CCNet DIGEST, 28 May 1998
"The truth is, the science of Nature has been already too long
made only a work of the brain and fancy. It is now high time
that it should return to the plainness and soundness of
observations on material and obvious things."
Robert Hooke, 'Micrographia' (1665)
(1) COMETS, DRAGONS AND PROPHETS OF DOOM
PARTICLE PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY RESEARCH COUNCIL
(2) CRITICS GIVE COMET THEORY SNOWBALL'S CHANCE IN HELL
The Boston Herald
(3) MORE EVIDENCE OF ABUNDANT WATER & THERMAL ACTIVITY IN MARS' PAST
(4) ANSWERING A FAQ ON THE NEO THREAT
Kevin Reed <Kevin.Reed@ccgatewy.gdesystems.com>
(5) INSURANCE COSTS OF NATURAL DISASTERS
D. Changnon & S.A. Changnon, NORTH ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
(6) STOCHASTIC TIME CHANGES IN CATASTROPHE OPTION PRICING
H. Geman & M. Yor, UNIVERSITY OF PARIS
(1) COMETS, DRAGONS AND PROPHETS OF DOOM
From Andrew Yee <email@example.com> wrote:
PARTICLE PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY RESEARCH COUNCIL
Contacts: Charlotte Allen, PPARC Press Office
Dr William Napier, Armagh Observatory
Wednesday 20th May 1998 08/98
ANCIENT MYTHS AND TREE RINGS POINT TO GIANT COMET'S VISIT TO EARTH
Ancient myths, tree ring studies and archaeological evidence all
confirm that a rare giant comet may have visited the Earth only a few
thousand years ago, raining fireballs and meteors in its wake.
Dr Bill Napier, astronomer at Armagh Observatory, and Dr Victor Clube
of Oxford and Armagh Universities (sic), have investigated the
doom-laden cosmic myths of early civilisation. From the Persian
prophet Zooraster, who in 500 BC predicted the end of the world
caused by 'a huge comet sent by Satan', to the description in the
Book of Revelations of a 'burning mountain' falling from the sky,
early history is full of myths of celestial combat, rains of fire and
many-headed dragons, which support astronomers' theories of the
existence of a tumultuous night sky.
Recent terrestrial research has provided 'hard' evidence to support
theories of close encounters with comets. Tree-ring studies of Irish
oaks at Queen's University, Belfast, show a dramatic climatic
downturn around 2354-2345 BC, perhaps caused as the Earth entered the
path of a comet's meteor stream. Archaeological digs in Northern
Syria reveal, at around the same time, a cataclysmic environmental
event accompanied by destruction of mud-brick buildings caused by a
'blast from the sky', again pointing to an encounter with a giant
Dr Napier's article, 'Comets, dragons and prophets of doom' appears
in the second issue of Frontiers, published by the Particle Physics
and Astronomy Research Council. All material is copyright free.
Copies can be obtained from the Publicity Team on tel. 01793 442123,
fax 01793 442002 and e-mail PR_PUS@pparc.ac.uk
(2) CRITICS GIVE COMET THEORY SNOWBALL'S CHANCE IN HELL
From The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 27, 1998
By JULES CRITTENDEN
Imagine 25,000 house-sized snowballs - weighing 20 to 40 tons each -
slamming into Earth's atmosphere every day.
University of Iowa physicist Louis Frank insists that it's happening,
right now, at a rate of nearly 20 a minute.
But Frank's ``small comet'' theory, which he has steadfastly defended
for 12 years, continues to raise eyebrows and tempers among normally
Yesterday, at an American Geophysical Union conference at the Hynes
Convention Center, Frank swapped insults with other
scientists over the issue.
``These cartoons are meaningless!'' Frank said about the chart that
NASA physicist Al Harris put up to shoot down one of Frank's basic
``I have a PhD in celestial mechanics . . . I think I know what I'm
talking about,'' Harris responded.
