CCNet DIGEST, 3 July 1998

    Andrew Yee <>

    Gerhard Hahn, DLR, Berlin-Adlershof <>

    NEW SCIENTIST, 4 July 1998

    Bob Kobres <>

    Jonathan TATE <>

    Michael Martin-Smith <>

    Paul Almond <>


From Andrew Yee <>

Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii
Contacts: Dr. David Tholen     808-956-6930
          Mr. Robert Whiteley  808-956-6700
July 1, 1998
Astronomers Find New Class of Asteroid
University of Hawaii astronomers have discovered a new type of
asteroid, whose orbits lie completely within the orbit of the Earth.
Previously, all known asteroids traveled in an orbit farther from the
Sun than the Earth, over at least a portion of their journey.
"All other efforts to discover asteroids on a collision course with the
Earth are being directed at a region of the sky almost opposite the
Sun," said David Tholen, planetary astronomer at the Institute for
"The significance of this discovery is that we would have otherwise
never found this new asteroid because it apparently doesn't travel to
that region of the sky being scanned by other search efforts."
If such an asteroid's orbit around the Sun intersects with the Earth's
orbit, it could hit the Earth and we would have never seen it coming,
said Tholen. We would have been caught unaware by an asteroid
approaching us from the daytime side of the sky, he said.
Tholen and graduate student Robert Whiteley made the observation using
a specialized camera fitted on the University of Hawaii's 2.24-meter
telescope atop Mauna Kea last February.
While scanning the dusk and dawn skies to assess the size and number of
asteroids within the Earth's orbit, Whiteley spotted the object, since
designated 1998 DK36, on his computer screen, shortly after Tholen had
recorded the images at Mauna Kea Observatory and sent them to Whiteley's
computer via the Internet.
Additional observations made the following night made it possible to
compute a preliminary orbit of the object around the Sun. Tholen said
the exact size and shape of the asteroid orbit remain uncertain.
However, the orbit's farthest point from the Sun could be determined
relatively accurately, and it appears to be very close to, but slightly
inside the orbit of the Earth.
The asteroid is thought to be about 40 meters in diameter, similar in
size to the one that flattened the Tunguska region of Siberia on June
30, 1908, as well as the iron object that produced Meteor Crater in
Arizona 50,000 years ago.
Could it collide with the Earth?
"We were unable to obtain enough observations to perform a formal
probability calculation, though the best-fitting orbit has the object
passing an apparently safe 750,000 miles from the Earth's orbit," said
Tholen. "To do a better job with such discoveries, we really need to
have a telescope that we can dedicate to such difficult observations."
"1998 DK36 is nothing to lose sleep over," said Tholen. "It's the ones
we haven't found yet that are of concern."
Black & white and color diagrams showing the orbit are available:
* PostScript (black and white,
* PDF (black and white,
* Image (GIF, black and white,
* PostScript (color,
* PDF (color,


From Gerhard Hahn, DLR, Berlin-Adlershof <>
Dear Benny,
We would like to ask you to circulate this short communication in the
CC-Digest in order to spread information on the O.D.A.S. program to a
wider circle of people interested in NEOs.
With kind regards

Gerhard Hahn,
on behalf of the O.D.A.S. Team

O. D. A. S.
The Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur (OCA) - DLR Asteroid Survey has been
operational for more than a year. Despite its limited resources it has
contributed significantly to the positional database of the Minor
Planet Center. During the period of its operation 3 NEOs and 7
Marscrossers have been discovered. Almost 6000 asteroids have been
observed and more than 1100 new designations have been assigned by the
MPC. A total of more than 22700 automatically determined astrometric
positions have been published so far.
The Survey is a joint venture by the DLR Institute of Planetary
Exploration and the OCA. It is the only professionally operating
systematic NEO search program in Europe. O.D.A.S. was originally
developed to test both hardware and software, and to experiment with
different observing techniques in order to gain the necessary
experience to perform highly automated detection of moving objects. It
is now operated on a routine basis for 8-12 nights per month, using the
90cm Schmidt telescope of the OCA in Calern.
Although the results obtained so far may not be comparable to the large
U.S. surveys, we think the achievements of O.D.A.S. show that we do
have the capability and significantly contribute to an international
NEO search program.
The total absence of any word on non-US efforts in NEO search and
research activities in some recent documents circulated by David
Morrison and Clark Chapman to the international community shows that
there is an obvious lack of information, that we would like to fill
partially with this short communication.
We do feel that the existence of other active NEO search program should
be mentioned in the discussion of the future organisation of a so
called Spaceguard Survey.
We also think that the effort by the Beijing NEO search program
operated at the Xinglong station is worth mentioning too. And most
importantly, the truly globally spread network of both professional and
amateur groups performing the necessary follow up obserations.
Consulting the daily updates and other NEO related pages provided by
the excellent services of the IAU's Minor Planet Center gives a good
opportunity to see the international contributions actually made on a
routine basis. See e.g.
The latest up-to-date information on O.D.A.S. can be found on our
webpages under URL
On behalf of the O.D.A.S. team

