Date sent: Fri, 16 May 1997 15:34:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Subject: INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 20 April 1997
Priority: NORMAL

The following extract is from a lengthy feature article about past
impact catastrophes and the cosmic hazard which appeared in the
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 20 April 1997. It was partly inspired by the
frontpage coverage of the same liberal Sunday paper which featured
the Cambridge Conference (and Sodom and Gomorrah) on 30 March 1997.
Despite its rather sensationalist headline and apocalyptic
overtones, the article is another sign that science journalists (who
have always been good indicators for approaching paradigm shifts)
have stopped giggling about the idea of historic catastrophism.
Fortunately, we don't have to worry about a lack of other giggle
factors. With the new Government holding a majority of more than 160
seats, there will certainly be no shortage of people and issues to
laugh about. Thank God.

Benny J Peiser

P.S. Note the (notorious) bias of this British paper against the US
Congress which is quite paradoxical. After all, it is the only major
organisation in the world which has tacken meaningful action in
order to develop an effective detecting and deflecting programme.
As members of this network only know too well, the author could have
found a much more legitimate target for criticism in his own




Forget nuclear war, global warming and the threat of melting
ice-caps - a large lump of rock could well do the final deed. With
thousands of asteroids crossing the path of the Earth's orbit, a
near-miss meteoric collision last year and a possible return of
cyclical cosmic rains, things are looking far from safe. NORMAN
MILLER investigates.

For people living on a planet under bombardment, everyone is being
very calm. The threat comes not from any tentacled aliens or nasty
cyborgs but something more impassive yet potentially just as deadly
- asteroids. At least 100 space rocks large enough to cause global
devastation are now known to intersect the Earth's orbit, but
astronomers believe that there may be around 2,000 big enough to
cause massive damage. And an asteroid has never met a planet it
wasn't attracted to, as a black astronomical joke goes. This
negative outlook is balanced by the cosmic timescale of the attack,
with massive asteroids working on a scale of tens of millions of
years, but smaller cosmic rains of terror may operate every few
thousand years. And chance means that the next Armageddon asteroid
could as easily swing into view tomorrow as in a million years.

New evidence just published suggests that the most recent
significant disruption of the Earth was only about 4,000 years ago,
when the Bronze Age civilisations around the world were devastated
by a series of meteorite impacts. A study of sediments from three
regions of the Middle East by French scientist Marie-Agnes Courty
turned up evidence of abrupt climate changes at the time, along with
tiny spheres of a calcite material unknown on Earth but found in
meteorites, and signs of widespread fires which cannot be explained
by volcanic activity. There is also historical evidence of violent
cultural upheaval at the same period at over 40 sites, including the
collapse of civilisations in Mesopotamia, India's Indus Valley and
Egypt. The suggestion is that Earth was hit several times by debris,
probably from a comet which fragmented. [...]

If mass extinctions mark different volumes in the book of the
Earth's history, smaller extinctions have been like chapters
punctuating the story more frequently, with global cooling again the
dominant agent. The glaciation 650 million years ago which decimated
Precambian flora and fauna may seem very distant but the most recent
beat in Earth's pulse of extinctions took place just 11,000 years
ago when 39 animal classes - including sabre-toothed cats, ground
sloths and mammoths - were wiped out either by global cooling,
over-hunting by humans or a combination of the two. [...]

Whit over 2,000 Earth-crossing asteroids (ECAs) believed to be
speeding in our vicinity, this cosmic version of Russian roulette
delivered a serious warning shot in the middle of last year when
asteroid 1996JA1 flashed into the sights of startled astronomers a
few days before missing the Earth by 280,000 miles - an astronomical
hair's breadth. A third of a mile across, moving at 58,000mph, an
impact would have caused an explosion roughly equivalent to
lightening all the world's nuclear bombs at once.

The devastating global effect of a major collision means experts
such as David Hughes, a physicist at Sheffield University, put the
risk of dying due to a killer asteroid at one in 20,000 - only 10
times less likely than dying in a car accident. Nasa has even called
for urgent funding to create an early warning system to spot any ECA
on a collision course. Work is also being done into possible defence
systems, probably based on nuclear weapons.

Despite the evidence of history, however, funding authorities such
as the US Congress continue to react to the threat of sudden mass
extinction with what famed asteroid-discoverer Eugene Shoemaker has
dryly referred to as "the giggle factor". But does anybody hear the
dinosaurs laughing?


Date sent: Fri, 16 May 1997 12:10:42 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Priority: NORMAL


Peter Adams is the project editor of THE ATLAS OF NATURAL DISASTERS,
to be published in August 1998 by Dorling Kindersley. Members
of this network who are interested in this new Atlas can contact
Peter directly or meet him at the Cambridge Conference. Here is a
brief description of the ATLAS:

As the name suggests it plots the locations of major disasters
during the history of this planet from the Palaeozoic event up to
present day disasters. Within this remit it provides the reader with
details of the event as well as giving explanations into the causes
of each disaster. The "disastrous" phenomenon covered includes
volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, a wide range of storm and climatic
conditions, as well as disease and space-bourne catastrophes.

At present the disaster from space incident we feature is the
Yucatan strike about 65 million years ago, but I am very keen to
include more up to date impacts that caused disaster to humans.
The Atlas will be distributed world wide and will have a print run
exceeding 100,000. The scheduled publication date is August 1988.

Peter Adams
Project Editor

CCCMENU CCC for 1997