The Planetary Society

May 6, 1998

Planetary Society To Award Second Round of Asteroid-Discovery Grants

Gene Shoemaker Near-Earth Object Grants Encourage Detection of Potentially Dangerous Comets and Asteroids

The Planetary Society is seeking applications for the second round of selections for the Gene Shoemaker Near-Earth Object Grants. The purpose of the grant program is to increase the rate of discovery and follow-up studies of asteroids and comets in Earth's vicinity by enabling amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and professional astronomers who, with seed funding, could greatly increase their programs' contributions to this critical research.

The deadline for receipt of applications for the second round of selections is June 30, 1998. Previous awardees will not be considered for the present selection and applicants for the first round wishing consideration in the second selection are requested to submit new, updated applications. Application forms are available on this web site.

The Society's NEO Grant Program is coordinated by Daniel D. Durda, an asteroid researcher at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. An international advisory group, including noted near-Earth object scientists Richard Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute, Andrea Carusi of the Spaceguard Foundation, and Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, will advise the Planetary Society on the selection of awards for the grants.

Facing the Threat of Comets and Asteroids

Popular awareness of the threat of comet and asteroid impacts has increased dramatically in recent months with the report of a close approach past Earth of the asteroid 1997 XF11 in October 2028 and the summer release of the movies Deep Impact and Armageddon.

Earth lives in a swarm of near-Earth objects of different sizes and orbits. Scientists have only recently begun to understand the significant contribution NEOs have made to the evolution of Earth -- and of life on Earth -- just as impacts from comets and asteroids have contributed to the evolution of all planets throughout the solar system.

Less than 200 NEOs have been discovered thus far. Scientists estimate that there are several thousand such NEOs larger than one kilometer and 150,000 to perhaps 100 million larger than 100 meters in size.

While various astronomical groups and NASA advisory committees have strongly recommended discovery of these objects be accelerated, government support for NEO search and follow-up programs remains modest.

"At the current rate of discovery, it would take decades to find a majority of even the large NEOS," says Planetary Society Executive Director Louis Friedman.

The Planetary Society hopes that its NEO Grant Program will help map the potential hazards of the future, allowing humanity to better understand the threat of cosmic collisions.

The Society is cooperating with the Spaceguard Foundation, a European-based international organization, to help fund and promote discovery of near-Earth objects.

Previous Grant Recipients

The first four Gene Shoemaker Near-Earth Object Grants were awarded at the Celebration of Life service honoring Shoemaker at the US Geological Survey Flagstaff Field Center on October 11, 1997. The grants, totaling more than $35,000, were awarded to Gordan Garradd of Australia, Kirill Zamarashkin of Russia, Walter Wild of the United States, and Bill Holliday of the United States for upgrades to their programs to search for NEOs.

The Society funds for the NEO Grant Program come from its 100,000 members worldwide, whose voluntary dues and donations permit targeted support to research and development programs.

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