CCNet 54/2003 - 8 July 2003

"Humanity lives with a calculus of infinite devastation times infinitesimal probability."
   --Steven Ward











Evan Seamone <>


Law Article Explores the "Duty to Expect the Unexpected" In Responding to Extreme Global Threats

Dateline:       July 2, 2003 ... New York, New York
Contact Name:   Tracy Horton
Contact Phone:  212-854-1604
Web Address:

New York, New York - July 2, 2003 - As nations mobilize to combat different international disasters, it seems hard to develop general prevention, mitigation, or reaction strategies that could apply to all of them. After all, strategies developed by vaccination scientists to control the spread of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) won't likely extinguish trans-border forest fires. Yet, some legal practitioners research similarities in the measures adopted by international organizations to deal with no-notice disasters. When nations adopt identical measures in their combined approaches, these rules may carry the weight of international law. If "rules of the road" can be identified, they could apply to more uncommon disasters and also inform us about international obligations to deal with serious ethical dilemmas.

In "The Duty to Expect the Unexpected," a recent article published in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Evan R. Seamone, a lawyer and policy analyst, offers a new solution to the problem of preparing for asteroid and comet collisions with the Earth on an international scale. The article identifies the responsibilities of nations to implement various mitigation strategies before governments are aware of potential threatening space objects. A key example is the mandate to conduct simulations of different aspects of the potential harm in an effort to answer questions where no answers exist. Seamone bases the numerous guidelines proposed in the article on a comparative analysis of regulations adopted to deal with three no-notice disasters with the potential to harm multiple nations simultaneously.

The first scenario analyzes measures adopted by nations to deal with biological terrorism and nuclear reactor emergencies, such as the recent TOPOFF exercises instituted by the U.S. and some of its neighbors to prepare "top officials" for emergencies and International Nuclear Emergency Exercises (INEX) facilitated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The second scenario analyzes the rules and practices adopted by of the Northeastern Compact, an organization operating to protect regions of Canada and the Northeastern U.S. to combat trans-boundary forest fires.
The third scenario analyzes the International Health Regulations and other measures adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) to deal with the problem of Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases (ERIDS).

These little/no-notice disasters are unaffected by borders and their reach is not limited by ethnicity, religion, or gender. Seamone argues that common solutions to such international problems provide the foundation for several governmental obligations. The measures are all related to a precautionary principle that requires action to address harm before it occurs, even without certainty over the time or extent of the damage threatened. The principle is rooted in the undeniable responsibility of nations to preserve their citizens and requires international cooperation when the harm threatened is so great that no effort by a single nation is enough. The article explains how understanding the method by which these legal theories translate into practice can provide further guidance on dealing with the most difficult crises faced by the global community.

IF INTERESTED in receiving an offprint of Evan R. Seamone's "The Duty to Expect the Unexpected: Mitigating Extreme Natural Threats to the Global Commons Such as Asteroid and Comet Impacts with the Earth," the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law can facilitate such orders. (Author's e-mail:


Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

The draft program for the Australian Minor Planet Workshop is now online at

In particular, note the topic of discussion at 3.15 on the Saturday.

Michael Paine

Australian Minor Planet Workshop
July 25, 26 & 27, 2003
Nelson Bay, N.S.W.

Draft Program

Friday, 25 July 2003
2:00 PM - 6:00 PM - Session Chair: Colin Bembrick
2:15 PM - Greg Crawford - Welcoming remarks and announcements
2:15 PM - 3:15 PM - Richard P. Binzel - Opening Keynote Address:
"Asteroids Come of Age"
3:45 PM - 4:15 PM - Steve Larson "Siding Spring NEO Survey"
4:15 PM - 4:45 PM - Steve Chesley "Non-gravitational accelerations on
comets. (And asteroids, too!)"
4:45 PM - 5:15 PM - Jean-Luc Margot "Minor Planet Binaries" (to be
confirmed) or free discussion

