CCNet 45/2002 - 8 April 2002

"The desire of the technical community is to identify a threatening
asteroid or comet decades prior to impact and then develop and employ
systems to either destroy the object or alter the object's
trajectory to avoid a collision with Earth. The goal of the Spaceguard
program is to identify the most destructive asteroids and comets, those
greater than 1 kilometer in diameter that threaten the Earth. This is the
best outcome, the best approach and the best plan. But inherent
weaknesses exist in any plan. As a result, we should ensure that a
second line of defense, the ability to evacuate a threatened impact area, is
in place."
--James Marusek, 8 April 2002

"[We] revive the idea that the distinctive hottest lavas on Earth
may in fact be the products of large impacts. Although we have
presented this idea at ESF IMPACT meetings since 1999, it was in fact
originally suggested by Dave Green as long ago as 1972. It can explain many
of the unique characteristics of komatiites, including (1) the required very
high degree of partial melting of mantle peridotite (2) the removal of the
need to provide a mechanism for storage of such hot melts prior to
eruption (3) their association with diverse tectonic settings and (4)
their quench spinifex textures which suggest emplacement as
crystal-free liquids. This provides an alternative explanation to the
currently popular origin of mantle plumes, whose deep origins have
attracted growing criticism."
--Adrian Jones, 8 April 2002

"It is important to remember that all of the above covers only a
small fraction of what the dragon was and is in popular belief, legend
and mythology. It is pointless to look for, or assume, a single, simple
explanation for the dragon and its origins."
--Alastair McBeath, 8 April 2002

    James Marusek <>

(2) C/2002 C1 (IKEYA-ZHANG)
    Mark Kidger <>

    Adrian Jones <>

    Juan Zapata-Arauco <>

    Alastair McBeath <>

    Hermann Burchard <>

    Paul Feinstein <>

    Edwin Kite <>

    Worth Crouch <


>From James Marusek <>

The desire of the technical community is to identify a threatening asteroid
or comet decades prior to impact and then develop and employ systems to
either destroy the object or alter the object's trajectory to avoid a
collision with Earth. The goal of the Spaceguard program is to identify the
most destructive asteroids and comets, those greater than 1 kilometer in
diameter that threaten the Earth. This is the best outcome, the best
approach and the best plan.  But inherent weaknesses exist in any plan. As a
result, we should ensure that a second line of defense, the ability to
evacuate a threatened impact area, is in place.

As the size of the asteroids decreases, the quantity of Earth threatening
asteroids increases.  As a result, there are a large number of asteroids
that may never be picked up and tracked under the Spaceguard program.
Therefore it is quite possible that an asteroid (< 1km) may impact Earth
with very little advanced warning.

I thought it might be worthwhile to describe a comet/asteroid impact
scenario. The best way I can do this is by comparing it to a hurricane.

Predicting hurricanes is a tricky business. There are many variables
involved in making predictions. We might initially spot the hurricane
forming from satellite photographs.  We may send specialized aircraft into a
forming hurricane to extract information that will aid in the assessment.
Finally as the hurricane approaches the coastline, the government will issue
general warnings covering a large area. During the next few hours, the data
resolution becomes sufficiently accurate to make a projection of where the
hurricane will make land and a specific warning is issued which defines a
narrow band of coastline as the target. The affected area is evacuated.

I expect an impact scenario may play out in a similar manner. Asteroids and
comets are discovered using optical telescopes. Over time, additional
optical sightings made during the discovery apparition or later apparitions
allow us to make crude predictions about orbital path and impact
probability. At some point in time as further sightings from optical
telescopes are added into the data set, the asteroid trajectory is assessed
to have a substantial possibility of impact.  At this point, another tool is
brought into service. Delay-Doppler radar is used to reduce post-discovery
uncertainty and refine the asteroid trajectory. Radar provides several
orders of magnitude finer resolution than obtainable from optical telescopes
and also provides information on the asteroid density, shape and internal
structure. Because the level of uncertainty is reduced dramatically, the
probability-of-impact equations begin to produce a very high probability of
impact. The threat is recognized and mitigation efforts to deflect or
destroy the incoming comet/asteroid are undertaken. If the mitigation effort
fails, the next option is to fall back on a second line of defense,
evacuation. Delay-Doppler radar is a key and critical element for evacuation
planning. Only radar can reduce trajectory uncertainty to the level required
to make point-of-impact predictions. Radar data will allow a general warning
to be issued describing the potential impact site. As the asteroid
approaches Earth, the resolution of the radar data improves and
point-of-impact hazard area narrows in size. A detailed warning is issued
and the area is evacuated.

It is my belief that the major threat presented by an impact of a small-to-medium asteroid
(< 1km) or a small comet fragment is the blast wave (for a land impact). If
individuals can be evacuated outside the 1-psi overburst pressure zone,
there is a high probability that their lives can be saved from the impact.
In order for this to occur, the point of impact must be determined with a
fair degree of accuracy and there must be sufficient warning time to allow

Knowing the exact point-of-impact for an ocean impact is also critical. This
data would allow analysis of the propagation of the ocean shock wave on the
surrounding continents in order to project which coastlines would be
affected by a resulting tsunami. From this process, reliable coastal
evacuation orders could be given.

I have a major concern: The U.S. has two asteroid/comet radar telescopes:
Arecibo and Goldstone.  These instruments' radar capabilities and the NEA
radar investigations that use them are supported by NASA, but this support
has been dramatically reduced in early 2002. The decision to reduce support
of this capability undermines the nation's ability to obtain the information
needed to predict and mitigate a collision by an asteroid or comet. Radar
reconnaissance is as critical to a successful mitigation program as it is to
trajectory predictions. It is the only reliable ground-based technique for
determining critical properties: size, shape, density, internal structure
and whether the object is a binary system. And should mitigation efforts
fail, this capability is critical to a second line of defense. The loss of
these sites will severely limit the ability to define the point-of-impact
with sufficient resolution to issue specific warnings and to implement an
evacuation plan.

James A. Marusek

(2) C/2002 C1 (IKEYA-ZHANG)

>From Mark Kidger <>

Dear Benny:

In the last edition of "The Astronomer" magazine (2002 March, Vol. 38, No.
455, pp.295-297) given that it seems almost certain now that C/2002 C1
(Ikeya-Zhang) = C/1661 C1, Graeme Waddington and I suggest that comets
C/1532 R1 and C/1661 C1 are themselves fragments of a single, common

The idea that C/1532 R1 and C/1661 are linked is not new. Halley himself
suggested it in 1705, although he suspected that the latter was a return of
the former. The orbital elements, although uncertain, are very similar.
There are various instances of comets that split in the past and have
produced objects in different orbits. A good example is 42P/Neujmin 3 and
53P/Van Briesbroek. Another is the 1880s and 1960s Kreutz Group clusters.

The descending node of Ikeya-Zhang is close to the orbit of Jupiter and
permits the possibility of strong perturbations through close encounters
where a small difference in T between two components could lead to a very
large relative change in the orbits of the two fragments.

Even given a linkage between 2002 and 1631 extrapolating back several orbits
into the past is highly uncertain thus many scenarios are possible, but
several suggest that a close encounter with Jupiter in the 5th Century could
have produced the orbits of C/1532 R1 and C/1661 C1=C/2002 C1. One possible
scenario is a splitting at perihelion around 450 AD followed by a Jupiter
encounter some 400 days later that separated the orbits.

There is some evidence that the comet of 1273 may also have been a previous
return of C/2002 C1 (Ikeya-Zhang). It is possible to reproduce the movement
of the 1273 comet using the orbit from the 1661-2002 linkage, although it is
fair to say that this is not without problems. Such a linkage over three
perihelion passages would allow a much better orbital solution potentially
allowing an approximation to the non-gravitation terms to be included and
thus permitting a more reliable extrapolation into the past.

Further details of this work including some possible linkage scenarios
calculated by Graeme Waddington are to be published in the April edition of
The Astronomer. At present any linkage is highly uncertain, but we think
that it can be demonstrated that such an association with a common
precursor is at least not impossible.

Mark Kidger

Ps: Recent light curve data seems to suggest that there may be the
perihelion assymmetry in the light curve predicted by John Bortle (The
Astronomer, 38, 455, pp.298-299). This would have interesting implications
for the dynamical history of the comet presented above.


>From Adrian Jones <>

Dear Benny,

A forthcoming paper in Geology Today (APJones, Feb 2002), revives the idea
that the distinctive hottest lavas on Earth may in fact be the products of
large impacts. Although we have presented this idea at ESF IMPACT meetings
since 1999 (eg: Jones et al; Ber. Polarforsch. 343 (1999) 41-42; Jones et
al, in: F Martinez-Ruiz, M. Ortega-Huertas, I.Palomo (Eds.) Impact markers
in the stratigraphic record, Universidad de Granada, (2001) 57-58), it was
in fact originally suggested by Dave Green as long ago as 1972 (Green DH,
Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 15, 263-270). It can explain many of the unique
characteristics of komatiites, including (1) the required very high degree
of partial melting of mantle peridotite (2) the removal of the need to
provide a mechanism for storage of such hot melts prior to eruption (3)
their association with diverse tectonic settings and (4) their quench
spinifex textures which suggest emplacement as crystal-free liquids. This
provides an alternative explanation to the currently popular origin of
mantle plumes, whose deep origins have attracted growing criticism, as
summarised by Herman Burchard (CCNET: 9 March 2001). It also sidesteps the
debate on "wet" versus "dry" peridotite as sources of komatiites.

In the wider context of impact volcanism (see web abstract we focus on the
fundamental effects of decompression melting beneath a large impact crater,
where the target is thermally active, such as the Earth. The "extra energy"
compared with conventional impact physics, is derived from gravitational
energy and is outside (but additive to) the conventional calculations of
impact modelling, where energy is derived solely from the kinetic energy of
the impacting projectile, be it comet or asteroid; therefore the empirical
correlation between total melt volume and crater size will no longer apply,
but instead be non-linear above some threshold size, depending on,
primarily, thermal structure and melting behaviour. We contend that
decompresion melting is the key to understanding the volumes of melt
generated during large impacts and that in general, this process has been
overlooked or wrongly de-emphasised (Melosh, LPI contrib. 1053, (2000)
141-142; Pierazzo et al Icarus 127 (1997) 408-423). However, B. Ivanov
concedes (pers comm 2001) that although he considers the process highly
improbable, it may have operated during the early history of the Earth when
conditions were hotter and large impacts more frequent.

