CCNet 94/2001 - 28 August 2001

"What actually ended the Permian Period some 251 million years ago?
Most Earth scientists think gradual sea fall, climate change, oceanic
anoxia, and volcanism were the causes. But that's not so. A group of
geologists working in southern China found evidence that it was an
asteroid or a comet that smacked our planet, exploded, and then caused the
most severe biotic crisis in the history of life on Earth."
--Kara LeBeau, Geological Society of America, 24 August 2001

"A University of Arkansas team will work in zero gravity to test a
sample collector for a proposed NASA mission that one day may bring
asteroids to Earth from space. The test will be a crucial step in
proposing a NASA space mission called HERA that would collect samples from
three near-Earth asteroids and return those samples to Earth."
--Melissa Blouin, University of Arkansas, 27 August 2001

"During the past decade, astronomers have begun finding members of
an unusual breed of asteroids. Called Damocloids after the first of
their kind discovered, 5335 Damocles, these asteroids have elliptical
orbits that resemble those of short-period comets like Comet Halley. A
new member of this strange astronomical club has now been found, and its
brightness suggests that it might be the largest Earth-crossing asteroid
--Vanessa Thomas,, 24 August 2001

"Ill health made it impossible for Fred Hoyle to participate in the
1999 ACS Symposium that Glenn Seaborg and I organized on the Origin
of Elements in the Solar System*, but many measurements reported there
support catastrophism: The solar system formed catastrophically from
debris of a single supernova (SN). The outer SN layers produced the giant
gaseous planets; the Sun formed on the collapsed SN core. Material
surrounding that compact object formed the cores of the inner
--Oliver K. Manuel, University of Missouri-Rolla, 28 August

    Andrew Yee <>

    Michael Paine <>

    Andrew Yee <>


    SpaceDaily, 27 August 2001

    NASA Science News <>

    Ron Baalke <>

    SpaceDaily, 25 August 2001

    Scientific American, 24 August 2001

     Andrew Yee <>

     Nature Science Update, 23 August 2001

     Nature Science Update, 24 August 2001

     Andrew Yee <>

     Oliver K. Manuel <>

     The New York Times, 28 August 2001


>From Andrew Yee <>

University Relations
University of Arkansas

Derek Sears
Director, Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and Planetary Science
(501) 575-5204,

Melissa Blouin
Science and research communications manager
(501) 575-5555,



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- A University of Arkansas team will work in zero
gravity to test a sample collector for a proposed NASA mission that one day
may bring asteroids to Earth from space.

The test will be a crucial step in proposing a NASA space mission called
HERA that would collect samples from three near-Earth asteroids and return
those samples to Earth.

The test flight will take place the week of Sept. 25 aboard NASA's KC-135
airplane at Johnson Space Center in Houston. A team led by Derek Sears,
professor of cosmochemistry and director of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for
Space and Planetary Science, (AOCSPS) will fly for several hours while the
plane makes parabolic dips in the air, creating pockets of microgravity
conditions that last for up to 20 seconds. The researchers will have two
days of flights to test the sample collector, and will experience
microgravity anywhere from 30-40 times on each day.

"The collector is not only the most technically difficult portion of the
mission. It's the only thing that hasn't been flight tested before," Sears

Researchers flying on the test mission will include Sears; Melissa Franzen,
a AOCSPS summer research student from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa;
Jeffrey Preble and John DiPalma from SpaceWorks, Inc.; and Paul Bartlett of
Honeybee Robotics, Inc. Honeybee Robotics recently secured a NASA contract
to create tools for the next Mars lander. Engineers from Honeybee designed
the asteroid sample collector, modifying a similar prototype for comets,
which they had developed some time ago. SpaceWorks, Inc. built the test
fixture that will enable the collector to be tested on the plane.

The collector has two sharp blades made of tungsten carbide that
counter-rotate at various speeds, chopping up small bits of rock and sending
them flying upwards into the collector -- at least in theory, a theory the
researchers plan to test on board NASA's KC-135 in September.

To test the collector, the researchers need asteroid-like materials, so
Sears and his colleagues have ordered large bags of concrete, gravel, sand
and iron filings to create different mixtures for use while in flight. From
what scientists know about asteroids from images and from meteorites, Sears
speculates that a mixture of iron, sand and gravel will come closest to
re-creating an asteroid surface.

The researchers hope to answer several questions through this flight:

* Does the collector work? Can it transfer material from the surface to the
* How much of the surface material does the collector pick up?
* What's the largest particle the collector can pick up?
* Does the collector physically change the particles (for example, does it
crush them)?
* To what extent does the collector change the composition of the surface

"We don't want to pick up just the light materials, for example," Sears

Five people will fly aboard the KC-135 and conduct the experiments. One
person will work with the samples. The second person will operate the
cutter. A third person will record everything with a digital video camera.
And a fourth person will keep records of all the experiments on a laptop

The "asteroid" materials will be mixed together in three different ways -- a
combination of sand and iron filings, a gravel mixture and concrete -- to
provide a range of possible surfaces that the collector might encounter in

"We're not optimistic that we can sample concrete," Sears said. "But these
materials get to the heart of the really interesting question -- what will
the real asteroid surfaces be like?"

The question has become more pressing in recent years with the discovery of
hundreds of near-Earth asteroids. These discoveries have caused an
increasing public concern about asteroid collisions and have generated
growing scientific interest in asteroid composition.

Scientists can guess at what an asteroid might have in it through
examination of pictures from EROS taken by the Near-Earth Asteroid
Rendezvous (NEAR) mission or through meteorite data. But investigations of
actual asteroid pieces would give concrete answers to some of their

The proposed HERA mission would use technology derived from the NEAR mission
to visit three near-Earth asteroids. The spacecraft would then collect
samples of rocks upon the surface of all three bodies before returning to

An official proposal for the mission could be sent to NASA sometime next
year, but first the collector must pass another test -- this one in a vacuum
created by the AOCSPS Andromeda Chamber, a barrel-like collector that
researchers can use to simulate the conditions of space. Those tests are
planned for December.


