Date sent: Tue, 20 May 1997 08:25:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Subject: NEO News (5/19/97)
Priority: NORMAL

Dear friends and students of NEOs:

David Tholen of the University of Hawaii sends the following rather
disturbing commentary on the level of misunderstanding from his
college students in the area of NEOs and the NEO hazard. Or maybe this
is a commentary on problems of communicating technical information via

On another subject, the number of formal "hits" on the NASA Impact
Hazard Homepage is above 110,000, which is thought by the experts to
correspond to more than one million hits on various parts of the
website. The address is:

David Morrison.


During the course of the spring semester, I had the opportunity to
recommend two television programs to my introductory astronomy
students, namely the Discovery Channel's "3 Minutes to Impact" and
National Geographic's "Asteroids: Deadly Impact", which aired on NBC.
One student asked if extra credit could be earned by watching one or
both of the programs, and the class generally supported the
opportunity to earn extra credit, though I required a written report.

As professionals, we welcomed these programs as being technically
accurate for the most part, but did they tell the story in a way such
that the general public would get the point? The written reports gave
me an opportunity to gauge the level at which a subset of the general
(college educated) public appreciates the impact hazard issue. Here
are some excerpts:

"There are many hundreds of asteroids located in the galaxy."

"Most of these asteroids are no bigger than the earth's moon."

"Asteroids appeared to be a firey ball traveling through the

"Usually asteroids don't survive through the earth atmosphere
because of all the chemical compounds in the atmosphere."

"In conclusion Gene figured that the small objects traveling at
these high speed created the large crater on the moon and on
different location in the galaxy."

"This film, the 'Deadly Impact' coved asteroids and their impacts
on the universe."

"In General astroids were described as small firey balls that
travels through the galaxy."

"This actually says a lot about the density of astroids. They
are much more dense than the earth's surface."

"Not only did Gene Shoemaker question the craters, he also began
to question the fundamental principles of his profession."

"They appear to be small fire balls that travel through the

"A crater in the Arizona dessert is what Gene Shoemaker began to

"Scientist Jean Shoemaker....was bewildered with the large crater
he looked at. What would cause a impact so massive? What if the
same impact collided with our planet earth?"

"Some meteorites are the size of Manhattan..."

"Jean Shoemaker finally resorted to a conclusion. He used a
pistol to demonstrate."

"Along the trim of craters, Jean has found piece of glass which
indicate asteroids."

"If one of these asteroids or comets cross the path of earth, it
will surely collide."

"Since comets are closer than stars, Jean use the telescope
Little I....They called a friend who had access to the Big I....
This was the first time a comet was actually photographed."

"The comet did collide into Jupiter and left a similar impact to
the one on Earth. The possibilities of an object colliding with
earth can now greater."

"Scientists have invented a missile that would hit the target and
throw it off coarse."

"Jean Shoemaker, the first scientist to travel to the moon, a
looking scientist..."

"This event could be our apacholypse. Jean Shoemaker a great and
still active scientist, he is still looking through the telescope
with his wife, his only partner."

"How do these great beings come to exist?" [in reference to
impacting bodies]

"Kuper Belt...York Clouds"

"The development of 'Space Guard', headquartered in Rome, was a
world-wide participation to find all asteroids out in space. It's
effort did not last long because its funding was eventually cut."

"Currently, according to the video, only amateurs are discovering
these asteroids and comets and not professionals. Money is needed
to be able to find those objects which cannot be seen beyond the
unaided eye."

"Im March 23 of 1993, many telescopes were aimed into the night
when comet Shoemaker smashed into Jupiter..."

"Because these asteroids were so tiny compared to the stars
surrounding them, they had to use a microscope to find them."

"This comet grew into a blazing streak of light that would
eventually impact Jupiter."

"This meteorite blew a hole right through the trunk and fender
of a 1980 Chevy Malibu. This is proof of the power of impact an
asteroid or meteorite possesses."

"But these small pieces are dangerous and can be very harmful if
contacted with human flesh."

"...a small observatory they called Little I."

"...Hubbell Space Telescope..."

"In fact the video pointed out the fact that Japan only spends
some $1 million in the study of asteroid disasters. Now, it
makes sense that if one of the worlds most affluent country
cannot be moved to spend billions, if not trillions of dollars
to avert a potential disaster (potential because no one can
accurately determine where and when the asteroid will hit) it is
safe to say that other countries would not consider it."

"The comet was really an asteroid torn into pieces by the force
of Jupiter's gravity."

"In 1908 while Gene was working on a government experiment in

"On March 23, 1993 while observing the sky for traces of the big
bang, Gene Shoemaker discovered his first comet, comet Shoemaker."

"A crater in the remote area of Siberia..."

"On March 23, 1993, the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet was founded by
Shoemaker, his wife, and Levy."

"Asteroids are not something you can read about."

"He traveled to Germany and discovered a church built there had
rock from asteroids."

"Eugene his wife and a colleague now work on the Halimer
mountain with a small telescope called the little eye."

"This comet was extremely large and was about to hit Jupiter.
It was so large that Jupiter gravity tore it into a few peaces."

"...Meteor Canyon....caused by a gigantic asteroid."

"They blew up the negative and found that it was indeed an

"...when it enters the earth's atmosphere, the asteroid is
broken into smaller pieces. Asteroids as big as a mile across
are broken down so they are not deadly..."

"He also got the opportunity to see an asteroid hit Jupiter and
create an impact crater, a dream he had hoped would happen in
his lifetime."

"The oldest meteoroid crater by the way is nearly 2 billion
years old."

"Amd when something big deicides to have earth at its path there
is only one solution that we have come up with, and that is to
try and destroy it with a Russion missle."

I suppose it's worth noting that the multiple people who described
asteroids as fiery balls traveling through the galaxy watched the
video as a group, so this perception isn't quite as widespread as
indicated by the excerpts above.

As far as educating the public goes, we've got our work cut out for

Dave Tholen

CCCMENU CCC for 1997