CCNet DIGEST, 2 March 1999


     "Finding something is not the same as discovering what is found.
     The more astronomers study the growing evidence of extra-solar
     planets, the less the planets resemble anything in the one
     planetary system they had known and had based their theories on:
     the Sun's family of planets." (The New York Times, 2 March 1999)

    Andrea Milani Comparetti <>


    Tony Ortega, Astronomy Magazine, April 1999

    The New York Times, March 2, 1999


From Andrea Milani Comparetti <>

Dear OrbFitters and dear friends,

This message announces the new and significantly improved
distribution 1.9.0 of the free software OrbFit. Although there are
also improvements in the algorithms, from the user's point of view
the main improvements are a user-friendly installation procedure,
online help facilities, and the possibility to install on many more
different computers and operating systems (notably WINDOWS).

The purpose of the software system we are distributing, maintaining
and continously upgrading, is to make available to observers of
asteroids an easy to use but accurate and reliable software to
compute preliminary orbits, ephemerides, improved orbits (by
differential corrections), identifications, and other auxiliary
functions, to allow the processing of astrometric observations and
the planning of observational campaigns (typically to recover lost

Main improvements with respect to 1.8.0 are:

1) The online hypertext help has been fully restructured, and is now
a user manual including all the instruction to upload, install, and
start using the software.

2) Absolute magnitude (that is more or less size) is now
automatically esitmated every time a new orbit is computed.

3) The input/output of observations has been fully restructured. We
now provide a new file format (.rwo) containing Residuals, Weights
(including rejection flags) and Observations. This can be used as
input, although the MPC format (.obs) files are also accepted, with a
sophisticated logic to control the priority.

4) A Windows version, running under Windows95, Windows98 and Windows
NT is now available as an executable; we compile the Windows version
from the same source directories, by using Digital Visual Fortran 6.0
and the NMAKE utility.

5) We have added a jpleph directory under ./src. The Makefile and
documentation there are intended to simplify (a bit) the task of
creating binary format JPL Ephemerides on your machine.

6) We are now supplying binary ephemerides for Windows and Linux at
our ftp site: .

We are presently working toward several improvements, described in
the file README.workinprog which is enclosed with the distribution;
the most urgent one is to generate a better graphics, especially for
the WINDOWS version for which the graphics output is not available

The software can be obtained at

A README file to be found therein provides all the necessary
instruction for installation on all flavours of UNIX and WINDOWS

This software system has been developed by a consortium including A.
Milani and S. Chesley (Pisa University), M. Carpino (Astronomical
Observatory Milano/Brera), Z. Knezevic (Astronomical Observatory
Belgrade) and G. B. Valsecchi (CNR Rome).

Copyright (C) 1997-1999 OrbFit Consortium

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.

To contact us:,,,



March 1, 1999

LONDON (CNN) -- By now, you have probably heard the story of Homer
Hickam Jr.

Born and raised in a tiny West Virginia coal town, a teen-aged Hickam
looked to the night sky after the launch of Sputnik in October of 1957,
hoping to catch a glimpse of the 184 pound satellite as it streaked by.

He never saw it, but like the rest of the world, he heard those
strangely menacing beeps, and realized in an instant what it meant for
the world and where he wanted to be in it. Homer Hickam knew he wanted
to work for NASA and be one of Wernher von Braun's boys. He wanted to
build rockets. And so he got to work.

Over the objection of his coal-mining father, but with some
encouragement from an understanding mother and teacher, he and some
friends began building model rockets -- with sometimes frightening,
sometimes comical, every now and then, stunningly successful results.

Ultimately, it was Hickam's ticket out of Coalwood. He ended up working
for NASA as an engineer -- his rocket projects growing to a size and
complexity that he could not have imagined as he gazed into that October

That, of course, is the title of the Hollywood version of Hickam's
charming memoir "Rocket Boys." (In case you haven't noticed -- "October
Sky" is an anagram of the book title). I haven't seen the movie yet,
but started the book before I left for London, and have been savoring
it during every free moment I get.

I was thinking about Hickam's book earlier this week when I visited a
small space hardware manufacturer west of here (in Newbury) called
Space Innovations Ltd.

SIL's 50 employees design small satellites (able to carry 100 to 600
pound payloads) as well as X- and S-band transmitters and receivers to
keep those satellites in touch with their owners.