>From Michael Paine <>

Press Release from the Planetary Society Australian Volunteers

27 August 2001

"Spaceguard" is an international effort to search the skies for large
asteroids that might collide with Earth and devastate civilisation. The
present Australian government has consistently tried to ignore the hazard
posed by asteroid impacts and the need for Spaceguard, in
contradiction to the scientific evidence published in international
journals, and against all
assessments carried out by such organisations as the US government, the UK
government, the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the International
Astronomical Union.

Now a space policy document issued by the government in June this year calls
into question the Australian government's stand on Spaceguard. The document
"Maximum Probable Loss Methodology" sets out guidelines for assessing the
losses from rocket launch failures  and was issued by the
Space Licensing and Safety Office of the Department of Industry, Science and
Resources. These guidelines value "casualties", that is death or serious
injury, at $5 million each and
note that probabilities of death or injury greater than one in 10 million
are "unacceptable".

The risk, in any one year, of an asteroid impact at a level causing global
devastation (upwards of one-quarter of all humanity being killed) is
estimated to be between about one in 100,000 and one in 500,000. Over five
million Australians would die, perhaps a greater proportion than in most
other nations because we mostly live on the coasts, and so are especially
vulnerable to the mega-tsunamis associated with large  asteroid impacts.
Using the extremely conservative values of five million deaths and a
one-in-500,000 annual chance then the Government's $5 million valuation of
each life gives an annual expectation of loss of about $50 million. This
figure does not include the costs of injuries or property damage, let alone
the consequences of global economic collapse. Also it does not account for
the effects of smaller impacts that cause regional devastation.

By the government's own guidelines the lack of action on Spaceguard is

As astronomer Duncan Steel has pointed out, this makes the Spaceguard
program an absolute bargain insurance policy for civilisation.

[UK to set up an asteroid research centre]

On 17 August this year the British government announced that it was setting
up a centre to study the asteroid threat and provide information to the
public. The centre was proposed last year by a task force of top British
scientists who were asked to investigate Britain's involvement in

Australia has had a Spaceguard information centre for nearly five years. It
is a website operated by the Planetary Society Australian Volunteers and
covers a wide range of topics from the cost of running a major search
program (about $600,000 per year)  to the death toll from tsunami generated
by ocean impacts. In their report, the British task force describe the
Australian website as "a particularly useful resource". Plans for the
website started in 1996 when the Australian government cancelled a highly
successful asteroid search project based at the
Anglo-Australian Observatory in New South Wales.

Society Volunteer Michael Paine, who maintains the website in Australia said
that it had been very frustrating dealing with a succession of Australian
government ministers. He said that the lack of interest from Defence
portfolio had been particularly disappointing because it clearly had a major
role to play. In the USA, scientists and engineers are enthusiastically
turning their Cold War defence projects into asteroid impact research.
Telescopes previously used for tracking
soviet satellites are now looking for killer asteroids. Super-computer
programs that simulate the effects of nuclear explosions are being used to
estimate the environmental effects of asteroid impacts with the Earth and
the feasibility of deflecting Earth-bound asteroids.

Michael Paine, Ph 02 94514870

Australian Spaceguard Survey Homepage

Maximum Probable Loss Methodology, Space Licensing and Safety Office

BBC: Centre to study asteroid threat

UK NEO Task Force Report

AIAA report pointing out the need for a Spacegaurd telescope in the
soutern hemisphere

What are the environmental consequences of asteroid impacts?

What are the risks of major impacts with the Earth and possible death

Are places like Sydney at greater risk due to the danger of tsunami
generated by impacts? Yes - several times greater than inland locations:

Can anything be done if an asteroid if found to be on a collision course
with Earth? Yes - we have the technology to nudge a rogue asteroids into a
harmless orbit but only if there is early warning - the purpose of

More links


>From Andrew Yee <>

Geological Society of America
Boulder, Colorado

Ann Cairns, Director-Communications and Marketing , 303-447-2020, ext. 1156


GSA Release No. 01-37

Permian Extraterrestrial Impact Caused Largest Mass Extinction on Earth

By Kara LeBeau, GSA Staff Writer

What actually ended the Permian Period some 251 million years ago? Most
Earth scientists think gradual sea fall, climate change, oceanic anoxia, and
volcanism were the causes. But that's not so. A group of geologists working
in southern China found evidence that it was an asteroid or a comet that
smacked our planet, exploded, and then caused the most severe biotic crisis
in the history of life on Earth.

In the September issue of Geology, Kunio Kaiho from Tohoku University
reports their findings of a remarkable sulfur and strontium isotope
excursion at the end of the Permian, along with a coincident concentration
of impact-metamorphosed grains and kaolinite and a significant decrease in
manganese, phosphorous, calcium, and microfossils (foraminifera). Their
discoveries at Meishan (Mei Mountain) suggest that an asteroid or a comet
hit the ocean at the end of the Permian, triggered a rapid and massive
release of sulfur from the mantle to the ocean-atmosphere system, swooped up
a significant amount of oxygen, precipitated acid rain, and possibly set off
large-scale volcanism.

"Understanding the cause of this event is important because it represents
the largest mass extinction," Kaiho said, "and it led to the subsequent
origination of recent biota on Earth."

Kaiho discovered the significance of the site when he took samples from it
in 1996 and again in 1998. He plans to investigate other evidence of impact

"We would like to clarify paleoenvironmental changes and causes of the end
Permian mass extinction in different places and of the other mass
extinctions which occurred during the past 500 million years: end
Ordovician, Late Devonian, and end Triassic," he said.

Contact information:
(NB: Author prefers contact via e-mail:

Kunio Kaiho
Professor of Paleontology
Institute of Geology and Paleontology
Tohoku University, Aoba, Aramaki
Sendai 980-8578, Japan

To view the abstract of this article, go to . To obtain
a complimentary copy of this article or others published in GEOLOGY, contact
Ann Cairns.


