CCNet DIGEST 7 January 1999

    Andrew Yee <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Andrew Yee <>


From Andrew Yee <>

Yale University

CONTACT: Cynthia L. Atwood, (203) 432-1326 #155

Yale Astronomers Study Superflares on Stars Just Like Our Sun

New Haven, Conn. -- In the Greek myth of Phaethon, the chariot of the
Sun inadvertently drives too close to the Earth, creating the Sahara
desert with its scorching heat. Whether that myth is based in some
small part on observations of a "superflare" emanating from the Sun and
scorching the Earth in past millennia is a question that intrigues Yale
University astrophysicists Bradley E. Schaefer and Eric P. Rubenstein.

At a news conference today during the annual meeting of the American
Astronomical Society in Austin, Tex., Schaefer and his colleagues reported
that nine stars on which superflares have been observed during the past
century are disturbingly similar to our Sun in size, age, luminosity and
rotation speed. (Other collaborators on the research were Jeremy R. King,
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.; and Constantine P.
Deliyannis, Indiana University, Bloomington).

"It's only natural to ask what would happen on Earth if such a
superflare were to suddenly occur on our Sun, or to speculate why such
flares apparently have not happened here," Schaefer said. He noted that
a superflare -- a flare 100 to 10 million times larger than the largest
flare ever seen on our Sun -- would severely disrupt radio
communication, burn out all orbiting satellites, black out power grids
worldwide, and create spectacular auroras visible from the poles to the

"Large superflares could warm a cold winter day into a hot summer day,"
he said. "But the primary damage would come from high energy radiation,
which would react in the Earth's upper atmosphere to destroy the
protective ozone layer for several years, thereby exposing the Earth's
surface to harmful ultraviolet radiation with subsequent collapse of
the food chain."

Fortunately, such grim possibilities appear to be unlikely, the
researchers agreed. Any superflares on our Sun during the last 150
years of scientific monitoring would certainly have been noted, while
any superflare within the last two millenia would likely have appeared
in the historical record as a sudden heat wave or global aurora,
Schaefer said. Furthermore, a large superflare probably would have
melted the icy surfaces of moons around Jupiter and Saturn, forming
vast flood plains. The absence of smooth frozen surfaces on these moons
means that large superflares have not occurred in the last billion
years or so. "Despite the myth of Phaethon, our Sun apparently has only
rare superflares, if any," Schaefer concluded.

Stars like our Sun have superflares an average of about once a century, the
researchers calculated, and it is just this type of star around which
planets recently were discovered, opening the door to the exciting
possibility of organic life flourishing elsewhere. It is unknown whether
recurring superflares would encourage evolution by providing an energy
source for prebiotic chemical reactions or would prevent new lifeforms from
gaining a foothold.

Next, Yale scientists hope to find more examples of superflares by
monitoring a very large number of stars -- a feat that is possible
using a Yale camera mounted on a telescope in Venezuela, which nightly
scans more than a million solar-type stars in search of mysterious
distant objects called quasars as part of the QUEST project. In
addition, theoretical work to understand the energy-release mechanism
of stars might help answer the question of which stars are prone to
superflares, Schaefer said.

One theory currently being studied by Rubenstein is that the stars on
which superflares have been observed have relatively strong magnetic
fields that interact with a nearby large planet about the size of
Jupiter, causing the build-up and periodic release of vast amounts of

Rubenstein believes that these outbursts are similar to energetic
eruptions observed from some stars in binary systems, in which a pair
of stars are gravitationally bound together and orbit around each
other. A category of binary stars called RS CVn binaries routinely have
eruptions that release as much energy as superflares, he said.

