CCNet, 18/2000 - 27 January 2000


     "Imagine watching live on your computer as an un-piloted
     spacecraft flies over the poles of the moon to search for frozen
     water that could one day provide fuel for deep space voyages or
     even sustain a human lunar colony. Or picture a live asteroid
     flyby, or a view from 20 miles (32 kilometers) above Mars's
     mysterious shifting polar ice caps, beamed directly to your home.
     It could happen by the end of 2001, said Boeing Co. and its new
     deep-space partner, Spacedev Inc."
         --, 9 February

    THE GOOD ....
    SpaceViews, 9 February 2000

(2) THE BAD.......
    ABCNews. com, 9 February 2000

    Oliver Morton <>


    SPACE.COM, 9 February 2000

    THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 February 2000

    THE GOOD ....

From SpaceViews, 9 February 2000


Just one day after astronomers reported that a newly-discovered
near-Earth asteroid had a small probability of colliding with the Earth
in 2022, new observations have eliminated entirely the impact hazard.

On Monday, Italian astronomer Andrea Milani reported that asteroid 2000
BF19, discovered late last month, had a one-in-a-millon chance of
colliding with the Earth in 2022.

Within a day, new observations of the asteroid by Jim Scotti in Arizona
and Rob McNaught in Australia allowed astronomers to recalculate the
orbit of the asteroid and eliminate all possibility of an impact in
2022, according to Milani. In this new orbit, 2000 BF19 comes no closer
than 5.6 million km (3.5 million mi.) of the Earth over the next 50

The combination of the low impact probability and the estimated small
size of the asteroid -- well under 1 km (0.62 mi.) in diameter -- kept
the asteroid at a 0 on the Torino scale, a 0-10 measure of the risk to
the Earth posed by a near-Earth asteroid.

Although the impact probability was not very high, Milani publicized the
prediction to encourage astronomers to observe the asteroid so the orbit
could be refined and the probability either increased or, in this case,
eliminated. "This object is visible tonight and is fading, so I rate
this message as scientifically urgent," he wrote.

One concern that Milani noted in his message declaring the asteroid
"safe" was that the Arizona observations were performed several days
before Milani announced the potential impact hazard on Monday. It was
not immediately clear why those new observations were available before
Milani hade his impact prediction.

Several asteroids have been discovered in the last two years with
non-zero impact probabilities. However, in every case but one, those
impact probabilities have become zero as additional observations of the
asteroid permitted refined calculations of its orbit that eliminated any
chance of an impact.

The one exception, 1998 OX4, was lost before additional observations
could be made. It presently has one chance in ten million of hitting the
Earth in January 2038, and less likely impact probabilities in 2044 and

Events like this, when an asteroid briefly has a small chance of
striking the Earth, will become more common in the future, said one

"It is worth noting that as more and more near-Earth objects are
discovered, there will be an increasing number of objects whose initial
orbits allow the remote possibility of an Earth impact at some future
date," noted Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program.

"However," he added, "as additional observations of these newly
discovered objects become available for processing into the orbit
determination process, the vast majority of these potential Earth impact
possibilities will disappear."

Copyright 2000, SpaceViews

(2) THE BAD.......

From ABCNews. com, 9 February 2000


By Matthew Fordahl
The Associated Press

Feb. 9 — An asteroid initially thought to be on a possible collision
course with Earth in 2022 will miss the planet, astronomers said
Tuesday after reviewing new data collected by scientists around the

For the fifth time (sic!) in two years, reports of Earth-threatening
asteroids were proven wrong (sic!) within days of being announced.
Some scientists fear the public may become desensitized to the

Nothing to Worry About — Yet

"Someday, we’re going to find something that will have a 1 in 1,000 or
1 in 100 chance of impacting Earth," said James Scotti, who discovered
the asteroid last month at Kitt Peak National Observatory. "When that
happens, I’d rather us be taken seriously."

Scotti did not know about the celestial rock’s possible trajectory
until Monday, when Italian researcher Andrea Milani posted an Internet
message warning of a 1 in 1 million chance of a collision and asking
other astronomers to track it carefully.

A day later, Milani announced that the new observations allowed him to
make more precise calculations. The asteroid, named 2000 BF19, would
come no closer than 3 million miles to Earth over the next 50 years,
he said.

New Data, New Calculations

"This change is the result of computation I did today from the
response of my call to arms yesterday," Milani said. He said it took
about four hours to compute the course using the new observations from
around the world.

The object also was being followed (sic!) at the Near Earth Object
Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, but it quickly became apparent that the
half-mile-wide rock posed no real threat. The laboratory has never
issued an asteroid collision warning (sic!).

"In almost all of the five cases, we’re the ones who came back and
said it won’t happen," said the program’s manager, Donald Yeomans.
"We’re the nay-sayers."

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.