For terrestrial oceanic impacts the case is straightforward, lithospheric
thickness is rather uniform and geotherms vary from young hot to cold and
old. Decompression melting of the mantle is effective because the
temperature interval between ambient geotherm and lithological melting
closes rapidly with increasing depth and because decompression favours the
liquid state of the mantle. Surprisingly modest amounts of decompression can
cause mantle melting. For example, the removal of a 2 km ice layer from
Iceland modelled as a disc of 180 km radius, is considered to have increased
the mantle melting to depths of at least 100 km (Jull and McKenzie,
J.Geophys Res. 101 (1996) 21815-21828; Slater et al, Earth Planet. Sci.
Lett. 164 (1998) 151-164). Since impact craters modify crustal loading, it
is inevitable that, where temperatures are sufficiently high in the
underlying mantle, we can expect a wide variety of comparable decompression
melting behaviour depending on crater size and morphology. Due to the
melting relations of mantle peridotite, a pressure reduction of, say, 15
kbar (1.5 GPa) is equivalent to raising the temperature by up to ~250 C; in
the optimal case, for peridotite previously at solidus temperature (as for
young oceanic crust at an active ridge) this leads to 30-50% melting. A
group of us are using hydrocode simulations of impact cratering at UCL to
quantify details of the decompression melting effect. We suggest that the
volume of melt produced by a Sudbury-sized impact (~200 km crater) into hot
oceanic lithosphere may be comparable to the volume of melt characteristic
of terrestrial large igneous provinces (~106 km3); similar melting of the
mantle beneath an oceanic impact was also modelled by Roddy et al (Int. J.
Impact Engineering 5 (1987) 525-554). The mantle melts (basalts, picrites,
komatiites) will have plume-like geochemical signatures, and rapid mixing of
melts from sub-horizontal sub-crater reservoirs is possible. Direct coupling
between impacts and volcanism is therefore a real possibility that should be
considered with respect to global stratigraphic events in the geological
record; this could provide both impact and volcanic signatures. We suggest
that the end-Permian Siberian Traps, should be reconsidered as the result of
a major impact at ~250 Ma. Auto-obliteration by volcanism of all craters
larger than ~200 km would explain their anomalous absence on Earth compared
with other terrestrial planets in the solar system.

To return to komatiites, new information from the type locality (Barberton)
may provide an opportunity to evaluate this alternative theory, and
especially to evaluate the significance of associated spherule beds with the
first unambiguous confirmation of extraterrestrial signatures from at least
two major impacts at ~3.24 Ga from projectiles >20 km in diameter
(Shuluklyukov et al: in I. Gilmour, C. Koeberl (Eds.) Impacts and the early
Earth, Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences, Springer, 91 (2000) 99-105. As a
final note, if komatiites are the product of impact volcanism, their central
role in identifying an early hot Earth is substantially weakened. This may
also explain the occurrence of geologically young komatiites (eg: early
Tertiary at Gorgona Island; and recently discovered Mesozoic komatiites from
VietNam; Glotov et al; Can. Mineral. 39 (2001) 573-589).

Finally, komatiite hosted Ni-PGE-sulphide ore systems typically have high Os
concentrations, low Re/Os ratios, and near-chondritic Os isotope
compositions, from which Lambert et al.(EconGeol Bull Soc Econ Geol 93
(1998) 121-136) conclude that large scale dynamic processes, including major
lithospheric pathways, are critical to the development of these massive
magmatic systems. The long-term effects of sustained melt extraction might
result in rootless mantle hotspots, or "impact plumes" (see also CCNET
contributions by Hermann Burchard) which will require further modelling.

Adrian P Jones


>From Juan Zapata-Arauco <>

Dear Benny:

On February 17 of this year, as many CCNet members know, 2002 EM7 had its
minimal elongation (closest apparent angular distance to the center of the
Sun) of approximately 7.2 apparent solar diameters at 18:34 UT [1] when its
rate of angular change for (blinded) observers on Earth was
approximately 2.4 x 10 (-8) radians/seg. Assuming a conservative estimate of
the size of 2002EM7 (50 meters) its angular size in this time was 3.0 x 10 (-9) radians
(1/3100000 the standard apparent solar diameter or 1/19400 the angular size of Mercury in ref [6]).

On March 26 of 1859 a object as described in [2] crossed near the limb of the Sun with a minimal
elongation of approximately 0.48 apparent solar diameters at 16:38:20 Org`eres Time [3] and a
rate of angular change for observers on Earth of approximately 4.9x10 (-7) radians/sag [4]. The
angular size was amazingly 1.5 x 10 (-5) radians (1/640 the standard apparent solar diameter or
"perhaps a quarter the size of Mercury as he ( E.M. Lescarbault) remembered its
transit 14 years earlier" [5], [6]).

On January 14 of 1983 a "perfectly round black orb"[7] was observed crossing the Sun with a
approximate elongation of 0.27 apparent solar diameters at 17:54:24.5 UT [8] and a angular rate
for observers on Earth of near 2.7 x 10 (-3) rad/seg. The apparent size was near 2.6 x 10 (-4)
radians ( 1/36 the standard apparent solar diameter or 4.4 times the angular size of Mercury in
ref [6]).

As is know the object of 1859 was interpreted by Le Verrier as the materialization of his
theoretical longings of a intramercurial planet (later called by others Vulcan) that he placed
(assuming its orbit roughly circular) at 0.147 AU from de Sun orbiting the last body with a
period of 19 days 17 hours and an inclination to the ecliptic of 12 degrees 10 minutes [9]. The
solar transits predicted for this orbit and others systematically failed to be observed, however
other unexpected "solar transits" at essentially random dates were
registered and widely discussed but lack of the vital details of the 1859 transit[10].

E. Liais in 1866 was the first to suggest (between other interpretations) a
NEO hypothesis for the 1859 observation: "Just because Lescarbault saw a
dark body on the Sun did not prove the existence of an intramercurial
planet. It was impossible from his observations to pinpoint the object's
exact location, apart from its lying somewhere on a line between the Earth
and the Sun. Rather than Vulcan, it was much more likely Lescarbault had
encountered a small body in the neighborhood of the Earth. Such a body,
moving obliquely to the visual-ray, would show up on the solar disk, move
off and disappear. Its rate of motion would appear similar to that of an
intramercurial planet"[11].

It is important to note that E. Liais coincidentally made observations of the Sun at March 26,
1859 from San Domingos (Rio de Janeiro) between 15:36 and 16:11 Org`eres
Time. Lescarbault in Org`eres at more than 8000 kms from San Domingos reported that the small
black spot's entry on the solar disk occurred 14 seconds before 16:00
Org`eres Time. "When Liais stopped observing, the planet should have been on the
Sun's disk for 12 minutes. And yet of that part of the solar disk
all he noted was: 'Region of very uniform intensity, consisting of tiny specks'."[12]. It is
tempting easily over/underestimate a parallax effect of a hypothetical NEO here.

The problem obviously is the extremately close approaches to Earth that a NEO interpretation of
these transits requires. For example for the 1859 event and for a typical 100 meters NEO, this
interpretation requires an approach to the center of Earth of 6670 km (1.04 Equatorial Earth
Radii) a narrow 292 km above surface of our planet!. Approaches at this distance are expected
nearly each 500 years. The following Table gives the approximate distances
(Earth Radii) and sizes (meters) expected for the apparent sizes (radians)
observed and intervals (years) between transits assumed in the solar
crossing cases mentioned above:


1.5 x 10 (-5) 500 1.04 100
1.5 x 10 (-5) 1000 2.95 283
1.5 x 10 (-5) 2000 8.36 800
2.6 x 10 (-4) 1000000 1.04 1717
2.6 x 10 (-4) 2000000 2.93 4859
2.6 x 10 (-4) 4000000 8.29 13749

If being conservative we suppose that any given moment celestial positions of NEOs of a
determined size are isotropically distributed as opposed to be concentrate around the ecliptic
plane, we can obtain a lower estimate of the likelihood of having some of
the NEOs of this size at that moment in the sun direction (at unknown
distance of Earth) dividing the estimate total number of these objects of
this diameter between the number of cells of solar size contained in the
celestial sphere (approximately 185000). Half of this number will be on the
hemisphere of the sun and half of this half will be between Sun and Earth.
In this way the problem of an apparent low likelihood of observing a NEO
just crossing the narrow angular size of the sun is overcome.

I would like the input of CCNet about this hypothetical link of solar transits and NEOs (never
alluded before in the network) that very cursorily I gave today to our learned readership.

Clear blind spots!
Juan Zapata-Arauco


[1]Preliminary Ephemeris of this object as 3/26/2002. Solar System Dynamics
Group, Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System. Jet Propulsion Laboratory: 2002EM kept this minimal elongation from 14:00 to 23:00 UT.
[2]Baum R. and Sheenan W. "In Search of Planet Vulcan: The Ghost in Newton's
Clockwork Universe". Plenum. New York, 1997.Chapter 10.
[3]"Passage d'une Planete sur le disque du Soleil, observee `a Org`eres, par
M. Lescarbault. Lettre `a M. Le Verrier," Comptes Rendu 50, 40-46 (1859); Cosmos 16, 50 ff
(January 13, 1860). Both cited in Ref [2]. Pag 149. Org`eres-en -beauce the place of this
observation has a longitude 1.683 degrees East. Time of this transit 16:38:20 is estimated given the
local (Org`eres) times in reference [2].
[4] As inferred from data collected in [2].
[5]Ibid., 147.
[6]Ephemeris Generator of ref [1]: Target Body: Planet Mercury. On May 8,
1845 Mercury had a transit over the Sun with an angular diameter of a little more of 12 arc seconds!
[7]Corliss, W.R. Ed. "Science Frontiers: Some Anomalies and Curiosities of
Nature". Sourcebook Project, Glen Arm, MD, 1994. Pag 75.
[8]Lohvinenko, T. "A Mysterious Object". Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, National
Newsletter, 77:L19, 1983. Cited in ref [7].
[9]Baum R. and Sheenan W. Pag 156.
[10]Ibid., 159.
[11]Ibid., 165 and Liais, E. "L' espace celeste et la natur tropical (Paris,
1866), 500. Cited in Ref [2].
[12]Ibid., 164.


>From Alastair McBeath <>

Dear Benny,

John Michael (CCNet 39/2002 - 22 March) might be interested to see Carl
Lofmark's excellent "A History of the Red Dragon" (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch,
1995), if he's not already done so, as Lofmark covers the Red Dragon on the
Welsh flag, among other draconic emblems of that country. Briefly, the first
reference to a flag with a red dragon set on a green and white field used as
a symbol of Wales Lofmark found (pp. 68-9) dates to 1485, when Henry Tudor
(Henry VII to be) used it as one of his three battle-flags at Bosworth Field
against Richard III. However, a red dragon standard "sparkling all over with
gold" was earlier used by the Anglo-Norman Henry III against the Welsh in
1245 and 1257 (Lofmark, p. 54)! Red or gold (or the unhelpfully
"fiery"-coloured) dragon emblems are occasionally associated in texts with
the Britons or the Welsh back to the legendary battling red and white
dragons of the circa early 9th century AD "History of the British" commonly
attributed to Nennius.

