CCNet 62/2002 - 23 May 2002

"A death-defying comeback might be in store for NASA's Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft. The probe is now muted, quietly
resting in a no-shout zone on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros. An
attempt to reconnect with NEAR may occur at year's end as the rocky
world and Earth move into close proximity and sunlight washes over the
spacecraft's energizing solar panels."
--Leonard David,, 23 May 2002

"Will the eternally star-gazing human race ever move its quest for
space from the movie theaters to reality? The current state of play is
not encouraging. The BBC reported on May 13 that NASA -- the
organization that exists to put man in space but is funded as if its
mission were to develop a better paper airplane for high school detention
halls -- has resorted to bidding at online Yahoo! and eBay auctions for
out-of-production computer parts for the creaking, 70s-era space
shuttles. A spokesman for the United Space Alliance, the shuttle
fleet's operating company, bluntly characterizes the searches for parts such
as eight-inch floppy disk drives and circa-1981 Intel 8086 chips as "a
scavenger hunt." With the American shuttle fleet scheduled to remain in
service until at least 2012, it seems that what happens on the mousepad
will be critical to what happens on the launchpad."
--James Pinkerton, Tech Central Station, 21 May 2002


    Ron Baalke <>

    The Guardian, 23 May 2002

    New Scientist, 22 May 2002

    Sky & Telescope, 22 May 2002

    Space Daily, 17 May 2002

    Ananova, 22 May 2002

    Tech Central Station, 21 May 2002

    Tech Central Station, 22 May 2002

     David Grinspoon <>

(11) NEOS, IAU & AAS
     Andy Smith <>

     Ananova, 23 May 2002


>From, 23 May 2002

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

A death-defying comeback might be in store for NASA's Near Earth Asteroid
Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft. The probe is now muted, quietly resting in a
no-shout zone on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros.

An attempt to reconnect with NEAR may occur at year's end as the rocky world
and Earth move into close proximity and sunlight washes over the
spacecraft's energizing solar panels.

The stab-in-the dark at re-establishing radio contact with NEAR could be
done through NASA's Deep Space Network managed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Those who worked on the NEAR project hope it can be revived. But it's a long
shot, they quickly add.

Super-cold temperatures may have done in the electronics aboard the
spacecraft. On the other hand, turning on NEAR would be coup de grace of
cosmic proportion. A fit-and-fiddle spacecraft would give engineers
confidence in future hardware designs - equipment that can take a beating
but keep on keeping on.

Electronic defibrillation: turn on your heart light

A one-time attempt to get a peep from NEAR from afar has been given the go
ahead, said Stamatios Krimigis, Space Department head at The Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

APL built NEAR and managed the NEAR mission for NASA.

NEAR project scientist, Andrew Cheng of APL told that he was
hopeful the prospect of resurrecting the asteroid probe might prove
fruitful. Turning on NEAR science instruments could be attempted, such as a
laser ranging device on the spacecraft, he said.

However, nobody knows for sure whether or not the patient -- NEAR -- can be
given a kind of electronic defibrillation and awakened from deep slumber.

Some claim that the probability of an afterlife for NEAR is likely zilch.

"Pit stop" on Eros

NEAR has already made an impressive dent in space history.

Built and managed by APL, NEAR (renamed NEAR-Shoemaker after the loss of
astrogeologist Gene Shoemaker) was the first spacecraft launched in NASA's
Discovery Program of low-cost, small-scale planetary missions.

The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, launched in 1996, swung into orbit around
Eros in February 2000. It circled the asteroid for a year, dipping at times
to within three miles (5.3 kilometers) of the potato-shaped asteroid's ends
and returning more than 10 times the data expected over the program's

At mission's end, NEAR made an unscheduled "pit stop".

Designed only as an orbiter, flight controllers on February 12, 2001 gently
set the craft down amongst craters and large rocks that dot Eros. To
everyone's delight, the probe continued to return valuable information from
the asteroid's surface for two weeks after touchdown.

NEAR Shoemaker skidded to a stop in an area just outside Himeros, the
asteroid's distinctive saddle-shaped depression, after providing the
highest-resolution images ever taken of Eros' boulder-strewn, cratered

Sound of silence

NEAR Shoemaker made a 3-point landing on the tips of two solar panels, and
at the bottom edge of the probe's body.

As NEAR Shoemaker touched down it began sending a beacon, assuring the team
that the small spacecraft had landed. The signal was identified by radar
science data, and about an hour later was locked onto by NASA's Deep Space
Network antennas.

Success of the landing sequence prodded NASA Headquarters to extend the
mission. Gamma ray and magnetometer readings from the surface of Eros were
collected and retrieved during an extended NEAR mission.

On February 28, 2001, the final DSN contact with NEAR Shoemaker was carried
out. Spacecraft telemetry was disabled and the probe's active transponder
was turned off.

The craft fell silent. It dutifully obeyed final commands to initiate
hibernation procedures.

