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Call to prevent asteroid strike

Leading astronomers and scientists including evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Brian Cox have called for more to be done to prevent a devastating asteroid strike.

One hundred leading names, including cosmonauts and astronauts, the Astronomer Royal and rock guitarist Brian May, have made a declaration demanding action.

They have called for a rapid 100-fold increase in the discovery and tracking of near-Earth asteroids to 100,000 a year within a decade.

There are a million asteroids in the Solar System with the potential to strike Earth, they said, but only 10,000 have been discovered.

They also want an Asteroid Day to be adopted on June 30 next year to highlight awareness and promote efforts to prevent an impact.

On that date in 1908, around 800 square miles of forest in Tunguska, Siberia, was destroyed by an asteroid strike. Scientists believe a similar impact now could wipe out an entire city.

Space expert May said: "The more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time.

"We are currently aware of less than 1% of objects comparable to the one that impacted at Tunguska, and nobody knows when the next big one will hit.

"It takes just one."

Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees said: "The ancients were correct in their belief that the heavens and the motion of astronomical bodies affect life on Earth, just not in the way they imagined.

"Sometimes those heavenly bodies run into Earth. This is why we must make it our mission to find asteroids before they find us."

Ed Lu, a three-time Space Shuttle astronaut, said: "We have the technology to deflect dangerous asteroids through kinetic impactors and gravity tractors but only if we have years of advance warning of their trajectories.

"Now we need the resolve to go forward. It is the only natural disaster we know how to prevent."

More information about the declaration can be found at http://www.asteroidday.org/

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