CCNet, 09/2000 - 24 January 2000


     "[We] witnessed an extraordinary bright light in the sky. It
     got very dark, then very bright, then it went pitch black and
     returned to an orange pink colour. Seconds later, a
     massive explosion was felt, and it was rather traumatic.”
        -- Gina Nagano, on the Yukon impact event

     "While there is much doubt by many other scientists that the flu
     comes from space, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are
     generating a lot of interest with their idea.”
        -- Robert Roy Britt

     "It should be noted that these particles are of such sizes that
     they would not be destructively heated whilst being stopped in
     the stratosphere. Thus some 10^25 or more bacterial/viral
     particles would be available annually for descent through the
     troposphere to serve as the nuclei of raindrops, and thence to
     fall to ground level. In a typical influenza pandemic with 10^9 
     people shedding some 10^11 viral particles each throughout an
     year, the total number of viruses exuded by humans will be 10^20
     - several orders of magnitude less than the number of
     viral/bacterial particles from comets reaching the surface of the
          -- Sir Fred Hoyle & Chandra Wickramasinghe

    ASTRONOMY NOW, 23 January 2000

    WHITEHORSE STAR, 21 January 2000

    Robert Roy Britt

    Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe <>

    Andrew Glikson <>   

    COMET-CATCHING  MISSION, 21 January 2000

    NEAR Mission Status Reports <>


    BBC Online News, 24 January 2000


From ASTRONOMY NOW, 23 January 2000

Posted: Jan. 23, 2000

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., participated in a
data recovery mission for one of the largest meteor events of the past
10 years.

One of Dryden's Airborne Sciences ER-2 aircraft flew to the Yukon
Territory of northwestern Canada on January 21, 2000, in an effort to
collect atmospheric samples of a very large meteor that exploded at an
altitude of 25 kilometers (15.6 miles) on January 18, 2000. The region,
near the town of Carcross, is predominantly unpopulated.

Samples of the debris cloud and vapor trail were gathered at an altitude
of 65,000 feet with an instrument called the Aerosol Particulate Sampler
(APS). The APS is a system of two small five-inch by four-inch paddles
that deploy simultaneously from the ER-2's left wingtip. The paddles
have silicone oil on them that, when exposed to the airstream for a
sufficient amount of time, collect particles from the stratosphere. Then
the paddles are withdrawn into hermetic enclosures to avoid
contamination during the aircraft's return to Dryden. The paddles will
be removed and sent to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for

Dryden's ER-2 also carried a camera, called the Dual RC-10, capable of
taking black and white photos of eight-mile wide swaths of the region in
an effort to locate any impact craters and other scarring of the earth,
such as flattened areas of forest, that may have been caused by the
explosion and impact of meteorites that separated from the meteor.

Scientists are very interested in discovering the composition of the
meteor in an effort to learn more about its origins and makeup.

The Department of Defense is interested in knowing the composition of
the meteor in order to calibrate sensors that detected the fireball.
Collection of cosmic dust or meteorite samples would permit this.

The meteor detonated with the energy of two to three kilotons of TNT.
The extremely bright fireball was detected by defense satellites and
recorded on seismic monitoring instruments. The meteor produced twin
sonic booms and a sizzling sound over Alaska and northwestern Canada.

The unexpected visitor ionized the atmosphere as it entered, leaving a
glowing vapor trail that could be seen up to one and a half hours
afterwards. Two bright green flashes were observed. A foul odor could be
detected in the region in the hours following the event.

On June 30, 1908, a huge explosion occurred in the sky above the central
Siberian wilderness near the Tunguska River in Russia. The concussion
from the blast, estimated at 20 megatons of TNT, leveled trees in an
area nearly 40 miles in diameter. Oddly, the explosion produced no
crater or other evidence of impact.

Scientists at NASA and the University of Wisconsin conducted a computer
simulation that strongly suggests that the Tunguska culprit was an
asteroid, the most common class of meteorite. The simulation indicated
that an asteroid about 100 feet in diameter and moving at a speed of 10
miles per second would disintegrate at a height of about five miles
above the ground - approximately the same altitude at which the Tunguska
object is believed to have exploded. Information gleaned from the
January 18 meteorite in Canada might enhance understanding of the
Tunguska event. 

