CCNet 31/2002 - 5 March 2002

"The researchers might be deluded by Mother Nature, whose principal
object in life is to make fools of scientists."
--Lawrence Crum, Applied Physics Lab, University of


Mostly buried now, or worn away to dust,
there once were many scars on Mother Earth.
Deep underground in Yucatan or North-West Cape
they can be found. The worst was long ago
when helpless inner planets shook
to the Late Bombardment's hail of rock and ice.
Was that the end of fire from space? Oh no!
only the intervals grew longer but still they came
and if they landed in blue ocean, even far from land.
they left their mark on cliff and strand as waves
from hell hurled rocks and sand far up on shore.
Human settlements and cities cluster on the edge
of continents. One day there'll be scant warning
as ocean's fist smites unwary ports and towns.
A tiny speck of cosmic dust will stir the waters
and leave as wreckage our ephemeral works and homes.

Malcolm Miller >

Mark Kidger < >>

Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 March 2002

Stanford News Service < >>

The Washington Post, 5 March 2002

Jonathan Tate < >>

David James Johnson < >>

John Michael Williams < >>


>From Mark Kidger < >>

Dear Benny:

Just a brief note to encourage people. One of "my" "cometas_obs" mailing
observers has just discovered a NEO...


A Spanish amateur astronomer discovers a nearby asteroid with a back yard

When amateur astronomer Rafael Ferrando noticed a 18th magnitude asteroid in
frames taken with his 10-inch telescope at PLA D'ARGUINES, SEGORBE
(Castellon, Spain) he little imagined that it was no ordinary asteroid. 2002
EA showed unusual motion and was rapidly put on the Minor Planet Centre's
NEO Confirmation page.

The initial MPC orbit for this body shows that it is an Earth-crosser and
will pass by at 8.5 million kilometres from the Earth on March 15th.

Between 1941, when Josep Comas-Sola made his 11th and last asteroid
discovery from Barcelona (only the 13th made from Spain in all), 57 years
passed until the next accredited Spanish discovery in 1998. Since then, a
dedicated band of Spanish amateur astronomers have quadrupled the quantity
of Spanish numbered asteroids.

Up to now though no Spanish observer, amateur or professional, had
discovered a NEO. The fact that a back yard telescope can still make
important discoveries despite the many automated search programmes should
encourage amateur astronomers everywhere that their work is still useful.

2002 EA has an absolute magnitude of 22.4 and is thus around 130-m in


>From Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 March 2002
< >

A collision 65 million years ago left a huge crater in the Yucatan
Peninsula. Scientists are drilling into it to learn how the catastrophe
might have cleared the way for humans to walk the planet.

By Robert S. Boyd
Inquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Scientists have begun drilling a mile-deep hole into a huge
underground crater that was left by a mountain-sized asteroid or comet that
slammed into Earth 65 million years ago and, researchers theorize, wiped out
the dinosaurs.

Earlier this year, investigators reached the uppermost layer of broken rocks
buried beneath Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula that were smashed, twisted and
hurled about by the tremendous force of the collision.

The researchers hope to learn exactly what the asteroid did when it
penetrated the Earth's crust in a fiery ball of unimaginable violence. The
goal is to better understand how the impact devastated the global
environment, clearing the way for the rise of mammals, including humans.

"Since we can't go back 65 million years in a time machine, drilling down to
the 65-million-year level is the best we can do," said James Powell, the
executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium at the
University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The ancient catastrophe marked "the transition between the age of reptiles
and the age of mammals," said David Kring, a planetary scientist at the
University of Arizona in Tucson and a leader of the drilling team from
Mexico and the United States.

"Mammals were able to develop because the impact caused a complete change in
the biological landscape of Earth," Kring said. "Then evolution took
advantage of the change."

The smashed rubble, called breccia, was found half a mile below ground,
about 25 miles southwest of the Yucatan town of Merida. The crater is called
Chicxulub (pronounced cheek-shoo-loob) for the village located over its

Kring, a principal investigator in the Chicxulub Scientific Drilling
Project, said the drill would bring up rocky cores about as thick as a
baseball bat that would reveal the history of the ancient disaster.

"For the first time, we will be able to see the entire geology of the
structure, all the way down to the bedrock of the continental crust," he

Between the breccia and the bedrock, researchers expect to find a thick
stony sheet that was melted by the intense heat of the long-ago crash. The
volume of the molten material could have been as much as 24,000 cubic miles,
enough to fill Hudson Bay in Canada or the Gulf of California with lava.

"People have a hard time understanding the scale of this impact," Kring
said. "It moved millions of tons of rock, some of it more than 60 miles.
Material 20 miles beneath the surface was affected by the shockwave. A large
part of the Earth's crust was uplifted and folded by the blast."

