OECD Workshop Reviews the Risks of Near Earth Objects, Frascati, Italy, 20-22 January 2003

January 17, 2003

Paris, 16 Jan 2003

Astronomers have recently learned a great deal about asteroids and comets that strike the Earth. Small asteroids burn up harmlessly as meteors in the atmosphere. Very large impacts have in the past been catastrophic but are, fortunately, very infrequent. However, detectable misses by mid-sized asteroids are quite common. The OECD's Global Science Forum's workshop will allow government officials and scientists to examine the threat of impacts by these near earth objects.

Responding to the concerns of both governments and the public, the workshop will be a forum for researchers and government policy makers from OECD countries to review efforts currently devoted to dealing with the hazard and consider the need for new policies and actions. The European Space Research Institute hosts the workshop, with participation from the British National Space Centre.

Workshop participants will work to:

Assess the threat posed by comets and asteroids relative to other known natural and man-made hazards
Appraise the current responses to the threat
Review the national and international policy dimensions of comet and asteroid-related issues
Review the state of scientific knowledge, including its accuracy and completeness
Consider the case for possible actions and follow-on studies by the scientific and policy communities

A news conference will be held at the close of the workshop - 3 p.m. Wednesday 22 January, at ESRIN, Via Galileo Galilei, Frascati. - by Richard Crowther, Workshop Chair, and Michael Oborne, OECD.

Opinions about the danger to Earth from near earth objects range from a suspicion that it has been exaggerated by some scientists and the media to a belief that it has been vastly under-appreciated. This OECD workshop will approach the subject without preconceptions of the level of the threat or the actions needed. A sober, science-based international analysis under the aegis the Global Science Forum, and with full appreciation of the policy contexts, should bring clarity, rigour and political realism to this complex and still largely unfamiliar issue.

For further information, or to attend the news conference, journalists may contact Franca Morgia at ESRIN (tel. 39 06 94 180951) or Helen Fisher, OECD Media Relations Division (tel. [33]1 45 24 80 97).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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