CCNet 4/2002 - 7 January 2002

"However, if 2001 YB5 had been on a collision course with the Earth
and resolved to impact on January 7, 2002 we would have only about 25 days
to initiate a defense against the collision. Unfortunately, we
currently have no defense even though we have the technology to develop
one. Consequently, a defense would be a moot point, and if the impact were
in the right place in the Atlantic, off the coast of the United States,
all U.S. coastal cities would be wiped out making the September 11
disaster seem insignificant. Many other impact possibilities would
also be quite devastating and catastrophic to both the U.S. and our
planet. My point should be terribly obvious to everyone, and it is
inconceivable how foolish anyone with the NEA tracking facts at hand
can be who might oppose a planetary defense now."
-- Worth F Crouch (TALAKO)

    BBC Online News, 7 January 2002

    Ananova, 7 January 2002


    The Scotsman, 3 January 2002

    Irish News Online, 7 January 2002

    Brian G. Marsden <>

    David Morrison <>

    The Sunday Telegraph, 6 January 2002  

    Andrew Yee <>

    Popular Mechanics, 5 January 2002

     Michelle R. Edwards <>

     Maximiliano Rocca <>

     Maximiliano Rocca <>

     Worth Crouch <

     Duncan Steel <>

     Andrei Ol'khovatov <>

     Göran Johansson <>
     The Observer, 6 January 2002


>From the BBC Online News, 7 January 2002
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

An asteroid discovered just a month ago is making a close approach to the

Although there is no danger of collision with it, astronomers say that its
proximity reminds us just how many objects there are in space that could
strike our planet with devastating consequences.

It will pass less than twice the Moon's distance from us as the rocky body
moves closer to the Sun.

It is thought to be 300 metres in size - large enough to wipe out an entire
country if it struck the Earth.

'Potentially hazardous'

2001 YB5 was discovered in early December by the Neat (Near Earth Asteroid
Tracking) survey telescope observing from Mount Palomar in California.

Astronomers call it an Apollo object because it has a highly elliptical
orbit that crosses the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. It circles
the Sun every 1,321 days.

Astronomers also add that it is "potentially hazardous", meaning there is a
slim chance that it may strike the Earth sometime in the future.

In the meantime, it will come very close to us. At 0737 GMT on 7 January it
will pass just 370,000 miles away from the Earth - close in cosmic terms.

As it approached the Earth, it was observed by the Klet Observatory in the
Czech Republic by astronomers Jana Ticha and Milos Tichy who tracked it on 5

Such a "close encounter" is rare but not unprecedented. However, the only
other known object that will come closer to the Earth is an asteroid called
1999 AN10 that will pass a shade closer on 7 August 2027.

Widespread devastation

2001 YB5's brightness suggests it is a rocky body about 300 metres across.

If it struck the Earth a 300 metre object would not be a global killer: But
300 metres is more than enough to cause widespread devastation.

If it struck land it would wipe out an entire country. If the impact point
were London then scientists estimate there would be total devastation for
150 kilometres and severe destruction for a further 800 kilometres, meaning
that not only would the UK be destroyed but France
and the Low Countries as well.

If it struck the ocean the destruction would be more widespread. It would
trigger Tsunamis that would devastate most coastal cities.

Little warning

According to experts, the recent discovery and close approach of 2001 YB5
suggests that something nasty could creep up on us at any time.

Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University told BBC News Online:
"The fact that this object was discovered less than a month ago leads to the
question of if we would have had enough time to do anything about it had it
been on a collision course with us. "Of course the answer is no, there is
nothing we could have done about it."

Astronomers and archaeologists suspect that our planet is struck by a 300
metre object like 2001 YB5 about every 5,000 years or so, but this is an
estimate based on a hunch rather than on any definite evidence.

"It is a reminder of the objects that are out there. It is a reminder of
what is going to happen unless we track them more efficiently than we do and
make better preparations to defend our planet," says Dr Peiser.

Copyright 2002, BBC


>From Ananova, 7 January 2002

A large asteroid discovered just weeks ago has passed close to the Earth.

Astronomers say if the 300 metre wide rock had hit it could have wiped out
an entire country.

The asteroid passed less than twice the moon's distance from us, which is
considered close in cosmic terms.

The BBC reports it was named 2001 YB5 after its discovery in December by the
Near Earth Asteroid Tracking telescope in California.

If it had been on a collision course with Earth scientists admit there would
have been too little time to take action against it.

The asteroid has now been classified as 'potentially hazardous' because it
orbits the Sun every 1,321 days and could strike the Earth in the future.

Scientists have calculated that if it had struck London everything within
100 miles would have been devastated and everything within a further 500
miles would have been severely damaged.

If it had fallen in the sea it would have created tsunami waves which would
have devastated a much wider area.

Copyright 2002, Press Association


>From, 7 January 2002

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

To improve knowledge and raise public awareness about the threat of an
asteroid smacking planet Earth, two separate facilities were announced
recently in the UK.

The Comet and Asteroid Information Network (CAIN) launched Jan. 1 and is
managed by the International Spaceguard Information Center in Wales.

CAIN will pool information and research efforts of at least 9 universities
and institutions, including the Armagh Observatory. The non-governmental
consortium is expected to be a vocal proponent of increased international
funding for research into detecting and tracking objects that could pose a
risk to the planet.

No known asteroid is currently on a collision course with Earth. Yet
scientists cite past impacts, such as one thought to have led to the demise
of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, as evidence that civilization ought to
prepare itself for the inevitable.

In a separate move, the British government announced it would open an
Information Center on Near Earth Objects (NEOs) this spring, following
through on plans spelled out nearly a year ago.

The governmental center, which will operate out of National Space Science
Center in Leicester, will educate the public about asteroids and comets. It
also aims to "analyze the potential threat from NEOs" that might hit Earth.

This threat "has been an issue of increased international interest and
concern over recent years," said Science Minister Lord Sainsbury. "By
setting up an information center we are helping the UK play a full and
prominent role in an area that requires international action."

A gesture

The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said the center would provide useful
information to the public for a low cost. But other researchers are waiting
for the British government to do more. They point out that the center, which
will cost £300,000 over three years, is little more than a public relations

Benny Peiser, an NEO expert at Liverpool John Moores University, called the
center a "goodwill gesture by the UK government" but said its tight budget
and lack of science personnel would limit its effectiveness.

The center will not be involved in the search for asteroids, though it might
fund two small telescopes on the Canary Islands for doing follow-up surveys
on asteroids that have been discovered by other researchers.

"There are concerns, however, that these instruments will simply reproduce
the search efforts of other teams in the Northern Hemisphere," Peiser said.

