CCNet 94/2002 - 15 August 2002
"The Queen found out how to save the world from a meteor collision
from Leicester's space scientists. She listened intently as experts
explained how they could remove the threat of asteroids hitting the planet
as she toured Leicester's National Space Centre. Kevin Yates is an
officer at the city-based Near Earth Objects Information Centre, which
monitors the skies for threats of asteroids. Kevin, who works at the
space centre, said: "She asked what we could do if one came towards
Earth now. We talked about methods of pushing meteors off their orbit
so they don't hit earth."
--Leicester Mercury, 2 August 2002

"The U.S. Space Command is reviewing a plan to create a
clearinghouse that gathers and analyzes data regarding impending Earth
impacts from asteroids or comets. The information node would also
assess possible damage stemming from an incoming object. Such a
clearinghouse, if established, would merge military and civilian talent to
help minimize damage and loss of life due to a strike from space."
--Leonard David,, 5 August 2002


    Paal Brekke <>


    New Haven Register, 6 August 2002

    BBC News Online, 9 August 2002

(6) AMATEURS WIN NEO GRANTS, 13 August 2002

    Asteroid/Comet Connection, 7 August 2002

    The Independent, 12 August 2002

    Zeljko Ivezic <ivezic@astro.Princeton.EDU>

     Leicester Mercury, 2 August 2002


     Steve Koppes <>

     David Morrison <>

     Associated Press, 12 August 2002

     Ananova, 12 August 2002

     Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy, July 2002

     MSNBC, 12 August 2002

     Andrew Yee <>


>From, 14 August 2002

Using an image obtained over the Internet, German armchair astronomer Rainer
Kracht has discovered the 500th comet attributed to the Sun-observing SOHO

While SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) was designed to monitor
solar flares and other space weather that can hit Earth, professional
astronomers and amateur comet hunters long ago realized they could spot the
distinct trail of comets rushing toward the Sun as they prepared to round it
or crash into it.

A small object spotted by Rainer Kracht of Elmshorn in Germany, in an image
from SOHO received via the Internet, has been officially confirmed as Comet
2002 P3 (SOHO). It is the 500th comet discovered with the ESA-NASA solar
spacecraft and it made its closest approach to the Sun at 16:05 Universal
Time on Monday, 12 August.
The video clip shows the comet (in the small black square) moving over a
four-hour period. The larger black square shows a close-up of the comet over
time that has been superimposed on the movie.
More than 75 percent of the 500 SOHO comets have been found by amateurs.

Most comets form beyond Pluto and never visit the inner solar system.
However, when they do, some make perilously close passes to the Sun. A few
survive to head back out, but many are swallowed.

Kracht's comet has been officially named 2002 P3 (SOHO). It made its closest
approach to the Sun Aug. 12.

The LASCO coronagraph on SOHO, designed for seeing outbursts from the Sun,
uses a mask to block the bright rays from the visible surface. It monitors a
large volume of surrounding space, and as a result it is the most prolific
discoverer of comets in the history of astronomy.

The biggest tallies have come from Kracht, the German, Mike Oates in England
and Xavier Leprette from France. In a form of "virtual astronomy," they
engaged in a bit of a race for discovery, going back over SOHO pictures from
1996 to 1999 to find dozens of comets that professionals had overlooked.

Kracht, a mathematics, physics, computer science and astronomy teacher at
the Kooperative Gesamtschule Elmshorn in Elmshorn, has found 63 comets since
August 2001 with the help of SOHO data and images.

Oates leads all armchair comet hunters with 136 discoveries.

Number 500 is a very faint comet compared to many other more spectacular
sun-grazers, according to a statement issued by NASA. SOHO is a cooperative
effort of NASA and the European Space Agency.

Copyright 2002,


>From Paal Brekke <>

A small object spotted by Rainer Kracht of Elmshorn in Germany, in an image
from SOHO received via the Internet, has been officially confirmed as Comet
2002 P3 (SOHO). It is the 500th comet discovered with the ESA-NASA solar
spacecraft and it made its closest approach to the Sun at 16:05 Universal
Time on Monday, 12 August. Diane McElhiney of won a contest run by the SOHO
science team for guessing that date and time for SOHO-500. Her prediction
was too early by only 103 minutes. 

The LASCO coronagraph on SOHO, designed for seeing outbursts from the Sun,
uses a mask to block the bright rays from the visible surface. It monitors a
large volume of surrounding space, and as a result it became the most
prolific discoverer of comets in the history of astronomy.  Most of them are
small sungrazer comets that burn up completely in the Sun's hot atmosphere.
More than 75% of the discoveries have come from amateur comet hunters around the world
watching the freely available SOHO images on the web.

The biggest tallies have come from Mike Oates in England, Rainer Kracht in
Germany and Xavier Leprette in France. They went back over pictures from
1996-99 and found dozens of comets that the professionals had overlooked.
Kracht, a mathematics, physics, computer science and astronomy teacher at
the Kooperative Gesamtschule Elmshorn in Elmshorn, Germany has discovered 63
comets since August 2001 with the help of SOHO data and images.  Mike Oates
from Manchester, England is the highest-scoring discoverer of comets ever,
with 136 to his name, while Rainer Kracht has discovered 63.

The comet has been designated as C/2002 P3 (SOHO) with a perihelion time of
Aug 12 at 16:04:48 UT. Perihelion is the comets closest approach to the  Sun

SOHO-500 was a very faint comet compared to many other more spectacular sun
grazing comets.

Images and movies can be found here:

The video clip shows the comet (in the small black square) moving over a
four-hour period.  The larger black square shows a close-up of the comet
over time that has been superimposed on the movie.

Links to other more spectacular comets:

Alle images: SOHO (ESA/NASA)

The SOHO-500 Comet Contest

A sweepstake run by the SOHO science team for guessing the date and time of
the 500th comet attracted 1256 entries.  The winner of the "Guess the
perihelion time of the SOHO-500 comet" contest is Diane McElhiney who missed
by only 1 hour and 43 minutes.  The runner up is William Trost. 

Diane McElhiney  08/12/2002 14:22 (missed by 1:43)
William Trost    08/12/2002 12:01 (missed by 4:04)

>>> NOTE: Contact info to reach the winners can be obtained by contacting me

And these were the prizes that will be awarded to the winners:
Grand prize: collector edition SOLARMAX DVD and Solarmax T-shirt.
Runner up: standard edition SOLARMAX DVD and Solarmax T-shirt.
SOLARMAX DVD courtesy of Slingshot Entertainment and Solarmax T-shirts and
posters courtesy the Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago.

Solarmax (,  A Heliograph Production
(  in
association with the Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago
(, with support from the National Science
Foundation and ESA. Distributed by Musuem of Science and Industry Film
Distribution. VHS and DVD distributed by Slingshot Entertainment
( available at video
retailers worldwide."

For more information on the contest and prizes, go to
To learn more about SOHO and sungrazing comets, go to


>From, 11 August 2002

Asteroid 2002 NY40 will be on display for observers this week.

by Elesa Janke
Dust off those binoculars and ready your scopes: A rare opportunity awaits
skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere this month. On the morning of August
18, asteroid 2002 NY40 will sail within 330,000 miles (530,000 kilometers)
of Earth, only 1.3 times farther away than the moon.