The Welsh use of draig/dragon/dragwn to sometimes refer to lightning or
meteorites/meteors is unfortunately attestable in written sources only to
the 14th/15th centuries AD, a similar dating to that found for the first
clear English use of dragon/drake/fire-drake as a meteor according to the
Oxford English Dictionary. The oral usage must be earlier than this
naturally, and an association between fiery dragons and meteors in British
beliefs may well derive from the early Christian traditions descending from
the biblical "Revelation to John" (12:1-6, the seven-headed red dragon which
casts down one-third of the stars from the sky with its tail). An
interesting early example of what was very probably a brilliant, acoustic
fireball over the British Isles comes from the Irish annal astronomical
collection compiled by Daniel McCarthy and Aidan Breen ("Astronomical
observations in the Irish annals and their motivation", Peritia: The Journal
of the Medieval Academy of Ireland 11, 1997, pp. 1-43), for 735 AD: "A huge
dragon was seen, with great thunder after it, at the end of the autumn".
Unaccountably, these authors ignore meteors entirely in their discussion,
and rather unconvincingly suggest instead this was "an observation of the
aurora Borealis combined with a thunder storm" (p. 14).

The supposition that the aurora can be equated with fiery dragons or
serpents in early British sources (remembering the "drakon" (suggested as
either from "derkesthai" = "to see clearly" or "darkomai" = "to flash or
gleam") is a serpentiform creature in the Greek and Greek-derived texts
which influenced late ancient to medieval European thought) seems to be
entirely made by modern commentators, as no contemporary records dating to
earlier epochs that I've traced provide support for this, especially given
the medieval equation between fiery dragons and meteors. The swirling
spiral, swastika and triskele artforms long associated with dragons and
serpents (amongst other creatures and more abstract ideas) may possibly
relate to the pulsing, spiralling structures occasionally seen at or near
the observer's geomagnetic zenith around the corona of very rare,
exceptionally strong, mid-latitude auroral storms, but there is no written
evidence to support this if so, as is also the problem with suggestions the
"S"- or "Z"-shaped auroral band forms might relate to the typical shapes of
such creatures. Disappointingly for dracophiles, the more probable early
auroral reports are of sky-glows overnight (though some of these could be
extended twilights due to stratospheric volcanic aerosols, mesospheric
nacreous clouds, noctilucent clouds, or perhaps even lunar haloes), spear,
sword or lance-armed armies or warriors battling in the sky, or masted ships
in the sky, drawing attention to the single most diagnostic mid-latitude
auroral form, searchlight-like rays.

The dragon-lightning-meteorite link throws up further problems, as it is
often unclear in early comments and reports if a given stone or object
referred to was struck by lightning, or was a genuine meteorite seen to
fall. Damage caused by a lightning strike can be comparable to that from a
physical object impacting the target certainly, and lightning can also
create fused-silica, root-like structures in the soil, fulgurites, by its
intense heat. Despite the general fragility of many of these fulgurites,
this creates more doubt over what the event may have been. The precious gem,
the draconitis or dracontias stone, that might be found in the head of a
freshly-killed dragon, a motif in Pliny ("Natural History" XXXVII:57;
completed 77 AD) which recurs in medieval European belief (the OED gives its
first exemplar from 1579; see under "draconites"), additionally clouds the
issue. This may be an indication that meteorites, thunder- or
lightning-stones might be expected after the fiery meteoric or lightning
dragon flying through the air had ceased to glow, i.e. had "died", though it
is well recorded that many ancient peoples were aware that special stones
(not necessarily meteorites - see below) could fall from the sky without
this particular folkloric wrapping, while Pliny seems more to be referring
to a belief in such stones occurring in the head of an actual creature,
perhaps a large snake.

Thunderstones or thunderbolts were popular folkloric terms for the internal
guards of extinct fossilized small squid-like animals, belemnites (Greek
"belemnon" = "dart"), which have the forms and sizes of unbarbed arrow or
spear tips (see M G Bassett's "'Formed Stones', Folklore and Fossils",
National Museum of Wales, 1982, pp. 7 & 9), and these same names are found
for fossil echinoids (Bassett, pp. 15-6), while fossil crinoid stems and
some fossil corals were called star-stones, and seem to have been assumed to
have fallen from the stars/sky (Bassett, pp. 14-5). Bassett draws heavily on
the late 17th century works of Robert Plot of the Ashmolean Museum, but Plot
was simply recording the oral beliefs of his day. Pliny's references to
several kinds of (generally unidentifiable) thunder-, lightning- and
star-stones (e.g. "Natural History" XXXVII:47-51, 55, 65 and 73), or the
tongue-shaped stone "Glossoptera" (XXXVII:59) said to fall from the sky when
the Moon waned, indicate a much earlier origin for such ideas.

Things get worse when we consider fungi. Both lightning strikes and fiery
dragons have been folklorically cited as causes for fairy rings since at
least medieval times (John Ramsbottom, "Mushrooms and Toadstools", Collins,
1953, Chapter 11, especially pp. 114-8). In the Austrian Tyrol, the dragon
whose fiery tail coil created the rings was said to appear at Pegasids (10
August) and Martinmas (11 November; see Ramsbottom, p. 114), dates
coincident with the Perseid and Leonid meteor shower maxima in the second
half of the 18th century. Truffles were anciently thought to result from
lightning strikes too (Ramsbottom, pp. 259-60). Various types of jelly-like
fungi, slime-moulds and the alga Nostoc have been identified as
"star-slime", the Welsh "pwdre ser" ("star-rot"), known by numerous other
similar folk-names across medieval to nearly-modern Europe, and almost
always described as the remnants of a fallen shooting-star (see Hilary
Belcher and Erica Swale's "Catch a Falling Star", Folklore 95:ii (1984), pp.
210-20). Other objects described this way include regurgitated frogspawn and
jellyfish, while flounders were said to have been created from this
"star-shot" fallen on the sea (Belcher & Swale, note 60, p. 218). European
fungal fruits are commonest from late summer to early winter, the period
which records suggest has seen the stronger concentrations of meteor showers
during the year for the last millennium, if not longer.

The meteor-lightning link was tackled much earlier in the extra-biblical "1
Enoch" (cf. M A Knibb's translation in "The Apocryphal Old Testament", ed. H
F D Sparks, Clarendon Press, 1984), which dates to about the late 3rd to
early 2nd centuries BC. It preserves much Jewish astronomical lore, drawing
on other contemporary ideas, and passed this down directly or indirectly to
subsequent generations via the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Chapters 43 and
44 discuss part of the patriarch Enoch's second vision, in which he
describes seeing how some stars arise and become "other lightnings"
(different to the lightning associated with thunderstorms which he had
witnessed in an earlier vision), but then cannot part with their new forms.

>From the above, it is clear both connections and distinctions were being
drawn from ancient times between lightning and meteors, either of which
might be associated with dragons and result in any number of supposedly
fallen objects or perceived "impact" products, with an acknowledgement in "1
Enoch" of the potential for confusion between them. This is not surprising.
The similarities between observations of a very bright meteor or a still
brighter acoustic fireball, events often seen to precede a small meteorite
fall, and what may occur during a thunderstorm, are sufficiently close that
confusion in such reports must be expected. Even modernly, inexperienced
fireball witnesses will sometimes search nearby for anything that might have
fallen afterwards, without appreciating the glowing fireball must have been
a minimum of several tens of kilometres away from them. For instance, in my
capacity as Meteor Director to the Society for Popular Astronomy, I received
a report of two motorists stopping to fruitlessly search fields near
Sheffield for meteorites immediately after spotting a magnitude -8/-10
fireball, also seen from several other sites in the English Midlands and
South Yorkshire, around 01:29 UT on February 8-9 this year.

Dragons have a long association with weather of varying kinds, especially
water supply and storms amongst other things, as commonly found in many
sources around the world. Chinese dragons are particularly connected with
water, weather, thunderstorms, various electrical and light effects
(including ball-lightning, Will O'Wisps, "earthquake" or earth-stress
lights, and so forth, aside from lightning and meteors),
whirlwinds/tornadoes and waterspouts (tornadoes over water; both types are
associated with severe thunderstorms), for example. The descriptions of
fighting dragons breaking a path through trees, or quite commonly appearing
over water and causing dangerous waves and other damage, occasionally with
fire in association (as cited for instance by Mike Baillie, "Exodus to
Arthur", Batsford, 1999, pp. 131 and 137), are excellent ones detailing how
thunderstorm-cell induced tornadoes create trails of destruction on land, or
whirl waters up into a frenzy, sometimes coupled with nearby lightning
strikes. The dragon as tornado/waterspout is well attested in Chinese
sources, cf. Joseph Needham's "Science and Civilisation in Ancient China",
vol. 3, p. 479 (Cambridge UP, 1959), and the discussions of the Chinese
dragon through time in "Art of the Dragon", by Yang Xin, Li Yuhua and Xu
Naixing (English translation published by Studio Vista, 1989). It seems most
unlikely these "fighting dragon" comments were attempts to describe the much
less discriminating area effects of possible medium to large
meteoric/meteoritic events, reinforced where such dragons were stated as
descending from the clouds and reascending to them.

Comets have sometimes been likened to dragons in appearance (possibly
because comets and meteors may appear superficially similar), though whether
this confirms any of the commentaries in recent times about comets being
perceived as dragons in the ancient past, is regrettably much less clear. If
they were, it is curious synonyms in ancient and medieval European texts
tend to be to hairy or bristly objects or natural animals quite often, where
some other more solid or sharply-edged object is not suggested. Comets can
certainly demonstrate some draconic attributes, perhaps including long,
sometimes curving, tails leading to a bright, rounded head, and maybe a
star- or eye-like pseudonucleus, or spiral-form jets in their comae (Pliny's
description of the comet he calls Typhon as "twisted like a coil" springs
readily to mind from his discussion of comets generally, "Natural History"
II:22-6, the comet apparently named after a legendary (?) African king,
rather than the volcanic, partly-draconic, Greek mythological monster). An
early dragon-like comet features in Geoffrey of Monmouth's more or less
fictional "History of the Kings of Britain" from c.1136 AD, where he has a
great comet appear especially to commemorate the death of Aurelius
Ambrosius, which also foretells the accession of Uther, and the birth of
Uther's son Arthur, all once-or-future-kings of the Britons, according to
Geoffrey's Merlin (pp. 200-1 of Lewis Thorpe's translation, Penguin, 1966).

Geoffrey of Monmouth's is also the first text to feature Merlin and Arthur
as closely associated contemporaries, a staple of other, later, medieval
literary fiction. An earlier, and generally more reliably historical, text
with both characters in is "The Welsh Annals", appended to a few manuscripts
of the "History of the British" (cf. John Morris' translation in "Nennius:
British History and the Welsh Annals", Phillimore, 1980, pp. 44-9, with a
composite Latin text on pp. 85-91). From the dates of its last entries, it
was perhaps originally penned in the mid-10th century AD. It sets the death
of Arthur at Camlann in 537 AD (but note that no AD dates occur in the
original manuscript; these are all inserted by the modern editors), and the
beginning of the madness of Merlin (other Welsh traditions hold that this
period of insanity started in Merlin's post-adolescent youth) in 573. The
accuracy of the "Welsh Annals" concerning these characters, or indeed others
in these earlier entries, is unknown. Merlin is not mentioned at all in the
"History of the British", while only Arthur's successful campaigns and two
unrelated place-legends briefly are, for example.