It all started 12 years ago with Frank's claim that his satellite
images of Earth's aurora showed hundreds of dark pixels that could
only be explained by small, low-density comets that vaporize
harmlessly on impact with the upper atmosphere.
``Twenty-five thousand a day the size of a house? There is no way
you could avoid seeing these out in space,'' said astronomer Brian
Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,
whose job it is to log all observations of objects in the solar system.
Critics ask why there are no new craters on the moon where Frank's
comets must be slamming home. Frank says their density is too low to
make a noticeable impact site, while they are too fast and small for
telescopes focused on miniscule sections of the sky.
Physicist J.P. McFadden said Frank's efforts to intensify his aurora
images produce the dark pixels. McFadden drew fire when he suggested
that Frank debunked his own work when he recently revised his
``I find it absolutely detestable to quote me saying I was wrong!''
Frank fumed. ``Read the paper!''
The moderator quieted Frank while McFadden insisted Frank had revised
Frank himself got up to show his own collection of charts supporting
his view. ``I don't have a lot of time to answer this close-knit
group (of critics), but I can tell you these are not clouds,'' Frank
said, reciting his own calculations. ``There is just no way you can
duplicate these results with instrument noise.''
The debate filled an auditorium with physicists eager to see the
``I've never seen anything like this,'' said one NASA scientist.
``It's not very constructive. They are not solving the problem. But
people are curious.''
Copyright Boston Herald 1998
(2) MORE EVIDENCE OF ABUNDANT WATER & THERMAL ACTIVITY IN MARS' PAST
Headquarters, Washington, DC May 27, 1998
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
SURVEYOR DATA REVEAL MORE EVIDENCE OF ABUNDANT
WATER, THERMAL ACTIVITY IN MARS' PAST
New mineralogical and topographic evidence suggesting that Mars had
abundant water and thermal activity in its early history is emerging
from data gleaned by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.
Scientists are getting more glimpses of this warmer, wetter past on
Mars while Global Surveyor circles the planet in a temporary
11.6-hour elliptical orbit. Findings from data gathered during the
early portions of this hiatus in the mission's orbital aerobraking
campaign are being presented today at the spring meeting of the
American Geophysical Union in Boston.
Among many results, the Thermal Emission Spectrometer instrument
team, led by Dr. Philip Christensen of Arizona State University,
Tempe, has discovered the first clear evidence of an ancient
hydrothermal system. This finding implies that water was stable at
or near the surface and that a thicker atmosphere existed in Mars'
Measurements from the spectrometer show a remarkable accumulation of
the mineral hematite, well-crystallized grains of ferric (iron) oxide
that typically originate from thermal activity and standing bodies of
water. This deposit is localized near the Martian equator, in an area
approximately 300 miles (500 kilometers) in diameter.
Fine-grained hematite, with tiny particles no larger than specks of
dust, generally forms by the weathering of iron-bearing minerals
during oxidation, or rusting, which can occur in an atmosphere at low
temperatures. The material has been previously detected on Mars in
more dispersed concentrations and is widely thought to be an
important component of the materials that give Mars its red color.
The presence of a singular deposit of hematite on Mars is intriguing,
however, because it typically forms by crystal growth from hot,
Meanwhile, the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument is giving
mission scientists their first three-dimensional views of the
planet's north polar ice cap. Principal Investigator Dr. David Smith
of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, and his team
have been using the laser altimeter to obtain more than 50,000
measurements of the topography of the polar cap in order to calculate
its thickness, and learn more about related seasonal and climatic
These initial profiles have revealed an often striking surface
topology of canyons and spiral troughs in the water and carbon
dioxide ice that can reach depths as great as 3,600 feet below the
surface. Many of the larger and deeper troughs display a staircase
structure, which may ultimately be correlated with seasonal layering
of ice and dust observed by NASA's Viking mission orbiters in the
The laser data also have shown that large areas of the ice cap are
extremely smooth, with elevations that vary only a few feet over many
miles. At 86.3 degrees north, the highest latitude yet sampled, the
cap achieves an elevation of 6,600 to 7,900 feet (1.25 to 1.5 miles
or 2-2.5 kilometers) over the surrounding terrain. The laser
measurements are accurate to approximately one foot (30 centimeters)
in the vertical dimension.