Saturday, 26 July 2003
9:00 AM - 12:30 PM - Session Chair: Alan Harris
9:00 AM - 9:15 AM - Steve Chesley "Quantification of Impact Induced Hazards"
9:15 AM - 9:30 AM - Ted Bowell "The Lowell Observatory Near Earth Object
9:30 AM - 9:45 AM - Alan Gilmore "NEO Astrometry at Mt John"
9:45 AM - 10:15 AM - Bill Yeung "The Three Year Experience of an Amateur
Asteroid Hunter"
10:15 AM - 10:30 AM - Steve Chesley "J002E3: The putative return of the
Apollo 12 S-IVB."
11:15 AM - 11:45 AM - Tony Beresford "Man-made satellites & Minor Planet
11:45 AM - 12:00 PM - Greg Crawford "Using TheSky/CCDSoftV5 for Astrometry"
12:00 PM - 12:15 PM - David Higgins "Using Canopus for Astrometry"
12:15 PM - 12:30 PM - Bill Yeung
"Auto Astrometry with PinPoint"

2:00 PM - 5:00 PM - Session Chair: Ted Bowell
2:00 PM - 2:30 PM - Dan Klinglesmith "Remote Observing in Education and
Asteroid Observing"
2:30 PM - 3:00 PM - Mike Nolan "Radar imaging of Near Earth Asteroids"
3:00 PM - 3:15 PM - Syuichi Nakano "Japanese Comet and Asteroid
observations in the past 10 years"
3:15 PM - 3:30 PM - Ted Bowell, moderator
Discussion: How can we re-activate observers in Japan, and activate
observers in Australia and New Zealand?"
4:00 PM - 4:15 PM - Ellen Howell "Asteroid Colours: Clues to Composition"
4:15 PM - 4:30 PM - Zhao Haibin "Asteroids Search Plan of Purple
Mountain Observatory (People's Republic of China)"
4:30 PM - 5:00 PM - Practice of astrometry or free time

Sunday, 27 July 2003 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM - Session Chair: Greg Crawford
9:00 AM - 9:30 AM - Alan Harris "Binaries, rubble piles, slow and fast
rotators: recent results from asteroid lightcurve studies"
9:30 AM - 10:00 AM - Colin Bembrick "Recent Asteroid Photometry by
Australian Amateurs"
10:45 AM - 11:15 AM - David Higgins "A new technique for capturing and
reducing light curve data for slow rotating asteroids"
11:15 AM - 11:45 AM - Tom Richards "Packages and Pitfalls - comparing
AIP, MaxIm and Mira for photometry of moving objects"

Sunday, 27 July 2003 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM - Session Chair: Ray Smartt
2:00 PM - 2:30 PM - Dave Herald "Diameters and profiles of asteroids
derived from stellar occultations"
2:30 PM - 3:00 PM - Ted Bowell "Lowell Observatory Asteroid Web Services"
3:00 PM - 3:30 PM - Gareth Williams "The MPC and the World Wide Web"
4:00 PM - 4:15 PM - Alan Harris - Summation
4:15 PM - 4:45 PM - Alan Harris, moderator
Concluding Panel Discussion: "What Do You Want Us To Observe?"


BBC News Online, 4 July 2003

BBC News Online has won eight of the 21 prizes on offer at the annual European Online Journalism (EOJ) awards.

At a ceremony in Barcelona, the Outstanding Contribution to Online Journalism award went to Mike Smartt, editor-in-chief of BBC News Interactive.

Judges said the award was "for an individual achievement in protecting and defending online rights and freedoms".

Dr David Whitehouse, BBC News Online's science correspondent, won the best news story broken on the net.

That was for his story "Space Rock on Collision Course", about the 2002 discovery of an asteroid which could hit the Earth in 2019. Dr Whitehouse has now won awards for four years running.


Andrew Yee <>

[ ]

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Swindon, U.K.

