CCNet 98/2002 - 21 August 2002

"I have a finely tuned bullshit detector and I don't see the point
in wasting time with frauds, egos and those who talk a lot but deliver
little. In the bush, you don't dance around and make a fuss, you call it
as it is and get on with the job."
--Ian Plimer, unrepentant sceptic and troublemaker
              winner of the Eureka Science Book Prize

"Pluto's atmosphere is undergoing global cooling, while  other data
indicates that the surface seems to be getting slightly warmer... We
cannot fully explain what has caused these dramatic changes to Pluto's
--Marc Buie, Lowell Observatory

    Andrew Yee <>

    Oshkosh Northwestern, 18 August 2002

    Associated Press, AUGUST 16, 16:23 ET


    Boston Globe, 20 August 2002

    Andrew Yee <>

    The Times, 21 August 2002

    The Times, 19 August 2002

THE U.S. :-)
    Andrew Yee <>


>From Andrew Yee <>

ESA Science News

20 Aug 2002

Landing On A Cosmic Iceberg

Landings on other worlds are remarkably difficult to achieve. During the
last 40 years, the only objects in the Solar System on which robotic
spacecraft have soft-landed have been the Moon, Venus, Mars and near-Earth
asteroid Eros. A decade from now, it will be the turn of ESA's pioneering
Rosetta spacecraft to land on a comet.

Rosetta will achieve many breakthroughs during its 10 1/2 year odyssey to
Comet Wirtanen, but one of the most exciting episodes of this ambitious
mission will involve the first soft landing on one of these cosmic icebergs.
This landmark event will be followed by the first panoramic images from a
comet's surface and the first in situ analysis to find out what its ancient
nucleus is made of.

The historic landing on one of the most primitive objects in the Solar
System will be undertaken by a unique spacecraft which has been built by a
European consortium under the leadership of the German Space Agency (DLR),
together with ESA and institutes from Austria, Finland, France, Hungary,
Ireland, Italy, Germany and the UK.

Engineers at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in
the Netherlands have recently integrated the landing gear on the 100 kg
Rosetta Lander, clearing the way for the
installation of the box-shaped spacecraft on the exterior of the three tonne
orbiter. In the coming weeks, the two spacecraft will complete their systems
tests and the lander release mechanism will be checked. Then it will be time
to ship the Rosetta 'mother craft' and its small piggyback companion to the
launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana.

So how will Rosetta's little Lander make its mark in the annals of space
exploration? Jean-Christophe Salvignol, the Rosetta spacecraft and Lander
mechanical engineer, outlined the complex procedure.

"Shortly after launch, the four main attachment points used to carry the
Lander during launch are released. The Lander is then only supported by its
central motor, the MSS, during all the cruise."

"In the summer of 2012, the Lander will be released from the Rosetta orbiter
at an altitude of about one kilometre above the nucleus. By this time, the
instruments on the orbiter will have mapped every square centimetre of the
comet's surface, enabling scientists to select a suitable landing site.

"The MSS will then gently push the Lander away at crawling speed, no more
than 0.5 metres per second. Once the landing gear is deployed, the
spacecraft will edge towards its target, prevented from tumbling by an
internal flywheel that provides stability as its spins. A single cold gas
thruster will be able to provide a gradual upward push to improve the
accuracy of the descent."

After a nail-biting 30 minute wait by the helpless mission team back on
Earth, sensors on board the Lander will record the historic moment of
touchdown. Since the nucleus is so small, its gravitational pull will be
extremely weak -- millions of times weaker than on Earth -- causing the
Lander to touch down at no more than walking pace. Nevertheless, a damping
system in the landing gear will be available to reduce the shock of impact
and to prevent rebound. Other events will occur in quick succession.

"Hopefully, gradient will not be a problem, since the spacecraft is designed
to stay upright on a slope of up to about 30 degrees," said Jean-Christophe.
"However, the Lander carries two harpoons. One of these will be fired at the
moment of touchdown to anchor the spacecraft to the surface and prevent it
from bouncing. Ice screws on each leg will also be rotated to bite into the
nucleus and secure the Lander in place. The second harpoon will be held in
reserve for use later in the mission if the first one becomes loose.

"Meanwhile, the science programme will quickly get under way. In the primary
phase, which relies on battery power, the most important scientific
measurements will be completed. It will last in the order of 60 hours. The
secondary science will be conducted using the remaining battery power and
energy from the solar cells on the exterior of the Lander. The duration of
this phase should be about 3 months. Anyway, no one knows precisely how long
it will survive. This will depend on a number of factors: power supply,
temperature or surface activity on the comet."

What we can be sure of is that Rosetta will revolutionise our knowledge of
comets, providing new insights into the nature and origins of these
primordial objects, the building blocks from which the planets were born.

