CCNet 8/2001 - 16 January 2001

"Last year a group of pretty classy British scientists looked at the
potential for Earth to get bonked by passing asteroids and concluded that
we had better start worrying about it. But before we can worry with any
specificity, we need to know where these run-amuck flying chunks of
real estate are and - more to the point - where they seem to be headed. So
now the idea is to build a top-of-the-line telescope and plunk it down
in Liverpool."
--Bill Tammeus, The Kansas City Star, 15 January 2001

"Earth had a small visitor in the early hours of Monday morning. At
about 1115 GMT (3:15am PST), an object 5 metres long and weighing roughly
385 kg hurtled 6,000 kms above the Indian Ocean off the tip of Cape
Horn. This wasn't a near miss by an Earth crossing asteroid. It was the
Stardust probe executing a flyby planned by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory."
--Mark Perew, The Universe Today, 15 January 2001

    The Kansas City Star, 15 January 2001

    The Universe Today, 15 January 2001

    The New York Times, 16 January 2001

    Andrew Yee <>

    Space Daily, 15 January 2001

    Michael Paine <>


From The Kansas City Star, 15 January 2001,opinion/37750a86.110,.html

By BILL TAMMEUS, Kansas City Star

It's time to rejoice. No, not because the incoming Bush Cabinet looks like
nearly the polar opposite of the cast of "Temptation Island." What's to
celebrate about that? Rather, we should applaud because Liverpool, the
English city that once gave us the Beatles, may save the planet.
It's not easy to save the planet. Lots of people have tried and been
frustrated at the results. But Liverpool may get it done.

How will this happen you ask. It pleases me that you ask this. It shows you
haven't drifted off here in just the fourth paragraph and that I have an
outside chance of keeping you from resting in the inviting arms of Morpheus
(you could look him up) for several more sentences.

Liverpool, it turns out, may become the site of a warning system to track
asteroids headed for a collision with Earth. If a big enough asteroid ever
hits Earth, you can pretty much cash out your 401(k) and move to the planet
Tralfamadore or somewhere. And it's not just scare talk that such a thing
could occur. Scientists believe that kind of collision led to the extinction
of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, give or take a fortnight. It may
well have, too, for all I know.

I wasn't around then. I appeared 64,999,945 years later and can't be held
responsible for anything that occurred before 1945 - and darn little after
that, except for this column, and I'm willing to apologize even for it.
Besides, Earth has had several so-called "near misses" by asteroids in
recent years. Why they're called that instead of "near hits" is a cosmic
mystery on a par with why we park in driveways and drive in parkways, but if
you get all focused on that, you'll near miss the rest of the Liverpool

Last year a group of pretty classy British scientists looked at the
potential for Earth to get bonked by passing asteroids and concluded that we
had better start worrying about it. But before we can worry with any
specificity, we need to know where these run-amuck flying chunks of real
estate are and - more to the point - where they seem to be headed. So now
the idea is to build a top-of-the-line telescope and plunk it down in

Some British Parliament members from the Liverpool area have gone to bat for
the project, which could create as many as 50 or 60 jobs. That, by my count,
is 50 or 60 more jobs than Prince Charles holds today. Benny Peiser, a
researcher at Liverpool's John Moores University, says the implications for
Liverpool, if it got the space-scanning telescope, "are quite stunning."
(Maybe, but it's hard to imagine anything more stunning for Liverpool than
to be known as the home of the boys who told the world they want to hold our
hand - to say nothing of our money.)

Even the well-known science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke favors Liverpool
as the city to save us from asteroidal disaster. "Such an undertaking," he
says, "will be a significant technical challenge, but the result will
contribute substantially to the protection of our only home - the Earth."

I'm voting for Liverpool, too, for several reasons. Not only have I always
loved the name - it gives me warm visions of puddles of bile - but Liverpool
has a wonderful history, dating back to 1207, when King John (Lennon? I
dunno) granted a charter for a town there. You've got to admit that not much
in United States history goes back to 1207. Well, except for several members
of the new Bush Cabinet.

