CCNet 67/2001 - 14 May 2001

"You may have heard the sad news that Douglas Adams passed away last
Friday. By accident on the same day the naming of minor planet (18610)
Arthurdent was announced by the Minor Planet Center. We wanted to make Mr.
Adams a joy, but did never dare to think that he wouldn't be able to
receive this surprise, when we sent our name proposal to the MPC a few
months back. The name was proposed by Felix Hormuth of Starkenburg
Observatory, who discovered this minor planet on 1998 Feb. 7
--Reiner Stoss, Starkenburg Observatory, 14 May 2001

(18610) Arthurdent = 1998 CC2
    Discovered 1998 Feb. 7 at Starkenburg Observatory. The earthling
Arthur Dent is confronted with the adversities of life, the universe
and everything in a highly amusing and entertaining way in Douglas Adams'
famous five-volume trilogy "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to  the Galaxy".

    Reiner M. Stoss <>

    BBC News Online, 12 May 2001

    Florida Today, 12 May 2001

    The Age, 14 May 2001

    Andrew Yee <>

    David Morrison <>

    Space Weather News for May 12, 2001

    New Scientist, 11 May 2001

    Andrew Yee <>

     Ian Lyon <>

     Duncan Steel <>

     Leon Neihouse  <>

     Andy Smith <>


From Reiner M. Stoss <>

Dear Dr. Peiser,

You may have heard the sad news that Douglas Adams passed away last Friday.
By accident on the same day the naming of minor planet (18610) Arthurdent
was announced by the Minor Planet Center.
We wanted to make Mr. Adams a joy, but did never dare to think that he
wouldn't be able to receive this surprise, when we sent our name proposal to
the MPC a few months back.

The name was proposed by Felix Hormuth of Starkenburg Observatory, who
discovered this minor planet on 1998 Feb. 7

Best Regards,
Reiner Stoss
Starkenburg Observatory

(18610) Arthurdent = 1998 CC2
    Discovered 1998 Feb. 7 at Starkenburg Observatory.
    The earthling Arthur Dent is confronted with the adversities of life,
the universe and everything in a highly amusing and entertaining way in
Douglas Adams' famous five-volume trilogy "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to
the Galaxy".


From the BBC News Online, 12 May 2001

Douglas Adams died of a heart attack

Author Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has
died suddenly aged 49.

Mr Adams died on Friday morning in Santa Barbara, California, following a
heart attack, said his spokeswoman Sophie Astin.

The author became a household name when the cult science fiction novel was
turned into a BBC TV series.

Prominent figures at the BBC, who worked with Adams on many projects, have
spoken of their shock and sorrow at his death.

Alan Yentob, the BBC director of drama and entertainment, said: "Douglas was
a big character who will be hugely missed by a host of friends and millions
of fans around the world.

"He was a gifted writer; a one-off talent who managed to combine fantasy and
humanity in books which enthralled generations of readers. We'll miss him

The BBC's head of comedy, Geoffrey Perkins, who produced the original
Hitchhiker's radio series, said: "I'm absolutely devastated. I've known
Douglas for 25 years. He was absolutely one of the most creative geniuses to
ever work in radio comedy.

"He probably wrote one of the greatest radio comedy series ever; certainly
the most imaginative.


"For somebody who was so involved in breakthroughs in new developments in
technology, it's a tragedy that he's died before most of the things he's
talked about have come about."

Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media, who worked wth Adams on his
website, said: "I've been a huge fan of Douglas and working with him on the
h2g2 website was the culmination of childhood dreams.

"He was pretty unique in being innovative in media after media - from radio
to the web. He was still coming up with more new ideas than almost anyone
I've met.

"His brainchild - the h2g2 website - which the BBC has taken forward, is
groundbreaking in enabling an online encyclopaedia to be created by the
people for the people."

Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952 and educated in Essex before returning
to Cambridge to study at St John's College.

Adams's novel was turned into a BBC series
His career included work as a radio and television writer and producer
before his life was changed by the publication of The Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy in 1979.

The satirical tale chronicled the journey of alien Ford Prefect and his
human companion Arthur Dent throughout the universe after the destruction of

It centred around the search for an answer to life, the universe, and
everything - which turned out to be 42.

The novel went on to sell more than 14 million copies worldwide and was
followed by the sequels The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the
Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks For All the Fish.

In recent years the author had been working on a Hitchhiker's Guide movie.

There was much speculation about who would play Arthur Dent, with Hugh
Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carrey, Ben Affleck and even Bruce Willis said
to be in the running.

Adams married Jane Belson in 1991 and had a daughter, Polly, in 1994.

Copyright 2001, BBC


From Florida Today, 12 May 2001

By Steven Siceloff

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Dinosaur hunters who search the badlands of America
for traces of extinct creatures may want to take their search to the moon or
So says Doug Shull, an Air Force reserve major with the 45th Space Wing who
presented his theory last week at the 38th Space Congress.

