CCNet 17/2002 - 30 January 2002

"Apart from the discordant palaeontological data, the "stray impact"
model can't account for the cosmic dust input, rising to a peak within
0.8 Myr and declining over the next 1.5 Myr during the Late Eocene,
which also saw the large Popigai and Chesapeake Bay craters (e.g. Farley
2002); and it doesn't explain the correlations -- which are statistically
significant -- between mass extinctions and other geophysical phenomena
[e.g. Courtillot (1999): "... the (K-T) impact occurred while the
eruption of the (Deccan) traps was in full swing"]. And from the
astronomical perspective, I don't think it's the most plausible
--Bill Napier, Armagh Observatory, 30 January 2002

"Becker led a NASA-funded science team to sites in Hungary, Japan
and China where such rocks still exist and have been exposed. There they
found telltale signs of a collision between our planet and an asteroid 6
to 12 km across -- in other words, as big or bigger than Mt. Everest.
Many paleontologists have been skeptical of the theory that an asteroid
caused the extinction. Early studies of the fossil record suggested that the
die-out happened gradually over millions of years -- not suddenly
like an impact event. But as their methods for dating the disappearance
of species has improved, estimates of its duration have shrunk from
millions of years to between 8,000 and 100,000 years. That's a blink of the
eye in geological terms."
--Science@NASA, 28 January 2002

    Bill Napier <>

    Science@NASA, 28 January 2002

    NASA News <>

    Ron Baalke <>

    Washington Post, 28 January 2002

    The New York Times, 29 January 2002


    Space Daily, 23 January 2002

    BBC Online News, 28 January 2002

     Sergio German Wagner Stinco <>

     Andrew Glikson <>

     Larry Robinson <>

     John Michael Williams <>

     Sergio German Wagner Stinco <>

     Andy Nimmo  <>

     Göran Johansson <>


>From Bill Napier <>

Dear Benny,

Kevin Pope has invited a critical reading of his paper and I'd like to
respond with a few general remarks, not so much on the specifics of his
paper as on the general issue of extinction by impact. The comments below
are based on a review paper in preparation.

In discussing mechanisms of mass extinction, empirical data come before
theoretical pontification. Therefore of the comments you disseminated
following Pope's paper, those of Gerta Keller are surely the most

The fact is that, 20-odd years after the impact hypothesis was popularised
by Alvarez et al. (1980), many palaeontologists who deal with the actual
extinction data still don't go along with it. As a mere astronomer, I can't
dismiss them as "holdouts"; rather, I have to accept their statements that
not only was there a major, abrupt global disturbance at the K-T boundary,
but also there was a prolonged foreplay.

Apart from the discordant palaeontological data, the "stray impact" model
can't account for the cosmic dust input, rising to a peak within 0.8 Myr and
declining over the next 1.5 Myr during the Late Eocene, which also saw the
large Popigai and Chesapeake Bay craters (e.g. Farley 2002); and it doesn't
explain the correlations -- which are statistically significant -- between
mass extinctions and other geophysical phenomena [e.g. Courtillot (1999):
"... the (K-T) impact occurred while the eruption of the (Deccan) traps was in full swing"]. And
from the astronomical perspective, I don't think it's the most plausible
scenario, a view on which I'd now like to expand.

(A) Asteroids or comets?

The mechanisms whereby asteroids are injected into Earth-crossing orbits
from the main belt have been studied by several groups. In essence a
main-belt asteroid is nudged by collision into a resonant orbit involving
Jupiter. This resonance pumps up the eccentricity of the orbit to the point
where the asteroid enters the control of Mars which, in turn, eventually
puts the asteroid into an Earth-crossing orbit.

A significant aspect of this mechanism is that the larger the asteroid is,
the harder it is to nudge by collision. The mechanism may be adequate to
account for the supply of meteorites and (say) 1 km asteroids, but it's much
less effective in transporting say 10 km bodies into hazardous orbits. For
this reason it is likely that the main impactors in say the 10-km range are
comets or their debris. Several dynamical routes whereby comets are injected
into short-period, Earth-crossing orbits have been identified. One route,
for example, is from Halley-type orbits (near-random inclinations, periods
up to 200 years) which ultimately connect with the Oort cloud. Any sharp
disturbance of the Oort cloud will yield a bombardment episode.

(B) What size of comet?

OVERWHELMINGLY, the most massive objects to enter the near-Earth environment
on geologically interesting timescales are rare, giant comets (say 100-200
km or more across). A comet becoming an NEO is much more likely to
disintegrate than hit the Earth. The dust generated by a very large comet
may enhance the mass of the zodiacal cloud by two or three powers of ten and
also yield a temporary enhancement of hazardous fragments. A giant comet of
this sort may arrive at any time, but if the Oort cloud (inner or outer) is
a significant reservoir, then there will be periods of high activity, with
intervals between them of order 25-40 Myr and characteristic durations of
order a million years.

(C) What consequences?

Cometary bombardment episodes, involving large transient increases in NEO
dust, as well as a temporarily enhanced NEO population, thus constitute a
reasonable astronomical framework within which to try and understand the
geochemical and fossil evidence. A cosmic winter differs from a nuclear one
in that small particles may trickle down for the active lifetime of a rare,
giant comet -- which could be millennia. And it can be shown that the sudden
movement of large masses of water to the poles may, by changing the spin rate of the Earth,
induces stresses at the core-mantle interface comparable to those involved
in plate tectonic movement; there is evidence that global cold snaps may
_precede_ volcanic outbursts on Earth.

Ten-kilometre impacts make wonderful Hollywood spectaculars and good
journalistic copy. They occur frequently on geological timescales and we
proposed them long ago (Napier & Clube 1979) as a prime cause of mass
extinctions. But they may not be the sole or even direct cause of these
events. Dr Keller's statement that "Multiple impacts are a more likely
scenario, coupled with Deccan volcanism and the now well known rapid
climatic changes during that time" is not only consistent with the
geophysics, but is also a good fit to the astronomy.

I make the comments above as co-author of the first paper to point out that
the terrestrial impact rate is sufficiently high to have caused mass
extinctions throughout Earth's history (Napier & Clube loc. cit.).
Extinction by dust lofted from 10 km bolide impacts was one of our
postulated mechanisms. We also argued that multiple impacts -- bombardment
episodes -- should occur, caused by episodic dissipation and reformation of
the Oort cloud. The hypothesis that
sub-micron dust from a large comet might suppress photosynthesis and
collapse food chains was first made by Hoyle & Wickramasinghe (1978). This
early work has been developed and expanded in numerous papers by the
"British school" (Asher, Bailey, Clube, Hoyle, Steel, Napier,
Wickramasinghe) and others, but the opinions expressed herein are mine

Bill Napier, Armagh Observatory


>From Science@NASA, 28 January 2002

250 million years ago something unknown wiped out most life on our planet.
Now scientists are finding buried clues to the mystery inside tiny capsules
of cosmic gas.
Some perpetrator -- or perpetrators -- committed murder on a scale unequaled
in the history of the world. They left few clues to their identity, and they
buried all the evidence under layers and layers of earth.

The case has gone unsolved for years -- 250 million years, that is.

But now the pieces are starting to come together, thanks to a team of
NASA-funded sleuths who have found the "fingerprints" of the villain, or at
least of one of the accomplices.

The terrible event had been lost in the amnesia of time for eons. It was
only recently that paleontologists, like hikers stumbling upon an unmarked
grave in the woods, noticed a startling pattern in the fossil record: Below
a certain point in the accumulated layers of earth, the rock shows signs of
an ancient world teeming with life. In more recent layers just above that
point, signs of life all but vanish.

Somehow, most of the life on Earth perished in a brief moment of geologic
time roughly 250 million years ago. Scientists call it the Permian-Triassic
extinction or "the Great Dying" -- not to be confused with the better-known
Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that signaled the end of the dinosaurs 65
million years ago. Whatever happened during the Permian-Triassic period was
much worse: No class of life was spared from the devastation. Trees, plants,
lizards, proto-mammals, insects, fish, mollusks, and microbes -- all were
nearly wiped out. Roughly 9 in 10 marine species and 7 in 10 land species
vanished. Life on our planet almost came to an end.

Scientists have suggested many possible causes for the Great Dying: severe
volcanism, a nearby supernova, environmental changes wrought by the
formation of a super-continent, the devastating impact of a large asteroid
-- or some combination of these. Proving which theory is correct has been
difficult. The trail has grown cold over the last quarter billion years;
much of the evidence has been destroyed.

