CCNet 72/2002 - 24 June 2002
"Well, that's England out, whew, no more bloody football, no more
silly little flags and posts and green stuff hurrah, hey what's that
whooshing noise? JESUS will you look at that, we're all about to be
obliterated by - by, looks like we're about to be squashed by a huge
sodding interstellar football pitch, hmff, just my luck, story of my life
--Euan Ferguson, The Observer, 23 June 2002
"If scientists and world leaders want to do something useful, they
ought to design an asteroid-intercepting rocket ship like the ones in
Deep Impact and Armageddon, then use it to chase down that soccer
field-sized rock that went flying by us and kick its ass 99 ways to
next Tuesday. Teach those asteroids a thing or two about who wears the pants
in this galaxy."
--Steve Tilley, Edmond Sun, 22 June 2002
"It seem as though humanity is like an incorrigibly bad boy that
disobediently plays in the street and will not listen to reason until
he is eventually hit."
--Worth F. Crouch, 24 June 2002
(1) NASA TO EXPLORE COMETS WITH CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
The Washington Post, 24 June 2002
(2) NEWSWEEK INTERVIEW WITH GRANT STOKES
Newsweek, 21 June 2002
(3) REFEREE! THAT ASTEROID WAS MILES OFFSIDE
The Observer, 32 June 2002
(4) ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER ROGUE ASTEROID
Edmonton Sun, 22 June 2002
(5) METEORITE HUNTING IN ANTARCTICA
Ron Baalke <email@example.com>
(6) OBSERVATIONS ON 2002MN
Norman Church <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(7) SPARE THE ASTEROID SPOIL THE PLANET
Worth Crouch <email@example.com>
(8) REPLIES TO PHILLIP CLAPHAM'S COMMENTS, CCNET 55/2002 - 30 APRIL
Alastair McBeath <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(9) BACKGROUND ON THE KAALI LAKE IMPACT EVENT
E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
(10) AND FINALLY: THE BIBLE AND THE APOCALYPSE
Times Magazine, 23 June 2002
(1) NASA TO EXPLORE COMETS WITH CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
>From The Washington Post, 24 June 2002
By William Harwood
Comets are among the least understood objects in the heavens, yet these
frigid leftovers from the birth of the solar system may be among the most
important, seeding Earth with the water and organic compounds that made life
In the second wave of an unprecedented scientific assault on these enigmatic
"dirty snowballs," NASA is launching an innovative, relatively inexpensive
spacecraft next Monday that will fly within a stone's throw of two comets
that represent the extremes of cometary evolution.
In 2003, the $109 million Comet Nucleus Tour -- CONTOUR -- spacecraft will
pass within 60 miles or so of Encke, an elderly comet discovered in 1786
that has whipped around the sun thousands of times and now releases
relatively small amounts of dust and gas.
While CONTOUR sails on to its next comet encounter in 2006, another NASA
spacecraft launched in 1999 -- Stardust -- will collect samples ofgnd dust
from comet Wild 2 in early 2004 and bring the material back to Earth for
That same year, NASA plans to launch yet another comet mission, this one
named Deep Impact, that will reach comet Tempel 1 in 2005 and fire what
amounts to an 800-pound copper-tipped bullet into its nucleus.
The resulting cloud of debris will be studied by instruments aboard the Deep
Impact mothership as well as by astronomers on Earth.
One year later, in 2006, CONTOUR, the spacecraft being launched next week,
will finally reach its second target, streaking past Schwassmann-Wachmann 3
and giving astronomers an up-close look at a young comet that recently split
into several large chunks.
Scientists are hopeful CONTOUR's instruments will be able to study pristine
material from deep inside the nucleus that was exposed to view when the
comet broke apart, giving them a direct look at its internal structure.
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was discovered in 1930.
Stardust, CONTOUR, Deep Impact and planned European Space Agency missions
collectively represent the most ambitious attempt in the history of space
exploration to understand the far-reaching role comets have played in the
evolution of the solar system.
For Donald Yeomans, a CONTOUR co-investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the scientific assault is long overdue.
"Comets are the building blocks of the early solar system," he said. "Comets
may well have brought much of the Earth's oceans and the Earth's atmosphere
as well as carbon-based molecules to the Earth's surface. If it were not for
comets, perhaps we wouldn't even be here."
For more reasons than one. The impact of a comet or asteroid 65 million
years ago likely resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs and scores of
"So in a sense, we mammals may owe our preeminent position atop the world's
food chain to a comet or perhaps an asteroid that took out our principal
competition 65 million years ago," Yeomans said.
The solar-powered, 2,100-pound CONTOUR spacecraft was built by the Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which also manages the
project for NASA's Office of Space Science.
CONTOUR is scheduled for blastoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
at 2:56 a.m. July 1, at the opening of a six-second launch window.
A $50 million Boeing Delta II rocket will boost the spacecraft into a
parking orbit with a high point of 71,300 miles and a low point of just 124
miles. Then, on Aug. 15, a solid-fuel rocket motor will ignite, firing for
50 seconds to propel CONTOUR into an orbit around the sun.
The orbit is designed to repeatedly bring the spacecraft back to the
vicinity of Earth for velocity-boosting flybys, using the planet's gravity
to supply the energy that otherwise would have to be provided by rocket
As a cost-cutting move, the spacecraft will hibernate between each flyby,
spending about 65 percent of the mission in an electronic coma that requires
little or no oversight. It will be awakened about a month before each
The first such Earth flyby, on Aug. 15, 2003, is designed to fine-tune
CONTOUR's trajectory to Encke and to give ground controllers a chance to
calibrate its instruments. Three months later, on Nov. 12, 2003, the
spacecraft will streak past Encke at 55,000 mph, fast enough to make the
trip from Baltimore to Washington in two seconds.
"CONTOUR's main purpose is to investigate the nature and the diversity of
comets in unprecedented detail," said Joseph Veverka of Cornell University,
the mission's principal investigator. "The way we are going to do that is by
getting our spacecraft closer to a comet nucleus than has ever been achieved
Approaching Encke head-on and flying past at a distance of 60 miles or so,
CONTOUR's side-looking camera will be able to snap pictures at least 10
times sharper than any ever taken, revealing surface features as small as 13
The camera is expected to reveal the precise size of the nucleus, its shape,
its rotation, brightness and color. Other instruments will characterize the
gas and dust blowing away from the comet.
After the Encke flyby, CONTOUR will go back into hibernation and head back
toward Earth for another gravity-assist flyby on Aug. 14, 2004. Two more
such flybys, on Feb. 10, 2005, and Feb. 10, 2006, are needed to set up the
encounter with Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 on June 19, 2006.
"SW-3 is a young, fragile object; it split off at least three pieces in late
1995 for no obvious reason," Yeomans said. "It's probably a rubble pile-type
structure that's held together by little more than its own self gravity. And
if indeed some of these pieces have left the interior of the main nucleus
exposed, then we'll get a chance to look at the structure of the interior of
The CONTOUR mission is officially scheduled to end Sept. 30, 2006. But the
trajectory is designed to permit flight controllers to send the spacecraft
on to a third comet -- possibly one called d'Arrest -- if a worthwhile
target is identified.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
(2) NEWSWEEK INTERVIEW WITH GRANT STOKES
>From Newsweek, 21 June 2002
CLOSE CALL. A giant space rock whisked past Earth this week, but an MIT
scientist says he's not losing any sleep
June 21 - Last week, a giant space rock the size of a football field came
within 75,000 miles of hitting the Earth. It was one of the closest calls in
decades. Though not large enough to destroy the planet, scientists say a
collision of that magnitude would certainly cause chaos. Traveling at 23,000
miles per hour, the asteroid would likely have exploded into a fireball
capable of destroying thousands of acres of land.
