CCNet 92/2001 - 23 August 2001

"Sorry to be the one to break this news, b Impactor Asteroid has
just been announced by 
      NEODys, and this one...
1) Is very big
2) Is on the same order of magnitude of impact probability as
3) Will possibly impact the Earth in the very near future!"
--Tom, 17 August 2001

"Over the years his provocative and occasionally outrageous theories
were a constant source of fascination and inspiration. Fred's independent
thinking and contempt of the establishment were a refreshing antidote to
academic stuffiness. It was a scandal that his irreverence probably cost
him a Nobel prize for his ground-breaking work on nucleosynthesis."
-- Paul Davies, 22 August 2001

"The UK has a history of failure to engage in subtanial space
development. If this statement is taken to mean that advocacy of more
wide ranging and cost effective launcher and space programmes for the
UK and ESA countries is to be forbidden, then the possibility of putting
asteroids and comets into a postitive context will be lost. All that would
then be possible either a bland exercise in reassurance that there is not
really much of a threat anyway, or that only military style nuclear
solutions are envisaged. We should move purposefuuly away from such
powerlessness towards the ability to avert the threat and convert it
into an asset. Failing this, in time, the public would regard it the NEO
Information Centre as pure spin."
--Michael Martin-Smith, 22 August 2001

    Benny J Peiser <>

(2) ASTEROID 2001 PM9
    Brian Marsden <>

    BNSC, 20 August 2001

    British National Space Centre, 20 August 2001


    Planetary Science Research, 21 August 2001

    The Independent, 23 August 2001

    The Times, 22 August 2001

    Paul Davies <>

     Hans Haubold <>

     Alan Fitzsimmons <A.Fitzsimmons@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK>

     Michael Martin-Smith <>

     E.P. Grondine

     John Michael Williams <>



>From Benny J Peiser <>

Over the last five or six days, a number of web sites have published a new
asteroid scare, this time regarding asteroid 2001 PM9. It all seems to have
started last Friday, when the following asteroid alarm, based on impact
calculations published by NEODys, was announced at

"Sorry to be the one to break this news, b Impactor Asteroid has
just been announced by 
      NEODys, and this one...

1) Is very big
2) Is on the same order of magnitude of impact probability as
3) Will possibly impact the Earth in the very near future!

Let me introduce you to Asteroid 2001PM9.

a) Discovered on August 11, 2001 and observed up until August 16th.
Its orbit was computed and posted today.
b) It's Absolute Magnitude suggests it is anywhere from 530m to
1.2km in diameter...that's up to nearly 3/4 of a mile in diameter!
c) It will make a relatively close pass to within .089AU on May 10,
2003. The first possible impact date calculated and the one with the
highest probability of occurring is set for June 17, 2005. If it misses
Earth on that pass there are another 28 possible impact dates
calculated between 2005 and 2079.

Dear Readers, following are some facts that ought to set you right
back in your chair, grow you some grey hairs - or cause a certain
amount of lost sleep.

If 2001PM9 impacts the Earth...

1. It will be the kind of impact event that only happens once every
25,000 to 500,000 years.
2. It will impact with a force of somewhere between 100,000 to
800,000 Megatons
3. It will be somewhere between a "Large Sub-Global Event" to a
"Nominal Global Effect Threshold" Event.
4. It is estimated that an impact of this order would result in the
loss of anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 Billion lives (depending on
exactly where it hit).

Ladies and Gentlemen, if and when 2001PM9 impacts the Earth...

a) If it hits in the Ocean tsunamis could reach "global scale".
b) If it hits land it could completely destroy an area the size of
c) Could raise enough dust to affect the climate and freeze crops.
d) Create a crater up to 30 km in diameter (18 miles around).
e) Cause ozone layer destruction on a global scale.

If you worried a little about 1998OX4 and very
concerned about this one.

We really need to push the button on this one (get the word out and
get a lot more information)."

>From what I can discern, this latest impact threat was disseminated rapidly
among a number of other web sites (see e.g.: ).

I received news about the latest scare (in form of a URL with the headline
"New Asteroid Discovered - Possible Collision Path With Earth", on Tuesday evening. By that
time, new observations of the object had already eliminated NEODys' initial
impact calculations - as usual. That did not, however, prevent amateur orbit
calculators to announce that the asteroid was now going to impact Mars in

As Brian Marsden points out below, this latest scare shows, once again, that
there are still major deficiencies in the way the NEO community presents its
findings (and impact calculations) to the public, i.e. in such a way that
people are not *unnecessarily* alarmed or distressed, and that does not
damage the integrity of the NEO community.

What the 2001 PM9 scare also illustrates, in my view, is the considerable
interest orbit and impact calculations attract nowadays among quite
knowledgeable and highly interested members of the public. Given the
information made publicly available by a number of professional impact
simulators, we shouldn't blame amateurs for using this information in an
often incompetent manner. It is the responsibility of the NEO community to
ensure that the information presented to the public is easily comprehensible
so that interested but mostly untrained public can understand the meaning of
tentative, rapidly changing orbit and impact calculations.

I wonder how many more asteroid scares it will take before the NEO community
will heed the recurring calls for adjustment and make a determined effort to
resolve this thorny issue.

Benny J Peiser

(2) ASTEROID 2001 PM9

>From Brian Marsden <>

Dear Benny,

The claims in this "rense" website are indicative of the problems that arise
because of the way NEODyS, in particular (but also to some extent JPL),
deals with potential impactors.  This is not to say that NEODyS, or any
other professionals working in the area, is doing "bad science". It is very
clear, however, that our community continues to flounder in the way such
information is made public.  In that sense, there has really been no advance
whatsoever since the situation involving 1997 XF11--a situation that for the
possible Oct. 2040 earth impact indicated by the three-month arc of
observations after discovery was every bit as "dangerous" as any of the
cases discussed subsequently.  From a scientific point of view 1997 XF11 was
a pioneer: from a public-relations point of view it was a dismal
failure--like all the subsequent "scares".

2001 PM9 was placed on the NEODys riskpage last Friday, Aug. 17, with
indications of better-than-one-in-a-million earth-impact probabilities for
2005 and 2007. If it were just a matter of a quiet placement there, for the
benefit of astronomers, that would be fine, for the message made it clear
that the calculation was based on observations made only from the five-day
arc following the Aug. 11 discovery.  But, no, announcements had to be made
by the Spaceguard Central Node and JPL, and before long--all throughout the
weekend, in fact, I was receiving enquiries from concerned members of the
public about the "likely" danger of this close-to-kilometer-sized object
only four years hence.

Of course, the weekend brought further observations, disseminated by the
MPC, and updates of the orbit were provided by both the MPC and NEODyS.
These computations reduced to zero any earth-impact possibility for 2005 and
2007. Unfortunately, while the NEODyS "search page" for 2001 PM9 was
appropriately and automatically updated each day, the "risk page" continued
to contain Friday's document with the possible dangers for 2005, 2007 and
later in the century. The risk page did not disappear until Tuesday, Aug.
21.  And at that time, as usual, it really did disappear. As I have pointed
out before, this kind of complete elimination of history is inappropriate.
Illogical though it may seem to us, some people tend to assume that such
removal means that the object has in fact become _more_ dangerous, not
less--and that the astronomers are involved in a cover-up.  A simple posting
to confirm that the object is no longer dangerous would work wonders.

Instead, we now have to contend with uninformed nonsense that suggests that
it is Mars that is in danger, with the impact of 2001 PM9 on Mars in Jan.
2040 apparently inevitable. My calculations suggest that the object cannot
pass much within 0.15 AU of Mars in Jan. 2040--this despite the
uncertainty resulting from the approach to about 0.02 AU from the earth in
June 2038. Of course, those who believe that the satellites of Mars and
comet 76P somehow managed to annihilate each other when this comet passed as
much as 0.04 AU from them in June 2000 are not going to be convinced that
all is well, but it surely does not hurt to say that it is.

One small point about 2001 PM9 does bother me. Did anybody else notice that
the 2005 impact probability rated a 1 (or very close to it) on the Torino
Scale? Yet there was no IAU-stipulated 72-hour period in which others
"checked" the calculation. I realize that this is advertized as a
voluntary exercise, but NEODyS has availed itself of this service on
previous occasions when an earth-impact possibility rated 1 or close to it
on the Torino Scale. I am curious as to whether the reason the service was
not used this time was that most of the 72 hours were over the weekend.



>From BNSC, 20 August 2001

Department of Trade and Industry
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET

20 August 2001



The Government today invited organisations to submit plans for a UK centre
for Near Earth Objects (NEOs). NEOs are asteroids or comets whose orbit
brings them close to the Earth.

Plans for the centre, which will provide accurate information and increase
public understanding of NEOs, will be sought from a range of academic
institutions, museums and public information centres. The Science Minister,
Lord Sainsbury, said:

"There are currently no known large NEOs whose orbit puts them on collision
course with Earth but while the risk of being hit is very remote, the
potential for damage exists.

"I believe it is important that reliable information on NEOs can be made
available to the public and hope that organisations will be able to respond
positively to our call for proposals.

"This call represents the latest step in the Government's four-point package
in response to recommendations made last year by the Near Earth Object Task
Force. "

The centre will have a fully interactive exhibition, will host a web-site
and provide education packs. The aim of the centre will be to:

* provide information on the nature, number and location of NEOs;

* explain how these objects can impact the earth and its atmosphere;

* provide information on the effects of collisions of comets and asteroids
  with planets;

* explore the history of impacts within our solar system;

* explain the risks posed by NEO impact and the likelihood of occurrence,
  comparing them with more frequently encountered and widely understood

* explain the value of observation from the ground for detecting and
  NEOs; and,

* highlight the importance of space missions to encounter and rendezvous
  NEOs to increase understanding of their characteristics.

NEOs are believed to be the remnants from the formation of planets. Most
asteroids are composed of rock while comets can be a mixture of rock organic
molecules and frozen gases. The Earth's atmosphere protects against most
NEOs smaller than about 50m but larger objects can penetrate the Earth's
atmosphere. Fortunately large impacts occur infrequently and objects above
50m in diameter impact on the Earth less than once every hundred years, on


1. The Government's response to all the NEO Task Force recommendations is
   available on the Near Earth Object website at
   and the NEO Task Force report can be found online at

2. The Task Force was chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson (chairman), formerly of
   the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and past Chairman of
   the European Space Agency's Council. He was joined by Sir Crispin
   British diplomat and Professor David Williams, past President of the
   Astronomical Society.