"These rocks have been through a lot, geologically speaking, and a lot of
times they don't preserve the (extinction) boundary very well," says Luann
Becker, a geologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Indeed,
there are few 250 million-year-old rocks left on Earth. Most have been
recycled by our planet's tectonic activity.

Undaunted, Becker led a NASA-funded science team to sites in Hungary, Japan
and China where such rocks still exist and have been exposed. There they
found telltale signs of a collision between our planet and an asteroid 6 to
12 km across -- in other words, as big or bigger than Mt. Everest.

Many paleontologists have been skeptical of the theory that an asteroid
caused the extinction. Early studies of the fossil record suggested that the
die-out happened gradually over millions of years -- not suddenly like an
impact event. But as their methods for dating the disappearance of species
has improved, estimates of its duration have shrunk from millions of years
to between 8,000 and 100,000 years. That's a blink of the eye in geological

"I think paleontologists are now coming full circle and leading the way,
saying that the extinction was extremely abrupt," Becker notes. "Life
vanished quickly on the scale of geologic time, and it takes something
catastrophic to do that."

Such evidence is merely circumstantial -- it doesn't actually prove
anything. Becker's evidence, however, is more direct and persuasive:

Deep inside Permian-Triassic rocks, Becker's team found soccer ball-shaped
molecules called "fullerenes" (or "buckyballs") with traces of helium and
argon gas trapped inside. The fullerenes held an unusual number of 3He and
36Ar atoms -- isotopes that are more common in space than on Earth.
Something, like a comet or an asteroid, must have brought the fullerenes to
our planet.

Becker's team had previously found such gas-bearing buckyballs in rock
layers associated with two known impact events: the 65 million-year-old
Cretaceous-Tertiary impact and the 1.8 billion-year-old Sudbury impact
crater in Ontario, Canada. They also found fullerenes containing similar
gases in some meteorites. Taken together, these clues make a compelling case
that a space rock struck the Earth at the time of the Great Dying.

But was an asteroid the killer, or merely an accomplice?

Many scientists believe that life was already struggling when the putative
space rock arrived. Our planet was in the throes of severe volcanism. In a
region that is now called Siberia, 1.5 million cubic kilometers of lava
flowed from an awesome fissure in the crust. (For comparison, Mt. St. Helens
unleashed about one cubic kilometer of lava in 1980.) Such an eruption would
have scorched vast expanses of land, clouded the atmosphere with dust, and
released climate-altering greenhouse gases.

World geography was also changing then. Plate tectonics pushed the
continents together to form the super-continent Pangea and the super-ocean
Panthalassa. Weather patterns and ocean currents shifted, many coastlines
and their shallow marine ecosystems vanished, sea levels dropped.

"If life suddenly has all these different things happen to it," Becker says,
"and then you slam it with a rock the size of Mt. Everest -- boy! That's
just really bad luck."

Was the "crime" then merely an accident? Perhaps so. Nevertheless, it's wise
to identify the suspects -- an ongoing process -- before it happens again.


>From NASA News <>

Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington                    Jan. 29, 2002
(Phone: 202/358-1753)

Nancy Neal
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/286-0039)

RELEASE: 02-16


Engineers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., predict a
7,000-pound spacecraft could re-enter the Earth's atmosphere as early as 10
p.m. EST on Jan. 30 or as late as 7 a.m. EST on Jan. 31.

NASA's Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) is currently 200 kilometers (124
miles) above the Earth with a descent rate of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) a
day. The estimated debris field is expected to be 800 to 1,000 kilometers
(500-625 miles).

"The probability of the few EUVE surviving pieces falling into a populated
area and hurting someone is very small. It is more likely that the small
pieces will fall into the ocean
or fall harmlessly to the ground," said Ronald E. Mahmot, Project Manager
for Space Science Mission Operations at Goddard.

Unlike the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was safely de-orbited June
4, 2000, EUVE does not have an on-board propulsion system to allow engineers
to control its re-entry. Much of EUVE will burn up in the atmosphere before
ever reaching the ground. However, estimates show that up to nine objects
ranging from approximately four to 100 pounds may survive re-entry. Much of
this debris is made of titanium and stainless steel.

EUVE will start to break up when it falls to within 80 kilometers (50 miles)
of the Earth. At this point, EUVE will have only four or five 90-minute
orbits left before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. Engineers will not
know the re-entry point until approximately 12 hours prior to impact.

EUVE is in a 28.5-degree orbit and could re-enter in any location within
this orbit range. This ranges includes areas as far north as Orlando, Fla.,
and as far south as Brisbane, Australia.

EUVE was launched on June 7, 1992. Science operations ended for the
spacecraft in December 2001. During its early years, EUVE was operated from
Goddard. In 1997, control of EUVE was transitioned from Goddard to the
University of California, Berkeley and remained there until the program's
termination in 2001. Slated for only three years, EUVE was operational for
eight. NASA twice extended its scientific mission.

During its eight years in orbit, EUVE successfully opened a new window on
the cosmos and helped to bridge the gap in our understanding of the extreme
ultraviolet spectrum. Rather than seeing about 24 nearby objects as many
predicted, EUVE observed more than 1,000 nearby sources, including more than
three dozen objects outside our galaxy.

Additional background information about EUVE is available on the Internet


>From Ron Baalke <>

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Laurel, Maryland
Images to accompany this release are posted on the APL Web site:
For Immediate Release
January 29, 2001
Media Contact:
Michael Buckley
(240) 228-7536 or (443) 778-7536
CONTOUR Spacecraft Shipped to Goddard for Prelaunch Testing;
Comet-Study Mission Reaches Milestone on Way to July 2002 Launch
The spacecraft set to provide the closest look ever at a comet nucleus was
shipped today from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
in Laurel, Maryland - where it was designed and built - to NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for its next round of prelaunch
Scheduled to launch July 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,
the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft spent the past 10 days in an APL
vibration test lab, where engineers checked the structural integrity of the
eight-sided, 6-by-6 foot craft aboard a large shake table. 
"The vibration tests at APL went very well," says CONTOUR Project Manager
Mary C. Chiu of the Applied Physics Lab. "The spacecraft is in great shape
and we're ready to move on to the next stage."
At Goddard the spacecraft will undergo spin tests; acoustic tests, designed
to simulate the noise-induced vibrations of launch; and thermal vacuum
tests, which replicate the harsh conditions of deep space. In late April,
CONTOUR will be transported to Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral and
prepared for launch aboard a three-stage, Boeing Delta II launch vehicle.
"By the time CONTOUR launches it will have been thoroughly tested," says
Michael J. Colby, CONTOUR lead integration and test engineer at APL. "You
have to be extremely confident that the spacecraft will be OK when it's
mounted on that Delta."
After launch, the solar-powered CONTOUR will visit at least two comets as
they travel through the inner solar system. From as close as 60 miles (100
kilometers), the spacecraft will take the most detailed pictures ever of a
comet's 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 spacecraft can also be sent toward an as-yet-undiscovered comet. The
data will provide clues into the similarities and differences between
CONTOUR is the next launch in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost,
scientifically focused missions. The Applied Physics Laboratory manages the
mission for NASA and will operate the spacecraft. Dr. Joseph I. Veverka of
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, is CONTOUR's
principal investigator and heads a science team of experts from institutions
around the globe. APL, Goddard Space Flight Center and von Hoerner & Sulger,
Schwetzingen, Germany, built CONTOUR's scientific instruments; NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, will provide navigation
For more information on CONTOUR, visit

For more information on NASA's Discovery Program, visit
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 .


>From Washington Post, 28 January 2002

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2002; Page A07

A crowd has gathered outside the dynamics lab, where the flashing amber
light shows that the $60 million bird is alive, and where project manager
Mary Chiu is clutching a fat sheaf of papers and biting her lip.

Stress test leader Ted Sholar, watching through the glass windows, asks
whether everyone is ready, and gives a thumbs-up. "Stand by," someone says.
Then a strange vibration, like a passing subway, begins. The floor starts to

And as the delicate-looking black and gold satellite mounted on the
vibration table shudders violently, everyone seems to wince. No one wants
the shiny comet hunter, called CONTOUR, to break. But if it's going to
break, it had better be now.

The ungainly eight-sided satellite, which last week underwent final testing
at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, is
being readied for an arduous mission: to track down and photograph the murky
nuclei of as many as three comets.