Astronomers had hoped the UK would fund the construction of a large
telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, where the NEO search has been less
comprehensive. While a government task force set up two years ago
recommended the telescope, no decision has been rendered.

The threat

Researchers estimate that there are about 1,000 NEOs larger than 1
kilometer, the minimum size considered capable of causing global
devastation. Though no one knows for sure, such objects are suspected of
hitting Earth every 100,000 to 300,000 years.

If one were found to be headed our way, experts say it's possible the rock
could be deflected or destroyed by detonating nuclear explosives on or near
it. The technology needed to mount such a mission has yet to be developed.

For now, nonetheless, the search is on.

NASA has a congressionally mandated goal to find 90 percent of these large
NEOs by 2008. Roughly 500 have been found by various individuals and
international research teams. But as more are discovered, those that remain
become statistically harder to root out, and most astronomers don't expect
NASA's goal to be met on time.

NASA also funds some of the research and follow-up observations needed to
pin down the orbits of NEOs, a critical next-step in accessing any possible
danger. But the agency -- one of the few that has the kind of budget needed
for such work on large scales -- prefers to channel most of its money into
space-based research rather than ground-based observations.

Just last month, NASA reduced funding of an NEO program at the Arecibo
Observatory in Puerto Rico and announced intentions to shuttle the program
over to the National Science Foundation. An NSF spokesman was surprised by
the suggestion and said his agency had not had time to react to it.

Meanwhile, critics have long maintained that not enough is being done to
find smaller NEOs, which could cause regional destruction if they hit Earth.
Others worry that the cost and resources needed to find all these small
space rocks, which number in the millions, is prohibitive, at least in the
near term.

Other institutions inside and outside the United States contribute to the
search and research of NEOs. The Minor Planet Center, in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, serves as the clearinghouse for all data collected on space

The two new centers represent an increased internationalization of the
effort, but it's not yet clear what role they will ultimately play.

Copyright 2002,

>From The Scotsman, 3 January 2002


IT'S the stuff of Hollywood disaster movies - a giant asteroid smashing into
the Earth and wiping out life as we know it.

And now scientists in Edinburgh have been handed the very real task of
spotting a potential threat from space before a collision with the Earth's

The Capital's Royal Observatory is to support Britain's National Space
Science Centre by monitoring asteroids and comets - known as NEOs or near
earth objects - passing through our atmosphere.

As well as tracking the path of asteroids in space, the centre will also
have a fully interactive exhibition and provide education packs for
visitors. The observatory will form part of a network of centres across the
UK analysing the potential threat from NEOs and providing an extensive range
of information about asteroids and comets.

The aim of the observatory in Edinburgh will be to explain:

*The nature, number and location of NEOs.

*How these objects can affect the Earth and its atmosphere.

* The effects of collisions of comets and asteroids with planets.

* The history of solar system impacts.

An official spokesman for the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh said staff at
the centre were delighted to be involved in the study. "This is a very
exciting development for the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

"Once the network is up and running, we will be able to respond to the
Scottish public and media's interest in the possibility of asteroids hitting

"This is also a great boost for our science education activities.

"We can build on public interest in asteroids to show how scientists look
for astronomical objects, work out their orbits and assess the chances of
them hitting Earth.

"The observatory's participation as the Scottish arm of the network reflects
our astronomical expertise and the public information role of the Visitor

The earth's atmosphere protects against most NEOs smaller than about 150ft
in diameter, but larger objects can and do break through and strike our

Fortunately large impacts rarely occur and experts say objects above 150ft
impact on the Earth happen less than once every 100 years.

But the possibility still exists and the consequences can be severe,
although there are no known large NEOs whose orbit puts them on collision
course with Earth.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury set up the nationwide network of monitoring
centres and chose the Royal Observatory to play a special role. He
explained: "The potential threat from NEOs to our planet has been an issue
of increased international interest and concern over recent years.

"By setting up an information centre, we are helping the UK play a full and
prominent role in an area that requires international action."

There are more than a dozen meteor showers each year, most of which are
linked to debris shed by ancient comets.

Around 40,000 tonnes of meteors smash into the Earth's atmosphere each year
at speeds of up to 38,000 mph.

Copyright 2002,


>From Irish News Online, 7 January 2002

A NEW centre providing information on comets and asteroids which may one day
collide with Earth is to receive support from a team of astrophysicists at
Queen's University and the W5 Discovery Centre in Belfast.

The new United Kingdom Near-Earth Object Information Centre (UKNEOIC) opens
later this month at the National Space Centre in Leicester.

W5, which specialises in science education, will provide an exhibition at
the W5 centre and assist in the creation of teaching packs for schools and
information packs for the public.
Astrophysicists led by Dr Alan Fitzsimmons at Queen's will be responsible
for ensuring the accuracy of the UK-wide facility.

The last impact of a small asteroid occurred in 1908 in Siberia, devastating
thousands of square kilometres. It is believed that an impact by a large
asteroid or comet killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Dr Fitzsimmons said there were a lot of misconceptions about the risk from
comet and asteroid impact, which arise from many sources.

"By offering clear, factual and unbiased information on both Near-Earth
Objects (NEOs) and the risk of impact, we hope to clarify what is an
important issue," he said.

Dr Sally Montgomery from W5 said: "We are delighted to be part of this
unique partnership with Queen's and the National Space Centre and look
forward to providing information to the public and schools."

Copyright 2002, Irish News


>From Brian G. Marsden <>

Dear Benny,

Several people have commented to me about Lord Sainsbury's recent update to
the implementation of the U.K. NEO Task Force recommendations given in the
Jan. 2 CCNet, in particular his sentence about the coordination of
astronomical observations (recommendation 7), namely:

"Work is progressing to place the funding of the Minor Planet Center (MPC)
on a firm financial footing and the International Astronomical Union (IAU)
has signed a formal contract regarding the organisation of the IAU MPC,
ensuring that its operation and data access policies will allow it to
continue its key role as the global clearing-house for data and orbit
computations for NEOs."

The contract mentioned is the one signed in April 2001 between the IAU and
the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), where the IAU MPC has been
located since 1978. It is important to understand that the contract itself
provides only for an amount of funding that is quite negligible in terms of
what is required to put the MPC "on a firm financial footing". Nevertheless,
while to say that "work is progressing" might be a little strong, I have
been informed that a specific funding possibility is being explored.

Of course, the signing of the contract preceded by many months the
appearance of an ominous sentence in the previous item in the Jan. 2 CCNet,
Dan Vergano's Jan. 1 story in USA TODAY, namely:

"And planned budget cuts threaten the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
in Cambridge, Mass., a center for studying objects in our solar system."