Shull suggests that pieces of Earth may have been blown off the planet by
asteroid strikes millions of years ago, and those pieces - along with pieces
of dinosaurs - may have landed on the moon or Mars.

The asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, for example, was six
miles wide, weighed a trillion tons and created a shock wave that traveled
1,200 miles in three minutes. It is thought to have slammed into what now is
Mexico, creating the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico more than 65
million years ago. Researchers theorize the blast and its shock wave tossed
up all soil and rocks down to the bedrock for hundreds of miles around.

"That's just scouring the land, not just blowing it up, but scouring it,"
Shull said.

Researchers during the 1980s thought the impact simply pulverized everything
beneath it. Later analysis showed that rocks and other remnants would be
flung off the planet if the asteroid was large enough.

Many of the chunks would have landed in other parts of the world, Shull
said. But other pieces likely blended with a cosmic cloud around the Earth
that the moon regularly passed through.

The pieces from the impact 65 million years ago could be parts of dinosaurs,
plants and other prehistoric animals in the path of the plunging asteroid.
Shull said the remains could be well-preserved, sitting on the airless moon,
where neither fossilization nor biological degradation would harm them. That
means some bones still might have muscle or skin attached. Paleontologists
long have sought such clues.

There is some precedent for all this: The Apollo astronauts recovered rocks
on the moon that matched some rocks on Earth. And Martian meteors have made
their way to Earth.

But paleontologist Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies, a consultant to
the film "Jurassic Park," waved off the theory.

"I'd put that as the same plausibility as Martians coming down here and
getting them," Horner said from his Montana office.

Horner's assessment did not surprise Shull, who has worked with physicists
and engineers on the theory but not dinosaur specialists.

"He's a great paleontologist," Shull said. "Now, what he knows about
asteroid physics, I don't know."

Shull continues to study and work on his theory. He is building a computer
program to model how soil would fly after an asteroid collision.

When astronauts return to the moon or go to Mars, he said, paleontologists
who know what to look for will be needed.

Copyright 2001, Forida Today


From The Age, 14 May 2001
In the next century, man-made hazards such as germ terrorism will drive
humans to colonise space for survival, Britain's Astronomer Royal, Sir
Martin Rees, said yesterday.

"There are various ways waiting for us to snuff ourselves out, by design or
misadventure," he said - and the key was to colonise space before disaster

"Once you have life spread beyond Earth, the species itself will be above
being vulnerable to any man-made disaster. It's what I call the cosmic
insurance policy."

Sir Martin and US-based Australian astronomer Jeremy Mould were two
star-gazers who spoke on "The Beginning and the End of the Universe" for the
Alfred Deakin Federation lectures in Melbourne yesterday.

Australia had made a significant contribution to astronomy, Dr Mould said,
from early colonial telescopes to a stake in the international Gemini
project - building two new observatories, in Hawaii and Chile.

The past year was a big one for Australian astronomers, who had contributed
to measurements of the density, expansion and acceleration of the universe,
he said.

According to Sir Martin, the universe is 10 billion light-years across and
consists of 4 per cent atoms, 25 per cent "dark matter" and the remainder
"mysterious latent energy".

The "Big Bang" 15 billion years ago scattered chemistry, physics and energy
into space. This created black holes, dark matter, radiation and atoms, and
eventually stars, suns, planets and ultimately humans, he said.

Sir Martin further suggested ours may not be the only universe.

"Our universe could be just an episode, one facet, of the infinite
multiverse," he said.

"Some universes may resemble ours. Different domains, quite disjoint from
ours, would evolve in different ways, perhaps being governed by different

Copyright 2001, The Age Company

From Andrew Yee <>

Informnauka Agency
Moscow, Russia

Tatiana Pitchugina, 7-095-2675418,


Space ecology was one of the topics for discussion at the International
Space Conference "Space without weapons - the arena of peaceful cooperation
in the 21st century" held in Moscow on April 12, 2001. Among the problems
the scientists discussed was the near-earth space pollution by the rockets
and space vehicles fragments.


Is it possible that space exploration will result in the formation of a ring
around the Earth similar to the Saturn ring? Most likely human beings will
not be able to create such a dense object. However, all this debris can
severely impede space flights in future, as plenty of objects brought out
into space would stay in the near-earth orbit for hundreds and even
thousands of years. Therefore, Russian scientists believe that the
spaceships design needs urgent modifications to ensure their return to the

The fate of an object in space depends on the altitude it is located at.
Space stations rotate [sic] at the height of 400-500 kilometers. The
atmosphere still exists there and it slows down an object. The object looses
its speed and within a couple of years enters dense atmospheric layers where
it fully burns out. A lot of objects happen to rotate beyond the atmosphere.
The scientists have found out two peak altitudes the objects are
concentrated at about 800 and 1500 kilometers. Another group of objects is
located in the geostationary orbits -- about 36 thousand kilometers above
the Earth surface.