"Flybys like this happen every 50 years or so," says Don Yeomans, manager of
NASA's Near-Earth Object Program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In other words, this is an opportunity no observer will want to miss.

Discovered by astronomers on July 14th, the space rock, although faint now,
will continue to brighten over the coming week, finally reaching 9th
magnitude on August 18th. While faint compared to stars, for an asteroid
that's quite bright.

"Asteroids are hard to see, because they're mostly black like charcoal,"
explains Yeomans. Most are carbon-rich "C-type" asteroids, which reflect 3
to 5 percent of the light that hits them, but other types can reflect more.
"We don't know yet what this asteroid is made of, but we'll have a much
better idea by the end of August."
On the night of closest approach, the asteroid will cruise past Vega, the
brightest star in summer evening skies. While not readily visible from the
Southern Hemisphere, observers in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to
view the asteroid as a dot of light, moving 8 degrees per hour. Every four
minutes, it will cover the same distance in the sky as the diameter of the
moon. From North America, the best view occurs after sunset on August 17th,
while Europeans should catch it in the predawn hours of August 18th.

Just hours after closest approach, 2002 NY40 will cross Earth's orbit en
route to the sun, changing phases as it goes. While the asteroid is in its
full phase now, showing us its sunlit side, it will quickly grow darker with
each changing phase, much like the moon. It will then become completely dark
and impossible to view.

Scientists will take advantage of the sunlit view while it lasts. One team
of observers at the giant Arecibo radar in Puerto Rico will bounce radio
waves off the asteroid as it approaches Earth. Such radar data help produce
three-dimensional maps that can provide valuable information about the space
rock's shape, as well as whether its orbit will ever bring it too close for

"At present, we know there's little risk of a collision with 2002 NY40 for
decades," says Jon Giorgini of the radar team at JPL. "When the Arecibo
measurements are done, the orbit uncertainties should shrink by more than a
factor of 200."

In addition, after 2002 NY40's flyby, astronomers hope to know much about
the asteroid's chemical makeup.

"Don't forget," adds Yeomans, "most asteroids pose no threat to Earth. But
they do contain valuable metals, minerals, and even water that we might tap
in the future."

Copyright © 1996-2002 Kalmbach Publishing Co. 


>From New Haven Register, 6 August 2002
By Joseph Perkins
Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I've
tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire. / But if it had to
perish twice, / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction
ice / Is also great / And would suffice."

The Robert Frost poem "Fire and Ice" comes to mind in the wake of last
week's startling report announcing that astronomers discovered a mile-wide
asteroid that could collide with Earth in as few as 17 years, destroying
life as we know it. A few days later, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena issued a statement on its Web site saying that new observations had
determined the asteroid, designated 2002 NT7, would miss the Earth after

That's comforting, because 2002 NT7 had become the most threatening space
object ever detected, according to Benny Peiser, an anthropologist and
expert on the social impact of cosmic collisions at Liverpool John Moores
University in England. Were the asteroid to crash into the Earth - which,
according to JPL, remains a possibility in 2060 - the results would be

"In the worst case scenario," Peiser told the Reuters news agency, "a
disaster of this size would be global in its extent, would create a meltdown
of our economic and social life, and would reduce us to Dark Age

That's why it behooves federal space officials to develop an asteroid
defense plan and deploy a system that can deflect a killer asteroid as soon
as possible.

While threats to humanity posed by global warming, by pestilence, by war are
taken seriously, the threat posed by an asteroid collision prompts little
concern, despite that more than 200 asteroids - ranging in size from a few
yards to more than five miles wide - have orbits that intersect the Earth's.

The near indifference to the threat of a killer asteroid probably stems from
the perception that the danger is remote. In fact, said Peiser, asteroids
the size of 2002 NT7 "only hit the Earth every 1 or 2 million years." It is
hard for most of us to get too excited about such an unlikely threat when
there are so many immediate threats (like terrorists blowing up

Yet, it is not inconceivable that in the not-too-distant future an asteroid
not as sizable as 2002 NT7 will suddenly appear on a collision course with

While that asteroid may not destroy life as we know it, like the
six-mile-wide asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, it
still could do considerable damage. Indeed, if an asteroid no bigger than
three-quarters of a football field penetrated the Earth's atmosphere, it
could release the energy equivalent of a 4-megaton nuclear bomb. It so
happens that an asteroid of that size passed within 288,000 miles of the
Earth (1.2 times the distance to the moon) in March. Scientists didn't
notice the object, dubbed 2002 EM7, until four days after the fact.

And that asteroid was no aberration. In June, another space rock, designated
2002 MN, passed within 74,000 miles of Earth. Astronomers didn't detect the
100-yard-long object until three days later. It stands to reason that if
astronomers missed 2002 EM7 and 2002 MN, as close as they were to Earth,
there are other asteroids that also have escaped detection.

It seems only a matter of time before one of them crosses the Earth's path.
"Sooner or later - and no one can really tell us which it will be - we will
find an object that is on a collision course," said Peiser. "That is as
certain as 'Amen' in church. And eventually we will have to deflect an
object from its collision course."

Right now, no nation on Earth is prepared to undertake such a mission. And
scientists speculate that it could take a matter of decades before some
country has the capability. Which is why the nation's space agency needs to
get moving on an asteroid defense program. If we wait until astronomers
actually detect a doomsday asteroid, it may be too late to do anything about it.

Joseph Perkins is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, 350 Camino de
la Reina, San Diego 92108. E-mail: .
©New Haven Register 2002 

>From The BBC News Online, 9 August 2002
By Ivan Noble
BBC News Online science staff 
A space mission to knock a potential rogue asteroid off course is undergoing
feasibility studies with money from the European Space Agency (Esa).


A Spanish company, Deimos-Space, is designing the mission and hopes its
plans will convince Esa to give the go-ahead for a full scale test on a real

The company has come up with a plan, which it calls the Don Quixote mission,
to launch a pair of probe spacecraft called Hidalgo and Sancho at a far off

One would hit the asteroid at extremely high speed, deflecting it slightly
from its orbit.

The other would observe the asteroid and make highly accurate measurements
of what happened to it after the impact.

Asteroid billiards

The idea is that the mission would tell scientists how hard they would have
to hit a real rogue asteroid heading for Earth in order to deflect it

Deimos plans to finish its study early in 2003 and hopes Esa will then come
up with the cash for the actual mission.

The company is optimistic.

"We believe that the outcome of this mission would be good science,"
Deimos-Space's Jose-Antonio Gonzalez told BBC News Online.

"And we are trying to demonstrate the feasibility of the mission, not only
in terms of astrodynamic calculations or technology requirements but also
financially," he said.

The company expects plenty of public and scientific interest in the project.

High-speed impact

"That's why we expect this mission to go on with the next phases, or at
least with even more detailed studies on the key aspects of the mission," he

If it does, a suitable asteroid will be selected and then Hidalgo will slam
into it at extremely high speed, probably around 10 kilometres (six and a
half miles) per second.