The owner of the company is an intriguing American entrepreneur by the
name of Jim Benson. Producer Linda Saether and I are profiling him for
an upcoming piece on "NewsStand/Fortune."

Benson's San Diego based company SpaceDev is the world's first
commercial space exploration company. He's got some big plans for
making money on the exploration and exploitation of space -- including
sending a small satellite to a near-Earth asteroid in late 2000.

He is convinced he can turn a profit on this venture by selling rides
for scientific instruments to a government, a company or a university.
But what really caught my attention is what he'd like to do next.

When the science mission is complete, the SpaceDev Near Earth Asteroid
Prospector (NEAP) satellite will make a soft landing on the asteroid
Nereus, laying the groundwork for Benson to stake his claim.

Benson eventually would like to mine Nereus for its resources. Can you
guess what resource might be most precious on an asteroid? It's water.
That's right, water. After all, remember what rocket fuel is: hydrogen
and oxygen. H20 -- ice -- might prove, in space, all that glitters
really isn't gold. Who knows? Jim Benson might one day become the John
D. Rockefeller of the space revolution.

In fact, Jim Benson is certain there will be a revolution in space in
the next decade. He compares it to the industry where he made his
fortune: computers. The relentless miniaturization of electronics
brought down mainframe giants like Sperry, Univac, Burroughs and
Honeywell. Could small, inexpensive satellites do the same to the big
aerospace contractors? Benson thinks so. And he is putting his money
where his mouth is.

I was wrestling with these revelations when I met Stephen Gardner, one
of SIL's young aerospace engineers. He looked up from the computer
image of the tiny satellite he is helping design and he told me: "It's
really come full circle. Right back to Sputnik-size spacecraft."

Sputnik-sized yes, but able to do so much more than beep. I wonder who
now realizes, in an instant, what this means for the world. Will bright
teen-agers one day long to be one of Jim Benson's boys?

Copyright 1999, CNN


Tony Ortega
Astronomy Magazine, April 1999

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, receives about 10,000
position reports of known and new asteroids and comets a month. But
beginning in March 1998, a single Air Force telescope has swamped the
MPC. The telescope submitted 160,000 observations in September alone
-- sending a shudder of disbelief through the world's
astronomical-research community.

The little known, high-tech military telescope run by scientists from
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory has,
virtually overnight, become the world's preeminent tool for finding
asteroids and comets. The LINEAR observatory, short for Lincoln
Near-Earth Asteroid Research, uses a state-of-the-art telescope with
super-fast light detectors to find so many asteroids that astronomers
don't even try to keep track of them all. It is finding such an
abundance of near-Earth asteroids, main-belt asteroids, and comets
that astronomers are stunned.  Comets named after people could be a
thing of the past.

Until [my] visit, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory had permitted only one
film crew to see the telescope. Grant Stokes, an astrophysicist who
runs the program from MIT, also in Cambridge, agreed to let me see
the installation. It is located in a patrolled, high-security area on
the White Sands Missile Range about a mile from Trinity Site, where
the first nuclear bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945.

The LINEAR observatory is a squat, sheet-metal building surrounded by
eight small observatory domes. Most of them are used in Ground-based
Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance, or GEODSS, a program that
keeps track of about 9,500 man-made objects that orbit Earth. With
GEODSS, the United States can see everything from astronaut gloves to
foreign spy satellites whizzing by overhead.  LINEAR uses just one of
the telescopes in one of the domes.

The LINEAR CCD, or charge-coupled device light detector, has 5
million pixels, or picture elements, arranged in a 1960- by
2560-pixel array. The LINEAR chip is back-illuminated, meaning that
instead of losing precious light-gathering potential to a lattice of
wiring that connects pixels, electrical connectors that connect each
pixel are etched into the chip. As a result, the chip is as thick as
aluminum foil and has twice the light-gathering capacity of a
conventional CCD.

Astronomers wait up to two minutes for data from a conventional CCD
to be recorded, whereas the LINEAR CCD reads all of its pixels in a
few milliseconds. Stokes showed me how the chip manages it. Above and
below the light-gathering area there are highly reflective areas that
he calls "frame stores." They're effectively 5,000 parallel channels
through which the information stored on the millions of pixels can be
rapidly shifted.

The information is read by a computer via eight parallel channels of
fiber optic lines. The LINEAR chip soaks up enough starlight to
detect faint, 19th-magnitude stars in only 10 seconds. The chip then
dumps the information into a computer so fast, the chip is ready for
the next frame without having to use a shutter.