Rosetta will be shipped to Kourou spaceport in French Guiana during early
September. The Ariane 5 launch from Kourou is scheduled for the night of
12-13 January 2003.


* More about the Rosetta Lander
* Rosetta Lander home page at DLR
* Rosetta home page


[Image 1: ]
Lander Integrated on Orbiter
[Image 2: ]
Lander with Legs Deployed
[Image 3: ]
Lander FM Vibration Test in Z


>From Oshkosh Northwestern, 18 August 2002

Brightest visibility seen before dawn

By Elizabeth Grekso

An asteroid can be a fun thing to watch, especially when it's not headed
toward Earth.

The asteroid 2002 NY40, classified a Near Earth Asteroid, is in the middle
of an orbit that will bring it within 327,000 miles of the planet. In
comparison, the moon orbits about 239,000 miles from Earth.

Michael Briley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said the asteroid's size -- about half a
kilometer -- is much smaller than most asteroids that are visible.

If an asteroid this size were to collide with Earth, it would not cause a
catastrophe like the one that created the Ice Age, Briley said.

"It wouldn't be a disaster that would end life," Briley said. "It could take
out a city."

The asteroid was first detected July 14 with the Linear telescope in New
Mexico, and it will be about 16 times fainter than what the naked eye could
see, Briley said.

The asteroid's visibility will be the brightest before dawn today and will
begin to fade by this evening.

Astronomers have about eight more close passes by asteroids on their radar
screens - including one in 2022 that could get a little too close to Earth.
The space scientists, however, have given it an extremely low probability of
hitting Earth, according to the space Web site's parent company, Space Holdings, is a major producer of astronomy
software in the United States.

This is the last time a known asteroid will be close enough to be seen until
2004, although it's possible there are other asteroids that have not yet
been detected.

Copyright 2002, Oshkosh Northwestern


Astronomers: Asteroid to Pass Earth

>From Associated Press, AUGUST 16, 16:23 ET

LONDON (AP) - Skywatchers will have a rare opportunity this weekend to spot
an asteroid that will pass close enough to Earth to be viewed through
binoculars, British astronomers said Friday.

The half-mile-wide space rock, named 2002 NY40, will pass by Earth at a
distance of 329,000 miles - slightly farther away than the Moon but still a
``near miss'' by astronomers' standards.

The asteroid will be 100 times fainter than the naked eye can see but will
be visible - appearing as a fast moving star - through binoculars or a small

Amateur skywatchers have the opportunity to get such a close-up view of an
asteroid only once every half-century, said Robin Scagell from the Society
for Popular Astronomy.

``This will be a fascinating event. It may not be spectacular but it is very
unusual to see a space rock up close like this - usually you have to wait
for hours or days to detect any movement in the sky, apart from such things
as meteors and satellites,'' said Scagell.

``But if you want to have any chance of seeing the object you must be
looking at exactly the right part of the sky.''

The asteroid is to pass closely by Vega, the brightest star in the European
summer sky, and through the constellation of Hercules.

European skywatchers will get their best glimpse early Sunday. In North
America, the best time to watch will be Saturday evening.

Astronomers say there is a tiny risk - one in 500,000 - that the rock could
strike Earth in 2022.

Jay Tate, from the Spaceguard U.K. observatory, said measurements taken by
experts might show the rate at which the rock was spinning in space, giving
clues to its composition and trajectory.

The asteroid fly-by follows reports last month of another, bigger, rock,
called 2002 NT7, which scientists speculated might collide with Earth in
2019. Further studies of that asteroid by NASA determined there was no
chance of that happening.

In June, an asteroid the size of a soccer field missed the Earth by 75,000
miles - less than one-third the distance to the moon - in one of the closest
known approaches by an object of its size.

Copyright 2002, AP


>From, 20 August 2002

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

Few sky shows in our lifetimes will come close to matching the breathtaking,
easy-to-watch 2001 Leonid meteor shower. Except maybe the 2002 Leonid meteor
shower. Another storm is in store for Nov. 19, and the main question is how
much of it we will see.

Astronomers say a peak of activity expected over North America could
generate more than 40 shooting stars every minute. Europeans will be treated
to an even better display. Unfortunately, many of the fainter streaks will
be drowned out by a full Moon.

Colorado astrophotographer Gary Emerson captured the fury of the great 1966
Leonid meteor storm, the most spectacular storm of the 20th Century. This
image was taken over 20 minutes and records only the brightest meteors. At
the storm's peak, Emerson says he saw thousands of meteors per second. "It
was one hell of a show," he said.
The Leonids are an annual event caused by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits
the Sun every 33.2 years and leaves behind a new trail of debris on each
pass. Most of this debris is no larger than a grain of sand, and it
vaporizes when it crashes through Earth's atmosphere.