It's a hazardous, six-year, multimillion-mile journey that will plunge the
small satellite so fast and so close to the comets that it has been armored
with Kevlar inside and out and equipped with a flak shield of woven ceramic

During an eight-hour approach followed by a 60-second flyby, the satellite
will zip within less than 200 miles of the comets at a speed of about 63,000
mph, peppered much of the way by microscopic bullets of comet dust.

But the trip could result in the most dramatic close-ups ever of one of the
most dazzling phenomena of the heavens.

The APL-built CONTOUR, short for "comet nucleus tour," is scheduled to be
launched in July from Cape Canaveral in Florida aboard a Boeing Delta II
rocket. It will then be flung from the Earth's orbit in a series of
slingshot-like trajectories to ambush the comets as they careen toward the
sun from the outer reaches of the solar system.

The mission, sponsored by NASA, the Applied Physics Lab and Cornell
University, is first scheduled to encounter the comet Encke in November of
next year, followed by the fractured comet, Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, in 2006.
Funds permitting, CONTOUR may also chase down the comet d'Arrest in 2008, or
perhaps another, unknown comet to be discovered in the meantime.

Comet Encke (pronounced ENK-ee), first spotted in 1786, returns every 3.2
years. It was history's second confirmed periodic comet, after the one named
for English astronomer Edmond Halley in 1758. Many comets, like CONTOUR's
targets, travel in long, racetrack-like orbits between Jupiter and the sun.
Others make vast mysterious journeys around the sun within undetermined time

But Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which was discovered in 1930, returns punctually
every five years. And d'Arrest, whose sightings may date to 1678, comes back
every six years. None of the three is visible to the naked eye.

"What fascinates most of us about comets is that the bright ones, when they
appear in the sky, are especially difficult to ignore," said Joseph Veverka,
CONTOUR's principal investigator and chairman of Cornell's astronomy

"They're very, very conspicuous and one wonders what they are," he said.
"And if they are coming close to the Earth, are there chances of them ever
hitting the Earth? In times past, when skies were darker and less was known
about the solar system, the fascination turned to mysticism."

The ancient Chinese, the first known students of comets, believed a comet's
shape could forecast a particular momentous event, according to comet
historian Donald K. Yeomans, a member of the CONTOUR team from California's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A comet that seemed to have four feathery tails foretold the deaths of
kings, Yeomans wrote in his 1991 book, "Comets." One with three straight
tails suggested disaster with many deaths. One with a tail like a flame
meant a brief rebellion.

In 1843, the American Millerite religious sect believed the appearance of a
great comet heralded the end of the world. Fourteen years later, Parisians
panicked, mobbing churches and making comet-proof suits, when a German
astrologer predicted that a comet would strike the Earth. It never appeared.

Scientists now believe that comets often have struck the Earth -- as Comet
Shoemaker-Levy 9 did Jupiter in 1994 -- at intervals of 50 million years or

Comets may, in fact, have delivered the basic molecular building blocks of
life on Earth through one of these primeval impacts. "Is it really true that
perhaps we're all descended from comets?" Veverka wondered. "To answer that
question you've got to know much better than we do right now what the actual
molecules in comets are."

CONTOUR, armed with cameras, sensors and gas and dust analyzers, will help
answer that question.

Past comet impacts may also have wrought vast devastation on Earth.

"These things have a nasty habit of running into the Earth from time to
time, and so you'd like to get to know what they're made of," Yeomans, the
comet historian, said. "Sort of know the enemy: Are they loosely held
together clumps of ice and dust? Are they solid through and through?"

But first the 2,100-pound CONTOUR has to get there. The roughest part, APL
experts said, is the launch.

To mimic that, the satellite is placed atop the huge vibration table --
which rests on a 50,000-pound concrete block sitting on air bags -- and is
rattled and rocked by what is essentially the core of a giant stereo

It was the final vibration test last Tuesday that drew the anxious crowd.
"You see a lot of engineers with the pucker factor," facilities engineer
Bill Wilkinson said. "You want it to fail here. They don't like to hear
that. But you want it to fail here."

Here it can be repaired. "The whole idea of this is if it's going to break,
you want it to break on the ground when you can fix it," said Edward
Reynolds, CONTOUR's system engineer. "You don't want it to break in space
when you let it go and you can't get to it anymore."

Yet things are still tense. "No one thinks of it as good," said Edward
Reynolds, CONTOUR's system engineer. "Everyone's glad when the shaking has

As the final "vibe" approached Tuesday afternoon, someone called for quiet
outside the dynamics lab. "This is the start of the . . . beginning of the
journey," whispered Chiu, the project manager.

"Vibration started," a voice announced. People craned to see better. As the
satellite rattled, Reynolds, in a white lab coat, bent over with his hands
on knees like a sandlot football coach. Chiu squinted. The windows shook.
The wall clock ticked off the seconds.

Finally it was over, and relief washed over the room. Nothing had broken,
and CONTOUR had passed. The satellite will be moved to NASA's Goddard
Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt tomorrow. The object: more testing.

"What we want to do is make sure that by the time we mount it on top of that
Delta rocket we have 100 percent confidence that we have shook it out, wrung
it out, tested it in every way that we can think of," Chiu said.

"So that it's going to work perfectly."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


>From The New York Times, 29 January 2002


In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a series of stamps
commemorating American space exploration. The stamp for Pluto consisted of a
painting of a grayish disk with an apology of sorts underneath: "Not Yet

Pluto, the smallest and farthest of the solar system's planets, is still the
only planet not yet visited by a spacecraft.

In the 72 years since Clyde W. Tombaugh, an astronomer at the Lowell
Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., spotted Pluto as a point of light on one of
his photographic plates, Pluto has largely remained just that: a point of
light. Ground-based telescopes are not powerful enough to pick out any
details of its surface.

But with ingenuity, astronomers have learned a lot just by staring intently
at the point of light. Specific colors in the light point to the composition
of its surface and thin atmosphere. By measuring how it brightened and
dimmed during eclipses with its moon Charon, scientists have even created a
rough map of its surface.

"We know quite a bit in general," said Dr. John A. Stansberry, an astronomer
at the Steward Observatory in Tucson, "but we don't know a lot in

In the public limelight, Pluto has recently been the subject of a custody
battle between those who say it should be counted among the Kuiper Belt
objects - a ring of icy rocks beyond the orbit of Neptune that failed to
coalesce into a larger planet - and those who attack any efforts to diminish
Pluto's status as the ninth planet. That debate boils down to what is a
planet and what is not, a seemingly straightforward concept with no precise

Beyond semantics, planetary scientists care about Pluto because, like
comets, it may be made of many of the same materials as the primordial solar

Pluto, together with the thousands of Kuiper Belt objects, represents a
"fossil remnant" of the planet-making process, said Dr. S. Alan Stern,
director of space studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder,
Colo. "Here we have, for some reasons we do not understand, a place where
accretion was halted in midstep."

Pluto also appears to be a close cousin of Triton, one of the large moons of
Neptune, and some hypothesize that other, large Pluto-like bodies remain
hidden farther out in the Kuiper Belt.

Despite its distance from the Sun - 2.9 billion miles and growing - Pluto is
not just an unchanging, frozen iceball. Its polar caps wax and wane over the
decades. There are suspicions that as the atmosphere thins, the winds will
accelerate to a couple hundred miles per hour.

Planetary scientists desperately want a closer look at Pluto, and NASA's
off-and-on plans to send a mission there are on again, at least for the

After canceling its own efforts in September 2000, NASA last November chose
a team led by the Southwest Research Institute and the Johns Hopkins
University's Applied Physics Laboratory to design, build and operate a
reconnaissance mission to Pluto at a cost of $546 million, including
projected inflation. Continuing on to explore a Kuiper Belt object would
cost an additional $73 million.

As recently as a decade ago, Pluto was regarded as a single oddball at the
fringe of the solar system of little scientific interest. The first Kuiper
Belt object was seen in 1992 and hundreds more have been cataloged since in
that vast expanse of unexplored real estate.

After years of exploring the inner solar system and the gas giants, "This is
a mission to reconnoiter the third geographic region of the solar system,"
said Dr. Stern, the mission's principal investigator. Pluto, he said, has
moved in scientific importance "from footnote to center stage."

Called New Horizons, the spacecraft is expected to be launched in January
2006 and will take a decade to travel to its destination to explore Pluto,
Charon and a couple of the Kuiper Belt bodies.

Congress provided $30 million in this year's budget for preliminary design
work, but the administration's budget plans for 2003 and beyond currently do
not include any money for actually building and flying the mission.

