CCNet DIGEST, 18 May 1998

    Benny J Peiser <>

    DAILY MAIL, 15 May 1998

    David Morrison <>

    David Morrison <>

    The Sunday Telegraph, 17 May 1998

    Steve Weintz <>

    Jonathan TATE <>

    Graham Richard Pointer <>


From Benny J Peiser <>

In DEEP IMPACT, the world is kept in the dark about an approaching
comet for almost a year by the American and Russian administrations - 
a n d  the scientific community. Nobody in the DreamWorks movie seems
to be bothered about this year-long cover up. One only wonders why the
news is broken in the first place (other than for dramaturgical
reasons) before the Messiah mission lifts off.

Yet in the real world of NEO politics, journalists aren't as restrained
and understanding as in the movies (thank goodness). A report in
London's DAILY MAIL on Friday openly accuses the astronomical community
in the US of trying to cover up important scientific data on NEO
research - at least until NASA has the final word (and who is to say
that 'earth-shattering' information would not be kept secret for more
than two or three days if the US administration were to follow the DEEP
IMPACT script).

Despite many inaccuracies in the DAILY MAIL's news story, I have
attached the article below. It shows that NASA's hasty and
ill-considered attempt to politically control scientific research and
the way NEO related data is allowed to be reported by NASA-funded
astronomers (i.e. all American NEO researchers) can easily backfire.

It would appear that NASA's failure to widely consult with the
scientific community has led to an own goal. Instead of protecting the
integrity and trustworthiness of scientific and astronomical research,
the interim procedures cast a dark shadow over the openess of science
in the US.

It is essential, I believe, that NASA and the world's main
scientific institutions will come to an international agreement on
these matters in due course if further damage to the integrity and
openess of scientific research is to be avoided.

Benny J Peiser


From the DAILY MAIL, 15 May 1998

Mail Foreign Service

If a giant asteroid is hurtling in the general direction of our planet,
we will be the last to know about it. For astronomers have decided that
the news would be too earth-shattering for ordinary mortals to handle -
and likely to cause widespread panic.

In a week that sees the release of the film Deep Impact - a fictional
account of just such a catastrophe -  astronomers funded by the
American space agency NASA have now agreed to keep asteroid and comet
discoveries to themselves for 48 hours while more detailed calculations
are made. The findings would then go to NASA, which would wait another
24 hours befor going public.

The new procedures aim to avoid causing a repeat of a doomsday alert in
March when astronomers reported that the asteroid 1997 XF11 could
collide with Earth in 2028. That apocalyptic prediction was soon found
to be a mistake and there was virtually no chance of any such impact.

The new interim procedures are not an attempt to hide anything but to
make sure the information is accurate, claimed scientist Donald Yeomans
of the Jet Propulsion Laboratoy, whose calculations helped dispel the
fear that 1997XF11 was headed straight for Earth.

'It is an attempt for the small scientific community that tracks these
objects to build a consensus, to determine if an asteroid is a threat,'
he said.

Some scientists question the new push from NASA, saying quick action
from astronomers is needed to determine an asteroid's danger. 'I don't
think one should be secret about these things,' said Brian Marsden, the
director of the International Astronomical Union [sic], which made the
announcement about 1997XF11's projected collision with Earth. 'I think
the public would be unhappy,' he added.

Some astronomers say releasing their discoveries quickly and openly is
critical. When a new asteroid or comet is discovered, scientists need
as many sightings as possible in order to plot its orbit precisely and
gauge how close it may pass to Earth, they claim.

Meanwhile, other leading scientists have recommended that manned
missions to asteroids approaching Earth should be undertaken to
discover more about their possible threat.

The United States National Research Council also wants to see
investigations made by robot spacecraft. A report from the NRC said:
'Five per cent of Earth-approaching asteroids are readily accessible by
relatively short space flights.'

