CCNet 38/2002 - 20 March 2002

"That blunt response [by Peter McGauran] indicates that the
spacewatch lobby has upset the minister something fierce. On the basis of
these comments and in a tight-fisted post- election budget year, they
need not bother scanning their firmaments for incoming public funding.
Taxpayers should welcome McGauran's obduracy. The threat of an impact with a
significant incoming body is remote, an adequate effort is being undertaken
to identify the possible threats, and this kind of astronomy is most
suited to private support precisely because it generates the widest
popular interest."
--Simon Grose, Canberra Times, 20 March 2002

"Emotional hysteria has no place in science, neither are political
ideologies of any relevance when dealing with the pronouncements of
the ill educated and the irrational. Simon should be aware that a rush to
scientific judgement - usually driven by misplaced certainty of one's
own correctness and infallibility - is bad scientific method. To make a
supposedly firm statement on the significance of an apparent discovery only
leads in to science being exposed to ridicule and growing mistrust.
Overplaying our hand by doomsaying is damaging."
--Richard Taylor, Probability Research Group, 20 March 2002

    MSNBC, 19 March 2002

    MSNBC, 19 March 2002

    CNN, 19 March 2002


UNNECESSARY', 19 March 2002

    Canberra Times, 20 March 2002

    Kelly Beatty <>

    Sky & Telescope, 17 March 2002

    Richard Taylor <>

     James Perry <>

     James Marusek  <>

     Boston Globe, 19 March 2002

     CNN, 19 March 2002


>From MSNBC, 19 March 2002
By Alan Boyle
March 19 -  An asteroid as wide as a Boeing 747 narrowly missed Earth this
month - and we never knew it was coming. The case of asteroid 2002 EM7 has
drawn attention to the gaps in the planet's infant system for monitoring
potential threats from space.   

AT ITS CLOSEST, the space rock was about 288,000 miles (463,000 kilometers)
from Earth on March 8, according to asteroid-watchers at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory and Italy's University of Pisa. That's just a bit
farther away than the moon - spitting distance in astronomical terms.

But it wasn't detected until four days later, by the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory. There are two reasons why it was
completely missed, scientists say.

For one thing, the rock came at us literally "out of the blue," from the big
blind spot on Earth's sunward side. Objects that pass through Earth's orbit
almost always have to be spotted in the night sky first.

"You have to remember that the objects are only in that 'blind spot' for a
non-infinite time," said Gareth Williams of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center
for Astrophysics. "The key is to detect them while they're outside the blind

The second problem has to do with the asteroid's size. Asteroid 2002 EM7 is
thought to be 165 to 330 feet (50 to 100 meters) wide, or in the same
ballpark as the 196-foot wingspan of a 747. That's only about a tenth as
wide as the asteroid that may have killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years
ago, but still big enough to create a blast as powerful as a nuclear bomb if
it were to hit Earth.

"It's the most likely size of object that's going to hit us in our
lifetime," said Benny Peiser, an anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores
University who is an expert on the social impact of cosmic collisions.

It's also the hardest size to spot. An asteroid that small is so faint that
it can't be seen unless it comes very close to Earth.

"It's possible to spot such an object five, six days before it hits the
atmosphere," Peiser told "But it's highly unlikely, because the
search programs aren't looking for them, and technically, they are so faint
and small."  
Today, enough observations have been made of 2002 EM7 to calculate its orbit
in detail, and astronomers see no significant chance of the asteroid hitting
Earth in the next century. But there could be hundreds of thousands of
similar-sized objects crossing Earth's orbit, Peiser said.

One asteroid, a little smaller than 2002 EM7, blew up in the atmosphere over
a remote region of Siberia known as Tunguska in 1908 and flattened trees for
hundreds of square miles around the blast point. A similar-size asteroid,
made of iron, blasted out the 4,000-foot-wide (1,200-meter-wide) Meteor
Crater in Arizona 50,000 years ago.

If something as big as 2002 EM7 were to come down over New York, it would
have an effect far more devastating than the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The
chances of that happening are, well, astronomical. But Peiser argues that
even a Tunguska-level blow-up in the remote Pacific or the Arctic would pack
a powerful psychological punch.

"If you think about 9/11, and the kind of knock-on effect on the country,
and indeed the whole world ... the psychological, political and sociological
effects can be much worse than the physical effects. People would be
traumatized. They'd feel let down by the government, let down by NASA and
the scientists," he said. "There would be immediate blame laid on the
scientific community for not doing enough."