>From the British National Space Centre, 20 August 2001


1.1 Many asteroids and comets orbit the Sun. Only a tiny fraction of these
bodies follow paths that bring them near the Earth. These Near Earth Objects
(NEOs) range in size from pebbles to mountains and travel at high speeds.
Such objects have collided with the Earth since its formation but the impact
threat that they represent has only recently been recognised and accepted.
The threat from NEOs raises major issues, amongst them the inadequacy of
current knowledge, confirmation of the hazard after initial observation, and
reliable communication to the public.

1.2 In response to growing interest in the NEO phenomenon, on 4 January 2000
the Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, announced the setting up of a Task
Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). The Task Force was
invited to make proposals to the Government on how the United Kingdom should
best contribute to international effort on NEOs; and to:

1. confirm the nature of the hazard and potential levels of risk;
2. identify the current contribution to international efforts;
3. advise the Government on what further action to take in the light of
1 and 2 above and on the communication of issues to the public.

1.3 The Task Force presented its Report to the Director General of the
British National Space Centre (BNSC) in August 2000. In its Report the Task
Force made a series of 14 Recommendations. The final recommendation made by
the Task Force was to set up a centre to provide information to the public
on NEOs in a clear and balanced manner.

1.4 In its response, the Government supported the principle of the Task
Force's recommendation, stating that it foresaw that a key role for such a
facility would be to act as a showcase for the public on NEO issues,
providing clear and balanced information and hence assisting in the public
understanding of science. The text of the Task Force's Report, including the
full set of recommendations, and the preliminary Government response can be
found at

1.5 The Government response confirmed that BNSC will continue its lead role
in Whitehall of developing policy and bringing together those Government
Departments and Research Councils in the United Kingdom that have an
interest in the NEO issue. The opportunity now exists for an external
organisation or group of organisations to take on the role of an information
centre for communicating the issues and providing background information on
NEOs to the public and the media in an objective and impartial manner.


2.1 During the initial stages of implementation the information centre for
NEOs will be expected to work closely with BNSC and develop its activities
in accordance with BNSC objectives. The organisation will be required to
maintain an effective interface with BNSC through frequent and regular
contact. The successful bidder will report to BNSC on a quarterly basis and
submit formal technical and financial progress reports on a quarterly basis.
The primary role of the information centre is envisaged to be as follows:

Provide advisory service to public

Communicate background issues to the public in a factual, objective and
impartial manner
Develop and provide educational resources (e.g. education packs)

Relating to NEOs
Respond directly to public enquiries
Develop and maintain access to publicly accessible catalogue of NEOs

Provide an advisory service to the media

Communicate background issues to the media in an objective and impartial
Develop and provide media resources relating to NEOs
Respond directly to media enquiries
Establish and maintain a panel of recognised experts who could be called
upon for media interviews

Working with other professionals around the UK and internationally

Provide liaison with science centres & museums
Establish links for communicators to scientists, projects and facilities


3.1 BNSC is seeking the services of a professional organisation which has a
commitment to Total Quality Management. Tenderers will need to submit
information to demonstrate that they possess the competencies to undertake
the activities of this tender in an effective and efficient manner. To
ensure that the multidisciplinary nature of NEO activities is represented
correctly, tenderers must be able to demonstrate an objective approach to
the subject area. The following are some of the factors which will be
considered in evaluating the tenderers' competence.

3.2 The successful bidder(s) will need to:

Demonstrate an established track record of communicating complex science
issues to the public in an impartial, clear and comprehensible manner
Demonstrate an established track record of developing and hosting permanent
and temporary exhibitions for communicating science issues
Demonstrate that they are a financially sound organisation with the
necessary resources at their disposal to conduct the proposed activities
Demonstrate existence of an efficient Public Relations Department with
established media and PR links
Demonstrate a strong ability to develop in-house interactive IT tools for
the communication of science issues
Demonstrate a good track record for the development of educational tools and
resources, preferably in conjunction with the National Curriculum
Demonstrate a good track record for attracting co-funding support with the
ultimate aim of self-financing of exhibition activities
Demonstrate how this activity will move to non-Government funding over the 3
year period of support envisaged by BNSC
Demonstrate a strong involvement with the academic and research community in
the field of Near Earth Objects and related activities
Demonstrate an established web presence with the ability to attract
significant interest in science issues and to develop in-house internet
Demonstrate the extent to which the tenderer's team includes technical
expertise covering a broad spectrum of relevant skills, qualification and
Demonstrate a successful record of working with Government and other
external sponsors

Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology (PUSET)

3.1 The activities of such a facility should be consistent with the overall
objectives of the public understanding of science initiatives. In particular
the activities of the facility should promote the understanding,
appreciation and awareness of relevant science areas and provide information
on the important issues affecting the country, acting as a means of
providing dialogue between experts, communicators and concerned citizens.


4.1 It is envisaged that two primary facilities will be provided by the
successful bidder(s): one physical, in the form of a permanent exhibition;
the other virtual in nature, in the form of a website.

Exhibition Function

4.2 It is envisaged that the information centre will host a physical
exhibition communicating the broader issues associated with NEOs. In
particular it should consider the nature, number and location of asteroids
and comets. It should demonstrate how these objects interact within our
solar-terrestrial environment and how we encounter them. The exhibition
should also consider the environmental effects of planetary collision with
comets and asteroids and explore the history of impacts within our solar
system. The exhibition should also explain the risks posed by NEO impact and
the likelihood of occurrence, comparing them with more frequently
encountered and widely understood hazards. The exhibition should also
explain the role and value of observation from the ground for detecting and
tracking NEOs and highlight the importance of missions to encounter and
rendezvous with NEOs to increase understanding of their characteristics. The
exhibit should contain an interactive element in which visitors can access
FAQs and can be given pointers to further information and resources.

Website Function

4.3 A website has already been established by BNSC to provide access to
independent information on NEOs ( It is
intended that responsibility for maintenance of this web resource will
migrate to the successful bidder(s). This existing website provides
background information on asteroids and comets and explains related
terminology. The site also presents information on the environmental effects
of NEO impacts and identifies both past impacts on the Earth and predicted
future close approaches. The site also presents a series of Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQs) and an updated list of anticipated near term close
approaches derived from scientific sources. It is anticipated that a role of
a NEO information centre would be to maintain this existing site and enhance
it with additional information, making it more public-friendly. BNSC would
reserve the right to retain editorial control over the web-site, if
required, to ensure impartiality of the information presented and
consistency with related organisations. In particular it is very important
that the information on the website is verified and coordinated with
complementary information presented by other related organisations such as:

The Minor Planet Centre (MPC) at the Smithsonian Astrophysical
NASA's NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA Ames Research Centre Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards web-site
The Near Earth Objects Dynamic web-site at the University of Pisa
The European Asteroid Research Node

4.4 It is anticipated that regular updating of the information presented on
the site will be required, in particular:

Information summarising known NEOs including size distributions and number

Information listing Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) covering a
defined timescale into the future.

Information listing objects determined to have a possibility of intersection
with the Earth and an explanation of the uncertainties/errors involved.

4.5 The website should maintain consistent branding and presentation
throughout. This format must be approved initially by BNSC.

4.6 It is important that the site is updated with new information as it
becomes available from the data sources. This ensures that the site is seen
as a valuable and up to date source of information. As and when new
information is available on the web site, interested individuals or
organisations may wish to be notified. A register should be established to
enable relevant individual/organisations to be contacted automatically.
Different formats need to be considered for different users, e.g. public,
media, institutions and automated links and notification implemented.

4.7 In addition educational packs (both in the form of hard copy and
electronic) should be produced to facilitate the study and discussion of NEO
issues and to emphasise the multidisciplinary nature of the topic. Such
educational packs should be consistent with, and integrate into, the
appropriate science elements of the National Curriculum.

4.8 The NEO information centre shall be responsible for the effective and
efficient execution of the facilities and services to be provided. BNSC may
provide some initial support to facilitate the transition of the existing
website from BNSC responsibility to that of the NEO information centre.

4.9 It is anticipated that funding support will be provided by BNSC on a
sliding scale for a period limited to no more than 36 months after which
time it is expected that the activity will become self-financing, or funded
internally as part of the host organisation's wider remit. BNSC would
anticipate making from 75,000-100,000 available in years 1 and 2, reducing
to no more than 50,000 in year 3.


>From, 1 August 2001

By Michael Paine
Special to posted: 01 August 2001

It's bad enough when, every few million years, an asteroid rocks our planet.
It's worse if the impact triggers regional or global volcanic activity,
which is not only hazardous to nearby plants and animals but can choke
Earth's atmosphere with deadly gases for months or years.

But there's also a possible bright side, like the birth of nice places like

For more than three decades, scientists have explored the question of
whether an asteroid impact could cause significant volcanic eruptions, hot
spots that spring up out of nowhere and create new landforms or rearrange
old ones. The process might have given birth to the Hawaiian islands, for
example. The idea of linking space rocks and lava goes back to at least the
1960s, and in recent months the debate has heated up like a volcano ready to
erupt. Though no firm answers have emerged, controversial computer modeling
in recent years has shown what might happen, and why.

Old and buried

Andrew Glikson from the Australian National University makes a living by
hunting for signs of ancient impact craters, many of which are not readily
visible, some of which are buried under oceans that didn't used to be where
they are now.

In several recent papers, Glikson maintains that the large craters found so
far on Earth only account for about one-fifth of the actual number of major
impacts predicted over the past 3.8 billion years. These impact predictions
are based on a number of factors, including the vast numbers of craters on
the Moon, which don't disappear on the geologically dead and atmospherically
challenged satellite.

During these billions of years it is likely that there were at least 10
impacts producing craters more than 125 miles (200 km) in diameter and 30
impacts producing craters more than 60 miles (100 km) in diameter, Glikson
figures. And he argues that at least 50 percent of these impacts would have
struck locations in ancient oceans where the Earth's crust was much thinner
than continental crust and, in particular, some 10 percent would have struck
the thin crust adjacent to mid-ocean ridges.

A volcanic eruption is much more likely to occur if an impact occurs at one
of these sites and, paradoxically, evidence of the impact is likely to be
buried under the eruption and lost forever if that area is later folded, or
subducted, into the Earth's crust.