While astronomers still don't know all of the details of what causes RS
CVn binaries to flare, most accept the theory that energy is released
from the intertwined magnetic fields between the two stars. At some
point, the twisted fields suddenly reorganize into a simpler geometry
via a process called magnetic reconnection, Rubenstein said. When this
event occurs, the magnetic field emerging from one star becomes
connected temporarily to the other star, and vice versa. Stored energy
is released in the form of light and X-rays as the magnetic
reconnection occurs. "A similar process would be a physical system
composed of, say, rubber bands twisted together," Rubenstein said.
"When the elastic bands are released, they suddenly snap and fly off.
The energy is released and channeled into propelling the rubber
bands instead of producing light."

All nine of the superflares identified by Schaefer are either from
single stars or stars with companions too distant to interact
magnetically with the flaring star. However, a nearby planet could
cause the same reaction, even though the planet would be difficult to
detect, Rubenstein noted.

"Until two years ago, no planets outside of our solar system had been
detected. Now, more than a dozen planetary systems have been found,
most of which have planets with masses comparable to Jupiter that orbit
close to the parent star. In some cases, these planets are closer to
their star than Mercury is to our Sun," Rubenstein said.

If the Jupiter-sized planets around other stars also have strong
magnetic fields like Jupiter, the combination of proximity and magnetic
field strength could lead to magnetic interactions similar to those
observed in RS CVn binary systems. That interaction would then lead to
energy being stored and subsequently released in the form of a
superflare. "Fortunately for us, there is no danger of a magnetic
reconnection being triggered by Jupiter, which is too far from the Sun,
or triggered by the inner four planets, which have much smaller
magnetic field strengths," Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein's hypothesis can be tested by searching for "stars that have
strong magnetic fields and large, close-by planets," Schaefer said.
"Such stars would be more prone to superflares. In the meantime, we
should not fear Phaethon's chariot."

Note to Editors: Many of the observations for this study were made with
the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-National Optical Astronomy Observatories
(WIYN) 3.5-meter telescope atop Kitt Peak National Observatory near
Tucson, Arizona. For further information, contact Professor Schaefer at
(203) 432-3806, e-mail; or Rubenstein at
(203) 432-3028, e-mail .


From Andrew Yee <>

Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space

Contact: Buddy Nelson (510) 797-0349
Pager: (888) 916-1797


A year at the Moon: Lockheed Martin Lunar Prospector spacecraft
continues mission of discovery

SUNNYVALE, Calif., January 6, 1999 -- NASA's Lunar Prospector
spacecraft, designed and built at Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space in
Sunnyvale, has marked one year in orbit around the Moon and continues
to provide high quality data to scientists.

"Lunar Prospector has performed flawlessly over the past year," said
Dr. Alan Binder, Lunar Prospector principal investigator and director
of the Lunar Research Institute in Gilroy, Calif. "The quality of the
data we've gathered is, in some cases, a factor of ten better than that
which we promised to NASA at the outset, and we fulfilled all of our
science objectives long before this first anniversary." "Lunar
Prospector has been an extraordinarily successful mission," said Scott
Hubbard, NASA Mission Manager at the Ames Research Center in Mountain
View, Calif. "This little spacecraft has returned wonderful science and
has proved the concept of 'faster, better, cheaper'."

On December 19, 1998, the spacecraft was commanded into a 40 kilometer 
(25 mile) lunar polar orbit, down from its 100 kilometer (63 mile)
mapping orbit, signaling the transition to the extended mission. The
spacecraft will remain in the new 40-km orbit for about 4 weeks, and
then be commanded to an even closer 25-30 km (approximately 15 to 19
mile) orbital path later this month. These actions will officially
complete the end of the very successful primary mission, which began
January 1998.

The extended mission is expected to continue through June 1999, during
which time the five instruments onboard will gather additional science
data at significantly higher resolutions. These higher resolutions will
enable scientists to continue to refine their estimates concerning the
concentration and form of hydrogen detected at the north and south
lunar poles, which mission scientists interpret as deposits of water
ice. Mapping of the Moon's magnetic and gravity fields will also
benefit greatly from the lower orbit. Additionally, initial global maps
of the Moon's elements will be confirmed with the close-up data.