For NEAR Shoemaker later this year: Will it be rest in peace for the probe
or can it become a celestial comeback kid?

Copyright 2002,


>From Ron Baalke <>



Diane Richards
Marketing and Communications Officer
(650) 960-4513

Taylor Bucci, Operations Manager
Center for the Study of Life in the Universe
(650) 960-4519

Elisabetta Pierazzo
(520) 622-6300

                           Europa Has Right Stuff

Mountain View, CA - Compelling evidence for a liquid water ocean beneath its
icy crust makes Jupiter's moon Europa an attractive target for scientists
seeking life in distant regions of our solar system. Recent work by Dr.
Elisabetta Pierazzo, currently at the Planetary Science Institute, and Dr.
Christopher Chyba of the SETI Institute, sheds light on the question of
whether enough "biogenic elements," the raw ingredients for life, including
carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus, could be present to support Europan

Because Europa's formation conditions are uncertain, scientists do not know
the exact composition of the moon's ocean and overlying ice. Some models
suggest a Europa depleted of life-essential carbon and other important
biogenic chemicals at birth. Pierazzo and Chyba explored comets as an
alternate source for biogenic materials, applying complex modeling methods
to set the lower limits for a Europan inventory. In the May edition of the
journal Icarus, Pierazzo and Chyba present a paper that concludes the
Europan inventory to be "substantial."

"We now know that enough of the right materials should have been present to
support a Europan biosphere," says author Chyba, who in addition to studying
Europa, also oversees a broad spectrum of astrobiological research conducted
at the SETI Institute's Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

"If these chemicals find their way into the ocean," said Pierazzo, "and if
there exists a mechanism that could take them through the formation of
increasingly complex organic molecules, those elements could ultimately
evolve into living cells."

In their model, Pierazzo and Chyba used typical cometary sizes, densities,
and impact velocities throughout Solar System history to calculate how much
biogenic material would remain on the moon's surface after impact events.
Unlike the more massive Earth, which has a much higher escape velocity and
can therefore retain a higher percentage of cometary impact material, Europa
has a very low escape velocity, thus losing a significant portion of
material from any projectile that hits its surface.

Earlier studies of cometary impacts on Earth and Mars by the authors
suggested substantial amounts of prebiotic chemicals including amino acids
would have survived cometary impacts, especially at very low, grazing
angles, and thus contributed to the planets' inventories of complex organic
materials. While Europan models also predict significant post-impact
survival rates for similar impacts, the low escape velocity of the moon
would allow the vast majority of this complex organic material to be lost;
with the rest of the projectile material, it would disappear in space.

Nevertheless, cometary impacts would provide billions of tons of carbon, and
somewhat less nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus to the surface of Europa.
These amounts are significant, and correspond to about 1% of the biomass of
prokaryotic life (cells lacking nuclei and believed to be representative of
early life) in today's Earth oceans.

Knowing that, at a minimum, Europa has enough of the elements needed to
sustain a biosphere offers further reason for scientists to feel hopeful
about the search for extraterrestrial life within our own solar system.

Dr. Chyba is the Carl Sagan Chairholder and Director of the Center for the
Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute in Mountain View,
California, and is also an Associate Professor of Geological and
Environmental Sciences at Stanford University in Stanford California.

The SETI Institute,a private nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific
research, education and public outreach, seeks to explore, understand and
explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.

Dr. Pierazzo is a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute of
Tucson Arizona where her work focuses on impact cratering of planetary
surfaces and their effects on the evolution of biospheres.

Complete information about the Planetary Science Institute can be found at


>From The Guardian, 23 May 2002,3605,720087,00.html

Astronomers are racing to identify what may be a cloud of tiny planets near
the sun, says Duncan Steel

Over the past several weeks, you've had a chance to see all the bright
planets lined up in the north-western sky, after sunset. Venus, Jupiter,
Saturn and Mars are easy to spot.

Mercury is less straightforward because it's faint and low in the sky.
Because of its proximity to the sun, it can be difficult to find in the

Now think of a celestial rock far smaller, fainter and closer to the sun.
Even with the best telescope you'd have difficulty detecting it, and you
can't point the Hubble space telescope that near because of the potential
damage from the intense light.

Nevertheless, astronomers think there may be a cloud of small planets (or
asteroids) close to the sun, and they're in a race to detect them first. The
theory is simple. Everywhere we look in the solar system, there are
asteroids and comets. There are relatively sparse numbers on planet-crossing
orbits, because they either hit the planet concerned, or get thrown on to
different paths by the planet's gravity. So, where might asteroids safely

One region is the well-known main belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Another is
the trans-Neptunian zone, its first inhabitant (not counting Pluto) having
been found a decade ago, joined by hundreds since. Another feasible location
is within Mercury's orbit. That planet has a low mass, producing only weak
perturbations, and so any asteroid on a near-circular orbit interior to
Mercury might be safe.

