CCNet 64/2002 - 30 May 2002

"Just to recap; tree-rings and bits of human history tell us there
was a catastrophic environmental event around AD 540 and probably
better defined as a two stage event in the window AD 536-545. Virtually
no-one disagrees with that statement. Ice-core evidence for volcanic
acid does not give definitive evidence for a major volcano or volcanoes in
that time window."
--Mike Baillie, 30 May 2002

    Andrew Yee <>

    Andrew Yee <>


    Andrew Yee <>


    Washington Post, 29 May 2002

    Mike Baillie <>

    BBC, 29 May 2002


>From Andrew Yee <>

News Services
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona

Contact Information:
Terry C. Wallace, 520-621-4849,

29 May 2002

Seismic Stations Record Useful Information on Terrorist Bombings

The growing world network of seismic stations is increasingly useful for
monitoring more than earthquakes, say university geoscientists who are
developing a new specialty called "forensic seismology."

They study seismograms as records of industrial explosions, clandestine
nuclear weapons testing and terrorist bombings.

"Forensic seismology has its roots in the verification of small nuclear
explosions," says University of Arizona seismologist Terry C. Wallace. "But
it clearly is also useful in putting constraints on terrorist bombs."

Wallace discussed the topic this past Tuesday afternoon, May 28, at the
American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C.

AGU meeting organizers describe the scientific community as "a largely
untapped resource for detecting the signatures of terrorist activity.

Researchers operate networks of sensors, and if terrorist activity is
detectable, it is quite likely that the evidence will first appear on a data
collection system operated for other purposes. Scientists are therefore
strongly positioned to serve as the technological equivalent of a
neighborhood watch. "

Wallace, his former post-doctoral associate Keith D. Koper, who is now on
the faculty at St. Louis University, and van der Vink a few years ago
collaborated in research on how seismic records might be used to monitor
small or moderate-sized secret nuclear weapons tests. They conclude that the
worldwide seismic network has been proved both extensive and sensitive
enough to monitor violations of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

More recently, Wallace and Koper collaborated with Dirk Hollnack of the
University of Nairobi in a seismic analysis of the Aug. 7, 1998, truck-bomb
blast at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The bomb seriously damaged
a dozen buildings, injuring more than 4,000 people, 220 fatally.

The Nairobi attack was recorded by a broadband seismometer operated by the
geology department of the University of Nairobi at a site 3 kilometers (less
than 2 miles) northwest of the blast. This seismic station was the only
station that recorded the embassy attack, but Wallace, Koper and Hollnack
used its high-quality data in an analysis that found precisely when the
explosion occurred, at 10:39:19.8 local time -- plus or minus two-tenths of
a second, and the size of the bomb. The Nairobi bomb was deadly but fairly
small, equivalent to 3 metric tonnes of TNT.

"Sometimes what seismology can contribute is the only information we have on
the bomb," Wallace said. "That was the case in Nairobi. This was in another
country, emergency response was immediate, and by the time the FBI arrived,
the crater had been filled in. So it was impossible for the FBI to do its
usual forensic analysis.

"In this case, the FBI actually came to us before we had the seismic
records. We had to find the records and then do the analysis the FBI needed
for their investigation."

"What made it more interesting is that in an effort to fully use seismic
recordings from such attacks, we participated in a series of controlled
truck bomb explosions conducted at White Sand Missile Range in New Mexico,"
Wallace said. "The idea was to learn if the type of truck used in the
bombing made a difference in the size of the explosion. As a result, we
developed a new set of scaling laws that relate seismic and acoustic
observations directly to the explosive mass, or bomb 'yield'," he said.

"Now expert seismologists can use these s caling relationships in analyzing
any truck bomb explosion and give investigating agents very useful
information on the size of bomb. If authorities also know something about
the truck, they can then begin to speculate on the type of explosive used,
who had access to such explosives, and so on."

The terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on
April 19, 1995, was also seismically recorded. The first seismic records
looked unusual, and prompted some researchers to conclude two separate
blasts -- that is, two separate bombs -- were involved, Wallace said. But
when the Murrah Building later was demolished, the seismic record was
identical leaving experts to conclude there had been a single terrorist
bomb. "In some sense this is derivative, but it's really important for
providing independent constraints on what happened," Wallace said.