About 400 such asteroids and comets larger than a kilometre across have
been indentified so far, but this is thought to represent only 10 per
cent of the total

(C) 1998 Daily Mail


From David Morrison <>

United States House of Representatives
Committee on Science
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman
George E. Brown, Jr., California, Ranking Democrat

May 15, 1998
Press Contact:  Katy McGregor  (202) 225-0461


The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a hearing entitled
"Asteroids:  Perils and Opportunities" on Thursday, May 21, 1998 at 2:00
p.m. in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.  The purpose of the hearing
will be to assess the dangers of Earth-impacting asteroids, to determine
an appropriate level of response for analyzing this threat, and to
examine the commercial opportunities for these large bodies of minerals.
Testimony will also address the upcoming micrometeoroid shower and
possible threats posed to satellites in orbit.

Witness list:

Dr. Clark R. Chapman, Institute Scientist, Southwest Research Institute,
Boulder, CO.

Dr. John Lewis, Professor of Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, AZ.

Dr. William H. Ailor, Director, The Aerospace Corporation Center for
Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, El Segundo, CA.


From David Morrison <>

NEO News (5/15/98)

by David Morrison with help from others

This is a good time to summarize where we stand in the search for
potentially hazardous NEOs. Also, as I indicated in yesterday's NEO
News, The National Research Council Press Release of May 13 on NEOs
could create some confusion about how many NEOs we have found and what
the current rate of discovery is.

There has always been some ambiguity about what is meant by a NEO (Near
Earth Object).  Gene Shoemaker, who is responsible for many of the
estimates of numbers of Earth-crossing asteroids (ECAs) and comets,
used some special criteria to define  ECAs, but roughly these are equal
to the Apollo and Aten asteroids (currently Earth crossing) plus a very
few of the innermost Amors (which can become Earth-crossing).  Most
people simply equate the Apollos and Atens with the Near Earth
Asteroids (NEAs).

To go from NEAs to NEOs, we must add the short-period comets with
perihelia inside the orbit of the Earth, but there are very few of
these relative to the asteroids.

The May 13 NRC Press Release said: "Some 400 Earth-approaching
asteroids and comets larger than one kilometer in diameter have been
discovered so far, but only an estimated 10 percent of the objects this
size have been identified." The number 400 objects in fact should refer
to all known NEOs, not just those larger than 1 km.  In contrast, this
is from the Executive Summary of the NRC COMPLEX report:

"Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets with orbits that
intersect or pass near that of our planet. About 400 NEOs are currently
known, but the entire population contains perhaps 3000 objects with
diameters larger than 1 km."

Jim Scotti reports on the current numbers of Apollos and Atens (May
1998). He notes that the Minor Planet Center lists 240 known Apollos
and 30 known Atens, for a total of 270 NEAs (Near Earth Asteroids). Of
these, 122 are more than 1 km in diameter. It is this number of 122
known NEAs larger than 1 km plus about 10 short-period comets that
should be compared with the estimates of the total number of NEOs from
Shoemaker and others. Thus the fraction so far discovered is about
132/2000 = 7%. I use 2000 rather than 3000 because we are neglecting
the innermost Amors in these counts. Thus 7% is the completeness of our
current knowledge of NEOs that might create a global ecological
disaster if they hit Earth.

Brian Marsden uses other criteria to define his list of potentially
hazardous asteroids (PHAs).  His orbital criteria  are more stringent
than simply being Earth-crossing, but he includes NEAs down to about
200 meter diameter. The current number of known PHAs is 120.

The objective of the Spaceguard Survey (and also a science goal in the
NASA Office of Space Science Strategic Plan) is to survey all NEOs
greater than 1 km diameter. Alan Harris has estimated how long it will
require to reach any given level of completeness at the current
discovery rate: until recently this rate corresponded to more than a
century to reach 90% completeness, and up to two centuries for 95%
completeness. In the past few months the discovery rate has climbed
primarily due to the US Air Force LINEAR search system. Harris notes
that in February and March, 34 new NEOs were discovered, 16 of them
larger than 1 km.  Of these, 21 (12 larger than 1 km) were found by
LINEAR.  At this accelerated discovery rate, the anticipated time for
90% survey completeness is down to about 50 years, and 95% to about a
century. Thus we are for the first time within an order of magnitude of
achieving the NASA and Spaceguard goals for discovery rate of 1 km or
larger NEOs.  We are making progress!