Pretty hot, but safe. This suspicion was confirmed three years ago when
numerical experiments by Wyn Evans (University of Oxford) and Serge
Tabachnik (now at Princeton University) showed that this region represents a
dynamically stable zone. They employed dozens of personal computers, working
non-stop for four months, to get their results. This near-sun region might
contain hundreds, or even thousands, of so-called vulcanoids.

The term derives from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, a
mythological blacksmith hammering away deep beneath a volcano, causing it to
rumble and erupt. This is not a new idea. In the 19th century, astronomers
went Vulcan crazy, due to the suggestion that at least one undiscovered
planet might exist close to the sun. The cause of their expectation was the
apparently anomalous movement of Mercury, seemingly tugged along by an
unseen mass.

It was only when Einstein's theory of relativity was published in 1915 that
physicists could show that Mercury's "anomaly" was actually because Newton's
gravitational theory was incomplete.

Another consideration is how such an asteroid population might grind itself
away to nothingness through mutual collisions. Sunward of Mercury is only a
tiny volume of space, and bodies orbiting there travel at very high speed,
only taking a few weeks to complete a lap of the sun. Impacts would
therefore be at hypervelocity, and destructive.

Vulcanoids would need to be in near-circular orbits, each avoiding the
others, if they were to have survived the billions of years since the solar
system formed. If they exist, how could they be found, perennially in the
solar glare?

Recent attempts to detect them have made use of images returned by the
coronagraph on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho) satellite,
which produces an artificial eclipse so as to block out the photosphere and
lower corona. Comets are frequently found near the sun in Soho images,
largely by ama teur astronomers. Bare, rocky (or maybe metallic) asteroids
are much dimmer, though. The limiting sensitivity of the Soho instrument
corresponds to a vulcanoid around 60km in diameter. No such behemoth has
been found.

Alternatively, one might imagine a ground-based search for vulcanoids just
after the sun has set, or before it rises. But it seems to be an impossible
task: the vulcanoids would need to be larger than about 20km, dependent on
their reflectivities, to be detectable from a mountaintop observatory. Few
targets that large are expected. The cloud, if it exists, would comprise
mostly smaller asteroids. Spacecraft travelling into the inner solar system
are a possibility, and the European Space Agency's Bepi Colombo probe to
Mercury may carry a small asteroid camera, but that mission is almost a
decade away.

The way around this problem, at far lesser expense, involves heading just to
the fringes of space, using a high-flying aircraft. At its Dryden Flight
Research Center (near Edwards in California, where the space shuttle lands)
Nasa stations a small fleet of high-altitude jet planes. One is an F18

Space researchers at the Southwest Research Institute's Department of Space
Studies in Boulder, Colorado, realised that this might provide a valuable
opportunity. They had developed a small camera used for planetary and
cometary observations on several space shuttle missions in the late 1990s.
Now it has been mounted in the cockpit of Nasa's F18, and is used to chase

Vulcanoids, in fact. Flying at an altitude of near 15km (50,000 feet), most
of the detrimental effects of the Earth's atmosphere can be avoided. Close
to the horizon, where one needs to look, the sky is darker, and clearer.

Two preliminary observational programmes have been conducted, and another is
due in September (searches close to the times of the equinoxes are
advantageous in terms of the viewing geometry). No vulcanoids have been
detected, but that in itself is a useful result, allowing limits to be
placed on how many exist. Some believe there is a Vulcan: it's the home
planet of Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy's character in Star Trek. His planet is a
member of a planetary system circuiting the nearby star Epsilon Eridani. Two
years ago, astronomers found at least one planet in orbit around it.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a Jupiter-sized object, presumably a gas giant
unlikely to support life, at least humanoid life like Mr Spock. We must be
content with the fact that of all the thousands of asteroids named and
numbered, there is one called "2309 Mr. Spock".

Finally, another link between asteroids and Vulcan. In 1995 I attended a
conference entitled Beginning the Spaceguard Survey, about our search for
asteroids that might impact the Earth, creating a crash to make even the
mythological Vulcan envious. The conference was held on his island, Vulcano,
off the north-east coast of Sicily, and the origin of our word for

Duncan Steel will be talking about hazardous asteroids at the Cheltenham
Science Festival on Sunday. The Cheltenham Festival of Science runs from
22-26 May. Visit or call the box office on 01242 227979

Copyright 2002, The Guardian


>From New Scientist, 22 May 2002
A student at Harvard University has stumbled across the terrifying spectacle
of a star in our galactic backyard that is on the brink of exploding in a
supernova. It is so close that if it were to blow up before moving away from
us, it could wipe out life on Earth.

Most supernovae occur when large stars run out of fuel and then collapse
under their own weight. As atoms in the star are squeezed together, they
rebound outwards, blowing off energy in a dazzling and dangerous display
lasting several weeks.

