Help Us Find and Track Dangerous Asteroids and Comets!

Press Release From: Planetary Society
Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2004

Dear Society Member,

This past January, those of us in the asteroid- detection business were on the edge of our seats. An object large enough to cause tremendous damage to the Earth and its citizens -- asteroid AL00667 -- appeared to be on a collision course with Earth ... due to arrive in just three to four days!

Thankfully, follow-up observations showed that asteroid AL00667 would miss hitting the Earth. We could breathe a sigh of relief...this time.

But if this rock had indeed been hurtling relentlessly toward Earth, there would have been virtually nothing we could have done to avert destruction.

Alarmingly, there is still very little NEO research being conducted in the world right now. A handful of international scientists and engineers are aided by a pioneering and passionate group of amateur enthusiasts -- all of them on shoestring budgets, many having to borrow telescope time. We simply must give them the resources they need to make more and earlier discoveries and to have faster follow-up observations.

And that, of course, is where The Planetary Society comes in. You and your fellow Members know just how dedicated The Planetary Society is to Near-Earth Object detection and tracking.

Indeed, with your staunch commitment to this essential but neglected branch of astronomy, we have helped talented professional and amateur astronomers find and track countless potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. The remarkable tool we use is our Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant Fund, named for one of the world's foremost experts on NEOs and their role in shaping the Earth.

Each year we receive many promising proposals from astronomers all over the world. Some need to update their ageing equipment, while others wish to automate systems to increase their search efficiency. Whatever their needs, they are united in the effort to identify NEOs and chart their trajectories.

Your contribution, combined with those of your fellow Members, will help The Planetary Society identify and reward these deserving astronomers... and help them find and track asteroids and comets that could one day hit Earth.

Support NEO research at:

Scientists acknowledge that a catastrophic impact is a rare event -- statistically unlikely to happen within our lifetimes. But they stress that a smaller impact causing serious damage, injury and even death could happen at any time.

An asteroid of just 165 feet (50 meters) across could cause a huge explosion in Earth's atmosphere, leading to damage on the ground...a 460-foot object could blast a huge crater into the Earth's surface, or create a devastating tsunami if it lands in the ocean.

And an object with a diameter greater than .6 miles (1 kilometer) could have frightening global consequences.

That is why it is imperative that we find these bodies and track their paths through our solar system. With enough advance warning, we have a chance to prevent disaster.

And that brings us to the second problem: advance warning is very difficult to ensure without more astronomers with more up-to-date equipment in more parts of the world devoting themselves to the search.

Once a NEO is spotted -- even if it is by a professional survey -- we need immediate follow-up observations, which requires astronomers to be ready and available in both hemispheres. It doesn't do any good to know an asteroid is there if you don't know if it has Earth's name on it.

In real terms, we must properly equip astronomers to enhance their ability to detect and track more uncharted NEOs. Without these crucial preparations -- as we saw with AL00667 -- we would have precious little time to prepare.

But long lead times require many observations and much more coordination among world observers. And despite the threat, national governments are not giving NEOs any political or budgetary priority, and they are resisting international cooperation, even on a global issue like this.

Professional astronomer Alan Harris has been so impressed with the accomplishments of our Shoemaker Fund grantees that he told me, "The Planetary Society and its NEO Grant recipients have contributed enormously to this important branch of astronomy. In particular, NEO follow-up observations are critical to assessing impact danger, and your grant winners have excelled at these."

There is no program like ours on Earth. The Planetary Society's Gene Shoemaker NEO Grants Fund provides small, but highly leveraged funds to devoted observers and researchers.

But I can tell you, no matter how many proposals the Shoemaker Fund's prestigious international panel gives the "thumbs up" to...many truly meritorious requests will have to be turned down...unless we can raise the money to fund these promising programs.

The Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant Fund is stretched to the breaking point, and with every day of delay, good projects somewhere in the world die for want of financial backing. That's why I urge you to help the Society and these dedicated sky-watchers -- with the most generous gift you can afford today.

Contribute to NEO research at:

You and I and all interested citizens really DO have a vital role to play in the exploration of our cosmos. Your contribution to the Society's Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant Fund will make a profound difference for science and for the safety of humankind.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Louis D. Friedman
Executive Director

P.S. If you haven't received it already, you will probably be getting a letter about this grant project in the mail. If you have already sent in your donation we thank you.

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