For more information please contact:


Dr Hugh Jones
Liverpool John Moores University
Mobile: +44 (0) 7956 945276 (will be available during the conference on this number)
Tel: +44 (0) 151 231 2909 (From Friday onwards)

Dr Alan Penny
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0) 1235 445675
Mobile: +44 (0) 7952-244-350

Julia Maddock
PPARC Press Office
Tel: +44 (0) 1793 442094


Dr Chris Tinney
Anglo Australian Observatory
Tel: +61 2 9372 4849
Mobile: +61 0416 092 117

Dr Brad Carter
University of Southern Queensland
Mobile +61 0401 337 319

Helen Sim
Communications Manager, CSIRO
Tel: +61 2 9372 4251


Carnegie Institution of Washington
Dr R. Paul Butler and Dr C. McCarthy
Tel: +1 202 478 8866
Email:  /

Dr Geoff Marcy and Dr Debra Fischer
University of California, Berkeley
Tel: +1 510 642 1952 / 643 8973
Email:  /

Josh Chamot
Media Officer, National Science Foundation
Tel +1 703 292 7730

Embargoed until Thursday July 3rd 2003, 1300 GMT

Astronomers find 'home from home' -- 90 light years away!

Astronomers looking for planetary systems that resemble our own solar system
have found the most similar formation so far. British astronomers, working with
Australian and American colleagues, have discovered a planet like Jupiter in
orbit round a nearby star that is very like our own Sun. Among the hundred found
so far, this system is the one most similar to our Solar System. The planet's
orbit is like that of Jupiter in our own Solar System, especially as it is
nearly circular and there are no bigger planets closer in to its star.

"This planet is going round in a nearly circular orbit three-fifths the size of
our own Jupiter. This is the closest we have yet got to a real Solar System-like
planet, and advances our search for systems that are even more like our own,"
said UK team leader Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University.

The planet was discovered using the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope [AAT]
in New South Wales, Australia. The discovery, which is part of a large search
for solar systems that resemble our own, will be announced today (Thursday, July
3rd 2003) by Hugh Jones (Liverpool John Moores University) at a conference on
"Extrasolar Planets: Today and Tomorrow" in Paris, France.

"It is the exquisite precision of our measurements that lets us search for these
Jupiters -- they are harder to find than the more exotic planets found so far.
Perhaps most stars will be shown to have planets like our own Solar System",
said Dr Alan Penny, from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The new planet, which has a mass about twice that of Jupiter, circles its star
(HD70642) about every six years. HD70642 can be found in the constellation
Puppis and is about 90 light years away from Earth. The planet is 3.3 times
further from its star as the Earth is from the Sun (about halfway between Mars
and Jupiter if it were in our own system).

The long-term goal of this programme is the detection of true analogues to the
Solar System: planetary systems with giant planets in long circular orbits and
small rocky planets on shorter circular orbits. This discovery of a Jupiter-like
gas giant planet around a nearby star is a step toward this goal. The discovery
of other such planets and planetary satellites within the next decade will help
astronomers assess the Solar System's place in the galaxy and whether planetary
systems like our own are common or rare.

Prior to the discovery of extrasolar planets, planetary systems were generally
predicted to be similar to the Solar System -- giant planets orbiting beyond 4
Earth-Sun distances in circular orbits, and terrestrial mass planets in inner
orbits. The danger of using theoretical ideas to extrapolate from just one
example -- our own Solar System -- has been shown by the extrasolar planetary
systems now known to exist which have very different properties. Planetary
systems are much more diverse than ever imagined.

However these new planets have only been found around one-tenth of stars where
they were looked for. It is possible that the harder-to-find very Solar
System-like planets do exist around most stars.

The vast majority of the presently known extrasolar planets lie in elliptical
orbits, which would preclude the existence of habitable terrestrial planets.
Previously, the only gas giant found to orbit beyond 3 Earth-Sun distances in a
near circular orbit was the outer planet of the 47 Ursa Majoris system -- a
system which also includes an inner gas giant at 2 Earth-Sun distances (unlike
the Solar System). This discovery of a 3.3 Earth-Sun distance planet in a near
circular orbit around a Sun-like star bears the closest likeness to our Solar
System found to date and demonstrates our searches are precise enough to find
Jupiter-like planets in Jupiter-like orbit.

To find evidence of planets, the astronomers use a high-precision technique
developed by Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institute of Washington and Geoff Marcy
of the University of California at Berkeley to measure how much a star "wobbles"
in space as it is affected by a planet's gravity. As an unseen planet orbits a
distant star, the gravitational pull causes the star to move back and forth in
space. That wobble can be detected by the 'Doppler shifting' it causes in the
star's light. This discovery demonstrates that the long term precision of the
team's technique is 3 metres per second (7mph) making the Anglo-Australian
Planet Search at least as precise as any of the many planet search projects

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's
strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public
understanding in four broad areas of science -- particle physics, astronomy,
cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to
scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class
facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the
European Laboratory for Particle Physics, CERN, the European Southern
Observatory and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK
telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK
Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the
MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme provides
funding to both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving
public understanding of its areas of science.