Predicting the shower involves figuring out which streams of debris Earth
will pass through each year and how dense they will be -- how much the stuff
has spread out over decades and centuries as it wafts through space.

The forecast

Forecasters generally agree that Earth will pass through two primary debris
streams in 2002.

The first stream could generate a peak rate of more than 3,000 shooting
stars per hour just before dawn over Europe and Africa on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

A second burst is slated to occur near dawn the same day over eastern North
America and is forecast to produce around 2,600 meteors per hour. That's 43
per minute or nearly one each second.

Peak rates are typically observed in short, stunning bursts that can last
anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, though they are expressed as hourly rates.

The North American peak will also serve residents of the West Coast and
those in the middle, too, but the timing puts the best potential in the

Meteor forecast is still in its infancy, however, and estimates for exact
timing and especially for the rates could change between now and November.
The date is firm, though.

Even if the forecasts are off the mark, the Leonids always provide some sort
of shower. The nights and mornings leading up to the peak are sure to
provide a handful of shooting stars and even fireballs, bright
mini-explosions that tend to take over the sky. And despite the Moon's
interference, there is cause for optimism in 2002.

"If you enjoyed them in a good sky last year, don't expect something as good
this year, because of the observing conditions," said meteor shower
forecaster David Asher of the Armagh Observatory. He adds, though, that "if
you missed them, and you've never seen a meteor storm in a dark sky, you can
expect an excellent display."


Serious meteor watchers begin their Leonid observing in earnest two or three
nights prior to the peak, to gauge views and sky conditions and to practice
their spotting skills. With a full Moon looming, choosing a good location is

The Moon will be just approaching its full phase, up all night and setting
in the west just before sunrise -- right when the peak activity is expected
in eastern North America.

Robert Lunsford, a seasoned meteor watcher with the American Meteor Society,
says the bright moonlight will be exacerbated in regions with high humidity.

"Those under hazy skies will be at a distinct disadvantage as the moisture
will scatter that much more light," Lunsford explained recently. A trip to
the mountains can provide lower-humidity conditions. "For those stuck in
humid air, I would suggest using a tree or the east side of their house to
block the Moon."

Lunsford also recommends setting out an hour or more before prime time, to
practice a bit and to allow your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness.

Mountain climbers

One group of long-time meteor watchers is heading to the mountains of North
Carolina, where they plan to use high peaks to block scattered moonlight and
improve their view by observing from deep canyon shadows.

Tom Van Flandern, a meteor forecaster who's helping to lead the expedition,
told that test observations have shown that during a full Moon,
twice as many stars can be seen from their chosen location in the
Appalachians compared with other sites. The group will start out at a
mid-elevation site. If the moonlight seems a problem, they'll move to deeper
shadows. If clouds threaten, they will try to climb above them.

Avid amateurs are invited to join the journey, which is part of Eclipse Edge

Van Flandern said the eastern location was chosen to coincide with the
pre-dawn peak of the shower, when the Leonid meteors will emanate from a
point high in the sky. Further west, this so-called radiant point will be
lower in the sky during the peak, so fewer meteors will be visible.

But, he said, observers "stuck" in the West or southwestern United States
should still see a strong shower.

The peak will occur shortly after midnight in the West and around 2-3 a.m.
in the Midwest. For all North American viewers, the shower should be worth
watching from midnight to dawn.

This year's expected storm is the last in a series that dates back to 1999
for the Leonids. Beginning next year, things change dramatically. No Leonid
storms are predicted again until 2033.

Copyright 2002,


>From Boston Globe, 20 August 2002

NASA hopes to collect date from cosmic dust

By Quynh-Giang Tran, Globe Correspondent, 8/20/2002

An interplanetary "tennis racket" sent to capture tiny bits of comet and
interstellar dust may eventually yield the secrets to the building blocks of
our solar system when it formed almost 5 billion years ago, astronomers say.

NASA recently launched the Stardust spacecraft to intercept Comet Wild-2,
whose tail stretches tens of thousands of kilometers across space, when it
nears Mars's orbit in 2004. By catching dust within hours of its release
from the comet, scientists hope to understand the primordial state of the
solar system, possibly revealing whether comets brought water and other
organic materials to Earth, making life possible.

''We think the comet is like a time capsule,'' said Tom Duxbury, the project
manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The spacecraft will gather the comet's dust and finally return to Earth in
2006, the first attempt to return a comet sample to Earth and the first
attempt of any sample collection since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.
Along the way, Stardust also will sample a stream of interstellar dust from
outside the solar system, now visible in the night sky like a black band as
it blocks light from distant stars.