But Jay Melosh, a crater expert from the University of Arizona, doubts this
and other links between asteroids and volcanoes. Melosh presented his views
last July at a conference on catastrophic events in Vienna.

"There is not a single clear instance of volcanism induced by impacts,
either in the near vicinity of an impact or at the antipodes (opposite side)
of the planet," Melosh concluded. "The possibility of impact-induced
volcanism must therefore be regarded with extreme skepticism."

Researchers who are independently working on various impact mechanisms say
Melosh's reasoning is flawed. Hermann Burchard is a mathematician at from
Oklahoma State University. He notes that there are several examples where
either a volcanic eruption is speculated to be associated with a known
impact or an undiscovered impact is speculated to be associated with a major
eruption. Again the problem is that such eruptions tend to obliterate
evidence of an impact.

Rocking the other side of the planet

Mark Boslough and his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories have
modeled asteroid impacts. In a 1996 paper, they predicted that the seismic
energy from an impact travels through the Earth and is strongly focussed at
the antipode to the impact, near the boundary of the crust and the hot,
molten mantle.

This, they argue, generates instability in the upper mantle that can produce
a "hot spot" under the surface, like the one that continues to form the
Hawaiian Islands. They also claim that geologists have no satisfactory
explanation for the generation of hot spots by other means, other than that
they arise "spontaneously."

Melosh expressed skepticism about the focussing idea after calculating that
the seismic energy delivered to the antipode would be insufficient to melt
the rocks. Boslough counters that melting is not needed to generate an
instability -- the increased temperature of the region may be sufficient to
trigger the start of a hot spot.

Clues on the Moon

Dallas Abbott from Columbia University, New York has taken a different
approach to the whole question.

Using terrestrial evidence and crater evidence from the Moon, which retains
a record of bombardment going back nearly 4 billion years, Abbott has
analyzed the timing of large impacts compared with major volcanic eruptions,
or mantle plumes.

She found a strong correlation between the two and speculates that large
impacts strengthen existing mantle plumes. She describes the ancient and
dormant Deccan Traps volcanism, an area that is presently part of India. At
the time of the Chicxulub asteroid impact, which occurred in Mexico 65
million years ago and likely led to the demise of the dinosaurs, the Deccan
Trap region was near the antipode of the impact.

Others have suggested this coincidence could be possible evidence that
impact antipode effects initiated the Deccan Traps. However, Boslough says
the Deccan Traps would have been several thousand kilometers away from the
antipode to Chicxulub. Abbott says the Deccan Traps were active well before
the Chicxulub impact, and so could not have been initiated by that event,
but she observes that the Deccan plume was strongest immediately after the
impact and this phase lasted less than one million years.

At the least, it appears to be a strange coincidence.

Despite advances in computer modeling, there is no clear physical evidence
of a link between space rocks and lava, but the models are coming up with
mechanisms by which an impact could cause, or at least speed up, a volcanic

And proponents of the idea are quick to point out that geologists have not
come up with a better explanation for how the Earth's hot spots got started.

Michael Paine is a member of the Planetary Society Australian Volunteers.
Information related to this story and the threat of asteroids can be found
at his web site:

Copyright 2001,


>From Planetary Science Research, 21 August 2001

Written by G. Jeffrey Taylor
Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology

--- The tardy formation of Uranus and Neptune might have caused the
intense bombardment of the Moon 3.9 billion years ago.

Huge circular basins, marked by low regions surrounded by concentric
mountain ranges, decorate the Moon. The giant holes may have formed during a
short, violent period from about 3.9 to 3.8 billion years ago. Three hundred
to 1000 kilometers in diameter, their sizes suggest that fast-moving objects
with diameters of 20 to about 150 kilometers hit the Moon. Numerous smaller
craters also formed. If most large lunar craters formed between 3.9 and 3.8
billion years ago, where were the impactors sequestered for over 600 million
years after the Moon formed?

One possibility has been studied with computer simulations by Harold Levison
and colleagues from the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colorado),
Queen's University (Ontario, Canada), and NASA Ames Research Center in
California. The idea, originally suggested in 1975 by George Wetherill
(Carnegie Institution of Washington), is that a large population of icy
objects inhabited the Solar System beyond Saturn. They were in stable orbits
around the Sun for several hundred million years until, for some reason,
Neptune and Uranus began to form. As the planets grew by capturing the
smaller planetesimals, their growing gravitational attraction began to
scatter the remaining planetesimals, catapulting millions of them into the
inner Solar System. A small fraction of these objects crashed into the Moon
and rocky planets, sculpturing the surfaces with immense craters.
Calculations suggest that the bombardment would have lasted less than 100
million years, consistent with the ages of craters and impact basins in the
lunar highlands.

Levison, H, F., Dones, L., Chapman, C. R., Stern, S. A., Duncan, M. J., and
Zahnle, K. (2001) Could the lunar "late heavy bombardment" have been
triggered by the formation of Uranus and Neptune? Icarus, vol. 151, p.

Basins, Craters, and the Lunar Cataclysm

Except for their soft glow in reflected sunlight, there is nothing subtle
about the highlands of the Moon. They are a cratered mess, a rubble pile
where craters are more tightly packed than commuters at rush hour. There are
thousands of craters tens of kilometers across, and about 45 that are larger
than 300 kilometers in diameter. The largest is the South Pole-Aitken basin,
2500 kilometers across, the distance from San Francisco to Kansas City. This
was a blitzkrieg.

Impacts of large, fast-moving projectiles have sculpted the lunar highlands,
as shown on the left. The large crater in the center is Tsiolkovsky, about
180 kilometers in diameter. It is flooded with dark mare basalt lava flows.
Tsiolkovsky sits in an older, larger crater called the Tsiolkovsky-Stark
basin, which is about 700 kilometers in diameter. About 45 craters on the
Moon are larger than 300 kilometers across; lunar geologists call these
basins. The prominent ring of the Orientale Basin (right) is 930 kilometers
in diameter and marks the highest rim of the basin.
This topographic map obtained by the Clementine mission shows some of the
most prominent basins on the Moon.

When did all these craters form? Almost all are clearly older than the lunar
maria, which fill low spots in the big basins and contain far fewer craters.
The maria have ages younger than about 3.8 billion years, so the intense
bombardment of the highlands and the formation of the basins took place
before that. Some lunar scientists believe that the bombardment took place
between 4.5 billion years (when the Moon and planets formed) to 3.8 billion
years. In this view, the bombardment rate decreased drastically from 4.5 to
3.8 billion years ago. Experts in the formation of planets from swarms of
planetesimals tend to favor this idea. The leader of this school of thought
is William Hartmann (Planetary Science Institute, Tucson).

An alternative view holds that the impact rate declined very rapidly soon
after the Moon formed, but then increased dramatically during a short
interval between about 3.9 and 3.8 billion years ago. This idea, dubbed the
"lunar cataclysm," was first proposed by Fouad Tera and Gerald Wasserburg
(Caltech) in 1975 on the basis of the ages of rocks returned by astronauts
from the lunar highlands. The idea suffered benign neglect until Graham
Ryder (Lunar and Planetary Institute) revived it in 1990 and has since found
additional evidence for it among Apollo samples. The ages of melted chunks
of rock in meteorites from the lunar highlands also seem to favor a sharp
cutoff at about 3.9 billion years. [See PSRD article: Lunar Meteorites and
the Lunar Cataclysm.] So, many scientists specializing in the analysis of
lunar samples believe this story. (Many, not all. There are naysayers, as
explained below.)

To test the idea of the lunar cataclysm we must determine the ages of the
large basins. To do this we need samples whose ages were completely reset by
the impact that blasted out a specific basin. The only samples we can be
sure were reset are those that were melted during the impact. Unmelted
samples retain a memory of their pre-impact origin, so cannot be used. In
fact, most of the material tossed out of a growing crater, although
fractured and partly pulverized, is not even heated enough to reset rock
ages at all. We need impact melts. And we need them from impact basins.

Ancient impact events can be dated only by finding pieces of rock that were
melted during the formation of a crater or basin. This one from the Apollo
16 site helps date the Nectaris basin. The photo, 2.9 millimeters across,
was taken in polarized light, giving false colors diagnostic of the minerals
in the rock. The gray to white one is plagioclase feldspar. The lath-like
shapes of the feldspar crystals provide unambiguous evidence for
crystallization from molten rock.
We can use the number of craters on a planetary surface to determine
relative ages. Crater counts allow us to safely say that all the maria are
younger than the Orientale basin, the youngest and freshest of the great
impact basins. The oldest mare rocks are 3.80 billion years. Thus, all
impact basins are older than that age.

The Imbrium basin is older than the non-mare lava flows of the Apennine
Bench Formation, which samples from the Apollo 15 mission show formed 3.84
billion years ago. (The uncertainty in the age is plus or minus 0.02 billion
years. This means that the age of the lava flows of the Apennine Bench
Formation is somewhere between 3.82 and 3.86 billion years.) Impact melts
from the Apollo 14 and 15 missions can be used to date the Imbrium impact,
although none can be proved to have been produced by theevent itself.
Nevertheless, they were collected in the debris pile thrown out of Imbrium,
so either were formed by the event or existed before it. These ages,
determined by Brent Dalrymple (Oregon State University) and Graham Ryder
(Lunar and Planetary Institute) suggest Imbrium formed 3.85 billion years
ago (give or take 0.02 billion years).

Samples of impact melt collected during the Apollo 17 mission allow
Dalrymple and Ryder to date the Serenitatis basin, as the Apollo 17 landing
site is inside that basin. Those ages are 3.893 (plus or minus 0.009)
billion years, clearly older than Imbrium. The Luna 20 mission landed on the
rim of the Crisium basin. It returned lunar regolith (soil), so the samples
are all small rock fragments. Nevertheless, analytical capabilities are so
good that we can determine the rock type from microscopic study, the bulk
chemical composition, and the age on a little rock only a millimeter or two
across. Those ages, determined by Tim Swindle (University of Arizona) and
colleagues, came out to be 3.85 to 3.90 billion years. The best guess is
that Crisium is somewhat less than 3.90 billion years old, perhaps 3.89.

