Date sent: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 15:30:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Priority: NORMAL


The following information comes from a number of people who wish to
clarify some of the issues regarding the controversy surrounding Dr
Frank's research and the wonrous way in which NASA presented it to
the interested public. It is my intention to objectivy this debate
and hope members will appreciate these brief clarifications. Furher
comments r e l e v a n t to this debate should be addressed to

I have also contacted Dr Frank and hope that we can get some more
actual d e t a i l s about the problem in due course.

Benny J Peiser

1.) David Morrison points out that - contrary to my conjecture that
his NEO News appeared as if only Dr Frank's critics were asked to
comment - "anyone and everyone on my NEO News mailing list was
welcome to comment; no one was asked specifically. [...] None
chose to defend the Frank hypothesis. That is the point; there is
hardly anyone with professional expertise in the field who agrees
with Lou Frank's position."

While David accepts that it was wrong to call the Sunday
Telegraph a tabloid paper, he still feels that Robert Matthews,
instead of believing a NASA report, should have checked "on how the
science community reacts to the NASA press release." David
criticises Robert for accepting the NASA message "uncritically and
[he] in fact goes far beyond the press release."

2.) In view of this criticism voiced against him, Robert Matthews
checked the NASA press release again in order to see "what had
prompted me to go so completely mad as to claim that Polar had
found Frank's mini-comets. And I was shocked to read the following
[in the NASA press release]:

"These remarkable images cap a great first year for Polar," added
Dr. Robert Hoffman, Project Scientist for Polar, which is operated
and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.
"I am pleased that Polar's instruments were able to actually detect
these objects streaking towards the Earth and disintegrating into
clouds of water vapor. They give scientists a fascinating new and
important phenomenon to take into account in theories of Solar
System evolution."

Now, if the most important institution of astronomical research in
the world assures the interested public that their sophisticated
instruments have a c t u a l l y detected these controversial
objects of water and ice, what should science journalists -
(never mind the general public) - make of such reports in the

Robert Matthews has a very effective but rather impractical,
time-consuming and costly idea to solve this problem: "I see now
that I was placing my faith in that most unreliable source of
low-grade, second-hand, anecdotal evidence, namely the Project
Scientist for the mission. How gullible can you get? Next time,
I'll make a point of designing and building my own space mission
before I take anything from NASA again."

3.) One point I got wrong in my comment on the last NEO News was
the assertion that the Sunday Telegraph was the British broadsheet
with the largest circulation. Although a loyal Sunday Times reader
myself, I must have mixed up the figues for the daily editions with
those for the respective Sunday papers. The honour for being the
bestselling broadsheet Sunday paper goes clearly to The Sunday
Times, as Oliver Morton's figures show.

Sunday Papers Circ (000) Readers (000) Price

The Observer 453 1265 1
The Sunday Times 1325 3875 1
The Sunday Telegraph 776 2140 70p
Independent on Sunday 287 966 1

4.) Alan W. Harris <> writes: "I would
like to respond to the first of your points, which Dave passed by,
and that is the old litany of all downtrodden promoters of
unpopular ideas, "they didn't even bother to read my paper." Well,
yes we did. I read the press release and visited Frank's web site
and read over what he had publicised. I tried to read the text of
his abstract to the AGU, but he didn't submit it electronically so
it wasn't available in electronic form. But all this is mostly
aside and not relevant to the real issue, because what I and many
of my colleagues are objecting to is not the new data, but the
conclusion Frank draws from it. The new data may rule out some of
the suggestions that his earlier data were in error, but they do
not fundamentally address the previous objections to his hypothesis
that mini-comets are the explanation for his observations. The
main objection is not to his data (past, or even less so, present),
it is the enormous leap Frank has made from what he observes to
what he thinks is the explanation for his observations. What I and
my colleagues object to is the explanation offered, which is just
as implausible now as it ever was, and does not require one to
review his new observations in detail, beyond simply noting that
they fail to answer to the contradictions to his model which have
long stood unanswered. [...]