GRANT STOKES, associate head of the aerospace division at MIT Lincoln
Laboratory and the principal investigator of the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid
research program, first reported the sighting on Monday. It was confirmed
later in the week. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Adam Piore by phone about the
incident and the science of asteroids.
NEWSWEEK: How close a call was it?
Grant Stokes: Well, 75,000 miles in the scale of the solar system is really
pretty close. Typically people pay attention to things that are lunar
distance [distance between the Earth and the moon] or less away and this was
about a third of that.
How scared should we be?
It doesn't keep me up at night. I think if you look at asteroids in this
size range, something of this size would hit every couple hundred years. In
1908, one hit in Siberia and I think that one is the same scale of event. It
flattened a thousands square miles of trees. This kind of thing happens on a
What would the impact look like?
If you look at the movie "Deep Impact," they actually had a simulated impact
in there, which I think was a reasonably good hydrocode simulation for a
small one. It looks kind of like a big fireball, but it also has a component
of a splash, like a blob of milk falling into the tomato soup-like that
famous time lapse photography.
And that doesn't worry you?
What is interesting about this event is it is relatively common to have
asteroids of this size range come within lunar distance of Earth, and people
are now very interested because we've just seen one. We don't see very many.
Though we did see another one in March, much farther away. But does it scare
me? Absolutely not. There are quite a few of them out there.
Back in April, scientists at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory identified a
much larger asteroid, which they mathematically predicated could possibility
hit the planet Earth and end life as we know it 800 years from now. Does
that concern you?
Personally no. I don't plan to be here in 800 years. And it is by no means
for sure that it will hit. The problem in explaining to the public
asteroid-collision danger is the things that might credibly happen in our
lifetime are of the size that might cause local damage, but they won't end
civilization. They won't cause worldwide climatic problems. The very big
collisions-for example the one that ended the reign of dinosaurs-those
happen on a very long timeline for human life. We're talking billions of
years. Asteroid collisions are very interesting, it's something we need to
understand. But I'm probably in more danger driving in Boston on a freeway
than I am from any asteroid collision.
What can we do to prevent asteroid collisions?
If you see a big one coming, and I think the asteroid search programs are
really tuned toward finding bigger asteroids, those are things that are big
enough that you can find them a long way away from the earth, you can
catalogue them so you'll know where they all are and you can assess their
danger. If one of them looks like there is going to be a collision in the
future, you could imagine putting together some sort of a crash program to
do something about it. If you had 40 years or 100 years, there is something
you could do. Some people propose solar sails, or energy density, or nuclear
devices. And what you would do is make some small change to the orbit 100
years ahead of time, which propagates to a very large change to where its
going to be at that collision time. But that is all speculation.
What happens if we don't spot the big asteroid decades ahead of time?
That certainly limits our options. There's probably not one out there with
our name on it. But if you have no time, you don't do anything. If you have
a couple months, you might want to think about civil defense preparedness,
depending on what kind of object is coming and how big it is. You could
certainly get people familiar with where they ought to be that day, getting
people into hard structures, and get people storing up canned goods. There
are too many variables to make a good answer. It's highly unlikely and I
would certainly not expect it in my lifetime.
© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.
(3) REFEREE! THAT ASTEROID WAS MILES OFFSIDE
>From The Observer, 32 June 2002
Even if Bruce Willis, Steven Hawking and David Beckham joined forces, they
still could not save us from asteroid 2002MN
It was travelling at 23,000 miles an hour and absolutely no one saw it
coming, which, given the fact that NASA and a myriad amateur Near Earth
Object societies have spent decades gazing skywards, eyelids peeled, waiting
for nothing except precisely this to happen, then all utterly missed it,
having collectively dithered off to switch on the kettle, or stand aimlessly
in the front room wondering what they came in for, or something equally
Sunday-afternoon-ish, is a good distance from encouraging, though it fairly
puts David Seaman's slip into some kind of context.
As it does the phrase sudden-death. The asteroid with the gloomily prosaic
name of 2002MN was also, we were told last week, just days after it skimmed
past the Earth in the closest shave we've had for about a century, the 'size
of a football pitch'. I'm assuming the resemblance ended there, with size,
as it would be just too cruel for football-haters - 'Well, that's England
out, whew, no more bloody football, no more silly little flags and posts and
green stuff hurrah, hey what's that whooshing noise? JESUS will you look at
that, we're all about to be obliterated by_ by, looks like we're about to be
squashed by a huge sodding interstellar football pitch, hmff, just my luck,
story of my life etc.'
There is nothing, simply nothing, we can do about asteroids hitting us. Send
Bruce Willis and Stephen Hawking and David Beckham together into space to
save us and they'd just give up, weeping, the cockpit soon a grim shambles
of sweat, tears, Brylcreem and wheel-oil. And they are, reportedly, going to
become more frequent as the years slip by, and so we might as well have some
fun with them.
I'd propose, for a start, giving them better names, like hurricanes. Except
we don't go for girls' names but those of countries on our doomed planet, on
the old Second World War basis that it'll only get you if your name's on it,
a fine and stoic maxim that by and large worked, drastically unfortunate
though it was on 14 September 1940, for the seven closest neighbours in
Lapwing Road, East Dulwich, of Mrs Maisie Doodlebug.
And it might also, in the light of the past few weeks, actually afford us
some protection. Who could be seriously worried by the asteroid France,
which would threaten so much, in a brilliant 1,000-mile swirl of garlicky
vainglory, before missing by miles, going home in a huff and sleeping with
its brother's wife? The American asteroid, which would come perilously close
before realising it didn't actually care and should probably be off playing
meteors instead? The asteroid called Scotland, which would cut through the
atmosphere in a blaze of fiery tartan, only to fizzle and shrink hopelessly
over the next few days and end up beating itself to death on a walnut-sized
stone lying somewhere off the Faroes? We'd all be safe for years - until, of
course, the asteroid Germany, which probably would, in fact, destroy the
planet (again), but do so in such a boring, plodding, serious fashion that,
by the end, we don't actually care.
Copyright 2002, The Observer
(4) ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER ROGUE ASTEROID
>From Edmonton Sun, 22 June 2002
By STEVE TILLEY
It just about blows up the planet. Business as usual. Here at Fatalist
Central we're always thrilled to report on asteroid near-misses of
coulda-been-apocalyptic proportions, as we patiently hold out hope that some
day the Great Space Dragon that lives beyond the orbit of Pluto will get one
of his knuckleballs right on target.
According to the experts whose job it is to watch for these sorts of things
- and let's give them a big round of applause and a year's supply of really
strong coffee - our planet was narrowly missed a week ago by an asteroid the
size of a soccer field, which flew on by at one-third the distance between
the Earth and the moon, just about clipping the jumping cow as she was
re-entering the atmosphere to lay a beating on the dog for laughing at her.
(It's nursery rhyme humour. Never mind.)