On that score, Peiser said there just might be a benefit to the recurring
asteroid alerts that began four years ago - about the time that the
Hollywood movies "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" came out. Scientists as well
as the general public are becoming more aware of the potential threat, and
the limitations of today's monitoring systems.

"All these stories about near misses, in a way, have a positive effect in
that people get used to the idea that we might one day actually be hit by an
object," he said.

In the past four years, astronomers have put more resources into tracking
the biggest asteroids that could cross Earth's orbit, but it will take much
more effort to extend the monitoring system down to the level of 2002 EM7.

"We need bigger telescopes with wide fields," Williams said. And even if
telescopes get bigger and more sensitive, "we may be limited fundamentally
by the physics of the detectors."  

Peiser voiced confidence that "within the next 20-some years we will have
satellite-based search programs that will be able to detect objects that
come out of the blue."

"That loophole, I am confident, will eventually be closed."

At the same time, scientists are studying comets and asteroids with an eye
toward developing the best plan for diverting any big ones that might come
our way.

"For the time being, we just have to cross our fingers," Peiser said.

Crossing fingers and watching the skies has become second nature for
asteroid-watchers like Williams.

"I certainly wouldn't worry about this. Eventually we are going to get hit
by something Tunguska-sized, but I'm not losing any sleep over this."
Copyright 2002, MSNBC


>From MSNBC, 19 March 2002
* 23832 responses
The threat is being exaggerated. 24%
I'm adding it to my list of worries.25%
Something needs to be done! Now! 31%
None of the above. 20%


>From CNN, 19 March 2002
By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- A sizable asteroid zipped near our planet this month without anyone
noticing because it traveled through an astronomical blind spot, scientists

The space boulder passed Earth within 288,000 miles (461,000 kilometers) --
or 1.2 times the distance to the moon -- on March 8, but since it came from
the direction of the sun, scientists did not observe it until four days

The object, slightly larger than one that flattened a vast expanse of
Siberia in 1908, was one of the 10 closest known asteroids to approach
Earth, astronomers said.

"Asteroid 2002 EM7 took us by surprise. It is yet another reminder of the
general impact hazard we face," said Benny Peiser, a European scientist who
monitors the threat of Earth-asteroid collisions.

If it pierced the atmosphere, the approximately 70-meter-long rock could
have disintegrated and unleashed the energy equivalent of a 4-megaton
nuclear bomb, researchers said.

"If it were over a populated area, like Atlanta, it would have basically
flattened it," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the International
Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

The rock is considerably smaller than dozens of potential planet killers
1-kilometer in size or larger that lurk in the inner solar system.

Like its larger siblings, asteroid 2002 EM7 follows an elliptical orbit with
an extremely low risk of Earth collision in the coming decades or centuries.

Nonetheless, astronomers maintain that constant surveillance is necessary to
identify more killer rocks in our neighborhood and ensure that none take our
planet by surprise, in particular those traveling near the blinding light of
the sun.

"If one comes from the direction of the sun, we're not going to see it,"
Williams said.

"Often these objects are outside of the Earth's orbit for a significant
amount of time. The key is to detect them when they are outside the Earth's
orbit and predict whether they might hit us in the future from the sun

Even lesser rocks such as 2002 EM7 could do serious damage by plunging into
the ocean and unleashing monster tsunamis on coastal cities, he said.

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2002 EM7 could smack into
Earth in 2093.

But don't tell the grandchildren to head to the hills just yet. The odds of
a collision are currently 1 in 10 million and could become even more remote
with more refined calculations.

Copyright 2002, CNN


>From, 19 March 2002

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

An asteroid large enough to have flattened a city buzzed Earth earlier this
month and was not seen until after if flew harmlessly by.

The space rock approached Earth in the glare of the Sun, a blind spot that
made it impossible to see during the day or night from any terrestrial
vantage point. The event illustrates the potential of a surprise hit by an
asteroid, astronomers said.

The object, now named 2002 EM7, was probably between 40 and 80 meters
(130-260 feet) in diameter, said Gareth Williams, associate director of the
International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

On March 8, the asteroid passed within 298,400 miles (480,200 kilometers) of
our planet, or about 1.2 times as far away as the Moon -- considered a
relatively close shave by cosmic yardsticks. It was not discovered until
March 12, however. After the rock was detected, scientists calculated its
orbit and determined the path it had taken.

No way to see it

In a telephone interview, Williams explained there was no way to see the
asteroid until it moved out of the Sun's glare and to the opposite side of
Earth in relation to the Sun -- Earth's night side.

