CCNet 99/2002 - 22 August 2002

"The lurking issue that hides behind all this is what happens if one
hits tomorrow?"
--Richard Norris, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 20
August 2002

"As for the notion that it might be better to spend resources to
mitigate more frequently occurring disasters than to develop an Earth
defense system soon--I think it depends ultimately on just what it
is we plan to do. The idea I've hawked all along is that we could allow
the threat of cosmic collision to serve as a focal point for a global
commitment to protect our living environment now and into the future
basically by learning as much as we possibly can about what can influence
our world, and how, from the superior vantage point of outer-space.
Conceptually at least, it seems possible that we as a species might adopt
the role of an immune-system with respect to the biosphere.
--Bob Kobres, CCNet, 30 January 1998

    STANFORD NEWS, 20 August 2002


    Discovery News, 20 August 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    CONTOUR wbesite, 21 August 2002

     Reuters, 21 August 2002

    Bob Kobres <>

    Birmingham Post, 21 August 2002


>From STANFORD NEWS, 20 August 2002


CONTACT: Mark Shwartz, News Service (650) 723-9296;

COMMENT: Donald R. Lowe, Geological and Environmental Sciences
(650) 725-3040;

Joseph L. Wooden, Geological and Environmental Sciences &
U.S. Geological Survey (650) 725-9237;

EDITORS: The Aug. 23 study, "An Archean Impact Layer from the Pilbara and
Kaapvaal Cratons," can be obtained from Science magazine by calling (202)
326-6440 or by e-mailing . Photographs can be downloaded at  (slug: ``Impactor``).


Relevant Web URLs:

Scientists confirm age of the oldest meteorite collision on Earth

A team of geologists has determined the age of the oldest known meteorite
impact on Earth - a catastrophic event that generated massive shockwaves
across the planet billions of years before a similar event helped wipe out
the dinosaurs.

In a study published in the Aug. 23 issue of the journal Science, the
research team reports that an ancient meteorite slammed into Earth 3.47
billion years ago. Scientists have yet to locate any trace of the
extraterrestrial object itself or the gigantic crater it produced, but other
geological evidence collected on two continents suggests that the meteorite
was approximately 12 miles (20 kilometers) wide - roughly twice as big as
the one that contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs some 65 million
years ago.

``We are reporting on a single meteorite impact that has left deposits in
both South Africa and Australia,`` said Donald R. Lowe, a Stanford professor
of geological and environmental sciences who co-authored the Science study.
``We have no idea where the actual impact might have been.``

To pinpoint when the huge meteorite collided with Earth, Lowe and his
colleagues performed highly sensitive geochemical analyses of rock samples
collected from two ancient formations well known to geologists: South
Africa`s Barberton greenstone belt and Australia`s Pilbara block. The two
sites include rocks that formed during the Archean eon more than 3 billion
years ago - when Earth was ``only`` a billion years old and single-celled
bacteria were the only living things on the planet.

``In our study, we`re looking at the oldest well-preserved sedimentary and
volcanic rocks on Earth,`` Lowe noted. ``They are still quite pristine and
give us the oldest window that we have on the formative period in Earth`s
history. There are older rocks elsewhere, but they`ve been cooked, heated,
twisted and folded, so they don`t tell us very much about what the surface
of the early Earth was really like.``

Controversial findings

Lowe and Louisiana State University geologist Gary R. Byerly - lead author
of the Science study - began collecting samples from the South African and
Australian formations more than 20 years ago. Although thousands of miles
apart, both sites contain 3.5-billion-year-old layers of rock embedded with
``spherules`` - tiny spherical particles that are a frequent byproduct of
meteorite collisions.

``A meteor passes through the atmosphere in about one second, leaving a hole
- a vacuum - behind it, but air can`t move in fast enough to fill that
hole,`` Lowe explained. ``When the meteor hits the surface, it
instantaneously melts and vaporizes rock, and that rock vapor is sucked
right back up the hole into the atmosphere. It spreads around the Earth as a
rock vapor cloud that eventually condenses and forms droplets that solidify
into spherules, which rain back down onto the surface.``

The meteorite that led to the dinosaur extinction produced spherule deposits
around the world that are less than 2 centimeters deep. But the spherule
beds in South Africa and Australia are much bigger - some 20 to 30
centimeters thick. A chemical analysis of the rocks also has revealed high
concentrations of rare metals such as iridium - rare in terrestrial rocks
but common in meteorites.