While it is quite gratifying to read of the significance to SAO of
solar-system studies (which amount to less than 1 percent of the total SAO
budget), readers of some U.S. newspapers, particularly in Washington, New
York and Boston, will have seen other stories on this "threat" during the
past few weeks. The issue is quite complex, and I shall not go into it here,
except to say that it relates to the whole question of the conduct of
scientific activities at the Smithsonian Institution (an organization
established by the U.S. Government in 1846 "for the increase and diffusion
of knowledge"), something currently being examined by a Congressionally
mandated blue-ribbon panel whose completed report is required before
Congress will consider any changes in the organization of the Smithsonian.
This report will not be complete by the time
Congress needs to act with regard to the "planned budget cuts".

In the mean time, the 2.5 members of the MPC staff at SAO continue their
work, including attention to NEOs while they are away on vacation, as all of
them were for part of December.  Indeed, thanks to modern communications
technology, for the week surrounding Christmas this NEO activity was
completely under control, even though the entire staff was on vacation at
that time. (But it would be nice to add another staff member or two--as well
as to guarantee that there will be money to pay the existing MPC staff, so
that it can continue to perform its "key role as the global clearing-house"
for NEOs in the future, whether on vacation or not.)


>From David Morrison <>

NEO News (01/05/02) Predictions & communications

Dear Friends and Students of NEOs:

The first item in this edition of NEO News is a comprehensive New Year
article from the newspaper USA Today discussing a variety of recent events
dealing with NEOs. The second is a copy of the
International Astronomical Union guidelines for the technical review that
the IAU Working Group on NEOs makes available to the members of the
astronomical community in case of discovery and/or theoretical analysis
leading to the prediction of impacts. These guidelines reflect the changes
agreed upon by the IAU WGNEO at its meeting in Palermo last
June,particularly the use of the new "Palermo Technical Scale" to decide
whether such a technical review is appropriate. As described below, these
reviews are voluntary, and the decision whether to release information to
the public on low-probability future impacts is left to the discoverers or
orbit calculators, not the IAU.

For your information, this IAU/WGNEO Technical Review has been invoked twice
in the past six weeks. I have already described the situation for 2001 VK5
in NEO News for 12/07/01. In mid-December a similar sequence of events took
place for 2001 WN5, with several possible future impacts found by Milani and
his team at Pisa and quickly verified by the JPL dynamics team. In parallel
with the IAU Technical Review, additional observations were made that showed
that this NEA was below the threshold for concern. This sort of situation is
highlighted in the IAU statement by the addition of the comment "It is
expected that new data that may be obtained during the period of the review
and/or in the days, weeks, and months (in some cases years) that follow will
provide sufficient new information for new probability calculations to be
made. The most likely eventuality is that new calculations based on
additional new data will ultimately yield impact probabilities that are
effectively zero".

David Morrison


International Astronomical Union (IAU)
Working Group on Near Earth Objects (WGNEO)


(Latest revision: 2001 December 20)

Position Statement

The IAU, recognizing its responsibility to encourage timely and responsible
communication with the public and the press concerning possible impact
hazards, has established the following procedures to be available to the
members of the astronomical community in case of discovery and/or
theoretical analysis leading to the prediction of impacts.

The accuracy of a prediction depends on both the observational data and the
computational methods used. The IAU encourages its members to actively seek
out and make available any observations that may help refine the orbit of a
potentially threatening NEA. In addition, the following IAU review procedure
of orbital computations and risk estimates is available on a voluntary basis
to all scientists involved in any prediction of possible NEO impacts. This
review procedure is encouraged for any prediction that is at a level equal
to or greater than zero on the Palermo Technical Scale, a scale that
compares the impact probability of the predicted event to the hazard posed
by the background NEO population, taking into account the estimated size of
the object and the time interval until the encounter. An object having the
same or higher impact probability as that of the background population will
have a Palermo Technical Scale value equal to or greater than zero. In most
cases, such events will fall at a value of 1 or higher on the 0-10 point
Torino Scale, a scale intended for public communication of impact hazard

The procedure for technical review is as follows. Information leading to an
impact prediction, consisting of an evaluation of the case and all data and
computational details necessary to understand and reproduce the studies
carried out by the authors, should be transmitted for confidential review to
the chair of the IAU Working Group for Near Earth Objects (WGNEO), the
President of IAU Division III, the General Secretary of the IAU, and the
members of the NEO Technical Review Team (see below), before any
announcement and/or written document on the subject be made public via any
potentially nonprivate communication medium, including the World Wide Web.
The individual members of the NEO Technical Review Committee shall review
the work for technical accuracy and shall communicate under most
circumstances within 72 hours the results of their reviews to the chair of
the WGNEO and directly to the authors of the report or manuscript.

The authors of the work are encouraged to refer to this IAU review and may
quote this review if and when they choose to make a public release of their
conclusions. If the consensus of the above review supports the conclusion
that there is a significant impact risk meriting an announcement by the IAU
itself, such an announcement will be posted on the IAU webpage for public access as soon as possible after the
information is released by the authors to the public. If the review
disagrees with the original analysis or if there is not a consensus among
the reviewers, the confidential results of the review will be given to the
authors so they can revise or improve their work, as they see fit.

It is important to note that the WGNEO will review impact probabilities and
reach conclusions based on the best observational information available at
the time of the review. It is expected that new data that may be obtained
during the period of the review and/or in the days, weeks, and months (in
some cases years) that follow will provide sufficient new information for
new probability calculations to be made. The most likely eventuality is that
new calculations based on additional new data will ultimately yield impact
probabilities that are effectively zero.

The news posted on the IAU webpage shall represent the official position of
the IAU; further information will be provided by the WGNEO in case important
updates become necessary. If so requested officially (e.g., by NASA or ESA),
the IAU will also inform the responsible officials of relevant agencies of
the results of the WGNEO review.

The Review Team

The NEO technical review team consists of:

Paul Chodas:
Andrea Milani:
Karri Muinonen:   Karri.Muinonen@Helsinki.Fi
Giovanni Valsecchi:
Don Yeomans:

In addition, information copies are requested to be sent to

David Morrison:,   Chair, WGNEO
Richard P. Binzel:,   Secretary, WGNEO
Mikhail Marov:,   President, IAU
Division III
Brian G. Marsden:,   Director, Minor Planet
Hans Rickman:,   General Secretary, IAU
Andrea Carusi:,   Spaceguard

All the above agree to keep the prediction documentation confidential, and
to honor the right of the author(s) of the discovery or prediction to
publish the results and to make them public, at their discretion, and in the
manner they choose.