It's a very vivid visual, a soccer field flying through the cosmos with all
the players dressed in spacesuits and tethered to the field as they kick
around a ball with little rocket thrusters on it to keep it from flying off
And yet it would probably still be boring as hell. Or maybe it would be more
like a Rocket Robin Hood flying soccer field, with its own mysterious
gravity and atmosphere and weird feudal monarchy.
And was it just me, or did Rocket Robin Hood and Little John enjoy
practising one-on-one "quarterstaff duels" behind closed doors? Seemed like.
To put this in easier-to-grasp terms, an asteroid coming that close to Earth
is basically like a batter standing at the plate, and the pitch whizzes by a
few centimetres from his head.
And then the pitcher pulls out a gun and shoots at the batter, and the
batter has to lean right over backwards to dodge the bullets, Matrix-style.
That's how close, in cosmic terms, this was. Whoa.
Luckily we have those aforementioned astronomer guys watching out for the
planet and its myriad and precious forms of life, like June bugs, platypuses
and Natalie Portman in a leather bustier.
Let's go now to Armageddon Asteroid Watchers Mission Control and see what
they have to say.
"It's a good thing it missed the Earth, because we never saw it coming,"
says Steve Maran of the American Astronomical Society. "The asteroid wasn't
discovered until three days after it passed its closest approach to our
What the freaking fippity-fop did he just say? It's a good thing it missed
the Earth? They didn't notice it until three days AFTER it almost smoked a
doughnut hole in the middle of our marble?
I can just see this astronomer guy, in his white lab coat and his Dockers
pulled up to mid-chest height, beaming a big poop-eating grin about what a
wacky near-apocalypse that was.
"Hyuk! Durn near smoked us, that one did! Heckfire, we never even saw 'er
comin', neither! Hey, Paw! It's s'posed to be my turn on the telly-scope
Not that it really matters, though. A tiny 'roid like that would only leave
a Calgary-sized crater, not a dinosaur-killing nuclear-winter-triggering
extinction-level-event smoking planetary ruin.
Craters aren't sexy, dead dinosaurs are. Now, that monstrous asteroid that
might plow into us in 2061 - THAT'S something to get anxious about. Commence
And either way, it's not like we have any sort of asteroid defence system
The astronomers could spot an asteroid the size of Marlon Brando's butt on a
direct collision course for New York City (oh, the painful irony) and the
sum total of useful information they could offer would be, "There is an
asteroid the size of Marlon Brando's butt headed for New York. Um, it's
probably going to make a big hole and stuff. Yeah. So, like, ummm... maybe
don't be there right now."
If scientists and world leaders want to do something useful, they ought to
design an asteroid-intercepting rocket ship like the ones in Deep Impact and
Armageddon, then use it to chase down that soccer field-sized rock that went
flying by us and kick its ass 99 ways to next Tuesday. Teach those asteroids
a thing or two about who wears the pants in this galaxy.
Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc. All rights reserved.
(5) METEORITE HUNTING IN ANTARCTICA
>From Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Meteorite hunting in Antarctica
BY NADIA CAMERON
The Industry Standard (Australia)
Source : Computerworld
June 13, 2002
It's a haven for scientists studying the Earth's climate and ecological
conditions; it's a rich mineral source and a home to penguins and seals, but
at first glance it's hard to comprehend what Antarctica and outer space have
For the organisations behind the North American Antarctic Search for
Meteorite (ANSMET) Program however, the answer's simple: it's one of the
Earth's best and most reliable sources of new, non-microscopic
The ANSMET Program is a collaborative effort of US National Science
Foundation's (NSF) Antarctica Program, NASA and the Smithsonian Institution.
The Program's primary aim is to search for, characterise and make available
to researchers worldwide the unbiased and uncontaminated samples of
meteorites recovered from Antarctica.
The NSF says meteorites collected from Antarctica have helped to extend
knowledge of the solar system, revealed the geological nature of asteroids
and have even contributed to unravelling planetary conditions on the moon
Full story here:
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(6) OBSERVATIONS ON 2002MN
>From Norman Church <email@example.com>
I would make some observations on the recent reports of another asteroid
passing between earth and the moon (2002MN).
This is another object that has been detected after its close approach, and
the statement that 'such near misses do highlight the importance of
detecting these objects' is all to true. But this is not all; we need to
look at the impact hazard with a broader perspective.
Yes, it is vitally important that funding be provided so that all such
potential impactors can be located, catalogued and tracked.
It is also vitally important that funding be provided for research in
providing us with the technology to be able to successfully deal with any
such potential impactors.
At present because we are unable to fulfil either of the above it is just as
vitally important, if not more so, that funding be provided to research and
put into place a contingency plan should an object impact earth. There are
at present no plans on the shelf to deal with any impact that may happen.
It is a sad fact that if 2002MN had impacted the Earth, it may have caused
local devastation similar to that which occurred in Tunguska, Siberia in
1908. That is, it could have destroyed an area about the same size as inside
the M25 London Orbital Motorway, New York or Washington. We would, at the
present time, not have been able to deal adequately with or mitigate the
consequences of such an impact.
So is it not prudent that some effort, mainly mental, be spent to examine
what capabilities we currently have versus what capabilities we may need to
counter such a threat. Prepare a plan of action, as best that we can given
the many variables involved; to mitigate the effect of any possible impact
should all else fail. Once these are all identified, contingency plans can
then be formulated to have on the shelf, if the need arises.
In his opening statement to the Congressional hearings on the NEO threat on
March 24, 1993, George E. Brown, Jr. stated:
"If some day in the future we discover well in advance that an asteroid that
is big enough to cause a mass extinction is going to hit the Earth, and then
we alter the course of that asteroid so that it does not hit us, it will be
one of the most important accomplishments in all of human history."
I strongly believe Congressman Brown's statement is true, as well as its
"If some day an asteroid does strike the Earth, killing not only the human
race but millions of other species as well, and we could have prevented it
but did not because of indecision, unbalanced priorities, imprecise risk
definition and incomplete planning, then it will be the greatest abdication
in all of human history not to use our gift of rational intellect and
conscience to shepherd our own survival, and that of all life on Earth."
Norman J. Church
(7) SPARE THE ASTEROID SPOIL THE PLANET
>From Worth Crouch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Dr. Peiser:
Something seems terribly wrong with the thinking regarding Asteroid 2002 MN
and our most recent brush with cosmic disaster. It is as though most people,
as well as scientists, are content to believe an impact with an asteroid
like 2002 MN is a kind of fiction. It is as though the belief in that
fiction will persist until vast members of our species are wiped off the
face of this planet. What follows are some quotes from those I believe
reinforce this thinking. I have also taken the liberty to make a few
comments about the quotes.
"2002 MN is a lightweight among asteroids and incapable of causing damage on
a global scale, such as the object associated with the extinction of the
dinosaurs," the Near Earth Object (NEO) Information Centre of Britain's
National Space Centre said in a press release.
"However, if it had hit the Earth, 2002 MN may have caused local devastation
similar to that which occurred in Tunguska, Siberia in 1908, when 2,000
square kilometres (800 square miles) of forest were flattened," it said.
I remember that the Tunguska event was caused by an object estimated to be
60 meters (200 feet) long. It exploded in the atmosphere with the force of
about 600 times the Hiroshima bomb. And flattening an area of 2,000 square
kilometres (800 square miles) should be nothing to take lightly.