LINEAR's 1-meter telescope is housed in a small dome outside the
metal building.  Eric Pearce, the on-site astronomer who manages the
facility, simply removes a cloth cover before working each evening.
The scope runs itself automatically. The telescope's mount was built
for quick slewing-and-stopping. It makes asteroid detection seem like
child's play. Taking rapid snapshots, it has time to take five images
of each piece of sky. The scope photographs most of the night sky
during 10 nights of observing each month.

Powerful computers layer the five pieces on top of one another. With
a push of a button, software gobbles up thousands of stars on the
screen. Suddenly, the only objects remaining on the screen are a
handful of objects the software decides are asteroids and cornets..
"If you're willing to take five frames, the software has a very good
performance with respect to probability of discovery and a very low
false-alarm rate," says Stokes in his understated, technical way.
"The Minor Planet Center tells us that when we sweep through an area
we find everything we're supposed to find: everything they know
about, plus stuff they don't know about."

The results have been astonishing. Since LINEAR went on line at full
speed in March 1998, the project has swamped the MPC with new
discoveries. Of the 147 total near-Earth objects found in all
observatories between March and November, LINEAR discovered 102 of
them. Of the objects discovered during that period that were 0.6
miles (1 km) or larger -- the size considered large enough to cause
climatic disruptions on Earth -- LINEAR discovered 26 of the total
38. Of 28 comets discovered in the same period, LINEAR had its
name attached to 13 of them.

By January 3, overworked orbit calculators at the MPC had given
designations to 19,293 new asteroids discovered by LINEAR in only 10
months of operation. That is only 5,984 fewer asteroids than
Spacewatch [at the University of Arizona] discovered in 16 years.
"The MPC is going to have to get some new computers," Stokes says
with a satisfied grin.


From The New York Times, March 2, 1999


The discovery of planets around other stars has made Epicureans of
astronomers. Not that they now put out the fine silver, pop the cork
and dress for dinner by candlelight every long night under the
observatory dome; they are still unwrapping their tired sandwiches and
tearing open the corn chips, thank you. But nowadays their tastes run
to the cosmic musings of the eponymous founder of Epicurean philosophy.

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher in the fourth century B.C., did not
explicitly predict the existence of planets around stars other than the
Sun, but he believed in an infinity of worlds, meaning other ordered
systems beyond the visible universe as it was then conceived. This
contrasted to the Earth-centered cosmos of the contemporary Aristotle,
whose cosmology prevailed in Western thought for more than two

Only in the last three years have astronomers established the reality
of latter-day Epicurean speculations about a plurality of worlds, which
in recent centuries came to mean planets beyond the solar system, some
possibly inhabited. But while astronomers tip their hats to Epicurus,
they just wish he had advised them how to make sense of the distant
planets being detected by their telescopes.

Finding something is not the same as discovering what is found. The
more astronomers study the growing evidence of extra-solar planets, the
less the planets resemble anything in the one planetary system they had
known and had based their theories on: the Sun's family of planets.

At last count, astronomers in the United States and Europe had observed
18 nearby Sunlike stars showing telltale motions from the gravity of
large, unseen planets orbiting them, and they fully expect to find
more. Yet they suspect they have seen enough to begin rethinking how
nature creates and destroys planets and choreographs their orbital

Nine of the objects hug closer to their parent stars than Mercury is to
the Sun, closer than standard theory predicted planets could be; one is
so near that it makes a complete revolution -- its full year -- every
3.1 Earth days. The other nine travel unusually elliptical, or
oval-shaped, orbits, several of them plunging in relatively close to
their stars and then swinging far out again; orbits in the solar system
are almost circular. Several extrasolar planets are at least three
times as massive as Jupiter, the solar system's giant, and one is
estimated to have 11 times the Jovian mass -- raising questions about
how massive can a planet be.

Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy, the astronomer at San Francisco State University
who has had a hand in most of the discoveries, is as surprised as
anyone. "A trend is now being stamped on these discoveries that we
thought, frankly, would go away," he said.

But it has not, and questions pile up. Many stars may have planets, as
the discoveries suggest, but is there a typical pattern? Could the
solar system be an oddball? If so, does that diminish prospects for
intelligent life's existence elsewhere in the universe?

