- The Earth is due to be struck by a giant
asteroid capable of wiping out the entire human race, a Liberal Democrat
MP has warned.
- Lembit Opik is urging the government
to invest £1m a year in tracking space rocks to avert catastrophe.
- He told BBC News Online: "I'm calling
on the government to take seriously the prospect of asteroid or cometary
impact with the Earth.
- "Now that's got a pretty high giggle
factor, it makes me sound like one of those millennium soothsayers, a Nostradamus
of Parliament, but actually it's a very serious threat.
- "We know that the dinosaurs were
extinguished by a very big global killer that hit us about 65 million years
ago and we're due for another one now."
- Mr Opik said the cost of tracking asteroids
to the international community as a whole would be about £70m over
the next decade.
- The UK should invest between £500,000
and £1m annually towards this, he said.
- "It's a good investment really because
for that small investment not only do we get peace of mind but we can quite
literally avert armageddon."
- The MP raised the issue in an adjournment
debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.
- "At the end of the day, if we don't
act on it, something could come out of the Sun and wipe us out, quite literally,"
- The government later said it would look
closely at any further proposals to extend its work in the area with the
European Space Agency and the United Nations.
- Energy Minister John Battle said: "I
wish to congratulate Lembit Opik for taking the opportunity to raise this
important subject on the floor of the House.
- "The risks of earth being hit by
a large near earth body during the lifetime of anyone alive now are extremely
remote. But such objects are a reality which we must take seriously."
- Mr Opik said his campaign was not connected
to the rash of apocalyptic predictions surrounding the year 2000.
- "I can assure the public this is
neither my attempt to campaign for the millennium nor my strange and obscure
way to become leader of the Liberal Democrats.
- "This is my genuine interest in
the science and the astronomy and ultimately the future of our species."
- His fascination with the issue stems
from family tradition.
- "My grandfather was an astronomer
and he worked in just this field. In fact, he predicted the dangers of
an asteroid impact 70 years ago.
- "They named an asteroid after him
- Opik's asteroid.
- "I'm relieved to say that we know
where Opik's asteroid is, it's tucked up nice and safe in the asteroid
- But other space rocks are not so far
away and statistically the Earth's population has reason for concern.
- "These global killers seem to hit
about once every 30 million years.
- "What's worrying is that the last
one impacted 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. I'm sorry
to say that we're next in line for extinction.
- "The dinosaurs were wiped out by
a massive global killer, but a quarter of the Earth's population could
be wiped out every 100,000 years when a one kilometre object hits.
- "If we saw an asteroid hurtling
towards us then I'm sorry to say all we could do is pray. But we would
get 20 seconds and that's not even long enough for the Lord's Prayer.
- "If we make this investment then
we would get anything from two years notice of an impending impact and
that's long enough to divert the object."
- This might involve exploding a nuclear
device or towing the asteroid out of the harm's way, he said.