Moreover, spokesman Kevin Yates told AFP that the asteroid was only spotted
on June 17 -- three days after its flyby. He went on to say, "Asteroids are
a very remote yet real peril, because they move at such speeds that they
unleash terrific energy on impact."
Furthermore, Yates reputedly said, "The latest calculations of 2002 MN
suggest it has an orbit of 894.9 days and is unlikely ever to be any future
threat to the Earth." He went on to say, "The next close flyby will be in
2061 but the distance will be much greater than in the June 14 episode."
Unfortunately Kevin Yates failed to consider protuberance in the orbit of
Asteroid 2002 MN, because it can't be exactly calculated due to all the
unknown factors that will affect the orbit. He also failed to mention that
another unknown asteroid could be flying toward the Earth, this very moment,
without warning just as 2002 MN did. After all an unknown asteroid made a
close pass to the Earth in March of this year without warning. How many
Tunguska hits and close calls do we need before we realize the need for a
Also, 2002 MN and other asteroids similar in size are big enough to have
devastated either the American South West, a great deal of Western Europe,
the North East of the United States, Most of populated Russia around Moscow,
Japan Manchuria and Korea, and most of China's densely populated cities.
Moreover, if an asteroid like it had impacted the oceans a tsunami would
have wiped out most coastal cities within at least an 800-mile radius of
The asteroid would have caused "considerable loss of life" if it had struck
Earth in a populated area, said Grant Stokes, the principal investigator for
the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project, whose New Mexico
observatory spotted the object last week.
"The energy release would be of the magnitude of a large nuclear weapon,"
"It's something the public should know about, but shouldn't get nervous
about," he said. "Civilization has to get used to them on some level."
He went on to say that asteroids the size of 2002 MN are estimated to hit
the Earth every 100 to several hundred years, causing local damage but no
disaster to civilization or the planet's ecosystem.
However, Grant Stokes failed to mention that in the past the human
population density of our planet was considerably lower, because people had
not yet expanded exponentially as they now have. And next to nobody lived
close to Tunguska Siberia in 1908. He also failed to mention that we
probably have the technology to explosively break apart or shatter an
asteroid like 2002 MN causing its' parts to be less significant or
insignificant when they impact our planet.
As was the case for the March encounter, 2002 MN came from Earth's sunward
side, where daylight obscures visual observations of the sky. It was only
after the object made the switch to the night sky that astronomers with the
LINEAR asteroid-tracking effort in New Mexico could gather enough data to
compute its orbit.
"Things of this size come by every few weeks," Don Yeomans, who heads NASA's
Near-Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told MSNBC.com.
"It's just a matter of finding them."
Dr John Davies, of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, has calculated the orbit
of the asteroid from the Linear data.
He concludes that the asteroid came out of the Sun and was impossible for
Linear to see until one hour after its flyby of the Earth on the 14th.
Dr Davies said: "...if an asteroid were to approach close to an imaginary
line joining the Earth and the Sun it would never be visible in a night-time
sky and would be quite impossible to discover with normal telescopes. Its
arrival would come, literally, as a bolt from the blue."
Space-based telescopes, such as Hubble and the future European Gaia
spacecraft, are the only means of searching for asteroids in the daytime
And according to Duncan Steel, "Finally, the media buzz about 2002 MN seems
remarkable in view of the fact that the risk list currently contains an
asteroid (2002 LY45) which is around a mile across and has a very high
potential impact speed (over 34 km/sec), putting it into the "global
catastrophe" bin should it hit. At my time of writing it still has 34
potential impacts within a century listed (down from the 800-plus a few days
ago), of which eight within the next 40 years have probabilities of order
one-in-a-million and are ranked as Torino Scale 1.
We cannot hope, in this era, to deal with asteroids like 2002 MN; it is
objects like 2002 LY45 which are the more dangerous, and also the ones we
Although the United States can spend billions on a missile defense system
why can't that system be augmented to intercept and break apart relatively
small mystery asteroids? However, if augmentation is impractical why can't
an alternate asteroid comet defense system be developed? And if the
detection of asteroids and comets is imperfect why can't it be improved by
satellites or using Southern Hemisphere observatories? The answer is obvious
according to most people's thinking, political realities, and the scientific
community in general. Together they don't want to believe the Earth exists
like a target in a shooting gallery of asteroids and comets and our planet
could be hit at any time. Life is short, people have no memory of Earth's
past cosmic catastrophes, politicians only seem to understand threats after
they happen, and most scientists are afraid to admit in the inevitability of
a cosmic collision. And like most people scientists are similar to herd
animals they fear the ridicule of their colleagues, or if they think
independently they have given up on cosmic defense objectives other than the
most vital because of political realities. After all there was the German
invasion of Poland, 9-11, Pearl Harbor, the Lusitania, the Battleship Main,
and governments didn't act until after these incidents.
Consequently, the answer to my questions about cosmic impacts and an Earth
defense are like, "It's something the public should know about, but
shouldn't get nervous about, civilization has to get used to them on some
level." And, " . . . asteroids the size of 2002 MN are estimated to hit the
Earth every 100 to several hundred years, causing local damage but no
disaster to civilization or the planet's ecosystem." Sure, "Things of this
size come by every few weeks, it's just a matter of finding them" Anyway,
"We cannot hope, in this era, to deal with asteroids like 2002 MN; it is
objects like 2002 LY45 which are the more dangerous, and also the ones we
It seem as though humanity is like an incorrigibly bad boy that
disobediently plays in the street and will not listen to reason until he is
Worth F. Crouch
Choctaw Society of Astrobiologists
(8) REPLIES TO PHILLIP CLAPHAM'S COMMENTS, CCNET 55/2002 - 30 APRIL
>From Alastair McBeath <email@example.com>
I see I have a couple of personally addressed comments to respond to from
Phillip Clapham (CCNet 55/2002 - 30 April).
Regarding Phillip's assertion that I've supposedly cast doubt on "the
ability of meteors to affect the climate, to cause fires on the ground, to
generate heat storms, dust clouds and seismic waves etc.", I've never
mentioned most of these things at all in my CCNet contributions, although
certainly I would question the ability of ordinary meteors to do most of
them, as they generally relate more properly to either very bright
fireballs, meteorites, or Tunguska-like meteoric airburst events. The
stronger meteor showers have been suspected of influencing short-term
rainfall, but I would consider this a weather phenomenon, not a climatic
Concerning the "Chosun Annals", I must decline Phillip's request, as I have
no time spare at present to make myself familiar enough with the Korean
records as a whole to comment on the utility or reliability of the specific
documents he mentioned, nor the accuracy of the particular translation
referred to. Lacking such background knowledge, it would be impossible to
sensibly contribute to a detailed discussion of the "Annals" or other
similar records, especially given that parts of the Korean material were
written for a variety of political motives.
Lastly, I cannot envisage why a thick dust veil in the atmosphere sufficent
to dim the Sun would make the much fainter planet Venus easier to see in
daylight, as Phillip suggests. From my own observing experience over the
last 20-odd years I've found Venus to be only readily visible in the daytime
as long as the sky is very clear. Even a thin film of cirrus can be
sufficient to conceal it, something other observers seem to concur with.