In June, the ice cap's thickness will reach a maximum during the peak
of the northern winter season. Thickness measurements from April will
be compared to those that will be taken in June, contributing to a
greater understanding of the Martian polar cap's formation and
In addition, the Global Surveyor accelerometer team, led by Dr.
Gerald Keating of George Washington University, Washington, DC, has
discovered two enormous bulges in the upper atmosphere of Mars in the
northern hemisphere, on opposite sides of the planet near 90 degrees
east latitude and 90 degrees west longitude. These bulges rotate with
the planet, causing variations of nearly a factor of two in
atmospheric pressure, and systematic variations in the altitude of a
given constant pressure of about 12,000 feet (four kilometers).
Additional information about these findings and other exciting new
results from the Mars Global Surveyor mission is available at the
following Internet sites:
After a month-long period during which the Sun was between Earth and
Mars and thus degraded communications with Global Surveyor, the
spacecraft has resumed taking scientific data in its temporary
elliptical orbit. In September, it will once again begin dipping into
the upper atmosphere of Mars each orbit in a process called
aerobraking. The drag from this procedure will allow the spacecraft
to reach a low circular orbit and begin its primary two-year global
mapping mission starting in March 1999.
(4) ANSWERING A FAQ ON THE NEO THREAT
From Kevin Reed <Kevin.Reed@ccgatewy.gdesystems.com>
Dear Victor and Benny,
I have been asked this question ("How long can we expect until the
next catastrophic impact?") so many times I have come up with an
answer which (usually) works. I realize that the questioner is usually
trying to put the question of impact into a personal perspective, to
place the impact into their own "personal probability scale", so I
reply with a similar question.
If I am in LA or another major metro area, I ask the questioner, "How
long do you have until you are in a fatal car wreck?". If I am talking
with a coworker (we travel a lot) I ask, "How long until you are in a
fatal plane crash?". If I am speaking in the Midwest or to a
midwesterner, I can also add, "How long until you are killed in a
tornado or struck by lightning?". Other questions may be asked
according to audience an all of these questions are things people ask
themselves quite commonly, purposefully or not.
Who hasn't been on a flight where a big pressure pocket is hit and the
plane makes a sudden jolt, shudder, or loss in altitude, causing a
mass "whoa" or "yow" from the passengers? Doesn't the long shot of
dying in a plane crash become just a bit higher in probability on your
own "personal scale"? When you are driving and a car suddenly swerves
in front of you, causing you to jolt out of your normal driving
reverie, doesn't the thought of a fatal car crash rise in "personal
probability" for you, if just for a second? If you are in a storm and
hear/see the simultaneous 'boom-flash' of lightning or hear the
rushing wind of a passing tornado (I've actually heard this myself),
doesn't the thought of being struck by lightning or tossed by a
twister seem a little more "personally probable"?
No one takes the impact threat seriously on a personal level because
no one has been in a similar, smaller situation with which to grasp
the concept. Most people have been in a "fender bender" (never caused
by them specifically, of course) and thus can personally "scale up"
the crash to fatality. A slightly smaller portion of us have been in a
minor airplane mishap, an engine flame-out, a sudden loss of altitude,
etc., and can "scale up" that experience. Very few (if any reading
this) have had a meteorite hit close by, or heard the buzz/whistle of
a low bolide passing overhead and thus have no "small scale"
experience with which they can scale up to catastrophe.
