CCNet, 14/2000 - 2 February 2000


     "During its yearlong orbital mission, NEAR is expected to take
     images from as close as nine miles away — and even attempt a
     landing. Eventually, data from NEAR could help scientists learn
     how to divert an asteroid from colliding with Earth if such a
     situation ever arose."
          -- Alan Boyle, MSNBC

     "The story goes that only about 10 people survived, with two of
     them -- a young woman and her infant son -- completing an epic
     trek to begin the process of rebuilding their culture sometime
     soon before the arrival of permanent European settlers. In an
     unusual effort of multidisciplinary synthesis, a team led by
     tree-ring scientist Gordon Jacoby of the Lamont-Doherty Earth
     Observatory has demonstrated that this mythic disaster did in fact
     take place in 1783, most likely as the result of a massive
     volcanic eruption that occurred thousands of miles away in
        -- Kurt Sternlof, UniSci

    Juan Zapata-Arauco <>

    MSNBC, 1 February 2000

    Jim Benson <>

    European Space Agency <>

    Matthew Genge <>

    Rolf Sinclair <>


From Juan Zapata-Arauco <>

Dear Benny:

CCNet readers may be interested in the following:

Tree-Rings Show Mythic Disaster Did Take Place

From UniSci, Daily University Science News,

The oral traditions of the Kauwerak people of extreme northwest Alaska
describe a great disaster of cold known as "The Time that Summertime
Did Not Come." The resulting famine and hardship decimated their
population at this fragile northernmost fringe of human habitation.

The story goes that only about 10 people survived, with two of them -- a
young woman and her infant son -- completing an epic trek to begin the
process of rebuilding their culture sometime soon before the arrival of
permanent European settlers.

In an unusual effort of multidisciplinary synthesis, a team led by
tree-ring scientist Gordon Jacoby of the Lamont-Doherty Earth
Observatory has demonstrated that this mythic disaster did in fact take
place in 1783, most likely as the result of a massive volcanic eruption
that occurred thousands of miles away in Iceland.

Their work, funded by the National Science Foundation and published
recently in Quaternary Science Reviews, combined elements of
dendroclimatology with volcanology, history and anthropology to solve
the chilling mystery.

"The whole thing is somewhat like a dime novel detective story," Jacoby
said. "There are a lot of different clues from various fields of
inquiry that weave together into a remarkable story."

Dendroclimatology is the science of deciphering evidence of past
climate as recorded by trees in their annual growth rings. In general,
the better the growing season, the wider the ring and the denser the
wood added in late summer.

By carefully analyzing tree-ring records, researchers can not only
infer temperature, rainfall and other elements of past climate, but
also date backward to determine the exact year, and sometimes the
season being studied.

Whether or not the trek of the Kauwerak woman called Napauruhk occurred
exactly as chronicled, the eruption of the volcano at Laki, Iceland on
June 8, 1783 fits with the oral tradition of a normal spring and early
summer that turned suddenly frigid, snowy and barren. The journals of
European explorers in the region around that time also speak of
deserted villages and a notable decline in the apparent native

Independent corroboration comes from tree-ring data, which show 1783 to
have been the coldest growing season in that area for over 900 years.

While the ring-widths for 1783 were not unusual, the density of the
wood from the second half of the growing season was uniquely low, which
also suggests an abrupt end to summer. Their analysis indicated that
temperatures in July and August hovered at or below freezing, Jacoby said.

That unusual cooling events often follow on the heels of volcanic
eruptions is well documented, Jacoby said. The sulfurous gases released
into the upper atmosphere combine with water to form crystals of acid
that reflect solar radiation back into space. The resulting loss of
incoming heat leads to lower temperatures. But the degree and
distribution of cooling tends to be uneven.

In fact, there have been three unusually cold summers in North America
during the past 400 years of tree-ring history, all of them immediately
following major volcanic eruptions and none of them affecting the entire
continent. The year 1641 was cold in north central Canada, 1783 was cold
in northern Alaska, and 1816 was cold in eastern North America.

The Laki eruption produced the largest lava flow in recorded history
and is estimated to have released up to 280 million tons of sulfurous
gases into the upper atmosphere. The acid haze from the eruption was
noted as far away as China, and is known to have lowered temperatures
throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In Japan, 1783 is also known as the
"year without a summer."

Just why the effect was so severe in northwest Alaska remains a
mystery. Perhaps a temporary oddity of atmospheric circulation
concentrated the unseasonably cold air over the region. Whatever the
exact mechanism, though, the important lesson is that the event was
catastrophic for the Kauwerak, but of little consequence elsewhere in
North America, Jacoby said.