2000 Pole Star Publications Ltd


From WHITEHORSE STAR, 21 January 2000

By Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir

Many Yukoners, Alaskans and northern British Columbians were rattled
and mesmerized by a light in the dark morning sky at approximately
8:44. Drivers stopped their vehicles to to alight and gape, and
school students and staff emptied their classrooms to watch the

“What you’ve seen is a very bright meteor of the class known as a
fireball,” said Dr. Jeremy Tatum, a representative of Meteorites and
Impact Advisory Committee to the Canadian Space Agency in Victoria.
“The description of this light going through the sky, the noises
that were heard to accompany it and the trail that was left behind,
that’s all typical of a bright fireball.”
One witness to the meteorite described sitting in his car, perplexed
by what appeared to be an instant change in the amount of daylight.
And then it was dark again. But almost instantaneously, there was
another flash, as though a street light had blown out. And then
another, before the last in the pulsating flashes of light lit up
the sky as if it was mid-day. Looking skyward, the burning streak
shot southward across the sky and disappeared as quickly as it came.

It was probably a few meters in size, and travelled at 10 times the
speed of sound, said Tatum. He said he did not know yet if it or any
fragments of the meteorites hit the ground. The committee will be
getting satellite pictures and infra-sound records, said Tatum.
“If something did land, it’s almost impossible to find it unless
someone actually saw it land.”

In a press release from the Yukon government, it says that reports
from NAV Canada and seismic information from the Pacific Geo Science
Centre indicate a suspected meteorite hit the ground near Carcross
this morning. No reports have been filed of any damage or injury,
and it appears to have landed away from settled areas, says the
press release.

The Yukon’s Emergency Measures Organization is working with
Emergency Preparedness Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the RCMP
to gather more information on the object.

Air traffic controller Gerry Kuhn was on duty in the Whitehorse
control tower. “I was up here, and I saw it actually ... coming down
through the sky down the Carcross Valley. It just lit up the whole
sky,” said Kuhn. He added he got reports from the Takhini Hot
Springs Road and Haines Junction that the object had been seen

“So it must have come from that direction,” he said. “(We don’t
know) much at this point,” Doug Caldwell, an emergency
communications officer, said late this morning.

“I’m waiting for some other information to come in. Our main concern
right now is anybody who is going to go looking for this object,
whatever it may be, that they look after their own safety as a

EMO officials have said the object landed somewhere in the Carcross
area, near or at Caribou Mountain, and Caldwell said there are always
avalanche threats and other mountain related dangers that can occur.

Cpl. Gina Nagano of the Carcross RCMP said the light pulsated.
“Carcross RCMP witnessed an extraordinary bright light in the sky. It
got very dark, then very bright, then it went pitch black and
returned to an orange pink colour,” said Nagano. “Seconds later, a
massive explosion was felt, and it was rather traumatic.”

Nagano added geologists are looking in the area for the object, and
that she understood a helicopter was dispatched this morning.    
Caldwell said EMO anticipates this was a meteor.

“I’m assuming this is (a meteor). We’re not going to know until
somebody’s got something that can show us what it is. All indicators
right now are following the basic premise of being a meteorite,”
said Caldwell, adding that it was probably not a very big one.

Meteor is a rock, a piece of a comet or asteroid, that travels
through space. It dispatches energy as it comes through the
atmosphere, and that’s the reason for the light meteorites cast,
Caldwell explained.

“Where we’re at astronomy wise, the planet is orbiting right now
through a known belt of debris,” he added. “January 4 (was) the
largest meteor shower of the year.”

If the meteorite landed, it would have burned up all of the hot
material on the way, and would have been cold when it hit the
ground, Tatum explained. “People see meteorites in the sky almost
every night,” said Doug Davidge, an environmental assessment officer
with Environment Canada. He added they were trying to figure out
where the object landed, if it did in fact hit the ground. Davidge
explained the loud noise heard seconds after it passed over could
mean either that it hit the ground or it could simply be the noise
the object made as it passed through the air.

A smoke trail similar to contrails left by passenger jets, but much
more colourful and mystic, could be seen in the sky for many minutes
after the object passed over.

The light from the fireball was also seen in Atlin, B.C., said RCMP
Cpl. Mike Stewart, who heard the noise it made. “This is the second
one we’ve had in a week here reported to us.... We had a report on
the 11th (of January) at 4 a.m. Some people south of Atlin, about 30
km, they reported a very similar thing as you’re hearing this
morning,” said Stewart.

“They saw the tail of a meteorite, a big flash. Then they heard a
big crash, a ‘boom’ and then it shook their cabin,” said Stewart.   
Martin Jasek is one of Yukon’s UFO investigators. Although he didn’t
see the object personally, he said he had gotten reports of it.

“(This is) fairly common. There was a similar one that was seen by
six people in ... December 1998. That was later at night, so not as
many people saw it,” said Jasek. That meteor was seen all the way
from Lake Laberge to Whitehorse, heading in more or less the same
north-to-south direction as this one was.