To get the questioner in the proper mind-set, I try to get them
interested in meteor watching. Whenever they are out on a dark,
cloudless night, I tell them to just stare up in the sky. After a
sufficient amount of time passes (minutes or hours, you must reiterate
to them that patience is a virtue), a meteor may pass overhead,
usually quite rapidly. Now I ask them to stretch their imagination to
the limit and brighten that meteor thousands of times in their mind,
"hear" a deafening roar, put in a blindingly bright terminal flash
(sometimes the terminal flash of a normal bolide is impressive
enough), and then imagine your life immediately snuffed out by a shock
wave. I then tell them that this particular "scaled up" scenario is
for a small (50 m) object exploding over their hometown and any meteor
on any night has the potential for causing this particular scene to
actually happen. I then tell them that the "big one" will be a lot
Put this way, I usually get their attention focused on a personal
Kevin L. Reed (San Diego, CA)
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
(5) INSURANCE COSTS OF NATURAL DISASTERS
D. Changnon & S.A. Changnon: Evaluation of weather catastrophe data for
use in climate change investigations. CLIMATIC CHANGE, 1998, Vol.38,
NORTH ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY, DE KALB, IL,
A 1950-1994 data set of major weather losses developed by the
property insurance industry was examined to assess its potential
utility in climate change research and use in assessing the relevance
of recent extreme losses in the United States. A process for
adjusting these historical storm losses to ever-changing factors
including dollar values, amount of insurance coverage per area, and
the sensitivity of society to damaging storms was developed by the
industry. Analysis of the temporal frequency and losses of these
adjusted weather catastrophes revealed differences according to the
amount of loss. Temporal changes since 1975 in the catastrophes
causing $35 to $100 million in loss were strongly related to changes
in U.S. population, whereas catastrophes that created insured losses
greater than $100 million appear related to both shifting weather
conditions and to regional population changes. This evaluation
revealed that the industry's catastrophe adjustment technique did not
adequately allow for changes in various demographic and social factors
affecting damage; however, results suggest use of population values for
normalizing the adjusted catastrophe database to allow meaningful
studies of their temporal variability. Copyright 1998, Institute for
Scientific Information Inc.
(6) STOCHASTIC TIME CHANGES IN CATASTROPHE OPTION PRICING
H. Geman & M. Yor: Stochastic time changes in catastrophe option
pricing. INSURANCE MATHEMATICS & ECONOMICS, 1997, Vol.21, No.3,
UNIVERSITY OF PARIS 06, PROBABILITY LAB, CNRS 224, TOUR 56, 3 ETAGE,
4 PL JUSSIEU, F-75252 PARIS 05,FRANCE
Catastrophe insurance derivatives (Futures and options) were
introduced in December 1992 by the Chicago Board of Trade in order to
offer insurers new ways of hedging their underwriting risk. Only CAT
options and combinations of options such as call spreads are traded
today, and the ISO index has been replaced by the PCS index.
Otherwise, the economic goal of these instruments continues to be for
insurers an alternative to reinsurance and for portfolio managers a
new class of assets to invest in. The pricing methodology of these
derivatives relies on some crucial elements: (a) the choice of the
stochastic modelling of the aggregate reported claim index dynamics
(since the terminal value of this index defines the pay-off of the
CAT options); (b) the decision of a financial versus actuarial
approach to the valuation; (c) the number of sources of randomness in
the model and the determination of a 'martingale measure' for
insurance and reinsurance instruments. We represent in this paper the
dynamics of the aggregate claim index by the sum of a geometric
Brownian motion which accounts for the randomness in the reporting of
the claims and a Poisson process which accounts for the occurrence of
catastrophes (only catastrophic claims are incorporated in the
index). Geman (1994) and Cummins and Geman (1995) took this modelling
for the instantaneous claim process. Our choice here is closer to the
classical actuarial representation while preserving the
quasi-completeness of insurance derivative markets obtained by
applying the Delbaen and Haezendonck (1989) methodology to the class
of layers of reinsurance replicating the call spreads. Moreover, we
obtain semi-analytical olutions for the CAT options and call spreads
by extending to the lump-diffusion case the method of the Laplace
transform and stochastic time changes introduced in Geman and Yor
(1993, 1996) in order to price financial path-dependent options
through the properties of excursion theory. Copyright 1998, Institute
for Scientific Information Inc.