Notes for Editors:

The team is supported by the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council,
the Australian government and the US National Science Foundation.

Dr Hugh Jones will be presenting details of the new planet on 3 July at the
"Extrasolar Planets: Today and Tomorrow" conference in Paris. The conference
will be web-streamed live from .  The paper describing the new
planet has been accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Images are available to download from

A) The image shows an impression by David A. Hardy (c PPARC) of the possible
scene from a moon orbiting the extra-solar planet in orbit around the star
HD70642. The planet has a mass about twice that of Jupiter and orbits the star
in around six years, with a nearly circular orbit at more than three times the
Earth-Sun distance. The star HD70642 is a 7th magnitude star in the southern
constellation Puppis, and has properties very similar to that of our Sun. The
similarity of the appearance of the extra- solar planet to that of Jupiter
arises because it has a similar mass. The possible existence of the moons been
inferred from our knowledge of the planets in our own Solar System and from
theories of planetary formation, they have not actually been detected.
Photo credit: David A. Hardy,
Copyright (c) Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

B. Animation of a trip from the Earth to the new HD 70642 planet.
Notes on the animation:
1) The artist's impression of the planet and its hypothetical moons is a
different one from the David Hardy image at A;
2) the background Milky Way changes little during the trip because the star is
very close to the Earth, compared to the thousands of light years to the center
of our Galaxy;
3) The Southern Cross is shown at the start because this southern star (we are
observing from Australia) is not far from the Southern Cross.

C. The 'orbit' diagram shows the size and shape of the star HD70642 orbit
compared with the orbits of planets in our own Solar System.

D. Illustration of the Doppler Wobble Technique.

E. An image of the Anglo Australian Telescope at Siding Springs in Australia can
be found at or a
picture of the dome at sunset .  The 3.9-m
Anglo-Australian telescope is the large telescope in the background.


* The Anglo-Australian Planet Search Home Page
* Exoplanets Home Page
* The Extra-solar Planets Encyclopaedia


High Energy Physics

From: Robert Foot <>
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 03:00:43 GMT   (9kb)
Authors: R. Foot, S. Mitra

Slow-moving (approximately 15 km/s) 'dark matter particles' have allegedly been discovered in a recent experiment. We explore the possibility that these slow moving dark matter particles are small mirror matter dust particles originating from our solar system. Ways of further testing our hypothesis, including the possibility of observing these dust particles in cryogenic detectors such as NAUTILUS, are also discussed.




Newsday, 6 July 2003,0,2093934.story

Charles V. Zehren

Late at night, the stars shine bright as the waves crest and wash ashore.

Yet, here I am in Montauk interrupting my summer reverie with thoughts of doom and destruction on an apocalyptic scale. I guess this is what happens when you spend too much time hanging out with economists.

For eons, powerful storms and surf have taken their toll on this lovely shoreline. Now, chunks of it are literally falling into the sea. This has local property owners either fretting about the value of their investment or cheering about the dwindling supply of developable land.

But as hurricane season gets under way and insurance payments come due, consider, if you will, the even more unnerving financial - and respiratory - implications of a low- odds, high-impact scenario recently forwarded by a pair of University of California Santa Cruz scientists.

First, let's start with the asteroid.

Geological history shows us that over the last 65 million years, the Earth has suffered the impacts of about 200 "bolides" of one kilometer or more in diameter. And now comes news that there's a 1 in 300 chance that "1950 DA," a space rock large enough to sport the designation "minor planet," will collide with our globe on March 16, 2880. This has prompted Steven Ward and Erik Asphaug to ask: What would happen if splashdown occurred at some arbitrary spot in the Atlantic several horizons east of here?