>From the WGNEO webpage --


NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near
Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the
responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions
of NASA, the International Astronomical Union, or any other
organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact
For additional information, please see the website:  If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute
original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this

MODERATOR'S NOTE: After more than a year of discussion and debate, the IAU
has heeded the calls for change and finally revised the guidelines for the
handling of 'virtual impactors' that show a small but not insignificant
impact risk. This is a positive development which will hopefully ensure that
mishaps a la SG344 can be avoided in the future. The revised guidelines seem
to have overcome the most obvious flaws that have led to a number of
premature and embarrassing asteroid scares. It is important to point out,
however, that the  improved IAU procedures do not specifically deal with the
possible detection of a Tunguska-size object less than three days before
impact. I would strongly advise the NEO community to consider how to inform
the public - in time - in case of such a hypothetical but likely scenario.
After all, if the 72 hours secrecy period that still features in the new
guidelines were upheld, and an Tunguska-type impact were to occur before any
official announcement could be made, we would most certainly be accused of a
major information failure. Given the new and less stringent wording of the
72 hours review period (the review team "shall communicate *under most
circumstances* within 72 hours the results of their reviews..."), I have no
doubt that the current guidelines can be applied for a much faster public
announcement should circumstances require immidiate action. BJP

>From The Sunday Telegraph, 6 January 2002

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

THE end is not as nigh as we thought. Scientists have found a mistake in the
standard account of the future fate of the solar system and now believe that
the Earth will not be destroyed when the Sun runs out of fuel.

For decades, astronomy textbooks have insisted that the Earth will be
engulfed in an inferno billions of years from now as the Sun burns up its
nuclear fuel and swells to become a gigantic red star.

Surrounded by the searing gas of the Sun's outer atmosphere, the Earth was
expected to be dragged down to its doom deep within the Sun.

Now a team of astrophysicists at Sussex University has uncovered a
significant flaw in the standard view of how the Sun will evolve, with
dramatic consequences for the fate of our planet.

According to the conventional wisdom from astronomers, the Sun has been kept
alight for the past 4.5 billion years by burning up hydrogen at the rate of
several million tons every second.

As this fuel runs out, the theory predicts that stars such as the Sun will
start to expand and cool into red giants.

Calculations based on this standard theory suggested that it would balloon
out and engulf the Earth about 7.5 billion years from now.

According to the team from Sussex University, however, these calculations
missed out a crucial effect: the loss of mass by the ageing Sun as it
expands and its gravity weakens.

Taking this effect into account, the team found that the Earth would manage
to dodge a fiery fate, its orbit expanding away from the swelling Sun.

According to Dr Robert Smith, one of the team that made the discovery, the
dying Sun will make two attempts to destroy the Earth. In the first, about
7.7 billion years from now, it will expand to about 120 times its current
size, engulfing the two innermost planets, Mercury and Venus.

The Sun's weakened gravity will allow the Earth to escape a similar fate,
however, with our planet settling down in an orbit about 25 per cent bigger
than the one it now follows - well clear of the Sun's outer atmosphere.

About 100 million years later the dying Sun will have another go at the
Earth, but will fail again, with our planet having moved out even further.

According to Dr Smith, the Sun will then collapse into a harmless white
dwarf star, about 10,000 miles across. "The Earth won't wander off into
space," Dr Smith said. "But whether it will be anything like we see today
seems pretty doubtful."

The team reports its findings in the current issue of the journal Astronomy
and Geophysics. "They differ from the standard conclusion by taking account
of mass loss and including the latest data based on studies of real stars,"
said Dr Smith. "To that extent, the textbooks will have to be rewritten."

He added that although the Earth is safe from destruction, life on the
planet still faces some formidable challenges in the far future. The new
calculations suggest that the surface of the Earth will become too hot to
sustain human life for a few million years about 5.7 billion years from now.

This is about 200 million years later than previously thought - an extra
period of grace that humans could use to develop technologies for living on
a hotter Earth, such as building communities deep underground.

Alternatively, the human race could move to another planet for a while.
"Unfortunately none of the surviving planets, such as Mars, are warm enough
at the time we will need them - though we could think about altering
conditions on them," said Dr Smith. "We might not have to leave the solar

The findings are likely to rekindle the age-old debate about the ultimate
fate of humanity. Sir Patrick Moore, the astronomer, said: "In the end, no
one really knows what is going to happen. But my message would be `don't

Copyright 2002, The Sunday Telegraph


>From Andrew Yee <>

Applied Physics Laboratory
Johns Hopkins University
Laurel, Maryland

Media contact:
Michael Buckley, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory
Phone: 240-228-7536

For Immediate Release: January 4, 2002

Comet-Chasing Spacecraft Nears Completion at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics

NASA's CONTOUR Mission Readies for Summer 2002 Launch

Capping nearly two years of detailed development and assembly, engineers at
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel,
Maryland, are putting the last touches on the CONTOUR spacecraft, which will
provide the closest and most detailed look ever into the icy
heart of a comet.

Slated to launch July 1, 2002, CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) will encounter
at least two diverse comets as they zip through the inner solar system. From
as close as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, the spacecraft will snap
high-resolution photos of the comet nucleus, map the types of rock and ice
on the nucleus, and analyze the composition of the surrounding gas and dust.
CONTOUR's targets include comet Encke in November 2003 and
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in June 2006 -- though the mission team can send the
spacecraft to an as-yet undiscovered comet should such a valuable
opportunity arise.

Currently parked in an APL clean room, CONTOUR has had all onboard systems
tested, including all four of its scientific instruments -- two cameras, a
dust analyzer and a mass spectrometer. Over the next week, APL technicians
will attach solar panels and the final layers of the resilient,
Kevlar-and-Nextel dust shield designed to protect CONTOUR from speeding
bullet-like particles around the comets.

Environmental testing on the craft begins Jan. 14 on APL's large vibration
tables. On Jan. 28, CONTOUR will ship to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
in Greenbelt, Maryland, for nearly three months of additional tests in
Goddard's expansive facilities.

"These rigorous checks will verify that CONTOUR can stand up to the shaking
during launch and the harsh conditions of outer space," says Edward
Reynolds, CONTOUR mission system engineer at APL.

In May, CONTOUR will leave Goddard for Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in
final preparation for launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.