As there is no atmosphere to affect flights there, the object will continue
to rotate around our planet for a long time. The objects concentration there
is accountable -- it is at these heights that various communication
satellites and other useful devices are located. The more objects are in
orbit, the higher the risk of collisions is.

During the 40-year period of active space research an operating satellite
once has happened to collide with a large object, resulting in the loss of
the French space satellite. "Mir" station and American "Shuttle" spaceships
have undertaken several maneuvers to avoid the clashes. Even the
International Space station that is not fully operational yet has already
conducted an escape maneuver. However, in terms of flight safety the risk of
a dangerous collision with a space object is very high: for a single
operational module of this station it makes 5-10% within the 15-year
estimated operation period.

Generally, space debris can be divided into two categories: the objects,
which can be seen through a telescope and the objects too small for regular
observations. It is easier to work with the first category (the objects
being more than 20 centimeters in size) because they are registered in the
catalogues, their number slightly exceeding 8,500. Half of these objects
were created as a result of satellite and carrier rocket destruction.
Astronomers have altogether recorded more than 150 explosions in space.

The debris that can not be seen through a telescope is more difficult to
deal with. Its particles sizing millimeters and flying at the speed of 10
kilometers per hour are capable to damage a satellite or a space station:
spoil a solar battery or, even worse, to make a hole in a fuel tank. But
these particles are incalculable. Therefore the scientists are developing
simulators which allow to forecast the behavior of such small objects. The
countries involved provide for different simulators, the computation results
varying by dozens of times. Our scientists consider these variations to be
acceptable, such deviations are quite insignificant when computing millions
of objects, particularly millimetric debris particles flying in the
near-earth orbit.

Applying their model, the specialists from the Center for Space Observations
(Rosaviakosmos) have investigated future development of the near-earth space
pollution process. They have reviewed five scenarios:

1 - everything remains unchanged;
2 - the number of explosions reduces by half;
3 -the number of carrier rockets in space reduces by half;
4 - all (or half) satellites and carrier rockets return to the Earth;
5 - all the above measures are taken simultaneously.

It has appeared that in case of scenarios 1-3 the debris volume in orbit
will grow up by 2-3 times by the 22nd century. Provided all the above steps
are implemented (the number of explosions goes down and all flying objects
return to the Earth), this will allow to reduce the debris volume by 1.5
times within the next hundred years. Foreign scientists have made similar

Therefore, the March meeting of the International Committee on Space
Contamination adopted a resolution on the necessity to bring order to the
near-earth-space. The space flight standards for all countries should
include a requirement for the space devices developers to ensure the objects
return from the orbit.

Unfortunately, there is no quick way to achieve it, because this entails
immediate expenses growth. First of all, it is necessary to change the
carrier rockets design so that the waste stages descended to the lower
orbits. Secondly, additional fuel will be needed for each satellite to allow
its descend to the atmosphere. However, the space pollution is close to
critical, so these expenses appear to be unavoidable.


For additional information:

Andrei Nazarenko
Center for Space Observations (Rosaviakosmos), Moscow
+7 (095) 334 92 70,


From David Morrison <>

NEO News (5/12/01) Spaceguard & Extinctions

Dear Friends & Students of NEOs:

This edition of NEO News discusses two different subjects. First is a brief
essay on the meaning of the often-quoted NASA Spaceguard Goal to find 90% of
NEAs larger than 1 km diameter by 2008. The second is a press release and
two journalist comments on recent work by Peter Ward and colleagues
suggesting that the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction of 200 million years
ago was sudden and catastrophic. There is no direct evidence of an impact,
but the new work is apparently consistent with an impact-caused global

Welcome to 97 new subscribers to NEO News!

David Morrison



David Morrison (with inputs from Alan Harris and Clark Chapman)

One often sees references to the "NASA Spaceguard Goal" of detecting 90% of
NEAs larger than 1 km diameter within a decade. Following are some
clarifications and historical context for this goal.

* Why NEAs (near-Earth asteroids) and not NEOs (all near-Earth objects)?
There are two reasons. First, only NEAs (including the short-period comets)
come past the Earth frequently enough to be
detected in a sky survey like Spaceguard, which aims to find any hazardous
objects decades before they pose a direct threat to the Earth. Second, we
have no way of knowing the number of comets that may eventually pass near
the Earth (become NEOs). There may be billions of them out in the distant
Oort Cloud, but with individual periods of millions of years, they actually
pose a smaller threat than the nearby NEAs. What really matters is not how
many there are, but how many cross the Earth's orbit every year. So NEAs are
the only population we can effectively survey, and they also account for
most of the impact risk.

