CCNet 69/2003 - 8 September 2003

FEAR no more. The giant asteroid predicted to hit the earth in 2014 is now
believed to have strayed off track. However, Irish experts monitoring
outer space say they believe one will wipe us out eventually.
    --Louise Healy, The Irish Independent, 7 September 2003

Every few years, astronomers who study asteroids are accused of crying wolf...
Experts say alarms like these are the price we pay for better surveillance
of the heavens -- and they're likely to continue as long as astronomers keep
looking skyward.
    --Duluth News Tribune, 7 September 2003

The complete misreading of the original purpose of the Torino Scale and its
unacceptable use as a PR tool demonstrates its inherent flaws rather drastically.
Its structural ambiguity and incoherent terminology has proved to be part of
the problem rather than a solution to our communication predicaments.
It's time to ditch it for good!
     --Benny Peiser, 8 September 2003












Benny Peiser <>

What should the NEO community do after the pointless, ill-advised and
misleading asteroid scare over QQ47? Some U.S. "experts say alarms
like these are the price we pay for better surveillance of the heavens --
and they're likely to continue as long as astronomers keep looking skyward"
(Duluth News Tribune, 7 Sept 2003; see full article further below).
Others advocate that we continue with "business as usual".

A number of colleagues, however, reject resigned immobility and demand
effective changes to the way NEO information has been handled (rather poorly)
by the scientific community (see comment by Halloway, Asher and Bailey,
CCNet, 6 Sept 2003). Today, Brian Marsden goes further and asks
whether we should simply eliminate all Torino Scale values from the various
impact risk pages. I fully support this idea and recommend that the
NEO community discards the use of the Torino Scale altogether.
It has become quite obvious during the QQ47 mishap that the Torino Scale
itself has become a liability rather than an effective tool to communicate
unambiguous and reassuring information to the public. Not only has the Torino
Scale ( failed in its main aim of enlightening the
public. It has proved to be counter-productive and has turned into an apparatus
for misunderstanding and confusion.

The fact is that the Torino Scale, its ahistorical rating system and bewildering
terminology, is simply not well understood - not even by many NEO experts.
After all, if even experienced astronomers advising the NEO Information Centre
don't seem to understand its purpose and modus operandi, how should journalists,
let alone the wider public, get it?


The trouble with the Torino Scale can easily be glimpsed in the first sentence
of the NEOIC statement released on 2 Sept.: "A potential asteroid impact on 21
March  2014 has been given a Torino hazard rating of 1, defined as 'an event meriting
careful monitoring'".

This turn of phrase is of course pure nonsense! First of all, it is a sweeping
statement and as such inaccurate since NEODyS had already downgraded QQ47 two days
earlier to the insignificant TS level of 0. The jargon used was also wide of the mark
since it was QQ47, and not a "potential impact" that was registered by JPL Sentry at a
TS level of 1.

But perhaps the biggest inadequacy was the employment of Toriono Scale gobbledygook,
i.e. the confusing announcement that we were dealing with a serious situation,
"an event meriting careful monitoring". The suggestion that the "potential 2014 impact"
of QQ47 was "an event meriting careful monitoring", an important phrase stressed
over and over by the media, insinuated that the public should be wary and cautious.

The Asteroid/Comet Connection website is absolutely right when it criticises the
confusing Torino language directed at the wrong address: "It can take weeks or months,
and sometimes longer, to eliminate impact solutions, and it isn't unusual for a few of
them during the process to rise to TS-1 ("merits special monitoring"), which is only
an alert to orbital dynamicists and to the professional and amateur astronomers who
do the observing." The problem is, it's pure Torino lingo and thus wrongly addressed
at the public!