"I'm glad it's getting started," said Dr. Marc W. Buie, an astronomer at
Lowell. "I think it's a travesty it takes this long to get to this point."
He added, "On the other hand, we can't kick a gift horse in the mouth."

Dr. Richard P. Binzel, a professor of planetary sciences at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the uncertainty was familiar to
Pluto researchers.

"The analogy a lot of us give is it's like Lucy holding the football," he
said, referring to the "Peanuts" comic strip character who inevitably jerks
away the football as Charlie Brown tries to kick it.

"Once again," Dr. Binzel said, "the football is there."

New Horizons may be the last chance for a while. After 2007, Jupiter will
move out of position for providing a spacecraft with a convenient, no-cost
gravitational catapult to Pluto; a direct trajectory would probably be
slower and require some new, and therefore more risky, propulsion

Scientists also worry that with further delays, there will be much less to
see when the spacecraft finally gets there. Pluto is on the outbound leg of
its elliptical orbit, and as temperatures, now ranging between minus-395
degrees and minus-370 degrees Fahrenheit, get colder, its already tenuous
atmosphere may literally freeze solid and fall to the ground. Computer
models differ on when the freeze-out will occur, but most expect Pluto's air
to be gone by 2020.

Dr. Stansberry of the Steward Observatory, however, is not sure. His
calculations indicate that the crystal structure of the nitrogen ice on the
surface will change to a different shape that will not radiate heat as
easily. "It just cools off less quickly after that point," he said. The
atmosphere will thin, but not fully collapse.

But if it does freeze, it will remain frozen until after 2200, when Pluto's
248-year orbit will again come close enough to the Sun for it to be heated
back into vapor.

Also, more and more of the planet is entering extended darkness, the same
way that Antarctica plunges into a six-month-long night every year. Because
Pluto's axis is almost keeled over on its side, the darkness will envelop
most of its southern hemisphere, putting it out of view for decades.

This history of Pluto science is a mix of hide-and-seek and fortuitous

Tombaugh spent years searching for a hypothesized ninth planet to explain
small perturbations in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, and then on Feb.
18, 1930, he found Pluto. Tombaugh's discovery turned out to be more the
product of chance and persistence than deduction: the perturbation
calculations were incorrect, and Pluto, once thought to be larger than
Earth, turned out to be smaller than Earth's Moon - too small to account for
the perturbations, in any case.

In June 1978, while taking photographs to better map Pluto's orbit, James W.
Christy, an astronomer at a United States Naval Observatory telescope in
Flagstaff, noticed that in one image, Pluto's point of light seemed to have
a bump on it. He went back and looked at other photographs and Pluto seemed
to have a bump in many of those images, too, and the bump seemed to be
moving around.

The most plausible explanation for the bump was that it was a moon circling
Pluto, and he named it Charon, after the ferryman in Greek myth who
transports the dead across the river Styx.

In 1985, Dr. Binzel, then a graduate student at the University of Texas,
confirmed the moon hypothesis when he observed an eclipse of Charon passing
in front of Pluto. For the next five years, Charon's orbit faced Earth
almost edge-on, and Pluto and Charon took turns passing in front of each

In 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope took pictures of Pluto, then 2.7 billion
miles from Earth. The top photo is the Hubble image; the large one is a
computer-generated image of Pluto.
With each eclipse, Charon passed over a different strip of Pluto. By
measuring the dip in brightness during the eclipse, scientists could deduce
the brightness of the hidden piece. "It was like scanning the disk of Pluto
for us," Dr. Binzel said.

With that data, astronomers constructed a map of Pluto's surface. "We
derived a map of one hemisphere of Pluto that is considerably better than
what is possible to do even with the Hubble Space Telescope," said Dr. Buie
of the Lowell Observatory.

What they saw were blotchy regions of light and dark with especially bright
landscape at the poles, especially the south pole. (In 1994, Hubble took the
first picture that could directly show some of Pluto's features - still
blurry blotches.)

That was a surprise because that meant there had to be weather and seasons.
It frosts on Pluto.

"To get something so bright, it's got to be very fresh because space is a
dirty place, and bright places turn dark," Dr. Binzel said.

Because different molecules absorb different colors of light, more detailed
analysis of which wavelengths of light dimmed during the eclipses revealed
some of what is on the surfaces of Charon and Pluto. "The difference tells
you what's on the two pieces," Dr. Buie said. "What's there and what went

That turned out to be nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide frost on Pluto,
water frost on Charon.

The duration of the eclipses - each lasted a couple of hours - also allowed
accurate calculation of the relative sizes of Pluto and Charon. (The Hubble
image further nailed down the sizes. Pluto is 1,440 miles wide. Charon is
790 miles wide. By comparison, the diameters of Earth and the Moon are 7,900
miles and 2,160 miles.)

Another fortuitous alignment of the night sky occurred in 1988, when Pluto
passed in front of a distant star. Again, astronomers examined the colors of
starlight that were absorbed by Pluto's atmosphere and found its air was
nitrogen with a bit of methane.

In the past decade, there have been no more eclipses between Pluto and
Charon and no more fortuitous alignments of stars. Astronomers, however,
continue to learn more, if only to form more questions.

Pluto has been getting dimmer over the decades because the bright south pole
has been moving out of sight. But with the north pole coming into view, "I
should already be seeing Pluto getting brighter again," said Dr. Buie.
Instead, after the brightness leveled during the 1980's, Pluto has started
fading again.

"I don't have an explanation for that yet," Dr. Buie said. "I don't know if
it's just darker in the north pole area." Another possibility is that the
bright frost has not yet formed.

Another puzzling feature is that the color signature for carbon monoxide gas
on Pluto's surface appears and disappears on a 6.4-day cycle - the length of
a day on Pluto. Dr. Buie hypothesizes that the carbon monoxide ice is
located at a single site, possibly a meteor impact within the past few
million years that exposed material from deep underground. Consulting the
map of Pluto, he said he had a good candidate for the impact site.

That is speculation, but it gives planners for the New Horizons mission a
site at which they should definitely point their cameras when the spacecraft
arrives, probably in 2016.

New Horizons will carry a camera with a long-range telephoto lens that will
start taking pictures months before the flyby, a second camera that will
take pictures during the flyby, and an instrument to analyze atoms and
molecules escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.

Its antenna will take part in an experiment that will also analyze the
atmosphere. Transmitters on Earth will broadcast a strong signal to the
spacecraft, which will measure how the radio waves are altered by the
passage through the atmosphere and then radio back the results. That will
tell not only the composition, but the temperature and density of gases.

But first, there is the question of whether the spacecraft will be built.
After waiting a decade for a Pluto mission, Pluto researchers are still

"Oh boy, that's a loaded question," Dr. Binzel said. "I'm as optimistic as
I've ever been that the Pluto mission will become a reality. It's time we
finished the basic reconnaissance of the solar system, and that's what this
mission does."

Copyright 2002 The New York Times


>From, 28 January 2002

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

BOULDER, COLORADO -- The White House, Congress, and NASA will soon seal the
fate of a mission to the most distant planet known within our family of
worlds: Pluto and its moon, Charon, the only planet-satellite system in our
solar system that has not been visited by an interplanetary probe.

An earlier Pluto spacecraft program was scrapped due to skyrocketing costs
that forced NASA to cancel that effort in 2000. Last November, after a
heated competition, NASA selected a new team for the job of getting to
chilly Pluto.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel,
Maryland and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas were
tapped to push forward on the first mission to explore the last known planet
in the solar system and the Kuiper Belt region beyond that faraway world.

The team also includes Ball Aerospace; Stanford University; NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center; and other universities and research institutions.

Title for the winning proposal, with the mission pegged at a cost of $488
million, said it all - New Horizons: Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds.

If the proposed Pluto-Kuiper Belt (PKB) mission takes off in January 2006,
obtaining a gravitational boost from Jupiter a year later, the craft would
zip past Pluto between 2014 and 2018. That multi-year spread of prospective
arrival dates depends on the launch vehicle NASA picks -- either a Delta 4
or Atlas 5 booster -- both of which are slated for first-time liftoffs this

Financial future and fate

To date, Congress has coughed up a modest but welcomed $30 million for the
PKB mission. Those monies became available against the wishes of the Bush
Administration. That funding put money down on a launch vehicle and
kick-starting final design work on the spacecraft and instruments.

Thanks largely to behind-the-scenes and in your face political prodding by
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), the home state of APL, the mission
has moved forward on the bureaucratic game board that is the U.S. Congress.