"One of the most remarkable things is -- and it's hard for people to
visualize -- but there's a huge number of seismometers out there, our ears
to the ground. They are needed for earthquakes, but anything that makes a
thump is going to be recorded," Wallace said.

Geophysicists are increasingly confident when it comes to interpreting
curious signals that are unrelated to earthquakes, he added.

"But the most dramatic difference is that we now retrieve most of this data
via the Internet. The Internet has provided an incredible pipeline to bring
back this information and make it available to anyone. In my lab across the
hall we bring in about 550 seismic stations. I look at the record where
there's some specific event or region I'm interested in. But I can also get
data from places where 1,500 seismic stations report in."

Wallace has built a search engine that uses keywords like "explosion" to
electronically glean news from several newspapers each morning. He then
checks the seismic network to see which stations might have recorded events
of special interest. In this way he is building a
portfolio of seismic signals that can be used to identify mystery events.
He'll know if a mystery event is an illicit nuclear weapons test, a coal
mine collapse, a pipeline explosion, an airplane crash, some fiery meteor
explosion or other occurrence.

On his web site, Wallace
describes what he and his colleagues have learned from seismic analysis
about major news events. These include:

* The accident that sunk the Russian submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea on
Aug. 12, 2000
* The Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center terrorist attack
* An alleged secret 1989 Iraqi nuclear test, reported in the Feb. 25, 2001,
Sunday Times (London)


>From Andrew Yee <>

ESA Science News

23 May 2002

Rosetta breaks the sound barrier

Europe's comet chaser has not yet left the planet, but the Rosetta
spacecraft has already broken the sound barrier during preparations for its
launch next January.

At the beginning of May, the spacecraft was subjected to a series of
deafening acoustic tests that would impress even the most dedicated fan of
heavy metal music. Placed in a giant chamber, a barrage of sound was
directed at Rosetta from a huge amplifier in order to simulate the noise
expected during lift-off.

Soaring to a maximum of 135 decibels -- many times ouder than Concorde at
take-off -- the sound levels were so severe that anyone straying within the
chamber would have been killed within seconds.

Following these not-so-good vibrations, Rosetta returned to the clean room
to complete a rock and roll turn on a giant shaker in order to simulate its
ride into orbit aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

Attached to a table capable of moving the 3 tonne spacecraft from side to
side like a metallic rag doll being mauled by a mastiff, Rosetta was
severely shaken, first vertically and then horizontally over a wide range of
frequencies. Over two hundred accelerometers on the structure were used to
monitor the spacecraft's performance during each one-minute simulation.

"These environmental tests were essential to show that the spacecraft will
survive the stresses of launch," explained John Ellwood, Rosetta project

"The spacecraft was powered in its launch mode with the Lander, the high
gain antenna and the solar arrays all in their launch configuration," he
said. "Even the propellant tanks were filled
with 'dummy fuel'."

"I'm pleased to say that the spacecraft performed very well and no
significant problems were identified," he added.

Once the engineers at the European Space Research and Technology Centre at
Noordwijk in the Netherlands have verified that all of the spacecraft's
electronics were still working nominally, they will prepare for this week's
deployment test involving Rosetta's huge and unique solar arrays and booms.
This check-out will show whether each of the two 15-metre-long arrays and
the delicate instrument booms have survived their potentially shattering
ordeal intact.

Rosetta is expected to be shipped to the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana,
during September 2002. The launch is scheduled for the night of 12-13
January 2003.


* More about Rosetta
* Rosetta runs hot and cold - thermal vacuum tests at ESTEC

[Image 1: ]
The Rosetta spacecraft, pictured here in the acoustic chamber, was subjected
to a series of deafening acoustic tests at the European Space Research and
Technology Centre in May 2002.

[Image 2: ]
As part of its preparations for launch in January 2003, enginners ready the
Rosetta spacecraft for a series of deafening acoustic tests in the acoustic
chamber at the European Space Research and Technology Centre at Noordwijk in
the Netherlands.

[Image 3: ]
Rosetta on the giant shaker at the European Space Research and Technology
Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. This shaker will simulate the effects
of a ride into orbit on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Rosetta will be launched on an Ariane 5 from the spaceport in French Guiana
in January 2003.



Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington            May 28, 2002
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Mary Hardin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(Phone: 818/354-0344)

Heather Enos
University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
(Phone: 520-621-8279)

RELEASE: 02-99


Using instruments on NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft, surprised
scientists have found enormous quantities of buried treasure lying just
under the surface of Mars-enough water ice to fill Lake Michigan twice over.
And that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

"This is really amazing. This is the best direct evidence we have of
subsurface water ice on Mars. We were hopeful that we could find evidence of
ice, but what we have found is much more ice than we ever expected," said
William Boynton, principal investigator for Odyssey's gamma ray spectrometer
suite at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Scientists used Odyssey's gamma ray spectrometer instrument suite to detect
hydrogen, which indicated the presence of water ice in the upper meter
(three feet) of soil in a large region surrounding the planet's south pole.
"It may be better to characterize this layer as dirty ice rather than as
dirt containing ice," added Boynton. The detection of hydrogen is based both
on the intensity of gamma rays emitted by hydrogen, and by the intensity of
neutrons that are affected by hydrogen. The spacecraft's high-energy neutron
detector and the neutron spectrometer observed the neutron intensity.

The amount of hydrogen detected indicates 20 to 50 percent ice by mass in
the lower layer. Because rock has a greater density than ice, this amount is
more than 50 percent water ice by volume. This means that if one heated a
full bucket of this ice-rich polar soil it would result in more than half a
bucket of water.

The gamma ray spectrometer suite is unique in that it senses the composition
below the surface to a depth as great as one meter. By combining the
different type of data from the instrument, the team has concluded the
hydrogen is not distributed uniformly over the upper meter but is much more
concentrated in a lower layer beneath the top-most surface.

The team also found that the hydrogen-rich regions are located in areas that
are known to be very cold and where ice should be stable. This relationship
between high hydrogen content with regions of predicted ice stability led
the team to conclude that the hydrogen is, in fact, in the form of ice. The
ice-rich layer is about 60 centimeters (two feet) beneath the surface at 60
degrees south latitude, and gets to within about 30 centimeters (one foot)
of the surface at 75 degrees south latitude.

"Mars has surprised us again. The early results from the gamma ray
spectrometer team are better than we ever expected," said R. Stephen
Saunders, Odyssey's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "In a few months, as we get into Martian summer in
the northern hemisphere, it will be exciting to see what lies beneath the
cover of carbon dioxide dry-ice as it disappears."

"The signature of buried hydrogen seen in the south polar area is also seen
in the north, but not in the areas close to the pole. This is because the
seasonal carbon dioxide (dry ice) frost covers the polar areas in winter. As
northern spring approaches, the latest neutron data indicate that the frost
is receding, revealing hydrogen-rich soil below," said William Feldman,
principal investigator for the neutron spectrometer at Los Alamos National
Laboratories, New Mexico.

"We have suspected for some time that Mars once had large amounts of water
near the surface. The big questions we are trying to answer are, 'where did
all that water go?' and 'what are the implications for life?' Measuring and
mapping the icy soils in the polar regions of Mars as the Odyssey team has
done is an important piece of this puzzle, but we need to continue
searching, perhaps much deeper underground, for what happened to the rest of
the water we think Mars once
had," said Jim Garvin, Mars Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters,

Another new result from the neutron data is that large areas of Mars at low
to middle latitudes contain slightly enhanced amounts of hydrogen,
equivalent to several percent water by mass. Interpretation of this finding
is ongoing, but the team's preliminary hypothesis is that this relatively
small amount of hydrogen is more likely to be chemically bound to the
minerals in the soil, than to be in the form of water ice.

JPL manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA's Office of Space
Science, Washington. Investigators at Arizona State University, Tempe, the
University of Arizona, Tucson, and NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston,
operate the science instruments. The gamma-ray spectrometer was provided by
the University of Arizona in collaboration with the Russian Aviation and
Space Agency, which provided the high-energy neutron detector, and the Los
Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico, which provided the neutron
spectrometer. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, developed and built the
orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and
from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Additional information about the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the gamma-ray
spectrometer is available at /is available on the Internet at: and


>From Andrew Yee <>

Public Affairs Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Shelley Thompson,, (505) 665-7778


Mars Odyssey quenches researchers' thirst for water data

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., May 28, 2002 -- Researchers with the Department of
Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory have determined that Mars has enough
water to sustain human exploratory missions.