Sancho will be orbiting the asteroid at a safe distance to see what happens.

If all goes to plan, the asteroid's orbit will be disturbed in the beginning
by a few fractions of a millimetre.

The idea is that Sancho will measure this tiny shift and feed the data back
to Earth.

Tiny changes in orbit can become much larger over time and Deimos wants to
use the experiment to calculate how to knock a real rogue asteroid off

Early warning

Whether such an approach to dealing with an asteroid threat would work would
depend largely on how much warning there is.

Hidalgo and Sancho would take many months to reach their target.

Any Hidalgo-like satellite used to deflect an incoming hazard would have to
hit it in just the right place and at just the right speed.

Getting it right would involve great precision, but, as Mr Gonzalez points
out, would not require the nuclear super-rockets of science fiction.

If the project does get the go-ahead, the Don Quixote mission would provide
valuable information about the composition of the target asteroid.

"This mission would provide, for the first time, a look inside the
asteroids," said Mr Gonzalez.

"The results of the experiment would either validate our proposed strategy
or might mean we have to think of other solutions, such as placing a huge
solar sail on the asteroid's surface to use the solar wind to change its

Copyright 2002, BBC


>From, 13 August 2002

The Planetary Society awards funding to five private programs dedicated to
near-Earth objects.

by Vanessa Thomas

It seems we've been hearing a lot more reports of asteroids and comets
zipping past our planet lately. Has Earth recently entered a more populated
space, increasing the number of encounters with these smaller neighbors?
Nope. It's just that we humans recently have become more aware of our
immediate cosmic surroundings and have begun to pay more attention to these
near-Earth objects (NEOs).

To improve our awareness and understanding of these frequent passers-by (and
potential impactors), the Planetary Society established the Shoemaker
Near-Earth Object Grant program in 1997. Named after the late planetary
geologist Eugene Shoemaker (who studied asteroids, comets, and their impacts
with the larger bodies of the solar system), the grant helps both amateur
and professional astronomers enhance their own NEO projects.

This year, the Planetary Society is awarding a total of $28,290 to five
deserving NEO programs on three continents.

John Broughton of Reedy Creek Observatory in Queensland, Australia, is an
active observer of NEOs and has discovered several asteroids, including
those named after the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Beegees, and
Brian Wilson. Broughton will receive $8,140 from the Planetary Society to
buy an Apogee CCD camera to use on a new computer-controlled 18-inch
(46-centimeter) telescope, which will conduct follow-up observations of
fast-moving NEOs and those not visible from the Northern Hemisphere.

Amateur NEO observer Matt Dawson will also purchase a new Apogee CCD camera
to use at the Roeser Observatory in Luxembourg and the Cote de Meuse
Observatory in France. The camera will allow Dawson to observe objects as
faint as 21st magnitude.

Richard Kowalski of Florida founded the Minor Planet Mailing List four years
ago to provide an opportunity for minor-planet observers around the world to
communicate with each other. In the past, Kowalski has spent his own money
to maintain the list, and will receive a $900 grant to support the list and
related websites for the next three years.

Amateur astronomer James McGaha of Tucson, Arizona, will use $10,000 to
automate the 24-inch (62-centimeter) telescope at his Grasslands Observatory
55 miles from his home. This will improve the telescope's efficiency in the
NEO observations it makes.

Roy Tucker, also of Tucson, currently has three telescope-camera systems
observing NEOs, but the resulting data is more than he can handle. Tucker
will receive $2,950 for software and computer equipment to distribute his
observations to other local amateurs who can help reduce and analyze the

The five winners were selected by an international advisory group from 37
proposals received from 13 countries. "With so many highly qualified
proposals, the selection committee's choice was a difficult one," states the
Planetary Society's announcement of this year's winners.
The Planetary Society is not yet accepting applications for the next round
of Shoemaker NEO Grants, but you can watch for updates or learn more about
the grant program from the Society's website.

Copyright © 1996-2002 Kalmbach Publishing Co.


>From Asteroid/Comet Connection, 7 August 2002

1998 OX4, which had been on the JPL Risks page, and was listed on the NEODyS
Risk page as a lost object, has now been recovered. This was announced
Thursday in MPEC 2002-P34, which equates OX4 with an object discovered 6
August by NEAT. OX4 is an eccentric Earth-crossing asteroid perhaps 200
meters/yards across that was originally discovered by Jim Scotti at
Spacewatch on 26 July 1998. It was observed into the next month and then was
not seen again until now. The net result of this recovery is one less object
on the risk pages, with JPL removing it the same day.

It was evening at NEODyS when this correllation was published, and it took
until Friday morning for its list to drop 1998 OX4, an old acquaintance. OX4
played a big role in bringing Andrea Milani, Steven Chesley (now at JPL),
Andrea Boattini, and Giovanni Valsecchi at the University of Pisa to develop
the "virtual impactor" concept. The year after OX4 was discovered and lost,
they said, we have found a solution to the problem raised by 1998 OX4; the
same method could be applied to other similar cases of lost potential
impactors which might be discovered in the future. In short, the idea is to
replace a full recovery campaign, requiring an inordinate amount of
observational resources, with a targeted search for only those, among the
possible orbital solutions for 1998 OX4, which lead to impacts; we call
these the Virtual Impactors.

An example of putting this concept to work came in January 2001 when two
Spaceguard observing campaigns successfully failed to find 1998 OX4 on paths
that had been projected as leading to possible impact solutions for several
different years, especially 2014, thus completely removing those


>From The Independent, 12 August 2002

Why do comets burn up and vanish far quicker than they should? One theory -
that they are made of 'mirror matter' - could help to explain the greatest
mystery of our universe. Marcus Chown reports

12 August 2002

Comets may be composed of matter hitherto unknown to science, according to a
physicist in Australia. If he's right, we may at last have found the
identity of the mysterious "dark matter" believed to make up at least 90 per
cent of the mass of the universe. What's more, it could mean there is
another universe occupying our own, complete with invisible stars, planets
and even life.

Why would anyone want to make such an outrageous claim about comets?
"Because they are disappearing and nobody knows where," says Robert Foot of
the University of Melbourne.

To appreciate the comet mystery, it's necessary to know that comets orbit in
their countless billions in the frigid wastes far beyond the outermost
planets. This mass of comets is known as the Oort cloud. Occasionally, the
gravity of a passing star nudges the cloud so that one falls Sunward. There
are then two possibilities: either it swings round the Sun and is catapulted
back to the Oort cloud, never to be seen again; or a close encounter with a
giant planet such as Jupiter or Saturn steals some of its speed so it
becomes trapped in the inner solar system, condemned to swing round the Sun
at regular intervals, like Halley's Comet.

The problem is that every time a trapped comet passes close to the Sun, a
metre or so of its surface ice boils off into space. Comets are dirty
snowballs, typically a few kilometres across, so common sense says they
ought to be able to survive scores of orbits around the Sun before being
totally melted away. "The puzzle is they don't," says Foot. "Most vanish for
ever after passing close to Sun for the first time."

