For amazingly, children are Britain’s frontline defence in the battle to avert a disaster falling from the sky.
The Government is relying on enthusiastic youngsters controlling a telescope over the internet to spot potentially deadly meteors.
Youngsters at 15 school across the UK are photographing the faint space rocks then running software on their school computers to work out if any will smash into the Earth.
They are being encouraged by a former Army major, Jay Tate, who campaigns for Britain to do more about the asteroid threat.
He said yesterday: “People will be staggered that children are doing the observations and producing the data that could prevent a catastrophic impact.
“Most people would find it totally unacceptable that our national response to a clear and present danger is in the hands of schoolchildren!”
Major Tate set up the Spaceguard Centre near Knighton, Mid Wales, which helps schools work with a telescope on a mountaintop in Hawaii to monitor the sky.
One of the teams involved is King’s School, Canterbury, which counts Nasa astronaut Michael Foale as a former pupil.
Teacher Andrew Taylor said: “The students are thrilled to be making a valuable contribution in this important area of research.
“Recently we have helped confirm an 800 metre wide asteroid on an Earth crossing orbit and classified as “potentially hazardous”. We were credited as the first to confirm that it was real.”
Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik convinced the Government to commission a report on the asteroid threat that concluded an impact was a certainty.
He said yesterday: “I find it utterly amazing that, despite all the evidence, our Government is still doing less to prevent Armageddon than our schoolchildren.
“While Ministers sit and do little to track asteroids and comets which could hit Earth, an army of young volunteers is giving us a fighting chance to seek out and divert objects which could literally end life as we know it.
“Even a medium sized asteroid of, say 2 kilometres across, is capable of incinerating an entire continent and everything that lives on it. These things don’t take prisoners – they’re cosmic killers and they’re out there.”
The telescope used by the teenagers is run by the Faulkes Project, an educational foundation. Its location on the other side of the Earth means it can be used by kids when it is daylight in the UK.
Their results are fed to the world’s official clearing house for asteroid information, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre, which usually handles data from professional scientists.
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