Gerhard Hahn Hans Scholl
Martin Hoffmann Alain Maury
Gerhard Neukum Dominique Albanese


From NEW SCIENTIST, 4 July 1998

Protecting the International Space Station from being puntuated by
shards of space debris could add as much as $5 billion to the project's
spiralling costs.

Nobody can agree on the staion's true price tag. Earlier this year, an
independent team of investigators said that NASA's estimate of $17.4
billion was more than $7 billion too low. The General Accounting Office
(GAO), the research arm of the US Congress, has estimated the total
development cost to be about $21.9 billion.

But Allen Li, an associate director with the GAO, told the House of
Representatives Committee on Science last week that both of these
estimates overlook the problem of space debris. "NASA recently updated
its overall requirement for space debris tracking to include the
ability to track and catalogue objects as small as 1 centimetre," Li
told the committee. But that will mean a major upgrade, as the system,
now run by the Department of Defense's Space Surveillance Network, has
trouble tracking particles less than 10 centimetres across.

The station's hull could be punctuated by these particles. "It's
capable of withstanding pieces of debris up to 1 and perhaps 2
centimetres," Goldin told the committee. "Tracking down to 1 centimetre
is a very tough job. It's something that we must work on."

How this work will be funded is still unclear. Upgrading the system
will require antennas with higher resolution and improved
signal-processing facilities. Goldin told the committee that any extra
costs incurred by the space station would come out of NASA's existing
budget. But if the cost is as high as $5 billion, as Li's report to
Congress suggests, that would be impossible. "There's no more water in
that well," says James Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House science

Charles Seife, Washington DC

(C) 1998 New Scientist


From Bob Kobres <>

In response to Juan Zapata-Arauco's concern over effective means of 
diverting PHOs, I will first point out that I have not suggested that
'Star Wars' (SDI) technology could be directly applied to Earth
Defense. What I have tried to encourage is a redirection of talents
and resources, which have historically been applied to various areas of
weapon research, to the task of biosphere protection. 

My acceptance of using nuclear devices is based strictly on the need of
high energy density and, as I have pointed out, such energy does not
need to be limited to application via thermonuclear explosion.  See:
CCNet DEBATES, 3 June 1998.

Regarding Asphaug's and other's work: I'm glad to see that our
computational tools are allowing us to abandon the homogeneous
'spherical chicken' description of small solar system bodies.  The
obvious point is that we need to develop a greater empirical
understanding of the various objects that could affect the future of
our biosphere. Not using available time to aggressively learn all we
can about potentially threatening objects and how best to influence
their orbits is one of the main reasons that a wait-and-see approach
could result in tragedy. When--NOT IF--the need arises it would be
preferable to know, rather than hope, that we can affect the PHO as the
situation requires. Though a genuine threat may not occur for many
decades, we will lose nothing by beginning to empirically educate
ourselves now. 

This popular concept of a 'Star Wars' type shield against asteroids and
comets seems to come from the sci-fi/space-movie mindset. An
accelerated international effort to effect a solid industrial presence
in Space is the type of action that can provide the greatest insurance
against future cosmic crackups. 

As an aside: Because the realization that impact events have greatly
influenced the course of Life on this planet is relatively new, there
is more theory kicking around than fact. The actual gauge of recent
events however, is recorded beneath our feet. It would seem
advantageous in gaining a better understanding of the contemporary
frequency of occurrence, as well as the real influence on the
biosphere, to increase funding of investigative efforts that could dig
up such information. Though many current studies of
sudden-global-climate-change are likely to be sifting through time
periods that experienced an impact event, it is still common to find
that an accretion event is not even considered as a potential trigger. 
This situation is changing but I think that too often the 'giggle
factor,' combined with a very conservative attitude about frequency of
occurrence, continues to mitigate serious attempts to probe for
extraterrestrial signals in available cores and samples. Any
suggestions as to how we can help increase funding and interest in
research that is better focused on identifying recent environmentally
significant impact events? 

Still looking.