Dr. Alan P. Boss, a theorist of planetary systems at the Carnegie
Institution of Washington, thinks astronomers will eventually "find
systems that look something like our solar system." He acknowledged
that they would also "find many more surprises to make us rethink what
we're doing."

Astronomers concede that so far their sampling of extrasolar planets
may not be representative, only a reflection of detection capabilities.
They have no proof yet of another Sunlike star with more than one
planet, or with anything considerably smaller than Jupiter. But it is
easier to observe the gravitational effects of Jupiter-class planets,
especially those extremely close to the host stars. It takes years of
repeated observations to gather reliable evidence for planets traveling
the longer orbits at much greater distances from a star. And it is not
yet possible to detect in any orbit, near or far, an Earth-size or even
Saturn-size planet.

The newest detection, announced last month, was of the smallest
extrasolar planet yet examined, one that has less than half of
Jupiter's mass and is only 1.4 times more massive than Saturn. The
planet, in a tight 3.5-day orbit around the star HD 75289, was found by
a team of Swiss astronomers led by Dr. Michel Mayor of the Geneva
Observatory, who in October 1995 reported the first confirmed planet
around another star like the Sun.

In the next decade, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
expects to fly several space telescopes for a more comprehensive survey
of planets around nearby stars. On the drawing board is an advanced
satellite called Planet Finder that someday could send back the first
pictures of Earth-type extrasolar planets.

"It's a terribly exciting field right now," said Dr. Stephen Lubow, an
astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
"The discoveries have really opened a new window on the nature of
planetary objects in the universe."

The first discoveries of extrasolar planets should have prepared
astronomers to expect the unexpected. In 1992, radio astronomers
reported the first strong evidence of such objects, but the two planets
were not orbiting a normal star. They accompanied a pulsar, the dense
remnant of an exploded star and not a neighborhood likely to be
hospitable to life.

Dr. Mayor and Dr. Didier Queloz of Switzerland then detected a planet
around 51 Pegasi, a solar-type star, and this was soon confirmed by Dr..
Marcy and a colleague, Dr. R. Paul Butler. The first accepted planet of
an ordinary star excited and puzzled astronomers. Both teams were
startled to find that the planet, about half the mass of Jupiter, was
in an almost circular orbit less than one-sixth the equivalent distance
of Mercury to the Sun.

Ever since then, theorists have been puzzling over how several of the
large planets -- dubbed "hot Jupiters" because of their proximity to
the intense heat of their stars -- could be where they are. Why were
they not out somewhere the equivalent of the Jupiter-Sun distance?

Because known physical laws rule out the formation of large planets so
close to a star, theorists think they formed in a more benign
environment far out and migrated inward. The unlucky ones probably
crashed into their stars. Others somehow settled into cozy orbits at
less than one-fourth of an astronomical unit, the standard measure of
planetary distances in which one unit is the distance from the Sun to
Earth, or 93 million miles.

The migration theory that receives the widest attention was proposed by
Dr. Douglas Lin of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Dr.
Peter Bodenheimer of the university's Santa Barbara campus and Dr.
Derek Richardson of the University of Washington.

Their concept drew on research by Dr. William Ward of the Southwest
Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and ideas developed to explain
the interplay of the rings and satellites around Saturn.

According to prevailing theory, a planetary system forms from a disk of
gas, dust and chunks of rock that surrounds a newborn star. The star's
heat would drive gas out of the inner disk and prevent the huge gaseous
planets from forming there. They would instead develop in the gas-rich
outer disk.

In the early period of planetary formation, the disk would still be
thick with gas and other material. Drag from the disk material and its
general inward flow, caused by the young star's gravity, would have
drawn many of the large planets out of their original orbits.

Astrophysicists postulate several phenomena that prevent at least some
of the planets from plunging all the way into their stars. One is that
when the star was young it was spinning more rapidly, creating tidal
forces that arrest a planet's migration short of catastrophe. Another
idea, suggested by some observations of young stars, is based on the
likelihood that the gravity or magnetic forces of newly formed stars
soon sweep away disk material from their nearest surroundings, leaving
a doughnut hole at the center. Here the migrating planets could settle
into parking orbits.

Dr. Lin, pondering why something like this did not happen to Jupiter,
decided that previous Jupiters in the solar system probably migrated to
their destruction. Jupiter and the other solar planets represent the
last generation, created as the planetary disk was dissipating and
leaving more stable conditions. Or perhaps the solar system's
protoplanetary disk never had enough gas and dust to perturb the orbits
of its new planets.