(9) BACKGROUND ON THE KAALI LAKE IMPACT EVENT
>From E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello Benny -
A recent request by Stuart Atkinson to the meteorite e-mail list for
information on the Kaali impact event for a radio broadcast sparked an
exchange which I think that some Conference participants may find of
particular interest. I suppose like many participants I know very little
about this particular impact event; a search on the Conference archives
(with many thanks due to Bob Kobres) returned only 4 items. Most likely this
lack of awareness is due to the translation problems involved in working
with the research which has been done to date on this impact event,
and my hope is that this short note may serve to broaden the awareness of
Conference participants of this very significant historical impact event.
The first note to the meteorite list came from Tõnu Pani, email@example.com:
The most correct name is Kaali craters, as Kaali järv is a small
lake inside the biggest of Kaali craters. The diameter of the crater
is 110 meters, depth 16 meters; the lake itself 40-60 meters and
depth 6 meters. The 8 smaller craters have diameters 12-40 meters and
depths 1-4 meters.
The most prominent proponent for the interregional knowledge about
the craters in antique times is former Estonian president (1992-2001)
Lennart Meri. Among his books and films there are Hõbevalge
("Silverwhite" or "Silvery White") in 1976 and Hõbevalgem ("More
Silvery White") in 1984. [Note well that neither or these books is currently
available in English translation. -epg] In the last one he built the
theory about Pytheas's journey to Kaali. This theory was met by very
severe criticism by other historians. Meri graduated in 1953 as a
historian here in Tartu.
But however, such a big event had to impress the people living
nearby. And in old Estonian myths there was a god Tharapita, who flew
over Estonia in the same direction and way as the Kaali meteorite.
with best regards
A short search on the web revealed that Meri was the third person to work
extensively on the Kaali impact crater, and that pride of place must go to
Ivan Reinvald (1878-1941), published 1928, and Agu Aaloe (1927-1980),
working from 1955-1980:
Since their works are unavailable in English translation, as are Meri's, it
is unknown to me who exactly was the first to realize that the Kaali impact
was a historical event. It is very clear, however, that Meri, working as a
travel writer, stumbled into the story, realized its importance, and using
his formidable talents to the best of his ability, developed it and brought
it to the public's attention:
Thus Meri is mainly responsible for the current work being done at Kaali,
and this is also in no little way is due to the fact that Meri later became
President of Estonia.
As Tonu reported, Meri's initial observations were met with scepticism, and
as appears common in other regions of the Earth, work on separating out the
data from different recent impact events has just begun:
Thus the confusion which existed as to dating of this impact event presented
additional problems for the dissemination of Meri's work, in addition to
those already posed by language.
Despite this geological confusion and the problems presented by the lack of
English translations, Meri's work gradually has begun to attract notice in
western Europe, and Bernd Pauli graciously provided the meteorite list with
the following two abstracts:
RASMUSSEN K.L. et al. (2000) The age of the Kaalijärv meteorite craters
(MAPS 35-5, 2000, pp. 1067-1071):
Apart from radiocarbon dating a Holocene meteorite crater precisely, this
crater and its age are interesting from a historical point of view. The
Roman historian Tacitus is widely known for his description of the Germanic
tribes, that is, those Europeans living north and east of the Roman
frontier, called the Limes. In his work Germanica, Tacitus wrote in A.D. 98
On the right (Eastern) side of the Swedish Ocean live the Estonians,
their habits and clothings are similar to the Suedes, but their
language is nearer to English[?]. They worship the mother of gods. ("matrem
deum venerantur") (Tacitus 98).
In Greek and Roman mythology, the mother of gods is usually identified with
the Phrygian goddess Cybele (see Simon, 1997). The Cybele cult at Pessinus
in Asia Minor was renowned for the transfer of a meteorite to Rome in 204
(or 205) B.C. (Simon, 1997; Kron, 1992). So there can be little doubt that
the mother of gods, Cybele, to Tacitus was associated with meteorites.
It is conceivable that the witnessing of a large crater-forming meteorite
impact event releasing an amount of energy comparable to that of the
Hiroshima bomb could induce this kind of worship. This possibility is
substantiated by archaeological excavations at the main crater that have
revealed a wall-like or altar-like construction right at the crater rim.
Unfortunately, no material suited for radiocarbon dating has been retrieved
from the archaeological excavations. However, judging from the pottery found
near the site, habitation seems to have started in either Early Iron age or
Late Bronze age (from about 700 to 600 B.C.; Lougas, 1980). Also, from
ancient times until A.D. 1800, the name of Kaalijarv was Pljhha Jarw
(Treumann, 1963), which means "the sacred lake". In the vicinity of the
Kaalijärv craters, there are several settlements, which implies that this
part of the world was inhabited before and after the time of the impact.
There is, of course, no way we can prove that the worshiping at Kaalijiirv
had any connection with the fall of the meteorite, but it is not an unlikely
VESKI S. et al. (2001) Ecological catastrophe in connection with the impact
of the Kaali Meteorite about 800-400 BC on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia
(MAPS 36-10, 2001 pp. 1367-1375, excerpt):
Indirect written evidence of the impact age has been investigated by
Meri (1976). Meri analyzed the voyage of Pytheas from Massalia
(Marseilles), who between 350-325 B.C. visited Britain and possibly also
the island of Saaremaa (Ultima Thule) to get information on the
Baltic Sea (Metuonis) and its amber. Pytheas wrote in his book on the "Earth
Sea", "the barbarian showed me the grave where the Sun fell dead". The
same metaphor was repeated in the epic "Argonautics" of Rhodos Appolonios
(295-215 B.C.) where a sailor found a "deep lake in the far north - the
burial of the Sun, from which still fog rose as from the glowing
wound." This gave Meri (1976) the reason to suggest that Lake Kaali and the
meteorite catastrophe were known among the geographers and philosophers
before Cornelius Tacitus, who in his book De Origine et Situ
Germanorum Liber wrote "Upon the right of the Suevian Sea [the Baltic] the
Aestyan nations [Estonians] reside, who use the same customs and attire
with the Suevians [Swedes]. They worship the Mother of the Gods." (Tacitus,
1942). The Mother of Gods, Cybele, is associated with meteorites (Burke,
The island of Saaremaa has been inhabited since the Mesolithic (5800
B.C.; Kriiska, 2000). During the Neolithic and Bronze Age, Saaremaa was
densely populated; indeed, half of the bronze artefacts of Estonia come
from this island (Ligi, 1992). Three Late Bronze Age fortified
settlements (Asva, Ridala, and Kaali) are known from Saaremaa (Aaloe et al.,
1977). The main economy was cattle rearing and agriculture. Archaeological
evidence around, inside, and on the Kaali crater slopes suggests
human habitation since 700-500 B.C. (Lõugas, 1978). This conclusion is
based on artifacts and a radiocarbon date of 2320 ± 40 14C years B.P.
(410-350 B.C.) from an archaeological setting (a stronghold) on the crater
rim. In this context it is interesting to point out that the fortified
settlement of Asva (20 km east from the main crater) burned down
according to the radiocarbon dating of charcoal from a ?30 cm charred
settlement layer between 2585 ± 50 and 2520 ± 60 14C years B.P.
(800-400 B.C.; Aaloe et al., 1977), which is close to the age of the Kaali
impact (Rasmussen et al., 2000).