The leading explanation for this disappearing act is that the comets are
largely made of rock with a thin coating of surface ice. They therefore
"turn off" after one passage by the Sun, having depleted the ices that
generate their glowing heads and tails. In effect, they become asteroids.

Recently, however, Harold Levison and his colleagues at the Southwest
Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, have put paid to this theory. They
have found that the number of asteroids is far too low to account for the
expected number of cometary remnants. "These objects are simply not where we
expect them to be," says Levison.

Foot is convinced he can explain the mystery of the disappearing comets. In
his new book, Shadowlands, he speculates that many comets might be made of a
new type of matter called "mirror matter", which gives out no light. The
idea is that they contain only a small amount of ordinary matter, and that
this ordinary matter evaporates after passing by the Sun, leaving an
invisible core of mirror matter.

Mirror matter is a hypothetical type of matter required to restore nature's
flawed left-right symmetry. Nature, for reasons nobody understands, has
chosen fundamental laws that exhibit the maximum possible symmetry. For
instance, the laws are the same today as they were yesterday, the same in
New York as they are in London; and they respect myriad other, more abstract
symmetries too. But in one respect nature is not symmetric. The laws are not
the same when reflected in a hypothetical mirror. "Electrons and other
elementary particles are, in a sense, left-handed," says Foot. "Although
most scientists have come to accept that God is left-handed, somehow it has
always bothered me."

Foot's unease has led him to embrace a radical idea - that nature's
left-right symmetry isn't really flawed, it only looks that way. For every
known particle, there is actually a particle that interacts in a
right-handed way. So, in addition to electrons and quarks and photons of
light, the universe contains mirror electrons and mirror quarks and mirror
photons. These combine to make mirror atoms and mirror matter.

Mirror atoms would interact with ordinary atoms very weakly and so produce
no light. They are a prime candidate for the dark matter, the "missing mass"
that astronomers know must exist (from the gravitational pull it exerts) but
cannot see. They believe it makes up at least 90 per cent of the mass of the
universe. "If I'm right, there is an invisible mirror universe occupying the
same space as our universe, complete with mirror galaxies, mirror stars and
perhaps even mirror life," says Foot.

All this would be little more than science fiction if it weren't for
baffling experiments at CERN, the European centre for particle physics.
Ortho-positronium, an atomic system in which an electron orbits a
like-spinning anti-electron, or "positron", disintegrates 0.1 per cent
faster than the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) says it should. It
might not seem much of a discrepancy, but QED is the most successful
physical theory ever devised, and it usually predicts experimental results
to many, many decimal places. According to Foot, the discrepancy can be
perfectly explained if there is an additional decay route, speeding up the
loss of ortho-positronium. "I believe that ortho-positronium is
'oscillating' into mirror ortho-positronium, then decaying in the mirror
world before it can oscillate back," says Foot.

Efforts are now under way at CERN to repeat the experiment. According to
Foot's CERN colleague, Sergei Gninenko, the mirror matter explanation could
be confirmed or refuted by next year.

Mirror matter, if it exists, would have been formed in abundance alongside
normal matter in the Big Bang in which the universe was born 12 to 14
billion years ago. "It would therefore be surprising if some did not get
incorporated into the interstellar dust cloud out of which the Sun, planets
and comets condensed 4.6 billion years ago," says Foot.

Foot believes that there is in fact abundant evidence of mirror matter in
the solar system. In addition to the puzzle of the disappearing comets, he
points out that there have been many sightings of fireballs streaking down
the sky and hitting the ground but leaving no debris or crater. The most
famous occurred near the Tunguska River in Siberia in 1908, when a
100,000-tonne body devastated a huge area of forest yet left no crater or
substantial debris. "A space body made of mirror matter perfectly fits the
bill," says Foot.

According to Foot, Tunguska was not unique: "Mysterious impacts that could
be due to mirror bodies occur almost yearly." He points to an impact on 18
April last year 50km from Amman, the capital of Jordan. More than 100 people
in a funeral procession saw a yellow fireball hit the ground, burning rocks
and a tree. "Mysteriously, there was no debris," says Foot. "I think it
could have been a small mirror body."

But perhaps the most tantalising evidence for the existence of mirror matter
in our neighbourhood is coming from Nasa's Pioneer 10 and 11 probes,
launched in 1972 and 1973 and currently streaking out towards the stars. For
the past 30 years, both have been experiencing a mysterious force of one
ten-billionth of a G, which is pulling them back towards the Sun and slowing
them down. "The Nasa astronomers are totally baffled," says Foot. "They've
ruled out all mundane effects such as fuel leaks and heat leaks."

John Anderson, an astronomer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
California, has worked on the Pioneer project since 1970. He says: "For the
life of me, I can't think of what could be causing the effect."

Foot, of course, is ready with a mirror-matter explanation. "The anomalous
force could simply be drag as the probes fly through a thin cloud of mirror
matter," he says. "You'd only need a few Earth masses' worth - too little to
have any noticeable effect on the orbits of the outer planets, Uranus and

Foot could be accused of seeing mirror matter everywhere; an ironic
observation, as mirror matter is invisible. However, he says he is well
aware of the danger and freely admits that there is a chance he is wrong.
Quoting Bertrand Russell, he says: "It's good to have an open mind, but not
so open that your brains fall out."

'Shadowlands' by Robert Foot, Universal Publishers, £18.95

Copyright 2002, The Independent


>From Zeljko Ivezic <ivezic@astro.Princeton.EDU>

We announce the first public release of the SDSS Moving Object Catalog, with
SDSS observations for 58,117 asteroids. The catalog lists astrometric and
photometric data for moving objects observed prior to Dec 15, 2001, and also
includes orbital elements for 10,592 previously known objects. We analyze
the correlation between the orbital parameters and optical colors for the
known objects, and confirm that asteroid dynamical families, defined as
clusters in orbital parameter space, also strongly segregate in color space.
Their distinctive optical colors indicate that the variations in chemical
composition within a family are much smaller than the compositional
differences between families, and strongly support earlier suggestions that
asteroids belonging to a particular family have a common origin.

The catalog is available at as "SDSS
Moving Object Catalog".
Zeljko Ivezic    (Princeton University)
Mario Juric      (Zagreb University, Visnjan Observatory)
Robert H. Lupton (Princeton University)
Serge Tabachnik  (Princeton University)
Tom Quinn        (University of Washington)
for the SDSS Collaboration


>From Leicester Mercury, 2 August 2002
The Queen found out how to save the world from a meteor collision from
Leicester's space scientists.

She listened intently as experts explained how they could remove the threat
of asteroids hitting the planet as she toured Leicester's National Space

The Queen also learned how Leicester was playing a major role in the first
mission to Mars - and chatted to NASA's top astronauts via a satellite

Kevin Yates is an officer at the city-based Near Earth Objects Information
Centre, which monitors the skies for threats of asteroids.

Kevin, who works at the space centre, said: "She asked what we could do if
one came towards Earth now. We talked about methods of pushing meteors off
their orbit so they don't hit earth."

She also met Helen Sharman, Britain's first woman astronaut.

Afterwards she joined dignitaries and guests in the informal atmosphere of
the exhibition's main auditorium before delivering a speech and sitting down
to lunch.