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THE HOUSE SPACE SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON NASA'S FAILURE TO
REGARD TO THE IMPACT HAZARD: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
From Ed Grondine" <email@example.com>
I'm sure that other members of the Conference have been delighted by
the media reports that were generated by Clark Chapman's testimony last
Thursday before the House space subcommitte. I am also sure that they
will be absolutely amazed at what went on at the hearing, so here goes:
To set the scene, the hearing was delayed by one hour because of a vote
by the entire House on setting up a committee to investigate President
Clinton allowing China into the satellite launch services market.
Despite the fact that this policy was developed by President Reagan and
his Secretary of State George Schultz, and later continued by President
Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker, Republican House leader
Newt Gingrich is accusing President Clinton of treason for allowing a
launch failure report to be given to the Chinese. I have never heard
such reckless accusations in my lifetime, even against President Reagan
during the investigations of the TOW missile sales to Iran.
Despite this, after the delay the Subcommittee's members were able to
go forward with the hearing on an amicable bi-partisan basis. While
some members of this Conference have pointed out that the government
of the United States is one few governments to allocate serious
resources to the impact threat, the Subcommittee actually held
the hearing to investigate NASA's failure to do more.
The hearing opened with statements by the ranking Republican,
Representative Rohrabacher, and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Brown. I
regret to inform Dr. Morrison and Dr. Steel that their 1992 Spaceguard
report had no effect on the Subcommittee. What did have an effect on
them was something they referred to as the Shoemaker Report (Near-Earth
Object Survey Working Group Report) which they received in 1993 (actual
The Subcommittee had asked NASA to undertake the $26 million dollar
search which the Shoemaker Report had advocated, and they have been
pressing NASA to step up the search in the "five years" since 1993.
Despite funding from the Congress, NASA has spent the money elsewhere.
Rep. Rohrabacher was particularly critical of NASA's plan to spend $50
million for the "Gore-sat": "What is this supposed to do, sit back and
watch the Earth be pulverized?". Rep. Rohrabacher asked for suport
from his Democratic colleagues in an override of President Clinton's
veto of Clementine II.
Rep. Brown read a message from Sir Arthur C Clarke, which unfortunately
was little more than the boilerplate which the Conference members have
heard before. Rep. Brown pointed out that when he had been the
Subcommittee's ranking chairman he had pressed NASA to act on the
Shoemaker Report, and expressed regret that NASA had not done more to
implement the search strategy it proposed.
Since the hearing had been delayed, the witnesses were only given 5
minutes for their opening statements, instead of the 10 minutes that
had been scheduled. Clark Chapman was first to testify, and presented
his new estimates of the danger from impactors, which were later
reported in the media. Chapman pointed out that you are more likely to
be killed by a mile wide impactor than to draw a royal flush while
playing poker. He also gave a rate for Tunguska type impacts as 1 per
100 years (later modified to 1 per 100-200 years), and presented a map
comparing the area destroyed at Tunguska with the area of New York City
and that enclosed by the ring road (beltway) around Washington, D.C..
Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's NEO program office, testified next.
NASA has changed, Dr. Pilcher informed the Committee, and is committed
to finding 95% of the NEOs in the next decade. NASA had abandoned the
Shoemaker Report's call for a new 2 meter telescope, and instead of
seeking $26 million was seeking between $3 to $4 million per year with
a total program cost of $16-17 million dollars. Dr. Pilcher then
detailed the improvements that NASA was making to the small telescopes,
including the CCDs. General Estes of the Air Force Space Command was
working tightly with Dan Goldin on the use of AF telescopes. Dr.
Pilcher presented an overhead vue graph showing NASA's proposed and
actual spacecraft for investigating comets and asteroids.
Dr. Gregory Canavan of Los Alamos spoke next. He emphasized that the
new CCDs were working, and mentioned the "International Geophysical
Union" as a coordinating body. Dr. Canavan pointed out that Long Period
Comets presented 50% of the threat(later he put this in a range of
40%-70%), that nothing was being spent on them, and that there was no
clear strategy for a search for them. He thought that large sensors in
space would be necessary for the detection of LPCs. Dr. Canavan
thought that the use of radar had not been given adequate attention.