"This demonstrates that major volcanic eruptions can lead to important,
even devastating localized cooling events," he said. "We can’t assume
that volcanic eruptions always yield globally averaged effects, or even
that they’re distributed smoothly at the continental scale.

"We need to understand more about these kinds of extreme climatic events
-- their frequency, ferocity, distribution and causes. This type of
multidisciplinary research can really extend our knowledge and expand our
awareness of the potential for future events."

"The fact is they’re probably far more common than we’d like to think,"
Jacoby said. "We need to realize that these events can happen, have
happened in the past, and will certainly happen again. The world isn’t
always the consistent, predictable place we might wish it to be." - By
Kurt Sternlof


From MSNBC, 1 February 2000

Lovely new images of an asteroid
NEAR spacecraft heads for Valentine’s Day rendezvous

By Alan Boyle
Feb. 1 —  From millions of miles away, the Near Earth Asteroid 
Rendezvous spacecraft is beaming back images and movies, leading up to
its close encounter with the asteroid Eros this month. Right now Eros
looks like a pebble slowly rolling in the blackness of space, but
scientists expect it to grow to a screen-filling extravaganza.

AFTER ALMOST exactly four years of space flight, NEAR is due to go into
orbit around the micro-world Feb. 14. The Valentine’s Day arrival time
is strangely fitting, since Eros is named after the Greek god of love
(also known by his Roman sobriquet, Cupid).

In preparation for the rendezvous, the 18.3-foot-wide (5.6-meter-wide)
spacecraft started taking pictures of the asteroid in mid-January, when
Eros was still 27,200 miles (35,300 kilometers) away. As of Tuesday,
NEAR had closed to within 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) of Eros.

The spacecraft and the asteroid are both roughly 165 million miles (265
million kilometers) from Earth — and experts emphasize that there’s
absolutely no danger that Eros will collide with our planet, at least
for the next few million years or so.

NEAR was originally scheduled to start swinging around the asteroid a
year ago. Engine problems forced a course change, however, meaning that
the spacecraft could come no closer than 2,375 miles (3,830 kilometers)
to Eros during its December 1998 flyby.

Despite the disappointment, scientists learned a great deal about the
rock from that earlier pass. They determined that the asteroid was
slightly smaller than previously thought — about 21 by 8 by 8 miles (33
by 13 by 13 kilometers). And they saw variations in surface color and
reflectivity indicating that the asteroid has a diverse surface makeup.

Scientists said Eros appeared to be about as dense as Earth’s crust,
and twice as dense as asteroid Mathilde, which NEAR flew past in June
1997. It also has two medium-size craters and a prominent ridge that
extends as far as 12 miles (20 kilometers).

All this suggests that Eros is a rocky object rather than a floating
rubble pile, as scientists believe Mathilde to be. Images taken during
an earlier flyby in December 1998 (top row) were used to develop
computerized renditions of Eros' contorted shape (bottom row). Eros'
shape has been compared to that of a shoe, a battered boat or a cosmic

This month’s encounter with Eros is sure to be more intimate, so to
speak. That’s the reason why mission managers are interested in the
approach pictures: They help confirm Eros’ position and rate of
rotation, and would also eventually show whether there were any
mini-moons or other material floating around the asteroid. In the past,
satellites have been detected orbiting other asteroids, such as Ida and

“If Eros has a moon, we surely wish to know about it before we go into
orbit,” NEAR mission managers explained in a status report.

Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory is overseeing the
$211 million NEAR mission on NASA’s behalf.

During its yearlong orbital mission, NEAR is expected to take images
from as close as nine miles away — and even attempt a landing.
Eventually, data from NEAR could help scientists learn how to divert an
asteroid from colliding with Earth if such a situation ever arose.

Earthlings won’t have to worry about Eros specifically for a long time,
said project scientist Andy Cheng.

“Eros is in a chaotically changing orbit that will within the next few
million years most likely become an Earth-crossing orbit,” he told
MSNBC. He estimated that the asteroid might have a 5 percent chance of
hitting Earth at some point in the next 100 million years or so.
But if such a collision ever occurred, it would pack a catastrophic
wallop, Cheng said. “Eros is actually bigger than the asteroid that
ended the age of the dinosaurs,” he said.
Copyright 2000, MSNBC


From Jim Benson <>


This may be SpaceDev's most important announcement to-date. Please read
it carefully.

SpaceDev trades on the NASD Over the Counter (OTC) market under the
trading symbol of  SPDV.