The Duke of Edinburgh also enjoyed a tour of the space centre. After being
shown inside a life-size mock-up of the International Space Centre's
Columbus Module, tour guide Vicky Brightman explained to the Duke the
problems astronauts face when they need to eat.

Copyright 2002, Leicester Mercury

>From, 5 August 2002

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO -- The U.S. Space Command is reviewing a plan to
create a clearinghouse that gathers and analyzes data regarding impending
Earth impacts from asteroids or comets. The information node would also
assess possible damage stemming from an incoming object. Such a
clearinghouse, if established, would merge military and civilian talent to
help minimize damage and loss of life due to a strike from space.

Science Applications International Corporation's (SAIC) Space, Air and
Information Group undertook the study here, labeling it the Natural Impact
Warning Clearinghouse Concept of Operations.

The report's range of findings and recommendations are now under
consideration by high level officials within the U.S. Space Command, the
organization that funded the work.

A model for the clearinghouse idea is the already established U.S. military
command and control warning structure that deals with ballistic missile and
space attack.

Proactive approach

The SAIC study looked into identifying key players that would be involved in
not only asteroid and comet detection, but also consequences resulting from
a cosmic hit. Groups were studied that sift through astronomical data, those
that determine risk of impact, and organizations capable of modeling the
aftermath of an Earth impactor.

"The key is to take highly technical data, reduce it, and process that
information into something that is comprehensible and trusted by decision
makers in various communities," said Timothy K. Roberts, the SAIC analyst
that headed the study.

"What we've put together is the basis of an approach to be proactive,"
Roberts told "Or you can wait and be reactive, hoping that all
those astronomers are right and we have years and years of warning," he

Warning: information gap ahead

Roberts said the SAIC work is meant to find a way to bridge an information
gap. "That is a gulf that nobody has crossed," Roberts said. "What is
missing is a way to take technical information and put it into terms that
decision makers can understand and use," he said.

Moving piles of astronomical data into formats usable by senior military and
civilian groups responsible for impact prediction, mitigation and
post-strike issues is sorely needed. Air bursting events -- of which there
are already numbers of wake-up calls -- as well as objects smacking the
ground must be taken into account, Roberts said.

At present, various groups collect Near Earth Object data. The U.S.
military, via its network of spaceborne sensors, also snares loads of useful
fireball information - objects that skirt through the Earth's atmosphere.

"But in this application, it's not being used. It never gets to command and
control nodes that are trusted inputs to the senior officials in the user
community," Roberts said. "They have to be comfortable about the data they
are getting," he said.

"There hasn't been a nuclear attack on the United States. But we simulate
that a lot. We practice to make sure we get it right. The people in that
chain are used to seeing certain things and are used to thinking on a
certain scale. What we want to do is put this [asteroid/comet threat] in the
same context. I want to make it routine," the SAIC analyst said.

Exploring the possibilities

Experts from the U.S. military, NASA, sky monitoring groups, as well as the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), took part in the SAIC study. The
$92,000 assessment began in earnest last October and was delivered to the
U.S. Space Command in June.

Roberts said that the study itself does not say the clearinghouse concept is
a U.S. Space Command mission, or a Department of Defense mission, nor a
mission of the federal government. "The study merely explores the
possibilities," he said.

"To be best of my knowledge, this is the first look at a warning system. The
first is rarely the best...but my objective is to get it on the table,"
Roberts said.

In defining any interagency melding of capabilities to create a Natural
Impact Warning Clearinghouse, there are various options available.

An actual building could house such work, staffed by experts.

Alternatively, the clearinghouse could be co-located between FEMA and part
of the newly created United States Strategic Command, the USSTRATCOM Command
Center. That entity merges the U.S. Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command
(StratCom). The merger is designed to improve combat effectiveness and speed
up information collection and assessment needed for strategic
decision-making. The merged command -- to be completed in October 2002 --
would be responsible for both early warning of and defense against missile
attack as well as long-range conventional attacks. The preferred location
for the command headquarters is Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Furthermore, this hub could be virtual - a network of analysts and groups
that gather, sort through and review, and carry out risk judgements. And in
a worst-case mode, groups would model the ramifications of an object cutting
into Earth's atmosphere.

"A number of options exists. There are pros and cons for all of them,"
Roberts said.

Mother Nature's shooting gallery

"There's a very high analogy between the warning systems we have in place
for ballistic and missile and space attack...and in what we need to do here.
In both cases you are dealing with very low probability, but very high
consequence events," Roberts said. "But now it's Mother Nature throwing
things at us instead of a bad guy," he said.

The SAIC study did not suggest deflection or destruction strategies for
fending off incoming objects. In his view, Roberts said, much more data
about the physical makeup of comets and asteroids is urgently needed. A
menacing object could be solid rock or a jumble of fragments. Maybe a object
headed our way is just a fluffy snowball.

"We haven't got a clue...and we need to get a whole bunch of clues," Roberts

It's a "virtual certainty", Roberts said, that Earth is going to be on the
receiving end of an asteroid or comet. "It is time to take the next step. We
need to bring techniques, capabilities, information and procedures together
that have been heretofore separated and segmented," he said.

"There is no question. It is a mathematical certainty. This is the one point
in time...the one natural disaster that we can influence. I believe our
study takes the right direction and is the right next step," Roberts

Copyright 2002,


>From Steve Koppes <>

West Virginia University

Chemist Seeks to Make Outer Space Events Easy to Predict

Description: A West Virginia University chemist and five other researchers
have taken a quantum leap in predicting the orbits of celestial bodies,
research that could one day help scientists
accurately foretell if an asteroid or comet is headed for earth. (Physical
Review Letters, 2-Jul-2002)

CONTACT: Charles Jaffe, Department of Chemistry
Phone: 304-685-0826; e-mail:

The Martian Chronicler

WVU Chemist Seeks to Make Outer Space Events Easy to Predict

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A West Virginia University chemist and five other
researchers have taken a quantum leap in predicting the orbits of celestial
bodies, research that could one day help scientists accurately foretell if
an asteroid or comet is headed for Earth.

Charles Jaffe, associate professor of chemistry at WVU, is part of a team
that combined a near 70-year-old chemical transition state theory and
celestial mechanics to predict the outcome of a simulation involving Martian

"We wanted to test the application of transition state theory to celestial
mechanics by comparing our results with those of a simulation," Dr. Jaffe
said. "We chose as our simulation the escape
of asteroids from Mars because of our interest in the Martian meteor found
in Antarctica a few years ago."

The research team's paper, "Statistical Theory of Asteroid Escape Rates,"
made the cover of the July 2 issue of Physical Review Letters. The paper is
also featured on the Physical Review Focus Web site at

Co-authors were David Farrelly, a chemist at Utah State University; T. Uzer,
an atomic physicist at Georgia Institute of Technology; Jerrold Marsden, a
mathematician at California Institute of
Technology, and Shane D. Ross, his student; and Martin W. Lo, a software
developer with Cal Tech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Transition state theory, developed by chemists in the 1930s, establishes a
brief stage in chemical reactions between reactant and product, said Jaffe,
who has helped refine the theory for modern uses. Bottlenecks between orbits
of celestial bodies resemble transition states in chemistry, he added.