>From, 24 August 2001

Large Earth-Crossing Asteroid Found
A newly discovered rare asteroid may be the largest Earth-crosser known.

by Vanessa Thomas

During the past decade, astronomers have begun finding members of an unusual
breed of asteroids. Called Damocloids after the first of their kind
discovered, 5335 Damocles, these asteroids have elliptical orbits that
resemble those of short-period comets like Comet Halley. A new member of
this strange astronomical club has now been found, and its brightness
suggests that it might be the largest Earth-crossing asteroid known.

Provisionally titled 2001 OG108, the object was first spotted on July 28 by
Michael Van Ness, an observer for the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object
Search (LONEOS) program in Arizona. Over the next two weeks, observers
tracked the newfound asteroid to determine its path about the sun. Like
other Damocloids, 2001 OG108 has an elongated orbit. Each trip about the sun
takes it from beyond Uranus to just within Earth's orbital path.

Because Damocloids mimic the course of short-period comets, astronomers
suspect these unique asteroids might actually be "dead" comets. While the
gas and ices that cause comets to flare up when they approach the sun may
have been exhausted, the dark, rocky remains continue to travel through the
solar system. If this notion is correct, these asteroids should have the
same dark surfaces typical of short-period comet nuclei.

However, 2001 OG108 is one of the brightest Earth-crossing asteroids found
so far. According to LONEOS director Ted Bowell, just two other
Earth-crossers rival it in brightness. But 1866 Sisyphus and 2000 WF129
orbit the sun in the inner solar system and are unlikely to be as
intrinsically dark as 2001 OG108, Bowell says. If the newly discovered
asteroid is darker and reflects less light than Sisyphus and 2000 WF129, but
appears just as bright, it must be larger.

Based on its brightness, its current distance, and an expectation of its
albedo, Bowell estimates that 2001 OG108 could be as large as 10 miles (15
kilometers). The median size of the approximately 800 known Earth-crossing
asteroids is less than one kilometer, so "this object really sticks out," he
Although 2001 OG108 will occasionally zip past Earth during its 50-year
journey about the sun, Bowell assures that Earthlings need not worry that
the asteroid will impact Earth - at least not in the near future. In its
present orbit, the Damocloid will not come any closer to us than about 28
million miles (about 45 million kilometers), or more than 100 times the
distance between Earth and its moon. The astronomer points out, however,
that the asteroid could potentially pass within 100 million miles of
Jupiter, which may result in an orbital adjustment by the giant planet's
gravitational manipulation.

Currently passing through the main asteroid belt toward the inner solar
system, 2001 OG108 will make its next close approach to Earth in April of
next year. As it zooms past Polaris in our northern skies, the asteroid will
be bright enough for amateur astronomers to spot with moderately sized
telescopes. Professional astronomers will likely take interest in this rare
space rock as well, in order to study its composition and attempt to confirm
its once-cometary nature.


>From SpaceDaily, 27 August 2001

San Diego - August 22, 2001

A unique array of listening devices deployed by researchers at Scripps
Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is
one of the first stations in an important new global network that will
detect signals from events as diverse as secret nuclear weapons tests,
volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes in early formation.

One of the first significant signals received by the Scripps instruments
resulted from the April 23 explosion of a large meteor crashing into Earth's
atmosphere. The meteor, reportedly 8- to 12-feet across, exploded with a
yield of a several thousand tons of TNT.

The Scripps array consists of eight microbarometers spread across two
kilometers at the Cecil and Ida Green Piñon Flat Observatory, located in the
mountains south of Palm Springs, Calif.

Each device is equipped with a noise reduction system that filters unwanted
energy from atmospheric turbulence and increases sensitivity to signals at
the "infrasonic" scale that fall below the 20 hertz level of human hearing.
The array records signals that are too faint, and vary too slowly, to be
detected by humans.

The array is one of the first in a planned network of 60 that will play a
vital role in efforts to monitor the globe for clandestine nuclear testing

The infrasonic network tracks the atmosphere as part of a network that
combines infrasonic signal tracking with seismic stations that pick up
signals from the solid earth, hydroacoustic stations that monitor energy in
the oceans, and a radionuclide network that checks the air for radioactive

"Infrasound energy tracking was big business in the 50s and 60s, when there
was a lot of nuclear testing in the atmosphere," said Michael Hedlin,
associate researcher at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of
Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, and, with Jon Berger, a lead
scientist in the Piñon Flat infrasound array development.

"Interest in infrasound decreased when nuclear testing moved underground.
Now infrasound monitoring has re-emerged in importance due to the number of
countries that may be capable of developing nuclear weapons. We need to
monitor around the globe."

Hedlin says an infrasonic network is capable of providing data not only from
nuclear blasts, but from a variety of natural phenomena that may become
useful in scientific research.

This was the case on April 23, when the large meteor crashed into the
atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles west of Baja

"If this rock had come into the atmosphere at a slightly different time, it
might have exploded not over the Pacific, but over a large metropolitan
area," said Hedlin.

"With this global listening network we can develop much better statistics on
large meteors and get a better idea of how often these massive objects enter
the atmosphere."

Large explosions send part of their acoustic energy into the audible range,
but those signals dissipate rapidly. They also emit large amounts of energy
into the infrasonic range in signals that decay slowly across vast

Thus the April 23 explosion was prominently featured 1,800 kilometers away
on the Piñon Flat instruments. The signals were also recorded approximately
11,000 kilometers away by an infrasound array in Germany.

In addition to meteors, infrasonic energy is generated by chemical
explosions, supersonic aircraft, tornadoes, landslides, earthquakes, and

"Our colleagues in Japan have learned that minor volcanic eruptions of magma
or gas might be missed seismically but produce strong acoustic signals,"
said Hedlin.

"Seismic and infrasound data taken together give a much fuller account of
activity inside the volcano that might be indicative of an impending,
significant eruption."