From Oliver Morton <>


I thought some of your readers might find this story (a long one --
just posted the URL) amusing in the light of events on Monday

best, o

Oliver is travelling: please cc replies to


The 2000 AAAS Annual Meeting and Science Innovation Exposition
will be held in Washington, D.C. on February 17-22, 2000 at the
Washington Marriott Wardman Park and the Omni Shoreham

Symposia Synopses - Looking Beyond Earth

Unpredictable Natural Events of Extra-Terrestrial Origin:
Their Impacts on Humanity

Saturday, February 19, 2000, 9:00am - 12:00noon

Organized by Rolf M. Sinclair, Chevy Chase, Maryland


The Earth does not exist in splendid isolation, watching the passing
parade of the Cosmos as a detached spectator. Affairs on Earth are
quite strongly coupled to the Universe through a broad spectrum of
tangible extraterrestrial inputs. These range from repeated impacts
from the icy and stony rubble of the nearby Solar System, to fluxes of
radiation arising far off in this and other galaxies. The very imagery
of the skies, which is usually so predictable, can sometimes change
without warning. This symposium will explore these often-unpredictable
extraterrestrial inputs and the profound effect they have had on human
culture. Two examples to be described are impactors from space that can
physically devastate sizable regions on Earth, and spectacular
transient events visible to the naked eye that can stir the human
imagination and intellect. In this we are guided by the geological as
well as the environmental, archaeological, and historic records. Our
systematic and inclusive treatment of these data yields surprising new
insights into the development of human civilization and our place in


Rolf M. Sinclair, Chevy Chase, Maryland
    The Bombardment of Earth and the Changing Sky

Benny J. Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom
    How Many Cosmic Impacts have Punctuated Earth
    During the Last 10,000 Years?
Walter Dean, U.S. Geological Survey
    A Geologic Perspective on Possible Solar-Induced Climatic
W. Bruce Masse, Los Alamos National Laboratory
    The Living Sky: How Transient Celestial Events
    Shaped Religion and Science


From SPACE.COM, 9 February 2000
Boeing, Spacedev to End NASA Moonopoly

By Chris Stetkiewicz
posted: 11:40 am EST
09 February 200

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Imagine watching live on your computer as an
un-piloted spacecraft flies over the poles of the moon to search
for frozen water that could one day provide fuel for deep space
voyages or even sustain a human lunar colony.

Or picture a live asteroid flyby, or a view from 20 miles (32
kilometers) above Mars's mysterious shifting polar ice caps,
beamed directly to your home.

It could happen by the end of 2001, said Boeing Co. and its new
deep-space partner, Spacedev Inc. The pair last week unveiled
plans for what would be the first for-profit lunar launch
and end NASA's 30-year monopoly on moon missions.

"You have experiments the scientific community would like to see
done that NASA doesn't care about. Combined with the public zest
for space, it could be hugely profitable," said Jim Benson,
president of Spacedev, which is based in Poway, California.



From THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 February 2000

Megadrought Appears to Loom in Africa


Lately, it has become increasingly clear to scientists that in the
10,000 years since the last ice age ended, the world's climate has
often served up droughts far surpassing anything seen in the last 150
years, resulting in some cases in the collapse of entire ancient

[...] Natural long-term variations in precipitation, especially dry
periods, have long had a major impact on human societies.

Researchers have linked a 300-year drought starting about 4,200 years 
ago to the collapse of the world's first great empire, that of the
Akkadians in Mesopotamia. Drought is also believed responsible for the
collapse of several pre-Inca civilizations in South America, and to
have been a major contributor to the disappearance of the Mayan
civilization in Central America.


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February 1997 on, can be found at


CCNet-ESSAY, 10 February 2000


By Jonathan Tate, SPACEGUARD UK <>

As Brigadier General Worden started his essay with a disclaimer, I feel
that I ought to do the same, although as a mere Major I am
significantly lower in the food chain than he is! Suffice to say that
the British Ministry of Defence has no official view on the Near-Earth
Object (NEO) hazard, and has made it clear to the author that it
considers this hazard outside its remit ("shut up and go away").
However, the Department of Trade and Industry has taken the
responsibility upon itself, and this, in itself, is something of a

Over the past couple of years the concerns of parts the NEO community
have begun to shift from the threat posed by the "traditional" one
kilometre or larger objects to the 50 to 500 metre objects that are
capable of inflicting local or regional damage. This shift in emphasis
seems to be, at least in part, the result of a number of factors:

* The recent, and continuing success of detection programmes such as
  LINEAR and Spacewatch in detecting unprecedented numbers of the
  larger NEOs, and a substantial number of smaller ones. These
  increasing detection rates, coupled with well publicised estimates
  that appear to have reduced the number of large threatening objects
  are beginning to engender the hope that we will soon have the
  situation as it pertains to these larger objects under control.

* Emerging technology makes the detection of smaller, dimmer objects
  increasingly practical.

* The realisation that small impacts can have hitherto unrecognised
  effects on the environment and the infrastructure on which our
  civilisation depends.

* An increasing understanding of the rate at which small impacts occur.