Apollo 16 landed on ejecta from the Nectaris basin. One group of impact melt
rocks at the site is considered by many lunar scientists to have been
produced by the Nectaris impact. Those rocks have ages of less than 3.92
billion years. Graham Ryder argues that the age of Nectaris is likely to be
about 3.90 billion years. All these ages indicate that the five dated basins
formed between 3.9 and 3.8 billion years ago. In addition, by noting which
basins deposited debris on other basins, we can determine the relative ages
of lots of basins. Using that geologic data, it is clear that at least seven
other basins formed during the same time interval. It is possible that
most--maybe almost all--lunar basins formed during that short time interval.
As G. J. Wasserburg said in a talk at the Lunar Science Conference in 1975,
"It must have been a hell of a show to watch!"

As usual in science, not everyone agrees. Larry Haskin (Washington
University in St. Louis) and others argue that the impact that blasted out
the Imbrium basin distributed materials very widely and reset ages all over
the place. The result, they argue, is that the narrow interval of less than
100 million years is only apparent. We are dating just the Imbrium event.
Most of us do not agree with this point of view. We point out that the
chemical compositions of the impact melts vary from landing site to landing
site. More important, the ages are distinguishable from one another-there is
a genuine age difference between the rocks collected at Apollo 14 and 15
(Imbrium) compared to those at Apollo 17 (Serenitatis), Lunar 20 (Crisium),
and Apollo 16 (Nectaris). We will not resolve this debate until we get more
samples from lunar basins. In the meantime, we'll argue with each other.

The Moon was not the only object bombarded long ago. The ancient surfaces of
Mercury and Mars are cratered severely, with many multi-ring basins. Did the
same population of objects that pummeled the Moon also dig up the surfaces
of Mercury and Mars? In fact, what about the heavily cratered surfaces of
the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn? (Venus and Earth are too active
geologically to have preserved much of a record of the early bombardment.
There are rocks older than 3.8 billion years on Earth and some investigators
are trying to use them to understand the early bombardment of the Earth.)

The surfaces of Mercury (left) and Mars (right) show the same kind of
circular scars as the Moon. The Caloris basin, 1300 kilometers in diameter,
on Mercury dominates the left half of the photograph. Numerous craters are
visible in the image of Mars, including the basin Schiaparelli (400
kilometers in diameter), located in the top center of this Viking mosaic.
Planetary scientists agree that these basins are very old, but their precise
ages are unknown.

Uranus and Neptune: Late Bloomers

There was nothing gentle about planet formation. Dust grains glommed
together, making clumps. The clumps stuck together to make big chunks, until
objects were large enough to begin to attract material with their gravity
fields, producing objects the size of asteroids (up to a few hundred
kilometers in diameter). This led to a period of runaway growth in which
tens of objects much larger than the Moon formed. Finally, these huge
objects whacked into each other, creating larger planets, but a smaller
number of them. The entire process was dominated by large impacts.

The accretion of the planets swept up much of the debris, so it is logical
to expect that the impact rate on a given planet would decrease with time.
In the case of the Moon, ages of impact melts should cluster towards the
time when the impact rate was highest--right after the Moon formed 4.5
billion years ago. Instead, the ages cluster around 3.9 billion years. What

Imaginative planetary scientists have proposed several explanations for the
dramatic increase in the impact rate at about 3.9 billion years ago. One is
the leftovers model. This idea proposes that there were a lot of small
bodies left over after the formation of the inner planets, enough to make
about a Moon's worth. They were swept up fairly rapidly, but there might
have been enough left over to do a lot of planetary pummeling about 3.9
billion years ago.

Another idea is that a large asteroid broke up and the fragments showered
the inner planets. This requires the break up of a hefty asteroid, one as
large as the largest surviving asteroid, Ceres (about 1000 kilometers in
diameter). Objects that big are difficult to bust apart. Others have
suggested that a passing star could have disturbed the orbits of comets in
the Oort cloud, the vast collection of comets far beyond Pluto, and sent
them zipping through the solar system. And then there's the delayed
formation of Uranus and Neptune, an idea proposed originally in 1975 by
George Wetherill (Carnegie Institution of Washington).

Harold Levison and his coworkers have begun a series of detailed studies of
all these ideas. They begin with the late blooming of Uranus and Neptune.
Now you would think that if huge planets were going to form, they would do
so early, when we think the inner planets, Jupiter, and Saturn formed.
Computer calculations, in fact, predict formation times of about 100 million
years--but not for Uranus and Neptune. The problem is that the part of the
solar system where Uranus and Neptune now reside was populated by small
bodies that were widely spaced. This made it difficult for them to attract
each other. Closer to Jupiter and Saturn, however, there were more objects
available for planet construction. One controversial idea developed by
Levison and his colleagues Edward Thommes (Queen's University, Ontario) and
Martin Duncan (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder) is that Uranus and
Neptune formed in the region of solar system where Jupiter and Saturn
formed, and then were scattered outwards by the immense gravity fields of
the gas giants. They end up in their present locations, ready to fling
planetesimals towards the inner solar system.

Scientists understand so little about the formation of Uranus and Neptune
that Levison states, "...the possibilities concerning the formation of
Uranus and Neptune are almost endless." That being the case, their delayed
formation or their transport from near Jupiter and Saturn are as likely as
their early formation in their present locations. So, Levison and his
colleagues assume that the two planets formed 600 million years after the
beginning of the solar system, and examined whether their assembly caused
impacts in the inner solar system.

Let's set the stage. In the story examined by Levison and coworkers, in the
early solar system the planets ended at Saturn. Beyond Saturn there was
nothing but a huge number of cold, icy planetesimals in orbit around the
Sun. After 600 million years or so, something causes some of them to accrete
to a couple of larger objects. This causes a rapid growth of the objects,
eventually making Uranus and Neptune. Their large gravity begins to alter
the orbits of the remaining planetesimals. Some are flung outwards, others
inwards. A small percentage of those hurled inwards smack into the icy
satellites of Saturn and Jupiter, and into Mars and the rest of the inner
planets, including the Moon.

Their calculations indicate that the scattered planetesimals would have
bombarded the inner solar system for only a few tens of millions of
years--the duration of the lunar cataclysm. The calculations also indicate
that only one in about 100 million of the scattered objects hit the Moon.
This means that there must have been a lot of material in the region where
Uranus and Neptune formed, about 30 Earth masses worth. Most models of the
solar system indicate that there was at most only 50 Earth masses way out
there, consistent with the calculations. The whole process also scatters
asteroids, which add to the impacting population in the inner solar system.


Testing the Late Arrival of Uranus and Neptune

The overdue birth of Uranus and Neptune seems to provide a satisfying
explanation for the spike in the bombardment history of the Moon. However,
before we declare this case closed, some additional tests need to be done.
One is to determine the ages of more lunar basins. Dating impact melt rocks
inside lunar meteorites, as Barbara Cohen and her colleagues have done is a
good start. [See PSRD article: Lunar Meteorites and the Lunar Cataclysm.] An
even better way would be to collect samples from the floors of large basins
on the Moon. This could be done with automated sample return missions.

It is also crucial to determine the ages of basins on Mars. This, too, will
require samples to be returned to Earth because it is impossible to make age
measurements remotely to the precision and accuracy needed to see if the
basins formed between 3.8 and 3.9 billion years ago. Ages from Mercury would
be helpful, too, but sample returns from that planet are very difficult.
Returning a sample to Earth requires a gigantic, expensive rocket to blast
away from the nearby Sun's huge gravity field.

Detailed studies of the satellites of Jupiter will also be important.
Levison notes that about 500 basins would have formed on Callisto, the
second largest of Jupiter's satellites. The heat generated by the impacts
would have melted the surface to a depth of perhaps 150 kilometers, possibly
erasing almost all of the basins. The fact that there are only four basins
known on Callisto is consistent with the late formation of Uranus and
Neptune, but more detailed studies of all the icy satellites need to be

It will be equally important for those studying how planets form to develop
consistent stories for the formation of Uranus and Neptune. Levison and
colleagues conclude their paper by noting: "the model presented in this
paper must be viewed with skepticism until formation models of Uranus and
Neptune are available that are consistent with this late arrival." It seems
certain that scientists will view it all skeptically!

The study of the bombardment history of the Solar System is fundamental to
understanding the formation of the planets and their early histories. It
also requires an interdisciplinary approach. The bombardment history of each
planet and moon must be worked out from geological studies and analyses of
samples returned from them. All those data can then be used to test the
calculations done by scientists like Levison and his coworkers.

Cohen, Barbara A. "Lunar Meteorites and the Lunar Cataclysm." PSR
Discoveries. Jan. 2001

Hartmann, W. K., Ryder, G., Dones, L., and Grinspoon, D. (2000) The
time-dependent intense bombardment of the primordial Earth/Moon system. In
Hartmann, W. K., Ryder, G., Dones, L., and Grinspoon, D. (2000) The
time-dependent intense bombardment of the primordial Earth/Moon system. In
Origin of the Earth and Moon (K. Righter and R. Canup, eds.), p. 493-512.
University of Arizona Press.

Levison, H, F., Dones, L., Chapman, C. R., Stern, S. A., Duncan, M. J., and
Zahnle, K. (2001) Could the lunar "late heavy bombardment" have been
triggered by the formation of Uranus and Neptune? Icarus, vol. 151, p.

Spudis, P. D. (1993) The Geology of Multiringed Basins: Cambridge Univ.
Press, New York.

Thommes, E. W., Duncan, M. J., and Levison, H. F. (1999) The formation of
Uranus and Neptune in the Jupiter-Saturn region of the Solar System. Nature,
vol. 402, p. 635-638.


>From The Independent, 23 August 2001

Professor Sir Fred Hoyle

23 August 2001

Throughout a long and distinguished career stretching over six decades Fred
Hoyle sought to answer some of the biggest questions in science. How did the
Universe originate? How did life begin? What are the eventual fates of
planets, stars and galaxies? More often than not he discovered answers to
such questions in the most unsuspected places.

Hoyle believed that, as a general rule, solutions to major unsolved problems
had to be sought by exploring radical hypotheses, whilst at the same time
not deviating from well-attested scientific tools and methods. For if such
solutions did indeed lie in the realms of orthodox theory upon which
everyone agreed, they would either have been discovered already, or they
would be trivial.