Returning to the Welsh "draig", we should appreciate its use in connection
with lightning and meteorites is, and apparently always was, a relatively
lesser one. The more important meanings for draig/dragon/dragwn are the
reptilian dragon, or a war-leader/hero/chieftain/warrior, or as a metaphor
for the Old Serpent himself, Satan or the Devil of Christian belief, and
more modernly the name of the constellation Draco. Oddly, the use as a
significant warrior, etc., seems to be the primary form in earlier times,
and is almost always a particularly positive epithet. It seems plausible, as
Lofmark suggests (pp. 40-3), that this usage of "dragon" descends from the
Roman cohorts' "windsock"-style dragon standard of the late 2nd to 3rd
centuries AD on, which the Britons perhaps adopted as a type of "police" or
authority badge when endeavouring to maintain order after the final Roman
withdrawal from these islands in the early 5th century AD. The Saxon and
Norman use of a similar standard may well have originated in the same way.
Geoffrey of Monmouth provides an interesting conflation by renaming his
character Uther as Utherpendragon (Thorpe, p. 202) after seeing, and because
of, the draconic comet, saying further that this name means "a dragon's
head". However, Uthr Pendragon is known from Welsh traditions predating
Geoffrey, and his name translates as "uthr" = terrible, "pen" = head, and
"dragon" = chieftain, suggesting an honorific title rather than a true name.

Finally, it is important to remember that all of the above covers only a
small fraction of what the dragon was and is in popular belief, legend and
mythology. It is pointless to look for, or assume, a single, simple
explanation for the dragon and its origins.

Alastair McBeath


>From Hermann Burchard <>

Dear Benny,

a meteorite fall occurred in Bavaria late Saturday night and a piece the
size of a fist was found and brought in by a farmer's wife, who watched it
come down glowing in her garden, according to reports in SUEDDEUTSCHE
ZEITUNG and DIE WELT. The Geologische Institut in Munich identified the rock
which appears to have been a fragment of a bolide according to experts.

Police received hundreds of telephone calls from scared citizens. The event
was visible over much of Southern Germany.

One observation was of a bolide originating near Leo in the South-East
moving West Saturday night, 22:20 CET, by amateur astronomer Ulrich
Schmidbauer looking for galaxies through his 13 inch reflecting telescope in
Fürstenried.  He saw flames emerging from the nucleus but no trail and he
heard no noise (as reported by others).

Werner Walter of Central Research Net for Extraordinary Celestial Phenomena
(CENAP) in Mannheim agrees it was a large bolide that broke up after
entering at a shallow angle into Earth's atmosphere.

The Society of Sternfreunde in Heppenheim (near Heidelberg) took photos of
the sky which on occasion was illuminated bright as daylight by the
spectacular swarm of bolide fragments, with trails of sparks created by some
of the meteors.

NASA had expected satellite HETE to re-enter hours later than the event but
is reported to have excluded this as a possible cause.


= = = = = =
Lichtblitze und Explosionsgeräusche:

Ein Feuerball erschreckt die Bayern

Experten halten das mysteriöse Phänomen für einen ungewöhnlich hellen

Von Helmut Hornung

Eine grelle Leuchterscheinung über Bayern hat am späten Samstagabend die
Bürger alarmiert. Vor allem bei den Polizeidienststellen in Oberbayern,
Franken, Schwaben und der Oberpfalz meldeten sich Hunderte Anrufer. Nach
Einschätzung von Experten steckte hinter dem Phänomen ein ungewöhnlich
heller "Feuerball" - ein kleiner Gesteinsbrocken aus den Tiefen des

So muss der Weltuntergang ausgesehen haben: Ein Licht, das unvermittelt am
samtschwarzen Firmament aufblitzt und einige Sekunden unter den Fixsternen
dahin rast. Dann eine gewaltige Explosion. Die Atmosphäre verdunkelt sich,
das Leben stirbt den Kältetod.

Dass die Bayern am Wochenende dem Schicksal der Dinosaurier vor 65 Millionen
Jahren nur knapp entronnen sind, ist aber eher unwahrscheinlich. Dennoch hat
das Spektakel bei vielen Menschen ein Gefühl von "Armageddon" ausgelöst. Zu
spüren bekam dies vor allem die Polizeidirektion in
Weilheim, zuständig für die Landkreise Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen,
Garmisch-Partenkirchen und Weilheim-Schongau. "Hunderte wollten wissen, ob
sie sich Sorgen machen müssen", sagt Einsatzleiter Alfons Bäurle. Der
Wetterbeobachter Werner Hahmann auf der Zugspitze beobachtete drei
Lichtblitze und hörte laute Explosionsgeräusche. "Zuerst dachte ich, ein
Flugzeug sei abgestürzt", berichtet Hahmann. Auf dem Münchner Flughafen
wurde eine Lichterscheinung im Bereich der südlichen Startbahn beobachtet,
ein Mitarbeite, der aufs Vorfeld fuhr, fand jedoch keinerlei Spuren. Das
Flughafen-Radar hatte zur fraglichen Zeit nichts Auffälliges verzeichnet.
Noch in der Nacht startete ein Polizeihubschrauber, um nach Schäden oder
Bränden zu suchen. Auch ein Erkundungsflug am frühen Sonntagmorgen blieb

Dennoch war das Leuchten in höheren Sphären keine Sinnestäuschung.
Samstagabend, 22.20 Uhr MEZ: Der Amateurastronom Ulrich Schmidbauer blickt
durch sein 32,5-Zentimeter-Spiegelteleskop in Fürstenried, um ferne Galaxien
aufzuspüren. Plötzlich erhellt sich die Landschaft um ihn.
Instinktiv blickt der Sterngucker zum Himmel. "Da zog vom Bild Löwe im
Südosten kommend ein vollmond - heller, weißer Lichtball Richtung Westen und
erlosch fünf bis sechs Sekunden später rund 25 Grad über dem Horizont", sagt

Der erfahrene Meteorbeobachter sieht Feuerzungen aus dem Kern lodern,
vermisst aber eine Rauchspur. Ebenso wenig hört er Donnergrollen, wie es
viele andere Augenzeugen wahrgenommen haben wollen. Und von den häufig
gemeldeten zwei oder drei Lichtblitzen, die dann wie eine Silvesterrakete
zerplatzt seien, sieht er von seinem Standort aus nichts. Dennoch ist
Schmidbauer sicher: "Das war eine Feuerkugel, ein so genannter Bolide."

Das glaubt auch Werner Walter vom Centralen Erforschungs-Netz
außergewöhnlicher Himmelsphänomene (CENAP) in Mannheim: "Ein megagroßer
Bruder der Sternschnuppe ist in flachem Winkel in die Erdatmosphäre
eingetreten und dann in mehrere Einzelteile zerbrochen." Der zurzeit in der
Abenddämmerung strahlende Planet Venus jedenfalls kommt als Erklärung der
Himmelserscheinung nicht in Frage. Und der Komet Ikeya-Zhang glimmt im
Nordwesten so schwach, dass ihn Laien ohne Sternkarte und Fernglas kaum

Ist vielleicht ein Stück Raketenschrott auf die Erde geknallt? Tatsächlich
hatte die amerikanische Weltraumbehörde NASA den Absturz von Teilen des 1996
gestarteten Satelliten HETE angekündigt. Der Zeitpunkt für den
Wiedereintritt war für Sonntag sechs Uhr früh errechnet worden. Am Sonntag
schloss die NASA einen Zusammenhang ihres Satelliten mit der mysteriösen
Lichterscheinung aus.


>From Paul Feinstein <>

Hi Dr. Peiser,

NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project (BPP) soon will have a way to
make several quick little trips to (29075)1950 DA and apply "all the above"
mitigations of the impact danger.  Or they may retrieve it and put it in
earth orbit to use as a space vacation resort. According to a newspaper
article I just read, they appear to expect to do even more difficult feats
soon. It was obviously an "April fools" joke erroneously published a week
early, or the author spoofed the L.A. Times just to see if she could. At any
rate, it's a long, very scientific-sounding article, ostensibly about NASA's
funding of "breakthrough" physics research. It fooled the relative
who mailed it to me.

The Sunday, March 24, 2002  L.A. Times, in its Opinion section reported that
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. is awaiting delivery
of an anti-gravity machine, for which they paid $600,000 to have it
custom-built by Ohio-based Superconductive Components, Inc. (SCI).

In 1992, "Russian physicist Evgeny Podkletnov published the results of an
experiment in which he claimed to have discovered a 'gravity-shielding'
effect' [in] the respected science journal Physica C" ... "Marshall Space
Flight Center researcher Ron Koczor ... in 1999 ... persuaded NASA to
commission SCI to build a facsimile of Podkletnov's original apparatus."

"NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project funded last year's Cavendish
balance ["inconclusive"] experiment.  (H)eaded by aerospace engineer Marc G.
Millis, the group has license to boldly go where no man has gone before --
to the outermost limits of current scientific understanding."

They are "seeking projects that can be feasibly achieved in two to three
years ... Already the office has funded five projects that investigate
anomalous physical effects.  Most do not deal with gravity per se; as Millis
notes, "modifying gravity" is just one possible direction from which to
approach the propulsion problem.  The group has also funded work on reducing
the effect of inertial mass, on quantum tunneling and on the relationship
between electromagnetism and space-time."

"Well aware of the threat to NASA's reputation, he is determined to
encourage only the most clean-cut suitors, people with university
affiliations and the like."

" ... beyond the ivory towers of academe an unheralded army of amateurs are
beavering away in their basements against the unbearable restraints of Isaac
Newton's laws.  Go online  and the virtual ether fizzes ... "

Then it mentions James Cox, editor of the Anti-Gravity News, his list of "no
less than seven anti-gravity devices," and his own anti-gravity invention
he's seeking a patent for.

"When the BPP's next casting call goes out in the fall, Millis says the
agency will keep and open mind ... new insights can come from the most
seemingly unlikely directions."

Phasing out the Minor Planet Center's funding is so dense that I can believe
almost anything of NASA now. If the article weren't so zany, I WOULD believe
that NASA would prefer to give the BPP $600,000 than to ensure proper
funding for the Minor Planet Center. The 29075 report being published in
"Science" may hopefully ensure Arricibo's continuing to do these kinds of
radio astronomy studies.



>From Edwin Kite <>

Dear Benny,

In Whitehall, tidal power is a standing joke - it is said that the first
task for DETR (British Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions) mandarins returning from their holidays is to clear their desks of
tidal power monographs submitted by cranks, inventors, and professors alike.
The specific failure of the Bristol Channel Barrage has become a general
rule in the collective mind of the British government - so that if truly
workable tidal power projects do emerge, they will have to fight their way
past layers of institutional antipathy.