A new infrasonic array is set to be deployed in Cape Verde, a location off
the coast of Africa known as a nursery for brewing hurricanes. As the
hurricanes develop and emit infrasonic signals, Hedlin believes such data
might contribute to early detection.

"There is a lot going on in the atmosphere that we need to know more about.
The infrasound network will offer us an unprecedented opportunity to better
understand these phenomena on a global scale.

"We anticipate that this global network of listening posts that monitors
Earth's fluid exterior shell where we live will some day become as
indispensable as the global seismic network that monitors the Earth's solid
interior for seismic activity."

Although the Scripps group provided the closest observations of the meteor,
the event was analyzed by a consortium of universities and laboratories. The
explosion was first noticed by a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Early characterization of the event was done by the Los Alamos group, the
Center for Monitoring Research, the University of Hawaii, and the University
of Alaska.

The consortium is led by Henry Bass at the University of Mississippi.
Construction of the array was supported by the Defense Threat Reduction
Agency (DTRA), the Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) of the UN
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Office in Vienna, and the US Army Space and
Missile Defense Command (SMDC) University Research Initiative (URI).

Copyright 2001, SpaceDaily

>From NASA Science News <>

NASA Science News for August 24, 202001

Last weekend an amateur astronomer found a new comet the old-fashioned way.
Without the aid of computers or digital cameras, he simply looked through
his telescope and there it was!  You can see the newfound Comet Petriew for
yourself in the morning sky gliding between the constellations
Taurus and Gemini.



>From Ron Baalke <>

Meteor excites night skies
Valley Courier
August 24, 2001

SAN LUIS VALLEY - A very bright, orange-white
meteor lit up skies over a large portion of central and eastern Colorado on
August 17 at 10:44 p.m.

Many people called television stations or law enforcement agencies thinking
a plane had crashed and started a forest fire.

Calls to the meteorite research team at the Denver Museum of Nature &
Science overloaded phone lines and e-mails.

The meteor was seen as far away as New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska and

Full story here:


>From SpaceDaily, 25 August 2001

Paris (AFP) Aug 24, 2001
A huge icy rock orbiting the Sun in deep space is the biggest asteroid ever
spotted, outstripping the previous record-holder which was discovered 200
years ago, European astronomers said Friday.
The asteroid, designated 2001 KX76, has a diameter of at least 1,200
kilometers (750 miles) and as much as 1,400 kms (875 miles), the European
Southern Observatory (ESO) said in a press statement.

That makes it far bigger than Ceres, the first asteroid ever to be
discovered, which was detected by the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi on
January 1, 1801.

Ceres is about 950 kms (600 miles) across and has held the size record ever
since its discovery.

The discovery of 2001 KX76 was announced on July 2 by a team led by Robert
Millis at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, but the first
observations were so sparse that little more could be said beyond this.

Estimates of the asteroid's size and orbit have now been calculated in a
unique project combining the ESO's telescope in La Silla, Chile, and a
brand-new computer model, Astrovirtel, which simulates the actions of a

Astrovirtel was used to scan archived photographic plates obtained from
various telescopes as well as recent observations made by La Silla in the
same quadrant where the US team found the asteroid.

It was able to locate several plates in which faint images of 2001 KX76
could be identified, some of which dated way back to 1982.

This enabled astronomers to calculate its orbit, which when combined with an
estimate of the asteroid's light reflection, or albedo, gave an idea of its

2001 KX76 is located about 6.5 billion kms (4.06 billion miles) from the
Earth in a distant region of the Solar System called the Kuiper Belt, ESO,
based in Garching, Germany, said.

So far, more than 400 bodies have been discovered in this region, but 2001
KX76 "is definitely the largest" discovered so far, it said.

Kuiper Belt objects are believed to be debris from the formation of the
Solar System and intrigue astronomers as they are probably the most
primitive objects available for close study from the Earth, relatively
untouched by such forces as gravity, heat and light.

More and more of these enigmatic objects are coming to light as telescopes
and computer power improves, and the discoveries are raising nagging
questions about the prevailing view about the cosmos.

One of the challenged concepts is that Pluto, on the Kuiper Belt's fringe,
is the Solar System's ninth planet.

Some astronomers contend that Pluto should be downgraded to an asteroid,
although the International Astronomical Union (IAU), in a lively debate in
February 1999, agreed to let it remain a planet after all.

But the ESO suggests the debate could be reopened.

The orbit of 2001 KX76 is "just outside" that of Pluto, it noted.

In addition, the asteroid is half the size of Pluto, whose diameter is about
2,300 kms (1,400 miles), and bigger than Pluto's moon, Charon, which has a
diameter of 1,150 kms (720 miles).

"This increases the likelihood that there are other bodies still to be
discovered in the outer Solar System that are similar in size to Pluto," ESO

Under astronomical tradition, objects in the Kuiper Belt are conferred with
a name from mythology. The Millis team have the right to make their choice,
which must then be ratified by the IAU's Committee on Small Body

All rights reserved. © 2000 Agence France-Presse.


>From Scientific American, 24 August 2001

Martian life could have reached Earth inside a meteorite, according to a new
study, which looks not at fossils or microbes but at magnetic fields. When
ALH84001 was first discovered in the Allan Hills of Antarctica in 1984, it
appeared to be just another Martian meteorite. After analyzing it more
closely, however, a team of scientists at NASA and Stanford University
declared in 1996 that it bore evidence of past life on Mars--namely, tiny
mineralized structures, which they believed to be fossilized, primitive
bacteria-like organisms. This spectacular finding didn't go unchallenged for
long, and the potato-size meteorite has been at the center of controversy
ever since.