Bill Tammeus  is a member of the Editorial Board. His essay column appears
on Saturdays and Mondays. To reach him, call (816) 234-4437 or send e-mail

Copyright 2001, The Kansas City Star


From The Universe Today, 15 January 2001

by Mark Perew

PASADENA, Calif. - Earth had a small visitor in the early hours of Monday
morning. At about 1115 GMT (3:15am PST), an object 5 metres long and
weighing roughly 385 kg hurtled 6,000 kms above the Indian Ocean off the tip
of Cape Horn. This wasn't a near miss by an Earth crossing asteroid. It was
the Stardust probe executing a flyby planned by the Jet Propulsion

Launched just under two years ago, Stardust is NASA's Discovery mission to
bring miniscule bits of comet debris back to planet Earth. But, that event
won't happen for another five years. This morning's visit was just a quick
visit home to pick up more speed and put it on a better trajectory for the
comet it will sample in three years.

Comet Wild-2 is named for Swiss discoverer Paul Wild (pronounced 'vilt') who
located the comet in 1978. Wild-2 is currently out beyond the orbit of
Jupiter, just passed aphelion, the farthest point from the sun in its
eccentric orbit. Tracking backwards, astronomers determined that Wild-2 was
a newcomer to the inner solar system. Prior to 1974, Wild-2's orbit would
have been between Jupiter and Uranus, but a close encounter with Jupiter
severely altered its path and brought it inside the asteroid belt for the
first time.

This makes Wild-2 nearly pristine and of prime interest to scientists
wanting to know not only what comets are made of, but also what the solar
system was like in its early days. By the time Stardust arrives at Wild-2 on
January 2, 2004, the comet will have made only a handful of trips into the
inner solar system. Only a tiny fraction of its volatiles, such as water and
carbon dioxide, will have been lost to the interplanetary environment.

When Stardust and Wild-2 meet, the comet will be just slightly past its
perihelion where solar heating will cause gasses and particles to be ejected
from the comet's nucleus. Onboard Stardust an array of super lightweight
foam, called aerogel, will be deployed to catch microscopic particles
without damaging them. The aerogel has already been used once on this
mission to collect dust from the interstellar wind and will be used once
more for that purpose before the encounter with Wild-2.

All of this aerogel will be returned to Earth in almost exactly five years.
On its next swing by Earth, Stardust will eject its return canister which
will reenter the atmosphere. That .6 metre long, 45 kg canister will
parachute to a landing in Utah.

Stardust's return has been free of the protests, demonstrations and lawsuits
seen during the previous flybys of Galileo and Cassini. Since Stardust is
powered by large solar arrays, and not by plutonium based radioisotope
thermal generators, this flyby just hasn't created much of a sensation.

That doesn't mean that Stardust has been a perfect mission. A massive solar
flare last November hit Stardust with enough energy to make it see stars, or
in this case, stars that weren't really there. That caused the onboard
computer to become confused. Eventually the bogus stars faded from
Stardust's electronic eyes and the system is now in good shape.

You can track the position of Stardust at

Mark Perew is a freelance writer, a member of the National Association of
Science Writers and a JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Copyright © 1999-2000 Universe Today, All rights reserved.


From The New York Times, 16 January 2001

AN DIEGO, Jan. 12 - Drawing on a sample of one, the solar system, scientists
could perhaps be excused for adopting a rather simplistic model for the
formation and behavior of planets orbiting stars.

Now their confidence in the general applicability of the solar-system model
has been repeatedly shaken. Since 1995, astronomers have found single giant
planets around more than 50 distant stars. Many of the planets are several
times as massive as Jupiter, the Sun's mightiest companion (318 times
Earth's mass), and their orbits are strikingly different from planets in
this solar system.