* Why 1 km diameter? Because objects 1 km or larger represent the greatest
hazard. Studies carried out at the time of the original NASA Spaceguard
Survey Working Group in 1992 identified a threshold at energies near 1
million megatons where an impact had global, not just local or regional,
effects. As first discussed in Chapman & Morrison ("Impacts on the Earth by
asteroids and comets: Assessing the hazard" Nature 367:33-40, 1994), the
individual risk from impacts (the numerical hazard) jumps by roughly an
order of magnitude for energies at and just above this threshold. More
recent work suggests that this threshold for civilization-threatening
impacts is probably nearer 2 km rather than 1 km diameter, but the
Spaceguard objective of detecting 1-km NEAs seems like a reasonable and
rather conservative figure.

* Why don't we measure diameter directly? Instead we measure brightness,
expressed by an absolute magnitude called H. The practical objective is to
find the NEAs brighter than H=18, which is approximately equivalent to 1 km
diameter for an average asteroid. Of course, not all asteroids will have
this average reflectance, but it would not be cost-effective to try to
measure diameters of most NEAs, since this would require substantial effort
with very large telescopes. If we want to be sure to get nearly all the
darker 1-km asteroids, it is easiest just to extend the survey to fainter
magnitudes, perhaps to H=18.5.

* Why only 90%? Because that is a reasonable metric. We can't ever get 100%
(or at least we can't be sure of having found them all). Also, 90% is enough
to reduce the hazard from the undiscovered NEAs below the risk from long
period comets.

* When is the ten year deadline reached? The specific 10-year timescale was
mentioned in Congressional language in 1994, when the US House of
Representatives asked NASA for a program plan to carry out the Spaceguard
Survey. In Congressional hearings in 1998, NASA officials adopted the
Spaceguard Goal. Measuring from that time, the 90% goal should be reached by

This is a brief summary of how the goal was developed. It came initially
from the 1992 NASA Spaceguard Survey Report, the timescale was articulated
by the US Congress in 1994, and the goal was formally accepted by NASA in

There are two additional important points to be made.

1) We should all understand that the Spaceguard Survey is not limited to
NEAs larger than 1 km diameter. NASA has been accused from time to time of
"ignoring smaller NEAs", but this is not the case. Unlike fishing, where you
"throw the small ones back," we collect and follow up everything within the
capabilities of the observing systems without regard to size (or
brightness). Today we are finding about twice as many NEAs smaller than 1 km
as we do those larger than this value. It is a fact of geometry that the big
ones are easier to find than the smaller ones, so we can expect to reach
completion (or 90% completion) of larger objects sooner than smaller ones.
Adding more or bigger telescopes does not change the fact that we will find
all the big objects sooner than we will find all the smaller ones, however
long that time may be.

2) The "Spaceguard Goal" can be regarded as a metric for tracking progress
of the survey, irrespective of arguments over the cost-benefit of other
levels of surveying. It is not a goal in the sense that we should stop
surveying when we reach 90% completion of NEAs of H brighter than 18. In
order to make a quantitative statement of progress, we must define specific
parameters, namely some brightness limit to count and some completeness
level versus time for that size. We choose H = 18, 90% completeness, and a
target of achieving that in ten years. We could as well choose H = 19.5,
which for average asteroids corresponds to 500 m diameter, and measure
progress with that metric. Assigning priority to "larger" or "smaller"
objects is a moot point. Many would agree there are valid reasons that we
should eventually take care of the horrific tsunami-makers, which means
going down to 500 m or even smaller. But there is no practical way to
discover only larger or only smaller NEAs. Larger telescopes do the job
faster, and this is increasingly important as we go to smaller NEAs. But you
get what you get, and various survey strategies make little difference in
the makeup of the catch, just the total numbers.



University Of Washington
May 10, 2001

Collapse of simple life forms linked to mass extinction 200 million years

A mass extinction about 200 million years ago, which destroyed at least half
of the species on Earth, happened very quickly and is demonstrated in the
fossil record by the collapse of one-celled organisms called protists,
according to new research led by a University of Washington paleontologist.

"Something suddenly killed off more than 50 percent of all species on Earth,
and that led to the age of dinosaurs," said Peter Ward, a UW Earth and space
sciences professor.

Evidence indicates the massive die-off was linked with an abrupt drop in
productivity, the rate at which inorganic carbon is turned into organic
carbon through processes such as photosynthesis. The waning productivity
coincided with a sharp decline in radiolaria (included among protists),
which was the focus of the new research. One example of productivity, Ward
explained, occurs in the spring when fertilizer washes into waterways and
triggers large algae blooms. The processes at work in that scenario were
reversed 200 million years ago, he said.

There is no definitive evidence yet on what caused the demise of so many
species, Ward said. However, the suddenness of the event is similar to two
better-known mass extinctions - one 250 million years ago at the end of the
Permian period that killed some 90 percent of all species, the other 65
million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period that sent the
dinosaurs into oblivion.