Our web site is:



Lunar, Mars and Asteroid Missions to be Assessed

Poway, Calif., and Huntington Beach, Calif., February 1, 2000  -- 
SpaceDev, Inc. (OTCBB: SPDV), the world's first commercial space
exploration and development company, and The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA),
the world's largest aerospace company, announced today that they have
teamed together to investigate opportunities of mutual strategic
interest in the commercial deep-space arena.

Under terms of an agreement recently approved by the companies, the
Boeing Space and Communications Group will team with SpaceDev's Space
Missions Division to investigate a variety of small, low-cost,
deep-space mission initiatives formulated by SpaceDev.

In coming months, technical and corporate staff from each company will
further refine and advance SpaceDev's concept of commercial missions to
the Moon, Mars and near-Earth asteroids, involving micro-spacecraft of
250 kg mass.  The effort also includes a global assessment of the
market potential for such missions, and a technical and programmatic
assessment of launch-vehicle options for such missions.

"I believe that the next major 'New New Thing' will be the no-holds
barred, explosive opening of space by the private sector and the
convergence of space with the Internet, providing huge amounts of
unique content and the largest Internet audience delivery mechanism to
date," said Jim Benson, SpaceDev Chairman and CEO.  "We are very
pleased that Boeing has decided to join us in looking at the business
case for trailblazing missions to commercially and scientifically
explore the territory of the inner solar system. We look forward to
working with the experienced Boeing team to help get these unique and
historic missions off the ground," Benson said.

SpaceDev has been refining the design of its commercial Near Earth
Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) mission since 1997 and started offering
commercial, fixed-price Mars probe-carrier and Moon orbiter missions
with real-time streaming video last year. In November 1999 the company
competitively won a contract from University of California, Berkeley to
design, build, integrate, test and operate the CHIPSat astronomy
micro-spacecraft, NASA's first University-Class Explorer (UNEX) mission
to proceed into the implementation phase.

Commenting on the agreement with SpaceDev, Rick Stephens, Boeing vice
president and general manager for  Reusable Space Systems, said,
"Boeing recognizes the potential for the commercial exploration of
space and we applaud SpaceDev's entrepreneurial efforts in paving new
inroads in this emerging market area.  This collaborative effort will
allow us to substantiate the projected market demand for commercial
deep space missions and jointly develop future market-driven solutions
to meet this demand." [...]

For more information:

James Benson
Chief Executive Officer
(858) 375-2020


From the European Space Agency <>

The stars are the chemical factories of the Universe: they synthesise
in their cores new chemical elements that combine in the stellar
outskirts to produce new molecules, and these will become part of the
raw material out of which more stars, planets, and maybe even living
organisms will form. ESA's infrared space telescope, ISO, has
identified many of these compounds in space.

About 150 astronomers, including many experts in space-chemistry, will 
present and discuss results in the field at ESA's Villafranca station,
in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 4 February.

Full story:



From Matthew Genge <>

Dear Benny,

The discovery of fossilised bacteria in carbonaceous chondrites by
Zhmur and Gerasimenko (CCNET, 31st Jan) is hardly surprising since
these materials are easily contaminated by terrestrial micro-organisms
which thrive on the abundant carbonaceous components. Most meteorites
have had more than enough opportunity to pick up terrestrial passengers
simply through their years of repeated handling by loving museum
curators. Murchison is even more likely than most to have experienced
contamination since it fell in a farmyard and at least some of the
stones had to be recovered from a ditch filled with manure. For
Murchison therefore the presence of bugs from space seems less likely
than those of bovine origin.


Matt Genge


From Rolf Sinclair <>

Jan. 31, 2000

Hi Benny --

Some natural disasters that were once inevitable can now be prevented.
Here is one example of how understanding a disaster can show how to
avoid it. An article in today's "Washington Post" ("Pipes Will Help
Volatile 'Killer Lakes' Vent", p. A9) describes the "killer lakes" of
Africa, and how they can "erupt" periodically and smother humans and
animals within some miles with an asphyxiating cloud of CO2. It also
describes a simple cure, saying:

"(This) project is a rare preemptive strike at natural disaster. With
hurricanes, tidal waves and earthquakes, we are essentially limited to
going in after and picking up the pieces. With this [method of draining
off the CO2 slowly and harmlessly] we have the opportunity to mitigate
the hazard before there is a loss of life."

The article is at

We can learn a lesson from this regarding potential impactors.


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CCNET-ESSAY, 2 February 2000


By Jon Richfield <>

Panspermia is not intrinsically implausible, but in science it has
played a minor, inglorious role, not far removed from that of cold
fusion. The scientific establishment is not especially blind,
hidebound or malicious, but even plain common sense makes its demands
and a hypothesis must meet certain standards to be taken seriously,
never mind accepted as a leader among viable alternatives.  ...


CCCMENU CCC for 2000