For their research, Jaffe and his fellow scientists developed a
computer-based simulation of asteroids orbiting Mars, then used the
transition state theory to predict how many asteroids would remain in the
red planet's orbit and how many would escape. The team then calculated the
survival and escape rates by performing the simulation 107,000 times to
represent the asteroids' trajectories. There was a 1 percent difference
between the simulation's results and the theory's predictions.

"This means the theory works and you don't need to run the simulations,
which take several days," said Jaffe, who came to WVU in 1984 after
obtaining his doctorate from the University of Colorado and doing
postdoctoral work at the University of Toronto and Columbia University.

Extending transition state theory to celestial mechanics could one day help
scientists better predict such outer space events as asteroids and comets
headed for Earth and solar storms capable of disrupting satellite
communications, Jaffe said.

Astronomers announced recently that they are monitoring a recently
discovered asteroid that has a minimal chance of striking the Earth in 2019.
Last month, scientists discovered an asteroid that narrowly missed the
planet after it passed by.

Using transition theory, Jaffe explained, scientists could determine which
group of asteroids is more likely to come close to Earth.

"What this will do is help us decide which space matter is worth worrying
about," he said. "There is not enough time to look at each asteroid. Using
transition state theory, instead of looking at individual things, one can
look at classes of things."

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation, American
Chemical Society, West Virginia NASA Space Grant Program and  NASA-ASEE
Summer Faculty Fellowship.

WVU News on the Web:


>From David Morrison <>

NEO News (08/07/02) NEOs at ACM

The professional meeting "Asteroids, Comets, Meteors 2002" was held last
week in Berlin. Every three years, astronomers and others who study
asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteorites get together to report their
recent work and discuss the state of the field. More than 300 scientists
attended this meeting. Following are a few highlights from the papers that
deal with Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

David Morrison



As the discovery of NEAs (Near Earth Asteroids) has accelerated, we have
much more complete data to use in estimating the numbers of NEAs of various
sizes. However, these estimates are also complicated by an increasing
awareness of the complexities of NEA dynamics. In particular, the objects
that are the easiest to find are in general also those that come closest to
the Earth and constitute the greater part of the impact hazard. From the
perspective of the Spaceguard Survey, for example, we want to focus on these
potentially hazardous NEAs. For other purposes, however, we may want to look
at the total population.

Alan Harris (JPL) presented the major invited paper on NEA populations,
focused on the question "Just how many Tunguskas are there?"  He reviewed
recent work that indicates that the number of
NEAs of diameter 1 km or greater (the primary targets of the current
Spaceguard Survey) is 1100 +/- 100. The number of NEAs down to the size of
Tunguska (60 meters diameter) is of order 100,000 but considerably more
uncertain. Translating into impact frequency, Harris finds that one Tunguska
size impact should take place at intervals of roughly 1000 years. Some lunar
crater count data actually suggest that these impacts are as much as a
factor of ten lower, but this seems to conflict with other data. The
millennium timescale derived by Harris is also supported by an estimate from
Roger Revelle (Los Alamos) that the average largest atmospheric impact in a
year has energy of about 10 kilotons, for an equivalent diameter of about 5

Robert Jedicke (Lunar & Planetary Lab) and Alessandro Morbidelli (Cote
d'Azur Observatory) each discussed the distribution of NEOs from the
perspective of meeting the Spaceguard Goal of finding 90% of NEAs larger
than 1 km. Jedicke modeled the LINEAR survey, the most successful current
NEA search, finding that if all NEAs are taken into account the survey will
not be 90% complete until after 2020; however, if we focus on the NEAs in
the most dangerous orbits, the goal will be met by 2010 (a result that
Harris confirms from his models). Morbidelli and colleagues carried out a
reassessment of the impact hazard as originally formulated by Chapman and
Morrison (1994), finding in general that the hazard should be lowered by
about a factor of 4 - their estimated interval for a 1 million megaton
impacts is about 3.8 million years, somewhat lower than other recent

All these results are generally consistent in their evaluation of the NEA
numbers and the associated risk. For Tunguska-size impacts, the Chapman /
Morrison estimate of once in 300 years is now down to once in 1000 years.
For million-megaton impacts, the Chapman / Morrison estimate of once in a
million years is now down to once in 2-4 million years. And somewhat
coincidentally, the Chapman / Morrison estimate of 1500-2000 NEAs larger
than 1 km is now down to 1100.

Curiously, while there is general agreement among astronomers, others have
been arguing for a hazard a factor of ten or more higher. It is not uncommon
to read that Tunguska-size impacts take place once a century, or even more
often! One recent claim was for 3 Tunguska-size impacts during the 20th
century. These claims are not consistent with the weight of accumulating
astronomical evidence as reviewed at this meeting and at the 2001 asteroids
meeting in Palermo.



Recent United States National Academy of Sciences panels in both
astrophysics and planetary science have recommended the construction of the
LSST, the Large Scale Synoptic Survey Telescope. One major objective is the
extension of the Spaceguard Survey down to 300 meter NEAs. The nominal LSST
design considered by the Academy panels is a single 6-8 meter aperture

At this meeting David Jewitt and David Tholen (University of Hawaii)
announced that full funding of $40 million has just been received from the
U.S. Air Force to construct an alternative version of the LSST called Pan
Stars, based on multiple small telescopes. Although the design has not been
finalized, one option would use 4 telescopes of 2-3 meter aperture
constructed on Mauna Kea. Depending on how the system is configured and
operated, Jewitt estimates that it can survey the entire sky to visual
magnitude 24, with the prospect of finding 10,000 NEAs per year, as well as
10,000 members of the Kuiper Belt per year and about 100,000 supernovas per



The NEAs are for the most part fragments of main belt asteroids that have
been transported into Earth-crossing orbits. Two processes contribute:
collisions or impacts among main belt asteroids, and a variety of
gravitational processes that can perturb these fragments into the inner
solar system. Unfortunately, most recent studies have found that these
effects are insufficient to account for the observed numbers of NEAs. Recent
application of a third process - the Yarkovsky effect - has now apparently
removed this discrepancy.

The Yarkovsky effect was postulated about a century ago as a way to change
asteroid orbits by the absorption of sunlight followed by its asymmetric
re-emission as thermal radiation. Although the forces are extremely small,
they act continuously over many millions of years. The result is to move the
asteroids or asteroid fragments until they reach a resonance, where the more
conventional gravitational forces take over and complete their perturbation
into the inner solar system. William Bottke (Southwest Research Institute)
and several others presented highly convincing examples of the Yarkovsky
effect at work. In addition to explaining the transport of asteroids into
the inner solar system, the Yarkovsky effect also allows us to understand
the evolution of families of asteroids in the main belt, and it even
contributes to spinning up asteroid rotation and the formation of some
binary systems.