CONTOUR is the next launch in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost,
scientifically focused missions. APL manages the CONTOUR mission for NASA
and will operate the spacecraft. Dr. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University,
Ithaca, New York, is CONTOUR's principal investigator. For the latest news
and images, visit the CONTOUR Web site at

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University,
meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of
science and technology. For more information, visit

Note to Editors: Media are invited to check in on the CONTOUR spacecraft
during its final weeks at APL. Contact Mike Buckley at (443) 778-7536 or
(240) 228-7536 for information about visiting APL's space facilities.


[Image 1: (266KB)]
Artist's concept of the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft. After a
July 2002 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, CONTOUR will encounter at
least two near-Earth comets, providing the closest and most detailed look
ever at a comet's rocky, icy nucleus. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Cornell

[Image 2: (1.6MB)]
Don Clopein adjusts the CONTOUR Remote Imager/Spectrograph instrument -- or
CRISP -- during spacecraft integration work at The Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. CRISP will take the
highest-resolution pictures ever of a comet's nucleus, while mapping the
different rock and ice types on the nucleus' surface. The small red and gold
boxes on the left side of the spacecraft are thrusters that will be used to
guide and control CONTOUR. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory (JHUAPL)


>From Popular Mechanics, 5 January 2002
Hundreds of shooting stars an hour, smoky trails in the sky, huge flashes,
and even sonic booms--these can be the effects of a meteor storm. And it
gets even more exciting. During the Leonids meteor shower of November 2001
some alert stargazers observed and documented on video a dazzling flash
coming from the moon's dark side.

David Palmer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, recorded
the explosion from his backyard in White Rock, N.M., using a portable
telescope and a low-light video camera. Even though it was twilight, the
flash was bright enough to be detected, Palmer says.

Leonid meteor showers are produced when particles from the tail of the comet
Tempel-Tuttle encounter the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of more than
60,000 mph. That causes the tiny grains of cometary dust to vaporize
instantly, creating the sudden flashes we see from the ground.

Unlike Earth, however, the moon doesn't have a protective atmosphere in
which meteoroids harmlessly disintegrate, says NASA's Bill Cooke. In fact,
when kilogram-size Leonids hit the lunar surface, they explode in
spectacular fashion, digging craters and melting the terrain with
temperatures reaching up to 200,000° F.
This is a composite of four successive frames (1/30 second each) showing the
impact of a meteor and its afterglow. NTSC video frames consist of two
fields (each 1/60 second) filling in first the even then the odd rows of
pixels. This causes the light-dark "Venetian blind" effect for rapidly
changing light sources such as this.
Throughout the 1970s, Apollo seismic stations recorded impacts from Leonids
and other annual meteor showers. But it's only since 1999 that explosions on
the moon have been seen from Earth, Cooke says. In fact, at least six
Leonids hit the moon in 1999, causing explosions visible from Earth.

The lack of any detectable atmosphere would deprive future lunar settlers of
both protection and the fiery shows we enjoy on Earth. For an astronaut, the
probability of being hit by a 10- to 5-gram Leonid while on the moon is only
0.00025:1, says Cooke. Nevertheless, such meteoroids have enough energy to
pierce a spacesuit and severely injure a person. "The probability of being
hit by something that might totally vaporize you, like a 10-kilogram
fragment, is a billion times less," says Cooke.

Copyright 2002, Popular Mechanics

>From Michelle R. Edwards <>

Media contact:                                     January 4,
Cheryl Dybas                                       NSF PR 02-01
(703) 292-8070/

Program contact:
H. Richard Lane
(703) 292-8551/

Biodiversity recovers more slowly than thought

The 500-million-year history of life on Earth is a series of booms and
busts. But while the busts, or extinctions, can be either sudden or gradual,
the booms, or diversifications, of new
organisms rarely occur quickly, according to a new study by a National
Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientist at the University of California at
Berkeley. A paper on the subject appears in this week's issue of the journal

"This research has profound implications for our ongoing impact on Earth's
fragile biotic communities and ecosystems," says Rich Lane, program director
in NSF's division of earth sciences, which funded the research.

A statistical analysis of the rates of extinction and origination in the
fossil record shows that life seldom rebounds rapidly from an extinction.
The results imply that the diversification of life obeys "speed limits" set
by evolutionary processes, said study author James Kirchner of UC-Berkeley.
"There seem to be biological mechanisms that limit diversification of new
organisms and control which ones become successful enough to persist," he
said. "Biodiversity is slow to recover after an extinction."

This apparent speed limit on the rate at which surviving organisms evolve
and diversify has major implications for present- day extinctions.

"If we substantially diminish biodiversity on Earth, we can't expect the
biosphere to just bounce back. It doesn't do that. The process of
diversification is too slow," Kirchner said. "The planet would be
biologically depleted for millions of years, with consequences extending not
only beyond the lives of our children's children, but beyond the likely
lifespan of the entire human species."

Kirchner has been mining a fossil database created by the late University of
Chicago paleontologist Jack Sepkoski, who catalogued the genera and families
of fossil marine animals over the past 530 million years, from the Cambrian
to the present. Using a technique called spectral analysis, Kirchner has
looked for patterns in the rates at which new organisms appear or

Last year Kirchner and colleague Anne Weil reported that the Earth needs, on
average, about 10 million years to recover from global extinctions --
whether they involve the loss of most life
on Earth or wipe out far fewer species. This was much longer than most
scientists thought.  The new results come from asking a related question:
How do rates of extinction and diversification vary, and how are they
related? This is important because, if rapid diversification is possible,
biodiversity might be able to rebound quickly from a global extinction.
Kirchner's analysis found that extinction rates and diversification rates
are about equally variable over long spans of geological time. Over shorter
periods, however, diversification rates vary much less than extinction rates
do. That means that evolution doesn't accelerate quickly in response to
rapid bursts of extinction.

One possible explanation for why diversification takes so long to rev up
after an extinction is that extinction doesn't just eliminate species or
groups of species, but takes away ecological niches. It eliminates both
organisms and the roles those organisms played in the ecosystem.  Recovery
thus becomes more complicated.  "This shows that extinction is not like
knocking chess pieces off a chessboard, with the empty squares ready for you
to plunk down new pieces," Kirchner said. "Extinction is more like knocking
down a house of cards. You only have places to put new cards as you rebuild
the structure of the house."




>From Maximiliano Rocca <>

Dear Dr. Peiser:

I just received your CCNet 3/2002...and I found copies of my two abstracts
published last year in MAPS. Thank you very much! Here in Argentina we are
living the worst economic and political crisis since 1982 and your
communication was for me a nice surprise in the middle this

I am very pleased to be in your email mailing list. For me it is an honor
and it will be very helpful for me no doubt! I am thirty five years old, I
am argentinian-italian citizen, a Systems Analyst and member of the
Meteortitical Society and Division for Planetary Sciences/American
Astronomical Society.