Hoyle had no respect for the boundaries between scientific disciplines,
which were artificial social constructs that often stood in the way of a
proper comprehension of the cosmos. The Universe does not respect the
differences between physics, chemistry and biology, he would say, and his
career in astronomy progressively embraced all these disciplines. With
meticulous attention to detail he proceeded to master whatever discipline
was needed in order to explore the Universe. Nor was Hoyle ever daunted by
the enormous difficulty of some of the problems he tackled. With resolute
determination and a fearless independence of mind he devoted a lifetime to
understanding the world in which we live.

Hoyle will also be remembered as one of the greatest popularisers of science
in the 20th century, following in the distinguished traditions of H.G.
Wells, James Jeans and Arthur Eddington. He had a rare gift of explaining
complex scientific concepts in the simplest of terms, and in so doing he
never failed to captivate huge audiences on radio and television, in public
lectures as well as through his popular books.

In 1950 he gave an historic series of radio talks on the BBC Third Programme
(which was published the following year as a book, The Nature of the
Universe). Millions of listeners and readers of Hoyle the world over admit
to having been enticed into science by the power of his arguments and his
inimitable style of exposition. His more serious scientific work, meanwhile,
served as an inspiration to three generations of astronomers. Hoyle taught
us by his example to explore the world and search for truth objectively and
fearlessly, without prejudice, being guided only by the compelling
trajectory of logic.

Hoyle often condemned the enormous social pressures that are brought to bear
on scientists nowadays to conform. He sneered at the modern practices of
peer review and science umpiring conducted by journals, declaring them to be
an invitation to unconstructive conformism, an impediment to the progress of
science. For expressing such forthright views, he was criticised by the
scientific establishment and he made many enemies.

Hoyle's researches during the period 1945-72 were carried out at Cambridge
University, where in 1958 he became Plumian Professor of Astronomy and
subsequently the founder director of the Institute of Astronomy. He retired
from this position in 1972, then continued to work actively in many areas of
astronomy, attached loosely to a variety of universities, principally, from
1975, to University College, Cardiff.

Although he might be best remembered for his more daring scientific pursuits
- his unorthodox cosmology and more recently his support of panspermia -
there is scarcely an area of astronomy that has not been touched in some way
by Hoyle's genius.

Hoyle's work on nucleosynthesis in collaboration with William A. Fowler and
Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge led to our present-day understanding of the
origin of chemical elements in stars. It was Hoyle's original prediction of
the presence of an excited state of the nucleus of the atom Carbon via his
studies of the structure and evolution of stars that heralded a long and
profitable collaboration with the Caltech nuclear physicist Willy Fowler.

In the 1940s Hoyle collaborated with R.A. Lyttleton and Hermann Bondi in
laying the foundations of the theory of accretion - the mechanism by which
stars "suck in" nearby interstellar matter. A little later, he had worked
out a theory of how interstellar clouds can break up into fragments to form
stars, which again forms the basis of all modern theories of the formation
of stars.

In the 1950s Hoyle, together with Bondi and Thomas Gold, propounded the
Steady State Theory of the Universe. This was to challenge the then
fashionable cosmological theory that supposed the Universe to begin with the
explosion of a super atom some 15 billion years ago. Hoyle and his
colleagues found such a theory philosophically unsatisfactory - it could
not, for instance, answer the question: what was there before the initial
explosion? In order to denigrate the theory that he disliked Hoyle coined
the term "Big Bang Cosmology", a term that has stuck for nearly half a

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s a fierce battle raged between the proponents
of the two schools of cosmology: Steady State vs Big Bang. I was privileged
to come to Cambridge as Hoyle's research student in 1960 and witnessed the
scientific-sociological struggle between two rival camps first hand. With
the flimsiest of evidence, particularly from studies of radio galaxies by
Martin Ryle at Cambridge, each side was making strong claims for itself and
the debate turned bitter and acrimonious at times.

The discovery of a background of microwave radiation in the Universe by A.
Penzias and R. Wilson in 1964 tipped the balance strongly against the
original version of the Steady State Universe, the radiation being explained
as the cooled-off relic of the heat of the Big Bang. Hoyle, together with
myself and Jayant Narlikar, did not accept these data to be a defeat for the
Steady State, and have indicated many reasonable ways in which the
background radiation can be produced without a Big Bang. For instance, the
light of galaxies could be absorbed by iron whiskers expelled from
supernovae and these whiskers then emit microwaves. In a recent book by
Hoyle, with Narlikar and Burbidge, A Different Approach to Cosmology (1999),
a revised form of the Steady State Theory, known as the "Quasi-Steady State
Cosmology", is shown to be fully consistent with all the astronomical

In 1962 Hoyle and I sought to understand the nature of cosmic dust, those
gigantic clouds of obscuring matter that could be seen in photographs of the
Milky Way. At the time we began our researches the generally accepted view
was that these cosmic dust particles are similar to the micron-sized ice
crystals found in the cumulus clouds of the Earth's atmosphere. We
challenged this paradigm by showing that carbon particles are a more
plausible model for the dust, and over the years astronomers have come to
accept this carbon (graphite) grain theory as being close to proven.

We ourselves moved on from inorganic carbon dust to organic dust and finally
to biological particles for the composition of the interstellar dust. In
1977 Hoyle and I argued that the origin of life on Earth must have involved
the importation of viable cells from space, thereby challenging another Holy
Grail of science, "The Primordial Soup Theory", for the origins of life. At
first this theory, known as "panspermia", was regarded as heretical, but new
evidence from many directions appears be moving towards a vindication of
this point of view.

Last month the first evidence of microbes at the edge of the Earth's
atmosphere at 41km was presented in a paper to a meeting of the Society of
Optical Engineering. Hoyle himself was unable to see the final form of this
paper although he was a co-author and mentor of this work. Now, 34 years on,
some form of panspermia theory of life's origins appears to be gaining

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Hoyle's work involves the ideas of
pathogenic bacteria and viruses arriving from space, and that the evolution
of life may be directed from outside. This work has raised fierce hostility
in some circles.

Hoyle was sometimes unfairly presented as one who courted controversy for
the sake of it. My knowledge of Hoyle as a friend and colleague convinces me
that this criticism is unfounded. He was always the most charitable of
people and he never failed to acknowledge debts to earlier work or to others
wherever they were due. In his more unorthodox scientific ventures he simply
pursued the path that logic led him, or so he thought. Sometimes his
intuition may have been wrong, but more often he turned out to be right. On
the biggest questions of the origin of the Universe and the origin of life
the last word has surely not been said, and Hoyle would have been the first
to admit that.

Fred Hoyle was born in 1915 in Bingley, and educated at Bingley Grammar
School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he studied Mathematics. In
1939 he was elected a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and in 1945,
following Admiralty Service during the Second World War, joined the
Cambridge University Department of Mathematics as an Assistant Lecturer.

Although he paid little attention to accolades, awards and approbations, he
received many honours and distinctions. He was awarded the UN Kalinga Prize
for the popularisation of science in 1968. In 1997 the Swedish Academy of
Sciences awarded him the Crafoord Prize designed to honour work in fields
that were not eligible for the Nobel Prize. In 1957 he became a Fellow of
the Royal Society, in 1969 a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of
Sciences, and in 1971 the President of the Royal Astronomical Society. He
was knighted in 1972. He was an Honorary Fellow at both St John's College
and Emmanuel College, and an Honorary Professor at Cardiff University since

Chandra Wickramasinghe

There are very few things stranger in the world of literature than a
scientist having fun, writes John Clute. And, of all the scientists who
wrote novels in the 20th century, few were stranger - or had more fun - than
Fred Hoyle.

His scientific credentials may have been impeccable, and many readers were
fooled by them to read his science-fiction tales as expositions of how to
think extremely hard; but underneath the deadpan, rapid-fire surface of
novels like Fifth Planet (1959), A for Andromeda (1962, with John Elliot),
or In Deepest Space (1974), could be discovered the buried signposts of a
genuine trickster at work.

The Black Cloud (1957), which was Hoyle's first novel, has been understood
as an attempt to dramatise the thought processes and procedures of a
scientist at work. It is, in fact, like all its successors, a dramatic
exercise in escaping the tension and rigour of those thought processes: as
we learn, a very large black cloud has drifted from out of nowhere into our
solar system, and has taken up residency around the Sun. In the nick of
time, an adventurous scientist discovers that the cloud is (or has) a brain,
and talks to it. The intensity of this experience drives him insane, but the
rest of us are saved.

In Ossian's Ride (1959) another unsedentary scientist rollicks about
Ireland, chasing after dire knowledge. When he reaches Dublin, he finds it
has been transformed into a vast skyscraper-dominated metropolis. In the
end, this cure for Ireland's woes is revealed to have been inspired by
aliens exiled on our planet. Hoyle's hero enthusiastically joins in.

It is impossible to know for certain how serious Hoyle was about this
solution to the mud and ire of the real world and its problems. In one of
the last of his 15 novels to show genuine exuberance - The Inferno (1973),
written with his son Geoffrey - the old gay brutality remains intact. Waves
of radiation are about to make life on most of Earth impossible. The
governments of the world (as always in Hoyle's fiction) are both incompetent
and corrupt. The scientist who has discovered the radiation becomes dictator
of those who manage to survive.

These tales may have been meant simply as mind games, intended to divert
author and audience from a frustratingly complicated world. But, whether or
not they were froth on the daydreams of a hard-nosed physicist whose
real-life experiences were not entirely jovial, Hoyle's science-fiction
novels convey a surreal pugnacity of argument, a deep and sometimes
hilarious oddness of mien, that makes them instantly recognisable. They are
brilliant, uncouth, gadfly, impertinent, joyful; but more than anything -
more than almost any other science fiction ever written - they are strange.
They are from another planet.

Copyright 2001, The Indepdendent


>From The Times, 22 August 2001,,60-2001291637,00.html

Astronomer who propounded the 'steady state' theory of the Universe and
defended it energetically in defiance of orthodox cosmology

Between 1945 and 1970, the range and significance of Fred Hoyle's
contributions to astrophysics and cosmology probably surpassed those of any
other scientist in the world, and he was internationally acclaimed for his
original work on stars, galaxies, gravity and the origin of atoms.

Although he also became known as a populariser of science and as a science
fiction author, he will always be associated with his "steady state" theory
of the Universe, which he first proposed in 1948. His views were shared by
Hermann Bondi and Tommy Gold, and followed earlier suggestions by James
Jeans and Paul Dirac, but it was Hoyle's name with which they were
principally associated.