A more recent variation on the migration theory was introduced by a
team of theorists at the University of Toronto led by Dr. Norman
Murray. In the early formative period, they argue, planets might be
orbiting through a disk of planetesimals, small rocky objects colliding
with or being ejected by the planets. The destabilizing interactions
with the planetesimals could push the newly forming planets toward
their stars.

One of the first detections by the Marcy-Butler team, announced in
January 1996, introduced another puzzlement. The planet around 70
Virginis was more than seven times the Jovian mass and not as close to
its star as many others, but its orbit was highly elliptical. Other
planet discoveries revealed similar characteristics. The one around 16
Cygni B has the most elliptical orbit; if it was in the solar system,
the massive planet would sweep in as close as Venus and retreat out as
far as the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Some powerful gravitational forces, astrophysicists said, must have
perturbed the planets' orbits. A star passing too close could knock a
planet out of its generally circular orbit.

Or the planet's own star could be part of a binary system, one of two
stars in gravitational embrace, and the companion star could be
unsettling the nearby planets. But not all the planets in elliptical
orbits are in binary systems.

Dr. Frederic A. Rasio of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
working with Dr. Eric Ford, has proposed a concept of gravitational
scattering that, he said, "explains very naturally and simply planets
in wide eccentric orbits."

The idea involves two or more huge planets orbiting in close proximity
so that they generate a kind of gravitational slingshot. The forces
might sling one planet off on an elongated orbit to the inner planetary
system, while the other might fly off toward the fringes of the system,
perhaps escaping into interstellar space.

Such a scenario could also explain why astronomers have yet to find
more than one planet around a single star. Any other large ones there
were catapulted into deeper, longer orbits and would be undetectable in
the brief time astronomers have been looking for evidence of extrasolar

Just one giant planet on an elongated orbit, moreover, would probably
spell doom for smaller planets as it crosses their paths time and
again, scattering or destroying them in the turbulence of their
gravitational wakes.

"If our Jupiter were in an eccentric orbit, the Earth and Mars would
likely be gravitationally scattered out of the solar system," Dr. Marcy
said. "Thus our existence depends on both Jupiter and Earth being in
mutually stable, circular orbits."

The implications are profound for the search for extraterrestrial life.
"The big bullies may wipe clean the terrestrial planets in those
planetary systems, rendering them void of any Earth analogues," the
astronomer said.

Dr. Marcy takes an optimistic view. Of all the Sunlike stars that have
been studied so far by planet seekers, he said, only 5 percent have
been found to have Jupiter-mass planets in such dangerously eccentric

That leaves 95 percent of stars that may be free of these wrecking
forces and so could harbor habitable planets.

All theories to explain the newly detected extrasolar planets, Dr.
Rasio said, remain at "the hand-waving level." Theorists are severely
limited by observations, which have yet to reveal more than one planet
around a single normal star. The two or three objects around a pulsar
offer little insight. Earlier reports of possibly two planets around
the star Lalande 21185 have not been confirmed.

"If you only see one companion to a star, you cannot say that this is a
planetary system," Dr. Rasio said. "That's going to be the next major
breakthrough, finding multiple planets and then putting some
constraints on the properties and behaviors of other planetary systems.
That's our holy grail."

Planet hunters like Dr. Marcy are looking. They speak of some
interesting hints, but nothing yet for the new Epicureans of astronomy
to feast on.

Copyright 1999, The New York Times Newspapers Ltd.

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    Jonathan TATE <>

    Colin Keay <>

    David J. Johnson" <>


From Jonathan TATE <>


This was sent to cc world last night. You might like to post it on

All the best




On Wednesday 3rd March 1999 there will be an adjournment debate in the
House of Commons, in the name of Lembit Ípik MP (LibDem,
Montgomeryshire) on the threat posed to our civilisation by asteroid
collisions with the Earth.

A press conference will be held in Room W2 at the House of Commons at
12:00 Wednesday 3rd March.  The panel will be Mr. Ípik, Prof. Mark
Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory, Dr. Monica Grady, Curator
of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum and Jonathan Tate, Director
of Spaceguard UK.

Commenting in advance of the press conference, Mr. Tate said:

"The scenarios depicted in Deep Impact and Armageddon will happen – it
is a statistical certainty.  The only question is when.  The chance
that you will be killed by asteroid impact is twice as high as the
chance you’ll meet your end in a plane crash."

