CCNet 29/2002 - 25 February 2002

"Premier Tony Blair and US President George Bush are being urged to
hold a summit to save the world - from asteroids. Scientists and
politicians fear an asteroid or comet could smash into our planet and
destroy life on Earth. Astronomer and Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik is
trying to broker the summit on a danger he believes is even more potent than
Osama Bin Laden. He said: "We must create an international alliance
led by America and Britain to address the greatest ever threat to
--The Sunday People, 24 February 2002

"Life is risk. Some of those risks are too small to worry about. For
instance, there is a risk that you will trip over your own two feet, fall
down,and dislocate your finger. That risk is there, but it does not stop
you from walking. At the other extreme, some risks are too big to worry
about. For instance, there is the risk that a previously unnoticed meteor
will destroy the earth tomorrow. Do you lose sleep planning how to handle
that contingency?  No. It is unmanageable."
--Insurance Industry, 18 February 2002

"If dinosaurs adapted to such a variety of environments, how did one
nuclear winter knock them off? Anyone who explains the whole picture of
dinosaur extinction has to explain high- latitude dinosaurs."
--Roland Gangloff, University of Alaska Museum, February 24,

    The Sunday People, 24 February 2002

    Kerry Williams <>

    Rocky Mountain News, 22 February 2002

    The Seattle Times, 22 February 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    News24, 21 February 2001

    Newsday, 24 February 2002

    Mark Kidger <>

    Max Wallis <>


>From The Sunday People, 24 February 2002

PREMIER Tony Blair and US President George Bush are being urged to hold a
summit to save the world - from ASTEROIDS.

Scientists and politicians fear an asteroid or comet could smash into our
planet and destroy life on Earth.

Astronomer and Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik is trying to broker the summit on a
danger he believes is even more potent than Osama Bin Laden.

He said: "We must create an international alliance led by America and
Britain to address the greatest ever threat to civilisation."

He says the Star Wars project could be the answer.

Copyright 2002, The Sunday People


>From Kerry Williams <>


>From The Anchorage Daily News, February 24, 2002

By Ned Rozell
Alaska Science Columnist for The Anchorage Daily News

A colossal meteorite that slammed into Earth about 65 million years ago may
have killed the dinosaurs, but there's a good chance it did not. The proof
may be locked in the permafrost of Alaska's North Slope.

A 60-mile stretch of the Colville River holds layers of well-preserved
dinosaur bones that researchers can't reach using conventional methods.
Roland Gangloff and his colleagues hope to get funding soon to mine the
permafrost for fossils and possibly unearth one of the greatest riddles of
history -- what killed the dinosaurs?

Gangloff is earth science curator of the University of Alaska Museum in
Fairbanks and an associate professor of geology and geophysics. He teamed
with Australian colleagues Thomas Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich to write a
paper on polar dinosaurs published in the Feb. 8, 2002 issue of the journal

The far-north and far-south dinosaur hunters suggest that polar dinosaurs
were some of the most adaptable creatures to ever live, perhaps too
resilient to be killed by the affects of one giant
asteroid. The prevailing theory on the demise of the dinosaurs is that a
meteorite struck Earth about 65 million years ago, kicking up dust that
blocked the sun's rays and chilled the planet to
temperatures intolerable for dinosaurs.

"If dinosaurs adapted to such a variety of environments, how did one nuclear
winter knock them off?" Gangloff said. "Anyone who explains the whole
picture of dinosaur extinction has to explain high-latitude dinosaurs."

Arctic dinosaurs first made the news in the early 1960s, when geologists and
paleontologists found dinosaur footprints embedded in rock on the island of
Spitzbergen and found dinosaur bones falling from the banks of the Colville
River in Alaska. Since then, researchers have found scattered evidence of
the creatures from the high Arctic of Canada to near the South Pole.