A few NEAs may be small dead comets, but this has not been demonstrated.
Most comets in the inner solar system are Jupiter family comets. Paul
Weissman (JPL) reviewed the size, structure, and density of comet nuclei. He
concludes that the Jupiter-family comets are derived from the Kuiper Belt.
Weissman argued that they are fragments from a collisionally evolved
population, with typical rubble-pile interiors and densities of 0.4 to 1.1
times the density of water. There is an apparent depletion of small comets
(diameters less than about 2 km), which suggests that relatively few survive
to become dead objects indistinguishable from NEAs.



Several ACM papers by Marco Delbo (DLR), Allan Harris (DLR), Rick Binzel
(MIT), Mike Nolan (Arecibo Observatory), and others dealt with the physical
nature of asteroids, including NEAs. Radar observations of 22 NEAs were made
in 2001 - including multiple and binary objects, both fast and slow
rotators, and both spherical and highly-elongated objects. A number of
mechanisms were suggested that might lead to the accumulation of a loose
high-porosity surface - overcoming some previous calculations that small
asteroids would not have sufficient gravity to retain a dusty regolith. One
of the results of recent work is the suggestion that for small NEAs, the
albedo (reflectivity) increases with decreasing size. If this reflectivity
trend is correct, then the faint NEAs currently being discovered by LINEAR
and other search systems are actually smaller than has been assumed from
their brightness - suggesting that there are fewer NEAs larger than 1 km and
that we might be closer to achieving the Spaceguard Goal of 90% completeness
at 1 km diameter than we have thought.

NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near
Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the
responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions
of NASA, the International Astronomical Union, or any other
organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact
For additional information, please see the website:  If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute
original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this


>From Associated Press, 12 August 2002


SEATTLE (August 12, 2002 9:41 a.m. EDT) - When scientists figured out that
sea water drowned groves of tall trees up and down the coast of Washington
state the same year a tsunami hit Japan, they theorized that a massive
earthquake in the Pacific most likely triggered both events.

Based on Japanese records, scientists were able to pinpoint a date - Jan.
26, 1700 - and estimate that the rupture of a long stretch of sea floor had
caused a magnitude 9 quake, which would be the largest known temblor ever to
strike what is now the contiguous United States.

But Ruth Ludwin, a University of Washington geophysics professor, wanted
more. There appeared to be no accounts of cataclysmic earth-shaking in the
stories and legends of the only North Americans who would have been here to
witness the quake - Indians.

"When you talk about a very large earthquake in 1700, for that to be really
convincing to me, I really need to have evidence from people who were
there," Ludwin said. "I was looking for a more comprehensive story."

Ludwin began to search obscure volumes of tribal folklore, where she found
that, for centuries, Indians from British Columbia's Vancouver Island to the
coast of Northern California had been telling strikingly similar tales of
mudslides, of plains that suddenly became oceans and other stories that
strongly suggest tribes bore witness to tsunamis like the one in 1700.

Many of the legends involve a mythic battle between a thunderbird and a

One tale told by generations of Hoh Indians from the Forks area of
Washington's Olympic Peninsula contains what Ludwin considers the clearest
description of a concurrent earthquake and tsunami yet discovered in tribal

As the story goes, Ludwin wrote in a research paper, "There was a great
storm and hail and flashes of lightning in the darkened, blackened sky and a
great and crashing 'thunder-noise' everywhere. ... There were also a great
shaking, jumping and trembling of the earth beneath and a rolling up of the
great waters."

The Makah Indians, whose reservation at Neah Bay sits at the northwest tip
of Washington state, also have a version - one that ends with a thunderbird
delivering a whale inland to the mouth of a river, giving the giant beast to
a tribe that had been starving one winter thousands of years ago.

Although it's unclear exactly how long the story has been told, it formed
the basis of the tribe's centuries-old whale hunt and could be linked to one
of the seven "megathrust" quakes scientists believe have occurred over the
past 3,500 years.

"I think it's really interesting that our cultural knowledge can help
unravel some of these scientific mysteries," said Janine Bowechop, director
of the Makah Museum. "I feel good that we can share information and then
really have a better understanding for both worlds."

Many legends contain no time elements. Others that were never written down
have been lost entirely, so Ludwin's work can seem like trying to solve a
puzzle with most of the pieces missing. But she insists it's worth it.

"The work that I've done is not extremely important from a scientific point
of view, but it's important from the point of view of understanding and
believing," Ludwin said. "It's another piece of the puzzle."

The megathrust quake believed to have occurred in 1700 ruptured the Cascadia
subduction zone, where two of the tectonic plates that form the Earth's
crust - the Juan de Fuca and the North America plates - overlap. From its
northern end, off the western coast of Vancouver Island, the subduction zone
stretches about 600 miles south to Cape Mendocino in Northern California,
then runs into the San Andreas fault.

It was the Japanese who first theorized that an enormous earthquake in the
Pacific caused what they called their "orphan tsunami," so named because
there was no local temblor that accompanied the torrent of 6-foot-high waves
that crashed along 500 miles of coastline.

When they learned that groves of red cedars and Sitka spruces along
Washington's coast had dropped several feet, drowning in saltwater sometime
in the late 1600s or early 1700s, they theorized that one huge quake must
have been responsible for both the Japanese tsunami and this state's "ghost

Radiocarbon dating of spruce stumps narrowed the timeline of the tree
drownings to somewhere between 1680 and 1720, said Brian Atwater, a U.S.
Geological Survey scientist in Seattle.

That was too large a window, so scientists went back to one of the estuaries
where roots of red cedars had survived and could be dated by the rings in
the roots.

At that grove, near the Copalis River in Grays Harbor County, tree-ring
dating showed the red cedars died sometime between August 1699 and May 1700.

"If we had found that those red cedars died in 1697 or 1703, we would say,
'Well, we're not sure your tsunami came from our earthquake,' " Atwater
said. "We knew there was an earthquake or a series of earthquakes. The
question was how big and exactly when."

Although the geological evidence of the 1700 megathrust seemed solid, there
were still some skeptics before Ludwin started finding Indian tales that
supported the science.

Tribal folklore, Atwater said, "is important, because people understandably
want human evidence as well as physical evidence."

Copyright © 2002 AP Online     


>From Ananova, 12 August 2002

Climate change may have begun killing North American dinosaurs even before
an asteroid finished the job.

Researchers in southern Alberta suggest more than half the dinosaurs that
flourished in the area had fallen victim to gradually cooling temperatures
by the late Cretaceous period.

The study began last summer after researchers surveying a fossil bed in the
Drumheller Valley realised many creatures and plant life had vanished over
several million years.

David Eberth, curator of sedimentary geology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of
Paleontology in Drumheller, said: "It's telling us that dinosaur communities
were under stress, at least in the northern reaches of North America, well
before the asteroid impact.

"What we believe we have is the first solid evidence that there was a
decline in dinosaur communities prior to the asteroid impact that was the
final death knell for all of the dinosaurs."

The Calgary Herald reports the data is being compiled and will be submitted
for publication within the year.

Researchers expect to have solid results by the end of the summer, but the
project will continue for another two years.

Eberth says the geographic layers in Alberta's Badlands make it the perfect
place for the investigation.

"There are very, very few places on the planet where you can go to see a
continuous record back from the extinction event," he said.