Now ALH84001 has become the focus of a new question. A study of the famed
rock published in today's issue of Science examines whether life--if it
existed--could have traveled from Mars to Earth inside meteorites. Many
scientists have argued that thermal sterilization would prevent such a trip:
when a meteorite is ejected from Mars and later enters Earth's atmosphere,
its surface reaches several thousand degrees--temperatures hot enough to
kill any living thing. The new study, however, suggests that a meteorite's
core may stay sufficiently cool.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology, led by Benjamin
Weiss and Joseph Kirschvink, looked at minuscule patterns of magnetization
within the rock as it was heated and cooled. As molten rock cools off, it
normally magnetizes in the direction of the local geomagnetic field, much
like a compass. In the case of ALH84001, however, the researchers found no
regular pattern of magnetization. Instead they discovered several
heterogeneous magnetic fields within the rock that were probably caused by
fractures it incurred while still on Mars. This finding is important because
it indicates that the core of the meteorite never endured the lethal
temperatures its surface felt during the interplanetary trip.

"The heat doesn't move very quickly in the meteorite," Kirschvink explained.
"As the surface of the meteorite heats up, the melting surface is blown
away, so it carries the hot material away from the meteorite." According to
Kirschvink, the extreme heat never reaches more than a few millimeters into
the rock. His group concluded from their measurements that the temperature
at ALH84001's core never exceeded 40 degrees Celsius, or about 100 degrees
Fahrenheit, en route from the Red Planet.

If heat didn't pose a threat to life, what of the voyage through space?
According to Weiss, the European Space Agency conducted tests with bacteria
to see how long they would survive in a near vacuum, exposed to subzero
temperatures and ultraviolet radiation in space. "After six years they were
still alive," Weiss said. Only one in every 10 million meteorites makes the
trip from Mars to Earth anywhere near that quickly; most spend millions of
years in space. "About a billion tons of Martian rocks have been transferred
[to Earth] throughout the history of the planet," Weiss notes. And "once
every million years there was a meteorite impact on Mars that was large
enough to free enough mass to transport life to Earth." There is no evidence
that life-forms from Mars have reached Earth, Weiss said but added: "If
there were microorganisms on Mars, then it is probable that they would have
made it here." --Harald Franzen

Copyright 2001, Scientific American


>From Andrew Yee <>

ESA Science News

27 Aug 2001

Europe to identify underground water on Mars

Geologists poring over the latest images from Mars keep on turning up new
and tantalising evidence that water once flowed freely on the planet's
surface -- and may still flow from time to time. If their interpretation is
right, underground aquifers or ice layers should be commonplace on the
planet. Yet no spacecraft flown so far has been capable of identifying them.

All that should change in a few years, however, with the first European
missions to the Red Planet. The European Space Agency's Mars Express
followed by the Netlanders, lead by the French space agency, CNES, will be
the first missions capable of prospecting directly for underground water on
Mars. A gamma-ray spectrometer on board NASA's Mars Odyssey, which arrives
at the planet later this year, will look for the chemical signature of water
on the surface of the planet, but will not be able to penetrate far

The European missions were among the hot topics for discussion in Houston,
Texas, earlier this month at a conference[*] to help determine future
strategy in the search for water on Mars. "The consensus was that Europe is
now at the forefront of the geophysical investigation of Mars," says Agustin
Chicarro, project scientist for Mars Express.

Ground penetrating radar from orbit

Mars Express will carry a ground penetrating radar, called MARSIS, into
polar orbit around Mars in 2003. Much like airborne radar that prospects for
underground minerals on Earth, MARSIS will attempt to locate different
layers, including layers of water and ice, in the top 5 km of Martian crust.

The Italian space agency, ASI, is proposing to fly a modified version of
MARSIS, called SHARAD, on NASA's 2005 orbiter to look for water in the top
few hundred metres of crust. The SHARAD proposal was made after images
recently returned from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor suggested that water has
flowed on Mars in the recent past and hence could be close to the surface in
some regions.

Seismic sounding

In 2007, Europe will send four small Netlanders to different locations on
the Martian surface from where they will probe the planet's interior. In
much the same way that geologists on Earth use seismic methods to locate oil
or mineral deposits, they will be the first craft ever to sound the Martian
interior seismically. Much should be revealed about the structure and
composition of Mars' interior, including the location of buried water and
ice. "If you put a seismometer on the surface of Mars, you can determine
whether the planet is wet or dry. If it rings like a bell, then it's dry
like the Moon," says Chicarro.

Mars Express and the Netlanders represent the first steps in the geophysical
exploration of Mars. The conference participants discussed what should
happen next, in particular in 2009 when NASA may send a major geophysical
mission to the planet. The first aim of any future strategy, the conference
agreed, should be to determine the global distribution of possible
underground water sources, followed by a more precise determination of local
sources and finally the selection of specific sites for drilling.

What next?

The shape of the 2009 mission will depend on how far Mars Express, the
Netlanders and NASA's 2001, 2003 and 2005 missions have gone along the way.
Will they have produced a good enough map of the global distribution of
underground water to move to step two? May they even have done enough
groundwork to move straight to step three, drilling? The trouble is that
NASA cannot afford to wait for the answers to these questions. Plans for the
2009 mission need to be agreed soon.

One idea discussed at the conference is to supplement the Netlanders with up
to 20 more small landers to provide detailed information local to widely
dispersed sites. Each lander could carry instruments capable of mapping
underground structures to a depth of a few tens of metres. The conference
delegates discussed the relative merits of two techniques for doing this,
electromagnetic sounding and ground penetrating radar. Both techniques are
widely used on Earth and ground-penetrating radar will be used on the
Netlanders. "These techniques provide better accuracy than radar from orbit
or seismic sounding because they are done on a smaller scale," explains
Chicarro. Electromagnetic sounding could also be carried out from balloons
flying in the Martian atmosphere and ground-penetrating radar from rovers.

The culmination of the exploration effort will be to send a lander capable
of drilling deep into the Martian crust to determine whether it really is
water down there. Some conference delegates were keen to see this achieved
in 2009 and one major oil drilling company has reportedly already begun work
to develop a suitable drill.

Water or carbon dioxide?