I am very interested in NEAs research and in impact cratering on Earth. To
be honest, several years ago, I studied Geology and Physics at the
University of Buenos Aires city but I never became a graduated student. In
Argentina jobs concerning science are so bad that I decided to stop my
career and re-start it in Computers.Then I became graduated in Systems in
1994. But, my soul loves the study of NEAs and realated subjects so I
decided to continue in my activities as "independent researcher".

Here in Argentina there is too much corruption and bureaucracy so the funds
to run scientific research do not reach their correct destinations easily.
Consequences: Many scientific public libraries of Argentina are in a
catastrophic condition: Journals like ICARUS, MAPS and others are not
present or the collections were stoped decades ago!.INSANE?.Yes, but a real
fact down here.

The best for me is to self funding my modest reasearch. Last year I
published the two abstracts you know in MAPS and I built an educative web
site (in Spanish) devoted to NEAS: It is at I put
in it the best available information concering subjects like
Origin, Detection, Lightcurves, Composition, and radar Research on NEAs,
several examples of individual NEAs and also impacts with Earth and
consequences. I would love if you could visit my web site. Most of my
contributions are modest ones, but I am very happy!

Well, thank you again!
My best wishes for you and yours in 2002!



>From Maximiliano Rocca <>

Dear Benny:

Some time ago I wrote a brief article:"Impact Structures of Argentina:
Review and Bibliography". So far it remains unpublished... a pity. Bellow
you will find a copy of it.

The Republic Argentina, in South America, has a total surface of 2,776,888
square kilometers. As 2001 the following impact sites has been reported in
this latin American nation.

1) ATLANTIC COAST, Buenos Aires Province.

So far, no positive impact crater/structure has been identified in this
area. However, strong evidence for several impact events exists in the form
of geochemical data and research of the glassy impactite layers enclosed in
the loessoid deposits of Tertiary-Quaternary age exposed in the cliffs along
the Atlantic coast of Buenos Aires Province. Those impactites are locally
known as " Escorias "and are widespread as layers in several sites. By the
published information at least 3 different impact event layers are well
identified in the area:

1-Near NECOCHEA city: Age: 46000 years.
2-Near MAR DEL PLATA city - CHAPADMALAL area: Age: 3.3 millon years.
3-An inland site in South Buenos Aires Province wich glass layers yielded an
age of  10.1 millon years. A plausible impact structure of about 15 km. May
have been identified there.
-Schultz P. H. et al.: Science 282: 2061-2063, 1998.
-Schultz P.H., Zarate M., and Hames W.E. : MAPS 35(5): pp.A143-144, 2000.

2) CAMPO DEL CIELO, Chaco Province ( S 27º30' W61º42').

The Campo del Cielo meteorite field consists, at least, of 20 meteorite
craters with an age of about 4000 years. The impactor was an Iron-Niquel
asteroid ( Type meteorite IA ) and plenty of meteorite specimens survived
the impact. Craters and meteorite fragments are widespread in an oval area
of 18.5 X 3 kms. (SW-NE). The impactor came from the SW and  entered into
the Earth's atmosphere in a low angle of about 9º. As consequence , the
asteroid broke in many pieces before creating the craters.
Crater 3 " Laguna Negra " is the largest ( 115 mts.).
Inside crater 10 "Gomez " , ( about 25 mts. ), a huge meteorite specimen
called "Chaco", of 37000 kg., was found in 1980.
Inside crater 9 " La Perdida" several meteorite pieces were discovered
weighing in total about 5200 kg..
- Cassidy W.A. et al.: Science 149: 1055-1064, 1965.
-Cassidy W.A.: Sky & telescope 34(19): 4-10, 1967.
-Cassidy W.A. in "Shock Metamorphism of Natural Materials" (B.M. French and
N.M. Short, eds. ),  Mono Books Corp., Baltimore,  pp.117-128, 1968.
-Cassidy W.A.: Journal of Geophysical Research 76: 3396-3912, 1971.
-Renard M.L. and Cassidy W.A.: JGR 76: 7916-7913, 1971.
-Cassidy W.A. and Renard M.L.: MAPS 31: 433-448, 1996.

3) RIO CUARTO , Cordoba Province. ( S32º52' W64º14' )

First noticed by airplane pilot R. Lianza in 1990, Rio Cuarto Craters are,
at least, 10 oblong structures ranging in size from Crater "A" of 4,5 X 1,1
Kms., down to structures several meters wide. They are aligned in parallel
in a NE-SW direction and they span a line of about 30 km. Exploration "in
situ" revealed glassy impactites and two H chondrite meteorite fragments,
one wich was enveloped in a shell of glassy impactite material. These oval
craters resemble the structures produced in high speed gun laboratory
experiments of low angle impacts. Probably, the impactor, a stony-iron
asteroid of about 200 mts., entered the Earth's atmosphere in a very flat
angle from the NE. Then it broke into several pieces and impacted.
-Schultz P.H. and Beatty J.K.: Sky & Telescope 83: 387-392, 1992.
-Schultz P.H. and Lianza R.E. : Nature 355: 234-237, 1992.
-Schultz P.H.  et al. : Geology 22: 889-892, 1994.
-Aldahan A.A. et al. : GFF ( Sweden ) 119: 67-72, 1997.


Although very speculative, a possible multi-rung basin impact structure has
been proposed to be in the Patagonian continental Shelf in front of Santa
Cruz Province. The evidence comes from the existence of a geophysical
circular negative gravimetric anomaly of 250 km in diameter placed between
Continent and Malvinas/Falkland Islands. It has been speculated this site to
be the place of the P-T impact event.

-Rampino M.R.: EOS ( A.G.U.  )73, p.136, 1992.
-Rampino M.R.: EOS 73, p.336, 1992.

>From Worth Crouch <

Dear Dr. Peiser:

The following NEA Tracking date from JPL illustrates the perilous situation
of civilization and possibly even the continuance of life on our planet. The
potentially hazardous asteroids listed below were only discovered in
December 2001 and are captioned by 2001 YB5. It was discovered December 12,
2001 and will be closest to the Earth January 7, 2002 when it will be about
twice the distance from the Earth as we are to the moon. Luckily during this
pass along its' orbit the asteroid will not collide with the Earth.

However, if 2001 YB5 had been on a collision course with the Earth and
resolved to impact on January 7, 2002 we would have only about 25 days to
initiate a defense against the collision. Unfortunately, we currently have
no defense even though we have the technology to develop one. Consequently,
a defense would be a moot point, and if the impact were in the right place
in the Atlantic, off the coast of the United States, all U.S. coastal cities
would be wiped out making the September 11 disaster seem insignificant. Many
other impact possibilities would also be quite devastating and catastrophic
to both the U.S. and our planet.