In the mid-1980s, when Lowe and Byerly first suggested that these iridium-
and spherule-rich rock layers were produced by fallout from a meteorite,
they were greeted with some skepticism - primarily from geochemists, who
argued that the spherules probably did not come from space but were more
likely to have been formed through some kind of volcanic activity on Earth.

Doubts remained until two years ago, when isotopic studies confirmed that
much of the chromium buried in the rock samples came from an
extraterrestrial source.

``That pretty well laid to rest any lingering doubts of their impact
origin,`` Lowe recalled.

SHRIMP technology

To narrow down the timeframe when the meteorite impact occurred, Lowe and
Byerly turned to a powerful analytic instrument at Stanford called the
Sensitive High-Resolution Ion MicroProbe Reverse Geometry - or SHRIMP RG.

Operated jointly by Stanford and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the
SHRIMP RG rapidly can determine the age of minute grains of zircon - one of
nature`s most durable minerals.

``Of all the minerals on Earth, zircons are the most resistant to all the
things that can happen to rocks,`` said USGS scientist Joseph L. Wooden,
co-director of the SHRIMP RG and consulting professor in Stanford`s
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Zircons often contain ancient isotopes of radioactive uranium that have been
trapped for billions of years.

``The SHRIMP RG makes it possible to work with an individual zircon and
quickly determine its age by measuring how much radioactive decay has
occurred,`` noted Wooden, co-author of the Science paper. ``To dissolve and
prepare individual zircon grains for analysis in a standard lab could take

But with the SHRIMP RG, a zircon is simply mounted on a slide, then exposed
to a high-energy beam that determines its age in about 10 minutes. For the
Science study, researchers analyzed about 50 zircons extracted from South
African and Australian rocks. According to Wooden, it took about one day for
the SHRIMP RG to calculate a more precise age of the zircons - 3.47 billion
years, plus or minus 2 million years.

Early Earth

What was Earth like when the ancient collision occurred? No one is certain,
but speculation abounds.

``You`ll find that the science of the Archean Earth is full of personalities
and controversies, so you can take your choice,`` Lowe observed.

He and his colleagues point to evidence showing that, 3.5 billion years ago,
Earth was mostly covered with water.

``There were probably no large continental blocks like there are today,
although there may have been microcontinents - very small pieces of
continental-type crust,`` Lowe said, noting that if the Archean ocean had
the same volume of water as today, it would have been about 2 miles (3.3
kilometers) deep.

``It would have taken only a second or two for a meteor that`s 20 kilometers
in diameter to pass through the ocean and impact the rock beneath,`` Lowe
said. ``That would generate enormous waves kilometers high that would spread
out from the impact site, sweep across the ocean and produce just incredible
tsunamis - causing a tremendous amount of erosion on the microcontinents and
tearing up the bottom of the ocean.``

In addition to the 3.47-billion-year-old impact, Lowe and Byerly have found
evidence of meteorite collisions in three younger rock layers in the South
African formation. According to Lowe, the force of those collisions may have
been powerful enough to cause the cracks - or tectonic plates - that riddle
the Earth`s crust today.

``In South Africa, two of the younger layers - 3.2 to 3.3 billion years old
- coincide with major tectonic changes,`` he observed. ``How come? Maybe
those impacts were large enough to affect tectonic systems - to affect the
dynamics of the Earth`s crust.``

Evolution and meteorites

The impact of these major catastrophes on the evolution of early life is
difficult to determine, Lowe observed.

``The most advanced organisms at the time were bacteria, so there isn`t a
big extinction event you can identify as cut-and-dry as the extinction of
the dinosaurs,`` he said.

He also pointed to controversy about the fossil record, noting that the
oldest known microbial fossils have been found in rocks 3.4 to 3.5 billion
years old - roughly the same age as the ancient meteorite collision
documented in the Science study. Could the meteorite somehow have
contributed to the origin of bacterial life on Earth? Lowe has his doubts:
``It`s quite possible that life evolved as far back as 4.3 billion years
ago, shortly after the Earth had formed.``

He also pointed to uncertainty among scientists about what the climate of
the Archean Earth was really like. In a forthcoming study, Lowe will present
evidence that the average temperature of the planet back then was very hot -
perhaps 185 F (85 C).