The pair revved up their computers, ground through equations and came up with a model projecting a 40,000 mph impact at 35 degrees North latitude, 70 degrees West longitude, or 372 miles out to sea. This massive cannonball 7/10ths of a mile across would hit with the explosive power of 5,600 megatons of TNT, blast away the ocean, augur into the seafloor and leave a hole 11.8 miles wide and about 3 1/2 miles deep.

Technically speaking, the scientists say, the ocean's "wave components" would become "excited." But in layman's terms, all of that displaced water would have to go someplace. And a lot of that "someplace" would be the East Coast of the United States, including Long Island and New York City.

On a calm day, you wouldn't notice much at first. But about two hours after impact, the surf would pick up, with a sudden rise in the tide of about 3-5 feet followed by a retreat. Then, the cycle would build with exponential force.

Over the next 90 minutes, tsunamis would shoal and thunder ashore every two minutes, growing to 300 feet high and running inland at least 2 miles, before washing back, scouring away everything in their path. Within four hours, virtually the entire Eastern Seaboard from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras would experience 200- to 400-foot rollers.

"The best way to think about it," Ward said, "is as if some giant just tilted over the whole ocean up on one side and all the water slid over to the other." Instead of the tide rising and then falling 8 feet in 12 hours, it would rise and fall 300 feet in two minutes. "Rockaway and Montauk," he said, "would vanish."

I could imagine finding relative safety mid-Island atop Jaynes Hill, which stands, conveniently, at 400 feet above what we now consider sea level. Roughly speaking, though, the Atlantic coastline would reform at what used to be Sunrise Highway, with wetlands running north toward the Long Island Expressway.

Lucky Plainview residents would finally be able to change their their town name to "Waterview." Nautical maps would show everything east of Flanders Bay as a mere sandbar. The wine industry would convert to aquaculture. Dune Road residents would be lobbying Congress to finance a particularly challenging rebuilding project. And the Hamptons would be under water, relegated to legend like some high-rent Atlantis, until a future Robert Ballard discovered and surfaced a soggy but readable stack of vintage Dan's Papers.

For the city, Ward projects that most everything south of Morningside Heights would be "moderately sheltered," while as with most things bad, Queens and Brooklyn would bear the brunt.

Keep in mind, though, that the National Weather Service's aptly named SLOSH (Sea, Lake and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) unit has predicted that a mere 30-foot storm surge from a hurricane blasting in to New York Harbor would submerge JFK Airport, flood the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and give the downtown subway system a thorough flushing.

Ward's economic analysis of impact-driven tsunami waves predicts that the "mean loss scenario" from asteroids one quarter the size of 1950 DA would displace 1.4 million people, with $140 billion in infrastructure destruction, a figure cited by those calling on Washington to spend $150 million creating a high-powered, asteroid tracking telescope. (By comparison, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew caused $15.5 billion in insured losses.)

Yet, the economic model assumes each affected person has ties to $100,000 in infrastructure. And this is a region where $400,000 capes and $650,000 two bedroom co-ops are commonplace. Billions would be lost from the disruption on Wall Street, assuming the securities industry didn't relocate to Harrisburg ahead of Zero Hour. And if you up the mean-sized impact scenario to 1950 DA scale, as many as 14.1 million people could be displaced by waves, prompting even greater financial devastation.

Of course, the scientists allow, the model is rife with "uncertainty multipliers," taking into account everything from population density to the point of impact to the slim odds of anything like this ever happening. And in any case, they assure us, astronomers will give us plenty of warning about the really big bolides heading our way. "Rarity requires perspective," they offer.

Still, Earthlings can expect "dozens" of close encounters with 1950 DA in the centuries ahead. In the meantime, "the really scary ones are those that could come in unnoticed," Ward said flatly, adding that we'd "maybe" get a half-an-hour to head for the hills.

"Humanity," as the scientists note in their paper, "lives with a calculus of infinite devastation times infinitesimal probability."

Words to live by as I head off to the beach.

Tide's rising. Surf's up.

Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.


The Guardian, 4 July 2003,2763,991156,00.html

Duncan Steel

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Monday July 7 2003: In the following report we said that Mars was always more distant from the Earth than Venus. In fact it is not. What we meant to say was that Venus at its closest comes closer to the earth than Mars ever does (but at times Mars is closer than Venus).