But this one is different. Called HR 8210, it is a humble white dwarf, a
star that has run out of fuel and should be too small to produce a
supernova. But it may not stay that way. First, it is not alone, but is
orbiting a companion star in a typical binary system. And it is 1.15 times
the mass of our Sun, which for a white dwarf is a whopper.

The system was first logged in 1993 but little attention was paid to it.
Then when Harvard student Karin Sandstrom investigated HR 8210 for a college
paper this year, she discovered that it is only just shy of the Chandrasekar
limit - the mass at which it would be big enough to go supernova. That makes
it the best and by far the closest supernova candidate discovered so far.

The crunch will come when HR 8210's companion begins to run out of fuel. As
it expands to form a red giant star, its outer layers will be dumped onto HR
8210, pushing it over the Chandrasekar limit. "Our initial idea was that
this might happen very soon," says Sandstrom's supervisor Dave Latham.

Too close for comfort

But do not panic yet. "Very soon" could mean hundreds of millions of years
in the future. And that is just as well, because we are only 150 light years
away from HR 8210 at present - well short of the 160 to 200 light years
thought to be the minimum safe distance from a supernova. If it did let fly,
the high-energy electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays it released would
destroy Earth's ozone layer within minutes, giving life little chance of

This would not be the first time a supernova has changed the course of life
on Earth. In 2001, Jesus Maiz-Apellaniz and colleagues from the Space
Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, found a "smoking gun"
supernova remnant, in the group of stars known as the Scorpius- Centaurus

The timing of the supernova corresponds to an otherwise mysterious deposit
of heavy isotopes in deep Earth cores and to a mass marine extinction two
million years ago. At the time, Scorpius-Centaurus was around twice as far
away from Earth as HR 1820 is now.

Fortunately, it will take time for HR 8210 to accumulate the mass it needs.
Preliminary calculations by Rosanne di Stefano at the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center suggest this may take hundreds of millions of years. By that time it
will be much further away, she says, though she still needs to confirm
exactly how far. "I want to be sure I'm right."

But will similar stars threaten us before then? "The fact that there's such
a system so close to us suggests maybe these objects are not so rare," says
Eugenie Samuel

Copyright 2002, New Scientist


>From Sky & Telescope, 22 May 2002

By Joshua Roth
May 22, 2002 | Evidence is mounting that at least some gamma-ray bursts, or
GRBs - the most energetic outbursts of radiation known to science - are
generated by supernovas, the relatively familiar if still stupendous
explosions of massive stars that have exhausted their nuclear fuel.
In the last few years astronomers have traced GRBs to extremely distant
galaxies and determined that they pack enough punch to blow entire stars
apart. But experts remain in the dark about the events' true nature. The
latest chapters in the decades-long GRB saga are being debated this week in
Cambridge, MA, at a conference on the universe's biggest explosions.

One intriguing development is the discovery of a handful of GRBs that seem
to have originated from (or given rise to) supernovae. Arguably the best
case comes courtesy GRB 011121, a GRB that flared up in the far-southern
constellation Chamaeleon last November 21st. Initially detected by the
since-retired BeppoSAX spacecraft, the burst led Lukasz Wyrzykowski (Warsaw
University Observatory, Poland), Krzysztof Stanek (Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics), and Peter Garnavich (Notre Dame University) to a
rapidly fading star, which they found with a 1.3-meter telescope at Chile's
Las Campanas Observatory. Briefly shining at 18th magnitude (a few percent
of Pluto's apparent brightness), that "star" was presumably the burst's
visible-light aftermath: a cooling, expanding fireball generated by some
kind of cataclysmic stellar explosion.

Soon after, a panoply of ground-based instruments and the Hubble Space
Telescope were aimed at the rapidly fading "star." Spectra from the recently
commissioned 6.5-meter Walter Baade Telescope immediately revealed that the
explosion took place 4 billion years ago in a star-forming galaxy. And
brightness measurements made from the ground and from Hubble over the
following weeks collectively revealed that the object didn't fade at the
steadily accelerating rate typical of other so-called GRB afterglows.
Rather, it leveled off around 23rd magnitude nearly 2 weeks after BeppoSAX
detected the GRB. This "bump" was just what Joshua Bloom and Shrinivas
Kulkarni (Caltech) and their collaborators were hoping to see when they
applied for their Hubble observing time: the characteristic light curve of a
core-collapse supernova.

As if to ice the cake, the Warsaw-Harvard-Notre Dame group obtained with the
Baade telescope a spectrum of the suspected supernova itself. (The object
was too faint for Hubble, with its much smaller primary mirror, to examine
spectroscopically.) Unfortunately, the spectrum is too coarse to show a
supernova's "fingerprint": wide, deep absorption lines from chemicals forged
as the massive stellar precursor burned hotter and hotter in its desperate
attempt to stave off gravitational collapse. As a result, says
Harvard-Smithsonian theorist Abraham Loeb, "there is no proof still of a
definitive link between gamma-ray bursts and supernovae."

Copyright 2002 Sky Publishing Corp.