Spectral studies were insufficient for establishing the material
strength of potential impactors, but Clementine II could answer this
question. NASA's cooperation with DoD had been good.
Dr. William Ailor of the Aerospace Corporation spoke next on the
upcoming Leonid shower and its effects on currently operating
satellites. As the members of the Conference are already familiar with
the Aerospace Corporation's work on this problem it will not be repeated
Dr. John Lewis of University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary
Laboratory spoke next about the possibilitie of man using NEAs. The
members of the committee initially judged Dr. Lewis to be something of
a fantasist. Rep Rohrabacher commented on Dr. Lewis's closing statement
that asteroids could support a population of millions of billions of
people by joking that then "there would be plenty of room for lawyers".
Dr. Lewis's later comments on trajectories and compositon during the
questioning won back the committee's respect for him, but whether Dr.
Lewis now realizes that the committee has absolutely no interest in
settling asteroids but instead is focused like a laser on the problem
of planetary defense is a question that I did not get a chance to ask
The hearing moved on to the questioning of the witnesses, and this was
its most amazing part. Brian Marsden does not have to worry, as despite
10 to 15 minutes of thorough questioning by Rep. Burton and Rep. Hall
on other organizations both international and domestic, none of the
witnesses mentioned even one time the Minor Planet Center and the
Internationl Astronautical Federation, so the secret of their existence
and roles is safe. Later both Dr. Pilcher and Dr. Canavah assured me
that this was an honest mistake on their part attributable solely to
nervousness, but since they were both under oath my advice is that they
most definetly need to send letters to the committee members to emend
I'm sure that Dr. Steel will be delighted to know that during this
questioning Dr. Chapman described the SSO's plight to the committee in
detail. I'm not so sure that the Japanese government and NASDA will be
similarly pleased when they learn that he is unaware of the $10 million
that they are spending on the NEO dedicated 1 meter telescope, and that
he informed the committee that "Japan is doing nothing". The existence
and plight of the St. Petersburg group went completely unmentioned.
The committee took special interest in Dr. Pilcher's vue graph showing
all existing and proposed NASA probes, and asked him how many of them
were real. Dr. Pilcher pointed to each with a laser pointer and
described each one's state of development, and this seemed to satisfy
them. I think that the vue graph was assembled by NASA PAO officer
Doug Isbell and that he also prepared Dr. Pilcher for the questioning,
so hats off to him for his effort to show that NASA was indeed doing
In this regard the Conference members should note that these probes
will cost at least $800 million dollars. While it may be clear to some
Conference members that part of this money could be more profitably
spent on searches, it seems that the US aerospace industry has a
surplus of launchers that are too small to launch commercially useful
communications satellites, so NASA will spend the money to buy
launchers to launch these small probes.
During the questioning Dr. Canavan repeatedly mentioned the threat
presented by Long Period Cometss, but none of the other witnesses
picked up on this, and the committee passed over it.
The only member of the committee to express scepticism was Rep. Roemer,
and Dr. Chapman answered easily most of his questions about the
estimates. The usual stumper, how many people are known to have been
been killed by impactors, was answered by Dr. Chapman pointing out the
Australian tsunami's, if I remember correctly. By now, a massive
headache brought on by the witnesses' failure to mention the MPC and
IAF was beginning to overtake me.
Only part of the committee had attended the hearing, and the other
committee members now had to leave to take care of the pressing
business of the day, and the hearing adjourned. Rep. Rohrabacher went
to the cameras for television interviews. There were 3 television crews
at the hearing, but I am not sure who they were with, so I can not tell
the Conference members who is working on ongoing stories. After asking
Dr. Pilcher about his failure to mention the MPC, I myself quickly left
to participate in a small discussion on the problem of planetary
AFTER THE HEARING: A DISCUSSION OF PLANETARY DEFENSE
Despite a massive headache coming on, in large part due to the
witnesses' failure to mention the MPC, after the hearing I joined
with Dr. Canavan, Dr. Ailor, and Dr. Ed Tagliaferri of the Aerospace
Corporation for coffee.