Are we in danger of creating a similar mindset? "Here comes the NEO lobby
again, collecting tin in hand." The quoted remarks of Peter McGauran
certainly suggest that the Australian minister was given a one-sided brief
by his technocrats. Once established, such convictions are difficult to
shake. Repeated appeals for government funding risk turning freshly-minted
excuses for withholding millions into self-hypnotising mantras. A rational
response to the threat posed by extraterrestrial bolides relies on fine
discrimination between the threats posed by comets, kilometre-class NEOs,
and Tungaska-class impactors. Yet Lembit Opik (a NEO-conscious British MP)
used a graphic of the Tungaska footprint superimposed on London as part of
his argument for British funding for a search for kilometre-class NEOs! In
the minds of the mandarins, this confirms that approving any - cheap -
searches for large NEOs will force them to fund hunts for the much more
elusive Tunguskas; a hunt that might consume an unacceptably large fraction
of Britain's overstretched ground-based astronomy budget. Hence the Near
Earth Object Information Centre. McGauran's remarks suggest that similar
processes are underway in other countries. This is not good news. Either the
technocrats are stupid (unlikely), ill-informed (after several years of
lobbying, and the UK NEO report, also unlikely), or they have correctly
assessed the support that the NEO-tracking community can mobilise, and
dismissed it. In the latter case, only a meteorite shower over Eland House
will shake them.

These points have been made many times before, as has the conclusion drawn
from them; NEO researchers should switch their attention to space. If
ground-based astronomy funding is a Darwinian log chock-full of wedges,
space funding is both a bigger log - by a factor of twenty! - and has fewer
wedges. What lends this argument urgency is that, right now, many of those
wedges are missing.

The International Space Station's stated mission is to act as a laboratory
for microgravity science. In 2000, the National Research Council concluded
that two decades of Space Shuttle protein crystal growth experiments had
proved "inconclusive. The improvements in crystal quality that have been
observed are often only incremental, and the difficulty of producing the
appropriate controls limits invesigators' ability to definitively assess if
improvements can be reliably credited to the microgravity environment. To
date, the impact of microgravity crystallisation on structual biology as a
whole has been extremely limited." Other proposals for space-based
biotechnology research were similarly dismissed. Hardly a ringing
endorsement for half of a $40bn research program. Subsequently, the
Station's "control", the Centrifuge Module, was scrapped. Researchers will
now have no way of seperating the violent effects of launch and re-entry on
their experiments from those of microgravity. Meanwhile, the Space Station's
crew has been reduced from seven to three, placing a premium on experiments
that demand little crew attention, such as externally-mounted NEO
telescopes. A review of the Space Station's rationale will be placed on the
desk of NASA's new administrator, Sean O'Keefe, in June. The castrated
Station that is likely to emerge from this review process will be even more
in need of a scientific raison d'etre.

But doesn't the structure of the Station - it has nadir-mounted instrument
panels, but no corresponding zenith panels - preclude telescopes? Apparently
not; a recent change to the formula of NASA's MIDEX (Medium Class Explorer)
Request for Proposals explicitly solicits astronomy instruments that can be
"bolted on" to the Station.

These details are tedious. But they adumbrate an exceptional opportunity. If
a ISS-mounted NEO survey telescope can be built for less than $100mn, now is
the time to push for it. Bizarre as it seems, it seems that such a telescope
- which, thanks to the ISS's highly-inclined orbit, would also fill the
Southern Hemisphere and dayside blind zones bemoaned by Drake Mitchell -
would have a better chance of being funded than the much smaller (<$10mn)
Spaceguard projects currently being proposed.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), flight-tested on Shuttle mission
STS-91 and scheduled for mounting on the Station in 2006, provides an
interesting illustration of the potential advantages of hitching one's
fortunes to the Station. At $90mn, AMS is considered by most particle
astrophysicists to be an inappropriate deployment of resources. It is a
sensitive probe for antiatoms. The presence of any antiatoms in the universe
would require the revision of large chunks of the Standard Model, but the
probability of this is assessed as being so low that efforts are now
expended in trying to explain the abscence of significant quantities of
antimatter in the observable universe rather than confirming its absence.
Were AMS stuck on the ground, it would have been unlikely to gain funding.
Similarly, XEUS, a European free-flying X-ray telescope designed around
periodic servicing at the ISS, is looking likely to be a cornerstone of
ESA's 2013-2020 flight schedule. When it is discussed, its value as an "ISS
application" is usually one of the first points advanced in its favour.

In summary, advocates of expanded NEO defense usually ask for new money, but
in practice government funding is a zero-sum game. The overstretched
ground-based astronomy budgets of Western nations offer little scope for
even the paltry sums needed for kilometric NEO tracking. Civil service
attitudes in at least one country - Britain - are hardening against NEO
tracking. A way out could be wholehearted community support for a small
ISS-mounted NEO survey telescope. This telescope would provide the ISS with
a much-needed raison d'etre as it struggles to survive cuts to its crew
complement and power supply. Successful operation of such a telescope would
open the way for the free-flying space-based survey telescope(s) usually
seen as the desired "end state" for NEO tracking.

Edwin Kite


>From Worth Crouch <

Dear Dr. Peiser:
For the last 20 years I have progressively become more convinced that large
boulders or ice-burgs from outer space will once again strike our planet. As
you know I have written an argument on the subject available at
<> and provided comment and editorialization through
CCNet,, SPACEDAILY, MarsBugs, NASA and other objective

However, although I have been trained in engineering, geology, and
psychology my paramount education has been in the field of history, and
because of that I am very pessimistic about a clean outcome for humanity
this time around. I will just mention a few of many particulars and past
situations that cause me to believe the Earth must experience another severe
cosmic catastrophe in this century before mankind will understand the
magnitude of our situation and indeed that the solution is therefore already
probably too late for many.

For most people the understanding of history is based on their individual
experience, which unfortunately goes back in time only a few years. A small
number of enlightened folk study written human history and realize a little
more than the vast majority that primarily understand only contemporary
society, and indeed many fewer study geologic history. A minute fraction of
humanity has even the vaguest concept of cosmic history or the severe
implications of an asteroid or comet impact upon our planet. Consequently,
when the population is warned by the tiny minority of trained cosmically
enlightened fellows, the majority can neither grasp or consequentially
imagine what in the world they are being warned about, or even how to
consider the warning. However, sometimes during a brief instant of motion
picture entertainment a glimpse of cosmic terror might be understood by the
multitudes, but it soon fades as the next round of entertaining cinemas
flash by their increasingly habituated cerebral cortexes.

In terms of human history, since Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire dissolved,
Europeans have fought countless terrible and bloody wars for over a thousand
years, attempting to unite a similar people with a shared history. Only
recently after Europe's wars became world wars, with nuclear consequences,
has a partially successful attempt been made to unite the warring European
community so it will hopefully not obliterate itself in another man made
cataclysm. The point is, it took the majority of thoughtless people a long
time, coupled with countless errors, combined with graphically evident
catastrophic and personal experience, connected to an atomic holocaust
before a solution to their dilemma could be found. And I am writing about
some of the most literate and enlightened nations on the planet.

Unfortunately there is sometimes little difference between European and
other nations, if I can use one example from many in the United States. All
my life I have noticed that when there is a need for something like a stop
light traffic signal at a busy intersection, where there have been many near
fatalities, the signal doesn't go in until something like a bus load of
children are horribly killed and mutilated. It seems as though people act
the same the world over, and unfortunately even thought the Earth was
severely impacted less than one hundred years ago in a remote Siberian
forest the impact warning fell on deaf ears. Combining the above human
experiences and responses it seems that history and psychology indicate
people need to experience a cataclysmic impact in a densely populated area
before a cosmic threat of extinction is taken seriously.

Of course I haven't advanced anything new. If Plato's Republic (c.370 BC) is
inspected, an important section the allegory of the cave (book 7) presents a
similar concept to those just advanced. The cave is the world of illusion
and ignorance of most people; only the philosopher/scientist can venture
beyond the shadows of the cave to perceive the ideal models of justice and
reality. Nonetheless, it is the duty of the philosophers and scientists to
attempt to save the multitudes, even if their salvation seems futile,
especially since the philosophers and scientists are among the multitudes.

However, don't hold your breath counting on enough people to pay attention
and protect themselves just because enlightened warnings of cosmic
catastrophe by experienced societies of experts make sense. In my case I
live high in the Sierra's in hopes that the incoming collision is not
doomsday, and I can weather the storm successfully.


Worth F. Crouch (Talako)
Choctaw Society of Astrobiologists

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CCNet 46/2002 - 8 April 2002

"In my view, it's the most important technical challenge in history.
An object is out there and has our name on it. The name of the game is to
find it before it finds us."
--Andy Smith, International Planetary Protection Alliance

"A WELSH MP is so concerned about earth being destroyed by an
asteroid he has asked Tony Blair to raise the issue with US President
George Bush. Lembit Opik has pressed Mr Blair to involve other
nations in assessing the risk from outer space at the forthcoming G8 summit.
"I am hoping that the two world powers in the best position to lead a
scientific project to identify the risk from asteroids, will work
together," said Mr Opik, whose late grandfather Ernst was an
astronomer in Estonia."
--Tony Trainor, The Western Mail, 6 April 2002

"A group of Japanese astronomers watching the heavens around the
clock to spot any sign of huge asteroids and comets apparently found
an undisclosed spy satellite, they announced Thursday. It is 50 meters
wide and orbiting the Earth but it doesn't show up on any of the
lists of satellites registered with the North American Aerospace Defense
Command. There are more than 8,000 objects up there sent from Earth but
this one isn't listed, making it a prime suspect as a spy satellite."
--Cosmiverse, 5 April 2002


    Andrew Yee <>

    Michael Paine <>

    ICWales, 6 April 2002

    Cosmiverse, 5 April 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    Boston Herald, 5 April 2002

    Michael Paine <>

    Fox News, 28 March 2002

    The New York Times, 8 April 2002

     Andrew Yee <>

     Tribune Chronicle, 7 April 2002


>From, 3 April 2002

By Leonard David, Senior Space Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO -- Earth is on a "hit list" with hazardous asteroids
and comets being nature's own terrorism from the sky. More than 100,000
dangerous near- Earth objects exist - known in sky watching circles as NEOs.

Off-the-shelf technology to prevent future impacts from making a mess of
things already exists, but some assembly is required. More worrisome is that
little is being done to prepare for the day when a big one smacks into our
planet, stirring up global consequences.

The threat from celestial wanderers is real. A homeland defense plan for
planet Earth is now needed. And time is running out. Those views were shared
among experts on space technology, robotics, comets and asteroids, and
emergency planning. They gathered here for 2002 Space and Robotics
Conferences, held March 17-21, and sponsored by the Aerospace Division of
the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Name of the game

"In my view, it's the most important technical challenge in history," said
Andy Smith, head of the International Planetary Protection Alliance (IPPA),
based in Albuquerque. "An object is out there and has our name on it. The
name of the game is to find it before it finds us," Smith
said. The technology needed to guard Earth and we earthlings from bothersome
NEOs is in hand. "It would take us probably two years to put a system
together using off-the-shelf components," Smith said. Already, such NASA
projects as the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) probe of Eros in
2000-2001, and the Deep Impact strike mission to a comet in 2005, provide
engineering insight on doing battle with NEO bullies.