Even APL made note of her firm, resolute persona when announcing the
selection in November of the New Horizons proposal.

"We promise a rewarding mission for NASA and for avid space science
supporters, such as Senator Barbara Mikulski and the Maryland delegation,
who have done so much to advance science and technology in the state," said
Richard Roca, APL's director.

However no funding for subsequent years has been green-lighted and it must
pass a NASA confirmation review. That appraisal will address just how real
the PKB mission schedule is and what technical risks and must-meet
milestones are ahead. Another key event is regulatory approval for launch of
the mission's nuclear power source.

Early next month, with the release of NASA's budget, the PKB mission team
will learn of its financial footing and prospects for flying.

In NASA's current environment of space station cost overruns, agency
restructuring, an expensive menu of Mars exploration projects, as well as
other space science agenda items, the near half-billion-dollar Pluto trek
may be viewed as a costly and unwanted outing.

Econo-class mission

"I'm a big optimist," says Alan Stern, director of Southwest Research
Institute's Department of Space Studies here, and principal investigator for
New Horizons.

"This mission is so publicly popular. Also, the planetary community has
repeatedly supported the mission. They want to see Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
explored," Stern told "It's not hard to be an optimist. But I'm
not naive. I realize that this is not a done deal."

"We're moving forward," Stamatios Krimigis, head of APL's Space Department,
says. "We're treating our work here as a program that's moving on. We're
optimistic and ready to go into the next phase."

On the technical front, Krimigis explains that reaching out for Pluto is not
a big deal, in contrast to other spacecraft targets, such as hot-as-hell
Mercury. APL's is building the Messenger craft that will survey that planet

The PKB mission is a flagship venture, Krimigis notes, showing that outer
planet research can be accomplished on econo-class budgets.

Flying spacecraft to the outer planets is typically a costly, $1
billion-plus undertaking, like the now en route Cassini mission to Saturn.

The New Horizons team plans to use cost-cutting measures, such as utilize
proven spacecraft subsystems already designed for other APL planetary
missions. Saving money, while reducing risk and shortening the project's
development schedule is a prime, early objective.

"One of the institutional attractions for us to compete for this mission is
to demonstrate a paradigm, as we did with the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous
(NEAR) spacecraft for the inner part of the solar system. Namely, that you
can do a first-class mission to the outer planets for an affordable cost."

So come October, given final fiscal year approval to proceed to the next
phase, the New Horizons team will have on the order of 40 months to move
from blueprint to blastoff. "We are going to be ready to go," says a can-do

"I think of this mission as delayed gratification. It took 12 years to sell
it, and it will take nearly 12 years to get there," SwRI's Stern points out.
But once on the scene, the spacecraft will make a Pluto-Charon flyby and
then conduct up to three flybys of Kuiper Belt bodies. All that adds up to
four flybys in about five years time.

"It's rapid-fire exploration of the Kuiper Belt. Roughly every 18 to 20
months we'll be running up on a Kuiper Belt object," Stern says.

There is a central lesson, Stern advises, from previous planetary
exploration: Everyone should be ready for surprises. "We constantly find
ourselves blown away by what spacecraft find. We were wrong about
Mars...wrong about Venus...wrong about satellites of Jupiter...and we
underestimated the moons Titan and Triton. Basically, everywhere we go, we
find out that Earth and space observations offer very crude views of what
the reality is," he says.

"Yes, we can guarantee that we will be surprised," agrees Andy Cheng, New
Horizons project scientist at APL. "We are going to a planet for the first
time that is so different from all the other planets that some don't even
think it should be called a planet," Cheng says,

That name game regarding Pluto, Cheng adds, "is a problem of nomenclature,
not of science."

"Some scientists feel that Pluto is so unique that it deserves a new name
other than planet. There is no implication that Pluto is any the less
interesting or important to planetary science. On the contrary, because it
is so unique we simply have no alternative but to go there," Cheng suggests.

Diving deep into the Kuiper Belt -- with Pluto the largest known member of
those celestial collectibles -- is sure to be a ballistic bonus.

The Kuiper Belt is both larger and more richly populated than the main belt
of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, Cheng notes. "The first Kuiper Belt
object was discovered only in 1992, and by now we realize that the Kuiper
Belt is a fundamental component of the solar system. It is the source region
for the short-period comets. It is populated by some of the best-preserved
primitive objects that date to the beginning of the solar system. We have
never visited a Kuiper Belt Object and hardly know what to expect."

Celestial skeet shooting

Once off the ground, the lightweight probe would use giant Jupiter to
slingshot its way onto Pluto. That flyby of Jupiter would also produce
science, turning its instruments on to explore the Jovian system.

Moving onward to Pluto, the nuclear-powered New Horizons probe will start
taking science measurements 150 days pre-encounter with the planet.

"We will beat Hubble resolution for months on the way using our narrow-angle
camera. Images will be taken weekly, and then daily for months. "This is not
a weekend at Pluto. This is a long-term study of Pluto and Charon at better
and better and better resolution," Stern says.

The PKB mission team wants to reach Pluto before the planet's atmosphere
freezes out. That is, since 1989, Pluto has been moving farther from the
Sun. Each year, less and less heat makes it way to the world. The hope is to
focus science gear on a thicker atmosphere. If Pluto's atmosphere does
indeed freeze out, the craft can observe the seasons change on the planet.

Global maps of both Pluto and Charon are slated, with many thousands of
images to be relayed back to Earth. The spacecraft should come as close as
6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers) from Pluto and about 17,000 miles (27,000
kilometers) from Charon.

Beyond Pluto and Charon, the New Horizons probe should have enough onboard
fuel left to retarget itself to at least three Kuiper Belt Objects. These
icy, dirty and rocky objects are believed to be the leftovers after the
formation of the solar system's planets.

Which objects are to be surveyed will be done on the fly, Stern says.

It is estimated that 100,000 objects larger than around 30 miles (50
kilometers) across exist within the Kuiper Belt. "It'll be like skeet
shooting," Stern envisions. "We're just going to go out and look along where
our trajectory will be and find the objects."

An estimated 50 objects should be within range of the spacecraft's
hydrazine-fueled thrusters. "We will pick the three that give us the most
diversity...and offer the best science," Stern says.

"This is the third zone of the solar system. The inner rocky terrestrial
planets and asteroid belt...the outer gas giants...and then there's the
Kuiper Belt and Pluto. It's another whole country. It's going to be
mind-blowing scientifically," Stern concludes.

Copyright 2002,


>From Space Daily, 23 January 2002

by Bruce Moomaw

Los Angeles - Jan 23, 2001

A new program of Medium-class, or "Discovery Plus", missions to explore the
Solar System is being increasingly favored by NASA. It has considerable
application to the inner planets and the Asteroid Belt. But its most
important application is likely to come in the vast reaches of the outer
Solar System, where space exploration up to now has been very expensive
simply because those regions are so vast and so distant.
This reporter attended not only last November's meeting of the Survey's
central Committee, but also the December meetings of the two Survey
subcommittees directed at exploring both the four giant planets and their
larger moons.

In 1997, NASA's Solar System Exploration Subcommittee (SSES) listed the five
Solar System missions not directed at Mars, which it considered most crucial
for the near future. One such need - a Mercury orbiter - has since been
filled by a fully funded mission - Messenger - that will launch in 2004.

But the other four all involved either the outer Solar System or (in the
case of comets) objects that come from there. And two of those - a Europa
orbiter and a mission to land on a comet nucleus and return intact samples
of it to Earth - are now clearly missions which, in their current form, will
exceed a billion dollars each, as will many other outer Solar System
missions regarded as important in the medium term.

In NASA's increasingly tight fiscal situation, these simply cannot be
funded, except rarely. So perhaps the central Committee's most urgent
business at its November meeting was to examine and judge concepts for
exploring the outer planets with as much scientific effectiveness as
possible using Medium-class missions costing only $500 to $700 million each.

Some of these concepts have been around for a while - most notably the Pluto
flyby which has been the subject of so much fuss and dispute, and whose
latest incarnation ("New Horizons") I described in a previous installment of
this series.

It might fly in 2006 using a Jupiter gravity-assist to reach Pluto - in
which case it will cost $450 to $500 million - or (as the White House and
NASA currently wish) it might be delayed several years, in which case it
will require a solar-powered ion drive module to reach Pluto, lowering its
near-term cost but increasing its total cost by $100 to $200 million and
reducing its likely scientific return as Pluto recedes from the sun.