>From Space Daily, 17 May 2002

The magnitude 5.2 earthquake that occurred near Gilroy, Calif., on Monday
was the fourth to have been correctly plotted on a forecast anomaly map
developed by researchers at the University of Colorado's Cooperative
Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.

In a paper published in the Feb. 19th Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, CIRES scientists John Rundle and Kristy Tiampo, used a new method
to forecast the occurrence of earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 in
central and southern California that are likely to occur in the interval
from Jan. 1, 2000 through Dec. 31, 2010.

Two such earthquakes have occurred within the margin of error near forecast
locations since the paper was published. The first, a magnitude 5.7 event
occurred on Feb. 22 in the Baja region of Mexico. The second, a magnitude
5.2 quake, occurred near Gilroy on Monday, May 13, at 10 a.m. PDT.

"These were the only two earthquakes of magnitude greater than 5 that have
occurred within the central and southern California region since last Feb.
19, and can therefore be regarded as providing strong scientific support for
the theory," Rundle said.

The first of the other two earthquakes, the magnitude 5.1 Big Bear quake of
Feb. 10, 2001, occurred after the work was completed. The second of the
other two events, the magnitude 5.1 Anza quake of Oct. 31, 2001, occurred
after the paper had been accepted for publication.

Yesterday's Gilroy earthquake occurred on the edge of a forecasted anomaly,
within the margin of error of the anomaly locations, plus or minus 11

The new earthquake forecasting method is a means of processing data, not a
model, the scientists explained. The theme of the research is that seismic
activity in a region such as southern California can be characterized by
what is known as a "state vector." State vectors describe space and time
locations of activity patterns.

Rundle and his team examined southern California earthquake patterns of
magnitude 6 and larger. Since earthquakes of these magnitudes generally have
fault lengths of roughly six miles and longer, the physicists used a
corresponding grid of square boxes having side lengths of about seven miles
at southern California latitudes, covering the entire study area.

The "grid process" yielded 3,000 boxes, areas for which the scientists
established individual earthquake histories from 1932 to 1991. Using these
histories of activity, or "time series," they then developed a scale of
seismic activity for each 0.1 degree region.

The scales served as an index adequate to define a state vector that
characterizes southern California's seismic activity. From the state vector,
Rundle and Tiampo next developed a probability index that showed the seismic
potential for the occurrence of large earthquakes.

Using the probability index, they computed and displayed regional anomalies
in the state vector corresponding to changes in seismic potential of large
events spanning the interval from Jan. 1, 1990 through Dec. 31, 2000 for
southern and central California.

Rundle and Tiampo's real-time forecast of large earthquakes anticipated from
2000 to 2010 is available by calling Annette Varani at (303) 492-5952.
Rundle, lead author of the study, also is a distinguished visiting scientist
at the JPL and is an investigator in the Southern California Earthquake
Center based at the University of Southern California.

Copyright 2002, Space Daily


>From Ananova, 22 May 2002

Scientists are monitoring an Oregon volcano amid fears it is preparing to
erupt for the first time in 1,500 years.

Volcano experts say the South Sister peak has a tell-tale bulge on its side
which is expanding.

They say the 13 centimetres high hump and changes in sulphur levels point to
a very big magma movement.

Nature reports that geologists think an eruption could still be a way off
because there have been no seismic rumblings.

The bulge was first spotted in 1996 and now covers 100 square kilometres.
It's small compared to the 100 metre high hump that preceded the eruption of
Mount St Helens.

Copyright 2002, Ananova


>From Tech Central Station, 21 May 2002

By James Pinkerton 05/21/2002 
Why do we love technology in movies but not in real life? That is the
question begged by the media explosion surrounding the latest "Star Wars"
installment, "Episode II - Attack of the Clones," and a recent news story
reporting that the vastly uncelebrated and underfunded NASA has been reduced
to scouring the Internet for obsolete parts to fit its antiquated space
shuttles. Will the eternally star-gazing human race ever move its quest for
space from the movie theaters to reality?

The current state of play is not encouraging. The BBC reported on May 13
that NASA -- the organization that exists to put man in space but is funded
as if its mission were to develop a better paper airplane for high school
detention halls -- has resorted to bidding at online Yahoo! and eBay
auctions for out-of-production computer parts for the creaking, 70s-era
space shuttles. A spokesman for the United Space Alliance, the shuttle
fleet's operating company, bluntly characterizes the searches for parts such
as eight-inch floppy disk drives and circa-1981 Intel 8086 chips as "a
scavenger hunt." With the American shuttle fleet scheduled to remain in
service until at least 2012, it seems that what happens on the mousepad will
be critical to what happens on the launchpad.