Poisonous gases, dust, smoke and fire from the impact contaminated the air
and blotted out the sun, sending the climate reeling. Such changes, which
lasted from months to years, even decades, killed more than 70 percent of
plant and animal species.

Wary of another such calamity, astronomers have begun a search for all large
"near earth objects" that might be on a collision course with our planet.
For example, they spotted an asteroid the size of three football fields that
streaked within 500,000 miles - twice the distance to the moon - on Jan. 7.

If a space rock is detected early enough, scientists hope they might be able
to deflect it with a nuclear-armed missile. Even a slight change of course
could be enough for a far-off object to miss the Earth.

Powell, who is not a member of the Chicxulub project, said the drilling
could clear up some mysteries, such as whether the space intruder was a
comet or an asteroid.

Asteroids are rocky objects orbiting between Earth and Jupiter. Comets are
balls of ice and frozen gas from beyond Pluto that periodically swoop
through the solar system. Comets are considered more dangerous than
asteroids because their enormous speed multiplies their power.

In addition, Powell said the drillers might find traces of sulfur-rich rocks
in the crater, helping to explain why the atmosphere poisoned so many living

For more information, go to the NASA/UA Space Imagery Center's Impact
Cratering Series Web site, < >.

Robert S. Boyd's e-mail address is >.

Copyright 2002, Philadelphia Inquirer


>From Stanford News Service >>


CONTACT: Mark Shwartz, News Service (650) 723-9296; >

COMMENT: Peter Cervelli, Geophysics (808) 937-8839; >

Paul Segall, Geophysics (650) 725-7241 or (719) 538-4000 (Feb. 25 to March
1); >

EDITORS: The study, ``Sudden Aseismic Fault Slip on the South Flank of
Kilauea Volcano,`` appears in the Feb. 28 issue of Nature. Photos and images
will be available at < > (slug: ``Silent


Relevant Web URLs:
< >
< >

Silent earthquake in Hawaii offers clues to early detection of catastrophic

A slow-moving earthquake recently observed on Hawaii`s Kilauea Volcano could
become a model for predicting catastrophic tsunamis in the Pacific,
according to a new study by geophysicists from Stanford and the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS).

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers explained how they were able
to detect a ``silent`` or ``aseismic`` earthquake on Kilauea`s southern
flank in November 2000 using data from the Stanford/USGS global positioning
system (GPS) network on the Big Island of Hawaii. The magnitude 5.7 quake
was a relatively slow-moving event that lasted about 36 hours and caused the
southern flank of the volcano to slide nearly 3.5 inches (8.7 centimeters)
into the sea.

``We call them `silent` earthquakes because the ground doesn`t shake, and
they produce no seismic waves,`` said Paul Segall, a Stanford professor of
geophysics and co-author of the Feb. 28 Nature study.

``We don`t know what triggers them, but we do know that the Kilauea event
was the first silent earthquake ever observed in a volcanic environment,``
he added.

``Fortunately, no one felt the earthquake on Kilauea,`` noted Peter
Cervelli, who joined the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory last fall shortly
after receiving a doctorate in geophysics from Stanford.

``In fact, without instruments like our GPS observers, we never would have
known that the Kilauea event occurred,`` added Cervelli, lead author of the
Nature study.

In a companion feature in the Feb. 28 issue of Nature, research geophysicist
Steven N. Ward of the University of California-Santa Cruz estimated
Kilauea`s southern flank to be nearly equal in size to a half-mile-thick
slice of Rhode Island. Had that massive chunk of land suddenly collapsed
into the ocean instead of sliding just a few inches, it could have generated
an enormous wall of seawater - or tsunami - powerful enough to threaten
coastal cities as far away as California, Chile and Australia, according to

A catastrophic flank collapse of an oceanic volcano happens somewhere in the
world every 10,000 years on average, Ward added, but none has been caught in
its early stages until now.

Controversial rainstorm

In their study, Segall and his colleagues suggested that the Kilauea quake
might have been triggered by a torrential storm that dumped nearly 3 feet (1
meter) of rain on the Big Island on Nov. 1, 2000.

In the 1960s, geologists showed that injecting fluid deep into the ground
can cause a fault to fail - thus triggering a small earthquake.

According to the Nature study, the intense, 24-hour rainfall that inundated
the Big Island on Nov. 1 may have had a similar effect on the Hilina/Holei
Pali fault system located some 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) beneath Kilauea
Volcano. GPS data revealed that the fault suddenly began to rupture on Nov.
8 - one week after the storm.