The extinction 200 million years ago, at the boundary between the Triassic
and Jurassic periods, killed the last of the mammal-like reptiles that once
roamed the Earth and left mainly dinosaurs, Ward said. That extinction
happened in less than 10,000 years, in the blink of an eye, geologically

Ward is the lead author on a paper detailing the evidence, published in the
May 11 edition of the journal Science. Others participating in the research
are James Haggart and Howard Tipper of the Geological Survey of Canada in
Vancouver, British Columbia; Elizabeth Carter, a researcher at Oregon's
Portland State University; David Wilbur, a UW oceanography research
scientist; and Tom Evans, a UW junior in chemistry and Earth and space

The evidence from the extinction was gathered at two sites in the Queen
Charlotte Islands, off Canada's British Columbia coast.

"These sites are among the most remote places in the world," Ward said.
"There are no roads anywhere close by. The forests are virgin old growth,
and the wave action is such that you can't get there by boat."

Samples from a spot called Kennecott Point, in the northern Queen
Charlottes, and from Kunga Island, about 100 miles to the southeast, showed
a sharp decline in the presence of organic carbon, even at places where
levels of inorganic carbon rose. The organic carbon decline correlated with
the decline of radiolarians, one-celled organisms that serve as a food
source for a number of marine species.

"These provide the best record of how nasty the extinction was at this
boundary," Ward said.

The mass extinction 200 million years ago occurred just before the breakup
of Pangea, which contained all the land on Earth in one supercontinent. At
the time, the Queen Charlotte Islands - which now lie between 52 and 54
degrees north latitude - were probably on the equator or in the southern
hemisphere, Ward said.

"These are tropical fossils. There are many kinds of fossils in these
rocks," he said.

And they tell a story of a calamity that came on with stunning swiftness.

"This is the first time ever that we can see how sudden this event was," he
said. "It was very quick, not a long protracted episode."

Ward now has done research on the last three of the Earth's mass extinctions
(scientists know of five) and has found that each happened quite quickly.

Bolstered by a recent astrobiology grant from the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration, he plans to lead researchers back to the Queen
Charlottes this summer to look for more clues in the Triassic-Jurassic
extinction, including potential causes.


For more information, contact Ward at



By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer,
11 May 2001

They call them the Big Five -- a handful of unfathomable mass extinctions
over the past 500 million years, each estimated to have  obliterated
somewhere between 50 and 96 percent of all species on the  planet.

That much we know, because Earth recorded the mass deaths in layers of
ancient soil, where crowds of miniscule corpses and other evidence show
wholesale destruction of the smallest critters, on which larger animals

What we don't know, except in one case, is what caused these five mass
extinctions. Nor is there solid evidence showing how rapidly the
catastrophes occurred.

Such knowledge would be a window not only to the past, but to the future:
How likely is it that future Earth dwellers will meet with an inescapable
catastrophic fate, much like the dinosaurs did? And how much time will there
be to adjust or perish?

While there are no firm answers, a three-page study in the May 11 issue of
the journal Science adds modestly to a mounting stack of reports suggesting
that asteroids and comets are the leading cause of terrestrial death,
delivering immensely fatal blows every 100 million years or so that wipe the
slate of life frighteningly close to clean in remarkably rapid fashion.

Death came quick

The new study involved the fifth largest known mass extinction, in which
roughly half of all species were wiped out. It occurred about 200 million
years ago at the boundary of the Triassic and Jurassic Periods in geologic
history. This T-J boundary, as it is called, marks the dawn of the

In exposed soil layers on islands off the coast of British Columbia,
researchers found that droves of marine plankton kicked their watery buckets
at that time. Simultaneously, plants were disappearing rapidly, as seen in a
quick drop in the rate at which organic carbon was created through processes
such as photosynthesis.

The extinction occurred in 50,000 years or less, the study's authors write,
possibly within as few as 10,000 years -- the blink of an eye in geological
terms. And far faster than previous estimates, which ranged up to 10 million

The paper did not speculate about a cause. But Peter D. Ward, a University
of Washington Earth and space sciences professor, and lead author of the
study, told that the evidence makes it look very much like the
later Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, or K-T event, which wiped out the
dinosaurs. The K-T event is the lone mass extinction for which researchers
have a definitive smoking gun: A crater in the Yucatan Peninsula excavated
by an asteroid.

"The very rapidity of the [T-J] event and the geochemical and
paleontological similarity to K-T boundary sections makes it look like an
impact," Ward said. "My gut feeling is that it was impact."

But he quickly added that there are other possible causes, such as rapid
climate change due to heavy volcanic activity.

The world's number-one killer?

Noted University of Chicago paleontologist David Raup told that
several studies have shown "reasonably good evidence" linking other mass
extinctions to impacts, but these reports are "almost always ignored." Raup
produced a study in 1992 suggesting that roughly 60 percent of all species
extinction may have been caused by impacts.

"I strongly suspect that in a few years this will be the conventional
wisdom, but it is strangely slow in coming," Raup said. "Ward's paper and a
couple of others recently on the Permian extinction may get people to rush
to the other side of the boat."