Such a chewing-gum and baling-wire approach to technology can have its
appeal. Indeed, much of the charm of the original "Star Wars," released in
1977, lay in the gadgeteering improvisation of the heroes. It was
comforting, for example, that Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon,
that warp-speed junk-heap, was a scruffy but swaggering underachiever. His
ship needed a good tune-up, but with enough pluck and luck, Solo could
outrace, or at least outwit, the Darth Vaderites. And in the "The Empire
Strikes Back," released three years later, the cute furry Ewoks overcame the
Imperial Stormtroopers with low-tech traps made of vines and trapdoors-and
we loved them for it.

Alas, the new "Star Wars" film lacks the same do-it-yourself feel. In
"Clones," the spaceships seem clean and antiseptic-and therefore lifeless.
Those who are content to gape at the overwhelming visual gorgeousness of
creator-director George Lucas's fifth installment in the series have a lot
to look forward to, but those who like a little human-scale grit in their
storytelling are likely to be disappointed.

Thus the paradox at the twain of life and art. The present-day NASA is too
low-tech, the new "Star Wars" is too high-tech. But wait a second, one might
protest: Isn't any movie about outer space likely to encourage people to
think outwardly? After all, weren't many of the real-world spaceniks of the
past encouraged by sci-fi? Even the "Star Trek" series, fantastic as it
might have been, was set firmly in the human future. Captain Kirk, we were
told, was born in Iowa in 2233, graduated from the Star Fleet Academy in
2254, and accepted his first assignment aboard the USS Farragut that same

By contrast, the "Star Wars" series is backward-looking and New-Age-y. The
first film, as everyone remembers, was set "a long time ago in a galaxy far,
far away"-so there's nothing for human beings to look forward to. And
whereas "Star Trek" makes it clear that religion was something to be
transcended on the path to scientific progress, the "Star Wars" saga revels
in the fantasy of "The Force"; when in doubt, characters are told to rely on
their feelings, not their training. That's good news for humans who expect
to get to space through yogic flying or out-of-body experiences, but it's no
help to those who wish to invest their brains and wealth in the
"old-fashioned" approach of actually building rocketships.

And so while it's true that NASA was stagnating even before the first "Star
Wars" was released-the last astronaut went to the moon in 1972-the sorry
record of space activity in the last quarter-century is proof that Luke
Skywalker didn't do much to encourage real space-traveling.

So if NASA can't afford the sort of technology available to any dude getting
a Dell, and if George Lucas promotes magic and myth more than science and
math, what are we left with? We're left with all we ever had, which is human
nature. We're left with ourselves.

And maybe, also, with the determination to better ourselves, to be more than
just static observers, watching the universe go by, rooted forever on the
third rock from the sun. In 1986, the American author Barbara Ehrenreich
wrote of the effects of science fiction on at least one reader: "In sci-fi
convention, life-forms that hadn't developed space travel were mere
prehistory-horse-shoe crabs of the cosmic sense-and something of the
humiliation of being stuck on a provincial planet in a galactic backwater
has stayed with me ever since."

So maybe that's the ticket. Maybe if we think about being the galactic
equivalent of a horseshoe crab, waddling around, down low on the earth's
crust-in the spacey equivalent of ocean muck--we'll be filled with desire to
evolve. We have the brains to go to space, as we've already proven; what's
needed now is the will to uplift ourselves. And maybe the thought that we'll
be remembered as just another primitive life-form-not to mention the fear
that someday, if we sit dumbly, the intergalactic equivalent of a fisherman
will pick us up and drain us of our copper-rich blue blood before cooking
us-will make us think more seriously about upward mobility.

One scene from "Clones" might help. An alien drug-dealer approaches Obi-Wan
Kenobi in a bar and asks him if he wants to buy some "deathsticks." Obi-Wan
turns his steady, thought-controlling gaze onto the pusher and says, "You
don't want to sell me deathsticks." The suddenly mesmerized dealer says in
response, "I don't want to sell you deathsticks." Obi-Wan continues, "You
want to go home and reevaluate your life." The drug-dealer responds, "I want
to go home and reevaluate my life." OK, we're not as bad as
drug-dealers-although an alien watching some prime-time TV might wonder a
bit. But even without a Jedi Knight guiding us, we humans should go home and
re-evaluate our species' future. Because right now, as we live our lives
like Hobbits, nestled in the earth, the human prospect is heading, not to
the long caravan of star-trekking, but to dead-ending at the multiplex.

Maybe we're not intergalactic drug-dealers, but perhaps we should take a
Jedi clue and go home from this movie and reevaluate our direction as a
human race. Space is in our future, not in a long-ago past, and it will be
hard science, not soft sorcery, that gets us there.

Copyright 2002, Tech Central Station


>From Tech Central Station, 22 May 2002

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds 05/22/2002 
Last week I wrote about environmental issues growing out of human missions
to Mars, and the obligation of the United States (and other space powers)
under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to prevent "harmful contamination" of
Mars. But what about beneficial contamination?

Mars, as far as we can tell, is a dead world. Even if it turns out to host
some forms of life, they are almost certain to be limited to bacteria, akin
to the extremophiles that populate places like volcanoes, undersea thermal
vents, and deep subsurface rock formations, and their distribution is likely
to be similarly circumscribed. Algae would be big, big news.