From Electronic Telegraph, Sunday 17 May 1998

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

THE new film Deep Impact - about meteors hitting the Earth and causing
devastating ocean waves - may not be mere Hollywood hokum.

Scientists have found disturbing evidence that Australia suffered just
such a fate only 200 years ago, in a catastrophe still recounted in
Aboriginal legends. Deep Impact, which opened on Friday, centres on
events following the impact of two comet fragments which create
colossal ocean waves that devastate America.

But while the film's spectacular special effects leave audiences
reeling, a growing number of scientists believe that they may be all
too close to reality. Many astronomers accept that meteor impacts pose
a serious threat, with evidence for scores of impacts having been found
around the world - the most recent being in Siberia in 1908.

But with more than 70 per cent of the Earth's surface covered with
water, most impacts take place over the oceans, causing huge waves
known as tsunamis. Now researchers in Australia have found impressive
evidence that a tsunami struck the coast of New South Wales in the late
18th Century - and a meteor is seen as the most likely culprit.
According to Prof Ted Bryant, a geologist at the University of
Wollongong in New South Wales, analysis of sediment and boulders along
the coast are consistent with a tsunami hundreds of feet high, striking
at a speed of more than 200mph.

They have also found evidence for tsunamis hitting other sites around
Australia. Prof Bryant said: "The geomorphic signatures of such events
have been found on Lord Howe Island in the mid-Tasman Sea, along the
north Queensland coast and along the northwest coast of Western
Australia. At the latter location, there is good evidence that a recent
wave swept more than 20 miles inland, topping 200ft hills more than a
mile from the coast."

The events are consistent with a legend still recounted by Aborigines,
which speaks of a "white wave" falling out of the sky and devastating
their culture. Until now, historians had linked the legend with the
arrival of white settlers in the 1780s. However, according to Prof
Bryant, a vast tsunami would give the impression of a white wave
falling out of the sky. While some researchers claimed that the tsunami
was caused by a giant submarine mud-slide off the coast, others believe
this cannot account for its size. Instead, they argue a meteor impact
must be to blame.

Duncan Steel, a meteor impact expert at Spaceguard Australia, Adelaide,
said: "There is lots of evidence of giant tsunamis, but no known
terrestrial mechanism for creating them. Neither earthquakes nor
mudslides are big enough, but even small comet fragments detonate in
the atmosphere at the height needed to create huge tsunamis."

According to Mr Steel, evidence is now emerging to link the Australian
tsunami to a swarm of meteors that have struck the Earth many times
during recorded history. Known as the Taurids, the swarm has been
linked to a meteor storm detected in 1975 by instruments left on the
Apollo missions, the 1908 impact in Siberia, and an account of an
apparent impact on the Moon recorded by a Canterbury monk in 1178.

Mr Steel said: "The Taurid impacts go through peaks and troughs over
centuries. The dating of the tsunamis so far found is broadly
consistent with this cycle. If one struck today it would cause billions
of dollars of damage, and kill many, many people." He added that the
evidence linking meteor impacts to tsunamis underlined the importance
of taking the cosmic threat seriously.

Mr Steel said: "Until recently the effect of the tsunamis was just not
factored in. But now we know that they can be huge, and travel as much
as 50 miles inland. The Atlantic presents a very large target, and
cities on both sides would be devastated by an impact anywhere between
New York and London."

(C) 1998 The Sunday Telegraph

Previous articles in the Sunday Telegraph

12 March 1998: [Connected] Are we sitting ducks in a cosmic shooting
28 October 1997: Taming the killer tsunamis
17 February 1997: American Association: 1,000ft wave threat from
16 October 1996: Bouncing meteorite sheds new light on America
20 May 1996: Mighty meteor catches astronomers unawares


From Steve Weintz <>

Hi Benny

I've been intrigued by the recent discussions of possible Southern
Hemisphere impact events recorded in oral tradition, in particular one
correspondent's mention of the consequences for Andean civilizations.