To spot such an object earlier would require a telescope elsewhere in space,
he said. Ideas have been floated to put an observatory in orbit around
Mercury, where it could observe the portion of sky that is not visible to
terrestrial telescopes or even to Earth-orbiting observatories like the
Hubble Space Telescope.

But a telescope at Mercury, given the likely limitations to its budget and
size, would not be able to see asteroids as small as 2002 EM7. It could,
however, spot large asteroids that might cause global destruction.

No firm plans exist for a Mercury-orbiting telescope.

Meanwhile, few asteroids this large have ever been known to pass so close to
Earth. Asteroid 2002 EM7 is the ninth closest brush known, said Williams,
who helps with the Minor Planet Center's task of cataloguing all data on

"Of the objects that have come closer, only one is bigger," he said.

Months or years of warning have sometimes preceded close passes in the past.
Other times, rocks have been found just days before they zoomed past.

Williams adds that there have no doubt been many, many other close shaves by
small asteroids that went entirely unnoticed because the objects zipped back
out into the solar system without ever being detected.

Telescopes devoted to asteroid tracking scan just portions of the sky on any
given night.

Asteroid 2002 EM7 carves an elliptical path around the Sun. It has a remote
chance of hitting Earth on a future pass, odds that will likely be reduced
even further as researchers continue to track the object and refine their
orbital calculations.

Another blind spot

Researchers have used similar close brushes in the past as opportunities to
remind politicians that many potentially threatening asteroids remain
undiscovered and more money is needed to find them. About 1,000 asteroids
larger than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) are thought to lurk in orbits that might
one day threaten Earth with planet-wide chaos. About 500 of them have been

The bulk of search efforts are conducted in the United States, much of it
financed by NASA in a Congressionally mandated program. Somewhat like the
blind spot created by the Sun, skies below the equator are poorly surveyed,
though in that case it is due to the fact that no telescopes are devoted to
the task.

A recent plea by scientists to the Australian government to fund a search of
the southern skies fell on unsympathetic ears, however. Australian science
minister Peter McGauran said he was not convinced the threat of impact was
real enough to warrant spending government money.

Williams, of the Minor Planet Center, stressed that no amount of searching,
north or south, would have spotted 2002 EM7

Copyright 2002,


>From, 19 March 2002

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

An Australian government official dismissed a plea by scientists that his
country spend money searching for potentially threatening asteroids that
could only be spotted from the Southern Hemisphere, calling it a "fruitless,
unnecessary, self-indulgent exercise."

On the Australian television program 60 Minutes, science minister Peter
McGauran said a lot of worries keep him up at night, but asteroids are not
among them.

"I'm not going to be spooked or panicked into spending scarce research
dollars on a fruitless attempt to predict the next asteroid," McGauran said.

The comments aired Sunday, roughly six weeks after McGauran received a
letter signed by 91 asteroid scientists and other proponents of more a more
rigorous search program. The letter, first reported by on Jan. 31,
pointed out that most known asteroids have been spotted from the Northern
Hemisphere, so the skies below the equator now hold the greatest potential
for a surprise strike.

No asteroids are currently known to be a direct threat to Earth. Leading
experts agree, however, that it is only a matter of time before one strikes.
And they say that less than $1 million annually could fund an adequate
program for finding large asteroids using an existing Australian telescope
that had previously been used for the task.

Australia pulled funding for the effort in 1996.

McGauran accused the proponents of gathering together only "scientific
generalists" in making their plea.

In fact, the letter McGauran received was signed by several leading asteroid
hunters and researchers from 17 countries, including four scientists at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the primary worldwide asteroid
search effort. Other NASA scientists supported the letter but did not sign
it because they felt it improper to become involved in the political aspect
of the debate, has learned.

"I want the astronomers themselves, under the supervision of an objective
worldwide working party, making a true and proper assessment," McGauran
said. "I'm just not convinced that the hype and alarm and even
fear-mongering is enough to justify an instant investment."

While the language used by asteroid hunters does sometimes sound
frightening, the U.S. Congress thought the threat from space real enough to
mandate that NASA find 90 percent of potentially dangerous asteroids larger
than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) by 2008. There is wide consensus that some
effort will be required in the Southern Hemisphere if that goal is to be

Other asteroid researchers, also appearing on the 60 Minutes program,
disagreed with McGauran.