Other scientists agreed there remain other possible causes for Earth's
greatest mass extinctions. But the case for cosmic impacts is growing.

"It seems that several lines of evidence based on new data and careful
statistical analysis are now showing that at least some of the great mass
extinctions were geologically instantaneous, leading us to look for
catastrophic causes such as asteroid impacts," said David Morrison, an
asteroid researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. "We know
that impacts have occurred throughout Earth's history, so the connection
seems plausible." Morrison cautioned that there is "much research yet to be
done" before the connection can be made clear.


NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with
Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts.  These opinions are the
responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the
positions of NASA, the International Astronomical Union, or any other
organization.  To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact  For additional information, please see the
website:  If anyone wishes to copy or
redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part,
please include this disclaimer.


From Space Weather News for May 12, 2001

BRIGHTENING COMET: Comet C/2001 A2 (LINEAR), which split into two pieces
last month, suddenly brightened to visual magnitude ~5.3 on May 10th and
11th. The comet's appearance is changing as volatile ices in the fragmenting
nucleus are exposed to solar radiation. No one knows how much brighter Comet
LINEAR A2 might become between now and May 24th, when it will experience a
0.78 AU close encounter with the Sun. Southern hemisphere sky watchers using
binoculars can monitor the crumbling comet after local sunset near the feet
of Orion. See: [3D orbit][ephemeris][May 13th finder chart]


From New Scientist, 11 May 2001

Live bacteria are cultured from a meteorite, but are they just little

Live bacteria have been found inside a meteorite in a Naples museum,
according to two researchers at the University of Naples - and they claim
the bacteria are not from Earth.

If these really were the first alien bugs, it could dramatically settle the
controversial theory that life colonised Earth from space. But British
geologists, who found local bacteria living inside a meteorite in Antarctica
last year, caution that the Italians may simply have observed little

Bruno D'Argenio, a geologist, and Giuseppe Geraci, a molecular biologist,
say they cultured bacteria from a meteorite kept at the mineralogical museum
in Naples. The bacteria were wedged inside the crystal structure of
minerals, but were resurrected when a sample of the rock was placed in a
culture medium. They formed colonies and were susceptible to antibiotics.

The team put out a press release with these observations this week, but have
not yet reported their methods to colleagues. D'Argenio will present them to
a meeting on extraterrestrial biology in Frascati, Italy later in May.

Extreme temperatures

The proof that the bacteria were not terrestrial, the team claims, was that
they survived when the sample was sterilised at 950 C and washed with
alcohol. Bacteria that arrive from space should survive high heat, they
argue, while the alcohol would eliminate surface-dwelling Earth microbes.

But David Wynn-Williams of the British Antarctic Survey says Earth bacteria
could easily have invaded the structure of the rock as it lay in the museum,
to depths that were not affected by the heat or alcohol.

He and colleagues found actinomycete bacteria inside the crystals of a
Martian meteorite last year, which looked exactly like Antarctic soil
bacteria, and grew on encountering moisture.

Gene test

The Italian team also claims their bacteria's DNA is unlike any on Earth.
"But without the experimental details, we really cannot say," says Luigi
Colangelli of the Capodimonte Observatory in Naples.

"I believe we will find evidence of life elsewhere," says Wynn-Williams.
"But it almost requires keeping a meteorite sterile from the moment it

This difficult task could get harder. Evidence has recently emerged of the
escalating black market trade in stolen meteorites.

Copyright 2001, New Scientist


From Andrew Yee <>

National Radio Astronomy Observatory
520 Edgemont Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903

Dave Finley, Public Information Officer
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May 10, 2001

New Radio Telescope Makes First Scientific Observations

The world's two largest radio telescopes have combined to make detailed
radar images of the cloud-shrouded surface of Venus and of a tiny asteroid
that passed near the Earth. The images mark the first scientific
contributions from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) new Robert C.
Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, which worked with the NSF's
recently-upgraded Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The project used the
radar transmitter on the Arecibo telescope and the huge collecting areas of
both telescopes to receive the echoes.

"These images are the first of many scientific contributions to come from
the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, and a great way for it to begin its
scientific career," said Paul Vanden Bout, director of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Our congratulations go to the
scientists involved in this project as well as to the hard-working staffs at
Green Bank and Arecibo who made this accomplishment possible," Vanden Bout

To the eye, Venus hides behind a veil of brilliant white clouds, but these
clouds can be penetrated by radar waves, revealing the planet's surface. The
combination of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world's largest
fully-steerable radio telescope, and the Arecibo telescope, the world's most
powerful radar, makes an unmatched tool for studying Venus and other
solar-system bodies.

"Having a really big telescope like the new Green Bank Telescope to receive
the radar echoes from small asteroids that are really close to the Earth and
from very distant objects like Titan, the large moon of Saturn, will be a
real boon to radar studies of the solar system." said Cornell University
professor Donald Campbell, leader of the research team.