The Colville River remains the richest deposit in Alaska. According to plant
fossils dating to the period from 85 to 100 million years ago -- a time
consistent with the fossilized dinosaur tracks -- Alaska had a climate
similar to the southern California coast. Alaska's climate was more like the
coasts of Oregon and Washington 68 to 85 million years ago, the period to
which paleontologists have dated most of the bones found near the Colville

The Australian researchers found dinosaur bones alongside prehistoric
evidence of permafrost in southeastern Australia. Using oxygen-isotope
methods to determine the average temperatures at the
time the far-south dinosaurs lived, the scientists came up with a reading of
about minus 2 degrees Celsius. The modern mean annual temperature of
Fairbanks is minus 2.9 degrees Celsius.

Alaska and Australia paleontologists have both discovered species of
dinosaur with bulging eyes and brains, which may have been an adaptation to
low light.

Dinosaurs that lived far from the warmth of the equator -- possibly in
climates as extreme as present-day Fairbanks -- may make people rethink how
dinosaurs lived and died. Hundreds of clues wait beneath the floodplain of
the Colville River, frozen where dinosaurs died en masse millions of years

Ned Rozell is a science writer at the Geophysical Institute, University of
Alaska Fairbanks. He can be reached by e-mail at
A glossary of Alaska Science Forum
columns is available online:


>From Rocky Mountain News, 22 February 2002,1299,DRMN_1_998663,00.html


When a 6-mile-wide asteroid slammed into Earth 65 million years ago, it
wiped out the dinosaurs, about 80 percent of the world's plant species, and
all animals bigger than a cat.

But what happened to the bugs?

It's been tough for scientists to determine how the insects fared because
they rarely leave behind fossils.

But a Denver paleontologist and his Smithsonian Institution colleagues found
a way around the problem: By studying insect damage etched into thousands of
fossil leaves, they determined that many plant-eating bugs perished in the
big impact.

"These little insects are leaving their calling cards on the fossil leaves,
and we have an excellent fossil record of leaves," said Kirk Johnson,
curator of paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

"So by looking at the insect damage on the leaves before and after the
dinosaur extinctions, we can make a pretty good educated guess of what
happened to the insects."

Johnson and his collaborators estimate that 55 percent to 60 percent of
plant-eating insects were exterminated. Their findings are reported in this
week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over the past 20 years, Johnson has collected 13,441 plant fossils from
quarries in southwestern North Dakota.

When the asteroid hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, it threw up clouds of dust
that traveled around the globe. Johnson pulled fossils from rock layers
directly above and below those sediments.

At the time, southwestern North Dakota was a warm, forested plain with lots
of broad-leafed trees.

Some leaves, now stored at the Denver museum and at Yale University, are up
to a foot long. Individual leaf veins are visible, as are the diagnostic
chomp marks, tunnels and holes left by prehistoric beetles, grasshoppers,
butterflies and moths.

Certain insects rely on a single species of plant for sustenance; others are
generalists that feed on several plant types.

By analyzing insect-damaged leaves before and after impact, researchers
determined that the generalists survived, while 70 percent of specialists
did not.

Smithsonian entomologist Conrad Labandeira was the lead author of the
research paper. The third author is Peter Wilf of the Smithsonian and the
University of Michigan.

(Contact Jim Erickson of the Rocky Mountain News at


>From The Seattle Times, 22 February 2002

Book Review
'Future Evolution': Asteroids aside, we're not vulnerable

By David B. Williams
Special to The Seattle Times

Five times in Earth's 4.5 billion-year history, some natural event, such as
an asteroid impact, climate change or changes in sea level, has led to the
mass deaths of more than half of all plants and animals.

After each catastrophe, life roared back, evolving from what scientists call
recovery fauna into greater numbers of species than before. One such massive
extinction 200 million years ago led to the Age of Dinosaurs, which gave way
to the Age of Mammals, the 65-million-year-long period that our species
dominates at present.

Many scientists believe that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.
They cite evidence that the number of species going extinct on the planet at
present rivals or surpasses any past event. They place the blame squarely on
our shoulders and warn that we must change how we treat the planet.

University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward has been one of these
advocates. In his last book, "Rivers of Time," he effectively examined mass
extinctions and humanity's preeminent role in the process, and clearly
showed that we are in the midst of an unparalleled die-off of species. Ward,
however, has changed his theme; he no longer thinks we are in the midst of a
mass extinction. Instead, we have moved past the Age of Mammals into what he
calls the Age of Humanity.

