Date sent:        Tue, 10 Feb 1998 09:43:29 -0500 (EST)
From:             Benny J Peiser
Subject:          CC DIGEST, 10/02/98
Priority:         NORMAL


    Duncan  Steel
    Oliver Morton

    Jim Bladen

    Ivan Goethals

    Lew Gramer


From a recent discussion between Duncan Steel (Spaceguard
Australia) and Oliver Morton (science journalist, London) on the
"Third Culture" network. For further information see the EDGE
Website ( ).

From: Duncan  Steel

Lewis Wolpert's question struck a chord with me:

"Why do people believe in things for which there is no evidence and
would it be a mistake to try and persuade them not to?"

I've been engaged for some years in trying to persuade people/
governments that there is a hazard to individuals/civilization/our
species from catastrophic impacts by asteroids and comets. But what I
(and my colleagues in such an endeavor) meet with is a total denial:
that there is no such hazard. Thus Wolpert's question for me has a

"Why do people NOT believe in things for which there IS evidence and
is it a mistake to try and persuade them to do so?"

Evidence = e.g. impact craters on Earth & Moon, asteroids & comets
flying by, impacts on Jupiter in 1994, geological and fossil record,
simple sums showing that a 2 km asteroid impact would release energy
equivalent to a million megatons of TNT, etc.

We have an awesome responsibility: so far as we know, we inhabit the
only planet bearing life (DNA) in the universe, and we are the only
species which can spread life/DNA throughout the galaxy. A decent
asteroid impact could put an end to that possibility, for maybe
millions of years.

Thus I have another question, which is actually more general than
just this topic in which I am interested (the hazard from big

"Why are we shirking our responsibility to the universe?"


DUNCAN STEEL is a research scientist, broadcaster; author of ROGUE


From: Oliver Morton

A reply to Duncan:

Like Duncan, I've thought about this one too, though not as much and
not necessarily in the same way. It seems to me that people shirk
responsibility when they want to deny that they have it and when they
think they can get away with. If Duncan and his fellow travellers
fail to persuade someone to do something about it, then the question
of whether we can get away with the denial becomes an empirical one.
But the reasons for the denial are still interesting.

If we had the sense of deep time that Stewart Brand and Greg Benford
asked questions about, then we'd have no trouble taking impacts
seriously (though I suppose that's not necessarily the case -- we
might take the falls of civilisations less seriously instead...). As
an aside, it strikes me that a trivial way of increasing people's
sense of deep time would be through simulations, perhaps using simple
screensavers, that show extremely slow processes speeded up to be
merely slow by everyday standards: glaciers at one month: one second,
impacts at one year: one second, the hawaiian island chain at 1,000
years: one second, etc. I'd buy one.

But even without a developed sense of deep time, the belief that
impacts actually happen is already out there. It's widely accepted as
a truth about the world, not just by scientists, but by the public
and by those politicians who have thought about it. When there was an
impact report from Greenland just before Christmas it made the news
all around the world, as did the questions of what would have
happened if it had hit a city or if the next one was bigger. Impact
stories that put the facts more or less accurately have been on the
cover of almost every newsmagazine and are staples of the science
pages; the spaceguard report that Duncan worked on was the subject of
congressional hearings. Intellectually, it is an idea people can
accept. Its just that there is a huge distance between accepting
an idea intellectually and behaving accordingly -- ask anyone who's
worked on AIDS prevention programmes.

The slight shift in relatively small patterns of technoscience
spending required to meet the threat Duncan warns of might seem
rather easier to accomplish through rational argument than a personal
change in sexual behaviour. But political changes need
constituencies, and "people who will be harmed by an impact" simply
do not make up an identifiable constituency, while people who will
benefit directly from a search programme and protection mechanisms
make up a small constituency in the already politically-very-
well-served space sector.