"Australia in this area is a pariah," said Duncan Steel, who used to work on
the Australian asteroid search but now teaches at the University of Salford
in England. "It's regarded as being a total outcast. It is the only country
ever to have closed down a successful asteroid program when all the other
countries are gearing up."

The most frightening scenario -- one thought to be repeated several times
during the history of the planet -- is of an incoming rock larger than 1
kilometer (0.6 miles). An impact by a rock that size would likely blot out
the Sun, ruin farming and send humans into a Dark Ages existence.

Smaller but still significant asteroids hit Earth as often as once every
couple of centuries and could destroy a city if on target.

"This is just a lottery," said author and physicist Paul Davies. "These
objects don't come on cue. It's totally random."

Steel claimed during the program that there are fewer people searching for
asteroids worldwide than there are employees at the average McDonalds. He
and several other international experts support an organization called
Spacewatch, a worldwide effort to organize and promote efforts to find
potentially threatening asteroids.

Various researchers frequently disagree over exactly how Spacewatch should
conduct the search and what minimum size asteroid ought to be actively
sought out. But there is near unanimous agreement that a real threat exists
and that mitigating that threat requires a telescopic sky search from the
Southern Hemisphere.

The threat, however, is very likely not immediate. The chances of a globally
destructive space sucker punch are very slim. And if an incoming rock
provided years of warning, as many experts say is likely, an effort might be
mounted to deflect or destroy the asteroid.

Whatever the odds, several space rocks have hit Earth in the past. Many
scientists believe an asteroid or comet impact 65 million years ago led to
the demise of the dinosaurs.

"The dinosaurs did not have a space program," Steel said. "That's why they

Copyright 2002,


>From Canberra Times, 20 March 2002

By Simon Grose

BEING an astronomer mostly involves studying interesting cosmic stuff that
has no bearing on the lives of people today or every tomorrow that will ever
come. Perhaps this is why the small cluster of astronomers who hassle about
scanning the heavens for incoming comets and asteroids are so obsessed their
cause has some relevance to worldy life in the foreseeable future.

This is also one of the few aspects of astronomy to offer the media a
popular angle. 60 Minutes took it up on Sunday, finding not only a "Deep
Impact"-style yarn to target their viewers but a Science Minister willing to
face up to a conflict.

"I'm not going to be spooked or panicked into spending scarce research
dollars on a fruitless attempt to predict the next asteroid," Peter McGauran

"We spend about $18 million a year on astronomy and that's a significant
investment by Australia, particularly by world-wide standards. I wouldn't
like to divert up to five or more per cent of that budget towards a
fruitless, unnecessary, self-indulgent exercise."

That blunt response indicates that the spacewatch lobby has upset the
minister something fierce. On the basis of these comments and in a
tight-fisted post-election budget year, they need not bother scanning their
firmaments for incoming public funding.

Taxpayers should welcome McGauran's obduracy. The threat of an impact with a
significant incoming body is remote, an adequate effort is being undertaken
to identify the possible threats, and this kind of astronomy is most suited
to private support precisely because it generates the widest popular

The level of risk can be judged from a new website posted by the US National
Aeronoautics and Space Administration's Near Earth Object program. Under
"Current Impact Risks", an asteroid about 800m in diameter named 2002 CU11
tops the list of potentially dangerous space rocks.

If something that big whacked into the Earth the aftermath could cause many
species including humans to become extinct. But 2002 CU11, discovered by a
telescope in New Mexico last month, has just a 1-in-100,000 chance of
hitting the Earth in 2049. This estimate will change as more detailed
observations are made, but if that is the most threatening known asteroid,
most people would prefer to live that long and take their chance.

Of the 1858 Near-Earth Objects discovered so far, 573 are asteroids 1km
across or larger. Not all these are categorised as Potentially Hazardous
Asteroids, of which there are 411. PHAs are bigger than 110m in diameter and
orbit the Sun in a path that could bring them within about 7.5 million km of
Earth some time in the future.

NASA is on their elliptical trails. By 2020 its goal is to identify at least
90 per cent of the estimated 1000 asteroids and comets that could come
within about 200 million km of Earth and are larger than 1km in diameter. At
least six NEO discovery teams are on watch already, with more planned. Their
work involves taking digital images of a single section of the night sky
several minutes apart and looking for objects which move across the distant
cosmos. If they find one, further investigations are undertaken using more
powerful telescopes to estimate its size and trajectory.