Jasek said that often meteors simply vaporise before they hit the
ground, but if they do crash, they can cause damage. Caldwell
stressed that if people are going to look for the object, they
should let someone know where they’re going; go with another person;
and be prepared for the winter conditions.

Copyright, Whitehorse Star 1999.

From, 21 Janaury 2000

Germs From Outer Space! Researchers Say Flu Bugs Rain Down From

By Robert Roy Britt
Your stomach cramps up. Fever skyrockets. Your whole body aches. And
it's not just you. An influenza pandemic has broken out. Everybody
is passing it to everybody. Right?

Maybe not. It could be that increasingly frequent sunspots are
driving the virus out of the stratosphere and into your body.

So say Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University
of Wales at Cardiff. And while there is much doubt by many other
scientists that the flu comes from space, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe
are generating a lot of interest with their idea.

In a new paper, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Indian
journal Current Science, the researchers present data that show how
previous periods of high sunspot activity coincided with flu
pandemics (large-scale epidemics). A roughly 11-year cycle of solar
activity is increasing now and is expected to peak soon, other
scientists agree.

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe say we can expect another flu pandemic to
accompany the solar peak "within weeks." By that claim, perhaps
debate over their research will soon be settled.

Injecting the flu into our atmosphere

The researchers say that the virus, or a trigger that causes it, is
deposited throughout space by dust in the debris stream of comets,
which are thought by many researchers to harbor organic material. As
Earth passes through the stream, dust (and perhaps the virus) enters
our atmosphere, where it can lodge for two decades or more, until
gravity pulls it down.

"The intense solar activity at sunspot maximum that causes bright
displays of aurorae also has the effect of driving viral particles
or their triggers rapidly to ground level," the researchers say.

Ionized gas from solar flares is channeled to Earth along magnetic
field lines. The flow of charged particles emanating from the sun
generates electrical fields across stratosphere, accelerates the
downflow of virus or triggering mechanisms, Wickramasinghe explained
in a telephone interview. In lower levels of the atmosphere, the
particles condense, ultimately coming down in raindrops.

They cite previous global epidemics as evidence that human contact
does not account for the spread of influenza. In 1918, an outbreak
occurred on the same day in Bombay and Boston, yet took another
three weeks to spread to New York. This occurred, Hoyle and
Wickramasinghe argue, because the virus can float down in patches.

While Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have their supporters, some
researchers say the idea is flat wrong.

"There is scant evidence of any science going on here," said
Stanford University physicist Christopher Barrington-Leigh, who
studies the upper atmosphere and lower ionosphere. "According to the
authors, solar activity 'will undoubtedly assist in the descent of
charged molecular aggregates,' but this is unphysical and

"Despite addressing a possibly interesting topic, the authors have
several factual errors, inconsistent and completely undeveloped
theories, a distinct lack of logic, and an alarmist rather than
scientific perspective," Barrington-Leigh told


Among those who support the idea of panspermia -- that the seeds of
life are everywhere -- Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have their

"In the 1970s, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe began to suspect that life
on Earth could have come from space," says Brig Klyce, who studies
cosmic ancestry and panspermia. "If so, wouldn't it still be coming?
They decided to look for evidence that the germs causing plagues and
epidemics come from space."

Klyce notes that several studies point to the presence of complex
organics in space. "Mainsteam science scoffs, but biology is a
possible source for these chemicals," he says. "If there is life,
like bacteria and viruses in space, some of it would naturally fall
to Earth."

Other researchers agree that comet dust may harbor organic matter,
and that it could transport it into Earth's atmosphere. But during a
fiery entry, the organic matter's survival is questionable.

Touched by space dust

Matthew Genge, of the Department of Mineralogy at the London Natural
History Museum, has estimated the amount of comet dust that survives
entry into the lower atmosphere, and thus how frequently an
average-sized human might be struck.

Genge figures that if you live to be 5,000 years old, you'll likely
encounter one comet dust particle. Were it to harbor a virus, you
would presumably have to inhale the particle, further reducing the
odds of infection.

"Comet dust particles constantly rain from the skies -- around a
hundred thousand billion particles per year -- and some of these
will fall on people," Genge told, adding that the
extremely light particles would probably not be noticed. Genge said
that some of the dust particles could contain biomolecules.

"Although these chemicals are the basic building blocks of DNA and
thus life, they are far from being viruses," Genge said. "Coughs and
sneezes are thus unlikely to be a sign of a close encounter with a
tiny visitor from space."