Are we alone? Very often that question is concerned directly with whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe.

But it can have another meaning, simpler perhaps: is the Earth alone? That is, might our planet be the only one in the cosmos to have the right conditions for the origin and evolution of complex life?

This is the Goldilocks problem: what is required is a planet that is not too small, nor too large, or else it will have either an atmosphere that is too dense or none at all, like the moon. The planet must be not too hot, nor too cold. And it needs a magnetic field strong enough to shield out cosmic rays. And so on.

The constraints are surprisingly strict. Look at Venus, virtually the Earth's twin in size and mass, and the closest planet to us (Mars is always more distant).

The Venusian surface conditions far outstrip a hospital's sterilising autoclave in terms of pressure (90 times that on Earth) and temperature (500C). That's not to mention the clouds of sulphuric acid swirling around.

Venus is just a bit closer to the sun than us. It absorbs less solar energy than Earth, because of those highly reflective clouds. But still it is too hot for life.

Are we alone then? Is there, in the words of Carl Sagan, the late American astronomer, just one pale blue dot - a clement, water-covered planet - here in the Milky Way? Or are there many more of the same?

In many branches of science, theory and experiment can work hand in hand. Theoreticians make predictions which can then be tested by observations of the real world. But in asking whether the Earth is alone we have little data to go on.

We have had only one planetary system to study - our own. If we had a complete understanding of how the solar system formed, then we could generalise and make predictions about how many stars are accompanied by similar panoplies of planets. But we don't.

Similarly, if we knew how life began on Earth, then we could make sensible evaluations of the chance of life having originated elsewhere, but again we have no such knowledge. What we are left with is feeling our way out into the galaxy, using our arrays of telescopes and sophisticated detectors.

In 1995, the announcement was made of the first identification of a planet orbiting another star, the evidence being a wobble in the star's spectrum. Since then, dozens more like that have joined the databanks.

What these planets have in common is a dissimilarity from the solar system. Finding a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting close to some star is great science. But it is disappointing from the perspective of a search for life since it means there can be no Earth-like planet close enough in to that star to maintain the right conditions for water to flow freely - the sine qua non of all terrestrial life.

Finding a Jupiter-like planet a good distance from a star, mimicking our solar system, with every hope of big, rocky bodies closer in - virtually a Venus, maybe a Mars, expectantly an Earth - now that's big news for those who hope we are not alone.

Duncan Steel, a space scientist at the University of Salford, works with Nasa colleagues researching life's origins on Earth.

Copyright 2003, The Guardian



Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

I would like to clarify my statement that *the annual risk of an asteroid impact severely affecting Australia (by either direct impact, tsunami or global disaster) is about 1 in 500,000.* (CCNet 23 Jun 03)

This looked at the chance of an impact event that causes at least 100,000 AUSTRALIAN fatalities - this is 5% of the Australian population so maybe the term *severe* was not strong enough. My estimate is that the chances of a 10,000 fatality event are roughly 1 in 50,000. I think that Australians would be deeply traumatised by such an event, which exceeds by far any natural disaster since European settlement.

Also I have disregarded the global trauma that would result from an impact causing, say, 1 million fatalities somewhere on earth. My simulation (see ) produced annual probability of about 1 in 6000 for such an event, although recent downwards revisions to the number of *small* NEOs would reduce this risk.

Finally, I would like to comment briefly on the National Geographic article. I have stated this before, but the most likely scenario if a NEO is discovered to be on a collision course with the Earth is that it will be small enough to NOT cause a severe global catastrophe. The best mitigation in these circumstances would be to evacuate the impact region and prepare for a *year without summer*. By all means, try to deflect it with fancy technology - but the lack of such technology should not be given as a reason for not putting resources into Spaceguard.