Private funding is available for this kind of work. Applicants for the
Planetary Society's next round of Shoemaker Near Earth Object grants have
until March 31 to apply. Last year over $60,000 was distributed under this
program to amateur and professional astronomers in the US. This may be small
beer compared to the $1 million or so per year that the Australian
spacewatch lobby wants, but there is no reason why this has to be a
high-cost, fast-forward exercise. Improving technology is providing
astronomers with more powerful gear at affordable prices. This trend will
continue, enabling amateurs and small commercial astronomy operations to
contribute to the effort led by NASA.

There is no denying that, on average, every hundred years or so an asteroid
larger than 50 metres across will reach the Earth's surface. At average
intervals of hundreds of thousand of years much larger objects will hit the
Earth. But on the evidence so far, there is no urgency to identify asteroids
on a collision path with Earth and when they will hit. We have time.

Those avid skywatchers impatient to push the project along with a burst of
major funding will never agree, but after McGauran's straight talk they
should discount their hopes for a shot of $1 million a year from the public
purse. A change of tactic is called for. Instead of going to 60 Minutes for
a bit of air time, they should go to the kind of company that advertises on
that kind of program.

Toyota would spend much more than $1 million a year to be that program's
lead sponsor. To warn the Earth of an asteroid is a more noble corporate
mission. Cheaper too. And the astronomers they would support have proven
skills in attracting public attention.

Copyright 2002, Canberra Times


>From Kelly Beatty <>


As it turns out, last Friday's session on ALH 84001 at the Lunar & Planetary
Science Conference proved rather different than the pundits' forecast going
in. So, in the spirit of honest journalism, I hope you'll consider posting
our updated story on CCNet.

Thanks in advance,

Kelly Beatty


>From Sky & Telescope, 17 March 2002

By David L. Chandler

Updated March 17, 2001 | All last week, attendees at the 33rd annual Lunar
and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, looked forward to one of
the meeting's final sessions, whose main attraction was the controversial
4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite known as ALH 84001. For years David S.
McKay (NASA/Johnson Space Center) and his coauthors have maintained that
this celebrated stone contains strong evidence - but not proof - of
fossilized microbial life.

Friday's debate focused on tiny, uniform, and chemically pure crystals of
magnetite embedded in carbonate globules within the meteorite, crystals that
look remarkably similar to those produced by certain strains of terrestrial
bacteria. Dadigamuwa C. Golden (Hernandez Engineering) and Douglas W. Ming
(NASA/Johnson Space Center) reported that the perfectly formed, chemically
pure magnetite crystals they've created in their laboratory also share the
distinctive size and shape of those in ALH 84001.

But members of the McKay team countered that 3-D views shown by Ming did not
unambiguously reveal the "truncated hexa-octahedrals," or THOs, that would
signify a unique biological signature. Kathie Thomas-Keprta (Lockheed Space
Systems) argued that while the synthesized crystals might be THOs, they were
more likely cubo-octahedrons - the most common shape of magnetite formed by
artificial means. Golden, in return, conceded that the images he presented
might not provide proof but claimed he had other images that would. To
complicate matters further, all parties agree that most of the meteorite's
magnetite grains were formed by some inorganic process.

And so the debate remains about where it has been for the last few years: a
standoff. But some tantalizing new research hints that the issue might
indeed be resolved after additional work. A second team, Andrea M. Koziol
(University of Dayton, Ohio) and Adrian J. Brearley (University of New
Mexico), has also synthesized meteorite-mimicking crystals, and it may be
only a matter of time before a few convincing images clinch the case for
nonbiological origin. However, as McKay stressed during Friday's
presentations, the laboratory conditions used to synthesize the crystals
differ significantly from those encountered by the meteorite itself.

Meanwhile, a team led by Joseph L. Kirschvink (Caltech) introduced some
brand-new techniques for studying these contentious crystals, which are less
than 100 nanometers (2 millionths of an inch) long. The results presented
are ambiguous, because so far only bulk material from ALH 84001 has been
tested. But Kirschvink's group has used three different methods to analyze
magnetite from a wide variety of sources. One of these outcomes did indeed
show the Martian magnetites to be much closer to those produced by certain
terrestrial bacteria than to the synthesized versions. However, results from
the other two methods, though only preliminary and less clear, suggest that
the Martian crystals share characteristics with both the synthesized
versions and those from fossilized bacteria (but not those produced by
living bacteria).

These techniques hold great promise to help resolve the question, McKay said
after the session. His group is also pursuing various lines of further
research, including close scrutiny of some additional formations in the
meteorite that may turn out to be microscopic fossils. But, clearly stung by
the intense and often bitter controversy that has surrounded their work
since the initial publication, he said the group will not attempt to publish
such findings until they have conducted sufficient tests to make the results

Copyright 2002 Sky Publishing Corp.