His most recent book, "Future Evolution: An Illuminated History of Life to
Come" (Times Books, $35) describes his way of viewing the world. He argues
that we have passed through the most consequential phase of this sixth mass
extinction - the elimination of many birds and the great beasts of the last
ice age - and have entered a phase that will eliminate smaller, more
localized species, as well as wild varieties that we consume. In addition,
islands, whether natural or artificial, such as national parks or habitats
surrounded by a sea of humanity, will face the next round of species

He also observes that the recovery of many fauna and flora are now in place,
too. They all share a similarity, the ability to live with humans. This
includes domesticated plants and animals and the "weeds" of the world, such
as rats, dandelions and starlings. They will form the seeds of future

What will this future be like? Ward predicts fewer large animals and less
diversity, mostly because we have carved the present habitat into spaces too
small for the bigger beasts. Offshoots of genetic engineering may lead to
unusual plants and animals, and weeds may evolve into superweeds, all able
to exploit the "niches and corners" of our world. In the future, our
descendants might find carnivorous dandelions, flying snakes, raptorial
crows or swimming pigs.

He also believes that "humanity is functionally extinction-proof." Neither
disease, nor war, nor catastrophic climate change will do us in. We will be
here until the very end, although we may see changes through the
proliferation of potentially heritable behavioral disorders, or some joining
of humans and machines. A main concern is that an asteroid may hit the
planet, but even that will probably not kill all of our species, and those
that survive will flourish again.

Ward makes a leap in this book, but one backed by compelling and
thought-provoking evidence. Throughout his career, he has focused on
extinction and evolution, and he shares numerous examples to illustrate how
the past gives insights into the present.

He has produced a thesis that will surely cause many people to re-evaluate
humanity's role on the planet, as well as conservation issues and genetic
engineering. He continues to show that he is one of the most intriguing
writers about extinction and evolution. One other key aspect of this book is
the inclusion of artist Alexis Rockman's futuristic paintings. He fleshes
out many of Ward's ideas in colorful and whimsical depictions. Their
addition makes this fine book that much more enjoyable.

Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company


>From Ron Baalke <>

Critical thermal tests begin for Rosetta comet chaser
European Space Agency
February 21, 2002

With less than 11 months to launch, the most advanced spacecraft ever to
visit a comet is about to begin a critical series of thermal tests at the
European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the
Netherlands. These tests will play a vital role in ensuring the success of
ESA's Rosetta mission to unravel the mysteries of Comet Wirtanen.

During its 10-year, 5 billion kilometre mission of exploration,  the Rosetta
spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperature changes as it flies from
the benign environment of near-Earth
space to the dark depths of the Solar System beyond the asteroid belt.

In order to ensure that Rosetta will survive this hazardous trek - the
cosmic equivalent of travelling from the sizzling deserts of North Africa to
the frozen wastes of Antarctica - the spacecraft has now been installed in
the largest thermal vacuum chamber in Europe, where every part of the
Orbiter and Lander will be alternately baked and frozen inside an airless

"These are the most critical tests in our entire pre-launch programme
because they reproduce the conditions that Rosetta will experience in
flight," said Rosetta Payload and Operations Manager, Claude Berner.

The three-week-long series of thermal tortures began on 20 February, when
engineers started the lengthy process of removing air from the giant
chamber. In order to create a vacuum equivalent to that of deep space, this
'pumping down' was expected to take more than one day.

Once the depressurisation is completed, the so-called 'thermal balance -
thermal vacuum' tests can begin. Perched on a gimbal system - a table that
can both tilt and rotate - the position of
the spacecraft will then be adjusted so that every phase of its complex
flight plan can be simulated.

"We will be working in three shifts, around the clock, to examine the
condition of the spacecraft during simulations of 15 different mission
phases," said Claude Berner. "This means we will have to manoeuvre it into
specific attitudes that represent critical parts of the mission in terms of
exposure to heat or cold."