However, I don't think this political problem is quite the whole
story. I think the denial is rather deeper -- and it's a denial not
of the threat, but of our powers. I first became aware of the impact
problem when I read Niven and Pournelles "Lucifer's Hammer", part of
the message of which was that if the impacting comet had come a
decade or so later mankind would have just pushed it aside. When I
came to write about the subject years later I found that this was
largely true -- the problem of finding most potential impactors and
dealing with any direct hazards is relatively simple (though
the long period comet envisioned by N&P would be much harder to deal
with). And now I think that that very fact contributes to the denial.
It's not that people worry about the ability to divert asteroids
being misused in the ways that Carl Sagan warned of: its just that
the sheer power involved seems too much. In this regard people are
more worried about our capacity to disturb the universe than they are
about the universe's capacity to destroy our civilisation. I wrote
about this for The Independent in London last February -- the piece
may still be on their website. It ended like this:

Perhaps people do not want to see themselves connected to the
universe in this sort of way. The geologists who for years resisted
the impact explanation for the dinosaurs' death simply didn't want
asteroids to play as big a role in the history of the earth as, say,
the wanderings of one of its own tectonic plates. Tough: they do.
Humans and the earth they live on are linked to the universe in all
sorts of strange, indirect, unsettling ways - and, worse yet,
humanity  now has the power to change these connections. We can empty
seas and denude vast forests, we can warm an entire planet and now,
given just a little warning, we can push aside flying mountains. It's
genuinely frightening to contemplate such power, especially when you
realise how poorly decisions about using it are made or not made.
Better to deny the risk of asteroid impacts than to accept the fact
the humans can redirect the stars in their courses. It's a delusion,
in this case a slightly dangerous one - but you can understand it.

Best, o


From: Jim Bladen (

The following web site documents Dr. Luann Becker's Antarctica expedition to
collect meteorites and Antarctic ice samples:

Dr. Becker will analyze the meteorites and ice, and will compare the organic
components of each to address the origin (terrestrial or extraterrestrial)
of the material. Part of Dr. Beckers' research involves the assessment of
organic matter in martian meteorites. An important issue to address in these
studies is what organic components are present in the Antarctic environment,
and how the Antarctic weathering process affects the preservation of organic
matter in meteorites.

Dr. Becker is an astrobiologist/geochemist with the University of Hawaii.
Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. This site enables Dr.
Becker to collaborate with her peers and Mars enthusiasts worldwide from the
field in Antarctica.

This web site is sponsored by Oracle Corporation in a cooperative effort to
make the findings of this scientific expedition available to interested
persons worldwide.


From: Ivan Goethals

A while ago, I posted info about a program I wrote to process meteor
observations.  During the last few months, I've been improving the
program (eg. plottings can be processed as well now), and I've been
removing some nasty bugs.

The program (Win95/NT) is called "Meteor companion v1.11", and is
able to process practically all meteor countings and plottings. Using
it, I was able to reduce the time I spent processing my observations
by at least a factor 3.


More info can be found at (be sure your browser supports frames...)

The pictures provided at this adress belong to an older version (1.0)


The program itself can be downloaded at

(use a program like WINZIP to unpack)

Clear skies, and... little waisted processing time,

| Goethals Ivan  |  | Van Gorplaan 32  |
|--------------------------------------| B2580 PUTTE      |
| | BELGIUM          |
| Meteor companion, the easiest way to process your       |
| meteor observations.                                    |
| |


From: Lew Gramer

"Meteorobs" is an email mailing list devoted to all aspects of
(primarily amateur) meteor observing: its 220+ subscribers include
representatives from most major national and international amateur
meteor organizations, some professional researchers, and many of the
most experienced individual amateurs in the world!

All postings to 'meteorobs' are archived on the World Wide Web at:

This 'meteorobs' home page now also includes a link to a "Keyword
Search" form, which will allow you to find PARTICULAR TOPICS anywhere
within the complete archive of nearly 7000 meteorobs postings dating
back to early 1996. Keyword Search is available at:

This topic retrieval is also supported in email via MajorDomo.

It is hoped that this searchable archive can serve as a serious
research and learning resource for the world Meteor Community. If you
have any questions or suggestions about 'meteorobs', or would like to
subscribe to the mailing list, please email me! There is also a Web
form for subscribing at:

Clear skies, and many meteors!
Lew Gramer


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