A neutron spectrometer, designed and built at Los Alamos and flown aboard
NASA's Mars Odyssey, has been mapping the Red planet for the past three
months for hydrogen, an indicator of water-ice. This week Bill Feldman, Los
Alamos' principal investigator for the neutron spectrometer, unveils data
and detailed maps of the hydrogen-rich Martian terrain at the American
Geophysical Union conference in Washington D.C.

The results also appear in the May 31 issue of Science magazine.

"The surface soils of Mars are rich in hydrogen," said Feldman. "Soil
extending 60 degrees from the Martian poles contain from 35 percent to 100
percent of water-ice buried beneath a shallow
overburden of hydrogen-poor soil. Although scientists have known that water
ice is stable close to the surface in these regions, our new measurements
are the first to give the amount of near-surface water on Mars.

"The amount of water present on Mars is sufficiently large that it can
support future human exploration activities," Feldman continued. "We have
anticipated these results for 17 years and are excited that all of our
wishes and hard work have been fulfilled."

The neutron spectrometer maps show that the large region that extends from
the poles to within about 50 degrees of the equator contains Mars' most
abundant reservoirs of hydrogen, or water ice. The large expanses at low to
middle latitudes of Mars also contain significant amounts of hydrogen, which
are most likely deposits of chemically and/or physically bound water and/or
hydroxyl radicals -- one hydrogen atom bound to one oxygen atom.

The neutron spectrometer data are supported by simultaneous measurements
made using Mars Odyssey's gamma-ray spectrometer, operated by the University
of Arizona.

Los Alamos' neutron spectrometer began mapping the Martian surface while it
was summer in the south and winter in the north. It revealed the extent to
which the northern and southern polar caps are covered in a thick layer of
carbon dioxide, or dry ice. During winter, the carbon dioxide layers extend
from the poles to within about 60 degrees of the equator because the dry ice
frost settles out of the atmosphere when temperatures fall about 186 degrees
below zero
Fahrenheit. During the warmer summer the carbon dioxide layer evaporates
completely in the north but remains as a thick cover of the residual polar
cap in the south.

The first successful attempt to measure the global distribution of neutrons
about a planetary body was made using a similar neutron spectrometer aboard
Lunar Prospector. Comparisons between the lunar and Martian neutron
spectrometer data reveal that Mars' soil is richer in hydrogen than is the
moon's soil by more than several factors of 10 to several factors of 1,000.

Los Alamos neutron spectrometer will continue to measure neutrons that leak
outward from the upper meter of the Martian soil for several more years.
Mars Odyssey's orbit is such that the entire planet's surface is sampled in
four-degree longitudinal increments weekly.

Scientists will use these data not only to determine the amount of water on
Mars, but to map the basaltic lava cover, measure the seasonal variation of
dry-ice frost that covers both poles during their winter months and help
interpret data from the gamma-ray spectrometer to determine the quantity and
composition of the most abundant elements on the planet.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California
for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S.
Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and
Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring safety and confidence in the
U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from
weapons of mass destruction and improving the environmental and nuclear
materials legacy of the cold war. Los Alamos' capabilities assist the nation
in addressing energy, environment, infrastructure and biological security

EDITORS' NOTE: Photographs for news use are available online at:


>From, 29 May 2002

By Interfax

KYIV. May 29 (Interfax-Ukraine) - During his summer tour of the Crimea,
Russian comedian Mikhail Zadornov will receive a diploma from the
International Astronomical Union saying that a minor planet discovered by
scientists from the Crimean astrophysical observatory has been named after

"There are not so many witty people, they are always loved," leading staff
member of the observatory Nikolai Chernykh told Interfax giving the reason
for the choice of the name.

Chernykh said that Lyudmila, his wife and colleague, had discovered the

It is the prerogative of the discoverer to name a new planet and the idea
came from the son of the astronomers. In 2001 their choice was approved by
the International Astronomical Union commission that comprises scientists
from 10 countries, including the United States, Japan, Russia, Germany,
Britain, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The minor planet Mikhail Zadornov has been registered in the international
catalogue of minor planets with a stable orbit as No. 5043. It has a
diameter of 12 kilometers, makes one revolution every five years and is
visible from the earth once every 15 months.

Chernykh said that the Crimean observatory is the only place in the former
Soviet Union where minor planets are discovered. Out of the 5,000 planets
discovered by the photographic method, 1,270 were discovered in the Crimea.