My point should be terribly obvious to everyone, and it is inconceivable how
foolish anyone with the NEA tracking facts at hand can be who might oppose a
planetary defense now. I feel somewhat like the intelligence officer who
cracked the Japanese code before December 7'Th and discovered the attack on
Pearl Harbor, but was unable to warn the President in time or convince him
of the impending attack. I also don't want to be like the Lieutenant in
charge of the radar station in Hawaii, who didn't report the oncoming
attacking Japanese planes, because he thought they were a flight of B-17's.

The President of the United States has easy access to the JPL data offered,
and it should now be obvious that a cosmic threat could come at any time
without much warning. Moreover, my simple analysis is not very complicated
and someone in the government must be able to figure out that we may not
have enough time to create a defense when a cosmic threat is discovered.

Consequently, we should have an asteroid/comet defense system on hand and
President Bush is charged with the defense of the United States. Why the
President doesn't order a crash program to defend his country and
collaterally the world against a threat that is much more potentially
destructive than Osama's terrible actions on September 11 is beyond me.
Especially since he could start by immediately ordering a modification to
the current missile defense system being developed to provide protection
against relatively small yet lethal asteroids like 2001 YB5.


Worth F Crouch (TALAKO)


>From Duncan Steel <>

Dear Benny,

In CCNet dated 2002 January 3 it was written (from Space Weather News):

"Astronomers have searched for a comet that shares the orbit of the
Quadrantid debris stream, but found nothing. "

This is not true. Periodic Comet Machholz 1 is rather firmly established as
the parent of the Quadrantid meteor shower, along with seven other showers
(such as the N & S Delta Aquarids). This comet is what is known as an
"octuple crosser" of the Earth's orbit, producing two sets of four showers
(the four being pre- and post-perihelion ascending and descending
intersections), those sets having quite different orbital elements. There
were several papers published in the early 1990s on this specific subject,
and I recall referencing some of them in my review on "Meteoroid Streams" at
the ACM 93 meeting (see pp.111-126 in IAU Symposium160: Asteroids, Comets,
Meteors 1993, eds. A. Milani, M. DiMartino & A. Cellini, Kluwer Publishing,
Dordrecht, Holland, 1994).

Kind regards,

Duncan Steel


>From Andrei Ol'khovatov <>

Dear Benny, and All,

There was an abstract:  TWO PUZZLING SUPERBOLIDES Meteoritics and Planetary
Science 36(9),supplement,p.A175,2001. M.C.L.Rocca-Mendoza 2779- 16A, Ciudad
de Buenos Aires, Argentina in CCNet  3/2002 - 3 January 2002. Here I would
like to say that similar mysterious light's falls near ships are known in
modern times too. For example  Yuliya Papazova (famous Bulgarian yachtwoman)
describes in her (with coauthors) book as in Pacific ocean a luminous body
fell about 100 meters from their yacht, producing a water pillar, and water
waves rocking the yacht.
Interestingly, that she writes that the light persisted for 1-2 seconds
after the fall, disappearing deeply underwater. Our planet is full of
mysteries still....

In my opinion many of these events are as I call them "geophysical meteors"
( They are most known during
earthquakes, when they are used to be called "earthquake lights". For
example, during an earthquake in the Tama Hills, Japan, June 17, 1931 "a
fireball rose in the sky and disappeared. A sound like "Bah..." was heard.
The lower sky was coloured pink-red for some time after the disappearance of
the light". For scientific discussion of  mysterious superbolides and other
related matters, Tunguska forum was just organized (remarkably that there
were reports about "red sky" in Tunguska...): By the way, I just posted in there my
comments to the Italian article on Tunguska in Astronomy and Astrophysics
377 (2001) 1081-1097, which was popularized by BBC: I
e-mailed to the Italian authors inviting them to take part in discussions of
their article, and I hope that the forum will be rather good place for
scientific discussions of Tunguska and other poorly understood events.

Andrei Ol'khovatov
Russia, Moscow


>From Göran Johansson <>
About a month ago, the possibility was discussed here that Psalm 18 was
related to a meteorite impact. On December 10 I added Biblical and Chinese
evidence that a comet was also seen. Since I wanted some kind of comment
specifically on the material I mentioned in that posting, I did not include
the rest of my material. But since no comment has appeared, I decided to
continue with the Mesopotamian material.

H. Hunger (ed.) 1992, Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Helsinki
University Press, Helsinki. Transliterations and translations of 567 clay
tablets are given in this volume. Generally these tablets have a portent in
the sky followed by some important event. A large part
of the tablets are so badly broken that in practice they are unreadable. One
is believed to be related to a real event because the name of the king is
given. For the rest of the tablets I and the editor disagree because he
refuses to believe that they are related to real events. I do however think
that we have one tablet related to a comet and a meteorite impact in the
early 10th century BCE.

Tablet number 303 in this collection includes the following "If the moon
wears a crown" and "If a star flares up and sets like a torch from west to
east". Right below I will explain why I believe this comet passed in front
of the moon, and the "star" should be a reference to the meteor. There is
also a reference to a long reign, and one of the few Babylonian kings with a
long reign did live in the early 10th century BCE. But his reign includes
the whole uncertainty interval, so this does not improve the chronological

I have checked a few percent of the phenomena on these tablets and I am
willing to accept that they include real phenomena, but right now I can't
show conclusively that this specific tablet is related to this specific
astronomical phenomenon. So please accept that I write these lines because I
hope more people will take a look on these tablets, searching for something
verifiable. There are for example solar eclipses on some tablets, and such
phenomena can be calculated. Almost all tablets were written in the early
7th century BCE, and my impression is that they include events from the
circa 900 years after the fall of the first Babylonian dynasty.

And now it is time for material which is even more problematical. A.G.
Pingré, 1783, Comètographie ou Traité historique et Théorique des Cometes,
tome I, Imprimerie royale, Paris. Yes, this is the famous old comet
catalogue which few people read nowadays. In some cases the author gives as
reference some known text from China or from some preserved author from
Classical Antiquity. But there are also some references to books printed
during the preceeding centuries.

The Chinese comet record is from the Thai-Wei Enclosure. The comet
references Pingré borrowed from early printed books are from the ecliptic.
So if there is something relevant in Pingré, it should be from Leo or Virgo.
>From the year -1001 Pingré has the following on page 251 "the brightness of
the moon in its orbit increased a lot; in addition, this star resembled a
comet, throwing a long ray from the constellation Leo". Just as in the clay
tablet I mentioned above, here we have a reference to the moon, and there is
nothing improbable with the possibility that a comet which passed through a
large part of the sky was seen also in front of the moon for a short time.