In either case, though, it falls into the Medium-class category, and remains
one of the key missions recommended by the SSES in 1997.

The other mission fitting both those categories is the "Jupiter Multiprobe",
which would drop three entry probes into Jupiter's atmosphere
simultaneously. Its rationale is that - while the Galileo entry probe of
Jupiter can hardly be called a failure - it wasn't as successful as it might
have been, simply because it had the bad luck to parachute down into one of
the atypical "hot spots" that cover only 8% of Jupiter's surface area in the
equatorial region.

These hot spots are believed to be due to local downflows of stratospheric
Jovian air which strip away almost all of Jupiter's multiple cloud layers,
exposing the warmer depths beneath, and thus confusing any measurements of
water vapor and ammonia in the Jovian atmosphere and perhaps the wind-speed
measurements as well.

Scientists would very much like to obtain accurate measurements of these
gases' average levels, both for meteorological reasons and because they can
provide data on the composition of the ices in the original solar nebula
from which the giant planets formed.

They would also like to see simultaneous measurements of Jovian weather in
several different spots, since a single such measurement from one entry
probe can be as misleading as such a measurement from one spot on Earth
would be.

This Medium-class mission would involve a flyby craft releasing three entry
probes on different trajectories - striking Jupiter at the equator and at 25
degrees north and south - and radioing back data to the main craft as it
flies past Jupiter without stopping.

Scientists are seeking composition and wind data from as deep as 100 bars,
far below the 23-bar level at which the Galileo probe finally failed - and
since Jupiter's air temperature at that depth is fully 390 deg C, the probes
(unlike the vented Galileo probe) will need insulated pressure hulls.

Further adding to their weight problem, they will need thick heat shields to
survive an initial 160,000 km/hour plunge into Jupiter's atmosphere. The
Galileo probe's heat shield weighed as much as the probe itself -- and
estimates are that we could whittle only about 20% off the shield's weight
today using new technologies.

So these probes require a lot of miniaturization in their systems and
instruments, in order to lower their non-shield weight to only 150 kg each
as against the Galileo probe's 340 kg, while taking similar measurements.

But the cost of this mission is still estimated to be only about $500
million, as the carrier spacecraft itself can be fairly simple and
lightweight, using solar panels for power and perhaps not even carrying a

It might be a modified version of the "INSIDE Jupiter" craft which was the
rejected finalist for the latest selection of a low-cost Discovery mission
-- a Jupiter orbiter that would carry only a magnetometer and radiation
detector, but which would still enable a great deal of data to be obtained
by entering an orbit with a periapsis of only 4500 km, so that simply
tracking it would provide detailed data on the planet's interior structure.

This design could be turned into a probe carrier by removing its big
orbital-entry fuel tanks and adding the probes instead. Indeed, the same
craft, with some further changes, could later be used to carry similar entry
probes to any of the other three giant planets.

There was some interesting debate at the later Subcommittee meetings over
whether a cheaper short-term substitute for the Jupiter Multiprobe might be
"JASSI", another recent Discovery proposal in which a craft would fly over
both of Jupiter's poles at low altitude and use a high-quality microwave
spectrometer to precisely measure its water vapor and ammonia.

JASSI and "INSIDE Jupiter" seem to be the only two viable concepts left at
the moment for a low-cost Discovery mission to the outer Solar System; the
former could obtain important information on the planet's composition, while
the latter could provide much better data on its gravity and magnetic fields
and thus on its basic internal structure.

Continue to Part Two of this Report


>From BBC Online News, 28 January 2002

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Scientists have found five new Martian meteorites. The new rocks, which were
blasted off the Red Planet in the distant past only to land on Earth at a
later date, were recovered by expeditions to Antarctica and the hot deserts
of Oman and the Sahara.

They bring the number of known stones from Mars to just 24. Scientists are
fascinated by the rocks because they contain chemical clues about Martian
history and the possibility that the planet once possessed oceans of water
and life.

The recent cache includes six specimens, but two are believed to be chunks
from the same meteorite. One of the pair weighs 13.7 kilograms (30 pounds)
and is the second largest Mars meteorite fragment ever recovered.

Antarctica and the world's deserts have proved fruitful hunting grounds for
meteorite collectors. The dark rocks from space are easier to pick out on
snowy and sandy landscapes.

Martian suspect

One of the rocks was picked up by veteran Mars rock finders Bruno Fectay and
Carine Bidaut of France. They found one now catalogued as NWA 1068, in the
Western Sahara.

It is estimated that 20,000 meteoroids strike the Earth every year, but only
a few come from Mars. The most controversial Martian meteorite is
undoubtedly ALH 84001 which was found in Antarctica. It is thought by some
scientists to contain fossilised evidence of microbial life.

The Mars rocks are thought to have been expelled from the Red Planet eons
ago by a comet or asteroid collision. After floating through space, these
rocks would have landed on Earth - one as recently as a few decades ago.

Scientists are confident they come from Mars because of their relatively
young age (less than 1.5 billion years old), their texture and the masses of
their constituent atoms (like oxygen), which are found in ratios not seen in
rocks on Earth or on the Moon.

There are about 22,000 meteorites catalogued worldwide. These are mostly
pieces from asteroids and their ages all cluster around 4.5 billion years
Copyright 2002, BBC


>From Sergio German Wagner Stinco <>

Dear Benny and All

Our friend Adriana Ocampo sent this mail to us and we would like you all to
come to Argentina to the UN-ESA Workshop.

It will be a great honor.

All best wishes
Sergio Wagner Stinco
Invitation: 11th UN/ESA Workshop on Basic Space Science,

11th United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on Basic Space Science:

World Space Observatory and Virtual Observatories in the era of 10m

hosted by the Institute for Higher Space Studies "J. Mario Gulich" of the
Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) and the Universidad de
La Plata, on behalf of the Government of Argentina (9-13 September 2002,
Cordoba, Argentina)
For more details see the enclosed announcement.
Please note that your indication of interest must be received by July 1,
2002 to:
Institute for Higher Space Studies "J. Mario Gulich"
Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) Cordoba Argentina
Phone: +54-11-4331-0074 Int. 302
Fax: +54-11-4331-3446

Adriana C. Ocampo
Program Executive
NASA Headquarters
Office of Space Science
Code SZ, Astronomy and Physics Division
300 E Street, S.W.
Washington D.C. 20546
tel:(202) 358-0256 /fax: (202) 358-3096
Office Location: 5V86



>From Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny,

I refer to the item "And finally: asteroid impact may have added to
Australian wealth" (CCNet item 25.1.02) based on a News Com. Au. item of the
same date, regarding the Woodleigh impact structure, southern Carnarvon
Basin, Western Australia, and Western Australia's mineral wealth.

The following clarifications/corrections apply:

1. The late Devonian extinctions can not be attributed to a single impact,
as this period experienced protracted extraterrestrial bombardment,
including the Woodleigh impact (D = 120 km; 359+/-4 Ma - Uysal et al., 2001,
Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 192, 281-289), Charlevoix (Quebec; D = 54 km;
367+/-15 Ma), Siljan (Sweden; D = 52 km ; 368+/-1.1 Ma), Alamo breccia
(south Nevada; ~367 Ma), Ternovka (Ukraine; D = 15 km; ~350 Ma); Kaluga
(Russia; D = 15 km; 380+/-10 Ma); Ilynets (Ukraine; D = 4.5 km; 395+/-5 Ma);
Elbow (Saskatchewan; D = 8 km; 395+/-25 Ma).

2. The possibility of an impact structure was first suggested by R.P. Iasky
on the basis of a multi-ring Bouguer anomaly image of the buried structure,
and supported by microphotographs of lamellar quartz in cuttings from 1981
oil drilling by Layton and Associates (Iasky and Mory , 1999, Geol. Surv. W.
Aust. Rep. 69, pp.20-26). Subsequent drilling recovered shock metamorphosed
granitoid from the buried central basement uplift below 190 m depth (Mory et
al., 2000, EPSL, 177, 119-128). The central basement uplift is estimated
from gravity and seismic data as about 25 km in diameter (Iasky et al.,
2001, GSWA Report 79). The history of discovery of Woodleigh is documented
in Glikson (2000, Meteorite, 6, 18-20).