Nick Hoffman from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, however, warned
that a drill could release something other than water -- liquid carbon
dioxide (CO2). The conference heard that many of the remote sensing
detection methods discussed would be hard pressed to distinguish between
water, water-ice and liquid or solid carbon dioxide, but choosing methods
capable of such a distinction is important because leaving it until the
drilling phase could be hazardous. "Drilling into an overpressured liquifer
will lead to a potential blow-out of gaseous CO2 which may cause severe
damage to the drilling equipment and endanger any nearby facilities and
personnel," warns Hoffman.

Many of the features in the Martian landscape attributed to water, including
the outburst flow channels, could have been caused by the outpouring of
liquid carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and water, thinks
Hoffman. If this is the case, then the problem of explaining how Mars'
climate changed from warm and wet to cold and dry is eliminated: the planet
need never have been warm and wet. "People were listening to these ideas
seriously. We won't know whether they're right or not until future missions
have given us more information. But we need to bear them in mind when
interpreting our data," says Chicarro.

[*]Conference on the Geophysical detection of sub-surface water on Mars,
   6-10 August, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas, USA

For further information please contact:

ESA Science Programme Communication Service
Tel: +31 71 5653183


* MARSIS: Subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter
* Mars Express home page
* More about Netlander


[Image 1: ]
The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) on
board ESA's Mars Express will employ ground penetrating radar to map
underground water (if it exists) on Mars. Low frequency waves will be
directed towards the planet from a 40 m long antenna which will be unfurled
after Mars Express goes into orbit. The radio waves will be reflected from
any surface they encounter. In most cases this will be the surface of Mars,
but because low frequencies are used, a significant fraction will travel
through the crust to encounter further layers of different material --
perhaps even water. Analysis of the echoes produced will reveal much about
the composition of the top 5 km of the crust.

[Image 2: ]
Mars Express in orbit around Mars with the MARSIS antenna unfurled.

[Image 3: ]
'Rootless cones' on Mars, seen in this image from the Mars Orbiter Camera,
suggest the existence of near-surface groundwater or ice, as the cones form
when water or ice interacts explosively with surface lava.


>From Nature Science Update, 23 August 2001

Los Angeles' ups and downs confuse quake scientists.


The insatiable thirst of desert-dwelling Californians is complicating
efforts to study fault lines beneath Los Angeles and may make earthquake
risks harder to predict.

Data from a multi-million dollar sensor array designed to detect tectonic
ground movement is being 'contaminated' by another type of groundswell - the
city moving up and down each year as water companies draw stored drinking
water from rocks beneath it.

"If it wasn't for this human-induced motion, we'd already have a complete
picture of what's going on," says earthquake scientist Gerald Bawden of the
US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, leader of the team that has
spotted the problem.

The largest area of moving ground - measuring some 800 square kilometres of
greater Los Angeles - is rising and falling by as much as 11 centimetres
each year, Bawden's group report1.

Geologists knew that the use of rocks to store water (aquifers) could cause
ground movement, but not to this extent. "It's the magnitude of the
deformation that's so overwhelming," says John Shaw, who studies the geology
of the Los Angeles basin at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The sensor array, which exploits global positioning system (GPS) satellites
to detect minute ground movements, was deployed after the Northridge
earthquake in 1994. The Northridge quake was caused by a 'blind thrust
fault' (BTF) - an upward movement of one buried rock slab over another.

Previously unstudied in Los Angeles, BTFs are now under scrutiny, as they
could be storing the tectonic energy to fuel a big quake. As the only way to
study BTFs is to monitor deformation of the surface, geologists had high
hopes for the GPS sensor array.

Californians' thirst

To slake the thirst of the 14 million inhabitants of greater Los Angeles,
companies purchase water in winter from surrounding, rainier areas and store
it in underground aquifers. They then pump it out in summer to meet the
desert city's demands.

Bawden began to suspect that the movement was due to thirsty people rather
than tectonic plates when he noticed certain GPS sensors in the array moving
far more than a fault can in a year. So his team used super-sensitive
'interferometric synthetic aperture radar' (InSAR) to measure minute changes
in ground height.

InSAR revealed that as many as half of the array's 250 sensors were moving
because of groundwater or oil pumping. Hopefully, this controlled movement
can now be accounted for in seismological calculations.

Something going down in the 'hood

More alarming is the fact that the city is subsiding. "Each year they're
pumping more water out than they pumped in," says Bawden. The Los Angeles
basin dropped 8.4 centimetres between 1993 and 1999, according to the InSAR
data. Evidence from other cities suggests that subsidence could continue for
a long time.
This movement, being more similar to that of faults, could make BTFs tough
to study. It will be harder to know, says Shaw, which aspects are still
tectonic and which are anthropogenic (caused by humans).

Roy Herndon, a geologist with Orange County Water District, which supplies
water to many of the affected areas, has declined to comment on whether
their activities are confusing seismologists. "It's the first we've heard of
it," he says.

BFTs form natural aquifer boundaries, so the new work shows that studying
them using the GPS technique "will be more difficult," according to Shaw.

However, although some previous work will have to be revised, the findings
are not all bad news. Now that geologists are aware of the situation, "it
won't jeopardize the complete research programme," says Bawden.

In the long term, says Howard Zebker, an expert on geological sensing at
Stanford University in California, "it's going to improve results". The
InSAR data, he says, will help geologists to place sensors in areas of Los
Angeles that are unaffected by groundwater movement.

What's more, because BFTs occur on the boundaries of subsiding aquifers, the
combination of InSAR and GPS data has pinpointed previously uncharacterized
BFTs, which could be pivotal in future earthquakes. "We'll end up with a far
better picture of what's going on," says
Bawden, G. W., Thatcher, W., Stein, R. S., Hudnut, K. W. & Peltzer, G.,
Tectonic contraction across Los Angeles after removal of groundwater pumping
effects. Nature, 412, 812 - 815, (2001).
© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2001


>From Nature Science Update, 24 August 2001

The recent earthquake in India killed thousands, but far worse may be in
24 August 2001


Millions of people are at risk from massive earthquakes in the Himalayas,
say geologists in the United States and India. Great earthquakes, they
propose, are the only release for stress that has been building in the
Earth's crust along the southern edge of the Himalayas for decades1.