Scientists believe that Wild-2 has entered the solar system only once
before, in 1974. Back then, it got close to Jupiter's orbit. Without much
exposure to this solar system and contact with the sun, the comet has not
shed much of its original composition, leaving it in a pristine state from 4
billion to 5 billion years ago.

The Stardust mission is the first comet encounter since the Giotto unmanned
missions that flew by Comet Halley in 1986 and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup in
1992. Comet Wild-2 is special because it moves much slower than Halley,
about 20 kilometers to 30 kilometers per second, allowing Stardust to better
keep pace.

While the speed difference between the comet and the spacecraft is still six
times faster than a speeding bullet, the difference is still far less than
the speed differential with Halley. The smaller speed differential allows
Stardust to come within 150 kilometers of the surface of Comet Wild-2 as the
spacecraft swoops into the comet's coma - the dense cloud of water, carbon
dioxide, and other gases spewed off by its nucleus as the comet nears the
sun - to collect the fresh dust.

Stardust is about 6 feet across and equipped with 15-feet-long solar-powered
panels. The tennis-racket-shaped collector with shoulder- and wrist-like
joints contains about 100 3 -inch cells of aerogel, the lightest man-made
material on Earth. Composed of more than 95 percent air, the silicon-based
material looks like bluish smoky hardened gelatin. The two-sided aerogel
cells pick up dust particles 10 to 100 times smaller than the thickness of

The ultimate goal of the mission is to categorize the origins of already
collected nonterresterrial samples, said Don Brownlee, an astronomer at the
University of Washington and leader of the Stardust mission. Scientists have
10,000 samples of meteorites that bombarded Earth to study, but their
origins are unknown.

It was not until the Apollo missions that scientists learned meteorites did
not came from the moon, which was the previous belief. The meteorite samples
typically came from asteroids, formed in space between the orbits of Mars
and Jupiter. Comets, on the other hand, were formed beyond the orbit of
Pluto, much farther away than a spacecraft can reach. With a Comet Wild-2
sample, a known source, Brownlee said he hopes its composition will shed
light on the origins of other unknown source samples.

Even though scientists have a few more years to wait, Comet Wild-2 is a much
anticipated visit from a far-away cousin. ''There is a great dream to sample
Mars and the other planets,'' Brownlee said. ''But having a piece in hand is

This story ran on page D3 of the Boston Globe on 8/20/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


>From Andrew Yee <>

Communications and Marketing
University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia

More information:

Karen Eck
Telephone 02 9320 6483 or 0438 532 569

Jackie Townsend
Publicist, ABC Enterprises
Telephone 02 9950 3982

Jason Major
Media officer, Communications and Marketing
The University of Melbourne
Telephone +(61 3) 8344 0181 or 0421 641 506
Fax +(61 3) 9349 4135

Rocks, religion and a short history of planet Earth

Professor Ian Plimer hates political correctness and confesses to being an
unrepentant sceptic and troublemaker.

His last book saw him in court battling a creationist movement. His new
book, "A Short History of Planet Earth", which has won this year's Reed New
Holland Eureka Science Book Prize worth $10,000, could raise the ire of many
of his scientific colleagues as he questions our general obsession with and
the scientific consensus of global warming.

Plimer is Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne, and one of
Australia's most recognised geologists. In regional Australia he has secured
a loyal following over the last decade for his "Talking Rocks" segment on
ABC Regional Radio.

Plimer spent his formative years growing up in Broken Hill and, as a
geologist, has spent much of his professional life working in outback
Australia. He does not suffer frauds or fools and
does not pull punches when expressing his views -- a characteristic
instantly evident when speaking or listening to him, or reading his books.

"I have a finely tuned bullshit detector and I don't see the point in
wasting time with frauds, egos and those who talk a lot but deliver little,"
he says.

"In the bush, you don't dance around and make a fuss, you call it as it is
and get on with the job."

Not surprisingly then, Plimer plants his opinions firmly in "A Short History
of Planet Earth", but there was a higher calling for writing on this topic.

"As a Professor of Geology, my job is to profess my discipline in public. In
the 30 years I have been actively promoting geology to school kids, the
public, and at international forums I
realised that people know bugger all about how the planet works," he says.

Geological history and the future of the planet

"A Short History of Planet Earth" tells the fascinating story of our planet,
focusing on the big changes:

* our encounters with the killer asteroids
* the rise and spread of the continents
* the appearance of life
* mass extinctions
* and the major climate changes that have helped shape the life
  and look of Earth.

He even makes passing reference to some minor animals known as hominids with
the odd but useful habit of remembering and recording things that happened.

His discussion of the past 10,000 years includes the far-reaching effects
that planetary events have had on Homo sapiens. The book concludes with a
brief discussion of the next 50 million years in the planet's history, with special reference
to expected climate change.