Killer application

Experts at the meeting noted the upcoming Deep Impact mission and that
craft's slambang of an assignment to comet Tempel 1. Deep Impact will make a
spectacular football field-sized crater on the speeding comet. Images from
both the flyby spacecraft and the impactor will be sent back to distant
Earth as data in near-real time. While these firstever views beneath a
comet's surface and other instrument readings will provide clues to the
formation of the solar system, this mission is also a forerunner to fending
off dangerous objects.

Deep Impact's killer application is one of delivering a powerful punch. The
kinetic energy to be delivered equals some 4.5 tons of TNT. That should do
wonders in excavating a crater some seven stories deep on Tempel 1. Mass of
the impactor is 770 pounds (350 kilograms). But the real trick is to hit an
area on the comet less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) in diameter from millions
of miles away. To do this, the impactor uses a high-precision star tracker
and special navigation algorithms developed for the Deep Space-1 mission that eyed
comet Borrelly late last year. While en route, the impactor's attitude control system will
keep the device on its crash course alignment.

Clearly, Deep Impact can be viewed as a trial run system for learning how to
take out or divert objects intimidating to Earth. Building a ready-to-fly
NEO defense system, however, is another matter.

Putting the pieces together

There are several elements needed, IPPA's Smith said, to shape an Earth
protection plan: The ability to conduct spaceflight activities;
super-explosives and ways to transport enough energy into space to fend off
a menacing object; and NEO-spotting telescopes rigged with digital gear,
coupled to speedy computers and specialized software. Statistics argue for a
call-to-action. All life forms on the planet are at risk, IPPA's Smith said.
Odds are in our favor that the next hit suffered by Earth won't be of a
magnitude that endangers humanity. "If we're lucky it will be one that we
can deal with and, if prepared, we can deflect it," he said. "It is not a
one-in-a-million-year risk. It's not one-in-a-thousand-year risk. It is a
one-in-ahundred- year risk. An object that is Tunguska size or larger hits
us about every 100 years. So we're due for another hit," Smith cautioned.

Bigger scopes

Keeping the Earth free of impactors means knowing their whereabouts in the
first place. To this end, more work is urgently needed. Smaller asteroids
that measure 165 feet (50 meters) to 655 feet (200 meters) across are also
troublemakers, Smith said. They are plentiful in number,
but aren't detectable at present. "We have to have larger telescopes," Smith
said, to complete the critical inventory of NEOs. At the present discovery
rate, well over a hundred years is required to get the data. Bigger scopes
should reduce that time to one decade, he said. Even with better sky-spying
tools, just giving a NEO the once-over isn't enough.

Alan Hale, director of the Southwest Institute for Space Research in
Alamogordo, New Mexico, said that even well tracked, gas-spitting comets can
become heart-stopping objects as well. He was co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp
comet that paraded by Earth in early 1997. A comet that's on a
non-threatening orbit one day, Hale said, can huff and puff its way onto a
route that makes Earth end-of-the trail stomping grounds. "We understand the
effects of planetary perturbations. We've got a good handle on that," Hale
said. But the non-gravitational forces -- jets of gas belching from a comet
that act like rocket engines -- is "a little tougher nut to crack," he

Mutli-mission strategy

Okay, so we've spotted a wicked wanderer headed our way. Now what? There is
no "magic bullet' solution of a single purpose mission to counter a
threatening NEO, said Thomas Matula, a professor at the University of
Houston - Victoria, in Sugar Land, Texas. A multi-mission strategy is more
likely to succeed in deflecting or destroying a NEO, he said. "We have the
ability today to build the spacecraft needed for the multi-mission strategy
at a cost within funding limits for a NASA Discovery mission. That is a very
modest price considering that thousands, or even millions, of people might
die in a NEO impact," Matula told

To date, most researchers assume if a NEO is found to be on a crash course
with Earth that a spacecraft can quickly be launched to deflect the object,
Matula said. Dealing with a NEO is much more complicated. Numbers of craft
would need to be rapidly dispatched, he said. Matula advocates using a fleet
of vehicles, built around a common core. They can be cheaply built and mixed
and matched as necessary. Akin to an air defense system, spacecraft duties
are divvied up too. He argues that three different spacecraft functions are
needed in a campaign to counter a dangerous NEO.

Our generation

First, a scout spacecraft would perform the necessary data gathering about
the object, even deploy mini-landers on the object to map sub-surface
fractures and chemical composition.

Once it has surveyed the NEO, the scout scoots to a safe distance. It then
supports a command and control spacecraft. That vehicle guides a transport
spacecraft loaded with mini-landers, each toting a nuclear device. A set of
those mini-landers are let loose, either plopping onto the surface of the
NEO or put on a specific heading to intersect the targeted object.
Detonation of the lander-carried nuclear devices takes place, busting up the
NEO or vectoring it on a path that misses Earth. Distant from the explosive
action, the scout spacecraft makes a post-strike survey. If the NEO or its
remains still prove troublesome, the armada could be repositioned for repeat

"Our generation is the first one in history to have the technology needed to
protect the Earth from NEO impacts. If a NEO does hit the Earth and kills a
large number of people, we will have to explain to future generations why we
didn't use that technology to protect them,"

Matula said.

Emergency preparedness

So what happens when the next NEO smacks into Earth? It is not too early to
think about emergency preparedness, Smith said. Effects caused by a NEO
colliding with Earth can vary, depending on size of the incoming object.
There can be fire, blast effects, tsunamis, and other localized havoc. If
big enough, a NEO impact might generate an asteroid winter that could last
for months to years. In this instance, sunlight-blocking residue heaved high
into the Earth's atmosphere would shut down ecosystems that, in turn, spark
crop failure and mass starvation. Whether small or large, NEOs can yield a
nasty knock out punch of one sort or another. Increased public and
governmental awareness about the potential threat from comets and asteroids
is a priority.

Consciousness raising work about NEOs is underway in many nations, IPPA's
Smith said, but much of it done by volunteers and groups operating on very
limited budgets. With the Earth largely covered by oceans, tidal waves sent
roaring toward coastlines by an impactor must be considered. Evacuation
routes for coastal cities should be well thoughtout. "On the East Coast,
there's not much high ground. There are too many people that can't move fast
enough. So that's a big problem," said Phil Richter, a structural engineer
astute in the effects of natural disasters. "What to do about it is a little
bit staggering," he said.

If the really big one augured in, we need ways to feed people under
low-light conditions from months to years. Underground shelters need to be
improved and fully stocked with survival rations, Smith said.

Mass exodus

The horrific events of 9/11 involving New York's Trade Towers demonstrated
how difficult the job of rescue can become, said Dan Stormont, a robotics
expert from Utah State University in Logan. "Robots can find victims within
disaster areas. It's a hostile environment, like exploring a planet with
potential radiation, extreme temperatures, and an atmosphere that can't be
breathed," Stormont advised. Stockpiles of tiny robots, more like
"insectoids" equipped for search and rescue, can aide in post-NEO impact
work, he said.

David Miller, a robotics specialist and engineer at the University of
Oklahoma in Norman, said a NEO striking a major U.S. east coast or west
coast city would be devastating to American infrastructure. "The United
States would be out of the running for months. If we had a sizeable event
that hit anywhere causing's scary to think about," he said.

The aftermath from a grand slam NEO is formidable, taxing resources of food,
water, shelter, and the safety of perhaps a million people or more, said
Laurance Higgs, managing director of FocusZenith Limited of Nottingham, the
United Kingdom. Higgs questioned whether countries around the world could
cope with mass exodus of shocked and stunned people from one nation to
another. The economic ramifications are so severe, he urged that an
international body should start looking at ways to prevent such damage from
ever taking place, he said. There is the financial argument that prevention
is better than cure," Higgs concluded.



>From Andrew Yee <>

Geological Society of America
Boulder, Colorado
Ann Cairns
Director - Communications and Marketing, 303-357-1056


GSA Release No. 02-19

Impact Events' Kinetic Energy May Be Key to Understanding the Severity of
Mass Extinctions

By Kara LeBeau, GSA Staff Writer

The kinetic energy created by asteroid and comet impacts with the Earth may
be key to linking some impacts with mass extinction events. Michael Lucas, a
geology student at Florida Gulf Coast University, believes that the severity
of four extinction events during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic can be correlated
with the total kinetic energy released by impacts that occur during the
geologic age of the mass extinction.

Lucas will present his findings April 4 at the Geological Society of
America's North-Central Section and Southeastern Section Joint Meeting in
Lexington, Kentucky.

Lucas analyzed the kinetic energy released by 31 of the largest impact
structures from the last 248 million years and correlated them with the
Norian, Tithonian, Late Eocene, and K-T extinction events. The impact energy
released during the geologic ages of each extinction event is at least 10
million megatons of TNT equivalent yield per geologic age. Lucas believes
that this could represent a minimum impact energy required to cause a
global-scale mass extinction. His research results also reveal that
synchronous multiple impact events could also have caused extinctions.

"Approximately ten percent of the impact structures on Earth are doublets or
twin structures, suggesting a nearly simultaneous impact of binary asteroids
or fragmented comets," he said. An example of a twin impact structure would
be the Kara / Ust-Kara twin impact structure in Russia which is about 73
million years old.


Michael P. Lucas
College of Arts & Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd. South
Ft. Myers FL 33965 USA
Phone: (941) 590-7225
Abstract available at:


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

The links below may be of interest. Both seem to ignore Luann Becker's
recent work on fullerenes as impact signatures. With Chicxulub-size impacts
we have the frequency (~100 million years) and devastating global
environmental effects (including disturbance of methane hydrate
deposits that the PNAS paper refers to) to account for mass extinctions.
That is not to say that all mass extinctions are necessarily associated with
impacts but it seems to me that they should be considered as prime suspects.

Michael Paine


2.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.
March 26, 2002
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.032095199

Examination of hypotheses for the Permo-Triassic boundary extinction by
carbon cycle modeling.

Robert A. Berner*, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University,
New Haven, CT

The biological extinction that occurred at the Permian-Triassic boundary
represents the most extensive loss of species of any known event of the past
550 million years. There have been a wide variety of explanations offered
for this extinction. In the present paper, a number of the more popular
recent hypotheses are evaluated in terms of predictions that they make, or
that they imply, concerning the global carbon cycle. For this purpose, a
mass balance model is used that calculates atmospheric CO2 and oceanic 13C
as a function of time. Hypotheses considered
include: (i) the release of massive amounts of CO2 from the ocean to the
atmosphere resulting in mass poisoning; (ii) the release of large amounts of
CO2 from volcanic degassing; (iii) the release of methane stored in methane
hydrates; (iv) the decomposition and oxidation of dead
organisms to CO2 after sudden mass mortality; and (v) the long-term
reorganization of the global carbon cycle. The modeling indicates that
measured short-term changes in 13C at the boundary are best explained by
methane release with mass mortality and volcanic degassing contributing
in secondary roles. None of the processes result in excessively high levels
of atmospheric CO2 if they occurred on time scales of more than about 1,000
years. The idea of poisoning by high levels of atmospheric CO2 depends on
the absence of subthermocline calcium carbonate deposition during the latest
Permian. The most far-reaching effect was found to be reorganization of the
carbon cycle with major sedimentary burial of organic matter shifting from
the land to the sea, resulting in less burial overall, decreased atmospheric
O2, and higher atmospheric CO2 for the entire Triassic Period.