Large earthquakes have struck this region every few decades since the early
nineteenth century. Since 1950, when the biggest earthquake within a single
continent in recorded history shook Assam, the fault lines have been silent.
But the pressure has been mounting, say Roger Bilham of the University of
Colorado, Boulder, and colleagues.

Some parts of the Himalayan region have been seismically inactive for far
longer, perhaps even for several centuries. If earthquakes happen in these
places, they could therefore be catastrophic.

Extrapolating from the human cost of earlier earthquakes in the light of
today's population numbers, Bilham's team estimates that 200,000 people
could be killed in a single event. But if the earthquake happened near one
of the huge cities on the Ganges Plain, fatalities could be ten times
greater, they speculate.

This region, which stretches 300 km to the south and southeast of the
Himalayas, is home to over 40 million people, mainly in the capital cities
of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

A disaster here would dwarf the one that occurred last January, when 19,000
people were killed by an earthquake in Bhuj, northwest India. The Bhuj event
highlighted the ineffectiveness of building codes that are supposed to
lessen the seismic hazard. Other Indian cities would probably be no better
equipped to withstand a major quake.

The region south of the Himalayas is earthquake-prone because the Indian
continent is colliding with the Eurasian tectonic plate to the north. This
process began at least 50 million years ago, creating the mountain range and
the Tibetan plateau at the collision zone.

Where the two plates converge, the Indian one plunges below the Eurasian.
Pressure builds up as the plates push together, until the Indian plate
lurches suddenly downwards, sending a great earthquake reverberating across
hundreds of kilometres.

Bilham's group says that the convergence of the two plates, as measured by
the Global Positioning System, is relatively rapid - about two centimetres a
year. Many regions of the central Himalayas are now holding onto at least
four metres of convergence, which would cause a great earthquake when
released. This amount of slip is thought to have occurred in the great
earthquake of 1934 that rocked the Bihar-Nepal region.

In some areas, where earthquakes have not relaxed the stressed crust for
much longer, a slip of as much as 10 metres could be waiting to happen. This
would cause an earthquake larger than any seen in the twentieth century.

The tragic Bhuj disaster should not divert attention and resources away from
a region where far worse dangers now seem to be looming, the researchers
Bilham, R., Gaur, V. K. & Molnar, P.Himalayan seismic hazard. Science, in
press, (2001).

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2001


>From Andrew Yee <>

Office of News Services
University of Colorado-Boulder
3100 Marine Street, 5th Floor
584 UCB
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0584
(303) 492-6431

Roger Bilham, (303) 492-6189,
Jim Scott, (303) 492-3114

Aug. 23, 2001

Note to Editors:
Contents embargoed for use until 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 23.


Following an exhaustive geophysical and historical analysis, a research team
led by the University of Colorado at Boulder believes there are no
alternatives to one or more massive earthquakes occurring in India in the
near future, threatening millions of lives.

"Unfortunately, we have been forced to reach a very undesirable conclusion,"
said Professor Roger Bilham of CU-Boulder's geological sciences department.
"We set out to try and eliminate the possibility of one or more large,
overdue earthquakes in the Himalaya occurring very soon, and we have failed.

"We looked for geophysical loopholes that might provide alternatives to such
devastating events, including recent, large earthquakes, smaller earthquakes
to relieve the underlying pressure or very slow-moving earthquakes," he
said. "But none of these scenarios fit."

A paper on the subject by Bilham, CU-Boulder geological sciences Professor
Peter Molnar and Vinod Gaur of the Indian Institute for Astrophysics in
Bangalore, India, appears in the Aug. 24 issue of Science.

The conclusion, said Bilham and Molnar, who also are fellows at the
CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental
Sciences, or CIRES, is that at least one 8.1 to 8.3 magnitude earthquake and
perhaps as many as seven are overdue. The Himalaya face south toward India
in an arc about 2,000 kilometers in length.

"In the past decade using satellite technology we have measured India
advancing toward Tibet at a rate of two meters per century," he said. "The
historic record indicates only two great earthquakes in the Himalaya in the
past two centuries, suggesting that the slip along 70 percent of the arc
potentially may exceed four meters," he said.

Looking at the data prior to 1800, the researchers found very few giant
historical earthquakes. "In some parts of the Himalaya there may have been
no great earthquakes for 500 years, yet they are known to have occurred over
time since their effects can be viewed in trenches across the faults that
lie beneath the frontal ranges of the Himalaya," he said.

Dividing the Himalaya into 10 regions of about 220 kilometers -- each
roughly corresponding to a past great earthquake -- the team found that 70
percent of the arc could have a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and 40 percent
could have one as large as 8.3, he said.

The data indicate that the slip zone located about 12 kilometers underground
between the Indian and Asian plates is comprised of hot, steamlike fluid.
The temperature, pressure and amount of fluids affect the entire seismic
system, said Bilham.

"The main driving engine in the system is the movement of the Indian plate,
which winds up the Greater Himalaya like a giant spring compressed against
the Himalayan Plateau," he said. "Deep beneath Tibet, India slides northward
with comparative ease.

"We know the inevitable outcome," he said. "The lock holding the spring will
break, propelling the Himalaya southward in a giant earthquake. A giant
earthquake is the only solution to have these plates unzip and slide."

Less than one-third of the volatile Himalayan Mountains have slipped in the
past 200 years, said Bilham. After calculating a slip rate of 20 millimeters
a year along much of the Himalayan arc, six of the 10 regions show a slip
rate of from 4 to 8 meters each 200 years -- equivalent to movement that can
trigger earthquakes magnitude 8 or above.

"Sadly, to have the Indian and Himalayan plates 'unzip' to remove the
geologic stress requires one or more giant earthquakes to occur," said
Bilham. "This is where we tried to prove ourselves and the geophysics wrong.
We failed."

A large earthquake would cause devastating seismic shaking in the Ganges
Plain in India, for example, where the urban population has increased
10-fold in the past century, he said.