"Our geological history holds the key to our present and future. If we
ignore it, we do so at our peril," he says

"For 80 per cent of the Earth's 4600 million years, our planet has been a
warm, wet greenhouse planet. Greenhouse conditions are normal. Polar ice
caps are abnormal.

"I question whether we really are facing an environmental catastrophe due to
global warming. Even 2000 years ago the Earth was considerably warmer than
now. The Romans were scantily clad and growing oranges and grapes in
northern England.

"We are in an abnormally cold period of time. The popularity of
the idea of global warming", he says, "shows how little we
understand about our planet."

"There are also a lot more important thing to worry about such as salinity,
land clearing and the appearance of new or resurgence old viruses and
bacteria that could have more profound consequences for our planet."

Science and religion

Plimer has in previous years won the Eureka Prize for the Promotion of
Science and the Daley Prize for Science Communication, and is the author of
five previous books including the provocative "Telling Lies for God" (1994).

It was "Telling Lies for God" that landed him in hot water -- and court. A
creationist movement unsuccessfully sued him for defamation and he
successfully cross-litigated for copyright and fraud.

The very nature of geology means he is anti-creationist. But this doesn't
mean he is anti-religion.

"Organised religion is vital to society. There is actually a great unity
between science and religion. In faith though, you have a totally different
mechanism for analysis than you do for science. In science you use
rationality and a methodology that uses a repeatable formula. Faith is
subjective and based on personal experience, which I can't repeat.
Nevertheless, it is a valid concept," he says.

"What I object to is scientists using the mechanisms of science to test
religion. The two are totally different ways of looking at the world."

From darkest Africa to stints on the Greek island Milos, Plimer's work has
taken him around the world: to places where you wouldn't go if you were paid
and to places you'd give your right arm to visit.

"Late last year I was in Iran, next year it will be polar Siberia. But
seeing all these places, experiencing the cultures, history and beliefs, I
accumulated a keen interest in archaeology, history and people and this has helped
shape my views and much of what I try to communicate through my books," he says.

About the prize-winning book

"A Short History of Planet Earth" lucidly combines geology, chemistry,
physics, astronomy and anthropology -- as well as history, archaeology and
even myth -- in a thought-provoking, sceptical and witty text for the thoughtful
non-scientific reader with an interest in how our planet works.

"A Short History of Planet Earth" is published by ABC Books, rrp $32.95. It
is available at ABC shops and centres, good bookstores and online at .

The prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prizes raise the profile of science
in the community by acknowledging and rewarding outstanding achievements in
Australian science and in the promotion of science. Launched in 1990, the
Eureka Prizes have grown into Australia's pre-eminent and most comprehensive
national science awards.

The Eureka Prizes are a unique partnership between the federal and NSW state
governments and a range of educational institutions, private sector
organisations and companies to celebrate the vitality, originality and
excellence of Australia's science.


>From The Times, 21 August 2002,,482-390005,00.html

By Nigel Hawkes
Great journeys have inspired storytellers ever since Homer, but even he
might have paused for breath at the odyssey of the Voyager spacecraft.

Conceived when Richard Nixon was in the White House and launched in the
Carter years, the two Voyagers slipped away without ceremony or fuss, bound
for the outer reaches of the solar system. And then they went on going.

Today, a quarter of a century later, they are by far the remotest spacecraft
man has ever built, spreading human culture outwards like a gigantic
tidemark in the cosmos. They have long since left the planets behind,
cruising towards interstellar space where the influence of the Sun finally
begins to peter out.

They are so far away that their signals now reach the Earth with a power
twenty billion times feebler than a digital watch. So long has their journey
been that, despite being launched by an obsolete ballistic missile designed
for impact rather than economy, they have averaged a miserly 30,000 miles
per gallon.

They have passed through radiation belts strong enough to wither a living
creature, and returned enough data to encode 6,000 sets of Encyclopaedia
Britannica. Nor is their mission over: they may yet send us, in a whisper,
the first information we have ever had about the heliopause, the place where
the solar system ends and interstellar space begins.

They carry messages redolent of the 1970s - recordings of a kiss, a mother's
lullaby, wind and water - as well as words from Carter and Kurt Waldheim,
the former UN Secretary-General, and greetings in languages ranging from
ancient Akkadian to modern Wu.

The records, made of gold, also contain music by Mozart, Bach and Chuck
Berry, whose version of Johnny B Goode may one day be played by a bewildered
alien on an unimaginably distant planet. That is, if he can devise anything
as old-fashioned as a turntable to play it on.

The Voyagers were never planned to live so long, but the 1970s were not a
cheeseparing decade for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(Nasa) and when it did things, it did them well. And, like some Victorian
bridge that still carries modern traffic because its engineers were not
quite sure of themselves, the Voyagers were probably overdesigned for the
task they had to perform.