Pierre Rochette graciously supplied the meteorite list with this short note
which placed Pytheas's report in context:
A short comment on Pytheas, who was a Greek citizen of Phocea, now
Marseille in SE France. He may have been the first geophysicist, as
he is renowned for his proposal that tide is linked to the movement of
Moon and Sun relative to Earth. He probably formed this idea by
being the first Greek to sail in the North Sea (finding a way to circumvene
Carthage's blockade at Gibraltar), so as to experience much bigger
tides than the few tens of centimeters available in his home
Mediteranean Sea. His legendary travels to collect amber (in Baltica)
and tin (in Cornwall and possibly Scotland) and find trade routes
independent of Carthage's rule is said to have ended in an extraordinary
way: fearful of confronting Carthage's troops again (he escaped
miraculously the first time thanks to a huge fog and to the outgoing
surface current in the Gibraltar strait), he is reported to have "sailed"
from practically Kaali to the Black Sea, partly by using lakes and rivers
(from Ladoga to the Dniepr?) and partly by sliding his boat on land!! He
succeeded in getting back home safe after a few years of traveling. More
impressive than Ulysese's pleasant cruise, isn't it?
Unfortunately his original writings are not preserved and his book
has been "rebuilt" using fragments quoted by other authors, so one
must be cautious. But his visit to Kaali's freshly formed crater area
is among the most likely parts of the story.
While mythography is one field, and myths notoriously difficult to work
with, by comparison archaeological techniques and data are relatively firm.
An overview of the archaeology of the Kaali impact site may be found here:
Since the island of Saaremaa was inhabited in the Bronze Age, the
destruction levels found in nearby sites are of particular importance with
regard to the dating of the Kaali impact event:
Unfortunately, Vella Lougas, the lead excavator of Kaali, passed away in
and plans for a museum at Kaali have come to a standstill:
despite pan-European interest in the site:
It is beginning to appear clear that aside from the importance of the Kaali
impact to early iron production and thus to trade in northern European
the impact itself was witnessed by a number of northern peoples, and the
rain of molten iron which followed the impact must have must have been
impressive indeed. The myth records of this impact are apparently surving a
key role in the on-going efforts to sort out the early northern European
peoples and their migrations:
Clearly, those working with myth materials from the UK must make special
note that aside from the Celtic myth materials dealing with impact events,
later Jute/Frisian, Angle, Saxon, Dane and Norse immigrants into Britain and
Ireland brought along their own impact myths, and some of these myths, but
probably not all of them, most likely relate quite specifically to the Kaali
In closing this note, my guess is that given these migrations, translations
into English of Meri's works, say perhaps in the form of trade paperbacks,
should find a good market in the UK. I have also found references to a
film(?) based on Meri's work, and a translation of this film could perhpas
serve as the basis for a television show for one of the science channels.
Best Wishes -
(10) AND FINALLY: THE BIBLE AND THE APOCALYPSE
>From Times Magazine, 23 June 2002
The biggest book of the summer is about the end of the world. It's also a
sign of our troubled times
BY NANCY GIBBS
What do you watch for, when you are watching the news? Signs that interest
rates might be climbing, maybe it's time to refinance. Signs of global
warming, maybe forget that new SUV. Signs of new terrorist activity, maybe
think twice about that flight to Chicago.
Or signs that the world may be coming to an end, and the last battle between
good and evil is about to unfold?
For evangelical Christians with an interest in prophecy, the headlines
always come with asterisks pointing to scriptural footnotes. That is how
Todd Strandberg reads his paper. By day, he is fixing planes at Offutt Air
Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. But in his off-hours, he's the webmaster at
raptureready.com and the inventor of the Rapture Index, which he calls a
"Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity." Instead of stocks, it
tracks prophecies: earthquakes, floods, plagues, crime, false prophets and
economic measurements like unemployment that add to instability and civil
unrest, thereby easing the way for the Antichrist. In other words, how close
are we to the end of the world? The index hit an all-time high of 182 on
Sept. 24, as the bandwidth nearly melted under the weight of 8 million
visitors: any reading over 145, Strandberg says, means "Fasten your seat
It's not the end of the world, our mothers always told us. This was helpful
for putting spilled milk in perspective, but it was also our introduction to
a basic human reference point. We seem to be born with an instinct that the
end is out there somewhere. We have a cultural impulse to imagine it-and
keep it at bay. Just as all cultures have their creation stories, so too
they have their visions of the end, from the Bible to the Mayan millennial
stories. Usually the fables dwell in the back of the mind, or not at all,
since we go about our lives conditioned to think that however bad things
get, it's not you know what. But there are times in human history when
instinct, faith, myth and current events work together to create a perfect
storm of preoccupation. Visions of an end point lodge in people's minds in
many forms, ranging from entertainment to superstitious fascination to
earnest belief. Now seems to be one of those times.
The experience of last fall-the terrorist attacks, the anthrax deaths-not
only deepened the interest among Christians fluent in the language of
Armageddon and Apocalypse. It broadened it as well, to an audience that had
never paid much attention to the predictions of the doomsday prophet
Nostradamus, or been worried about an epic battle that marks the end of
time, or for that matter, read the Book of Revelation. Since Sept. 11,
people from cooler corners of Christianity have begun asking questions about
what the Bible has to say about how the world ends, and preachers have
answered their questions with sermons they could not have imagined giving a
year ago. And even among more secular Americans, there were some who were
primed to see an omen in the smoke of the flaming towers-though it had more
to do with their beach reading than with their Bible studies.
That is because among the best-selling fiction books of our times-right up
there with Tom Clancy and Stephen King-is a series about the End Times,
written by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, based on the Book of
Revelation. That part of the Bible has always held its mysteries, but for
millions of people the code was broken in 1995, when LaHaye and Jenkins
published Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days. People who haven't
read the book and its sequels often haven't even heard of them, yet their
success provides new evidence that interest in the End Times is no fringe
phenomenon. Only about half of Left Behind readers are Evangelicals, which
suggests there is a broader audience of people who are having this
A TIME/CNN poll finds that more than one-third of Americans say they are
paying more attention now to how the news might relate to the end of the
world, and have talked about what the Bible has to say on the subject. Fully
59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and
nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.
Some of that interest is fueled by faith, some by fear, some by imagination,
but all three are fed by the Left Behind series. The books offer readers a
vivid, violent and utterly detailed description of just what happens to
those who are left behind on earth to fight the Antichrist after Jesus
raptures, or lifts, the faithful up to heaven. At the start of Book 1, on a
747 bound for Heathrow from Chicago, the flight attendants suddenly find
about half the seats empty, except for the clothes and wedding rings and
dental fillings of the believers who have suddenly been swept up to heaven.
Down on the ground, cars are crashing, husbands are waking up to find only a
nightgown in bed next to them, and all children under 12 have disappeared as
well. The next nine books chronicle the tribulations suffered by those left
behind and their struggle to be saved.
The series has sold some 32 million copies-50 million if you count the
graphic novels and children's versions-and sales jumped 60% after Sept. 11.
Book 9, published in October, was the best-selling novel of 2001.
Evangelical pastors promote the books as devotional reading; mainline
pastors read them to find out what their congregations are thinking, as do
politicians and scholars and people whose job it is to know what fears and
hopes are settling in the back of people's minds in a time of deep
Now the 10th book, The Remnant, is arriving in stores, a breathtaking 2.75
million hard-cover copies, and its impact may be felt far beyond the book
clubs and Bible classes. To some evangelical readers, the Left Behind books
provide more than a spiritual guide: they are a political agenda. When they
read in the papers about the growing threats to Israel, they are not only
concerned for a fellow democratic ally in the war against terror; they are
also worried about God's chosen people and the fate of the land where events
must unfold in a specific way for Jesus to return. That combination helps
explain why some Christian leaders have not only bonded with Jews this
winter as rarely before but have also pressed their case in the Bush White
House as if their salvation depended on it.