Lunar Prospector was launched on Jan. 6, 1998, aboard a Lockheed Martin
Athena 2 rocket and entered lunar orbit on Jan. 11, 1998. The Lunar
Prospector mission is a joint effort of Lockheed Martin Missiles &
Space, NASA Ames Research Center, and the Lunar Research Institute.
Additional important contributions came from Los Alamos National
Laboratory, the U.C. Berkeley Space Science Laboratory, and the NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center. The $63 million mission is managed by the
Ames Research Center.


Water Ice at the Poles

The north and south poles of the Moon may contain up to six billion
metric tons of water ice, a more than ten-fold increase over previous
estimates, according to scientists working with data from NASA's Lunar
Prospector mission.

Growing evidence now suggests that water ice deposits of relatively
high concentration are trapped beneath the soil in the permanently
shadowed craters of both lunar polar regions. The researchers believe
that alternative explanations, such as concentrations of hydrogen from
the solar wind, are unlikely.

In March of 1998, mission scientists reported a water signal with a
minimum abundance of one percent by weight of water ice in rocky lunar
soil (regolith) corresponding to an estimated total of 300 million
metric tons of ice at the Moon's poles. "We based those earlier,
conscientiously conservative estimates on graphs of neutron
spectrometer data, which showed distinctive dips over the lunar polar
regions," said Binder. "This indicated significant hydrogen enrichment,
a telltale signature of the presence of water ice.

"Subsequent analysis, combined with improved lunar models, shows
conclusively that there is hydrogen at the Moon's poles," Binder said.
"Though other explanations are possible, we interpret the data to mean
that significant quantities of water ice are located in permanently
shadowed craters in both lunar polar regions.

"The data do not tell us definitively the form of the water ice,"
Binder added. "However, if the main source is cometary impacts, as most
scientists believe, our expectation is that we have areas at both poles
with layers of near-pure water ice." In fact, the new analysis
"indicates the presence of discrete, confined, near-pure water ice
deposits buried beneath as much as 18 inches (40 centimeters) of dry
regolith, with the water signature being 15 percent stronger at the
Moon's north pole than at the south."

How much water do scientists believe they have found? "It is difficult
to develop a numerical estimate," said Dr. William Feldman,
co-investigator and spectrometer specialist at the Department of
Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM. "However, we calculate
that each polar region may contain as much as three billion metric tons
of water ice."

Elemental Composition Maps

In other results, data from Lunar Prospector's gamma ray spectrometer
have been used to develop the first global maps of the Moon's elemental
composition. The maps delineate large compositional variations of
thorium, potassium and iron over the lunar surface, providing insights
into the Moon's crust as it was formed. The distribution of thorium and
potassium on the Moon's near side supports the idea that some portion
of materials rich in these trace elements was scattered over a large
area as a result of ejection by asteroid and comet impacts.

Lunar Magnetic Fields

Mission scientists also report the detection of strong, localized
magnetic fields. While the magnetic fields are relatively weak and not
global in nature like those of most planets, the Moon does contain
magnetized rocks on its upper surface, according to data from Lunar
Prospector's magnetometer and electron reflectometer. The resultant
strong, local magnetic fields create the two smallest known
magnetospheres in the Solar System.

These mini-magnetospheres are located diametrically opposite to large
impact basins on the lunar surface, leading scientists to conclude that
the magnetic regions formed as the result of these titanic impacts. One
theory is that these impacts produced a cloud of electrically charged
gas that expanded around the Moon in about five minutes, compressing
and amplifying the pre-existing, primitive ambient magnetic field on
the opposite side. This field was then "frozen" into the surface crust
and retained as the Moon's then-molten core solidified and the global
field vanished

Gravity Map of the Moon

Using data from Prospector's Doppler gravity experiment, scientists
have developed the first precise gravity map of the entire lunar
surface. In the process, they have discovered seven previously unknown
mass concentrations, lava-filled craters on the lunar surface known to
cause gravitational anomalies. Three are located on the Moon's near
side and four on its far side. This new, high-quality information will
help engineers determine the long-term, altitude-related behavior of
lunar-orbiting spacecraft, and more accurately assess fuel needs for
possible future Moon missions.