The first to be launched, oddly, was Voyager 2. It set off on August 20,
1977, and is now 6.3 billion miles away, dipping below the plane in which
the planets lie. Voyager 1, launched a fortnight later on a different
trajectory designed to get it to Jupiter first, is now 7.9 billion miles
from Earth, twice as far as Pluto, and climbing at 38,500 mph above the
ecliptic plane.

The plan was for the two spacecraft to make a quick four-year tour of
Jupiter and Saturn, and then retire. "We were on a mission of discovery,"
said Dr Edward Stone, the Voyager chief scientist, whose entire career has
been caught up with the Voyagers. "But we didn't appreciate how much
discovery there would be."

Voyager 2 went on to make the first visits to Uranus and Neptune and then,
since both spacecraft were still working after a dozen years, a new mission
was devised - the exploration of the boundary between the solar system and
interstellar space.

The Sun pours out a constant flood of charged particles, the solar wind.
They bathe the Earth and the other planets, blowing at millions of miles an
hour. But ultimately, in a region known as the termination shock, the energy
of the particles finally flags.

This is the solar system's outer shore, a place where the particles slacken
to a subsonic pace, and turbulent magnetic fields hold sway. Here
interstellar particles begin to outnumber those from the Sun.

But where exactly is here? That is the final question the Voyagers may be
able to answer. The influence of the Sun waxes and wanes along with its
11-year cycle of activity, so the termination shock is further away at times
of high solar activity, closer when the Sun is in a quiet mood. The peak of
the current cycle was two years ago, so the termination shock is now
shrinking even as the spacecraft hurtle towards it. The guess is that it
will be reached within the next year or two, and then it will take a few
more years - perhaps ten - for Voyager 1 to reach the very edge of the

A new kind of race has now been joined: to make the first observations of
the edge of the heliosphere and the entry into interstellar space before the
two antique spacecraft run out of power in about 2020. Given the project's
past history, nobody is betting against this being achieved.

Earlier this year the Nasa team responsible for Voyager 1 feared that its
navigation system, which guides the spacecraft by locking on to the Sun and
the star Sirius, was beginning to show signs of age. But the spacecraft had
a spare on board, which had been sitting unused for 25 years.

Activating it, when it takes more than 12 hours for a signal from Earth to
reach the spacecraft, and just as long for a reply to come back, took
special precautions. The back-up equipment had not even been tested since
1980, when Voyager 1 was approaching Saturn. The danger was that the back-up
would fail and Voyager 1 would begin to drift. The already tenuous
connection to Earth would be lost and the spacecraft would then fall silent.

So the team, with true ingenuity, arranged to switch briefly to the back-up
system, and then revert automatically to the original. The switch would last
long enough to see if the back-up worked, without running the risk of losing
the spacecraft. It did work, and the permanent switch was made nine days

Sometimes Nasa must wish its newer spacecraft worked as well as these old
classics. Last week it lost yet another of its "faster, better, cheaper"
generation of satellites when the $159 million Contour spacecraft

Contour was designed to study comets by completing a rendezvous with three
of them in the next five years. It was successfully put into Earth orbit,
but disappeared as it fired its rockets to begin the mission proper.

The loss of Contour focused attention once again on Nasa's strategy. Critics
say that it has lost its way, spending too much on manned missions to the
International Space Station which achieve little of lasting value, while
neglecting the unmanned missions to the planets which - the Apollo Moon
landings apart - have proved its greatest glory.

The Bush Administration stamped on the idea of a mission to Pluto and its
moon, Charon - the only planet never to have been visited. Losing this
mission means that it will be 2012 before it becomes possible again, because
of Pluto's orbit.

Nor has the current Nasa administrator, Sean O'Keefe, inspired the space
buffs. His predecessor Dan Goldin, who originated "faster, better, cheaper",
could at least count some successes for his strategy, even if there were
also some embarrassing failures. But so far, O'Keefe has been more concerned
with sorting out Nasa's financial accounting systems and trying to make its
different centres work more co-operatively with one another.

"As important as these matters are," urged Aviation Week and Space
Technology in a recent editorial, "there is more to leading this space
agency than simply managing it better. Nasa's lifeblood is exploration.
Without objectives that expand horizons and results that inspire awe, Nasa
becomes an expensive technical tangent for the American commonwealth."

The critics also charge that under Goldin, Nasa downsized to become leaner
and meaner, but in practice became weaker and less experienced. The
administration is left with an ageing workforce, fewer skilled people than
it had in its heyday, and a lack of fresh talent and leadership. True, it
also costs a lot less. In the 1960s, during the race to the Moon, Nasa
swallowed a thumping 3.8 per cent of the federal budget, while now it is
down to less than 1 per cent.