Prof. Bailey added: "Major cosmic impacts don’t occur very often, but
when they do they have the potential to kill millions, if not billions
of people – worse than a global nuclear war.

"This is the hazard that is most likely to end civilisation as we know

Mr. Tate added: "Those mentioning asteroid impacts struggle to be
listened to: the whole subject suffers from a substantial "giggle
factor".  However, it’s now technically possible to avoid, or at least
mitigate, the effects of impacts. This is why it is so important for
the subject to be discussed now."

Lembit Oepik MP will be calling in the debate for a concerted effort by
the Government to plan UK involvement in measures to tackle this
threat. He will be calling for more funding for those who study the
threat, such as Armagh Observatory and Spaceguard UK.



Jonathan Tate
Spaceguard UK
Cygnus Lodge,
High Street, Figheldean,
Wiltshire    SP4 8JT
Tel:  (Home) 01980 671380
(Work)  01980 675279
Mobile:  0780 331 9108


From Colin Keay <>

Dear Benny:

NASA Science News is usually great stuff. Occasionally, however, a
teeny bit of home-town bias creeps in. This happened with the "Once in
a Blue Moon" story you reported on 99/3/1. We longitudinally
disadvantaged inhabitants of the far eastern hemisphere had no Blue
Moon in January and won't have one in March either! Why not? Because
Blue Moons are time-zone dependent. Eastern Australia (and New
Zealand), but not Western Australia, will have a Blue Moon in May. But
Western Australia gets in a month earlier, with their Blue Moon in

Funny things, Blue Moons.

Cheers ...... Colin Keay

Dr Colin Keay      :::::::     ~      ~   To  achieve  anything  really
Physics Dept     ~       :::::      ~      worthwhile in research it is
Newcastle Univ        ~       :::\ | /   ~  necessary to go against the
NSW, AUSTRALIA 2308 ~      ~     - o -       opinions of one's fellows.       / | \  ~        "Where the Wind Blows"        ~       ~       ~    - Fred Hoyle 


From David J. Johnson" <>

Dear Benny,

Now this is quite an article that Victor found... However the
Spaceguard issue is more than just about a number of us "poor step
children of the astronomy realm", who want money to search the skys for
these NEO's which might reach out and touch us.  It's all about
survivability, the survival of mankind... One of these Big Rocks is not
going to care what our politics are, or what color our skin is or what
our religion may be, we just happened to be in the way, and got

The recent rumblings of the Linear Project of the USAF are in fact a
very welcome addition to the quest to keep humanity whole, but the down
side is: it's one insturment, and it's only in the Northern Hemisphere.
Unless the U.S. and the USAF are willing to SHARE this new technology
with the world, and assist in the developement of the Spaceguard
International effort, then what good is it? But we know that this was a
Secret Project to begin with, and I doubt that we step-children will
get much more than a look (external) due to "National Security"...  It
is obvious that if this system works as advertised, then it is surley
needed, and a simular system should be set up with the Australian
Spaceguard Survey, covering our back door so to speak... 

But in realistic terms, we all realize that we will be very suprised if
this system enters into full time service on a Spaceguard mission.
Thus, we may be right back where we were a week ago, no further but no

Yet, Jay Tate's suggestion of a Spaceguard Co-Op, indicates that maybe
the world is begining to tire of all this, and it's time to unify our
front, as we can get a lot more done working togeather than we can


David James Johnson

CCNet-LETTERS is the discussion forum of the Cambridge-Conference
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Thursday, 4 March 1999, 7.00pm

Main Lecture Theatre in the School of Electrical and Computer Science,
Dean Street, Bangor, Wales.

Gwynedd Astronomical Society and the Morien Institute jointly host
this first meeting in a programme of 'Paradigm Shift' debates that
are intended to present to a wider audience the advances that have
been made in recent years by an inter-disciplinary approach to our
understanding of prehistory.

Over the past 15 years or so a new type of 'natural disaster' has been 
much discussed and is beginning to be regarded, by many scholars, as
the most probable single explanation for widespread and simultaneous
cultural collapse, not only in the Bronze Age but at other times as
well. The new idea is that these massive cultural disasters were caused
by the impact of cosmic debris on the Earth. Social anthropologist Dr
Benny J Peiser will speak about new and ongoing research on Holocene
impacts and civilisation collapse at the Main Lecture Theatre in the
School of Electrical and Computer Science, Dean Street, Bangor.