In the judgement of myself and most of my American colleagues who
have been critical of Lou Frank and his "mini-comet" hypothesis,
Lou Frank has failed to round this corner of performance. Instead,
when confronted by the fact that his hypothesis contradicts massive
volumes of apparently well-established "facts" he simply responds
(he did, in his popular book), they'll have to re-write the
textbooks. I think we justly believe that it is Lou Frank who has
some re-writing to do. We would welcome and willingly review and
consider a new hypothesis, but the old one of mini-comets has been
so thoroughly discredited on so many grounds, that I believe we are
justified in expecting Frank so simply look elsewhere for an
explanation for his observations.

As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, "extraordinary claims require
extraordinary evidence." Upon examining Lou Frank's mini-comet
hypothesis, we find that it leads to most extraordinary
conclusions, strongly at odds with other well-established
knowledge, and no one but Lou Frank and a few of his associates
seem to regard his observations as extraordinary enough to call for
such wholesale revisions in other fields of endeavor."

5.) A highly qualified list member has emphasised that yesterday's
TIMES' story about the alleged discovery of mini-planets is riddled
with flaws. All that remains to say is that I only hope today's
TIMES frontpage story about the sensational victor of the English
Cricket team against Australia is accurate. It didn't sound very
credible to me, after all.


Date sent: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 11:31:25 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Subject: Don't abuse this network
Priority: NORMAL


Can I kindly remind list members that I will not tolerate the abuse
of this open forum for the dissemination of obscure messages. In
view of the fact that the controversy about Dr Frank's theories has
already generated more than enough agitation - and for the sake of
a civilised matter-of fact debate -, I have ask all further
comments to be addressed to me.

Benny J Peiser


Date sent: Fri, 6 Jun 1997 07:59:58 +0100 (BST)
From: (Ian Tresman)
Subject: Re: Snowball Mini Comets

The following post appeared on another mailing list, and may be of interest
to SIS Cambridge Conference list members.
Ian Tresman.

Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 23:34:25 +1000
From: (wal thornhill)
Subject: Snowball Mini Comets

Dr. Louis Frank's recent announcement of confirmation of his theory of icy
comets bombarding the Earth has stirred up considerable controversy after
more than a decade of rejection by most astronomers. The "proof" comes in
the form of some images from orbiting spacecraft of glowing trails plunging
toward the Earth, hundreds of kilometers above the surface. The glowing,
ionized trails are said to emit the characteristic radiation of excited
atoms and ions associated with water. The size of these "mini water comets"
is thought to be about 5-20 metre diameter and density about 0.2g/cc, which
would mean they are fluffy like a snowball.

Dr. Frank's theory was developed from observations, beginning in 1981, of
"holes" in dayglow images of the Earth returned by orbiting spacecraft.
Dayglow is caused by sunlight exciting oxygen atoms high in the ionosphere
which then emit ultraviolet light, invisible to the naked eye. Frank and a
co-worker noticed that the dayglow images had small blemishes in the form
of dark spots. After considerable effort to determine that the spots were
not just noise or errors in transmission (since the spots were often no
more than a pixel wide) it was found that the spots were real, that they
grew and faded quickly and moved in a prograde fashion like meteoric dust.
So the cause appeared to be extraterrestrial. The next question was what
could cause the rapid extinction and recovery of the dayglow over a circle
about 30 miles (48km) in diameter? The holes are too big to be caused by a
solid object, so Frank decided it must be a cloud of water vapour. This led
to the notion that comets must be the cause since they are believed to be
composed largely of water ice.