During three circuits of the inner Solar System, the amount of solar
radiation reaching Rosetta will vary by as much as 25 times. The period of
maximum heating, which will take place near the
Earth, is simulated by using mirrors and powerful lamps. These will expose
different parts of the spacecraft to temperatures exceeding 150C.

In order to simulate the cold of deep space, where the temperature drops
well below -100C, liquid nitrogen will be pumped through pipes in the
chamber walls. More than 100 active sensors will be monitoring the responses
of the spacecraft's systems and instruments during this punishing programme.

"We want to make the tests as realistic as possible, so we are testing the
full flight configuration of Rosetta in the chamber," explained Claude
Berner. "The spacecraft is blanketed by layers of aluminised kapton that
provide insulation against extreme cold, while onboard radiators will be
expected to expel excess heat."

"We even have simulated propellant in the fuel tanks to see whether any
leakages occur," he added. "It is also important to discover how much
outgassing from the spacecraft structure takes place as the temperature

The Rosetta team expects the thermal tests to be completed in the second
week of March.


>From News24, 21 February 2001,1113,2-10-19_1148121,00.html

Hamburg - After the most successful interplanetary research mission in
history, the German-American space craft Galileo has now been put on course
for a crash landing with the planet it has been studying for more than half
a decade: Jupiter.

Next November, the "miracle space probe" will pass by Jupiter more closely
than it ever has in its previous 33 fly-bys, and then almost a year later,
it will, as planned, disappear into the planet's atmosphere.

That event will close the logbook on a mission which, despite the early loss
of the main antenna, provided for a whole series of "firsts" in space
exploration and ushered in a new era of planetary research.

As with so many things with this probe, even the way it got started on its
journey was unusual.

Brought aloft on October 18, 1989, by the US space shuttle "Atlantis", the
Galileo was the first to be sent into the interior of our solar system in
order to use the gravitational fields of Venus and the Earth to send it,
slingshot-style, soaring towards Jupiter.

The darkest chapter came on April 11, 1991, when the main antenna, which had
been folded up for protection against the heat as Galileo passed by the sun,
failed to properly unfold again. Months of attempts to open the antenna up
proved to be futile.

It still appears to be something of a miracle that, with the help of a small
auxiliary antenna, 70 per cent of Galileo's research programme could still
be carried out.

After an odyssey of several years the probe, with its propulsion system
built by the former German aerospace company MBB, achieved its orbit around
Jupiter in December 1995. Before that, Galileo succeeded in training its eye
on the "Gaspra" asteroid and in discovering a moon in Jupiter's system.

Astronomers say a pioneering feat was the first documented collision of
objects in our solar system: in July 1994, Galileo witnessed the crash of
the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet onto Jupiter.

Initially, Galileo's mission to study Jupiter and its moons was to have
lasted until 1997. But it was extended three times. In this period, the
probe absorbed three and one-half times the amount of dangerous radiation
than its builders had conceived.

Galileo's arrival at Jupiter was accompanied by a number of highlights,
including the dropping of a smaller capsule into the thick atmosphere of a
planet with 318 times the mass of the earth, providing new scientific data.

Copyright 2002, Sapa-DPA


>From Newsday, 24 February 2002
Associated Press Writer

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- William J. Clancey tags along when NASA researchers visit
a crater 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle to explore its Marslike

"The scientists are studying the crater, the geology and biology of this
land, and I'm studying the scientists," Clancey said.

He wants to see how they go about their business to develop ways that
computers and other devices can be used to help astronauts explore Mars.

Clancey, a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence at the
University of West Florida's Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in
Pensacola, is on loan to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field,

NASA scientists have found that the Canadian Arctic's Haughton Crater,
formed when an asteroid struck Devon Island 24 million years ago, has many
geological features similar to Mars.

"It was like Mars on Earth, a Mars park, if you will," said Pascal Lee, a
planetary scientist for the private SETI Institute (Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at Mountain View, Calif.

Lee also works at Ames as leader of the Haughton-Mars Project, which studies
the similarities and differences between Devon Island and Mars.