* E-mail:


>From ICWales, 6 April 2002
Tony Trainor, The Western Mail
A WELSH MP is so concerned about earth being destroyed by an asteroid he has
asked Tony Blair to raise the issue with US President George Bush.

Lembit Opik has pressed Mr Blair to involve other nations in assessing the
risk from outer space at the forthcoming G8 summit.

The latest warning comes after scientists identified one asteroid with a
one-in-300 chance of colliding with the earth and ending civilisation.

The kilometre-wide meteorite is not expected to reach earth until March 16,

As a third-generation astronomer, Mr Opik, Liberal Democrat MP for
Montgomeryshire, has made the issue of asteroids his own at Westminster and
believes the international community has a joint responsibility to avert
disaster in years to come.

He said the existence of one asteroid of such magnitude should serve as a
wake-up call to world leaders, as only one-in-five "near earth" objects are

In response to earlier warnings from Mr Opik, the Prime Minister set up a
public information centre on the issue after a commission concluded there
was a serious threat.

"I am hoping that the two world powers in the best position to lead a
scientific project to identify the risk from asteroids, will work together,"
said Mr Opik, whose late grandfather Ernst was an astronomer in Estonia.

His father Uno later taught physics at the University of Wales in
Aberystwyth, an interest the MP has inherited.

Mr Opik said an asteroid 500 metres across would do more damage to the earth
than all the wars in history. "You are over 750 times more likely to die in
an asteroid impact than to win the National Lottery this weekend," he
warned, predicting of the existence of yet-undetected junk.

He appealed to the people of Wales to write to their MPs calling for the
matter to be raised at the G8 summit.

Mr Opik said he had received a non-committal response from Mr Bush's office
but that Mr Blair appeared more positive.

Science Minister Lord Salisbury has already concluded that there is a
serious threat.

Mr Opik said a tracking system to improve earth's defences would cost £80m
over 10 years - or £1m a year from each member of the G8.

The latest "ball", or asteroid, to be identified as a threat is named 1950
DA, and according to radar measurements is roughly spherical in shape and
1.1km across.

An object this size is defined as "category three" [??] - big enough to have
a global effect.

Huge amounts of dust thrown up by an impact with earth would blot out the
sun, bringing plunging temperatures and massive crop failures.

If the collision was at sea, enormous waves known as tsunamis could swamp
coastal towns and cities. The human race would probably survive, but the
impact might bring the end of civilisation.

Copyright Trinity Mirror Plc 2002

>From Cosmiverse, 5 April 2002

A group of Japanese astronomers watching the heavens around the clock to
spot any sign of huge asteroids and comets apparently found an undisclosed
spy satellite, they announced Thursday.

It is 50 meters wide and orbiting the Earth but it doesn't show up on any of
the lists of satellites registered with the North American Aerospace Defense
Command. There are more than 8,000 objects up there sent from Earth but this
one isn't listed, making it a prime suspect as a spy satellite.

The large satellite was observed by a group of Japanese astronomers who
search the sky constantly for huge asteroids and comets that could threaten
the planet. The unidentified object was spotted at the Japan Spaceguard
Association's observation center in Bisei, Okayama Prefecture, in December
last year. After examining the NORAD list, the group said it was most likely
a U.S. or Chinese satellite.

Aerospace engineering specialist Nobuo Nakatomi said the object was likely
to be a spy satellite. "It is a common practice around the world to secretly
launch satellites for technical or military reasons, and they won't make
entry on the NORAD list," Nakatomi said. "Judging from the information
available, it looks like the object is a U.S. or Chinese spy satellite."

Shuzo Isobe, director of the spaceguard association, was delighted with the
ability of its 1-meter-diameter optical telescope at the Bisei Spaceguard
Center. "We will keep watching space to spot asteroids or man-made objects
that can be a threat to Earth," said Isobe, who is also an assistant
professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

Though the astronomers found it using a one-meter telescope, the
unidentified satellite can be observed with binoculars in the southeastern

© 1999-2002 All Rights Reserved.


>From Ron Baalke <>

PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Contact: Martha J. Heil (818) 354-0850                 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         April 5, 2002


Comets are sometimes described as "dirty snowballs," but a close flyby of
one by NASA's Deep Space 1 spacecraft last fall detected no frozen water on
its surface.

Comet Borrelly has plenty of ice beneath its tar-black surface, but any
exposed to sunlight has vaporized away, say scientists analyzing data from
Deep Space 1, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"The spectrum suggests that the surface is hot and dry. It is surprising
that we saw no traces of water ice," said Dr. Laurence Soderblom of the U.S.
Geological Survey's Flagstaff, Ariz., station, lead author of a report on
the Borrelly flyby results appearing in the online edition of the journal

"We know the ice is there," he said. "It's just well-hidden. Either the
surface has been dried out by solar heating and maturation or perhaps the
very dark soot-like material that covers Borrelly's surface masks any trace
of surface ice."

The Deep Space 1 science team released pictures and other initial findings
days after the spacecraft flew within 2,171 kilometers (1,349 miles) of the
comet's solid nucleus on September 22, 2001.   This week's report provides
additional details about the nucleus and the surrounding coma of gases and
dust coming off of the comet as measured by one of Deep Space 1's scientific

"Comet Borrelly is in the inner solar system right now, and it's hot,
between 26 and 71 degrees Celsius (80 and 161 degrees Fahrenheit), so any
water ice on the surface would change quickly to a gas, " said Dr. Bonnie
Buratti, JPL planetary scientist and co-author of the paper. "As the
components evaporate, they leave behind a crust, like the crust left behind
by dirty snow."

Borrelly is unusually dark for an object in the inner solar system. The
comet's surface is about as dark as a blot of photocopy toner, possibly the
darkest surface in the solar system. It is more like objects in the outer
solar system such as the dark side of Saturn's moon Iapetus and the rings of

"It seems to be covered in this dark material, which has been loosely
connected with biological material." Buratti said. "This suggests that
comets might be a transport mechanism for bringing the building blocks of
life to Earth." Comets may have played an important role in supplying
organic materials that are required for life to originate.

Soderblom points out that Borrelly's old, mottled terrain with dark and very
dark spots -- different shades of black -- are apparently inactive.
Ground-based observations estimated that 90 percent of Borrelly's surface
might be inactive, and the observations taken by Deep Space 1 show that this
is indeed true.

"It's remarkable how much information Deep Space 1 was able to gather at the
comet, particularly given that this was a bonus assignment for the probe,"
said Dr. Marc Rayman, project manager of the mission.  Deep Space 1
completed its original goal to test 12 new space technologies and then
earned extra credit by achieving additional goals, such as the risky
Borrelly flyby. "It's quite exciting now as scientists working with this
rich scientific harvest turn data into knowledge."

Images of comet Borrelly from Deep Space 1 are available at .

More information on the Deep Space 1 mission is available at .

Deep Space 1 was launched in October 1998 as part of NASA's New Millennium
Program, which is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science,
Washington, D.C.  The California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages


>From Boston Herald, 5 April 2002

by Jules Crittenden

A massive lump of space junk is headed for Earth, but the rogue asteroid
isn't due for another 878 years, and even then, it may be only a close call.

``I wouldn't lose any sleep over it,'' said Brian Marsden of the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. ``Even if the chances are one
in 300 of it hitting, that's 299 it will pass.''

He was referring to the kilometer-wide asteroid known as 1950 DA, recently
rediscovered after an absence of half a century, and now calculated to be on
a possible collision course with Earth.

He was a young man in the late 1960s when he proposed a project to look for
1950 DA and other missing asteroids that were thought to threaten Earth. He
ultimately had to scratch 1950 DA off his list.

``The orbit we had wasn't good enough that we could find it by a deliberate
search,'' Marsden said.

The asteroid was spotted again in 2000, and Jon Giorgini of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory calculated 1950 DA's orbit. He isn't losing any sleep,

``One in 300 is pretty long odds,'' Giorgini said. ``I'm not personally
going to worry about it. It is so far in the future that lots of things
could change.''

Tom Morgan, chief scientist of NASA's small planet program, said there are
approximately 1,000 asteroids bigger than six-tenths of a mile that can pass
near the Earth in their orbit of the sun. About 580 have been found and
their orbits plotted. Of these, only 1950 DA represents a possible threat,
and that is centuries in the future.

``It is my great hope that we don't find any that are greater threats,''
Morgan said.

If 1950 DA did hit the Earth, said Giorgini, it would have planet-wide
effects, setting off fires, changing the weather and perhaps creating
immense tidal waves. But it would not be a planet killer like the asteroid
thought to have snuffed out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. That
one was about 16 times larger than 1950 DA, he said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press


>From Michael Paine <>

Scientific American, APRIL 2002

100,000,000 Years Ago

WATCH THE SKIES?--"At a recent interdisciplinary meeting on the campus of
Pangaea University, researchers discussed with some alarm the mounting
evidence that each of the known mass extinction events may have been caused
by a titanic collision of a comet or asteroid with the

earth. According to recent speculations, such impacts could envelop our
planet in a dense cloud of dust and ash, blocking out the sun, with
disastrous consequences for most life-forms.

"Massive impact scenarios should be of more than academic interest, many of
the gathered scientists said, because a similarly calamitous collision could
occur yet again. 'It's difficult to predict how bad it could be,' remarked
geologist Edward Deinonychus of Gondwana Polytechnic. 'It would surely cause
a huge loss of saurian life, maybe even amounting to 10 percent of the
population. What's more, even aside from its climatic effects, the impact
could ignite a gigantic firestorm. It might destroy every last trace of our
magnificent papier-mâché cities.'

"Some of the participants at the meeting argued that a future mass
extinction could be averted. 'Our space science is now sufficiently advanced
for us to identify an incoming asteroid decades before its arrival and to
change its course,' said Margaret Dimetrodon of Mount Ararat Observatory. 'I
know it sounds like science fiction. But if we can put a sauropod on the
moon, then we can do this.'

"But support within the government for investing in an asteroid-blasting
scheme remains weak. Echoing sentiments heard throughout Congress, junior
senator Strom Thurmond declared, 'Even if it is a good idea, a big collision
like this might not occur for tens of millions of years. That's more than
enough time for us to get it done. Right now we'd be better off putting our
science funding to more worthwhile uses, like fusion research.'"