The year mentioned is clearly a little too early, but when I tried to relate
Pingré's comet records with whatever material I could find in other sources,
I quickly found that any year given in Pingré is extremely unreliable. For
this specific record, the year possibly means "circa 1000 years before the
birth of Christ". On page 252 in Pingré is a statement that the "Typhon
comet" in Pliny 2,23,91-92 appeared in -975. I have good reasons to believe
that Pliny in this case is dealing with a comet which appeared in a
completely different year, but the year Pingré suggests may mean that
something was seen circa 200 years before the first olympiad in -775. And a
date around -975 is in good agreement with what we expect from the Biblical
and Chinese material.

Any possibility to determine the exact year from Pingré? Perhaps. For a few
other comets he included statements about planets, which greatly reduced the
chronological uncertainty, but it seems that this particular comet did not
pass close to any planet even though it was in the
ecliptic. The information we have is that it was spring, because people
outside Jerusalem were threshing wheat, and the moon was in Leo, not close
to any planet. I think the earliest possible year is -977 and the latest
possible -963, if we simply take into account the reigns for three
different kings. Personally I favour a date close to the middle of the
uncertainty interval, but the best thing would be is somebody checked the
early printed books Pingré used. Something may be included which Pingré

It may sound unbelieveable that a book printed in 1783 would include such
valuable material, so far back in time. I have tried to go through the clues
in Pingré's comet records. It is not funny to read a long text on a monitor
but I think Diogenes the Babylonian (Stoic philosopher)
borrowed early records in Babylon and started observations in Cilicia. This
would had been in the middle of the second century BCE. And a kind person
sent me these references about Stoic comets: Third Vatican Mythographer
3.9.6; Servius on Aenid 10.272; Isidore, Etymologiae 3.71.17. Centuries
later, the Stoic philosophers stopped recording comets, but some
observations were preserved in Mediaeval texts. Unless I have misunderstood
something, there are about 500,000 preserved Mediaeval texts, and few are
downloaded on the internet, so it would take a lot of time to check
everything relevant. But sooner or later they will probably be downloaded.
And the early printed books Pingré mentioned still exist in a few libraries,
so anybody who knows Latin can check them after ordering photocopies.

Possibly it would be relevant to check for something relevant in early
printed astrological texts. The Stoic philosophers believed in Astrology.
The fact that only constellations in the ecliptic are mentioned, and the
chronological information is highly unreliable, possibly hints that the
material was preserved in Mediaeval astrological texts.

It is unpleasant to use material which is as unreliable as the above, but if
Pingré's sources are followed back in time, something more reliable will
perhaps be found. One important reason why I mention Pingré in this place is
that I have earlier posted messages in several different discussion groups,
but there was no reaction when I asked for comments abot his work.
Göran Johansson
University of Lund, Sweden


>From The Observer, 6 January 2002,6903,628321,00.html

Relocation and hand-outs have caused more illness than radiation, a new UN
study concludes.

Anthony Browne
Sunday January 6, 2002
The Observer

It is seen as the worst man-made disaster in history, killing tens of
thousands, making tens of millions ill, and afflicting generations to come.
Exhibitions of photographs of the deformed victims have toured the world,
raising funds and awareness.

Now a report from the United Nations on the consequences of the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster 15 years after the event comes to a very different
conclusion. It says the medical effects of radiation are far less than was
thought. The biggest damage to health has instead come from hypochondria and
well-meaning but misguided attempts to help people.

The report suggests the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people
'destroyed communities, broke up families, and led to unemployment,
depression, and stress-related illnesses'. Generous welfare benefits,
holidays, food and medical help given to anyone declared a victim of
Chernobyl have created a dependency culture, and created a sense of fatalism
in millions of people.

The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, published by the
UN Development Programme and Unicef, is a challenge to those who seek to
highlight the dangers of nuclear energy.

More than 100 emergency workers on the site of the accident on 26 April 1986
suffered radiation sickness, and 41 of them died. The biggest direct
consequences of the radiation are increases in childhood thyroid cancer,
normally a very rare disease, that increased 60-fold in Belarus, 40-fold in
Ukraine, and 20-fold in Russia, totalling 1,800 cases in all.

The report says other evidence of increases in radiation-related diseases is
very limited. 'Intensive efforts to identify an excess of leukaemia in the
evacuated and controlled zone populations and recovery workers were made
without success. There remains no internationally accredited evidence of an
excess of leukaemia.' There is also no evidence of an increase in other
cancers, and there has been no statistical increase in deformities in
babies. The only deformities related to radiation were among babies of
pregnant women working on the site at the time of the explosion.

The UN believes most of the deformed babies photographed by Western
charities to raise funds have nothing to do with Chernobyl, but are the
normal deformities that occur at a low level in every population. 'The
direct effect of radiation is not that substantial,' said Oksana Garnets,
head of the UN Chernobyl programme. 'There is definitely far more
psychosomatic illness than that caused by radiation.'

The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, particularly from less
contaminated areas, is seen as an over-reaction, which in some cases did
more harm than good. 'The first reaction was to move people out. Only later
did we think that perhaps some of them shouldn't have been moved. It has
become clear that the direct influence of radiation on health is actually
much less that the indirect consequences on health of relocating hundreds of
thousands of people,' Garnets said.

Among relocated populations, there has been a massive increase in
stress-related illnesses, such as heart disease and obesity, unrelated to

The UN is concerned about the corrosive effects of handouts to those
classified as Chernobyl victims. In Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, they get
more than 50 different privileges and benefits, including monthly payments
and free school meals, medical treatment and holidays. In Ukraine, 'victims'
get up to $100 a month.

In Ukraine, 92,000 people have been officially designated as permanently
disabled, and half of the population says their health has been affected.

'There is an incentive to get classified as a victim. People getting
benefits think they should get more and more. They think everything should
be done for them by someone else - it creates a huge sense of fatalism and
pessimism, which means they don't get on with their life,' Garnets said.

In the largely deserted village of Chernobyl, 18km from the reactor and deep
inside the government's total exclusion zone, the UN's report was welcomed
among the 600 people who have illegally returned to their old homes.

Nina Melnik, 47, who edits a local newsletter, said: 'I don't just know that
relocating people killed more than the radiation did, it is scientifically
proven. It was totally the wrong thing to do. They should open up the area
and let everyone come back.'

Copyright 2002, The Observer

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