Clancey, as leader of a NASA space exploration research team, has joined the
Haughton scientists for their annual visits the past four years, spending 10
days to a month on the island each summer.

"We want to understand exploration," Clancey said. "How do people explore?"

To make the research realistic, scientists put on spacesuits that restrict
their visibility and maneuverability. They limit their time on each traverse
because on Mars they would be restricted by the amount of oxygen they could
take with them.

One of the first lessons from Haughton was that all-terrain vehicles with
single seats offer better mobility than larger moon buggies with
side-by-side seating for two astronauts.

"You have much better balance," Clancey said. "It would be a one-on-one
thing, but in a pinch if one of them breaks down you can get two people on

Cumbersome spacesuit gloves quickly posed a challenge to the scientists as
they took notes on their observations.

Clancey said the answer could be audio recordings that may have to be
transmitted to Earth for transcription unless sufficient improvements are
made in speech recognition software so it can be done on Mars.

Storing and accessing data, getting it back to Earth and communicating with
Earth are other issues his team is working on.

Astronauts have near-instantaneous contact with mission control while in
Earth orbit but will face lengthy delays from faraway places such as Mars.

"Imagine you're on Mars and you just had a malfunction," Clancey said.

It may be 10 minutes before the message gets to mission control, which uses
10 more minutes to formulate a response that takes yet another 10 minutes to
get back to Mars.

"That's 30 minutes from the time that you said, 'Houston, we have problem,'"
Clancey said.

The answer may be computers such as the fictional HAL 9000 in the film
"2001: A Space Odyssey," which advised astronauts how to handle emergencies
until deciding it had to get rid of them to complete its mission to Jupiter.

"We haven't built HAL, but it's the general notion of artificial
intelligence," Clancey said. "We definitely have it within our capabilities
to have programs that answer basic factual questions about where stuff is
stored, what are the procedures I should follow, what's the interpretation?"

In contrast with past moon exploration, Clancey found scientists at Haughton
returned repeatedly to the same spots instead of trying to sample as many
different places as they could.

"They're not just out there on what we'd call a fishing expedition," Clancey
said. "They have a sense in mind of what there is to be found and where they
might look."

Lee said that's important for NASA to understand when designing Mars

"Bill Clancey's work is at the very core of learning how to optimize the
living and working conditions of humans on Mars," he said.

Another focus is on what scientists will do inside their Mars habitats.

The Mars Society in 2000 built a research station at Haughton similar to
those that might be established on Mars. Six-member crews rotate in and out
from June through August. The private group is building another station at
Hanksville, Utah, for year-round study.

Clancey, meanwhile, is working on computer software to create a virtual
reality habitat for testing layouts, designs and procedures and training
future Mars explorers.

There is disagreement within and outside the scientific community about
whether humans should go to Mars at all or if exploration should be left to

Clancey believes there is a place for both.

"We're not going to Mars just for the science," he said. "We go because of
the adventure. Why do you climb Everest? It's not just to get samples of

On the Net:
William J. Clancey:
Haughton-Mars Project:

Copyright Newsday, Inc.



>From Mark Kidger <>


The address for my light curve of Ikeya-Zhang got truncated somehow
(probably in my original message). It should be:



>From Max Wallis <>

One person's pessimism is another's realism

Dear Benny,

You wrote
> By balancing the growing awareness of Earth's
> catastrophic history with the prospect of future disaster
> prevention, CCNet is steering clear from doom-mongering
> and cultural pessimism.

This was concerned with COMMUNICATING on THE IMPACT HAZARD but evidently
generalises beyond that.

As the topic is "communicating", I'd suggest that others say first what they
thing the main clause means. To me "steering clear" implies the moderator's
choosing, but what do we reckon he is keeping clear of?
Max Wallis
Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology
2 North Road                         tel. 029 2087 6425
Cardiff University CF10 2DY            

MODERATOR'S NOTE: I thought my philosophy is fairly simple to understand:
"CCNet is steering clear from doom-mongering or cultural pessimism." What
exactly is it, Max, you didn't get?

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