But Mars needn't remain dead (or near-dead). For several decades people have
been looking at "terraforming" Mars by giving it an earthlike - or at least
more earthlike - climate. (For the technically inclined, there is a superb
engineering textbook on the subject, Martyn Fogg's Terraforming: Engineering
Planetary Environments, a thoroughly practical book published by the
thoroughly practical SAE). In essence, the process would involve setting up
factories that would produce artificial greenhouse gases (Bob Zubrin and
Chris McKay suggest perfluoromethane (CF4)).

In his recent book Entering Space, Zubrin notes:

"If CF4 were produced and released on Mars at the same rate as
chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases are currently being produced on Earth (about
1000 tonnes per hour), the average global temperature of the Red Planet
would be increased by 10 degrees C within a few decades. This temperature
rise would cause vast amounts of carbon dioxide to outgas from the regolith,
which would warm the planet further, since CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The
water vapor content of the atmosphere would vastly increase as a result,
which would warm the planet still more. These effects could then be further
amplified by releasing methanogenic and ammonia-creating bacteria into the
now-livable environment, as methane and ammonia are very strong greenhouse
gases. The net result of such a program could be the creation of a Mars with
acceptable atmospheric pressure and temperature, and liquid water on its
surface within fifty years of the start of the program."

The resultant atmosphere wouldn't be breathable by humans yet, but it would
support crops, and allow people to walk around outside with no more than an
oxygen mask in the years before a fully breathable atmosphere could be

Mars currently has a dry-land area approximating that of the Earth. A
terraformed Mars would have a smaller dry-land area, of course, because it
would have oceans, or at least seas. Nonetheless, we are talking about a
huge new area for human settlement, and a way of spreading humanity, and
other earth life, to new places, making the species, and human civilization,
less vulnerable to natural or artificial calamity. We would also derive the
protection from social, cultural, and political stagnation that a frontier

Naturally, this will make some people unhappy. Though terraforming would
not, in my opinion, violate the Outer Space Treaty - which prohibits only
"harmful," not beneficial, contamination - there are sure to be vigorous
objections raised from certain quarters of the environmental movement.
Indeed, such objections have already appeared in a few scattered locations.
The character of these objections is likely to reveal much about the
environmental movement, or at least about those making them.

Objections to terraforming can be roughly categorized as follows: (1) The
Peter Sellers objection ("now is not the time"); (2) The scientific
objection; (3) The theological objection; and (4) The human-cancer

The Peter Sellers objection is that terraforming efforts should not begin
until we have extensive knowledge of the Martian geology and climate.
Efforts that are begun too soon may not work as anticipated, and might
conceivably interfere with better thought-out efforts later.

There is little to argue with here. Though of course experts may disagree as
to when we know enough, and undoubtedly people opposed to terraforming on
other grounds may for political reasons raise this objection rather than
reveal their true motives, the basic principle is sound. Martian
terraforming efforts should not go off half-cocked. The good news is that
the need for a solid database on Martian climate and geology makes today's
unmanned missions - which space settlement enthusiasts view as unexciting -
quite valuable. We're simply not in a position to begin terraforming efforts
on Mars now, but by advancing our knowledge of important factors we
nonetheless hasten the day when it will take place. Think of the robotic
probes visiting Mars as the latter-day equivalents of Lewis and Clark or
Zebulon Pike.

The scientific objection may be viewed as a near-cousin of the Sellers
objection. Once terraforming efforts begin in earnest, information about the
primeval Mars will be lost. Scientists can thus be expected to protest that
terraforming should not begin until all interesting data about Mars in its
current state have been extracted. Unfortunately, that is a task that will
never be entirely completed, meaning that we will have to weigh the value of
additional scientific data (which is likely to be significant) against the
value of an entire new world for settlement, which is likely to be colossal.

The theological objection involves no such tradeoffs, but rather an
assertion that human beings simply are not meant to settle other planets - a
variation on the old "if man were meant to fly he'd have wings," argument
from the 19th Century. Variants of this argument, in keeping with strands of
thought among today's quasi-religious Deep Ecology adherents, might say that
the "pristine" character of an "unspoiled" Mars is of such enormous, even
"sacred," value that no development - or perhaps even human exploration -
should be permitted.

As the use of words like "unspoiled" and "pristine" suggests, this is
fundamentally an aesthetic view masquerading as a religious one. (And,
indeed, the world's major religions offer precious little support to such a
view). One might plausibly prefer an empty, dead Mars over a living, vibrant
one, just as one might plausibly prefer the Backstreet Boys to the Beatles.
But, since such views are founded in taste, and de gustibus non disputandum
est, such views do not lend themselves well to rational debate, nor are they
likely to prove persuasive to those who do not already hold the
predisposition to share them.