``It`s not clear what effect a large meteorite impact would have on an
extremely hot Earth,`` he explained. ``We know in terms of the present
climate that if we had a very large impact, it would send enormous amounts
of dust into the atmosphere and the climate might cool. Such a scenario may
have contributed to the extinction of dinosaurs. They`re really big guys and
they`re very strong, but they`re actually much more susceptible to
environmental changes than microbes are. Dinosaurs didn`t have anywhere to
go - they couldn`t go underground or avoid cold climates`` - unlike
bacteria, which have adapted successfully to a variety of extreme

``It looks like what we are seeing is a much greater rate of the large
impacts on the early Earth, certainly than we have today, and perhaps even a
much greater rate than what was suspected,`` Lowe concluded. ``I think the
effort now will be to try to do studies like this that will enhance our
understanding of the impactors on early Earth - to try to find other layers,
to understand the mechanics of impact events and how they affected early

The Science study was supported by grants from the National Science
Foundation Petrology and Geochemistry Program and the NASA Astrobiology
Program. Louisiana State University graduate student Xiaogang Xie also
contributed to the study.

By Mark Shwartz


FRom, 21 August 2002

An explosion on the ground rather than havoc from the heavens caused the
greatest known devastation of life on Earth, University of New England (UNE)
research has found.

A massive volcanic eruption called the Mother of All Extinctions decimated
90 per cent of life in the seas and almost three quarters of species living
on the land more than 250 million years ago, deputy director of UNE's Asia
centre Professor Ian Metcalfe's team discovered.

The research repudiates previous claims a 10 kilometre-wide asteroid hit
Earth and caused the largest catastrophe on this planet, Prof Metcalfe said.

"Our research makes it highly unlikely an asteroid impact caused massive
destruction," he said.

"The extinction occurred over a much longer time period than expected for an
asteroid impact."

Along with other scientists from Australia, the US and China, Prof Metcalfe
from the Armidale-based university studied Chinese fossils and dated
volcanic ash in a seven-year investigation.

The scientists linked the massive extinction to volcanic activity in what is
now Siberia.

"There were huge volcanic outpourings that are of the same age as the mass
extinction," Prof Metcalfe said.

"This indicates the huge volcanic eruptions were probably the principle
cause of the mass extinction."

©AAP 2002


>From Discovery News, 20 August 2002

By Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News
Aug. 20 - Evidence of huge ancient landslides along the Pacific Coast could
mean that the cosmic collision that killed the dinosaurs also triggered
avalanches far and wide that turned Earth into a world of tsunamis.

Landslide deposits found in a coastal canyon near San Rosario, Baja
California Norte, Mexico, are the first evidence that the magnitude 13
seismic shock of the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago also set off huge
tsunami-making landslides far beyond the Atlantic Ocean.

There are two ways tsunamis can be created during an asteroid impact: if the
asteroid itself hits the ocean; and if submarine slopes give way, pushing
huge amounts of water at the coast.
For years geologists have known that massive offshore landslides occurred in
the western Atlantic as far north as Newfoundland, because of evidence found
in cores drilled out of the seafloor sediments.

But the Chicxulub impact didn't happen in the Pacific Ocean, and the
tsunamis there would have been caused by quake-induced landslides like that
seen in San Rosario.

"Here (at San Rosario) we have an outcrop where you can walk and see the
huge landslide sheets," said Grant Yip, a geology graduate student at the
University of California, Santa Barbara.

Besides being on land and easy to see, the sediments of the Pacific
landslides are unlike those discovered in the Atlantic because they are most
likely the direct result of the gargantuan earthquake that the Chicxulub
impact sent shivering through the planet. The Atlantic landslides, on the
other hand, could have been caused by either the quake or the churning of an
initial monster tsunami created by the gigantic asteroid impact itself. Or

Yip and his advisor, geologist Cathy Busby, and two other researchers
published their discovery in the August issue of the journal Geology.

Busby and her team have been studying the San Rosario sediments for years,
but it was the discovery of volcanic layers within them that connected them
to the Chicxulub impact. Unlike the other sediments, volcanic rocks can be
accurately dated to the time they cooled and solidified using naturally
occurring isotopes of Argon.

The isotopes in the San Rosario volcanic tested out to about 65 million
years old, meaning the jumbled rocks around them are of similar ages and
likely a result of the cosmic collision.