Copyright 2002, Interfax


>From Washington Post, 29 May 2002

Teaching Alternative To Evolution Backed
Ohio Lawmakers Cite Reform Legislation
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer

Two House Republicans are citing landmark education reform legislation in
pressing for the adoption of a school science curriculum in their home state
of Ohio that includes the teaching of an alternative to evolution.

In what both sides of the debate say is the first attempt of its kind, Reps.
John A. Boehner and Steve Chabot have urged the Ohio Board of Education to
consider the language in a conference report that accompanied the major
education law enacted earlier this year.

"Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological
evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range
of scientific views that exist," the lawmakers wrote in aletter to the Ohio
board, quoting the conference report language.

That language was crafted with the help of a leading proponent of
"intelligent design theory," which contends that the very complexity of life
is evidence that the world was organized by a guiding intelligence.

The growing movement behind that theory, which does not attribute the
world's creation to God, is supported by conservative Christian groups,
whose drive to include the teaching of Bible-based "creation science" in
public schools was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987.

David Schnittger, a spokesman for Boehner, stressed that the conference
report language cited in the March 13 letter to Ohio's state board "does not
endorse the teaching of any particular topic or philosophy or curriculum."

While conference report language does not have the force of law, it has in
the past been used as the basis for regulations that guide how laws are

But many officials from science and education groups, most of whom back
teaching only evolution, call the language part of a wider campaign to force
intelligent-design theory into the nation's science classrooms. They fear
that the congressional language will be used to challenge the teaching of
evolution across the country.

"When language like this is included on the national level, it provides
ammunition that people use in local battles," said W. Eric Meikle, outreach
coordinator for the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit
organization that defends the teaching of evolution.

Similarly, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate's
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a supporter of the
conference report language, said he opposes the teaching of intelligent

"I believe that public school classes should focus on teaching students how
to understand and critically analyze genuine scientific theories. Unlike
biological evolution, intelligent design is not a genuine scientific theory,
and therefore, has no place in the curriculum of our nation's public school
science classes," he said in a statement.

The Ohio school board has been embroiled for months in a controversy over
whether to include intelligent-design theory, along with evolutionary
science, in a revised science curriculum scheduled to be approved later this
year. Evolutionary science holds that all existing organisms developed from
earlier life forms through natural selection.

Proponents of the intelligent-design theory have cited language in the
federal law as the basis for including lessons on the theory wherever
evolution is taught. The letter from Boehner and Chabot was written in an
attempt to clarify how federal law affects the debate in Ohio. Still, the
head of the Ohio Board of Education is not sure what impact the House
members' letter may have.

"[It] seems to suggest that science should be taught in the spirit of free
inquiry, including the discussion of the pros and cons of theories," said
Jennifer L. Sheets, the board's president.

Other board members say, however, that the letter could be interpreted as
supporting intelligent design. "Supporters of that viewpoint will use that
letter to bolster that point of view," said Virgil E. Brown, a Cleveland
lawyer who sits on the state panel.

"I look at the letter as misleading," said Cyrus B. Richardson Jr., the
board vice president. "It makes it sound like the law says you have to teach
intelligent design, when that isn't in the law."

For that reason, science groups had opposed the conference report language,
which was approved late last year.

"The apparently innocuous statements in this resolution mask an
anti-evolution agenda that has been repeatedly rejected by the courts," said
a joint letter signed by 80 educational and scientific groups, from the
American Anthropological Association and the Society of Protozoologists to
the National Association of Biology Teachers.

The nation's leading science organizations generally view intelligent-design
theory as a pseudo-scientific way to teach creationism, the latest front in
a battle that dates to the well-known 1925 conviction of Tennessee science
teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution.

But intelligent-design theory apparently resonates with the public. In their
letter to the Ohio board, Boehner, chairman of the House Committee on
Education and the Workforce, and Chabot cited a 2001 Zogby poll that found
that 71 percent of those surveyed supported offering students the
"scientific evidence against evolution." The two lawmakers suggested that
the exclusion of such evidence would amount to a "censorship of opposing
points of view."

While Ohio is now the main battleground, in recent years legislatures or
school boards in such states as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Hawaii, New Mexico,
Kentucky, Oklahoma and Kansas have also been wrestling with the issue.