>From the outset, Hoyle propounded the theory with great energy, and it
became a popular talking point. He became simply "Fred Hoyle" to all and
sundry at a time when other astrophysicists tended to be styled by their
academic titles and public honours. When, in 1950, he gave his memorable
Third Programme talks on The Nature of the Universe, it was said that they
won greater audiences not only than Bertrand Russsell and C. E. M. Joad, but
than such popular figures as Tommy Handley and Wilfred Pickles.

The theory of the steady state took direct issue with orthodox cosmology,
the expanding Universe, which Hoyle ironically styled the "Big Bang theory".
This much older idea was that the Universe had started life a finite time
ago in a single huge explosion, and that the present expansion, though much
slower, is the result of these violent origins. Hoyle, however, argued that
the galaxies moved apart, and envisaged that new ones form in the gaps
between them.

This theory had the virtue of being testable by observations, and throughout
the 1950s and 1960s it was the focus of noisy and often acrimonious
disagreement. The findings of radio astronomers at Cambridge, who were able
to discover new types of galaxies and to measure their radio emissions,
tended to support the Big Bang theory, suggesting as they did that very
remote galaxies must be a part of the expanding Universe process. Hoyle and
his associates objected that these radio counts were inaccurate and defended
their position.

By the mid 1960s Hoyle's theory was generally on the retreat after two
American engineers working on a short-wavelength radio system for a
different purpose discovered to their surprise that low-level radiation was
uniform in every part of the sky. This was interpreted as being left over
from the hot Big Bang, evidence that the Universe had cooled so that matter
became dominant over the intense radiation of the early epoch.

Although by the late 1960s the evidence for the Big Bang theory was, to most
cosmologists, compelling, discussion on the relative merits of both theories
continued. Hoyle can be credited with having led a revolution in British
astrophysics which at least banished an uncritical acceptance of
cosmological orthodoxy. He had also personally done a great deal to clarify
the theory of the Big Bang, though he was never fully reconciled to the
evidence. His recent book, A Different Approach to Cosmology, presented a
robust defence of a compromise "quasi-steady state".

Hoyle's achievements ranged much wider, however. He retained his engaging
wit and relish for an argument throughout his long life, and stirred debate,
for instance, with his belief that life is not unique to Earth, but was
brought here by organisms from outer space.

His inventiveness and originality also extended to science fiction, which he
wrote successfully for more than three decades, winning a devoted following.
His most famous novel was October The First Is Too Late, in which Britain
and Hawaii remain in 1966, the Americas are switched back to the 15th
century and the Soviet Union exists in a future time when the surface of the
Earth is a plate of glass.

Hoyle also wrote the television serial A for Andromeda and the children's
play Rockets in Ursa Major. When this was performed in 1962 at the Mermaid
Theatre, one critic wrote: "Seldom can scientific mumbo-jumbo have sounded
so convincing." This writing, Hoyle believed, complemented his serious work,
in the middle of which he would stop to indulge in what he called "whimsical
fantasies." He was convinced that really important discoveries were most
likely to come from an exercise of creative imagination.

With his independence of mind, he retained all that was agreeable of the
natural manner and voice associated with his native Yorkshire, and this
captivated millions who intuitively appreciated his genuineness and the
profundity of his knowledge. Huge numbers of people (including many who
later won scientific distinction) received initial inspiration from his
famous BBC radio talks, and from books such as Frontiers of Astronomy.

Fred Hoyle was born at Bingley in Yorkshire, the son of a wool merchant
descended from Huguenot refugees. His mother had worked in the woollen
mills, but had saved enough money to take herself to the Royal College of
Music. During the First World War she played the piano to accompany silent
films, but was sacked for working in Beethoven's sonatas.

By the age of nine or ten Hoyle could navigate by the stars, and by the age
of 13 he was staying up all night sometimes with a telescope. From Bingley
Grammar School, Hoyle went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1933 to
read maths. There he developed rapidly, the first herald of his distinction
being the Mayhew Prize, which he won in the Tripos of 1936, followed in 1938
by the first Smith's Prize. He was elected to fellowship of St John's in
1939 for a thesis on quantum electrodynamics.

Although concentrating at first on theoretical physics, he became fascinated
by the theoretical work of men such as Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James
Jeans in Britain, and by the great observational advances of distant
galaxies then being made in the United States by Edwin Hubble and others.

His first papers concerned what it is that makes stars shine, and he soon
began to make his mark by propounding original hypotheses - some of them
with R. A. Lyttleton - about how stars evolved by accreting interstellar
gas. These ideas were not always favourably received by his more
conservative elders.

The war took Hoyle away from Cambridge to engage in technical projects for
the Admiralty, such as radar. He found himself working with Hermann Bondi
and Thomas Gold, and in spare moments they shared ideas that were to figure
prominently in Hoyle's postwar researches. The most celebrated outcome of
this collaboration was the steady state theory.

>From 1945 Hoyle was based in Cambridge, first as lecturer in maths, and from
1958 as Plumian Professor of Astronomy. But he made regular visits to the
United States, where, with a series of distinguished collaborators, he
contributed key ideas on the physics of stars and galaxies.

One of his outstanding and durable contributions was his pivotal role in
discovering that the elements of the periodic table are the outcome of
nuclear reactions in stars and supernovae. He argued that all the atoms of
carbon, silicon, and iron on Earth (and in our bodies) were forged from
hydrogen in faraway stars which lived and died before our solar system

The details emerged during a long and fruitful collaboration with the
nuclear physicist William Fowler, who made many of the key laboratory
measurements needed to make this theory quantitative. A classic book-length
article which Hoyle wrote in 1957 with Fowler and their longstanding
collaborators Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, codified this theory of
"nucleogenesis". This presentation of the theory has largely stood the test
of time, although Hoyle and others added details, particularly regarding the
role of supernova explosions.

In parallel, Hoyle kept up his researches in solar physics, on the origin of
the solar system, the structure of galaxies, quasars, and the nature of
gravity. During the 1960s, with his former student and long-term
collaborator J. V. Narlikar, he formulated a new theory of gravitation,
though it never achieved wide acceptance.

His theory was based on ideas resembling those earlier applied to
electromagnetism, which held that influences passing both forwards and
backwards in time had to be taken into account. This idea, however, was
bypassed by the dramatic advances in relativity theory made by Roger
Penrose, Stephen Hawking and their associates.

Committee work and administration held little attraction for Hoyle but
nonetheless, during the 1960s and early 1970s particularly, he served
effectively on the Science Research Council, the Council of the Royal
Society, and other national bodies. He was knighted in 1972.

In Cambridge, his energetic advocacy and fundraising led to the creation in
1966 of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, of which he became the first
Director. Among the younger members of that institute were Hawking, Brandon
Carter and Martin Rees, and others who later achieved prominence, with
encouragement from Hoyle despite differences of scientific perspective.
Hoyle was also pivotal in establishing the Anglo-Australian Observatory,
which for the first time guaranteed British astronomers access to a
world-class optical telescope, in Coonabarabran, New South Wales.

A regrettable dispute about funding and appointments led to Fred Hoyle's
premature retirement from Cambridge in 1972. He thereafter based himself for
many years in the Lake District (hill-walking being one of his lifelong
enthusiasms), and held visiting positions at various universities.

The first of his many science fiction novels, The Black Cloud (1957) - about
an alien intelligence embodied in a cloud of interstellar gas that threatens
to engulf the Earth - is a classic. His frank and entertaining autobiography
Home is Where the Wind Blows (1994) offers a specially fine evocation of his
early life in Yorkshire.

In later life his scientific interests diversified, and he became frequently
enmeshed in controversy on issues from epidemiology to archaeology. With the
encouragement of Glyn Daniel he wrote a book arguing that Stonehenge was an
elaborate astronomical observatory, and he also made regular appearances in
the broadsheets' letters columns.

On one occasion he wrote to say that life could not have originated on Earth
but was - and is still being - transported here on comets, the modern
version of the Tanspermia theory, which he worked on with Chandra
Wickramasinghe. On another occasion he claimed that BSE was the result of
small particles of bacterial and viral sizes descending through the Earth's
stratosphere during the winter months. He also declared that patterns of
winter epidemics, and in particular of influenza, which spread according to
where individuals lived and worked rather than according to the people with
whom they were in contact, suggested a viral agent falling through the

His thoughts were also recalled in letters from other readers, one of whom
remembered Hoyle saying: "I find myself wondering whether somewhere there is
a cricket team that could beat the Australians."

Hoyle received many honours from learned societies and international bodies,
including the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the UN Kalinga Prize, and
the Balzan Prize. It was widely felt that he should have shared William
Fowler's Nobel Prize, but the Swedish Academy made at least partial amends
by later awarding him its 1997 Crafoord Prize.

He is survived by his wife Barbara, whom he married in 1939, and by his son
and daughter.

Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, FRS, astronomer and writer, was born on June 24,
1915. He died on August 20, 2001, aged 86.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.



>From Paul Davies <>

Dear Benny,

I should like to express my personal sadness over the death of Sir Fred
Hoyle. Fred was both a friend and mentor. He gave me my first job, as a
Research Fellow at the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy in Cambridge in
1970. It was after listening to him lecture on the Wheeler-Feynman absorber
theory of electrodynamics at The Royal Society in 1968 that I developed a
lifelong interest in the nature of time. Over the years his provocative and
occasionally outrageous theories were a constant source of fascination and
inspiration. Fred's independent thinking and contempt of the establishment
were a refreshing antidote to academic stuffiness. It was a scandal that his
irreverence probably cost him a Nobel prize for his ground-breaking work on

Although I was never persuaded by Fred's ideas on panspermia, his work with
Chandra Wickramasinghe on the astrobiological significance of comets has
proved remarkably prescient. I wish Fred's collaborators well in continuing
to develop his imaginative ideas.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Davies


>From Hans Haubold <>

Dear Dr. Peiser,

In item (13) of the CCNet Special 90/2001 - 20 August 2001, you refer to an
International Planetary Protection (PP) Workshop of AIAA. The full Report of
the "6th International Space Cooperation Workshop: Addressing Challenges of
the New Millennium", Seville, Spain, 11-15 March 2001, is available since 30
July 2001 at the http address given below. It contains, among
other results and reviews, also the findings of Working Group 2 on "An
International Approach to Detecting Earth-Threatening Asteroids and Comets
and Responding to the Threat They Pose".