There's also a third reason the San Rosario discovery is different, said
geologist Richard Norris of the U.C. San Diego's Scripps Institution of

"This is a very shallow water deposit, which is rare," he said.

The Atlantic deposits are all in deeper water and tell less about what
happened right at the coast, where sea life tends to be most concentrated
and where a lot of species were probably wiped out by horrendous landslides,
as well as a spider's web of tsunamis that were crisscrossing the oceans.

Getting to the bottom of what happened 65 million years ago is important,
said Norris, because we'd like to know the details about how an asteroid
impact can cause 70 percent of species to disappear.

"The lurking issue that hides behind all this is what happens if one hits
tomorrow," Norris said.

Copyright © 2002 Discovery Communications Inc.


>From Ron Baalke <>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Digital Movie Shows Awesome Speed of Asteroid Close Approach

For More Information:

Douglas Isbell
Public Information Officer
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Phone: 520/318-8214

Jacqueline Weaver
Yale News Office
Phone: 203 /432-8555

Students from Yale University used the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak
National Observatory to capture a series of still images of asteroid 2002
NY40 on August 15-16, two nights before its close flyby of Earth.

These images have been turned into a short digital movie that clearly
demonstrates the impressive speed of 2002 NY40 as seen from Earth over a
period of about two hours. The movie is available for downloading at the
following Web site:

Yale undergraduate student Brandy Heflin and graduate student Bing Zhao were
at the 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak conducting research on exotic binary
stars when they decided to interrupt their work to observe this unique
event. A consortium of universities took over operation of the 0.9-meter
telescope from the National Science Foundation last March, in order to give
their students more hands-on research time.

"These unplanned observations reflect the exact reasons that the university
partnership took over operational responsibility for the telescope," said
astronomer Charles Bailyn, Heflin and Zhao's research mentor at Yale. "They
took me a bit by surprise, but we want to encourage students to take the
initiative, and they did a very nice job. There is also some real science to
be gleaned from these observations, in terms of brightness fluctuations and
the rotational period of the asteroid."

2002 NY40 crossed an area of the sky about equal to the full Moon during the
time period of the movie, traveling northwest through the constellation
Aquarius. Two nights later, during its closest approach to Earth, the
asteroid was moving across the sky about 20 times faster.

Discovered on July 14, asteroid 2002 NY40 has an estimated diameter of 700
meters (0.43 miles). It passed safely by Earth on the night of August 17-18
at a distance of approximately 524,000 kilometers (326,000 miles), about 1.3
times the distance from Earth to the Moon.

For the sake of comparison, if a person were riding on the asteroid and
looking back toward Earth during its close passage, our planet would have
appeared nearly three times larger on the sky than the Moon does from Earth.

A long-exposure image of the asteroid taken at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope
on the night of August 17 by Hillary Mathis showed no obvious evidence that
2002 NY40 is a binary asteroid, a possibility being investigated by radio
telescopes and other observatories.

The digital movie of 2002 NY40 was created by the staff of the Public
Affairs & Educational Outreach department at the National Optical Astronomy
Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ.

More information about the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) consortium's
operation of the 0.9-meter telescope is available at:

Participants in the 0.9-meter consortium include Indiana University, San
Francisco State University, the University of Florida, Wesleyan University
and four University of Wisconsin campuses

NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in
Astronomy (AURA), Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National
Science Foundation. NOAO operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National
Observatory near Tucson, AZ, and Cerro Tololo Inter-american Observatory
near La Serena, Chile, and it is the U.S. partner in the International
Gemini Observatory.


>From CONTOUR wbesite, 21 August 2002

After six days, the Mission Operations team has yet to hear a signal from
the CONTOUR spacecraft.

Two objects, believed to be spacecraft segments, were detected Aug. 16,  the
day after the solid rocket motor burn, and a third more distant object has
since been found. The objects are now more than 2 million kilometers from
Earth, traveling at a steady 6.1 kilometers per second
(3.8 miles per second or 13,600 miles per hour). They remain on a trajectory
predicted by early observations; although they have now traveled so far from
the Sun and Earth that more observations are unlikely.