Intelligent-design proponents -- such as Phillip E. Johnson, a University of
California at Berkeley law professor whose 1991 book "Darwin on Trial"
lifted the fledgling intelligent-design movement from obscurity -- hope to
bring the concept to other state curricula.

"If you are going to teach the Darwinist view that organisms may look like
they were designed but weren't, then you have to allow for the possibility
that they look like they were designed because they were designed," said
Johnson, who helped draft the language that was eventually distilled into
the conference report.

Johnson's writings make clear, however, that his aims extend into the realm
of religion. "When people are taught for years on end that good thinking is
naturalistic thinking, and that bringing God into the picture only leads to
confusion and error, they have to be pretty dense not to get the point that
God must be an illusion," he wrote in another book, "Defeating Darwinism by
Opening Minds."

The language that Johnson helped craft was originally introduced as a
nonbinding resolution by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The resolution passed
the Senate last June in a 91 to 8 vote. Eight Republicans,who considered the
measure an unwarranted intrusion into local curriculum matters, voted
against it.

Senate supporters shrugged off the concerns of science groups, calling the
measure an innocuous statement of the elements of good science education.

"We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific
theories on the basis of all of the information that is available to them,"
said Kennedy, who backed the Santorum measure.

Federal law has long barred Washington from controlling state and local
school instructional content -- a prohibition that has been guarded by GOP
lawmakers through the years. With little attention, however, that outright
prohibition was weakenedby Congress in 1994 when it barred the federal
government only from controlling "specific" state or local instructional

The education bill enacted earlier this year also suggested that Washington
could exercise some general control over state and local curricula but not
require the teaching of specific subjects. Federal education officials,
however, said they have no intention of interpreting the language as
requiring local school systems to teach alternatives to evolution.

2002 The Washington Post Company



>From Mike Baillie <>


I much enjoyed Melfyn Thomas' discourse on Welsh dragons and the sixth
century (CCNet 24/5/02). I would just correct one minor error. Gibbon
discusses comets in 531 and 539, the former being Halley.  AD 539 is a more
interesting date than 537 (as given) because the Irish oak chronology shows
its worst effects in 540/541. I have argued for some time that the AD
536-545 episode is a two stage event, with something in 536 and something
else in the vicinity of 539/540/541/542. To give an example, new tree-ring
information from Mongolia indicates, yet again, that the most severe part of
the event was not around 535-536 but in the early 540s (D'Arrigo et al.

It is interesting to see what they say about the event:

"In AD 536 the Index value is 0.645, relative to the long-term mean of 1.0.
Standard deviation (SD) is 0.204 over the full length of the chronology.
This low growth value signals the onset of an unusually cold decade (AD
536-545) in which the mean ring-width index is 0.670 (SD 0.240), with a
minimum of 0.37 in AD 543. AD 538 shows a brief recovery with an index value
of 1.223.  As noted, this two stage pattern is also evident in the European
oak and other tree-ring series and may signify a delayed climatic response
to one event (as is typical for many volcanic eruptions - e.g., Stothers
(2000) or possibly two separate events (Baillie, 1994, 1999b)"

Baillie, M.G.L. 1994 Dendrochronology raises questions about the nature of
the AD 536 dust-veil event. The Holocene  4 (2), 212-217

Baillie, M.G.L. 1999b Exodus to Arthur: catastrophic encounters with comets
Batsford, London

D'Arrigo, R., Frank, D., Jacoby, G. and Pederson, N. 2001 Spatial Response
to Major Volcanic Events in or about AD 536, 934 and 1258: frost rings and
other dendrochronological evidence from Mongolia and Northern Siberia.
Climatic Change 49, 239-246
The other significance of AD 539 is that in N Ireland we have trees
physically affected in the sixth century, one was damaged and pushed over in
539. It is illustrated in Current Archaeology 174 (June 2001) page 268. N
Ireland is not a million miles from Wales so the idea of Welsh observers
recording the events of that time is not too far fetched; particularly if a
cosmic swarm was involved a la Clube and Napier.

I'd like to add one piece on Taliesin. It became obvious to me when writing
Exodus to Arthur that, given who Taliesin is, the list of places he had
known (as detailed by Melfyn Thomas), suggested he was describing himself as
a comet. Later, as I read the other famous Taliesin poem,
ironically, in the context of this note, entitled, "The Battle of the Trees"
the answer was presented on a plate.