The staggering growth of India -- the population has quadrupled since the
turn of the century and doubled to 1 billion people since 1950 -- puts an
enormous number of people at risk, said Bilham. "Now we are talking about 10
million people at risk from a single earthquake. Never before have we seen
such a huge human geological target."

Dennis Mileti, project director of CU-Boulder's Natural Hazards Research and
Applications Information Center, said the potential for great earthquakes in
developing countries like India require teams of international experts to
advise policymakers on geology, social psychology and mitigation engineering
in order to reduce loss of life.

Relatively simple remedies can be effective, Mileti said. For example,
people in such earthquake zones should be aware of the need to use rags to
cover their faces and prevent suffocation. In addition, severe injuries to
earthquake victims can cause them to die because crushed muscles release
deadly toxins into their bodies, he said. If kidney dialysis machines and
portable generators were available in such disasters, many more lives could
be saved.



>From Oliver K. Manuel <>

Dear Benny,

Ill health made it impossible for Fred Hoyle to participate in the 1999 ACS
Symposium that Glenn Seaborg and I organized on the Origin of Elements in
the Solar System*, but many measurements reported there support

1.  The solar system formed catastrophically from debris of a single
supernova (SN). The outer SN layers produced the giant gaseous planets; the
Sun formed on the collapsed SN core. Material
surrounding that compact object formed the cores of the inner planets.

2.  About half of the Sun's energy is generated by neutron emission from its
core; the rest comes from fusion of the n-decay product (H-1) as it migrates
upward.  3 x 10^43 H-1 atoms per year reach the surface and depart in the
solar wind.

3.  On the upward journey, H selectively carries lighter elements and the
lighter isotopes of each element to the solar surface, making it 90% H + 9%

4.  When corrected for mass-fractionation seen in the isotopes of elements
from the solar surface, the bulk Sun is found to consist mostly of Fe, Ni,
O, Si, S, Mg and Ca --- the same elements Harkins found in 1917 to comprise
99% of the material in meteorites.

5. Residual radiation from the SN explosion is the likely source of
micro-wave background.

These conclusions from 40 years of measurements were presented in March of
this year at the 32nd Lunar & Planetary Science Conference (abstract #1041)
and at the SOHO/ACE Workshop on Solar and Galactic Compositions in Bern,
Switzerland. The manuscript will be censored from the SOHO/ACE proceedings.
- Oliver


William D. Harkins, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 39, 856-879 (1917).

Science 195, 208-209 (1977).

Meteoritics 15, 117-138 (1980).

Geokhimiya no. 12, 1776-1800 (1981).

J. Inorganic & Nuclear Chemistry 43, 2207-2216 (1981).

Comments on Astrophysics 18, 335-345 (1997).

J. Radio-analytical & Nuclear Chemistry 238, 119-121, 213-225 (1998).

*Origin of Elements in the Solar System: Implications of Post-1957
Observations, (Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, NY) Proceedings
of the ACS Symposium organized by Glenn T. Seaborg and Oliver K. Manuel
(2000). See articles on pp. 279-287, 401-406, 431-499, 519-527, 529-543,
589-643 and web page at 46562-0

Other manuscripts in press are based on a report to the funding agency:


>From The New York Times, 28 August 2001

Associated Press
Nine months ago, a British Egyptologist reported that she had probably
solved the puzzle of how the ancient Egyptians had aligned the pyramids of
Giza to true north and approximately when they did it.

But two specialists in the observational techniques and history of astronomy
now say she got it wrong. They exposed an important mathematical error in
the Egyptologist's published calculations. She has conceded the mistake, but
contends that this does not invalidate the method she proposed to explain
how the pyramids were aligned.

In her original report in the journal Nature, the Egyptologist, Dr. Kate
Spence of the University of Cambridge, said the pyramid builders could have
used two stars, Kochab in the Little Dipper and Mizar in the Big Dipper, to
find the North Pole.

The positions of stars in relation to Earth drift over time. According to
astronomical data, 2467 B.C. is the year in which a vertical line that goes
between the two stars passes exactly the trajectory of the pole.

So if this method of alignment was used, Dr. Spence estimated that
construction of the royal tombs, near Cairo, probably began between 2485
B.C. and 2375 B.C. Current estimates based on chronologies derived from the
reign of pharaohs generally date the erection of the three huge pyramids at
roughly 2500 B.C.

Historians have never been sure of the reliability of dates in the early
Egyptian civilization. And scholars have long been intrigued by the
precision of the pyramids' alignment, which led them to suspect that the
Egyptians must have had a better understanding of astronomy than indicated
in ancient texts.

Checking Dr. Spence's calculations, Dennis Rawlins and Keith Pickering
almost immediately recognized a mistake in using observations of the two
stars to establish true north at Giza. Mr. Rawlins is editor of DIO, The
International Journal of Scientific History, published in Baltimore. Mr.
Pickering is a computer scientist with the Analysts International
Corporation in Minneapolis.

Writing in the Aug. 16 issue of Nature, Mr. Rawlins and Mr. Pickering said
that a correction of the error "points more strongly to a different pair of
stars," Thuban and Draconis, as the objects for alignment measurements. In
that case, they argued, the date on which the pole would have been
equidistant from each of the stars, thus making it possible to orient the
pyramids to true north, would have been considerably earlier - 2627 B.C.

Mr. Rawlins and Mr. Pickering also questioned whether Egyptians were capable
of making the required observations in a matter of a few seconds. "Spence's
method, although possible, would require agile quickness," they wrote. But
the authors applauded Dr. Spence's "creativity in pointing out the
possibilities of orienting the pyramids by observing northern stars higher
in the sky and near to the meridian."

In her response, Dr. Spence said the argument for a different set of stars
was "unconvincing" and the proposed earlier date for the pyramid
construction "cannot be accommodated by the archaeological data." Besides,
she wrote, the error "does not invalidate my method," because revised
calculations, she said, still yielded the same results.
Copyright 2001, The New York Times

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