But nobody now remembers that the Voyager missions cost the better part of a
billion dollars - they just remember the extraordinary success of the
spacecraft, and marvel at the fact that 25 years later they are still
sailing through the ether ticking like a well-oiled clock.

Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.


>From The Times, 19 August 2002,,1-3-387635,00.html

Mammoth hopes rest on icy DNA

>From Clem Cecil in Moscow
JAPANESE scientists hope to use parts of a mammoth preserved in the Siberian
permafrost to impregnate an Indian elephant with its sperm and clone the
extinct animal for display at an Ice Age wildlife park.

Organisers of the planned park are now populating it with species from that
time in preparation for the much hoped-for return of the mammoth. Several
hundred wild horses have been sent to graze in land set aside for the park
in the far North East of Siberia on the River Kolyma.

Musk ox from another part of Siberia have also been imported, and
discussions on buying bison have started with Canada.

A hunter discovered two frozen mammoth legs in the permafrost eight years
ago, but because of lack of funds the local authorities only visited the
site in 1997 and could not afford to excavate. Japanese interest in the find
was excited and two universities funded an expedition this month.

The mammoth appears to have been killed by an avalanche which made it tumble
on to its rump, and crushed it on to the permafrost between 25,000 and
30,000 years ago.

The science departments from the universities of Kinki and Tifu in Japan,
who have sponsored the excavation of the legs, hope to receive Russian
permission in the autumn to export fragments of mammoth skin for research.

Mammoths frozen immediately after death are rare gems, as there is a higher
chance of their body parts and internal organs being preserved.

The part of the body that the Japanese are most keen to get are the
testicles. Finding frozen mammoth sperm would provide a significant boost to
any cloning exercise, because sperm preserves well when frozen, even if
thawed and refrozen several times.

If impregnating an Indian elephant with mammoth sperm produced young, that
offspring would be impregnated with more mammoth sperm and the process
repeated in the next generation, producing a creature that was 88 per cent
mammoth. The process would take about 50 years. The alternative is to clone
the mammoth from DNA found in the soft tissue.

Since the cloning of Dolly the sheep each new mammoth find is seen as a
potential step towards the cloning of the extinct creature.

The frozen legs contain well-preserved soft tissue, which has been removed
to enormous freezers in the Museum of the Mammoth in Yakutsk in Siberia.

Preservation methods for excavated mammoth remains have improved
dramatically in Russia. In 1977 scientists found a whole baby male, "Dima",
in a goldmine by the River Kolyma. It was excavated using water pumps which
drenched the tissue beyond recognition, rendering the animal useless for any
process of reproduction by insemination or cloning. Russian scientists admit
that all the greatest mammoth finds to date have been ruined by crude
excavation and preservation methods.

About 100 mammoths have been recovered in Russia, among them the world's
finest museum examples. These include the skeleton of the Adams mammoth,
found in Yakutia in 1806, and the Berezovka mammoth, recovered in
northeastern Siberia in 1901. This had an erect penis, thought to be because
it died of asphyxiation. The stuffed Berezovka mammoth and the skeleton are
both on display at the Zoological Museum of St Petersburg.

It is thought that as many as ten million mammoths are buried in the
Siberian permafrost. This is shallow in many areas, but because Siberia is
so sparsely populated, it is thought that mammoth remains may go unearthed
for hundreds of years in more impassable areas.

Copyright 2002, The Times

THE U.S. :-)

>From Andrew Yee <>

Lowell Observatory
1400 West Mars Hill Road
Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
Phone: (928) 774-3358
FAX: (928) 774-6296

Media Contact:
Kristi Phillips, Manager, Media Relations & Public Affairs


Pluto's Atmosphere Changing

FLAGSTAFF, AZ -- New findings by astronomers from Lowell Observatory and the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicate that Pluto's atmosphere
is undergoing a cooling trend and other global changes.

Using data from the most recent Pluto occultation, Dr. Marc Buie of Lowell
Observatory (Flagstaff, Ariz.) and Dr. James Elliot of MIT (Cambridge,
Mass.) discovered that Pluto's atmosphere has changed drastically since the
last time Pluto occulted a star 14 years ago.
Buie observed the occultation and Elliot compared Buie's findings with data
from the 1988 Pluto occultation.

"In the last 14 years, one or more changes have occurred," Buie said.
"Pluto's atmosphere is undergoing global cooling, while  other data
indicates that the surface seems to be getting slightly warmer. Some change
is inevitable as Pluto moves away from the sun, but what we're seeing is
more complex than expected."