Thank you for your cooperation.

Hans J. Haubold
UN Office for Outer Space Affairs

Date: 30 Jul 2001 14:34:03 -0400
From: Judy Carrodeguas <>
Subject: International Space Cooperation Workshop Report Available

Dear Workshop  Participant,

This is to inform you that the Report from the 6th AIAA International Space
Cooperation Workshop held in Seville, Spain, March 2001 is now available.

Harcopies of the Report will be sent to you in the mail. However, the Report
can be downloaded from the AIAA international pages of the website at

Judith Carrodeguas
International Program Specialist
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
1801 Alexander Bell Drive
Suite 500
Reston, VA  20109-4344
Tel: (703) 264-3842


>From Alan Fitzsimmons <A.Fitzsimmons@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK>

Dear Benny,

I enjoyed reading your interview (CCNet 22/07/01). I thought you got over a
lot of good points. However I think that your response to the completeness
rates of the NASA-sponsored surveys should be clarified. The goal of
detecting 90% of NEOs with diameters >1km in 10 years was not really arrived
at because of cost, but is based on purely scientific grounds. When
considering NEO surveys, the discovery rate of the population above a
certain size drops off exponentially. It's always going to take a lot longer
to clear up the last 10% of NEOs >1km than it took to get the first 10% for
any given survey. Also, I would say that this target was "commendable"
rather than "modest".

Best Wishes,

Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons                                   Tel: 02890-273124
APS Division                                           Fax: 02890-438918
Dept. of Pure & Applied Physics          e-mail:
Queen's University of Belfast        WWW:
Belfast BT7 1NN
Northern Ireland


>From Michael Martin-Smith <>

" On its website, the British National Space Centre (BNSC) which
will commission the information centre, says the successful contractor
will have to "accept some
limitations on its freedom to promote views on space policy". "

The UK has a history of failure to engage in subtanial space development. If
this statement is taken to mean that advocacy of more wide ranging and cost
effective launcher and space programmes for the UK and ESA countries is to
be forbidden, then the possibility of putting asteroids and comets into a
postitive context will be lost. All that would then be possible either a
bland exercise in reassurance that there is not really much of a threat
anyway, or that only military style nuclear solutuions are envisaged.

A great chance would be lost, since this development offers , potentially ,
a great opportunity to  foster a truly space minded public opinion - in turn
a major step on the road to a spacefaring civilzation. I continue to believe
that the likeliest and most postiive eventual result of neo-catastrophism,
astrobiology, and NEO research  will be a strengthening cae for building a
dispersed ET civilization.

It would be a lost opportunity if promotion of this view were to be limited
, and would, in my view, seriously damage the credibility of this exercise.
We would be left with blind fatalism covered by a figleaf. Already I see in
Ceefax pages the criticism that Lord Saisbury is
watching the asteroid threat but is powerless in the event of a discovery.
We should move purposefuuly away from such powerlessness towards the ability
to avert the threat and convert it into an asset. Failing this, in time, the
public would regard it the Information Centre as pure spin.

Dr Michael Martin-Smith, author of "Man Medicine and Space"


>From E.P. Grondine

Hello Benny -

Before commenting on the UK Goverment's funding proposal for a NEO
information center, I want to point out a very bizarre set of behaviours,
with the hope that bringing them up will lead to some discussion of them
among Conference participants.

In the context of the press reaction to Lord Sainsbury's announcement, it is
very interesting to note the current low level of general public awareness
of the very real NEO hazard which exists, this after no less than 2 major
motion pictures on the hazard were widely viewed by many.

Along these lines, it needs to be noted that when the English speaking press
reported on the UK Government's proposal, they put it into the context of
both Barringer Crater in Arizona, which is ancient (49,000 BCE), and
Tunguska, which while not ancient is both small (100 kilotons or so) and
distant (Siberia). In their efforts to put this story into context for their
readers, the reporters were unable to remind them of the Rio Cuarto Impact
Event, which is both recent (ca. 3 millennium BCE), large (350 megatons),
and immediate, in that wherever they lived on the planet Earth, it can be
fairly estimated that between 75-90% of the people died starving, due to the
failure of their crops and forage in the ensuing climate collapse.

Way back in January, 1992 Schultz fully demonstrated the Rio Cuarto Impact
Event, and his results were published in no less a journal than NATURE, and
as the cover story at that. (Peter H. Schultz & Ruben E. Lianza, Recent
Grazing Impacts on the Earth Recorded in the Rio Cuarto Crater Field,
Argentina, NATURE, 16 January 1992, cover and pages 234-237).  It is now
2001, some 9 years later, and I think I'm safe in saying that for the most
part since 1992 Schultz's conclusive demonstration has largely been ignored.

Certainly the UK NEO Taskforce missed Rio Cuarto entirely; many NASA web
sites give it bare mention. The questions which I would like Conference
participants to reflect on are these: Why is the Rio Cuarto Impact Event
largely ignored or forgotten? 

Why does this this fundamental mental disconnect exist among the public at
large? Why wasn't the UK NEO Taskforce alerted as to Rio Cuarto Impact
Event? What happened?

Let us examine the cases of the Barringer Crater impact, the Tunguska
impact, and the Rio Cuarto impact comparatively.

Barringer Crater lies along a major route for trans-continental travel, and
has been a major tourist attraction since the automobile came into wide use
in the United States, say sometime around the 1920's. While Tunguska is
remote, the daring expeditions led by Kulik into farthest
Siberia to investigate the site as a source of iron recieved coverage in the
press througout the world. In the case of the Rio Cuarto Craters, they are
in Argentina, which is still re-covering from the isolation its military
coup leaders brought on it by their invasion of the Falkland

In terms of the political power of the countries of their location,
Barringer Crater lies in the United States; Tunguska lies in Russia, which
was formerly part of the Soviet Union; and the Rio Cuarto crater field lies
in Argentina.

In terms of publicity and public awareness, the attempts by Barringer to
commercially exploit iron from his Crater attracted wide press coverage in
the United States. In the case of the Tunguska impact, there was a second
wave of publicity after that first obtained by Kulik. For
Tunguska, one has to remember that Shoemaker's services were sought after by
the US military, as when the Early Warning System was first deployed, the
air bursts of small impactors were repeatingly setting it off. My suspicion
is that these same pressing concerns of the US
military were also reflected in the publication of two articles by the
magazine "Reader's Digest", which enjoyed a nearly universal circulation at
that time. (I'm using the term  universal" here in a commercial, and not
astronomical sense.) I remember reading these articles  as a youth: the
first of them concerned a nearly-catastrophic false alarm in the late
1950's, one which had been caused by a meteor storm triggering the Early
Warning System; the second of these articles was a "book length" piece on
the Tunguska impact.
In the case of the Rio Cuarto Impact Event, Schultz published his work in
"NATURE", a publication which is very protective of its intellectual
property rights, to put it mildly.  While there was a re-publication of some
of the Rio Cuarto material in "Sky and Telescope", I do not know of
any major re-publication of any of it in the more popular and more publicly
accessable magazines.

Nevertheless, the fact is that Schultz published the Rio Cuarto impact in
NATURE at the beginning of 1992, a place where the scientific community as a
whole could easily see it. What were the responses of the scientists of the
anthropological and climatology communities to Schultz's findings? As near
as I can tell, there were none. For both the anthropologists and
climatologists, such recent large impacts were impossible, despite the
existence of these extremely large holes in the ground, the evidence of
their explosive formation, the prescence in them of debris from space, and
their carbon dating.
In the anthropological community, the only person I know of who was working
on the Rio Cuarto Impact Event was Bruce Masse, but what has happened to
him, whether his work was possibly delayed by either the recent fires at Los
Alamos or by problems with the referees for his paper, I just don't know. I
have never seen any public mention of any work done on the Rio Cuarto Impact
Event within the community of climatologists, in particular those
climatologists involved with the modeling of the potential results of a nuclear "exchange".

At this point, we now have to come to an examination of the responses of the
scientists in the meteoritical, astronomical, and NEO communities to
Schultz's 1992 publication. (In other words, it's time to look in the
mirror.) One clear fact that needs to be acknowledged in analyzing this
response is that since the Rio Cuarto Impact Event was not widely known
about by the public, in part for the reasons listed above, it was up to the
specialists to alert the Taskforce about it. Perhaps this was simply a case
where everyone thought that someone else would be certain to inform the
Taskforce members about the Rio Cuarto Impact Event, with the end result
that no one did.
On the other hand, perhaps this was not the case. The reason why this
explanation does not seem quite adequate to me is that in every public
presentation by these scientists on the NEO hazard that I've ever attended,
there has been either no mention of the Rio Cuarto Impact Event, or at best,
the scientists have called no particular attention to it. Perhaps, just
perhaps, this reflects to some degree the presenters' subconcious concerns
about scaring their audiences, scaring them by telling them of an impact
event which was neither ancient or remote. Again, this may go some way
toward explaining the general lack of public awareness of the Rio Cuarto
Impact Event, but it still does not seem to me to be a completely sufficient

At this point in our comparison we are forced to consider the roles played
by the leaders of the community of NEO scientists in this lack of awareness.
The reason for this need is evident, as without facing up squarely to the
NEO community's own responsibilities in the failure to alert both the public
and government officials of the significant and well proved Rio Cuarto
Impact Event, there is little hope of avoiding these mistakes in the future,
which is to say in every future demonstration of every small impact event of
this type.  For it is certain, that the Rio Cuarto Imapct Event is both well
and fully proved.

