Asteroid danger: The UK is not ready to react to news of an incoming asteoroid
When a six-mile-wide (10km) asteroid struck near the coast of Yucatan, Mexico, some 66 million years ago, the impact ended the reign of the dinosaurs on Earth. More recently, a 65.6ft-wide (20m) space rock exploded in the skies over Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast in 2013.
Although the Chelyabinsk meteor did not reach the ground before disintegrating, the explosion injured more than 1,000 people with shards of broken glass from blown-out windows.
Asteroid hunter Jason “Jay” Tate believes these incidents and many more like them highlight the need for constant vigilance.
Mr Tate runs The Spacegaurd Centre in Powys Wales – Britain’s only independent near-Earth object (NEO) tracking facility.
From the observatory, the asteroid hunter spends every night watching the skies over Britain for any sign of danger.
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However, should the asteroid hunter spot a large object barreling straight for Earth, Mr Tate told Express.co.uk there would be little use in alerting Downing Street.
Instead, Mr Tate said he would immediately contact the likes of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
He said: “I wouldn’t bother telling people in the UK, it would be a waste of time until things change.
“No, we deal directly with the United States or the European Space Agency – they’re beginning to kick in on this game now.
“They’re building space telescopes, they’re developing projects very quickly as part of the Space Situational Awareness Programme.
“We have quite a close touch with the near-earth object segment of that, so Europe’s playing.
I wouldn’t bother telling people in the UK, it would be a waste of time
“Unfortunately the UK didn’t sign up for that project, so again, we’re out of the game.”
In 2001, a team of British scientists led the charge to better track and understand the space rocks zipping around our planet.
In March of that year, the Government announced plans to commit the UK to an asteroid monitoring programme that could detect potential threats ahead of impact.
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Asteroids with the power to kill millions of people are believed to strike every few hundreds of thousands of years.
The science minister at the time, Lord Sainsbury, said: “This is clearly an international issue and I think that what we can do is provide a lead.”
In 1999, MPs also called on the Government to evaluate the danger posed by asteroids.
The efforts resulted in the Report of the Task Force on potentially hazardous near-Earth objects document.
The report reads: “The level of the risk to life and property from Near Earth Objects is largely related to what we choose to do in the future.
“If we do nothing, the consequences would be as described here.
“But by discovering and tracking most of the dangerous objects (at the same time improving our statistical knowledge of the remainder), and by studying further the consequences of impacts and the possibilities for mitigation, we can hope to exert some control over future events.”
Mr Tate is, however, certain not enough has been done by the Government over the years to protect the UK and the world at large.
He said: “There is a United Nations structure in place, that is at least being developed now
“They would obviously lead but the technical lead would almost certainly be passed down to the United States.
“It’s the only country with the ability to do anything about it.
“ESA, as the programme develops, may well become a partner of the United States in this.”
The Spaceguard Centre observes the night skies from the hills overlooking Powys and is open to the public who want to learn more about asteroid detection and astronomy.