3. Whole rock geochemistry of shock metamorphosed granitoids (F. Pirajno)
and Electron probe studies of mineral phases, pseudotachylite veins and
shock-amorphised (diaplectic) feldspar (A.Y. Glikson) detected anomalous
levels of Mg, Fe and siderophile trace elements (Ni, Co, Cr), interpreted in
terms of introduction of metal-rich volatiles injected into the basement
from the exploding projectile (Mory et al., 2000a,b; Glikson, 2000, RSES
Annual Report, p. 70-71). Siderophile and platinum group element (Ir, Ru)
were later reported by Koeberl et al. (2001; 64th Ann. Meet. Met. Soc.).

4. To date no siderophile element concentrations have been detected which
approach a scale indicating economic mineralisation at Woodleigh impact
structure. No evidence exists for the Woodleigh impact "sparking volcanic
activity around the globe".

Andrew Glikson
Research School of Earth Science
Australian National University

Canberra, ACT 0200


>From Larry Robinson <>


Asteroid 3102 is Krok. Eger is 3103.

Larry Robinson
Sunflower Observatory 739
14680 W 144th Street
Olathe KS 66062


>From John Michael Williams <>

Hi Benny.

When I read your headline, I thought that maybe the PopeMobile was going to
get rocket boosters and anti-asteroid missiles!

I agree with Melosh on this--but, just intuitively, because I haven't done
any calculations.  It seems unreasonable that a single impact could suspend dust with the same
efficiency as a volcano eruption going on for weeks.

                     John Michael Williams


>From Sergio German Wagner Stinco <>

Dear Benny and All
We would like to thank you and all the scientists, educators and writters
that collaborate with the CCNet scholarly electronic network.
Many students read the Cambridge Network and afterwards, they tell their
parents, write to newspapers and politicians about the dangers of NEO´s with
great enthusiasm.
This new generations will be really aware of the dangers of impacts and
invest more talent, time and money to establish an asteroid collision early
warning system.
With just a small fraction of the world military expenses we would be safer.
Every day we have the honour of telling our radio audience of 500 000 people
about these fascinating cosmic objects and CCNet.
We have volunteered for the 2001 The Planetary Society/NASA geologic
expedition to Belize and Mexico, in search of evidence for the
Cretaceous/Tertiary periods (K/T boundary) asteroid
impact that ended the age of the dinosaurs with Adriana Ocampo and Kevin
Pope as leaders of a team of brilliant scientists and very talented and
inventive volunteers.
Kevin's new paper is controversial and new expeditions and research
activities will be necessary.
Sergio Wagner Stinco, Susana Gimenez Mannina and space science students
Patagonia. Argentina. ;

AS ADRIANA SAYS: FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS - Sergio German Wagner Stinco, s.e.s.e.
Examenes de la Costa Science and Languaje Workshop,
Bolivar 930,(8300),Tel.+54-299-448-2390, Neuquen, Argentina
The Planetary Society and NASA Genesis Program Coordinators ;


>From Andy Nimmo  <>

Dear Dr Peiser,

In CCNet on 14th January, Duncan Steel called for a list to be drawn up:
"What would be very useful, if there is an enthusiast out there, is a list
of email address for as many prime ministers, presidents, science and
defence ministers as can possibly be compiled. That way we can really get
some powerful signals through to the people who make decisions." I felt that
this was something that the Space Development Council could usefully
compile, and with Dr Steel's kind permission I repeated his call on our SDC
web sites.
Our initial embryo list is now available in the 'Campaign Folder' in the
'Files' section of both of our sites. These can be found at:  and

If we have made any errors, or if anyone on the CCNet can add to this list,
do please e-mail me: and I will amend and/or add to
the list. All members of CCNet should feel free to use this facility as and
when you feel it to be necessary.

Best wishes, Andy Nimmo (SDC Chairman)


Göran Johansson <>
After my posting on January 18, E.P. Grondine on January 21 suggested that
there was an impact in the 1580s BCE related to Joshua in the Bible. Well, I
hope I will soon be able to spend some time looking upon his evidence, but
for the moment I have another suggestion. So please read on and then you can
decide yourself which date you prefer. Before I continue I should say one
thing. I understand some people don't like my suggestion that the omen
tablets I have mentioned earlier are related to real astronomical phenomena.
My point of view is the following. We have very little surviving material
from this period. And 3,000 years ago people did not write in the same way
as today. So before we argue that one collection of fragmentary texts are
either reliable or unreliable we should try to go through what is written
there and check if it makes sense or not. I have gone through a limited
number of the omen tablets, and they appear to deal with phenomena which can
be verified. So it would be nice if somebody who disagrees goes through as
many as possible of them to make a better check.

In the story with Joshua we have sun standing still and stones falling down.
And at another time the text is probably speaking about an earthquake, if
there is any rational explanation for the story about the walls of Jericho.
We know about a great earthquake roughly 1300 BCE. The story about the sun
standing still might be a poor description of the Novaya Zemlya mirage. In
the tomb of Egyptian ruler Horemhab there is a stela which tells that
Harakhe rises in the west. One could hardly ask for a better description of
this kind of mirroring, if it happened at sunset. There is an unspecified
solar portent from the 10th year of the Hittite ruler Murshilish II, and if
we look at the chronology it could easily be from the same time. Yes, many
people would like to believe this was a solar eclipse but there is none at
the right time.

No, I don't know about any meteorite shower from the same year. But from
summer, 3rd year of Murshilish II, we have an interesting story. It is
quoted in Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, page 208. The king was
marching with his army towards the west when they observed a meteor. The
city Apasa (Ephesus?) was struck by it. The difference in time is just seven
years so I guess the two items were combined in the Bible into one and the
same event.

And what do we have in Hunger's compilation of omen tablets? On page 173 you
have a tablet with the sun standing still, together with a cold winter. I
leave it to somebody who knows more about meteorology to check this but
intuitively I would guess the probability for the Novaya Zemlya mirage to
increase if the weather was cold. Alright, I admit one problem. According to
both the Bible and the omen tablet, the sun was standing still at noon. This
doesn't fit the Novaya Zemlya mirage, neither the Egyptian text. But I think
we can imagine the following situation. Some scribe wrote about this
phenomenon in the late 14th century BCE, and later there was a
misunderstandment. Cuneiform was used for a number of different languages
and dialects, and the scribes also often made mistakes. So perhaps some
expert on ancient languages can solve this problem. It has been suggested
that the text about Joshua was written in the 7th century BCE, during the
reign of Josiah, at about the same time as the omen tablets were written.
Perhaps both authors checked the same old tablet and both interpreted it in
the same erronous way.

The ancient chronology is somewhat uncertain, but the date for the meteor
should be about 1320 BCE, plus or minus a number of years. Let us now see
what more we have in Hunger. Meteors moving from east to west are mentioned
on pages 184, 189, 227, 244, 297 and 300. In the first one we also have a
reference to Jupiter. The planet is in Cancer and moving to the west. This
would be true for May or July 1320 BCE. The Hittite record is from
relatively early in the campaign so May is more probable than July. In the
fifth tablet is mentioned moon in Orion and a long reign. The statement
about the moon would be correct for the night May 23/24. And the Babylonian
king Kurigalzu II had a relatively long reign.

Of course, no meteor can be seen both over Mesopotamia and Asia Minor and
fall down both over Ephesus and Canaan. So we are probably dealing with a
shower. Can we identify any known shower which may have been visible on May
24 in 1320 BCE? If it was fairly early during the day, the movement from
east to west would fit the daytime beta Taurids.

By the way, anything from the Greek myths? Ovid, Fasti 419-422 mentions an
image of Minerva which leaps down, and it can easily be about 1320 BCE. The
city is Troy, not that very far from Ephesus. Besides, according to the
Bible, Acts, the people in Ephesus claimed that their image of Artemis had
fallen down from heaven.

If somebody knows anything relevant, please post a follow-up. Thank you very
much in advance.

Göran Johansson

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Dear friends and colleagues,

I am pleased to inform you that our Open Letter to the Australian Government
has been signed by almost 100 astronomers and researchers from around the
globe (see full list below). It thus truely reflects the international NEO
community and its concerns.

The Open Letter was initiated after the 2001 YB5 fly-by rekindled
significant media interest in Australia about the impact hazard and
triggered a response by a Government spokesperson to the effect that
Australia would now re-consider the possibility of rejoining the
international Spaceguard programme.

The Open Letter was officially air-mailed to the Government yesterday by Jay
Tate in the name of the International Spaceguard Information Centre here in
the UK. A press release by the ISGIC will be issued on Thursday evening.