The first observations of multiple-planet systems around other stars have
deepened the consternation of astronomers and theorists of planetary
dynamics. Last year astronomers reported the detection of three large
planets -- two of them with masses much greater than Jupiter's -- orbiting a
solar-type star. Of greatest interest, all of them were much closer -- what
once would have been thought to be impossibly close -- to the star than
Jupiter is to the Sun.

Last week astronomers announced the discovery of two more planetary systems,
and they did nothing to clarify matters.

Describing the findings at a meeting in San Diego of the American
Astronomical Society, Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy of the University of California
at Berkeley, whose team has made at least two-thirds of the extrasolar
planet discoveries, said the newfound systems revealed how much astronomers
still had to learn about the diversity of planets elsewhere in the universe.
One of them, a whopper with at least 17 times and perhaps as much as 40
times the mass of Jupiter, raised troubling questions about the very meaning
of the term "planet."

Theorists have their work cut out for them. "I'll lose sleep over this,"
joked Dr. Douglas N. C. Lin, a theorist of planetary dynamics at the
University of California's Santa Cruz campus.

If they are clever enough, Dr. Lin said, theorists who wrestle with the
discoveries should gain an understanding of the reasons for such manifest
diversity in extrasolar planets. The dynamics of these bizarre objects, he
added, could also provide clues to some of the forces and turns of fate that
leave certain planetary systems chaotic and others more stable and thus
possibly hospitable to life.

Dr. Hal Levison, a specialist in planetary formation at the Southwest
Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said the findings would force him to
make major changes in his computer models for simulating possible ways for
gas and dust surrounding new stars to accrete into planets.

In the standard model based primarily on the solar system, planets form out
of the gas, dust and rock in a disk surrounding a new star. Planets close to
the warmth of a star have a rocky composition like Earth's. Those in the
colder outer region develop a core of rock and ice with the gravity to
attract a tremendous mass of lightweight hydrogen and helium gas from the
protoplanetary disk. Both the inner and outer planets should have almost
circular orbits in the same plane.

But nearly all of the known planets around other stars travel in highly
eccentric orbits and even those with super-Jupiter masses are found much
closer to their stars. These findings have already forced theorists like Dr.
Lin and others to invent migration theories, explaining how these large
planets might have formed at greater distances and then, responding to
gravitational forces of their stars and a residual protoplanetary disk,
worked their way in closer.

As far as astronomers know, the stars observed to have single planets may
well have many others that have eluded detection. Some of them could be
Earth-size, too small for detection with current telescope technology. There
could be other Jupiter-class planets in more distant orbits, but it would
take many years of steady observation to be sure. None of the extrasolar
planets has been seen; they are detected indirectly by the effects of their
gravity on the motions of their central star.

The latest discoveries have further complicated matters. Around the star
HD168443, Dr. Marcy's group detected a large planet with seven or eight
times the mass of Jupiter. It is accompanied in an only slightly more
distant orbit by the whopper with a mass equivalent to more than 17
Jupiters. "It is literally off our scale," said a member of the Marcy team,
Dr. R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

From recent research Dr. Marcy and Dr. Butler proposed that planets could be
no greater than the mass at which deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, would start
to burn in the object's core. That would be about 13 times the Jovian mass.
Most theorists have agreed to somewhat similar outer physical limits for

Either they are wrong or scientists may have to assume that the whopper
could be a dim failed star known as a brown dwarf. Such objects presumably
form like stars, through the sudden gravitational collapse of a gas cloud,
but they never achieve the masses required to ignite the thermonuclear
processes that make stars shine. Such a transformation is thought to require
the accumulation of mass greater than 80 Jupiters.

But for now scientists are resisting any such designation. "Using the term
`brown dwarf' is simply sweeping the physics under the rug," Dr. Butler
said. "It doesn't explain anything."

Dr. Levison agreed that using mass alone to differentiate between planets
and brown dwarfs might be invalid. The defining difference, he said, is
presumably how they formed, and astronomers have no way yet to establish how
the enormous mystery object originated.