If the spacecraft is still capable of operating, by Thursday, Aug. 22, it
will have completed the first cycle of having each of its two transmitters
attempt to send a signal through each of three antennas. Near continuous
monitoring for CONTOUR continues through Sunday. After that, efforts will be
scaled back to once a week - a schedule that will be maintained until early
December when the spacecraft will come into a more favorable angle for
receiving a signal from Earth. Deep Space Network coverage will extend
through this weekend.

As far as contacting the spacecraft this week, Dr. Robert Farquhar, CONTOUR
mission director from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory says, "We
known there's not much room for optimism through this week. Even the second
week of December, when we have our best shot, chances are small. But it's
still worth monitoring."


>From Reuters, 21 August 2002

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A NASA ( news - web sites) space probe designed to
chase comets, which broke up on leaving Earth's atmosphere, sped into space
on Wednesday but did not respond to controllers and one mission official
doubted it would operate as intended.

The $159 million Contour probe, launched on July 3, fell silent on August 15
as it was firing its solid-rocket motor to boost itself out of Earth orbit.
It had been expected to make contact this week but failed to do so.

Observers spotted two chunks of the craft last Friday, traveling along
Contour's expected path, and a third segment was detected later, according
to a statement posted on the probe's Web site,

"There's very little hope," said Helen Worth, a spokeswoman for the Applied
Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, outside Washington, where
controllers were tracking Contour.

"Since Monday we haven't had observations, it's just too far out there to
have observations from the ground," Worth said by telephone.

By Wednesday, the pieces of Contour were more than 1.2 million miles from
Earth. Moving at a steady 13,600 miles an hour, the craft should be more
than double that distance away by Friday.

Worth said no visual observations or other contact from the ship were
expected even though a global Deep Space Network of telescopes will be
watching and listening until Sunday.


But she said scientists had not finally abandoned hope and planned to
continue listening for signals from Contour about once every week until
December, when there will be a "big push" to establish contact.

The craft's antennas are expected to be in a better position then, Worth
said. Even though Contour is broken into pieces, it is still following the
trajectory planned for its mission to explore the hearts of two comets.

Earlier this week mission operators were working to see if Contour would
respond to a timed command to transmit through three of its four antennas,
with a response expected to begin no later than late Monday evening, but no
response came.

"We know there's not much room for optimism through this week," Mission
Director Robert Farquhar said in a statement on the project's Web site.

"Even the second week of December, when we have our best shot, chances are
small," he said. "But it's still worth monitoring."

Contour was built to travel close to Comet Encke in 2003 and Comet
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in 2006 to inspect each comet's nucleus for clues to
how our solar system developed.

Scientists believe each comet has a nucleus frozen some 4.6 billion years
ago at the time when planets were forming in the solar system, and may yield
information about such events as the beginning of life on Earth and the
extinction of the dinosaurs.

Copyright 2002, Reuters


>From Bob Kobres <>

After quoting two sentences from J. E. Lovelock's Gaia (1979, p. 147),
Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, states:

"Perhaps Gaia has gotten tired of being whacked by asteroids and having to
restart biological evolution over and over again. Perhaps she evolved
technologically sophisticated, big-brained mammals who can travel in space
as a way of protecting herself from asteroids. Like antibodies that protect
the body from invading disease organisms, humans can defend our Earth Mother
against extraterrestrial intruders. Just a thought."

I think it would have been reasonable for Bailey to relay Lovelock's words
on the danger of impact, as these appear in the paragraph immediately
following :

"Whether we like it or not, we are already beginning to function in
this way.  Consider, for example, one of those mini-planets, like Icarus,
a mile or so in diameter and with an irregular orbit intersecting that of
the Earth. Some day the astronomers may warn us that one of these is on a
collision course with the Earth and that the impact will occur within, say,
a few weeks' time. The potential damage from such a collision could be
severe, even for Gaia. This kind of accident has probably happened to
Earth in the past and caused major devastation. With our present
technology, it is just possible that we could save ourselves and our
planet from disaster. There is no doubt of our capacity to send things
through space over vast distances and to exercise remote control,
with near-miraculous precision, of their movements. It has been
calculated that by using some of our store of hydrogen bombs and large
rocket vehicles to carry them, we have the capacity to deflect a planetoid
like Icarus sufficiently to convert a direct hit into a near miss.  If this
seems like science fiction, we should remember that, in our lifetime,
yesterday's science fiction has almost daily become factual
history."  (J. E. Lovelock, Gaia, 1979, p. 147)

Also, Bailey's notion of our adopting the role of Gaia's immune-system is
not novel--though I do think it a good idea! ;^)


From: Bob Kobres

I find it interesting that Clark Chapman views as he does my
position on our contemporary situation.