Iron Lunar Core

Finally, Lunar Prospector data suggests that the Moon has a small,
iron-rich core approximately 186 miles (300 kilometers) in radius,
which is toward the smaller end of the range predicted by most current
theories. "This theory seems to best fit the available data and models,
but it is not a unique fit," cautioned Binder. "We will be able to say
much more about this when we get magnetic data related to core size
later in the mission." Ultimately, a precise figure for the core size
will help constrain models of how the Moon originally formed.

Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is a
leading supplier of satellites and space systems to military, civil
government and commercial communications organizations around the
world. These spacecraft and systems have enhanced military and
commercial communications; provided new and timely remote-sensing
information; and furnished new data for thousands of scientists
studying our planet and the universe.


From Andrew Yee <>

University of California-Berkeley


Mars Microphone, built at UC Berkeley and funded by the Planetary Society,
Launched Jan. 3

By Susan Lendroth, Planetary Society

The Martian hills are alive with the sounds of ... what? Wind,
sandstorms, lightning? No one yet knows what we may hear or even
whether there will be sounds on Mars, but we may have the answer within
one year.

On January 3, 1999, the Mars Polar Lander was launched, carrying the
first microphone to the Red Planet. The Mars Microphone was developed
for the Planetary Society by the University of California, Berkeley
Space Sciences Laboratory. It is flying aboard the Mars Polar Lander
within a lidar instrument built by the Russian Space Research Institute

The Mars Microphone is a milestone since it is the first scientific
instrument funded by a public-interest organization to fly aboard a
planetary mission. The microphone was funded by donations from Planetary
Society members.

The lidar is also a milestone -- a milestone in cooperation between
Russia and the United States since it will be the first Russian
instrument to fly aboard a US planetary mission.

The idea of placing a microphone on Mars was suggested by Planetary
Society President Carl Sagan several years ago. Sagan later wrote in a
1996 letter to NASA, "Even if only a few minutes of Martian sounds are
recorded from this first experiment, the public interest will be high
and the opportunity for scientific exploration real."

Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Society, developed the means
to implement the idea by working with the Russian lidar team, the
University of California, Berkeley, and the Mars Polar Lander project.

Friedman says, "Placing a microphone to listen in on another world is a
real opportunity for discovery. The interest of the public is matched
by that of the engineering and science teams on the mission -- everyone
wants to hear what Mars sounds like."

The Mars Microphone can record natural sounds on Mars, such as wind,
dust and electrical discharges in the Martian atmosphere, as well as
noises of the moving parts of the spacecraft. The microphone can be
triggered randomly by naturally occurring sounds or it can be
programmed to listen to specific lander actions, such as when the arm
digs in the soil.

The UC Berkeley team of Janet Luhmann, Dave Curtis, and Greg Delory
built the Mars Microphone from mostly off-the-shelf parts, including a
microphone used in hearing aids and a microprocessor chip used in
speech-recognition devices and talking toys. The Mars Microphone uses
Sensory, Inc's RSC-164 IC (Integrated Circuit or "chip"), the most
popular IC for speech recognition in consumer electronics.

The Russian lidar is designed to examine dust and aerosols in the
atmosphere. Principal Investigators of the lidar experiment are
Viacheslav Linkin and Alexander Lipatov of IKI.