Some astronomers suspect that the unusually huge planet may well be a type
of astronomical object that has never been observed before.

One reason scientists have had trouble understanding how the multiplicity of
newly discovered objects could indeed be true planets has been their
inability to conceive of how such large bodies had time to form. Their
models suggested that planets the mass of Jupiter, or greater, would require
a few million years to form, and yet the protoplanetary disks observed
around young stars often last less an one million years. Only a few older
stars still possess disks after five million years.

But in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Nature, American and European
astronomers reported new observations of molecular hydrogen in these disks
showing greater than expected reservoirs of gas on which emerging
Jupiter-class planets could draw. This also suggested that some Jovian
planets could have longer formation time scales of up to 10 million to 20
million years.

"Further measurements of hydrogen on dust disks around a wide range of stars
may be the key to new insights in this area," said Dr. Jack J. Lissauer of
NASA's Ames Research Center. The manner in which gas is removed from a
protoplanetary disk, he explained, may also "have as much influence on the
ultimate configuration of the planetary system as does the lifetime of the

Dr. Lissauer noted that if the disks of material persisted longer,
gravitational interactions between them and the new planets could contribute
to the migrations of such huge bodies in closer to their stars, where they
were found in the recent discoveries.

Scientists now realize that the solar system may not be typical and that in
this as in so many respects, the universe can be maddeningly diverse and
sometimes disrespectful of conventional wisdom.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company 

From Andrew Yee <>

ESA Science News

15 Jan 2001

A shocking time for Cluster

Studies of near-Earth space will never be the same again. For the first time
in the history of space exploration, identical instruments on four
spacecraft have begun to return simultaneous measurements of a region of
space known as the bow shock.

By comparing these unique sets of data, scientists are obtaining their first
three-dimensional view of this turbulent "barrier" that separates the realms
of the Sun and the Earth.

Most people will have seen the white, foaming bow wave created as a large
ship ploughs through the ocean. Less familiar is the bow shock in space that
is created as the sea of plasma (electrically charged particles) from the
Sun sweeps past spaceship Earth.

The Earth's bow shock marks the place where electrons and protons in this
solar wind first encounter the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet --
the magnetosphere. Travelling at speeds of more than 1 million km/h, these
particles are suddenly slowed to subsonic speeds as they slam into the
Earth's magnetic shield.

The general features and location of this region have been determined by
various spacecraft over the years. For example, cientists are well aware
that the position of the bow shock fluctuates considerably as changes in the
pressure of the solar wind cause the magnetic bubble to balloon in
and out.

What Cluster provides is the first opportunity to study the bow shock
simultaneously from four different spacecraft. Since the mid-December 2000,
the quartet have been flying in tetrahedral formation through the invisible
boundary, travelling from the outer magnetosphere (the
magnetosheath) into the solar wind and back again.

Four data plots obtained on 22 December by the WHISPER instrument on each
spacecraft display the dramatic changes that occurred during one of
Cluster's first crossings of the bow shock.

At 08.15 GMT (09.15 CET) all four spacecraft were flying in the
magnetosheath, where the plasma is quite dense. This is shown in the WHISPER
data as high frequency waves in the plasma (pale blue line at top left).

At about 08.25 GMT (09.25 CET), WHISPER detected strong wave emissions
(red/black area) when each spacecraft crossed the bow shock. However, the
exact time of crossing varied over a period of a few minutes for each

This was followed by a data "plateau", characterised by lower frequency
emissions in the less dense plasma of the solar wind. Approximately 10
minutes later, at 08.35 GMT (09.35 CET), the quartet headed back across the
bow shock (second red/black area) and returned into the magnetosheath.

"The interesting thing is that the four spacecraft don't cross the bow shock
at the same time," said WHISPER Principal Investigator Pierrette Décréau.
"This will give us important information about the shape of the bow shock
and allow us to study in detail what is happening there by looking upstream
(toward the Sun) and downstream (toward Earth) at the same time."

