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Alert: Asteroid alarm

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Collision: Scientists and others differ over the extent of resources that should be devoted to spotting incoming space rocks.

Every few years, astronomers who study asteroids are accused of crying wolf.

In 1998, one group predicted that an asteroid was headed toward a collision with Earth in 2028. A day later, another group said the estimate was based on faulty data and there was no chance of a disaster.

In April 2002, astronomers announced that they'd found an asteroid a half-mile wide that has a 1-in-300 chance of hitting Earth. But it turned out that Asteroid 1950 DA, as it's formally known, won't arrive until March 16, 2880.

Hollywood has done its part, too. Movies such Deep Impact and Armageddon have entertained millions with tales of death-dealing rocks that are heading Earth's way.

Experts say alarms like these are the price we pay for better surveillance of the heavens - and they're likely to continue as long as astronomers keep looking skyward.

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