Students around the world are invited to participate in a Planetary
Society essay contest to predict what sounds might be heard on Mars.
The Society will conduct the contest in cooperation with Arizona State
University's Mars K-12 Education Program. Students will write essays
about what sounds on Mars might be like now as well as a hundred years
from now, imagining a future Mars that might be very different from the
planet today, perhaps colonized by humans. The contest winner will
receive a trip to Planetfest '99 in December. For more information on
the contest, contact Linda Hyder at (626)793-5100 or at

Data -- the sounds -- from the Mars Microphone will be offered to the
public on the Planetary Society's World Wide Web site and in material
developed by the Society in cooperation with other organizations.
Educators will be able to log onto the Society's Web site for special
curriculum devoted to the Mars Microphone. The Planetary Society's
address is . Berkeley's Web site is .

Other instruments on the Mars Polar Lander include cameras, a robotic
arm, and soil composition instruments. Two penetrators (or microprobes)
will also be sent to the surface on that mission.

The Mars Polar Lander will arrive at Mars on December 3, 1999. The
Planetary Society will celebrate the landing with a major public event
in Pasadena, California called Planetfest '99, held December 3-5, 1999.

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman founded the Society in
1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the
search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in more than 100
countries, the Society is the largest space-interest group in the

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From Julian Hiscox <>

In his thought for the day Andrew Glikson made a number of statements
which are not entirely accurate and deserve comment as in my opinion
these are popular misconceptions.

> (1) Primitive organisms survive longer than complex organisms, as
> exemplified by prokaryote alga colonies (stromatolites) identified in
> 3.5 billion years-old sediments in the Pilbara (Western Australia)
> and still living at present in the inter-tidal flats of Shark Bay, a
> few hundred kilometer away - with implications for the longevity of
> the highly specialized Homosapiens

The stromatolites identified in the 3.5 billion year old deposits in
Greenland and Australia are not the same as those living today. The
stromatolites of yesteryear are long dead but their descendants are
alive today. In fact all species on this planet are probably derived
from these ancient microbes. The current micro-organisms resembling the
micro-fossils diverged from the ancestral tree before Homo sapiens (two
words) and occupy the same niche.

Bacteria are not primitive. They happen to divide and reproduce faster
than more 'advanced' organisms such as ourselves. The cellular
machinery and replication mechanisms are complex and geared towards
rapid replication. Hence bacteria are able to respond to environmental
changes because the adaptation necessary to survive such changes are
already present in the population.

>(2) Organisms which live in symbiosis are biologically successful, 
> whereas those which destroy their hosts perish with them - as 
> exemplified by various strands of viruses and bacteria. The lesson
> for Homosapiens is obvious.

Not necessary. Symbiotic organisms are successful but the majority of
organisms on the planet are parasites in one way or another and are
very successful at what they do. Pathogenic viruses and bacteria are
the obvious manifestations of this. The sole purpose of life, if you
agree with Richard Dawkins (and I do), is to pass on your DNA (or RNA
in the case of some viruses). If you happen to be good at this then
what is the problem?

>(3) Growth for growth sake - whether by DNA, or of the national GNP,
> whether within individual planets or within interplanetary systems,
> may not be biologically advantageous or even possible. Nature has her
> checks and balances - exhaustion of resources, increasing
> environmental toxicity, microbes, genetic mutations ... Is growth in
> quantity more  important than growth in quality? Does intelligence
> reside in blind  following of unchecked exponential growth, as is
> occurring at present  on Earth, or in the recognition of the limits
> to growth? 

Growth is advantageous because you have the maximum number of
individuals with different genotypes and phenotypes which are able to
respond as a population to an environmental change. Genetic mutations
are an inherent part of replication of any organism on this planet and
are one of the causes of variations seen within a population - which
thus allow a population to respond to an environmental change.

> Two recommendations to the uninitiated: One - visit a remote Amazon 
> tribe, or an Australian aborigine clan, and experience the simple 
> beauty of life in harmony with nature. Two -  visit your local video 
> store and discover for yourself whether you are still intent on 
> exporting such (unfortunately dominant) homicide and obscene
> barbarism to other planets? If today's science fiction is tomorrow's
> reality, the planetcide scenes which dominate Star Wars movies
> forebodes ill to our  planetary neighbors ...

