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UN calls for asteroid defence body

Last updated 12:34 21/02/2013

Workers begin the big task of repairing around 1,700 buildings damaged when a bus-sized meteor exploded over central Russia last week. Andrew Raven reports.

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The United Nations has called for the formation of an international network to monitor the threat posed by asteroids and other near-Earth objects.

Experts from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs meeting in Vienna on Wednesday said they are drafting a proposal for such a coordinated response and are establishing two working groups to consider defences against large objects that could impact the Earth.

‘‘We need to do a better job in preparing ourselves for that,’’ said Lindley Johnson, who heads the near-Earth objects program at the US space agency NASA.

The meteor heads towards the ground. Photo: Screen grab

The 11-day meeting comes amid renewed focus on the hazards of large space objects, following last week’s meteor strike in Russia and asteroid near-miss.

Whereas the meteor over Russia was estimated at 15 metres in diameter, UNOOSA is preparing for objects which are bigger than 1 kilometre and would have global consequences if they were to strike.

However, there is no risk of this happening in the next 100 years, according to the UN experts.

People stand outside the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant building, which was damaged after a meteorite passed above Chelyabinsk. Photo: Reuters

Nevertheless, the planned new network and expert groups would assess upcoming threats and would inform countries about possible defence scenarios, UNOOSA expert Sergio Camacho said.

Scientists have been studying the possibility of hitting asteroids with rockets to change their flight path, or to blast them with a nuclear bomb as a measure of last resort.

The UN body is also aiming to educate the public about what to do in case smaller objects enter the atmosphere, like it did last week in central Russia.

Employees try to fix windows of a maternity ward at hopsital number 9, which was damaged by a shockwave from a meteorite, in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk. Photo: Reuters

Mr Johnson said people need to have knowledge about such phenomena, just like most people know to retreat from a tsunami.

‘‘When you see a white flash and a large (condensation) trail in the sky its probably not a good time to stand at the window and look at it because it may be a blast coming,’’ he said.

--AAP

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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