Copyright 2002, Scientific American


>From Fox News, 28 March 2002,2933,49016,00.html

By Rand Simberg

It's long been known that people aren't very good at aligning their fears
and emotions, and resulting behavior, with statistics.

For example, the chance of dying in a car is much greater than in an
airplane, but many more fear to fly than to ride. Even people who are
numerate are prone to this quirk of human nature (e.g., the great science
fiction author and chemistry PhD Isaac Asimov had a severe fear of flying,
and always traveled by train). On the other hand, people vastly overestimate
their chances of winning the lottery, at least from a rational
expected-value perspective.

I've occasionally talked about the dangers of asteroids in my weblog, and in
fact featured it in my Fox News column last week. I've seen quite a bit of
skepticism on the issue, some of which may be justified, but it often
appears to me to be driven as much by the non-rational parts of us as the
rational, even when coming from scientists.

When coming from politicians, of course, it's even worse. A few days ago, an
Australian cabinet minister ridiculed people who were concerned about
asteroids, and refused to allot the paltry sum of a million dollars in order
to look for them in the Southern Hemisphere, one of our current major blind
spots. There are many sky surveys being done above the equator, but very few

It actually reminds me of the controversy of a couple of decades ago, when
Luis Alvarez at Berkely first put forward his theory of dinosaur extinction
being caused by an extraterrestrial impact. While it's become fairly well
accepted today, many aren't aware, or have forgotten, that there was a
tremendous amount of resistance to it when it was first propounded. And that
resistance seemed to go beyond rational scientific argument - it seemed
almost religious in its fervor.

Viewing this as a college student, who was interested in and familiar with
space, I found nothing exceptional about the theory at all, but it was clear
to me that much of the scientific community had a deep emotional investment
in not believing that our planet could be so dramatically affected by an
event beyond our atmosphere.

I'm not sure why exactly, but one might speculate that, to a planetary
scientist used to thinking in terms of geological and biological processes
forming and reforming the earth and its inhabitants, invoking forces
extraterrestrial perhaps had the feel to it of the supernatural - a blow
literally from the heavens, and one from a source with which they were (not
being astronomers or extraplanetary scientists) unfamiliar and
unknowledgable. It may have almost seemed like a creationist theory of

More practically, to accept such a concept might imply that their chosen
field was much broader than their traditional education, and that much of
what they had been taught was wrong. It was probably a natural resistance to
a major scientific paradigm shift.

Fortunately, unlike actual creationist theories, it was testable, and
evidence for it has been found, including the actual crater in Central
America, and now, after a quarter of a century, it's taught as the
prevailing theory.

Anyway, there's an interesting article on this subject in today,
that has some interesting related statistics (though I can't vouch for them,
and it's not clear what assumptions go into them). Anyone whose interest has
been piqued by my previous comments on the subject will find this story at
least as fascinating as my own.

Basically, the thesis is that we base our fears not on analysis, but on
what's familiar. Prior to September 11, few took the terrorist threat
seriously - now concern about it is very high and it can command huge
numbers of societal resources. We should hope that it won't take an asteroid
strike to get similar motivation to at least map and, if necessary, deter
potential cosmic threats, but judging by human nature, it may.

Copyright 2002,


>From The New York Times, 8 April 2002

People who enjoy worrying about asteroid catastrophes have recently been
introduced to 1950 DA, a kilometer-wide chunk of rock that scientists now
calculate has up to a 1-in-300 chance of smashing into the Earth, causing
devastation. Fortunately, 1950 DA isn't due to arrive in our neighborhood
for more than eight centuries. Our descendants should have plenty of time to
find ways to cope.

The best news - for people who are worried that an errant asteroid might
show up any day now - is that the measures being discussed to head off
disaster seem blessedly benign. No need to assemble a large force of rockets
carrying monstrously huge nuclear bombs to blow the asteroid off course or
smash it to smithereens. That sort of scheme has always made us wonder which
would be the bigger danger, the asteroids or the nuclear arsenal designed to
combat them. We can be thankful that this asteroid looks as if it could be
diverted by some simple changes to its surface.

It turns out that one of the big uncertainties in calculating the path of
the asteroid involves how much sunlight it absorbs and then reradiates as
thermal energy. Such radiation can, over the centuries, gently push the
asteroid into a different orbit, much as a tiny rocket would. So if
scientists in future years should conclude that a collision looks ever more
likely, they can probably find ways to alter the asteroid's radiation
pattern by dusting its surface with soot or powdered chalk or draping it
with reflective Mylar. Such tinkering could be enough to nudge the asteroid
safely away.

Copyright 2002, The New York Times


>From Andrew Yee <>

Science Media Centre
21 Albemarle Street
tel: (+44) 0 20 7670 2980
fax: (+44) 0 20 7670 2950

News Release: 2 April 2002


A new public opinion poll from MORI shows that over 60% of British adults
expect the impossible from science. [1]

The MORI poll, commissioned to mark the opening of the new Science Media
Centre [2], shows that 71% of the public look to scientists to give an
'agreed view' about science issues and 61% expect science to provide 100%
guarantees about the safety of medicines. Yet most scientists insist that
science cannot and should not deliver either.

Dr Mark Peplow, Science Information Officer at the SMC says: "The public's
expectations of what science can deliver are wide of the mark. Disagreement
is a fundamental part of scientific enquiry -- it makes science stronger by
weeding out the weaker theories. And although scientists are always striving
for knowledge, they can rarely provide cast-iron certainty about safety."

However, the blame for the public's misconception may rest with scientists
themselves. A staggering 85% of the public feel that scientists need to
improve the way they communicate their research findings to the public
through the media.

The poll also confirms the importance of the media in informing and
influencing public opinion on science. 9 out of 10 people rely on the media
for at least some of their information about science, with television news
cited as the main source (68%). Yet other surveys have shown that only 7% of
scientists spontaneously think of the media as an important group to
communicate with and two-thirds of scientists admit to not having spoken to
the media in the previous year. [3]

The MORI poll findings confirm a clear role for the new Science Media Centre
that opens today (Tuesday 2nd April) with the aim of helping to renew public
trust in science by encouraging more

scientists to engage with the media. The Centre, housed within the Royal
Institution, has been set up by scientists who acknowledge that their
traditional reluctance to deal with the media has contributed to declining
levels of public support and could threaten the future of scientific

Fiona Fox, Head of the Science Media Centre, said: "On the one hand we have
a public with an apparently poor grasp of the way science works and on the
other hand we have many scientists who are equally poor at engaging with the
media. This poll shows why we need something like the Science Media Centre
to bring the two together.

"Given the major decisions that society will have to make over the coming
years about issues like cloning, genetically modified foods, global warming
and so on, this poll should be a wake up call for all those who want a well
informed debate about scientific development."

In some good news for scientists, the poll findings suggest that bruising
encounters like the BSE crisis and the controversies over GM foods and the
MMR vaccine have not affected overall support for science. 87% of the public
agree that on the whole science has had a positive impact on society and
only 3% disagree.

But there's further bad news for the Government. The poll shows that only 1%
of the public trust politicians the most to give accurate and balanced
information about the combined MMR vaccine and its safety for children. The
poll confirms that doctors are the group most trusted on MMR (69%) and that
scientists who are funded by the Government are less likely to be trusted
than those funded by academia (7% compared to 26%).

Vivienne Parry, member of the SMC Board and former Tomorrow's World
presenter, said: "The results of this poll show clearly why the government's
MMR message failed. The question parents ask of
doctors is 'If you were me what would you do?', but what they ask of
scientists is, 'Can you guarantee this is 100% safe?'. And since science
can't deliver this answer, of course the public's trust in science will
evaporate. It shows how the Science Media Centre needs
to focus not just on what science does but also how it works and what the
public should expect from it."

For further information, please contact Fiona Fox on 020 7670 2981 and 0797


>From Tribune Chronicle, 7 April 2002

By BURTON COLE Tribune Chronicle

We here on planet Earth nearly escaped massive destruction the other day.

An asteroid large enough to demolish a major city - and in the movies, it's
ALWAYS a major city - passed within 288,000 miles of earth last month.
That's just a hair away from tragedy in space terms.

The moon is only 250,000 miles away, and you KNOW how close that thing is.
It only takes us three days to drive there by space shuttle - two if the
astronauts stop and ask for directions.

I don't know if you realize just how close a call that was. That was like
driving from Warren to Los Angeles - 120 times.

For astrological terms when dealing with the infinity of space, that's like
being winged in the gun hand in the old movie Westerns - a might close,
ma'am, no real harm done.

Why didn't astronomers warn us so we could duck? Why didn't they alert Bruce

Because they lost it in the sun.

Yep, the asteroid came from the direction of the sun, like the kind of high
fly ball that drops two feet in front of the centerfielder, allowing
everybody to score.

It whizzed right by earth on March 8 but wasn't even noticed until March 12
when it was well on its way to Saturn or Pluto or one of the more hospitable
planets that would notice a visitor.

Lest you think asteroids and baseballs never hit, let me remind you of two

In 1908, a similar-sized asteroid wiped out a 20-mile-wide patch of Siberian

And on May 26, 1993, a baseball bonked Texas outfielder Jose Canseco in the
head and bounced over the old stadium fence, counting for a Cleveland
Indians home run. There are no reports that the baseball wiped out a
20-mile-wide patch of Canseco's hair.

This leaves us pondering some very grave issues: What if astronauts launched
a baseball into earth's atmosphere from the space shuttle? Would it wipe out
a village? What if they launched Jose Canseco?

Expensive government testing should be conducted immediately.

I have never personally dropped an asteroid, baseball or Jose Canseco from
space. I did experiment with water balloons from my second-floor bedroom
window, however. I dropped 13 straight balloons while my little brother
stood perfectly still beneath me, sticking his tongue out. Finally he walked
into the 14th water balloon because he was getting tired and my aim was off

The conclusion I draw from this is even if the asteroid hurled itself into
our atmosphere, chances of it being on target to take out another hunk of
Siberian forest are pretty slim indeed, especially if it was actually aiming
for the forest.

Astronauts trying to drop an asteroid from the space shuttle onto, say,
Osama bin Laden's hideout, probably wouldn't score a direct hit unless
Osama, like my little brother, got bored and walked into it. Otherwise, the
astronauts' mothers probably would find out they were throwing things out
the windows again and ground them. At least, some mothers are like that. So
I'm told.

But at least when you get to be off by 288,000 miles and still count it as a
''near miss,'' well, it makes you wish you could get those odds in
horseshoes, doesn't it?

I wish my math teacher would have let me get within 288,000 of the answer in
the back of her book. At least now I know I ''nearly'' made it to Yale, and
I'm almost a nuclear physicist, astronomically speaking.

Anyway, the asteroid is long gone after a close call. And we all learned
what ''nearly'' really means. I am grateful for the knowledge. It's going to
make estimating my deductions on my income tax filings a lot more fun this

Cole is nearly logical in his arguments that appear in this space. Throw
asteroids at him at
Copyright © 2002 Tribune Chronicle

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