Disease and starvation are rampant in Amazon tribes, hence the high
infant (and adult) mortality rates (the aborigines on the other hand
have access to Western medicine). Amazonian tribes (historically) have
always been at war, cannibalism was frequently practiced. Surely
some of these tribes are good examples of 'homicide and obscene

Dr. Julian A. Hiscox




From Andrew Glikson <>

The emerging ideology that sees human destiny as intrinsically
intertwined with space colonisation invites a comment from geological,
biological, and ethical perspectives. In terms of my studies of
terrestrial origins and the effects of asteroid/comet impacts on
evolution, I regard the protection of bio-diversity and human life -
including potential deflection of incoming asteroids - as high ideals.
What concerns me are suggestions whose logical consequences, as I will
attempt to indicate below, can only be detrimental to the prospects of
life - on Earth as well as other planets.

Evolutionary sciences teach us, among other, that:

(1) Primitive organisms survive longer than complex organisms, as
exemplified by procaryote algal colonies (stromatolites) identified in
3.5 billion years-old sediments in the Pilbara (Western Australia) and
still living at present in the inter-tidal flats of Shark Bay, a few
hundred kilometer away - with implications for the longevity of the
highly specialized Homosapiens

(2) Organisms which live in symbiosis are biologically successful,
whereas those which destroy their hosts perish with them - as
exemplified by various strands of viruses and bacteria. The lesson for
Homosapiens is obvious.

(3) Growth for growth sake - whether by DNA, or of the national GNP,
whether within individual planets or within interplanetary systems, may
not be biologically advantageous or even possible.  Nature has her
checks and balances - exhaustion of resources, increasing environmental
toxicity, microbes, genetic mutations ... Is growth in quantity more
important than growth in quality?  Does intelligence reside in blind
following of unchecked exponential growth, as is occurring at present
on Earth, or in the recognition of the limits to growth? 

The assumption of superior human intelligence and moral authority
inherent in the ideology of space colonization is questionable at best.
The effects of Homosapiens on the biosphere, in terms of deforestation,
soil erosion, ozone depletion, global warming, chemical and radioactive
pollution, and - not least - the disappearance of other species, have
been compared to those caused by an impact of a large asteroid.  It is
a first order ethical question whether most or all of the existing
resources should not, first and foremost, be harnessed to counteract
these deleterious antropogenic environmental effects.

Unfortunately, the questions of space colonization and of the rapid
deterioration of the terrestrial biosphere can not be divorced from one
another. Resources are limited - the $$$trillions required for space
colonization are the very same $$$trillions required for attempted
restoration of the terrestrial environment.

These are also the same $$$trillions required to feed and alleviate the
suffering of billions of already living human beings.  This century's
tragic history warns us gravely against any ideologies and "High
Causes" which claim priority over the life and death of ordinary human
beings. Space colonization may sound like destiny, a perpetration of
our genes into space and time (biologically in terms of the "Selfish
Gene"), perhaps a mission as divine as the building of the pyramids was
for the Pharaohs... Contrast such messianic zeal with the feeding of a
starving child... The question touches on our deepest moral values as
individuals and as a society.  

Two recommendations to the uninitiated: One - visit a remote Amazon
tribe, or an Australian aborigine clan, and experience the simple
beauty of life in harmony with nature. Two -  visit your local video
store and discover for yourself whether you are still intent on
exporting such (unfortunately dominant) homicide and obscene barbarism
to other planets? If today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality, the
planetcide scenes which dominate Star Wars movies forebodes ill to our
planetary neighbors ...

Let me quote Carl Sagan's concluding words to Cosmos: "Our loyalties
are to the species and the planet. We speak for the Earth. Our
obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but to that Cosmos,
ancient and vast, from which we spring.". 

CCCMENU CCC for 1999