Copyright 2000,


From Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe <>

M.T. Genge's attempt to ridicule the possibility of cometary
biomolecules influencing humans at the Earth's surface ((CCNet, 21/01/00)
is regrettably flawed. The 40,000 tonnes of cometary debris reaching the Earth
will not all be in the form of microgramme sized siliceous grains of the
type considered by Genge. A fraction would inevitably be comprised of
cometary organic particles that form part of the volatile outgassing of
a comet. With an average mass per particle of some 4x10^15 g,
appropriate for small bacteria, the total number of bacterial/viral
sized particles entering the Earth annually will be in excess of

It should be noted that these particles are of such sizes that they
would not be destructively heated whilst being stopped in the
stratosphere. Thus some 10^25 or more bacterial/viral particles would
be available annually for descent through the troposphere to serve as
the nuclei of raindrops, and thence to fall to ground level. In a
typical influenza pandemic with 10^9  people shedding some 10^11 viral
particles each throughout an year, the total number of viruses exuded
by humans will be 10^20 - several orders of magnitude less than the
number of viral/bacterial particles from comets reaching the surface
of the Earth.

Fred Hoyle
Chandra Wickramasinghe


From Andrew Glikson <>   

Dear Benny,

The following comments relate to observation and computer modeling of
organic substances in stellar dust and nebulae, reported in CCNet
(22.1.00), with reference to geological and palaeontological evidence
on the oldest terrestrial life forms known to date:

Oldest possible traces of life may be represented by isotopically light
carbon in apatite (calcium phosphate) crystals in 3.8 billion years
Greenland gneisses.  In this case, panspermia would have occurred during
the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment, represented by mare basins on the
Moon, a time during which life anywhere in the solar system would be
difficult to sustain, particularly if the earliest organisms were devoid
of cell walls.  No reasons have ever been given why stromatolitic
bacteria - which constitute the oldest fossils recognized to date (3.46
billion years-old -  Hoffman et al., 1999, Bulletin of the Geological
Society of America, 111, 1256-1262), are anything but Earthlings.
Principal proponents of space transport and panspermia come from physics
and astronomy, while most biologists and palaeontologists view the
panspermia hypothesis with skepticism.

Given a DNA breakdown temperature of about 150 degrees Celsius, bacteria
would have been likely destroyed upon sun grazing of comets, although it
is not impossible they were retained within interplanetary meteorites.
Viruses, which can occur in a frozen crystallized state, contain either
DNA or RNA but never both, and can therefore only reproduce within a
living host. The essential molecules of life - DNA, RNA, ATP and ADP
(adenosine tri- and di-phosphate) are not found in meteorites, whose
carbon isotopic composition is heavier than those of biological kerogen,
in similarity to the heavy carbon isotopic composition of the Earth
mantle. PAH molecules (Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons) occur ubiquitously in
a wide range of environments and are products of combustion of organic
material and not necessarily evidence for pre-existence of nucleic
acids. To date, despite intensive search, no bacterium spores were found
in meteorites. 

The reality of sub micron "nano bacteria" fossils, claimed to occur in a
Mars-derived Antarctic meteorite ALH84001, is questioned by most
scientists (see recent books by W.J. Schopf - The Cradle of Life, 1999,
and by M.R. Walter - The Search for Life on Mars, 1999).  Doubts on the
reality of "nano bacteria" arise from observed biological lower limits
on the size of living cells, and from the high temperature origin of the
carbonate of which the putative fossils are made. The ubiquitous amino
acids are abiologic building stones of nucleic acids, which could only
be synthesized under restricted temperature and moisture conditions.
Amino acids found in carbon-rich chondritic meteorites - isobutaric acid
and racemic isovaline, believed to have been shock-modified during deep
space impacts, and only occur on Earth in conjunction with impact
deposits such as at the K-T boundary: 


Andrew Glikson

Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200


From, 21 January 2000

By Andrew Bridges
Chief Pasadena Correspondent
22 January 2000
PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Stardust successfully completed on
Saturday the most critical maneuver of its seven-year mission to
return comet samples to Earth, firing its thrusters for the third
time in a week to change the shape of its orbit.

Flight engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the
$165-million Stardust fired its rockets for 33 minutes and 36
seconds around 1:30 p.m. EST, all during a communications blackout
with Earth.

The operation was the last of a three-part move called a Deep
Space Maneuver designed to change the spacecraft's velocity by 561
feet (170 meters) per second. The change was so large, engineers
chose to break in up in three parts, performed on Dec. 18, 20 and

"It went nearly perfectly," said Tom Duxbury, the Stardust deputy
project manager and flight director at JPL, of the final maneuver.
"It was a nice conclusion to the three burns, so we are quite

Engineers still need to perform a clean-up maneuver to compensate
for extremely small errors resulting from the Deep Space Maneuver.
Any cleanup burn would involve changing Stardust's velocity by
less than 3 feet (1 meter) per second, engineers said.