Thursday 11 March, 7.00 pm, Peter Jost Enterprise Centre, Liverpool
John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool

All are welcome and there is no charge for this meeting.
Refreshments will be available from 6.30 pm.


Mike Bode, Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores

Comets have been seen as portents of doom and destruction since
prehistoric times. Modern astronomy and astrophysics have shown us the 
true nature of these enigmatic objects, and their relatives, the
asteroids. In this part of the talk, I will describe the modern
astronomer's view of these objects, and their importance in our
understanding of the wider universe.
Professor Michael Bode is head of the Astrophysics Research Institute
at JMU and currently chairman of the UK Standing Conference of
Astronomy Professors. His research work is mainly in the area of
novae and other exploding stars. He is also project director of the
Liverpool Telescope (LT), which, when operational in the Canaries
next year, will be the World's largest fully robotic telescope. The
LT will be a unique instrument for the observation of comets and
asteroids among many other astronomical programmes.


Benny J Peiser, School of Human Sciences, Liverpool John Moores

During the last decade, most scientists have accepted the idea that
hypervelocity impacts of extraterrestrial bodies on Earth can trigger
hemispheric or even global environmental disasters. One of the most
noticeable changes to the 1980s, which focused primarily on the demise
of the dinosaurs and other mass extinctions, is the growing concern and
risk assessment of the celestial threat to civilisation. In spite of
this potential risk, terrestrial life has now, for the first time,
developed the intelligence and technology to discern the mortal dangers
from space and to devise effective strategies of planetary defense.


Benny J Peiser, School of Human Sciences, Liverpool John Moores

Wednesday, March 24th, 6.00 pm

Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre, University College London

90 years ago, on 30 June 1908, an erratic rock from space measuring c.
60 meters, travelling at nearly 40,000 miles an hour entered the
earth’s atmosphere. At about 7:15am local time, the extraterrestrial
visitor exploded some five miles over the Central Siberian Plateau near
the Tunguska river. The cosmic disaster that followed was awesome.
Impacting in the atmosphere, the explosion yielded the energy of some
20 megatons of TNT, the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima-size atomic
bombs. Within seconds, 2000 square kilometres of forest were flattened,
1000 square kilometres of trees stood in flames. Had the object
exploded over St Petersburg instead, it could have killed hundreds of
thousands of people.

During the long history of our planet, the Earth has been hit by
asteroids and  comets many thousands of times. Only five years ago, in
July 1994, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter. Civilisation
would not have survived had the 20 odd pieces of this comet collided
with Earth rather than Jupiter. Current estimates suggest that every
100,000 years or so Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) in the kilometre range
collide with our world, triggering a global environemental catastrophe.
Tunguska-sized objects, however, smash into the Earth every one hundred
years or so.

Cosmic disasters have punctuated life on Earth repeatedly. It is only
during the last twenty years, that we have become aware of our
precarious place in space. Many thousands of times, such
extraterrestrial calamities have devastated and overwhelmed the Earth’s
environment. There is growing scientific evidence that more recent
impact events may have led to widespread environmental downturns,
subsequently leading to the collapse of ancient civilisations. Some of
Britain’s  leading astronomers believe that Super-Tunguskas, i.e.
multi-megaton showers of cometary debris, occur every 3000 to 5000
years. From a human perspective, this may sound a rather long time. The
problem is, we do not know when the next major impact disaster is going
to occur.

Since science tells us that impacts of asteroid and comets are
inevitable and just a question of time, what are we doing with our
new-found awareness? In this talk, I will present the current
scientific knowledge about the hazards to civilisation due to asteroids
and comets. I will also outline which technology is required to discern
the mortal dangers from space and to devise effective strategies of
planetary defense.

Dr Benny J Peiser is a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores
University and a member of Spaceguard UK. His research focuses on
societal evolution and civilisation collapse. He has established an
international profile as an expert on hypervelocity impact events and
environmental disasters in historical and prehistoric times and their
effects on cultural evolution. Recent publication: "Comparative
Analysis of Late Holocene Environmental and Social Upheaval: Evidence
for a Global Disaster around 4000 BP", in: Natural Catastrophes during
Bronze Age Civilisations, edited by B.J.Peiser, T. Palmer and M.E.
Bailey, British Archaeological Reports, International Series 728,
Oxford 1998.

For more information, please contact Professor Bill McGuiore

CCCMENU CCC for 1999