Ten years ago, the radar system on NASA's Magellan spacecraft probed though
the clouds of Venus to reveal in amazing detail the surface of the Earth's
twin planet. These new studies using the GBT and Arecibo, the first since
Magellan to cover large areas of the planet's surface, will provide images
showing surface features as small as about 1 km (3,000 ft), only three times
the size of the Arecibo telescope itself.

Venus may be a geologically active planet similar to the Earth, and the new
images will be used to look for changes on Venus due to volcanic activity,
landslides and other processes that may have modified the surface since the
Magellan mission. The radar echoes received by both telescopes also can be
combined to form a radar interferometer capable of measuring altitudes over
some of the planet's mountainous regions with considerably better detail
than was achieved by Magellan.

These were the first scheduled observations with the new Robert C. Byrd
Green Bank Telescope, demonstrating its capabilities for solar-system
studies. In addition to the observations of Venus, a tiny 150m (500 ft)
asteroid, 2001 EC16, was imaged with the two telescopes working as a
combined radar system on March 26 when the asteroid was only 8 times the
distance of the Moon from the Earth. The image could show details on the
asteroid's surface only 15 meters (50 ft) in size and shows EC16 to be an
irregularly shaped object rotating about once every 200 hrs, one of the
slowest rotation rates so far measured for these objects. It took about 20
seconds for the radar signal to go to EC16 and back, compared with the
almost 5 minutes needed to go to Venus and back. EC16 was discovered by the
NEAT asteroid survey on March 15, 11 days prior to the radar observations.
Very large numbers of these near-Earth asteroids are being discovered and
the combined Arecibo-GBT radar system will be needed to properly study a
significant number of them.

The observing team led by Campbell also included Jean-Luc Margot of Caltech,
Lynn Carter of Cornell, and Bruce Campbell of the Smithsonian Institution.

The 100-meter (330 feet) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope was dedicated
in August 2000 and now is being prepared for routine scientific operation.
It is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, headquartered in
Charlottesville, Virginia. It is the largest fully-steerable telescope in
the world. It is a highly advanced telescope with a mechanized reflecting
surface and a laser measurement system for continuous adjustments to its

The 305-meter (1,000 feet) Arecibo telescope recently has completed a major
upgrade funded by the NSF and NASA to improve its observing capabilities,
including a more powerful radar transmitter for planetary studies. It is
operated by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC)
headquartered at Cornell University. Its reflector is fixed to the ground,
and is the largest telescope of any type in the world. The radar capability
of Arecibo, combined with the large reflectors of Arecibo and Green Bank,
make for a uniquely powerful radar imaging capability. Both observatories
are facilities of the National Science Foundation. The NRAO is operated for
the NSF by Associated Universities, Inc., under a cooperative agreement.
NAIC is operated by Cornell University, also under a cooperative agreement
with the NSF.

Images to Accompany This Story

* Arecibo-GBT radar image of Venus, showing detail as small as 5 kilometers.
  Image courtesy of Campbell et al., NRAO, NAIC. (920KB)

* Arecibo-GBT radar image of Maxwell Montes, a Venusian mountain taller than
  Mount Everest. Image courtesy of Campbell et al., NRAO, NAIC. (275KB)

* Arecibo-GBT radar image of asteroid 2001 EC16 , showing detail as small as
  15 meters and clearly showing the irregular shape of the asteroid. Image
  courtesy of Campbell et al., NRAO, NAIC. (21KB)

* Images of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope



From Ian Lyon <>

Dear Benny,

A minor point about the report by Philip Ball (Nature, 9 May 2001) 'The End
is Shy' [CCNet, 11 May 2001):

"Rybicki and Denis calculate the effects of these drag forces on the
orbits of the planets. In particular, they consider tidal forces. The Moon
loses a little energy as it sloshes the Earth's oceans back and
forth, and this causes a tiny, constant decrease in the Moon's orbit. The
same would happen to the Earth if the Sun's outer envelope were to come
close enough."

In fact the Earth is slowing its rotation due to tidal friction and from the
conservation of angular momentum, the moon is actually getting further away
from the Earth, not closer.


                                         Ian Lyon

ps please keep up the good work, CCNet is an informative read!

Dr Ian Lyon
Senior Lecturer in Isotope Geochemistry
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Manchester
M13 9PL
Tel: 0161 275 3842 (or 3942)
Fax: 0161 275 3947

From Duncan Steel <>

From CCNet (11/5/01):

Melita MD, Brunini A: A possible long-lived asteroid population at
the equilateral Lagrangian points of Saturn MONTHLY NOTICES OF THE

The Lagrangian equilateral points of a planetary orbit are points of
equilibrium that trail at 60 degrees, ahead (L4) or behind (L5), the
trajectory of a planet. Jupiter is the only major planet in our Solar
system harbouring a known population of asteroids at those locations.