First let me assure all of you who might be concerned:  I do not
lose sleep worrying that an impact event will occur in the near
future. My position all along (and this is documented) is that we
presently have the capacity to develop a defense system for the
biosphere and that it would show considerably more foresight if we
chose to do that rather than devoting such a large percentage of
our global resources to the development of ever more sophisticated
weapon systems. My original proposal-Nuclear Reaimament-is on my Web
site at:

With regard to my 'green slime' euphemism--I have never sought or
received any funding for what has become an unexpected but
interesting avocation for me. My suggestion, to state the facts in a
more to the point fashion, was for the benefit of individuals who
are having trouble staying in business. As I tried to convey, from
my experience many people do not understand that probability is
a static expression of likelihood during a defined period of time.

It is important, I think, to ensure that people really do understand
that by electing not to develop a defense as soon as possible we
are, in fact, choosing to gamble when we do not need to. There is
nothing dishonest or deceptive in stating that we do not yet know
when the next impact event might happen, nor is it misleading
to profess ignorance with regard to predicting all the possible
consequences of such an occurrence. I do not think that maintaining
credibility requires using flat terminology and language that could
be confusing to some individuals.

As for the notion that it might be better to spend resources to
mitigate more frequently occurring disasters than to develop an
Earth defense system soon--I think it depends ultimately on just
what it is we plan to do. The idea I've hawked all along is that we
could allow the threat of cosmic collision to serve as a focal point
for a global commitment to protect our living environment now
and into the future basically by learning as much as we possibly can
about what can influence our world, and how, from the superior
vantage point of outer-space. Conceptually at least, it seems
possible that we as a species might adopt the role of an
immune-system with respect to the biosphere. In other words, a
desirable biosphere protection system would not be solely for the
purpose of deflecting objects that could impact Earth but would also
seek to reduce the impact of other factors that could be injurious
to Life--rapidly mitigating human ignorance with regard to the
actual global influence of applying a new technology for example.

In my mind, I've done what I could to encourage research on and draw
attention to what has obviously been an under-appreciated natural
phenomenon. My own investigation into the likelihood of recent
impact events has convinced me that there is still much to learn and
that we have the tools to find out what the influence of this
natural phenomenon has been. This, to me, is all largely a social
issue--we live in a time period of profound and rapid change in which
former beliefs and customs are being modified by a torrent of novel
information and possibilities. Choices we make over the next few
decades are apt to apply considerable bias to the course of cultural
evolution among all peoples. The goal, I suggest, needs to be
prudent social behavior.

Is it actually wise to retard development of a globally agreed upon
defense implementation and rely on luck as we gather data which,
though needed, can only refine our knowledge? It seems to me that we
should be particularly cautious when we already know that impacts
have produced serious problems for Life in the past and that,
regardless of the currently calculated probability, such an event
could occur as you read this. The cost of becoming prepared rapidly
(within a decade or so--I've never  advocated a reckless program) to
protect ourselves is an accelerated space development program. Is
that really an expenditure or might it better be seen as an
investment for ourselves and other living creatures on Earth?

Subjectively optimistic...;^)

I must say that I find disparaging remarks directed toward the concerns of
others to be generally divisive and that such banal comments do not increase
the likelihood of our species working together to improve our common
situation. One of the earliest allies I found in support of an Earth defense
initiative was Dr. Eugene Odum who is widely recognized as the father of
modern Ecology. This situation arose due to my querying him with regards to
the origin of the Carolina Bays, which he and his younger brother, Howard, had studied.

At the time (early to mid eighties) I had absolutely no support from anyone
in the local assortment of geologist or astronomers teaching on campus. In
fact my queries to specialists in these fields would often be dismissed with
a knowing laugh!

The mindset of a true ecologist is to integrate knowledge; not to obfuscate
what has been learned by departmentalisation. Dr. Odum was interested in
anything that enhanced our understanding of how various aspects of natural
phenomena interacted. I had been planning on asking him about the timing of
some nuclear testing in the South Pacific he was involved with because I had
come across a report of an unusual fireball storm observed off the coast of
Australia around the time of those tests but I procrastinated too long:

As I've indicated earlier ( )
both Dr. Shoemaker and Dr. Odum were as beacons of hope in my mind. It
requires a bit more effort for me to see a clear path to a bright future now
that these two luminaries are gone, but, as they did, I intend to keep
looking for one.