``When water penetrates the relatively dry upper regions of the Hawaii
crust, it eventually gets to the water table and causes it to rise,``
observed Cervelli. ``This raises the pressure of the water throughout the
volcanic edifice.``

He noted that rainwater might have produced a ``pressure pulse`` that
percolated through the crust for seven or eight days until it reached the
fault zone.

``What we`re hypothesizing could have occurred - although we`re certainly
not wedded to this conclusion - is that, when the pressure pulse began in
early November, it propagated slowly down the fault zone and raised the
pressure there,`` Cervelli said. ``This had the effect of opening the fault
a little bit and bringing it closer to failure.``

The mechanism is very similar to what happens when a hot glass is placed
upside down on a wet counter top, Segall explained.

``The heat from the glass heats up the air inside the glass,`` he noted.
``This raises the pressure and can cause the glass to slide around on the

Cervelli conceded that linking the Kilauea earthquake to the heavy rainfall
event is controversial.

``It`s not inconceivable that the rainfall event had a triggering role in
the slip event,`` he noted, ``but before we go out on a limb and say
definitively that it is our opinion that rainfall of this magnitude can and
has triggered silent earthquakes, we would like to first flesh out our model
a bit more and, second, to observe multiple events so that we can correlate
them with rainfall.``

Tsunami warning

``We don`t know how common silent earthquakes are because, up until now, we
haven`t had the capability or tools to measure them,`` Segall explained.

He pointed out that detecting the silent quake on Kilauea would have been
impossible a few years ago, before Stanford and the USGS established a
permanent network of instruments capable of monitoring millimeter-sized
movements on the volcanic surface on a daily basis.

``Now that we have the networks in place, we`re finding that silent
earthquakes are popping up in all kinds of surprising places - like
volcanoes - that we didn`t know about before,`` Segall added. ``This event
did not produce a tsunami, but if we can detect potentially catastrophic
ground motion in its early stages, we might be able to issue tsunami
warnings in the future.``

Ward agreed, noting that the silent earthquake detected by Segall and his
colleagues could be interpreted as the early stage of a catastrophic flank
collapse that may occur one day on Kilauea.

"People should not lose sleep over large but rare natural hazards," Ward
wrote. "They should not run blind either, particularly when a useful eye
exists. The world`s oceanic volcanoes are stages best not left unwatched.
For now, GPS provides one of the sharpest views."

Other co-authors of the Nature study are Stanford graduate student Kaj
Johnson; Michael Lisowski of the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in
Vancouver, Wash.; and Asta Miklius of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
in Hawaii National Park. The study was funded with grants from the USGS and
the National Science Foundation.

By Mark Shwartz


>From The Washington Post, 5 March 2002
< >

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 5, 2002; Page A01

Nuclear physicists split yesterday into camps of excitement and skepticism
after a group of scientists announced they may have created nuclear fusion
-- the awesome power that fuels the sun -- in a device the size of two
coffee cups stacked one atop the other.

The work, so simple and elegant, could create a virtually endless source of
clean, renewable energy and change the world. But it also could be just
another false alarm, like a 1989 report about "cold fusion" that drew huge
attention before being dismissed as a dud.

"At first blush, we were very excited about it," said Lawrence Crum, a
physicist at the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington in
Seattle. Closer examination suggested that skepticism was in order, he said,
adding, "the researchers might be deluded by Mother Nature, whose principal
object in life is to make fools of scientists."

Creating "table-top" nuclear fusion has been one of the most heated races in
modern physics. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Tennessee were careful yesterday to couch their claims in caveats, stressing
that they needed to be confirmed and, even if true, may not necessarily mean
nuclear fusion power plants were imminent.

Unlike the previous controversy, in which researchers went public before
opening their findings to scientific scrutiny, the current report is being
published in this week's issue of the journal Science, and was first
evaluated by independent scientists. Still, such scientists as Nat Fisch, a
physicist who directs Princeton University's Graduate Program in Plasma
Physics, were unconvinced.

"The peer review process is important, but it's uneven," he said. "The fact
an article is peer reviewed is not sufficient to guarantee quality."

Richard Lahey, one of the scientists who conducted the experiment, countered
that criticism of the experiment was "political" and that the finding
threatened scientists with big budgets for expensive, conventional fusion

The scientific journal yesterday issued some unusually blunt advice to both
camps: "The premature critics of the result, and those who believe in it,
would both do well to cool it, and wait for the scientific process to do its

Both nuclear fusion and its cousin fission convert matter into energy
according to Albert Einstein's famous formula e = mc{+2}.

In fission, heavy atoms such as uranium break up into lighter particles. In
fusion, two light atoms, such as hydrogen, are fused into a heavier element.
In each case, some matter gets converted into energy.