On the way to the cafe, Dr. Canavan related that the producers of
Deep Impact had approached him for technical help on the film, and
that he had initially provided it. But when their requests had begun
to take up more of his time, he had asked for payment, and they had
then stopped contacting him.
While waiting for the coffee Dr. Canavan repeatedly apologized for
not mentioning the MPC during his testimony, and expressed regret at
how few resources Dr. Marsden had available to conduct the MPC's
Dr. Tagliaferri opened the discussion on planetary defense. I set out
my view that impact events had played a major role in the end of both
the Hittite and the Etruscan civilizations, and asked whether the
Tsyklon facility at Baikonur might be internationalized to provide a
stop-gap planetary defense. Russia is moving its military operations to
Svobodny and Plesetsk, and given a 3 hour visual warning time, the
former Soviet anti-satellite and fractional orbital bombardment
launch facility at Baikonur would be able to launch 5 missiles at an
impactor. Dr. Canavan performed back of the envelope calculations
which showed that the Tsyklon could launch useful payloads against
small impactors, but...
Dr. Tagliaferri pointed out that Tsyklon's use against a large
impactor would only result in fragments, whose entry into the Earth's
atmosphere would generate enough heat to set the surface of the Earth
on fire. (Now we know what the Spacecraft Messiah's efforts in "Deep
Impact" would have led to in reality.)
The 3 hour visual warning time went next. Between the small image
presented by an approaching impactor, cloud obstruction, satellite
and aircraft clutter, and the lack of educated observers, the chance
of there being a 3 hour visual warning was effectively zero. There
would not be enough time available for any possible targetting
That left Proton and Titan rockets armed with conventional or nuclear
charges to nudge the impactor as providing the only possible means of
planetary defense, and then only if the impactor was located early.
Discussion next turned to Clementine II. It appears that the United
States' Department of Defense has already put in place safeguards to
ensure that the Leonid shower will not blind them, and that these
will not require use of the SR-71 reconnaisance aircraft. So an
overide of the President's veto of Clementine II can not be attached
to legislation putting the SR-71 back on flight status.
The Clementine II spacecraft has been essentially completed, and Dan
Goldin and NASA's cooperation with the AF on Clementine II had been
very, very good.
The problem now is to put in place a small group of scientists
capable of using Titans to get a charge to a potential impactor. It
was suggested that in order to differentiate planetary defense from
ballistic missile defense, this small group (10-20 people) should be set
up under the Air Forces Phillips Laboratory rather then under the
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Department of Energy
cooperation in providing specialists on nuclear charges was seen as
certain. It was important that this group be operational and not
just a study group.
(Now that I think about it, it would probably be better if NASA used
Titan rockets and this small group to launch the small asteroid and
comet probes which are now in the planning stage. While this would
be at least 2 to 3 times more expensive ($400-$600 million dollars)
than using small launchers, it would provide this group with
essential experience in intercepting Earth impactors. But this is
only if the searches, including the LPC searches, are already
The problem of coordinating this group with their Russian and Chinese
counterparts came next. While the United Nations committee on space
would undoubtedly provide the best means of doing this, the fact is
that the United Nations is broke. Other organizations were proposed,
but none fit the bill as well.
By now it was approaching time for dinner, and Dr. Tagliaferri, Dr.
Ailor, and Dr. Canavan left to eat. Whether such a program for
planetary defense is implimented, and what Congress will ask NASA and
the AF to do, is anybody's guess at this point.
My headache, far from going away, had grown even more intense, and I
did not join them for dinner but instead set out to get some relief.
I do not know if Dr. Marsden will find this technique useful, but I
went to my local go-go bar (show bar in Brit-speak, Benny). There
the music was as loud, the beer as cold, and the dancers as lovely as I
remembered, and after several hours of treatment my headache had
subsided by at least half.
CCCMENU CCC for 1998