Then there is another fallacy that is fostered by the Torino Scale: the belief that
additional observations will almost inevitably lead to a reduction of the impact
probability. This was a reassuring message widely emphasised by the NEOIC and the media:

"What is more, any risk of an impact is likely to decrease as further data is gathered,
the [NEOIC] say" (Christine McGourty, BBC News Online, 2 September 2003). "Its potential
strike date is March 21, 2014, but astronomers say that any risk of impact is likely to
decrease as further data is gathered" (Reuters, 2 September 2003).

Even many NEO specialists are still under the impression that it is the *trend* of
calculated impact probabilities that is the crucial issue whether or not to issue
a public statement. As Mark Kidger, a senior NEO observer and researcher argued last
week: "As new data is added to the orbit, does the impact risk increase or decrease?
If it decreases then there really is nothing to worry about. Only in the very rare
cases where it *increases* should the object be highlighted." (Mark Kidger, CCNet,
3 September 2003).

But what if the impact probability in the first few days or weeks goes up?
Is that really reason enough to go public? Can anyone imagine what had happened
if QQ47's impact probability had gone up (rather than down) in the days after
the NEOIC statement? Just imagine the total confusion, anger and dismay: Didn't
the astronomers "say that any risk of impact is likely to decrease as further data
is gathered?" Let me be clear: It is a risky delusion to think that the typical
reduction in impact probabilities will always occur progressively. Any such
public statement can backfire big time.

This is another snare of the Torino Scale with which it can easily mislead and
trap even experienced astronomers. After all, 2003 QQ47 edged back to level 1
on the Torino Scale yesterday - just one day after the all-clear was sounded!
In fact, we could theoretically have the extraordinary spectacle of an object
such as QQ47 rising to level 2 on the Torino Scale even after it had dropped to
0 after one week of observations. What then?

Now, you may think, that would certainly be worthy of a public statement.  After all,
even Richard Binzel, the inventor of the Torino Scale, stressed that "Nobody should
lose sleep over an asteroid in the zero or one category," thus implying that that
you should start worrying about anything that rises higher. And indeed, the
Torino Scale misleadingly declares objects that temporarily - perhaps even just
for one day - reach level 2 "events meriting concern." Concern? What concern?
There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about such a spurious "event" that
can easily come about in the early days or weeks of observations and almost
certainly will go away as quickly as it arrived.

As Brian Marsden stresses in his comment below, Kelly Beatty's implicit
suggestion in Saturday's CCNet (6 Sept.) that Sky & Telescope and other media
outlets should only judge an object that hits TS level 2 or higher as a
newsworthy event is therefore just as mistaken. Indeed: Why make a big fuss about
inherently erratic fluctuations of impact probabilities in the early stages of
observation when the next set of data to arrive may eliminate any potential risk

For many years, Brian Marsden and other critics (myself included) have pointed
that in the future we could find an object reaching as high as TS level 6 (i.e.
according to the Torino "we're-all-gone-die" terminology, "A close encounter
with a significant threat of a collision capable of causing a global catastrophe"),
with the associated worry to the public, before plummeting to zero as soon as
extra data allow the object's orbit to be calculated more precisely.

Unless we make sure that this cannot happen in the future, I remain
apprehensive about our determination and ability to change our way. We cannot
simply continue with "business as usual", or else the next false asteroid alarm
and media fiasco is just waiting to happen.

My concerns are the more pressing since the NEO Information Centre, in the
aftermath of the QQ47 fiasco, have declared that they will now consider providing
"easy to understand, but accurate, information on all NEOs with a Torino scale
rating greater than zero. If they "merit careful monitoring" they automatically
become of interest to the media and the public**, and it is important that accurate
information is available in an easy to understand format (Kevin Yates, CCNet,
66/2003, 3 Sept. 2003).

The complete misreading of the original purpose of the Torino Scale and its
unacceptable use as a PR tool demonstrates its inherent flaws rather drastically.
Its structural ambiguity and incoherent terminology has proved to be part of
the problem rather than a solution to our communication predicaments. It's time
to ditch it for good!