Michael Paine


Hermann Burchard <>

Dear Benny,

perhaps slightly more than mere "unbridled speculation" [so David J. Ross, CCNet, 23 June 2003] can be offered in support of the idea of a linkage between the multiple impact craters in the Sirente and Velino ranges of the Abruzzi that were recently discovered by Swedish geologist Jens Ormo [CCNet, 19 June 2003, and earlier] on one hand with the celestial vision of Emperor Constantine (288-337) at the Milvian Bridge in 312 on the other. What else, other than a comet, would fit the description of the sight in the sky, that the Emperor saw and at later times kept confirming?  Also, it seems his terrified opponents may give a hint that they understood the meteoric phenomenon as a bad omen, while Constantine's forces were able to accept it as a good sign based on how their commander was reading it -- after a night of prayer.

Has not an unusually high rate of meteors and cometary activity been suggested for the 4th through 6th centuries, backed by a multitude of evidence?  Primarily, Taurid meteor stream activity near Earth's orbit had increased in those days (as well as at other times).  I recall items on CCNet and elsewhere, offering evidence from astronomy, archeology, as well as history, including contemporary observations of meteors, atmospheric conditions, climate, as well as modern data from tree rings, etc giving proof both direct and indirect.  The records of history are full of unexplained earth quake swarms, tsunami, incessant rains, snow in August -- Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome is known as our Lady of the Snows for just such a reason, -- failed crops, whole nations starving, and going South as is known to have occurred in the Bronze ages, etc, etc, all plausibly caused by comet activity.  Severe societal and environmental effects with a probable or provable causal connection to the Taurid stream are evident from the historical records.

Regarding Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the apparent vision of a comet at the Milvian Bridge was far from the main influence:  This surely must have been his mother, Saint Helena (448-328): "He became disposed to accept Christianity by his mother."

Saint Helena, wife of one Emperor, Constantius, and mother of another, Constantine, is best known for her archeological expedition to Jerusalem, where in 327, almost 80 years old, she dug on Mount Calvary, searching for the TRUE CROSS (and finding it, according to legend).  However at a younger age, she conducted Christian meetings or services in her palace. There, protection could be given at a time when elsewhere persecutions were still rampant.  This occurred at her residence at Treves, = Augusta Treverorum in Roman times, = Trier, Germany (on the French border), where Constantine would have lived with her as a young boy, as, in the time of Diocletian, whose three co-emperors each had their own capital cities, Trier was the capital of Constantius.  If today you travel to Trier, you can visit the "Double Church", actually two churches but immediately adjacent to each other, because both at one time were parts of the palatial complex.  This architectural history of the Double Church can be proved from archeological excavations which have revealed in detail the original lay-out of the imperial palace in its various stages.  Even the main supporting columns of the two churches are still in the exact positions where the palatial piers stood.  Part of the Roman masonry is still extant, despite heavy damage in WWII.  She converted her palace into churches many years prior to her son making Christianity official. Perhaps her own conversion was the result of Constantius being forced to divorce her (293).  "At her death, Constantine paid his mother the highest honors. Her body was sent to Rome and placed in the tomb of the emperors. He made her native village a monument to her memory by raising it to the rank of a city, giving it the name Helenopolis."

Even before Caesar conquered Gaul, Trier was important as chief city of the Celtic tribe of the Treveri.  In Roman times Trier became a splendid metropolis, although Saint Jerome (347-420), who studied in Trier as a young man, thought Trier was rather a simple place compared to Rome.  A brilliant linguist and highly productive scholar, he learned the Celtic dialect of the Treveri while in Trier and, in Jerusalem much later, Hebrew. He was the first to translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin. When traveling on foot to Jerusalem, he passed through Galatia (near Ankara). He found that the Galatians spoke the exact same Celtic dialect as the Treveri (a fact hotly disputed by Cambridge University archeologist Lord Colin Renfrew of Kaimsthorn).

The profound effect on Constantine of his mother's piety in combination with the vision at the Milvian Bridge can be seen from the Council of Nicea (325) which apparently he oversaw in person, taking an active hand in editing the Nicean Creed. Essentially he created the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood as we know it today out of the early Christian communities in Rome using outward forms of Roman pagan religious traditions. In the pre-Constantinian days of the persecuted church in the catacombs there were no altars, no priests, and no sacrifice -- the Eucharist was just a part of the Agape, a celebration of the memory of the death of Jesus.  Instead of an altar, a saint's sarcophagus had to do for a serving table of the Agape feast.  Otherwise, the liturgy was quite similar.

 Hermann Burchard

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