* And finally, over the past few years it has become clear, despite the
  best efforts of many, that the NEO community is unlikely to be able
  to grip funding agencies (particularly governments) with a threat
  that occurs only on timescales of hundreds of thousands of years.

While these are all good arguments to shift the centre of gravity of
our proposals and work, the fact remains that the main threat posed to
the physical well being of our species (and that of all of the others
as well) comes from the rare, globally threatening impacts. The
arguments put forward in the middle of the last decade still hold

The speed at which research is advancing in all aspects of this subject
is staggering, in theoretical studies, hardware and software
development, and in the integration of other disciplines into the
overall picture. We should also not forget the changes being made in
the public perception of the impact hazard. Each advance, in whatever
sphere, changes our overall perception of the threat to a greater or
lesser extent. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that, as
far as detection is concerned, we are far from achieving our goal with
the larger objects. True, we may see the light at the end of the
tunnel, but there’s a long way to daylight yet. Some members of the
public and the press are getting the idea that the scientists have the
problem licked. This is dangerous and should be discouraged. Some
statements that have appeared recently tread a perilous line between
comforting optimism and irresponsibility.

It is also worth remembering that detection, while being the “sexy” end
of the market, is of little or no value unless there is the back up
support of follow-up observations, characterisation, physical and
dynamical studies etc, etc. These areas are barely keeping up with
current detection rates, and will be severely pressured by further

All of this is not to say that we shouldn’t be raising a large red flag
over the smaller object threat. All of the factors that I mentioned
above apply, but we still do not have the levels of funding that allow
us to concentrate on anything but the primary threat.  However, to use
the threat from smaller objects as a trigger for additional funding is
both appropriate and to be encouraged. The one thing that has become
abundantly clear in the UK is that we are not going to achieve a
full-blown, all encompassing programme overnight. We have to attack the
problem incrementally, based on current research and the political and
financial realities of the moment. If additional or independent
resources should become available, or when our survey of the larger
objects reaches an acceptable level of completeness, then we should
shift the emphasis to smaller objects. We may, of course, be overtaken
by events, in which case the problems of funding might disappear

We should be anything but complacent about the “Tunguska” type of
event. Indeed, such events pose a clear and present danger to every
part of the globe, but we must be very careful about complacency over
the ever-present threat of a globally threatening catastrophe.

On a slightly separate issue, I was a little surprised to read some of
the things in Louis Friedman’s comment. Firstly, he implies that
discussion of methods to prevent a catastrophic NEO collision has led
to a loss of credibility for the NEO community. I fear that, as far as
the public are concerned (who pay for science, after all) precisely the
opposite is true. They cannot see any point in detecting, tracking and
studying NEOs unless there is something that we can do about the
hazard! I have heard the concept of study without planning for
mitigatory action described as "scientific masturbation" – and that by
a politician.

I was also a bit surprised by the arguments against military
involvement in the search for NEOs. The question of whether the NEO
problem is one of research or defence has been well aired over the
years, and here is not the place to retread the old paths. I do not see
Brigadier Worden’s proposal as a solution looking for a problem, but
even if it is, if the DoD is indeed willing to search for a role,
better this than some other things that I can think of. There are
certainly drawbacks to military involvement in essentially civil
programmes, but the military have skills that civilians can have
difficulty with and resources that can be of great value. Also, the
"mainstream" scientific community, certainly in UK, has a really hard
time viewing NEO survey as "pure research" (remember Duncan Steel’s
kangaroos?), so resources become difficult to find. In my original
paper (that was submitted to the British Ministry of Defence) I pointed
out that the Government of the United Kingdom has been charged, by the
Crown, with the defence of the realm. This duty has been distilled into
three National Defence Roles:

Defence Role 1 - To ensure the protection and security of the United
  Kingdom and its dependent territories, even when there is no
  immediate external threat.

Defence Role 2  - To ensure against any major external threat to the
  United Kingdom and its allies.

Defence Role 3  - To contribute to promoting the United Kingdom's wider
  security interests through the maintenance of international peace and

It should be noted that there is no definition or limitation on
possible threats to the United Kingdom explicit in these tasks. You
will see that, for the UK at least, there need be no "mission search" –
it’s already implicit in the MOD Mission Statement.

I think it is imprudent to be dismissive of military involvement at
this early stage – they (we) have C3I systems, hardware and wetware
that are ideally suited to search programmes and the essential task of
planetary defence. NEOs are not just objects of sterile scientific
interest – the public demands security and that means defence against
threats internal and external. We are burying our heads in the sand if
we think that we needn’t worry about mitigation.

Anyway, congratulations to Pete Worden on a long awaited and well
deserved promotion – too long in coming!

Finally, all best wishes from the members of Spaceguard UK to Paolo
Farinella after his operation. I gather that all is well at the moment,
and we pray for his steady and drama free recovery.

Jay Tate
Spaceguard UK

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CCCMENU CCC for 2000