Below is a note I sent to Mike Ballie in June of 1999.  It is illustrative
of Dr. Odum's range of interest as well as pertinent to the general topic of
this missive.

Hoping we can trek beyond tribalism!

Hi Mike, just a short note to let you know that Eugene Odum, considered by
many to be the father of modern ecology,
< > enjoyed E2A and now wants
to read SLICE, which I'm taking over to him tomorrow. He also asked me to
write a side-bar for a new book he is working on.  I've pasted the draft he
has seen and liked below.


Bob Kobres
Main Library
University of Georgia
Athens, GA  30602

When we think of a large boulder or iceberg in relation to the living world
we tend to think of potential habitat, a resting place, or a cache of fresh
water.  We see these objects in this way  because they are familiar parts of
Earth's surface, enveloped by Life.  What though are we to think of similar
objects that are not part of our planet but are, by their orbital positions,
destined to violently join Earth?

Seen in this context, such objects are no longer benign and in fact become
adversarial to an existing living arrangement. By factoring in this natural
influence, which comes from dwelling within a solar-system environment, we
come to better understand the grammar of Life's story on this planet.

Compared with other nonliving agents of change, such as storms, volcanoes,
earthquakes and tidal waves, material arriving from Space clearly has the
broadest repertoire of punctuation.  Where a relatively small event, such as
the 50-100 meter across object that leveled 2,000 square kilometers of
Siberian forest in 1908, might represent no more than an accent mark, due to
locally observed minor genetic changes that some investigators believe were
produced by radiation from the impact, a collision with an object only a hundred times
larger in diameter (5-10 km) could potentially denote the end of a chapter for many
species.  Having come to recognize this cosmic Shiva influence we can now
understand Life as being quite robust and adaptable but subject to both
minor and major abrupt changes in ecological arrangement. This knowledge is
of course devastating to the notion of a pristine natural world that changes
only slowly, save our recent corrupting influence--we can have only a
contemporary natural order, which, depending on our luck, the effects of
current human activity, and acquired knowledge of possible intervention, may
or may not endure. How might we respond to this more comprehensive view of

An interesting option, which has been effective in maintaining health at the
level of organism, is to assign ourselves the role of immune system for the
biosphere. This may seem a rather brazen notion given our behavior to date,
but there is no other member of Earth's living ensemble that can recognize
major threats and actively mitigate assaults on the integrity of our
contemporary living arrangement.  A profound development this is--for the
first time, Life on this planet has the potential to extend an existing
order beyond the duration that astronomical conditions would have allowed.
What will be our decision?  As with genetic manipulation, preventing future
encounters with asteroids and comets will artificially alter biological

Toying with the rudder of environmental change is something our species has
already begun in a naive childlike fashion. Our growing recognition is that,
without a clear understanding of how various changes made by us interact, we
serve ourselves best by steering easy and striving to reduce all activities
that are known to be injurious to the biosphere. Perhaps this increasing
awareness, combined with our appreciation of the danger posed by objects
that can collide with Earth, will persuade us to take advantage of our
recently acquired ability to leave our biosphere and use this
out-of-this-world capability to reduce our own impact as well as prevent
future cosmic crashes. We can reduce negative influence from industrial
activity, as well as prevent future smashups, by using energy from the Sun
to directly extract and process materials from the very objects, which if
left unaltered, would eventually cause really big messes on Earth. It's an
interesting win-win option that will not remain open indefinitely.  There is
a growing body of evidence suggesting that prior civilizations suffered
sharp decline due to extraterrestrial impact. The experience of people who
lived through those times is why we have inherited such notions as
judgement-days accompanied by fire and brimstone as well as the belief that
the positions of planets could influence events on Earth.

The study of the history of our biological house cannot be complete without
recognizing the influence of objects coming through the roof!

Bob Kobres

Further reading:

Exodus to Arthur; Catastrophic encounters with comets, by Mike Baillie,
1999, B.T. Batsford LTD; London.

Rain of Iron and Ice; The very real threat of comet and asteroid
bombardment, by John S. Lewis, 1996, Addison-Wesley.

Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets; The search for the million megaton
menace that threatens Life on Earth, Duncan Steel, 1995, John Wiley & Sons,


Bob Kobres
Main Library
University of Georgia
Athens, GA  30602


>From Birmingham Post, 21 August 2002

Sir, - The scientists of today have discovered something the ancient Greeks
of yesteryear knew to be true. Yes - there are still in the heavens above
mighty gods, such as Zeus and Thor, who have always ruled the universe.

All the gods, in their great wisdom, decided, over 60 million years ago,
that they had to separate Great Britain from Europe. After much thought and
consultation they threw a massive asteroid which landed about 80 miles from
the town now known as Hull, splitting the land, which, of course, allowed
the North Sea to flow in to cover the six-mile crater called 'Silverpit',
thus making the island of 'Britannia'. This crater is a recent discovery by
geologists searching for gas fields beneath the ocean.

The towering tidal wave that ensued from this mighty collision probably
killed all the dinosaurs but enabled us Brits to get on with our own lives
without any interference from our Stone Age compatriots in Europe.

Oh! that our present Government would take heed and not further anger the
gods by going against their original wishes to keep Great Britain and Europe

Taking another large pinch of salt, we must all remember that our scientists
have recently predicted the annihilation of life as we know it when a
further large asteroid, bound for Earth, hits us on February 1, 2019.

The gods are certainly not pleased with us.

JUNE ALEXANDER Symonds Yat West, Herefordshire.

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By E.P. Grondine <>



Hello Benny -

I am following with great interest and enjoyment the recent exchanges
between Melfyn Thomas, Alistair McBeath, Mike Baillie, and Bob Kobres on
possible impact references in text materials from sub-Roman Britain and
Ireland. That said, before they proceed further, perhaps sharing with them a
few observations about the use of these materials may make for a better
discussion in the future.

First, however, more pressing matters lie immediately at hand, and some
Conference participants may wish to learn of three texts from sub-Roman
Britain and Gaul pertaining to the destruction of the city of Bazas in Gaul
in 580 CE in a small impact event.  These texts also contain information
pertaining to the current discussion of cometary versus volcanic dust
loading as factors in the sixth century climatic collapses which I think
some may also find of interest.


There have been many histories written about events in Britain between the
first and sixth centuries; as the materials are so incredibly difficult to
work with, I think it is safe to say that no two of these histories agree,
at least in all of their details.  The following short summary is my take on
the events of this period, with reference to some of the archaeological
finds recovered to date.

The fatal weakness of the Roman Empire was that it was ruled by means of a
poorly formed monarchy. Aside from this system's propensity to grant
executive powers to incompetents or to the insane, the lack of a clear means
of passing executive power led to much of the Empire's military power being
squandered in struggles for control of the state.  A consequence of these
struggles for power was a constant ongoing reduction in the authority and
the respect with which the people of the Empire held their military forces.
By as early as 185 CE so much of Rome's military might had been squandered
in these political struggles that its commanders in Europe began to use the
germanic Francs as mercenaries against both the local Celtic populations as
well as against sea-borne raiders.

Around the year 220 CE, the survivors of the Romans' conquest of Brittannia
who lived in the far north of that island found themselves a new ally. The
Cruit/Chuid (Picts) of Brittannia's far north, a pre-Indo-European people
who had also survived the earlier Celtic migrations into the isles, allied
with the Scotti people. While it is not clear as of yet whether the Scotti
were of germanic or nordic descent, it is clear that whoever they were they
possessed the technology to construct large boats out of wood, as the new
allies used watercraft of this type in their first raids.

While in earlier times such attacks would have led to rather massive
retaliations by the Romans, by this date, instead of retaliating, the Romans
abandoned the area south of the Antonine Wall and north of Hadrian's Wall to
the control of their former subjects, the indigenous local tribes.  This
Roman withdrawal may have been due to the fact that they had lost much of
their military strength in the battles between the different claimants for
control of the Empire; it may have been due to the fact that the eastern
areas of the Empire, with their routes to China, may have appeared to them
as a more lucrative use of their troops; or it may simply have been due to
the fact that only the grain growing areas of Brittannia which were south of
Hadrian's Wall were of any value to them; whatever the cause, withdraw they

[continued@ ]

CCCMENU CCC for 2002