Walter Russell mead is sitting in his office at the Council on Foreign
Relations in midtown Manhattan on a soft June afternoon, at work on a book
that was born last September. He published an acclaimed history of U.S.
foreign policy last year and was working on a study about building a global
middle class. But he has put that aside. Piled around him now are the Koran,
a Bible, books on technology and a stack of Left Behind books. When Mead
predicts that our century will be remembered as the Age of Apocalypse, he
does not mean to suggest that the world will soon end in a fiery holocaust.
"The word apocalypse," he observes, "comes from a Greek word that literally
means 'lifting of the veil.' In an apocalyptic age, people feel that the
veil of normal, secular reality is lifting, and we can see behind the
scenes, see where God and the devil, good and evil are fighting to control
the future." To the extent that more people in the U.S. and around the world
believe history is accelerating, that ancient prophecies are being fulfilled
in real time, "it changes the way people feel about their circumstances, and
the way they act. The grays are beginning to leak out of the way people view
the world, and they're seeing things in more black-and-white terms."
At the religious extremes within Islam, that means we see more suicide
bombers: if God's judgment is just around the corner, martyrdom has a
special appeal. The more they cast their cause as a fight against the Great
Satan, the more they reinforce the belief in some U.S. quarters that the war
on terror is not one that can ever end with a treaty or communique, only
total victory or defeat. Extremists on each side look to contemporary events
as validation of their sacred texts; each uses the others to define its view
of the divine scheme.
In such a time of uncertainty, it's a natural human instinct to look for
some good purpose in the shadows of even the scariest events-and for some
readers the theology of the Left Behind books provides it. Some stumbled on
the series by accident, and were hooked. Deborah Vargas, 46, of San
Francisco bought her first Left Behind book in January at a Target, looking
for a good read. She got much more than she had bargained for, especially
after Sept. 11. "It was almost a message right out of the Bible," she says.
"Something within me started to change, and I started to question myself.
What was I waiting for? A sign?" Since then, she says, her life has been
transformed, and she is now a regular in the Left Behind chat rooms. "I want
to talk about it all the time."
Talk to the people who were already inclined to read omens in the headlines,
and you hear their excitement, even eagerness to see what happens next. "We
sense we are very close to something apocalyptic, but that something
positive will come out of it," says Doron Schneider, an Evangelical based in
Jerusalem. "It's like a woman having labor pains. A woman can feel this pain
reaching its height when the child is born-and then doesn't feel the pain
anymore, only the joy of the happy event." Even the horror of Sept. 11 was
experienced differently by people primed to see God's hand in all things.
Strandberg admits that he was "joyful" that the attacks could be a sign that
the End Times were at hand. "A lot of prophetic commentators have what I
consider a phony sadness over certain events," he says. "In their hearts
they know it means them getting closer to their ultimate desire."
People who were strangers to prophecy don't always find as much comfort
there. When Dave Cheadle, a Denver lay pastor at an inner-city ministry,
sent out an Internet letter after 9/11 suggesting that Revelation was the
relevant text for understanding what was happening, he got a huge-and
frightened-response: "People were asking themselves whether they were ready
to die. Very sane, well-educated people have gone back to the storm-cellar
thing to make sure they have water and freeze-dried stuff in their
basements." Some had trouble reconciling their warm image of a merciful God
with the chilling warnings they were reading. "They're asking people to
believe that we have a God who simply can't wait to zap the Christian flight
crew out of jets so they crash?" asks Paul Maier, a professor of ancient
history at Western Michigan University and an author of Christian fiction,
who finds in the Left Behind books a deity he does not recognize. "You can't
believe in a God who would do this kind of thing."
Others, already believers, have come away from this past winter feeling a
need to change tactics, change jobs, find a new way to get the urgent
message across. Rick Scarborough, pastor of the First Baptist Church of
Pearland, Texas, a Houston suburb, resigned his pulpit this month to put all
his energy into recruiting Christians to become politically involved. "I am
mobilizing Christians and getting more Christians to vote. I am preparing a
beachhead of righteousness," he says. Meanwhile Wyoming state senator
Carroll Miller, a popular legislator from Big Horn County, announced his
retirement from politics in part so that he could spend more time speaking
at churches and men's clubs, helping people come to grips with the prospect
of the Second Coming. "It's very important that we as a Christian nation
know what the Scriptures have said about these days," he says. "I'm putting
forth my personal effort for my own sake as well as for my family and
Miller knows people who have prepared Bibles with the relevant passages
indexed about what will occur during the Tribulation, so that their
left-behind friends and relatives will know to prepare for the earthquakes
and locusts and scorpions: when "the sun became as black as sackcloth and
the moon became as blood." After a while, sightings of the Antichrist come
naturally: when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tells the World Economic
Forum that globalization is the best hope to solve the world's problems,
when the forum floats the idea of a "united nations of major religions,"
when privacy is sacrificed to security, the headlines are listed on the
prophecy websites as signs that the Antichrist is busy about his business.
"He's probably a good-looking man," says Kelly Sellers, who runs a
decorative-stone business in Minneapolis, Minn. "I'm sure he's in politics
right now and probably in the public eye a little bit." Sellers has read
every Left Behind book and is waiting for the next one-"anxiously." "It
helped me to look at the news that's going on about Israel and Palestine,"
which, he believes, "is just ushering in the End Times, and it's exciting
His sister-in-law Jodie thinks technology is a key to hastening the End
Times. "'When Christ returns, every eye shall see Him,'" she quotes from
Revelation. Thanks to CNN and the Internet, "we're getting to a place where
every eye could actually behold such an event." The books were enough to
persuade Sandra Keathley, a Boeing employee in Wichita, Kans., not to buy
Microsoft's Windows XP, because she has heard rumors that it carries a
method of tracking e-mail. (In fact, the software had an instant-messaging
bug that was later fixed.) If the Antichrist were to come, she fears, "and
you want to contact another Christian, they could see that, trace it."
The growing audience for apocalyterature extends even into mainline
Protestantism, a tradition that has spent little time on fire and brimstone.
"I would go for years without anyone asking about the End Times," says
Thomas Tewell, senior minister of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in
midtown Manhattan-hardly a hothouse of apocalyptic fervor. "But since Sept.
11, hard-core, crusty, cynical New York lawyers and stockbrokers who are not
moved by anything are saying, 'Is the world going to end?', 'Are all the
events of the Bible coming true?' They want to get right with God. I've
never seen anything like it in my 30 years in ministry."
There has never really been a common religious experience in America, and
that is as true as ever now: some ministers report that these days when they
announce they will be preaching on the Apocalypse, attendance jumps at least
20%. But elsewhere church attendance is back down to where it was before
Sept. 11, and those pastors see little sign of existential dread. Pastor Ted
Haggard, who started a church in his Colorado Springs, Colo., basement that
now has 9,000 members, attributes the surge in End Times interest to the
Christian media empire as much as anything else: "Because of the theology of
our church, I don't think we're close to a Second Coming," he says. "But
many of the major Christian media outlets believe that there is fulfillment,
and people respond to that. People love gloom and doom. People love pending
judgment. No. 1, they long to see Jesus, and No. 2, they look for the
justice that Jesus will bring to the earth in his Second Coming."