The human-cancer objection is essentially a stronger version of the
theological objection: humanity is so awful, such a blight on the face of
the Earth, that the last thing we should want to see is for people to spread
everywhere else, carrying their nastiness with them and polluting everything
they contact. (If you think I'm exaggerating, see this column by FoxNews
space columnist Rand Simberg, who quotes extensively from emails he has
received by the bushel expressing just such a view).

It is always a surprise to me that people who view humanity as a cancer
somehow continue to live, and even to raise children, rather than committing
the honorable suicide that self-diagnosis as a cancer cell would seem to
call for, but the human mind is entirely capable of holding contradictory
views as it operates. And this view does describe a certain part of the
environmental movement: the part that seems to be motivated more by a view
of human works as evil than by a desire to preserve nature.

I believe that it is this aspect of the environmental movement that will
play the biggest role in opposing terraforming efforts, and that - by
speaking out against the terraforming of a dead Mars, or even a Mars
inhabited by bacteria and lichens - those people will be forced to show
their true colors. After all, one may be motivated to protect a sequoia
forest either by hatred of loggers or by love of trees. But when one opposes
development of rocks and sand, it is pretty obviously not action in the
cause of life. So pay attention to who denounces proposals for Martian
terraforming as they begin to appear more frequently in mainstream
discourse. It will not only be of interest in itself, but will tell you
something about how you ought to view the denouncers' other positions.

NOTE: As evidence that these sorts of questions are spreading beyond the
space and science-fiction communities, I should note that this piece is
influenced by a paper written by Robert Pinson, a student in my Fall, 2001
Space Law seminar at the University of Tennessee College of Law, on the
environmental law and ethics of terraforming. Pinson's paper has just been
accepted for publication in the prestigious, and decidedly mainstream,
Environmental Law Reporter, where it will appear in late August.

Copyright 2002, Tech Central Station



>From David Grinspoon <>

Dear Benny,

Do you know if anyone has determined a crystallization age for this
meteorite?  Recall that the young crystallization ages for SNCs were one of
the first clues to the fact that those basaltic meteorites might have a
non-asteroidal origin. If it is substantially younger than 4.5
G.Y. then Mercury is an interesting possibility. If younger than 1 G.Y. then
I vote for Venus!


David Grinspoon

** David H. Grinspoon  **
** Southwest Research Institute                         **
** 1050 Walnut St. Suite 426, Boulder, CO  80302        **
** (303) 546-6863                                               **

(11) NEOS, IAU & AAS

>From Andy Smith <>

Hello Benny and CCNet,

The 1990's was truly the decade of NEO enlightenment and it placed the
astronomy technical community at center-stage, with regard to public safety
responsibility....much like the 1940's placed the nuclear physics community
in the spotlight.

Thanks IAU

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has responded admirably to our
global public safety challenge and established a number of excellent technical groups to promote
NEO discovery, critical data management, technology advancement, etc. Many
of the active IAU players, around the globe, are participants in the CCNet
and we want to thank them and ask for their continued support of emergency
prevention and preparedness.

AAS Record

The 6,000 plus members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are having
their annual conference here, in Albuquerque, next month and it includes
about 90 sessions. A look at the program (on the Web) gives no indication
that there is NEO concern, danger, need for interest and action, etc. and we
find this deplorable. We ask all CCNet participants in this AAS meeting to
seek increased NEO impact danger recognition and support for the funding of
key projects. It would also be nice to see at least one AAS NEO committee or
working group.

We are living on borrowed time and the annual impact risk is in the 1 in 100
range (we also fully agree with Michael Paine and his recent CCNet input,
which related the impact risk to the lethality forcast).

We  want to urge all CCNet participants to contact their national
astronomical organizations and urge them to recognize this challenge and to
help us to meet it.


Andy Smith


>From Ananova, 23 May 2002

Engineer invents rain machine

Using wind turbines to suck water out of the oceans could end droughts
around the world.

The idea is the brainchild of British engineer Stephen Salter, who wants to
turn the machines into water-borne rain-makers.

Mr Salter, from Edinburgh University, became well known in the 1970s for
pioneering wave-power technology.

His latest concept is a floating wind turbine that sprays water vapour high
into the air, increasing evaporation from the sea and rain over the land.

The proposal is to convert an existing design called a Darrieus turbine that
resembles a 130ft high food mixer with slender blades at the top and bottom
that spin about a vertical axis.

Copyright 2002, Ananova

CCNet is a scholarly electronic network. To subscribe/unsubscribe, please
contact the moderator Benny J Peiser < >. Information
circulated on this network is for scholarly and educational use only. The
attached information may not be copied or reproduced for
any other purposes without prior permission of the copyright holders. The
fully indexed archive of the CCNet, from February 1997 on, can be found at DISCLAIMER: The opinions,
beliefs and viewpoints expressed in the articles and texts and in other
CCNet contributions do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and
viewpoints of the moderator of this network.

CCCMENU CCC for 2002