Stardust will also have to perform two more Deep Space Maneuvers
during its mission, although both will be much smaller. One will
put it on target to the comet Wild-2; the second to Earth to
return samples of the dirty snowball..

"This was by far, by orders of magnitude, more difficult," Duxbury said.

Stardust will fly by Wild-2 on Jan. 2, 2004, collecting the
first-ever samples of cometary material to be returned robotically
to Earth.

Beginning Feb. 22, and again in July 2002, the spacecraft will
also collect samples of interstellar dust streaming through space.
The spacecraft will trap the minuscule particles in a collector
plate packed with lightweight aerogel, a glass foam.

Saturday's move put Stardust right on track to start collecting.

"The idea is to get maximum exposure of the collector to the
stream," said Ken Atkins, the Stardust project manager.

The spacecraft will then jettison a capsule containing the samples
in 2006, allowing it to parachute to a soft landing in Utah.

Copyright 2000,


From NEAR Mission Status Reports <>

NEAR Mission Status Reports -


The NEAR spacecraft continued to operate nominally in Operational
Mode with Flight Computer #1 and Attitude Interface Unit #2 in
control. All instruments remained "ON" during this week.  S/C
Attitude pointing continues to alternate between Eros pointing,
Earth pointing, and Sun pointing as required to conduct Eros
approach operations.

NEAR is presently 29,532 Km from Eros (18,351 miles).

The second test of the Eros rendezvous sequence was completed
successfully on January 20. Review of the engineering data indicates
this second flight test of the 30 hour sequence leading up to Eros
orbit insertion (includes NIS Low Phase Flyby) was successful. 

The MSI Eros Light Curve 2 was conducted as planned on January 18.

It should be mentioned that no significant problems with DSN
supports have occurred since the start of Eros approach operations. 
Many thanks to those at the DSN for the reliable support.

Regular Eros OpNav images were taken this week.

Final preparations and testing of the NEAR command load to start on
January 24 are completed.  This command load includes all activities
planned through January 30.  It will be uplinked during tomorrow's
DSN track.

Upcoming Spacecraft Activities:

In addition to regular DSN tracking and taking of OpNav images, the
following are operationally significant activities planned through
Eros orbit insertion.  Please consult the NEAR Flight Timeline for
more details regarding upcoming science activities.

        Jan 21  Flight Test of NLR/MSI Co-timing
        Jan 28  Eros Satellite Search B
        Feb 2   Rendezvous Maneuver
        Feb 4   Eros Satellite Search C
        Feb 8   Rendezvous Maneuver and Momentum Bias
        Feb 9   Eros Satellite Search D
        Feb 14  Eros Orbit Insertion



Why Stephen Jay Gould is bad for evolution.


[...] In truth, though, Gould is not helping the evolutionists against
the creationists, and the sooner the evolutionists realize that the
better. For, as Maynard Smith has noted, Gould “is giving
nonbiologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary

Over the past three decades, in essays, books, and technical papers,
Gould has advanced a distinctive view of evolution. He stresses its
flukier aspects—freak environmental catastrophes and the like— and
downplays natural selection's power to design complex life forms. In
fact, if you really pay attention to what he is saying, and accept
it, you might start to wonder how evolution could have created
anything as intricate as a human being.

[...] Gould also performs a more subtle service for creationists.
Having bolstered their caricature of Darwinism as implausible, he
bolsters their caricature of it as an atheist plot. He depicts
evolution as something that can't possibly reflect a higher
purpose, and thus can't provide the sort of spiritual consolation
most people are after. Even Gould's recent book "Rocks of Ages,"
which claims to reconcile science and religion, draws this moral
from the story of evolution: we live in a universe that is
"indifferent to our suffering."

[..] Gould's writings on punctuated equilibrium have been a 
particular gift to creationists. He dwells on gaps in the fossil
record to argue that evolution works fitfully; creationists then
quote him to argue that it doesn't work at all. (They love the
conspiratorial aura of Gould's description of these gaps as the
"trade secret of paleontology.")



From the BBC Online News, 24 January 2000

By Alex Kirby, BBC News Online Environment Correspondent and
presenter of Costing the Earth

The Bangladeshi Environment Minister, Mrs Sajeeda Choudhury, has
said that if climate change causes sea levels to rise in line with
scientific predictions, her country will have millions of homeless
people. And she said the rich world would have to find room for


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