Go into a seminary library, and it's hard to find scholarly books on
apocalyptic theology; academics tend to treat this tradition as sociology.
They see End Times interest rising and falling on waves of cataclysm and
calm. Masses of people became convinced the end was nigh when Rome was
sacked in 410, when the Black Death wiped out one-third of the population of
14th century Europe, when the tectonic shudders of the Lisbon earthquake in
1755 caused church bells to ring as far away as England, and certainly after
1945, when for the first time human beings harnessed the power to bring
about their total destruction, not an act of God, but an act of mankind.
America, a country born with a sense that divine providence was paying close
attention from the start, has always had a weakness for prophecy. With its
deep religious history but no established church, this country welcomes
religious free-lancers and entrepreneurs. Both the visionaries and the con
artists have access to the altar. It took the shocking events of the last
mid-century to draw apocalyptic thinking off the Fundamentalist margins and
into the mainstream. The rise of Hitler, a wicked man who wanted to murder
the Jews, read like a Bible story; his utter destruction, and the subsequent
return of the Jews to Israel after 2,000 years and the capture of
Jerusalem's Old City by the Israelis in 1967, were taken by devout
Christians and Jews alike as evidence of God's handiwork. Israel once again
controlled the Temple Mount, a site so holy to Islam and Christianity as
well as Judaism that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's simple act of
visiting the mount was sufficient to ignite the current Palestinian
uprising. The Temple Mount is the location of al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the
holiest sites in Islam, and is also the very place where Christians and Jews
believe a new temple must one day be rebuilt before the Messiah can come. An
Australian Evangelical once set fire to the mosque to clear the way, and to
this day security remains exceptionally tight for fear that those who take
Scripture literally might not just believe in what the prophets promised,
but might also try to help it along.
But it took something more, a pre-eminent theological entrepreneur, to bring
a wider American audience to the apocalyptic tradition. Hal Lindsey's The
Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970, became the best-selling
nonfiction book of its decade; Time called Lindsey "the Jeremiah of our
generation" for his detailed argument that the end was approaching. "That's
the first book I ever read about last days, and it changed my life," says
George Morrison, pastor of Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo., where
average Sunday-morning attendance is 4,000. "All of a sudden, I was made
aware that wow, there's an order to this thing." Lindsey's explanation of
the Bible's warnings came just as a backlash was stirring against '60s
liberalism, an echo of the 18th century reaction to the Enlightenment.
Lindsey caught the moment that launched a decade of evangelical resurgence,
when for the first time in generations believers organized to put their
stamp on this world, rather than the next.
The election of Ronald Reagan brought "Christian Zionism" deeper into the
White House: Lindsey served as a consultant on Middle East affairs to the
Pentagon and the Israeli government. Interior Secretary James Watt, a
Pentecostalist, in discussing environmental concerns, observed, "I don't
know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns."
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger affirmed, "I have read the Book of
Revelation, and, yes, I believe the world is going to end-by an act of God,
I hope-but every day I think time is running out." It was no accident that
Reagan made his "evil empire" speech at a meeting of the National
Association of Evangelicals.
It never seemed to hurt that Lindsey's predictions passed their "sell by"
date: during the Gulf War, sales of his book jumped 83%, as people feared
Saddam Hussein was rebuilding Babylon and dragging the world to its last
battle. Nowadays Lindsey sees his early warnings being vindicated almost
daily. "The Muslim terrorists are going to strike the U.S. again and strike
us hard so that we cease to be one of the world's great powers," he says.
"It's not far off." When he wrote his best seller, he says, not many people
took prophecy seriously. "I was called a false prophet for saying there'd be
a United States of Europe back in 1970, but there is one now. People have
watched this scenario continue to come together, and that's why so many
people today are believing we are in the midst of last days."
Actually, the more Evangelicals became involved in politics, the more they
engaged with the world here and now, the more interest in End Times theology
drifted back into the realm of entertainment. And many argued that was a
healthy sign. Not all Evangelicals embrace End Times theology, and some see
in it a dangerous distraction. Jesus said that when it comes to the time of
judgment, "no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only."
In that light, if Christians are called to put their faith in Christ,
whatever trials they face, then it undermines that trust to try to read the
signs, unlock the code, focus on what can't be known rather than on what
must be done: heal the sick, tend the poor, spread the Gospel.
It is one thing to become politically active to deploy that Gospel to
improve people's lives, another to try to promote a specific religious
scenario. Intercessors for America, a 30-year-old prayer ministry, helps
keep people politically connected through e-mail alerts and telephone-prayer
chains. The June 11 Prayer Alert implored, "Lord, raise up government
leaders in Israel, the United States (and worldwide) who will not seek to
'divide the land,' and who would recognize the unique significance of
Jerusalem in God's end-time purposes." A refusal to consider Israel's
withdrawal from any occupied territory would tend to complicate the peace
process: virtually every proposal has involved a land-for-peace swap. Yet at
the same time, "if this wave of terrorism continues without a meaningful
peace treaty soon," predicts John Hagee, pastor of the 17,000-member
Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, "the sparks of war will produce a
third world war. And that will be the coming of the End Times. That will be
the end of the world as we know it."
To the true believers, that seems less a threat than the fulfillment of a
promise. "If we keep our eyes on Israel, we will know about the return of
Christ," says Oleeta Herrmann, 77, of Xenia, Ohio. "Everything that is
happening-wars, rumors of war-in the Middle East is happening according to
Scripture." Herrmann is a member of the End-Time Handmaidens and Servants, a
group of global missionaries who preach the Gospel with an emphasis on End
Times teachings. Sept. 11 is proof of her belief that the Second Coming of
Christ is "closer than it ever has been," Herrmann says.
And therein lies the central paradox in this wave of End Times interest. If
you believe the end is near, is the reaction hope, or dread? "Even though
the Left Behind series has been popular, many people still think of the End
Times as negative," wrote Kyle Watson on his prophecy news website,
AtlantaChristianWeekly.com. He thinks believers should be excited about the
end of the world. "Try viewing prophecy and current events [as] how much
closer we are to being with Christ in heaven."
That impulse to hope for a good ending is one Cal Thomas, the conservative
columnist, sees even in the disciples' questions for Jesus. He cites Bible
passages in which the Apostles press Jesus for clues about how the future
unfolds. "This is intellectual comfort food, the whole Left Behind
phenomenon, because it says to people, in a popularized way, it's all going
to pan out in the end," he says. "It assures them, in the midst of a general
cultural breakdown and a time of growing danger, that God is going to redeem
the time." Evangelicals who had felt somehow left behind in secular terms,
by a coarse culture and a fear of general moral decay, welcome arguments
that even the most tragic events may be evidence of God's larger plan. In
fact, you don't have to be religious to be hoping for that as well.
-With reporting by Amanda Bower/New York, Rita Healy/ Denver, Marc
Hequet/St. Paul, Tom Morton/ Casper, Adam Pitluk/San Antonio, Matt Rees/
Jerusalem, Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Melissa Sattley/Austin and Daniel
Copyright 2002, Times Magazine
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