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Asteroid Findings

NASA Wants Delay in Notification of Asteroid Discoveries
Associated Press, May 19, 1998

If professional stargazers catch sight of an asteriod that might be on a collision course with Earth, the goverment wants them quit about it- for at least 72 hours. The new procedures aim to to avoid panic from mistaken reports of doomsday, like the flurry of worry in March when astronomers reported asteriod 1997XF11 could collode with Earth in 2028. That was soon found to be erroneous. Astronomers whose work is funded by NASA have agreed for now to keep asteroid and comet discoveries to them - selves for 48 hours while more detailed calculations are made. The findings would then go to NASA, which would wait an additional 24 hours before going public.

The new interim procedures are not an attempt to hide anything but to make sure the information is accurate, said scientist Donald Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose calculations helped dispel the fear asteroid 1997XF11 was headed straight for Earth. "It is an attempt for the small scientific community that tracks these objects to build a consensus, to determine if an asteroid is a threat," he said. Some scientists question the new push from NASA, saying quick action from astronomers is needed to determine if an asteroid's danger. "I don't think one should be secret about these things," said Brian G. Marsden, the director of the Internatoinal Astronomical Unoin who made the announcement about 1997XF11's clos pass to Earth. "I think the public would be unhappy."

NASA officials were "very upset" that they first heard of the 1997XF11 threat from reporters. "Almost all of us found out by press release," Yeomans said. "Clearly that is not the way it should work." The first reports estimated it would pass within 30,000 miles of the Earth's center and could possibly collide. That distance was later recalculated at safe distances of 600,000 miles.