In this poem Taliesin tells us among other things that "I have been in many
shapes" i.e. he is a shapeshifting god; "I have been a shining star" i.e. he
has been something bright in the heavens, and "There shall be black
darkness, there shall be a shaking of the mountain, There shall
be a purifying furnace, There shall first be a great wave" i.e. associated
with him are all the symptoms of something environmentally unpleasant, and
then he gives the answer overtly.

Finally, Taliesin tells us "I have been an evil star formerly". The only
definition of an evil star that I know agrees with that given by Sagan and
Druyan "Everywhere on Earth, with only a few exceptions, comets were
harbingers of unwanted change, ill-fortune and evil". The sixth century
Welsh Taliesin was an evil star, therefore he was a comet.

I think we know the answer on this one. Of course someone will write in to
tell me, as they do evey time, that really the descriptions relate to a
volcano and by implication Taliesin was really a Welsh volcano!

Just to recap; tree-rings and bits of human history tell us there was a
catastrophic environmental event around AD 540 and probably better defined
as a two stage event in the window AD 536-545. Virtually no-one disagrees
with that statement. Ice-core evidence for volcanic acid does not give
definitive evidence for a major volcano or volcanoes in that time window.
However, mythology gives us Taliesin in Wales (as above), the death of
Arthur in Britain (which can be linked through Celtic gods to Lugh/Finn and
their comet associations, see Current Archaeology 174), Gibbon's reference
to a terrible comet in 539, Roger of Wendover's reference to a vast comet
seen from Gaul in 540/541 (disallowed by historians as medieval fantasy).
The answer is self evident. I just hope those acquainted with Celtic and
other mythology will keep working on these early stories to see how much detail
of the events they can tease out. In my view the ancient druid/poets/astronomers
encoded these stories because they thought the information they were encoding
was important. Our current recognition of the hazards posed by comets fully
justifies their concern.

Mike Baillie


>From the BBC, 29 May 2002
People who spend time online are not sad, lonely individuals with no social

Quite the opposite, argues Professor Keith Hampton, an expert in
cyber-sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"The social impact of new communications technologies is a greater number of
social ties, more diverse social ties, more support," he said.

"It doesn't cut into your phone communication. It doesn't interfere with
your face-to-face contact. It just increases communication," Professor
Hampton told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

Binding communities

Various studies have suggested that people who spend time online are more
vulnerable to unhappiness and loneliness.

One report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggested that even
spending an hour a week surfing the internet could increase depression.

But in his research on the relationship between technology, social
relationships and the urban environment, Professor Hampton has found that
the internet can serve to bind a community together.

"It's all garbage," he said of studies labelling net users as depressed or
lonely individuals.

He argues that the key difference between his research and other studies is
that he sees the internet as part of people's everyday lives.

"The internet is just another communication medium that any of us use to
communicate with friends and family," he said.

"If you look at it as just another technology that provides you with access
to people, you see that communication online leads to more communication, in
person or on the phone."

Unique neighbourhood

Professor Hampton is a pioneer of cyber-sociology.

For his doctorate, he spent two years as a member of the Netville project, a
wired neighbourhood in the suburbs of Toronto.

The community was built from the ground up with a high-speed computer
network - offering fast internet access - a videophone, an online jukebox,
online health services, local discussion forums and entertainment and
educational software.

Professor Hampton found that living in a wired community encouraged greater
community involvement, strengthened relationships with neighbours and
family, and helped maintain ties with friends and relatives living farther

"Netville was a unique situation," he said. "It allowed people to form
social relationships when they moved in and solve all sorts of problems you
encounter when you move to a new suburban community.

"When you move into a new home, one of the first questions is where can I
find a babysitter, where can I find the best pizzeria? All these questions
were answered online with information by existing residents."

Ironically, once the research project was over, the companies that had
provided the technology that went into people's homes decided to take it all

Faced with the loss of their technology infrastructure, the residents pulled
together to replace what they had lost.

"They now all have cable modem access and they have replicated their
neighbourhood e-mail list," said Professor Hampton.

"These were the most important technologies to them - broadband access to
the internet and simple e-mail technology that allows you to communicate
with your neighbours."

Copyright 2002, BBC

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