By checking oxygen isotopes in the tooth enamel of meat-eating dinosaurs,
researchers have found temperatures in Alberta dropped from about 25 C to 15

Copyright 2002, Ananova

>From Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy, July 2002

Doomsayers seem to pop up every few years. Last time, it was the alignment
of the planets that somehow managed not to destroy the Earth in May 2000.
Now, we have Planet X. A few people are claiming that a heretofore unknown
planet in our solar system is on a very long, elliptical orbit. In May 2003,
it will pass close enough to the Earth to affect it in some way, causing it
to flip over (what many call a "pole shift") and spur many other huge
disasters. The end result will be the deaths of many billions of people.
There are a large number of web pages, chat rooms and books about Planet X
and its horrible affects on the Earth. So the question is, does this planet
exist, and will it come by in May 2003 and cause all this horror?

No, and no.

As much as I know anything in science, I know that there is no Planet X as
described by this latest crop of Chicken Littles. How do I know this? Well,
we'll have to look a little bit at the claims of the people doing the
doomsaying, and why what they say is patently false. Along the way, I'll be
talking about gravity, orbits, brown dwarfs, and why speculation is a great
way to enflame emotions, but a terrible way to get the truth.

To make it easier to navigate, I have divided my arguments into separate
pages. To find your way around, use the table of contents at the top of this
page. There will be a link back to it at the top and bottom of every page.


©2002 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved. 


>From MSNBC, 12 August 2002
Doctors say it's mass hysteria; police say bugs are responsible    

Brijesh Nishaad, 18, wears bandages on his face as family members look on
Aug. 3, after he was allegedly injured by an unidentified flying object
called "Moohnochwa," while sleeping outdoors in Allahabad, India.
By Prajnan Bhattacharya
SHANWA, India, Aug. 12 -  It comes in the night, a flying sphere emitting
red and blue lights that attacks villagers in this poor region, extensively
burning those victims it does not kill. At least that's what panic-stricken
villagers say. At least seven people have died of unexplained injuries in
the past week in Uttar Pradesh state.
Survey results tallied every 60 seconds. Live Votes reflect respondents'
views and are not scientifically valid surveys.

"A MYSTERIOUS flying object attacked him in the night," Raghuraj Pal said of
his neighbor, Ramji Pal, who died recently in Shanwa. "His stomach was
ripped open. He died two days later."

Many others have suffered scratches and surface wounds, which they say were
inflicted while they slept. In the village of Darra, 53-year-old Kalawati
said she was attacked last week and displayed blisters on her blackened

"It was like a big soccer ball with sparkling lights," said Kalawati, who
uses only one name. "It burned my skin." "I can't sleep because of pain,"
she said.

Doctors dismiss the stories as mass hysteria.

"More often than not the victims have unconsciously inflicted the symptoms
themselves," said Narrotam Lal, a doctor at King George's Medical College in
Lucknow, the state capital. The police have another explanation: bugs.

"It is a 3½-inch-long winged insect" that leaves rashes and superficial
wounds, Kavindra P. Singh, a superintendent of police, told the Press Trust
of India news agency.

Police drew this conclusion after residents of one village found insects
they had never seen before.

Villagers are unconvinced. In the most affected area, the Mirzapur district,
440 miles (700 meters) southeast of New Delhi, people have stopped sleeping
outdoors despite the sweltering heat and frequent power outages.

Villagers also have formed protection squads that patrol Shanwa, beating
drums and shouting slogans such as, "Everyone alert. Attackers beware."  

Some accuse district officials of inaction and failing to capture the
"aliens." One person died Thursday in nearby Sitapur when police fired shots
to disperse a 10,000-strong crowd demanding that authorities capture the
mysterious attackers.

"People just block the roads and attack the police for inaction each time
there's a death or injury," said Amrit Abhijat, Mirzapur's district
magistrate, who claims he has captured the UFO on film.
© 2002 Associated Press.

>From Andrew Yee <>

[ ]

Tuesday, 13 August 2002

Is physics watching over us?

Our Universe is so unlikely that we must be missing something.


In an argument that would have gratified the ancient Greeks, physicists have
claimed that the prevailing theoretical view of the Universe is logically
flawed. Arranging the cosmos as we think
it is arranged, say the team, would have required a miracle [1].

An ever-more-rapidly expanding Universe is destined to repeat itself, say
Leonard Susskind of Stanford University, California, and his colleagues. But
the chances that such re-runs would
produce worlds like ours are infinitesimal.

So either space is not accelerating for the reasons we think it is, or we
have yet to discover some principle of physics, the researchers conclude.
Like a guardian angel, this principle would pick out those few initial
states that lead to a Universe like ours, and then guide cosmic evolution so
that it really does unfold this way.

The incomprehensibility of our situation even drives Susskind's team to
ponder whether an "unknown agent intervened in the evolution [of the
Universe] for reasons of its own". But
creationists should not rejoice: even a god such as this can't explain how
things got so strange.

The problem stems from the observation in 1998 that the Universe's expansion
seems to be speeding up. The most popular explanation for this is that there
is a cosmological constant -- a repulsive force that opposes gravity.

As things stand, other galaxies will eventually disappear as they zoom away
from us faster than the speed of light. Then nothing that happens in those
parts of the cosmos can affect us. Our world -- and everywhere else -- will
be isolated behind a boundary called a de Sitter horizon.

This view holds that the Universe will fragment into a foam of bubbles
separated by de Sitter horizons: a de Sitter space. Each bubble would
eventually settle into a bland, lifeless uniformity. And that would be the
end of history.

Here we go again

Or would it? Thermodynamics says otherwise, reckon Susskind and his
colleagues. Wait long enough, and everything that can happen, will. There is
nothing to stop a drop of ink dispersed in a glass
of water from gathering its molecules back into a single drop. It's
incredibly unlikely but, with infinite patience, we'll see it happen.

In the same way, a Universe driven to become a de Sitter space by a
cosmological constant will, after an absurdly long time, return to something
like its original condition, the researchers say. A new cosmic history will
then unfold, including the reappearance of life. But the chances that such a
cosmic recurrence will produce a Universe like ours are extremely slim.

Cosmologists have a rejoinder to this kind of argument, called the anthropic
principle. This says that, no matter how unlikely the Universe seems, the
very fact that we are here to ask such questions resolves the paradox. If
things were otherwise, life wouldn't exist and the question would never

But Susskind's team show that the anthropic principle won't help, because a
vast number of Universes would permit life and yet look quite different from
this one. All of these habitable Universes would result from 'miraculous'
statistical events. But there are so many of them that they would vastly
overwhelm a cosmos like ours.

Even if 'something' had set the peculiar initial conditions of our Universe,
this would only apply for its first run. Subsequent recurrences would
produce a quite different Universe.

In that case, we'd have to conclude that we are in the first unfolding of
this carefully crafted Universe. This all seems too much like special
pleading, the researchers say.

So either there is no cosmological constant after all -- in which case, why
is the Universe accelerating? -- or we're missing something fundamental.


[1] Dyson, L., Kleban, M. & Susskind, L. Disturbing implications
    of a cosmological constant. Preprint, (2002).

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002

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