Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Astronomers seek to help spot dangerous asteroids


The nation's astronomers are seeking a chance to cooperate with the Pan-Starrs Project based in Hawaii, a National Central University official said yesterday.

The Pan-Starrs project -- Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System -- aims to spot large "near-Earth objects" (NEOs), such as asteroids and comets, that may cause a disaster if they move toward Earth.

In the past, the definition of "large NEOs" meant rocks with a diameter greater than 1km; after more careful calculations, the standard has now been lowered to a diameter larger than 140m -- a size determined as great enough to bring catastrophe.

The project has been in operation at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy since it obtained US congressional funding in 1998. The project's first telescope was deployed in June, and all four telescopes should be operational by 2010.

The official said NCU astronomers have had great success in spotting asteroids, and that if they were accepted as a partner in the Pan-Starr project, they would be helpful in finding "killer asteroids" -- a term sometimes used to describe rocks in space racing toward Earth.

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