The biggest hurdle for Frank's theory is the number of holes measured,
which implies that 20 comets per minute are striking the Earth. That's 10
million comet-like objects per year, up to the size of a small house! It is
understandable that people in the Spacewatch programme are very concerned
that they haven't seen anything of these impactors. Astronomers have
rightly asked why it is that we haven't detected this barrage by some other
means. It should provide ample water to make the rare, stratospheric
noctilucent clouds a continuous feature of our skies. It would be
sufficient to give the Moon an appreciable atmosphere and cause seismic
shocks and surface erosion there - none of which are apparent. Earth
satellites would be expected to have detected the plasma disturbance in
their wake. It is unlikely the military would have missed them. Frank's
answer to the objections is that the phenomena is real and no one has come
up with an alternative explanation. In his words, "There was no other
reasonable explanation." The new photographs of the bright trails of
objects entering the Earth's ionosphere, reported widely, have focussed
attention on Frank's theory but in no way constitutes proof. If anything,
the NASA publicity has polarised the astronomical fraternity. On the one
hand are the skeptics who view it as an ill-judged NASA publicity stunt
which may have the undesirable effect of reducing confidence in future
press releases. On the other are those who point to the oppression they
feel Dr. Frank has suffered at the hands of the establishment for more than
a decade for peddling such an audacious theory.

When I saw the news item, it occurred to me that I had a possible
alternative explanation for the ionospheric holes. It is an extension of an
idea I presented to the SIS Cambridge conference in 1993. I have read most
of Frank's papers on his discovery and theory as well as the arguments
against. I find that I agree with the astronomers who are unconvinced by
Frank's explanation. Apart from the objections raised by astronomers about
the lack of supporting evidence for the existence of these "comets", there
are many special ad-hoc requirements of the comets to allow them to exist
in such numbers in the inner solar system. For example they must contain
enough "dust" to prevent the ices from sublimating away in the Sun's
radiation. They must have low density (snow) to allow them to breakup in
the ionosphere. This adds even more restrictions to the simplistic dirty
ice model of comets which itself is not well supported by recent comet

Frank noted two important characteristics of the ionospheric "holes":
first, the rate of occurence is qualitatively similar to that for radar
meteors (that is, meteors whose presence can be detected by radar echoes
from their ionized trail through the atmosphere); second is that the
movement of the holes showed the prograde motion characteristic of
meteoritic debris. These observations provide a strong link between the
holes and simple meteors. So, with the benefit of a little more thought, I
present an alternative "reasonable explanation" for the ionospheric dayglow
holes which does not require cometary impacts. The hypothesis is a logical
extension of my paper of 1993 (1) which provided a model to explain another
mysterious earthly phenomena, this time in the realm of lightning - red
sprites and blue jets.

There were reports in 1990 of low-light TV cameras capturing discharges,
later dubbed "blue jets", originating 14km above the Earth over storm
clouds, rising like fountains another 20km into the stratosphere. There
followed a report, published in New Scientist of 19 August, 1995, p.34:

" the summer of 1994, using two aircraft flying about 50 kilometres
apart, they [Davis Sentman and Eugene Wescott of the Geophysical Institute
of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks] caught the first colour videos of
sprites at work. ''The flashes look like the Fourth of July, like Roman
candles with fountains," says Sentman. Observing the same sprites from two
different directions allowed Sentman and Wescott to work out their
altitudes and dimensions for the first time. ''Prior to that other groups
had speculated they go up to 40 kilometres, maybe 50, tops," Sentman
recalls. "It was stretching the imagination too far to speculate they might
go all the way to the ionosphere." But that's exactly what happened: the
sprites stretched right up into the ionosphere more than 90 kilometres
above the Earth.
The sheer size of the sprites is daunting, according to John Molitoris of
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco. ''You're
talking about a flash roughly 60 kilometres in diameter,'' says Molitoris."

Our view of the Earth as an electrically neutral and isolated body is
exemplified by the researchers' comment that it is one way for an
electrical storm to dissipate energy into the magnetosphere. It is merely
assumed that energetic events above the storm must be driven by the storm
below. However, there are severe problems with that notion. For at the very
edge of space, above the storm, gamma rays have been detected! I propose a
simple model which has the virtue of offering solutions to a number of
mysteries with one simple assumption - that planets transact electrically
with the solar wind. From that perspective, magnetospheres should properly
be called Langmuir plasma sheaths, or plasmaspheres, and exhibit a radial
electric field within the sheath. The radial field was inadvertently
detected by the Tethered Satellite last year, when it caused arcing and
burnt through the tether.