Fission requires elements such as uranium, which are difficult to find,
purify, handle and store, and it leaves radioactive waste that can last for
decades or centuries. So scientists have long sought to acquire a simple
means of nuclear fusion: Hydrogen is plentifully available and potentially

But fusion is difficult to achieve, since very high levels of energy are
required to force atoms of hydrogen together. So far, non-military, man-made
fusion has required high-energy accelerators or lasers.

In the Oak Ridge experiment, the researchers took advantage of a phenomenon
called sonoluminescence. When sound waves are passed through certain
liquids, they can create bubbles that pop with a flash of light.

The phenomenon is not completely understood, but the scientists thought they
could use the popping of the bubbles to create the temperatures and
pressures needed for fusion. The researchers created a sound wave in a
container filled with the chemical acetone. The wave created oscillations --
and powerful vacuums -- about 20,000 times a second.

"If you have a bottle of water sitting at the desk and you put a stopper in
the top and start pulling a vacuum, at some point it will start to boil at
room temperature," said Lahey, a professor of engineering at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He explained the vacuum created in the
experiment "is way, way down below that. That liquid wants to boil, it's
hungry to boil; if you can just get it started, that bubble will grow like
mad and evaporate."

The scientists fired neutrons into the liquid to "seed" tiny bubbles that
rapidly grew to about twice the size of the period at the end of this
sentence. As the sound wave oscillated, the low-pressure vacuum turned into
a high-pressure zone and the bubble collapsed with intense force, creating
temperatures as hot as the sun for a few trillionths of a second -- enough
to force atoms of a form of hydrogen in the acetone together.

The researchers couldn't see the actual fusion -- they only measured its
byproducts. These included a form of hydrogen called tritium, and neutrons
that are produced in such reactions. While the experiment used up more
energy than it produced, Lahey hopes scientists will find ways to use the
energy produced to repeat the process -- setting up a chain reaction.

"It could be a tremendous resource for mankind," said Lahey. "Potentially,
it really has the potential to solve a lot of the problems we've had in
nuclear energy with radioactive waste, safety, and the availability of fuel.
If this thing can be made to work, those problems could go away."

The publication of the results was delayed when other scientists at Oak
Ridge could not reproduce the findings.

"I view this as an interesting research paper at this point that needs to be
verified," said Fred Becchetti, a professor of nuclear physics at the
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He added dryly, "somehow the words
'table top' and 'fusion' trigger a reactive response" among the media.

2002 The Washington Post Company



>From Jonathan Tate >>


Part of NSC press release from Leicester:

"The space industry launch on the Friday comes hot on the heels of the
Government's announcement in January that the National Space Centre would be
home to the UK's new Near Earth Observation Information Centre. The first
phase of the NEO Centre, which includes a website and information desk
within the Space Centre, will be launched later this Spring. "

Doesn't bode well for expertise in Near Earth "Objects" does it!

Jay Tate
International Spaceguard Information Centre


>From David James Johnson >>

Dear Benny,

The Williams - Harris article appears only natural a response from a
Government sponsored scientist. The impact of a major asteroid may very well
be many years away, yet it may not. The unrealistic approach of NASA to the
Problem at times is extremely vague, as they tip toe around the issues and
insure funding and job security.

The NASA goal to identify 90% of 1KM or larger asteroids within a 10 Year
time period, to me appears merely a pacification of the U.S. Congress as
well as the general public. To say there are merely 1200 such objects may
very well be misleading, and to say that the threat is so small that we do
not need to develop the technology to defend the Earth from these objects
borders on the ridiculous. However, in this case, if they are wrong, as most
suspect, there will be no one left to prosecute after the fact as the disaster may be

The immediate problem is not the 1KM or larger asteroids, but the smaller or
Tunguska class type objects. These are the ones that may hit without any
warning, and, as we have seen, can effect a city sized area. Using the 1908
event as a guide, if one were to land in any large city, then the events in
New York in September would appear minor in comparison, as we would be
looking at a death rate of vastly more than incurred by the terrorist.

So do as much or as little as we should until we have identified an object
which will hit us. This proposes that we will have time to respond, when in
reality, if we see it coming, it will already more than likely be too late.
As far as funding a response, this is not just a problem of the U.S. It's an
international problem, and paying for the protection of our world falls to
all nations.


David Johnson


>From John Michael Williams [ ]

Hi Benny.

> ...
> A person in the United States is much more likely to
> be asked to speak in Fayetteville, Ark., Harris said, a chance of about 1
in 200,000.

It should have been entitled: "Fayetteville Speaker Destroys Giant Asteroid
John >
John Michael Williams

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