Buie hopes these findings will give additional urgency to NASA's plans to
send a spacecraft to Pluto, the only planet not yet observed up close. The
Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission, planned to launch in 2006 and reach Pluto a decade later,
seeks to answer questions about the surfaces, atmospheres, interiors and space
environments of the solar system's outermost objects, including
Pluto and its moon, Charon.

"We cannot fully explain what has caused these dramatic changes to Pluto's
atmosphere," Buie said. "The Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission is our best hope for
putting all the puzzle pieces together." Last month, the Senate
Appropriations Committee included money in NASA's budget for the
Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission. Buie said he is hopeful that the U.S. House of
Representatives also will fund the project.

During a stellar occultation, an object passes in front of a star either
partially or completely blocking the star's light from view. By recording
how the dimming of the starlight changes over
time, scientists can calculate the density, pressure and temperature of the
object's atmosphere. Observing two or more occultations by the same body at
different times lets astronomers determine whether the object's atmosphere
has changed.

The structure and temperature of Pluto's atmosphere was first determined
during an occultation in 1988. That occultation plus additional data
revealed that Pluto has a tenuous, extended
atmosphere composed of nitrogen with traces of methane and carbon monoxide.
Results also showed  that the light signature from the occulted star dimmed
gradually then abruptly dropped off -- a puzzling phenomenon thought to be
caused either by a smog layer or an abrupt decline in atmospheric

Assisted by Sr. Oscar Saa of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory,
Buie used a 14-inch portable telescope in Northern Chile to record Pluto's
brief pass in front of the distant star P126A on July 19. Buie and Elliot's
findings are intriguing. This Pluto occultation revealed a noticeably
different light signature than the 1988 event. The abrupt drop in starlight
seen in the 1988 occultation is no longer present and Pluto's atmosphere has
cooled by 20-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Both factors indicate that a dynamic
atmospheric change is taking place.

"A 1997 Triton occultation revealed that the surface of Triton, Neptune's
largest moon, had warmed since the Voyager spacecraft first explored the
moon in 1989," Elliot said. "But the changes observed in Pluto's atmosphere
are much more severe."

Buie said he is eager to continue exploring our solar system's most distant
planet, and is determined to unravel what these atmospheric changes mean and
why they are happening. Astronomers will have another opportunity August 20
when Pluto passes in front of a star known as P131.1.

"Pluto has always been one of the most fascinating objects in the solar
system to me," Buie said. "These drastic changes to its atmosphere, coupled
with the possibility that Pluto's surface is getting warmer, make exploring
the planet that much more compelling."

Observing Teams

Astronomers from around the globe attempted to observe the July 19 Pluto
occultation using small/portable and large/stationary telescopes.
Observation attempts were made by: Elliot and MIT
student Michael Person using the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes in
Chile; Edward Dunham from Lowell Observatory and Kris Sellgren of Ohio State
University using large telescopes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in
Chile; Jay Pasachoff, Steve Souza and David Ticehurst from Williams College;
Brian Taylor and Cathy Olkin from Lowell Observatory; European
teams led by Bruno Sicardy; English, Belgium and Spanish astronomers in the
Canary Islands; and astronomers using the Gemini South telescope at Cerro

Preparing for the Occultation

The main challenge of observing a stellar occultation for a small body like
Pluto is predicting where the shadow's path will fall on Earth. Predicting a solar eclipse is
much easier because the Sun and Moon are large, allowing solar eclipse paths to be accurately
calculated years in advance. The P126A occultation (July 19) was identified
several years ago with data from MIT's Wallace Astrophysical Observatory located in Westford
Massachusetts. Late this spring, several hundred exposures of Pluto and the star were recorded
at Lowell Observatory by Edward Dunham and students Joyance Meechai and Andy Morrison;
other exposures were taken at the U.S. Naval Observatory's Flagstaff Station by astronomers Ron
Stone and Steve Levine. These data were reduced by astronomers Amanda Bosh
and Lawrence Wasserman at Lowell Observatory, and then passed to MIT, where
students Michael Person, Katie Carbonari, Alison Klesman, Eric McEvoy,
Shen Qu did further reductions. Elliot and MIT student Kelly Clancy carried
out the final calculations. The result of the prediction can be seen on the Web site:
In addition, Buie's diary chronicling his observing experiences during the
July occultation can be viewed at


Lowell Observatory's occultation research is supported by the NASA Planetary
Astronomy Program and the Friends of Lowell Observatory. Elliot's (MIT) research is
partly supported by the National Science Foundation and by the NASA Planetary Astronomy
Program; the Williams College expedition was supported by Research Corporation and New
Horizons. Logistical support was provided by the National Optical Astronomy
Observatory (NOAO), which operates the Cerro Tololo Inter-American
Observatory for the National Science Foundation.

NOTE: Marc Buie and James Elliot can be reached, respectively, at and

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