In the New Scientist of 31 May, p.18, there is a news item, "Planet's tail
of the unexpected", which, un-noticed, provides direct confirmation of
electric currents flowing between a planet and its surroundings. The
"stringy things" detected near the Earth and causing such puzzlement can
only be "Birkeland currents" which alone are capable of maintaining narrow
plasma filaments over vast distances. It is the only force free
configuration for a current carrying plasma. Hannes Alfven described them
in his works and they feature in the recent plasma cosmology book, "The Big
Bang Never Happened", by Eric Lerner. So, I suggest that storm clouds which
span great heights are merely providing a convenient path to ground for
electric charge conducted through the ionosphere from the plasmasphere.

It is at this point where the importance of the correlation of ionospheric
holes with meteors may be crucial. It has been suggested that red sprites
may be triggered by meteors as they blaze an ionized, conducting trail
through the ionosphere and mesosphere. I believe this to be highly likely.
I then note one of the less well known characteristics of lightning in its
ability to compress and accelerate atmospheric ions along the discharge
channel from regions of high pressure to regions of lower pressure. In
other words, to create a roughly vertical fountain of warmer air. Such a
phenomenon has been reported:

One afternoon in July 1971 a retired general practitioner, Dr L.H. Worth,
climbed to the rounded summit of the Puy Mary, 1770m, in central France. He
could see a storm in the valley below him about 3km away and he heard the
thunder. A few seconds later he felt a blast of hot air, so powerful that
he had to lean against it, and this occurred three times in the next few
seconds. That it was not an imaginary or hallucinatory experience is shown
by the fact that people on the mountain near him rushed away for shelter.

In the case of the ionospheric holes, it would seem that a "red sprite"
type of diffuse lightning discharge occurs preferentially along the ionized
trail created by a meteor. The result is that a fountain of air from lower
levels punches through the airglow level, causing a sudden decrease in the
airglow until the newly exposed atmospheric gases can be dissociated by
solar radiation. As well, the sudden localised change in the electrical
balance of the airglow layer quenches the UV output momentarily. The
dimensions of red sprites are of the order of magnitude required to explain
the diameters of ionospheric holes. My proposed mechanism of formation of
blue jets and red sprites sees them resulting from ionospheric discharges
to ground via thunderstorms in the troposphere. In other words they form
part of an electrical energy input from the solar plasma to weather
systems, quite distinct from solar insolation. So the discharge will be
found to extend in diffuse form into space. I speculate that the radial
spokes in Saturn's rings are a graphic indication of a similar electrical
input to that planet, with particles being displaced above and below the
narrow plane of the rings by the electrical discharge. I would even hazard
a guess that the Great Red Spot (GRS) on Jupiter is, for reasons as yet
unknown, the continual focus of a powerful ionospheric discharge. I deduce
this from an example of the same effect on a much smaller scale on Earth in
the reported glow discharge seen from space above tornadic storms on Earth.
It would be of interest to know if Jupiter's ionosphere is the site of
diffuse electrical discharges above the GRS.

This model does not require large quantities of water to quench the Earth's
airglow in the ionospheric holes. I am suggesting that material is not
being dumped into the ionosphere from space, but erupted from the
atmosphere below. I would expect that the phenomena of radar meteors can be
correlated with the ionospheric holes. It is also probable that it is not a
necessary condition for a meteor to initiate such an ionospheric discharge.
In that case, ionospheric holes should also be looked for above
exceptionally violent electrical storms.

Wal Thornhill

(1) Thornhill, W., Evidence for the Extreme Youth of Venus, Proceedings
of the 1993 Cambridge Conference of the Society for Interdisciplinary
Studies, pp.74-94.
(2) Worth, L.H., Atmospheric mystery, Nature, 236, 413(1972).


CCCMENU CCC for 1997