Bob Kobres


From Jonathan TATE <>

Fronting up a two hour phone-in programme, hosted by James Whale of
“Talk Radio” between 11 pm and 1 am is probably not most people’s idea
of fun, especially when combined with a two hour drive at each end! 
However, no offer of an opportunity to put the Spaceguard case is to be
sniffed at, even at 24 hours notice; all the more so when audience
figures of 3 million are being talked about.

While Mr. Whale has the reputation of not treating fools lightly (or so
I was warned), this can be turned to fine advantage once he, as an
individual, is convinced of your case.  I believe that we managed to
achieve this last night, leading to a pretty smooth ride.

The main lesson to take away from events such as this is that people
are interested in the subject of Planetary Defence, and do want to
learn more. On the other hand, public interest is very limited in its
duration. Some of the questions that were asked during the programme
are worth noting, as they represent some of the topics that people most
want to know about. Some of the typical questions were:

? Aren’t the Americans already sorting this problem out with secret
Star Wars technology?

? If a potential impact is predicted, is the public going to be told?

? Why worry ? – There are too many other things to worry about on Earth
– nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, famine etc.

? Does it really matter if the human race is wiped out? Why interfere
with nature?

? What was the Tunguska object?

? Would you be safe in a deep mine, or in a high flying aircraft?

? Isn’t all of this Spaceguard stuff just a ruse to enable scientists
to keep their jobs?

? Are not the odds of a major impact too small to worry about?

? How do we know that all of the craters that we see are not billions
of years old?

? Is it possible that previous civilisations have been destroyed by
impact events already?

? Can we mine asteroids?

? If an asteroid was found on a collision course with Earth, what could
we do about it?

? What is the difference between asteroids and comets?

? Was Velikovsky right in "Worlds in Collision"?

? Could gas and coal come from other planets that have passed close to
or hit the Earth?

? What will happen when all of the planets are in alignment - will it
cause a massive shift of the Earth's crust?

? Can astrononomers really predict orbits as accurately as they say
they can?

? Are we really in danger?  The last big impact was the one that killed
the dinosaurs.

? Is it worth spending money on saving the lives of people who haven't
been born yet?

? Would an impact really cause as much damage as you are saying? How do
you know?

? How do you know how many Earth crossing asteroids there are out there?

? How close can a comet come to the Earth before it becomes a danger?

? Isn't the fact that governments are not taking this threat seriously
proof that it's not worth worrying about?

Perhaps the most telling question is the last one. Many of them may
sound pretty simplistic, even stupid, but it is always worth
remembering that most people know little or nothing about astronomy,
let alone the NEO threat!  The greatest dangers are to be too
"technical", or to be patronising.

As an opportunity to spread the message such programmes are enormously
valuable, and well worth participating in. After all, one of the major
goals of Spaceguard UK is to "provide a national United Kingdom
information service to raise public awareness of the Near Earth Object
threat, and technology available to predict and avoid dangerous

My thanks to Nick Pope, a new member of Spaceguard UK, for the
introduction to "Talk Radio".  We clearly have some way to go, but at
least we are trying!

Jay Tate
Spaceguard UK


From Michael Martin-Smith <>


Last night's Talk Radio, hosted by James Whale, gave Spaceguard-UK's
Jay Tate well over an hour as host to a national phone-- in, on the
subject of the threat from asteroid/comet collisions, from 23-00 hours
till after midnight. Audience figures are usually estimated as 3
millions or so.

I was able to have a three way discussion with Jay and James Whale,
pointing up the constructive possibilities of NEOs, in particular their
role in building a human industrial future in Space( carrot and stick!)
The growing convergence of ideas between Spaceguard and Space Age is a
natural development, and last night found its biggest ever audience--
the majority of whom, I would say, are of a younger generation? James
Whale, as a character, is very frank, and is quite inclined to let you
know if he is unsympathetic to your viewpoint; in our case, he came
over as fairminded and, I think,favourably impressed . He handled
an important if complicated issue, with considerable skill A good
evening's work by Jay, and Mr Whale, for whom congratulations are well
in order.

Michael Martin-Smith


From Paul Almond <>

Dear Benny,

One of the many funny quotes your upscale readers might not have

"In Armageddon, Bay has attained his noxious nirvana. There isn't a
scene in the film that exists on any level except as a hard sell.

"If this 'movie as trailor' thing really catches on, it's the death of
story telling -- not to mention, grace, subtlety, coherence, character
development, beauty. It's Armageddon all right."
Peter Rainer, in the Los Angeles New Times  July 2nd.

Best wishes,        Paul Almond 

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