>From Richard Taylor <>

Probability Research Group

Dear Benny,

Emotional hysteria has no place in science, neither are political ideologies
of any relevance when dealing with the pronouncements of the ill educated
and the irrational. The fact that a major right-wing Australian politician
makes crass remarks about the danger of impact hazards to the Earth is no
worse than the fact that the UK has a PM (supposedly left wing) who finds it
impossible to choose between Darwinian evolution and creationism being
taught in a UK technology college.

Simon should be aware that a rush to scientific judgement - usually driven
by misplaced certainty of one's own correctness and infallibility - is bad
scientific method. In very complex systems it is very difficult ahead of the
build-up of knowledge and the accumulation of all the necessary data to be
reasonable sure that any hypothesis or theory is on sufficiently firm ground
to make any form of firm pronouncement wise. To make a supposedly firm
statement on the significance of an apparent discovery only leads in to
science being exposed to ridicule and growing mistrust. It is not for
nothing that so many of the public now regard science and its practitioners
as little better than politicians, journalists, estate agents and the like
when it comes to accepting what they say as reasonably likely to be true.
Overplaying our hand by doomsaying is damaging.

Simon's criticism of the balanced stance you try to maintain - most often
successfully - and his complaint, I quote:

"The systematic attack on climate scientists orchestrated by the entranced
interests of transnational corporations has been in part responsible for the
ongoing reduction in the public's trust and respect for scientists." (NB: I
suppose that 'entranced' should be 'entrenched')

This statement carries a hint of persecution syndrome and anyway deals with
on more than half of the problem - overstating any scientific case before
enough is known factually causes as much, if not more damage to the public
trust in science and scientific opinions.

Hot-headed outbursts get us nowhere. They further reduce the respect Simon
thinks scientists should enjoy. I think differently, scientists should
neither seek nor covet personal respect, it is the science itself that must
attract and deserve respect. It matters not on jot whether Newton, Einstein,
Darwin were worthy of respect as individuals, it is their ideas and work
that command attention and acceptance.

Simon wants you, and presumably the rest of us in the scientific community,
to stand up for climate scientists right or wrong and to hell with quality
of the science good or bad. This approach can only end in disaster for it
may lead to the climate change arguments being completely ignored be they
right or wrong! Certainty as to the nature of present climate trends, local
and global, just isn't in right now. Until it is a carefully balanced review
of all the existing evidence is the best way to proceed.

Best wishes,

Richard Taylor


>From James Perry <>

Dear Benny,

I was rather disturbed by Mr. Mansfield's letter. Apparently, he excludes
any possibility of honest skepticism about global warming.  In his view,
skepticism can only be "orchestrated by the entranced interests of
transnational corporations" and motivated by a "deceitful agenda." One would
almost think that the environmental movement did not have vested interests,
paid politicians, media puppets, or hidden agendas of its own...

CCNet should be the one place where rational discussion and open debate on
global warming is possible, since it is NOT completely dominated -- unlike
most other fora -- by proponents of the theory. If Mr. Mansfield dislikes
the arguments that The Greening Earth Society, Tech Central Station, John
Daly, and others, have advanced, then he should counter these arguments in
detail, rather than just lambasting them as the work of ignorant fools, corporate
lackeys, and purveyors of "hate speech."  Mr. Mansfield may find such
ranting cathartic, but he has hardly persuaded me of the validity of his
views (or of the unsoundness of his opponents). Frankly, I hope we don't see
any more such useless vitriol on CCNet.


James Perry


>From James Marusek  <>


I have been watching from the sidelines the debate in Australia about
reactivating their asteroid detection program.  The viewpoint expressed by
the Australian government can be summed up as follows "what's the point of
tracking asteroids if there's nothing you can do to stop them?"  Many
asteroids are detected only a short time before they approach Earth.  In
this case the only mitigation approach that could work is to use nuclear
weapons to deflect or destroy the asteroid.  The only problem with this
approach is that current nuclear weapons are not designed to engage
asteroids.  They would have to be redesigned for this new mission and that
takes time.  Even with all the stops pulled out that may take a year to

So why should any government allocate hard-earned money on an asteroid
detection program?  I can think of two reasons.

