia, Russia

Andrea Carusi, IAS, Area Ricerca CNR Tor Vergata, Italy

Silvano Casulli, Colleverde di Guidonia Observatory, Italy

Clark R. Chapman, Southwest Research Institute, USA

Andrew Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory, USA

Paul Davies, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie

University, Australia

Ann Druyan, CEO, Cosmos Studios, USA

Alan Fitzsimmons, Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Giuseppe Forti, Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy

Luigi Foschini, Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, Italy

Lou Friedman, The Planetary Society, USA

Michael J. Gaffey, Space Studies, University of North Dakota, USA

Jon Giorgini, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA

Valentina Gorbatenko, Tomsk Polytechnic University, Russia

Vic Gostin, Dept.Geology & Geophysics, University of Adelaide, Australia

Tom Gehrels, The University of Arizona, USA

Ian Griffin, Space Telescope Science Institute, USA

Valentin Grigore, The Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy
(SARM), Romania

Christian Gritzner, Dresden University of Technology, Germany

Gerhard J. Hahn, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Germany

Peter Haines, University of Tasmania, Australia

Eleanor Helin, NEAT Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA

Nigel Holloway, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority & Spaceguard UK

Ola Karlsson, UDAS Program, Uppsala Astronomical Observatory, Sweden

Colin Keay, The University of Newcastle, Australia

Bob Kobres, University of Georgia, USA

Natal’ya V.Kolesnikova, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

Leif Kahl Kristensen, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, University

of Aarhus, Denmark

Karl S. Kruszelnicki, School of Physics, The University of Sydney, Australia

Evgeniy M. Kolesnikov, Moscow State University, Russia

Korado Korlevic, Visnjan Observatory – Spaceguard HR, Croatia

Eugeny Kovrigin, Tomsk State University, Siberia, Russia

Richard Kowalski – Quail Hollow Observatory, USA

Yurij Krugly, Astronomical Observatory of Kharkiv National University, Ukraine

David H. Levy, Jarnac Observatory, USA

Dmitrij Lupishko, Kharkiv National University, Ukraine

Terry Mahoney, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Spain

Brian Marsden, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA

Bruce Mackenzie, National Space Society, USA

Ilan Manulis, The Israeli Astronomical Association, Israel

Austin Mardon, Antarctic Institute of Canada

Jean-Luc Margot, California Institute of Technology, USA

Gianluca Masi, Bellatrix Observatory, Italy

Alain Maury, CNRS, France

John McFarland, Armagh Observatory>AMSUK

Natalya Minkova, Tomsk State University, Russia

Joe Montani The University of Arizona, USA

Darrel Moon, Oxnard College, California, USA

Thomas G. Mueller, Max-Planck-Institut, Garching, Germany

Bill Napier, Armagh Observatory, UK

Chernykh Nikolaj, Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, Crimea, Ukraine

Steve Ostro, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA

Trevor Palmer, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

Joaquin Perez, Universidad de Alcala, Spain

Paul Roche, University of Glamorgan, UK

Maria Eugenia Sansaturio, University of Valladolid, Spain

Lutz D. Schmadel, Astronomisches Rechen-Institut Heidelberg, Germany

Hans Scholl, Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur, France

Vladimir A. Shefer, Astronomical Observatory, Tomsk State University, Russia

Carolyn Shoemaker, Lowell Observatory, USA

Vadim A. Simonenko, Space Shield Foundation, Russia

S Fred Singer, University of Virginia, USA

Giovanni Sostero, Remanzacco observatory, Italy

Reiner M. Stoss, Starkenburg Observatory, Germany

Jay Tate, International Spaceguard Information Centre, UK

Luciano Tesi, Osservatorio di San Marcello Pistoiese, Italy

Jana Ticha, Klet Observatory, Czech Republic

Josep M. Trigo-Rodriguez , University Jaume, Spain

Roy A. Tucker, Goodricke-Pigott Observatory, Arizona, USA

Harry Varvoglis, Department of Physics, Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki, Greece

Gerrit L. Verschuur, University of Memphis, USA

Fiona Vincent, University of St.Andrews, Scotland, UK

Dejan Vinkovic, University of Kentucky, USA

Vladimir Vorobyov, Pomor State University n.a. M.V. Lomonosov, Russia

Chandra Wickramasinghe, Cardiff University, Wales, UK

Gareth Williams, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory, USA

Don Yeomans, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA

Oleg M. Zaporozhets, Kamchatka State University, Russia

Krzysztof Ziolkowski, Space Research Centre, Warsaw, Poland