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International Research on Near-Earth Objects

IAU PRESS RELEASE
11 October 2000

The hazard posed to humanity by cosmic impacts is international in character. While km-sized impactors would cause important, global perturbations to the Earth's biosphere and climate, those of somewhat smaller size could also have serious international consequences, affecting densely populated coastal areas in several countries. Those well-known circumstances, and the fact that a more detailed assessment of the impact hazard requires a survey and study of the Near-Earth Object population, for which an effort by the international astronomical community is necessary, form the basis for the IAU's engagement in the issue, as laid down by the IAU Executive Committee already in 1998.

The recent report of a Task Force (UKTF) appointed to advise the Government of the United Kingdom on research policies related to potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects gives a clear summary of the current situation with a proper and welcome emphasis on the international aspects. It provides a follow-up on earlier planning efforts initiated in the US, that resulted in defining the Spaceguard System for the inventory of the population of km-sized Earth-crossers, while now pushing the goals further.

The IAU and its Working Group on Near-Earth Objects (WGNEO) welcome the report of the UKTF as a very constructive step towards a concerted programme of action on the subject.

To this end new resources will be required, and in all likelihood, those can not be found solely within any one country. Nonetheless, international efforts naturally grow out of national initiatives. The exploration of the potential impactor population has so far been carried out mostly thanks to search programmes carried out in the US but has nevertheless been international, e.g. with the IAU offering its resources for gathering the scientific expertise. We now look forward to a deepening search which will still profit essentially from national and multilateral funding, as proposed by the UKTF to the British Government, but which will continue to draw upon the contributions of scientists all over the world and, in particular, the support of the IAU Minor Planet Center.

The formation of national centers to provide other kinds of support was in fact one of the recommendations of last year's IMPACT meeting in Torino, for which the IAU was one of the sponsors. The IAU will be pleased to collaborate with governmental and other partners both in Europe and elsewhere to secure the role of the international scientific community in setting up or reinforcing the necessary structures, and hopes that the government of the UK and other interested countries will decide to follow up the Task Force recommendations with appropriate initiatives. The WGNEO will continue to be the main forum of discussions within the IAU of all related scientific matters.

Hans Rickman, IAU General Secretary
David Morrison, Chairman of the WGNEO

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