This is not true. There are four known Mars-Trojan asteroids, all at L5. The
first of them was discovered in 1990 and deserves its name: (5261) Eureka.
For more information see the appropriate page at the IAU Minor Planet Center
web site (which, I might add, carries all sorts of useful
information for interested parties):

Duncan Steel


From Leon Neihouse  <>

Dear Benny,
I question whether the viewpoint expressed in the article in the last post
objective analysis.
I strongly support the call made by J. Richard Gott III to build a
self-supporting colony in space. However, I seriously question whether it
should be tied to the alarmist position that such a project is necessary to
ensure the human race can survive a collision with a gargantuan asteroid or
The preparations we have already made to kill each other will,
paradoxically, ensure we can survive such a conjectured impact.
As a minimum, several months will be available to prepare for a collision
with a Hale-Bopp type of object. For just one example of many possible
courses of action, the United States might "bury" equipment and components
necessary for self-sufficient living in several unmanned sites well
protected to survive the after effects of an impact. About ten thousand of
the "best and brightest" could then board the Navy's nuclear powered
submarine fleet and transit to that global sea location that would be the
least effected by the blast. This contingent could easily remain submerged
for up to three months, at which time all short-term effects would have
played their course. The submarines would then surface and the occupants
would establish a new foothold for the human race from the locations
previously prepared for this purpose.
I am sure many other survival scenarios can be developed using only Earth
based equipment and components. For example, I am of the opinion that
precautions almost certainly put in place by national governments such as
the USA and Russia to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange will
collaterally permit the human race to survive an impact by a gargantuan
asteroid or comet.
While I support space development, I believe it should be promoted on its
own merits.
Best regards,
Leon Neihouse


From Andy Smith <>

Hello Benny and CCNet,

We think the time has come to collectively recognize that an international
emergency exists and to join, togeather, in all of our efforts. Our initial
delegation draft is provided, herewith:


We recognize that an international emergency condition exists and that there
is a clear and present danger of asteroid/comet impact.....which could come
upon us at any time. We further recognize that the entire human race (and
all life on our planet) is at risk.

We further recognize that there are more than 100,000 potentially dangerous
objects overhead (Near-Earth Objects or NEO), which are larger than the
objects that made the one-mile wide Barringer Crater (Arizona, USA) and
destroyed the forest (Tuguska River, Siberia) in Russia, in 1908; that there
is a near-miss of our orbit, by one of these objects...about every half-hour
and that there is an impact on our planet, every Century.

Further, we recognize that the human race has the technology and the
equipment necessary to identify and track most of these dangerous objects
and to prevent most impacts. In spite of this capability, our progress
toward the goal of adequate emergency preparedness and the level of support,
for that progress, is much too little (in light of the clear danger).

In addition, we are aware that there are a number of impressive programs
underway, to help identify the 100,000 NEO and that the time which will be
required to identify the threat population, at the present discovery rate,
is likely to be about 300 years. We also recognize that it may be possible
to reduce this discovery time to about a decade, if we build one large
state-of-the-art survey telescope (8 meter/900 megapixel) and use that
facility exclusively for the stated coopertion with the
existing asteroid survey systems and teams. We consider this project to have
the highest priority and encourage all CCNet participants to join us in
supporting this project and priority. The future of the human race could
well hinge upon this action.

The second priority, for us, is to encourage and support the development of
contingency plans for a rapid world defensive response, to any
asteroid/comet emergency. We also favor the development of plans, in all
countries, for civil emergency preparedness and we assign the highest
priority, for such preparedness, to the coastal cities (because of the
tsunami danger).

We pledge our time and resources to this cause and we call upon all
countries and people to join  us, in an open and coordinated effort. This is
our first encounter with a credible extra-terrestrial physical threat. It is
the greatest danger we know and, fortunately, it is the one natural danger
we can prevent.


Our Asteroid/Comet Workshop (ACW), at the International Space Development
Conference, will be held in the spirit of this declaration and the
declarations by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA
in 1990 and 1995);  the National Space Society (NSS)... before the U.S.
Congress, in 1998; the declarations associated with the recent hearings,
before the House of Commons (U.K.)and other declations and studies,
conducted in recent times.

In addition, we request that the participants of the ASTEROIDS 2001
conference, which will be held in Italy, in June, recognize this emergency
condition and support the development of the vital large asteroid telescope.

We also ask that the INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP, planned in Japan, in October
(see CCNet4/18/01), and intended to promote cooperation (in this vital
hunt), join us in this declaration and discuss a maximum World discovery and
tracking effort, using the large terrestrial telescope, the existing
asteroid telescopes and an orbiting system.

Finally, because of the gravity of the danger, we call upon all of the large
survey telescopes, in the World, to aid in this vital hunt and to make
significant contributions to the world NEO data-base (MPC).

International Planetary Protection Alliance (IPPA)/
Andy Smith

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