First, an asteroid detection program is tagging asteroids as they are
detected and projecting trajectories to provide a long term forecast of
impact probability. Not all asteroids have been identified, nor will they
be, so there are gaping holes in the program.  But each week, new Earth
threatening asteroids are added to the list.  As these databases become more
complete and comprehensive, they will provide the world with years and even
decades of advanced warning for threatening impacts.  This is sufficient
time to pursue a variety of mitigation approaches. It would enable us "to
stop them".

The second answer involves a paradigm shift. Much of the discussion to date
on the asteroid threat has been focussed on detection and mitigation.  But
there is a third element that has been almost completely overlooked. This
element is how to survive a meteor impact. is a website that provides a
general survival plan for a large comet or meteor impact.

Mankind has the intellect, resourcefulness and adaptability to succeed where
the dinosaurs could not.  A large meteor impact is only the end of the world
if we let it be.

So why should the Australian government reactivate their asteroid detection
program?  Because even though we may not be able "to stop them" today, we
are able to survive the impact.  And every day, every minute of advanced
warning equates to lives saved.

James A. Marusek


>From Boston Globe, 19 March 2002

By Ellen Barry, Globe Staff, 3/19/2002

When the first humans depart to colonize space, there will be no port
waiting, no native guide to greet them, and no guard against despair.

Using present technology, a trip to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri,
would take 70,000 years, but NASA engineers are conceptualizing rocket
technology that would shorten it to several centuries. Passengers would
depart knowing that they, and at least several generations of their
descendants, would only know life confined within a space capsule. For that
to work, social scientists say, NASA will have to turn to the work of

Space explorers could leave as the plundering Vikings left, exploding east
as far as the Caspian Sea on crafts with fearsome, carved prows. They could
leave as Moses left, a group of families bound together by faith and their
willingness to risk their lives.

They could leave in Amazonian teams of women - lighter and more cooperative
than men - waiting for the right moment to impregnate themselves using an
on-board sperm bank. Or they could look far enough back in history to the
Stone Age Polynesians, who some archeologists say launched flotillas of
young couples off the edge of the known world, into a sea that was as
mysterious to them as space is to us.

The lesson will be clear, said John H. Moore, who teaches anthropology at
the University of Florida: The small groups that flourish in space will be
similar to small groups that have succeeded in colonizing the earth.

"If you want to conquer the world, you need an organization like the Roman
legion. If you want to manufacture linen, you need an organization like a
nunnery," he said. "If you want to colonize space, you need families."

The American space program, with its founding population of military test
pilots, is not known for its embrace of the social sciences. But during the
past 20 years, a growing list of space debacles has forced NASA to turn its
attention to the stress points of humans - and to the claustrophobic
closeness that can turn them against each other.

After four months on board the space station Mir in 1997, captain Vladimir
Tsibliyev had worn so threadbare from stress and frustration that the
station nearly collided with a supply ship. Although American astronauts
have rarely spent longer than two weeks in close quarters, they have
described grating social friction upon returning from Mir. Russian cosmonaut
Valery Ryumin, who made four space journeys, remarked that a journey of two
months with two people in one space station meets ''all the conditions
necessary for murder.''

So in Antarctic research stations and isolation chambers,

NASA's psychologists and psychiatrists are investigating such phenomena as
"long-eye," the absent stare that people take on after months cut off from
the world. They study how isolation can "magnify seemingly insignificant
events," so that even close friends draw away from each other.

As space flights lengthen, that psychological pressure could put lives, and
billion-dollar missions, in jeopardy.

"The way that people chew their food, you don't notice it for the first
couple of weeks, but after eight months of winter at the South Pole it
really begins to get on your nerves," said Lawrence Palinkas, a medical
anthropologist at the University of California who has studied "isolated and
extreme environments" for NASA. "You start isolating yourself, and important
instructions may be ignored. The fact that some people elect not to shower
for six months can be an issue."

Last month at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's
annual meeting in Boston, it was cultural anthropologists, not
psychologists, who were offering their services.

Moore, who had spent years trying to reconstruct the small groups that
colonized South America, happened to sit in on a seminar on space
colonization. He was struck by the science-fiction tinge to discussion of
interstellar travel. He realized that he could suggest a better plan.

"They were saying some very naive things about small-group dynamics, and
suggesting things like cyborgs and robots, freezing people and waking them
up," said Moore. "That was just contrary to the work we were doing in
anthropology. Human beings can't live in the manner you're describing in
your papers."