The early morning events of 22 December were repeated later on the same day
as the Cluster quartet once more penetrated the bow shock and entered the
Sun's domain. On this occasion, when they were almost 125,000 km from Earth,
their spell of bathing in the solar wind lasted for 11 hours.

"The first bow shock crossing in the morning seems to have taken place when
the magnetosphere was compressed by the solar wind," explained Cluster
project scientist Philippe Escoubet. "Fairly rapid shifts in the position of
the bow shock allowed the spacecraft to re-enter the magnetosphere and then
go back into the solar wind later that day."

"Since then, there has been a series of bow shock crossings during each
orbit, so we are continuing to gather a great deal of exciting new data on
this region where the solar wind meets the magnetosphere," he added.


* Cluster homepage
* WEC homepage


[Image 1: ]
Four data plots from the WHISPER electrical waves instrument on each Cluster
spacecraft. The frequency/time spectrogram data were obtained between 08.15
and 08.45 GMT (09.15 - 09.45 CET) on 22 December 2000. Each spacecraft
crossed the bow shock (red/black peaks) at slightly different times, but the
crossings generally occurred at around 08.25 and 08.35 GMT (09.25 and 09.35
CET). At that time, spacecraft 2 (Salsa) was more westward than the other
three spacecraft, and so it spent more time in the solar wind.

The middle section of each graph -- between about 08.25 and 08.35 GMT --
shows a plasma frequency of 40 kHz in the solar wind (where plasma density
was about 20 particles per cm3). Before and after the bow shock crossings,
the Cluster spacecraft were in the magnetosheath, where plasma density was
about 70 particles per cm3.and plasma frequency was
about 75 kHz.

Data courtesy of Dr. Pierrette Décréau of LPCE/CNRS, the University of
Orleans, France

[Image 2: ]
Earth's bow shock on 22 Dec. 2000. The four Cluster spacecraft crossed the
bow shock into the solar wind at around 08:25 UT. The Cluster orbit is shown
as a dotted line when the spacecraft are inside the magnetosphere and the
magnetosheath and as a solid line when they are in the solar wind.

[Image 3: ]
SC2-Salsa is crossing the Bow shock and moving into the solar wind at 08:23

[Image 4: ]
SC1-Rumba and SC3-Samba crossed the bow shock at around 08:24:30 and
SC4-Tango shortly after around 08:25 UT. The spacecraft are in a tetrahedral
configuration (triangular pyramid) and are giving information about the 3D
geometry of the bow shock and about the physical processes taking place
upstream and downstream of the bow shock. The distance between the
spacecraft was approximately 600 km.


From Space Daily, 15 January 2001
MOSCOW (AFP) Jan 12, 2001

The Russian foreign ministry will provide governments around the world with
details when it starts destroying the Mir space station at the beginning of
March, the Russian space agency said on Friday.

The space agency and the foreign ministry have agreed that "complete
information about the project of destroying the station will be given to
countries concerned about it," agency spokesman Yuri Koptev told ITAR-TASS.

Two emergency teams that could be sent to the ageing space station began
simulation exercises at the cosmonaut training facility near Moscow on

Russia's space control centre lost contact with Mir for about 20 hours on
December 25, fuelling fears the laboratory could fall to Earth out of

All rights reserved. © 2000 Agence France-Presse


From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny,

I have received an invitation to an interesting workshop next week: "First
International Workshop On Field Propulsion" January 20-22, 2001 at the
University of Sussex, Brighton England

More details are at

This appears to be concerned with utilising "zero point energy" for space
propulsion, amongst other things. In the "Sources" section of his novel
"3001: the final odyssey" Arthur C Clarke discusses Zero Point Field and
concludes "By comparison nuclear energy look as feeble as a
damp match. And how many supernovae, I wonder, are industrial accidents?"

Pity I don't have my ZPE shuttle ready to get there from Australia in time!
(I might joke about it but I welcome the serious discussion of the concept).

Michael Paine

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