I did graduate work in Andean archaeology at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign from 1991 to 1993, and archaeological fieldwork in
the Titicaca Basin in 1992. The key long-term climatological data for
the Central Andes comes from ice-cores taken from the Quelccaya ice
cap, and several scholars, including Mike Moseley and Alan Kolata have
argued for socio-economic effects from two major droughts, one ca.
560-590 C.E., the other ca. 1100 C.E.

The Andes are an ideal region for the study of environmental effects on
complex civilizations, due to its extreme and heterogeneous topography
(the planet's richest fishing grounds, driest desert, second-highest
mountain range and largest tropical rainforest juxtaposed within a few
hundred kilometers of each other). The now-famous El Nino phenomenon was
identified and first studied in this area, which boasts a 5000-year
record of complex civilization.

Regarding the 6th-Century event, a terrible El Nino appears to have
caused massive flooding on the desert coast, which destroyed irrigation
networks and melted adobe pyramids. Archaeologists see evidence of major
changes in religious, political and settlement systems on the North
Coast of Peru at this time, especially the decline of the Moche
civilization.  During this period, a 30-year drought in the higlands
apparently contributed to the florescence of the Middle Horizon empires
of Huari and Tiwanaku.

We are just beginning to understand long-term and large-scale
environmental phenomena such as El Nino and Earth impacts, and no doubt
it will take a long time to unravel their intricacies. The relative
importance of environmental vs. purely cultural influences have yet to
be worked out; however, the Andean region offers a compelling, tested
region within which to test such ideas.


Steve Weintz


From Jonathan TATE <>

Dear all,

You may like to know that a TV programme, entitled "Knocking at
Doomsday's Door" will be screened on Tuesday 19 May at 10:40 pm on ITV.
The first part of the programme is pretty "off the wall", but if you
can bear it, hold on for the remainder.

Jay Tate
Spaceguard UK


From Graham Richard Pointer <>

Dear Dr Peiser,

I saw this on the web at

Graham Pointer

"It is an experiment you would never want to do," says Mark Boslough, a
scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. The
world's fastest supercomputer has simulated the worldwide devastation
of an asteroid impact. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse

As Steven Spielberg's movie Deep Impact thrills audiences with a
fictional account of what would happen if an asteroid collided with
Earth, scientists are using the fastest supercomputer to model an
impact with a 1.4km asteroid.

Using their extensive experience in modelling shock waves and
incorporating virtual reality techniques, scientists at Sandia have
just completed the largest hyper-velocity impact simulation ever

In 1994, Sandia scientists simulated the impact of the fragmented comet
Shoemaker-Levy 9 into the cloud decks of Jupiter. They were later to
see their predictions come true as the Hubble Space Telescope watched
the real impacts.

The asteroid was targeted 40km south of New York.

Within seconds, the asteroid is vaporised, the ocean floor deformed and
hundreds of cubic kilometres of molten rock and superheated steam are
thrown into the atmosphere.

New York is flattened.
Millions are dead.
Nuclear winter

The simulation takes into account the velocity of the incoming
asteroid, its make-up and strength, the densities of the atmosphere,
the oceans and rock as well as the physics of shock waves.

Following the impact a shock wave would race around the Earth. In North
America the heat would incinerate cities and forests almost

Some debris thrown up into the atmosphere would come raining down hours
later. Other debris would remain in the upper atmosphere for longer.

The debris in the high atmosphere would reflect the sun's light and the
world's temperature would lower. A global snowstorm may follow
initiating a "nuclear winter".

"A lot of major breakthroughs in science are going to come from these
kinds of calculations," Boslough says.

He adds that computer simulations are a safe way to see what would
happen during an impact. "It is almost like doing an experiment - one
you could never do. One you would never want to do."

The recent short-lived news story about the possible impact of an
asteroid with the Earth in 2028 sparked intense scientific and popular
interest world-wide.

Shortly after the initial alarmist statements it was shown that the
asteroid in question would not hit our planet.

However, the United States National Research Council says in a report -
started before the recent asteroid story - that astronomers should find
new ways to release such information and avoid scare stories.

Some 400 Earth-approaching asteroids and comets larger than 1km in
diameter have been detected so far but this is estimated to be just 10%
of the total number of potentially threatening objects out there.

(C) 1998 BBC

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