Of course, human beings have no history of leaving the earth for long
periods. Space researchers such as NASA's Geoffrey Landis, who is also a
science fiction writer, have typically gravitated to futuristic visions of
society, toying with such concepts as polygamy or communal parenting. Landis
has argued for all-female long-distance space missions, citing statistics
showing that woman almost never murder each other. "More cooperative, and
less given to heirarchical social structures," women also breathe less,
exhale less, and eat less than men, he wrote.

Anthropologists, though, say it would be a mistake to wander far from
time-tested social arrangements.

The closest parallel for space travel - the only parallel actually - is sea
voyaging, with the Vikings offering themselves as the most obvious and
spectacular model. Population pressure had built up in their Scandinavian
villages, where leading Vikings sometimes had as many as 10 wives and

On top of that, second sons were cut out of the line of inheritance, and
around 800 A.D., began a systematic and predatory conquest of communities
stretching from North America to Central Asia, writes the Canadian
anthropologist Richard B. Lee in "Interstellar Migration and the Human

Like most of America's explorers, they were looking to expand their trade
routes. But despite the success of profit-based exploration in the past, it
seems a flawed analogy for space travel. "Trading has been effective, but
for interstellar distances it's hard to believe it would be lucrative,"
Landis said.

About 20 years ago, anthropologists began suggesting that a better parallel
would lie farther back in history. Ben Finney, an anthropologist at the
University of Hawaii, had spent years arguing that the Stone Age Polynesians
systematically colonized the archipelagos of Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa by
sending out flotillas of young childless couples in double-hulled wooded
canoes. Most anthropologists could not believe it possible: Instead, they
theorized the canoes had been blown accidentally off course, scattering them
across hundreds of miles of open sea.

But Finney argued that they were motivated by the same urge as today's space
explorers and even coined the term "ocean space" to describe what lay before
them. Although 10 to 25 percent of the settlers were probably lost at sea,
he said, they grew up referring to that death as a "sweet burial."

"The ancestors of the Polynesians learned that the world was an ocean
through which bits of land poked out at some points," said Finney, who
served for 15 months as a NASA research fellow with the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence. "They had this view of the ocean as a medium
over which to travel to find more land."

Moore, a specialist in modeling colonizing populations, has reprised
Finney's work by modeling a colony that could reproduce safely for 200 years
in space. He recommends young childless couples, like the ones purportedly
sent out by the Polynesians, be used in a large enough number that each
child would be able to choose among 10 possible spouses of their approximate
age. In order to minimize the risk of in-breeding, women should bear small
numbers of children and lengthen generations by bearing them late in life.
Based on these guidelines, the smallest conceivable population for the
project would be about 150, he said. And anthropologists, with their mastery
of kinship structures, can help assure expedition planners that the social
arrangements had worked well in other cultural settings.

"Psychiatrists and psychologists come at these issues in terms of deviance,"
he said. "We come at it in terms of normalcy. We can arrange a dialogue. Up
until now they have been thinking, what is there about this society that
will drive people crazy?"

By the time the space ship returned from its hypothetical journey, 200 years
after it left, the people who would disembark would be the
great-great-great-grandchildren of the original astronaut. They would likely
have peculiar accents, said a linguistic anthropologist, Sally Thomason of
the University of Michigan. It is less clear, Moore said, what marital
arrangements might have evolved - whether the space settlers would have a
polygamous society, for instance.

Settlers have frequently toyed with family arrangements when the pressure to
procreate is high, as on Pitcairn Island, where in the late 18th century six
English mutineers and nine Polynesian women colonized so successfully that
it was overpopulated by 1850. In "Interstellar Migration and the Human
Experience," the anthropologist J.B. Birdsell tells of aboriginal
Australians who fled into empty stretches of bush with women and established
multigeneration families - in one case, by mating with his own daughter and

In preparing his model, Moore pored through history looking for evidence of
a specific human character: people who willingly faced death out of the
desire to explore. Once or twice in a millenium, people come along who,
nudged by religious oppression or poverty or naked ambition, are willing to
do that.

"I was thinking about migrations across deserts, when [nomads] look for new
pastures, because sometimes it doesn't rain. They have to get their herds
together, and they hope to find some place where they have grass," he said.
"That's the same kind of attitude that the space travelers are going to have
to have."

Ellen Barry can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 3/19/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


>From CNN, 19 March 2002

By Fennec Fox

(IDG) -- The world record holder for Atari's classic arcade game "Asteroids"
was located by game record keeper Walter Day of Twin Galaxies after nearly
20 years of searching. Unfortunately, the "Asteroids" champion, Scott Safran
of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, died in 1989 after falling off a roof during an
attempt to save his pet cat....

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