May I take this opportunity to thank you all for your support. Let us hope
that the officials in Australia will heed our call for action and that our
friends down under will soon join a dedicated Australian Spaceguard

With best wishes,

Benny Peiser


An Open Letter to the Australian Federal Government from International

The Hon John Howard, MP, Prime Minister of Australia
The Hon Peter McGauran, MP, Minister for Science
The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, MP, Minister for Education, Science and Training
Senator the Hon Robert Hill, Minister for Defence
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP, Minister for the Environment and Heritage

Australia's contribution to Spaceguard

Spaceguard is the name given to an international effort to search the skies
for asteroids that might collide with the Earth. The name was coined by Sir
Arthur C Clarke in a 1973 novel that described how mankind set up an
asteroid detection and defence network after a large asteroid
struck Italy and devastated southern Europe. Since the novel was written the
risks and grave consequences of asteroid impacts have been recognised and
studied. Scientists around the globe are now working to ensure that Clarke's
scenario of a sudden, deadly impact does not occur.

The United States is the main contributor to the search effort, with several
telescopes dedicated to Spaceguard. Japan recently constructed a new
telescope facility for Spaceguard work and Europe is in the process of
setting up search telescopes and the vital support systems to analyse the
data from the searches.

Rob McNaught from Siding Spring in New South Wales runs the only
professional asteroid tracking project in the southern hemisphere. This
operation is funded mostly by the United States and is associated with the
Australian National University. It was set up in recognition of the need for
Spaceguard telescopes in the southern hemisphere. Gordon Garradd, an
astronomer from Loomberah in New South Wales, receives some funds from NASA
for critical southern hemisphere follow-up observations using a home-made

However, a much greater search effort, including a larger telescope, is
needed to detect asteroids that pass through southern skies. It would cost
several million dollars to set up a suitable facility in Australia but some
of this might be covered by contributions of equipment from the USA.
Operational costs should be less than $1 million per year. This is a highly
cost effective investment in the prevention of loss of life and severe
economic damage from asteroid impacts.

McNaught and Garradd were previously in a team of Australian astronomers,
led by Dr Duncan Steel, who searched for asteroids between the late 1980s
and 1996. They found about one third of new threatening asteroids discovered
during this period, demonstrating Australian expertise and the importance of
searching southern skies. Australian government funding for the project was
withdrawn in 1996 and the team disbanded.

The United Nations and the OECD have recognised the potential hazard to our
civilisation from asteroid impacts. This month the OECD is looking at the
issue as part of its Global Science Forum and recently asked developed
nations to indicate their plans to contribute to the Spaceguard effort.

A major global Spaceguard effort could provide decades of warning prior to
an impact. This would be sufficient time to refine the space technology
needed to nudge a threatening asteroid into a harmless orbit, or to evacuate
the predicted impact area. Without Spaceguard there would be too little
warning to prevent a disaster. This is clearly demonstrated by the recent
close approach of a 300m wide asteroid. It was discovered only a few days
before it passed by the Earth and, had it been on a collision course, there
is little that could have been done to prevent possibly millions of
casualties when an area the size of Tasmania would have been devastated.

We note that a spokesperson for Science Minister Peter McGuaran said that
the Government would look into renewing the funding of a dedicated
Australian Spaceguard programme (The Age, 9th January). We welcome this
reassessment of the issue and look forward to Australia rejoining the
international effort to deal with the asteroid threat.


Paul Abell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA
Olga T. Aksenova, Blagoveschensk State University, Russia
Gennady V. Andreev, Astronomical Observatory of Tomsk State University,
John Anfinogenov, Tunguska Preserver, Siberia, Russia
Yana Anfinogenova, Siberian State Midical University, Russia
David Asher, Bisei Spaceguard Center, Japan
Mark Bailey, Armagh Observatory, UK
Mike Baillie, Queen's University, Belfast, N. Ireland
Michael J Barlow, University College London, UK
Andrea Boattini, IAS, Area Ricerca CNR Tor Vergata, Italy
Jiri Borovicka, Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic
Mark Boslough, Sandia National Laboratories, USA
Peter Brown, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western
Ontario, Canada
Larisa Budaeva, Tomsk State University, Siberia, Russia
Andrea Carusi, IAS, Area Ricerca CNR Tor Vergata, Italy
Silvano Casulli, Colleverde di Guidonia Observatory, Italy
Clark R. Chapman, Southwest Research Institute, USA
Andrew Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory, USA
Paul Davies, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie University,
Ann Druyan, CEO, Cosmos Studios, USA
Alan Fitzsimmons, Queen's University Belfast, UK
Giuseppe Forti, Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy
Luigi Foschini, Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, Italy
Lou Friedman, The Planetary Society, USA
Michael J. Gaffey, Space Studies, University of North Dakota, USA
Jon Giorgini, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA
Valentina Gorbatenko, Tomsk Polytechnic University, Russia
Vic Gostin, Dept.Geology & Geophysics, University of Adelaide, Australia
Tom Gehrels, The University of Arizona, USA
Ian Griffin, Space Telescope Science Institute, USA
Valentin Grigore, The Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy (SARM),
Gerhard J. Hahn, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Germany
Peter Haines, University of Tasmania, Australia
Nigel Holloway, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority & Spaceguard UK
Syuzo Isobe, Japan Spaceguard Association, Japan
Ola Karlsson, UDAS Program, Uppsala Astronomical Observatory, Sweden
Colin Keay, The University of Newcastle, Australia
Bob Kobres, University of Georgia, USA
Natal'ya V.Kolesnikova, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
Leif Kahl Kristensen, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, University of
Aarhus, Denmark
Karl S. Kruszelnicki, School of Physics, The University of Sydney, Australia
Eleanor Helin, NEAT Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA
Bob Kobres, University of Georgia, USA
Evgeniy M. Kolesnikov, Moscow State University, Russia
Korado Korlevic, Visnjan Observatory - Spaceguard HR, Croatia
Eugeny Kovrigin, Tomsk State University, Siberia, Russia
Richard Kowalski - Quail Hollow Observatory, USA
Yurij Krugly, Astronomical Observatory of Kharkiv National University,
David H. Levy, Jarnac Observatory, USA
Dmitrij Lupishko, Kharkiv National University, Ukraine
Terry Mahoney, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Spain
Brian Marsden, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA
Bruce Mackenzie, National Space Society, USA
Ilan Manulis, The Israeli Astronomical Association, Israel
Austin Mardon, Antarctic Institute of Canada
Jean-Luc Margot, California Institute of Technology, USA
Gianluca Masi, Bellatrix Observatory, Italy
Alain Maury, CNRS, France
John McFarland, Armagh Observatory, UK
Natalya Minkova, Tomsk State University, Russia
Joe Montani  The University of Arizona, USA
Darrel Moon, Oxnard College, California, USA
Joe Montani, The University of Arizona, USA
Thomas G. Mueller, Max-Planck-Institut, Garching, Germany
Chernykh Nikolaj, Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, Crimea, Ukraine
Steve Ostro, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA
Trevor Palmer, Nottingham Trent University, UK
Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Joaquin Perez, Universidad de Alcala, Spain
Paul Roche, University of Glamorgan, UK
Maria Eugenia Sansaturio, University of Valladolid, Spain
Lutz D. Schmadel, Astronomisches Rechen-Institut Heidelberg, Germany
Hans Scholl, Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur, France
Vladimir A. Shefer, Astronomical Observatory, Tomsk State University, Russia
Carolyn Shoemaker, Lowell Observatory, USA
Vadim A. Simonenko, Space Shield Foundation, Russia
S Fred Singer, University of Virginia, USA
Giovanni Sostero, Remanzacco observatory, Italy
Reiner M. Stoss, Starkenburg Observatory, Germany
Jay Tate, International Spaceguard Information Centre, UK
Luciano Tesi, Osservatorio di San Marcello Pistoiese, Italy
Jana Ticha, Klet Observatory, Czech Republic
Josep M. Trigo-Rodriguez , University Jaume, Spain
Roy A. Tucker, Goodricke-Pigott Observatory, Arizona, USA
Harry Varvoglis, Department of Physics, Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki, Greece
Gerrit L. Verschuur, University of Memphis, USA
Fiona Vincent, University of St.Andrews, Scotland, UK
Dejan Vinkovic, University of Kentucky, USA
Vladimir Vorobyov, Pomor State University n.a. M.V. Lomonosov, Russia
Chandra Wickramasinghe, Cardiff University, Wales, UK
Gareth Williams, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,
Don Yeomans, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA
Oleg M. Zaporozhets, Kamchatka State University, Russia
Krzysztof Ziolkowski, Space Research Centre, Warsaw, Poland

CCCMENU CCC for 2002