In the case of Barringer Crater, the leading US meteoriticist Nininger spent
a number of the years of his life working there, and he had built a
commercial museum nearby, where he sold not only meteorites from the crater
but books and pamphlets on it as well. Barringer Crater later
served as one focus for Shoemaker's studies, and then as an analogue for
lunar craters during the Apollo program for many NASA scientists.
In the case of Tunguska, Kulik's work was well known among the meteoritic
and astronomical communities. As noted earlier, US defense forces had a very
real need for further work on impacts of the Tunguska type, and indeed they
currently still have this need, as each and every
year the sensors on US early warning satellites are set off some 13 or so
times by smaller air blast events of the Tunguska-type.  The same occurs
with the Russian defense satellites, and scientists from both countries are
involved in this effort.
In the case of Rio Cuarto, of necessity I have to start with the analysis of
the roles of the most publicly well known leaders of community of NEO
scientists; the Big Names, as it were. It appears that Schultz performed his
work in isolation from all of them. My guess (and let me emphasize that this
is simply a guess) is that Shoemaker and Morrison were aware of Schulz's
work, but not directly involved.  Shoemaker was involved in research in
Australia, quite far from Rio Cuarto, and died before the UK NEO Taskforce
was commisioned. Morrison, who was involved in fighting Velikovsky's rubbish
in the 1950's, dismisses all current research on smaller impact events as
Velikovskian rubbish as his first reaction, no matter who is investigating
them, or which small impact event they are:

Steel had been involved in working on the Australian Great Wall of Water
impact event, and was not involved in research on Rio Cuarto. Clube and
Napier, for their part, had focused their work on smaller impacts on records
recovered from the relatively near-by and familiar Middle East.  Since their
works (Cosmic Serpent, 1982, and Cosmic Winter, 1990) were completed and
published before Schultz's work on the Rio Cuarto Impact Event became
available, it is not surprising that there is no mention of it in either of
That's about as far as my speculations go, and I apologize to Yeomans,
Lewis, Chapman and anyone else whom I failed to mention in this part of the
analysis. I suppose that they will all have to consider their own actions in
regards to their handling of Schultz's publication of the Rio Cuarto Impact
Event, and I look forward to hearing from each of them about it.

In the end, all of this speculation still does little to explain how
everyone missed alerting the UK NEO Taskforce Team, and earlier the public,
about the Rio Cuarto Impact Event,  and so I will now try to move down to a
more general level. I think that it is entirely possible that the rest of
the answer may lie much closer to home than most of us would admit.

Personally, I know that when people ask me what I am reporting on, I tell
them impact events, and then immediately mention Tunguska, hoping that it
might somehow be something that they are vaguely familiar with.

Oh, yes. The subject at hand is the UK government's request that some
250,000 ($400,000 or so) be allocated to the establishment of a NEO
information center, and Lord Sainsbury's sadly mistaken comments which
accompanied that announcement.  Let's look on the bright side first:
250,000 is at least $400,000 more than Bush Jr.'s Science Advisor has
specifically requested be allocated by NASA for informing the US public
about the NEO hazard. Given the buffeting that the UK economy has taken
recently as a result of Mad Cow Disease, Hoof and Mouth Disease, and the
increase in oil prices, it is to the credit of the Blair government that
they have requested any money at all, given other very pressing public
needs. One could hope that this is simply their way of getting the camel's
nose into the tent, so to speak, with the rest of the animal to follow along

But having looked on the bright side, we must now examine the dark side as
well. Despite Lord Sainsbury's statements, on the evidence of the Rio Cuarto
Impact Event alone we know that there is an immediate and serious hazard;
and while we don't know exactly how "immediate" that hazard is, we do know
that it is far, far worse than Lord Sainsbury stated, or that the UK NEO
Taskforce reported to him. We know that as a fact, and we can demonstrate
it. Given this fact, as well as all the others which we know too well, this
initial government response bears an uneasy resemblance to the way in which
the previous government handled Mad Cow Disease. If this "information
centre" money is simply used to re-assure the public that there is no hazard
from NEOs, then we can be assured that the representatives of the public at
large will not fund the UK NEO Telescope, as that public will have been told
regualrly and repeatedly at government expense that there is simply no need
for it.

I ask that those UK citizens among the Conference participants to forgive my
boldness in speaking about their internal affairs; but at the same time I
also ask as well that they remember that this telescope will play a large
role in helping to ensure the lives and safety of hundreds
of millions of people living elsewhere on this planet. I need also to
emphasize here beforehand that these comments are my own, and not those of
other Conference participant or its moderator.
That said, I would hope that some member of the Parliament would use
Questions and Answers to bring the Rio Cuarto Impact Event to both Prime
Minister Blair's and Lord Sainsbury's attention. I would hope that they
would seek specific clarification as to why the Rio Cuarto Impact Event
was not mentioned in the report of the UK NEO Taskforce. My apologies
beforehand to the hard-working gentlemen of the Taskforce, for as was shown
above this omission was not their fault  -  but the failure to correct this
error after it was well known is most clearly a failure which belongs to
this government, and it is pecisely and exactly this failure which I hope no
one will allow them to gloss over.
I would further hope that that member would question both the Prime Minister
and the Science Advisor on their understanding concerning the implications
of this failure.  Once again, this is simply my opinion, and not that of
many other Conference participants or its moderator, but I
can do nothing but conclude that AS IT NOW STANDS, the report of the UK NEO
Taskforce has failed utterly in satisfying either of its twin stated goals,
that of advising the Government, or that of adequately informing the public
and their representatives, as to the severity of the danger they face from
the impact of asteroids and comets. For myself, I certainly can not idly sit
by and allow this report to stand quitely uncorrected for reference by any
member or employee of my own government. The hazard is simply to grave to
allow me to do that.

Some here, if not most, may differ with me at first on this, as the
government's Taskforce did in their report propose the construction of a NEO
Telescope in the UK. But while this is true, that the Taskforce concluded
that there is a need for a UK NEO Telescope, given the failure - so far - of
the Blair government to adopt their proposal, I can not but conclude that
without that report's mention of the Rio Cuarto Impact Event, the
Taskforce's demonstration of the need for such a telescope was hopelessly

Clearly, the impact hazard as it is currently known is sufficiently grave
that baring movement in Commons on the matter, I would then have to hope
that the matter would be raised by a member of the House of Lords, with full
open inquiry to follow if need be.
Most forelorn of hopes, I could hope that perhaps the Government would issue
its own clarifying statements on the hazard over the next few days.

So much for my hopes or delusions, as the case may be. In the meantime,
having looked on the bright side and the dark side of the UK government's
response to the NEO hazard, allow me now to return to the look at the real
side of the Rio Cuarto Impact Event. It will be of great interest to some
Conference participants to learn that the Argentinian private sector has
recently stepped up its efforts to commercialize the Rio Cuarto crater
field, and they may wish to check at for
their vacation travel needs.  Given these private sector efforts, it would
seem to me that perhaps at this point in time the best manner in which the
UK government might use 250,000 to inform the UK public about the NEO
hazard may possibly be to take a part of that money to send Lord Sainsbury
there on a brief holiday, before he makes any more bone headed statements on
the impact hazard in public again.

Best wishes -


>From John Michael Williams <>


"Scientists argue that detecting asteroids early is not just an
academic exercise. The  dinosaurs were powerless to help themselves,
but the development of rockets and nuclear bombs means that
humans might be able to destroy or divert asteroids that are heading for
Earth before they strike."
--Eben Black, Chief Political Correspondent, The Sunday
Times, 19 August 2001

Not being British, I don't at all mind expressing views which, even though
true, might contradict the British Government.

A nuclear bomb operates mainly by release of immense amounts of heat. The
only way it creates mechanical stress at any significant distance is because
of changes in air pressure caused by the
heating. Everyone reading this must be familiar with the mushroom-shaped
cloud, which represents the leftover heated air, that which did not
contribute to the shock wave in nearby air. A nuclear bomb probably would do
little more to an approaching "killer asteroid" than to make it red hot, too
hot to touch. Not only would the asteroid destroy everything, but it would
hurt, too!

                     John Michael Williams


>From, 23 August 2001

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

Satellites Search for Ancient Artifact

WASHINGTON -- Military and private satellite snapshots of Mount Ararat in
eastern Turkey reveal an anomaly that researchers say might be the remains
of Noah's Ark.

A soon-to-be-launched commercial spacecraft will focus powerful cameras on
the mysterious mountainside oddity to help unravel its true nature.

In the past, expeditions permitted to search the area for what some claim
are the ruins of Noah's Ark, while failing to conclusively prove its
existence, have succeeded in sustaining debate. The area itself is a
geopolitical and religious hot spot, with Mount Ararat sitting in the far
eastern frontier of Turkey, near the borders of Armenia, Georgia (formerly
part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR) and Iran.

Even the late Apollo 15 moonwalker James Irwin was repeatedly drawn to Mount
Ararat in hopes of finding Ark wreckage. Through his High Flight Foundation,
a non-profit evangelical organization based in Colorado Springs, the former
astronaut made six treks to Mount Ararat in an unsuccessful quest to find
remains of the ark.

Irwin's last expedition in 1990 ran into trouble. Turkish police detained
him following allegations that he engaged in spying while looking for the
Ark. Since 1991, the mountain has been closed due to Turkish military
operations against Kurdish rebels in the area.

Today the exploration of 17,000-foot Mount Ararat and the search for Noah's
Ark has moved to higher ground -- thanks to high-tech satellite flyovers.

Flood of data

To get up to speed on this search, it helps to start with the Bible.

Noah was instructed by God to save his family and the world's animals during
a great flood that would cover the Earth. To do so, Noah built a large
vessel, an ark. What followed was a pouring rain lasting 40 days and 40
nights. According to the Book of Genesis, as the Great Flood receded, the
ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.

Now jump to 1949.

An image from the June 19, 1949 U.S. Air Force Mission that captured a
panoramic view of what is simply called "the Ararat Anomaly".

Aircraft imagery of Mount Ararat taken in June of that year and analyzed by
U.S. intelligence officials includes a unique feature at the 15,500-foot
level on the Northwestern Plateau. Then in 1973 and 1976, through the lenses
of classified satellites, this "whatever-it-is" also purportedly stirred up
the same community.

"It's called the 'Ararat Anomaly'," said Porcher Taylor, an assistant
professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, and an expert in
satellite imaging diplomacy and the news media. He has been gathering
evidence on the novel feature since 1993, including a set of those 1949
aerial shots of the area, now declassified.

Taylor said that arguments have erupted within intelligence circles for
decades as to what truly has been seen on Mount Ararat.

"Debates center on whether or not it's a strange rock formation, a crashed
airplane, perhaps a fortress or some other structure hundreds of years old
... or maybe something more interesting of potentially biblical
proportions," Taylor told Certain individuals in the know, he
added, believe what is visible in certain satellite pictures is the bow of a
ship sticking out of a glacier.

The anomaly is apparently more than 600-feet long (183 meters), Taylor said,
at least that part of it jutting out as seen in aerial and satellite
imagery. One expert, a naval engineer and architect, when looking at the
photos believes "prongs" or "ribs" of the keel of an ancient marine
structure can be identified, he said. [....]

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