Benny Peiser


Toronto Star, 7 September 2003

A brilliant fireball meteor as bright as the moon and glowing intensely green slashed across the starry sky over southern Ontario Aug. 30, at 31 minutes after midnight.

Moving generally south to north and angled 30 degrees toward the Earth's surface, the rocky intruder from space may have been as large as a basketball. If it didn't disintegrate in the atmosphere, it likely landed somewhere in Muskoka, Haliburton or possibly farther north.

Lasting only a few seconds before flaming out, the fireball's greenish colour - caused by vaporization of metals as the boulder hurtled through the atmosphere - was noted by everyone who reported the phenomenon.

"It was awesome. It lit up the ground an eerie green," says astronomy buff Gary Martin of Mississauga, who was camping and stargazing that night north of Peterborough.

When a dazzling fireball like this appears, I always seem to be facing the other way or have my head buried my car trunk rummaging for a star atlas. This time, however, I was looking at the right part of the sky as I stood in my roll-off roof observatory north of Kingston.

I estimated its brightness at minus-12 magnitude, not quite as bright as the full moon.

But Martin and other observers who were closer to the fireball's trajectory saw it exceed the full moon's luminosity for a second or two. The green glow was joined by an orange sputtering trail, then darkness folded in again and then the fireball was gone.

Minutes later, three witnesses in widely separated southern Ontario locations heard muffled detonations, which often indicate that the object has broken up and exploded due to increasing atmospheric pressure during the descent.

Where did it come from?

Most space objects larger than bits of gravel originate in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

When asteroids collide, the pieces can be sprayed toward Earth's orbit. Millions or even billions of years later, the rogue boulder meets its fiery end in brief splendour as it lights up the sky as a fireball.

There are bigger objects from the asteroid belt that can potentially hit us, such as kilometre-wide asteroids known ominously as "continent wreckers."

Take, for example, the newly discovered 2003 QQ47, a 500-metre-wide asteroid that astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory last month said had a one in 250,000 chance of colliding with the Earth in the year 2014.

Although correct, this actually was a misleading statement. They shouldn't have said it that way.

Some of the world's cleverest rocket scientists work at JPL, but in many ways they work entirely outside the reality most of the rest of us inhabit.

To them, odds like one in 250,000 mean that the occurrence is exceedingly improbable. But to headline writers at publications like the National Inquirer it means Asteroid on collision course with Earth!

What the guys at JPL really meant to say was "Long before the asteroid gets anywhere near Earth in 2014, we will know precisely what the miss distance will be."

Since about half a dozen asteroids like 2003 QQ47 are discovered every year, one would think scientists would avoid generating potentially scary sound bites.

Terence Dickinson is editor of Skynews magazine and author of several books for backyard astronomers.

Copyright 2003 Toronto Star


Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log, 5 September 2003

Lumps in space continue to make news, even after astronomers ruled out a catastrophic asteroid strike in 2014. In Los Angeles, a falling meteor created a spectacular show Thursday night. The Keck II Telescope has captured high-resolution images of Davida, a 200-mile-wide rock in the main asteroid belt. And the Hubble Space Telescope has mapped out a comet's nucleus to show the way for the Rosetta space mission.

How much do you want to hear about comets and asteroids that might (or might not) hit Earth? Cosmic Log readers responded to that question, which was posed earlier this week:

Ryan Williams: "Well, the media will broadcast what they will, and observatories will need to communicate their findings so that other observatories can help pin down the asteroid's orbit, so the news will get out. However, this is not an Amber Alert. The general public doesn't need to turn their eyes skyward to look for danger. Unfortunately, if an announcement wasn't made, the media could blow the situation far out of proportion. I don't see this trend changing until the media decides to restrain itself for the better good, or more likely becomes bored with the subject's lack of interest as their viewers begin to suffer from 'a boy crying wolf' syndrome."

Amber, Davenport, Iowa: As a mother of three, and my oldest living 500 miles from me, yes, I would want to know immediately. Even if it turned out to be a 'crying wolf' scenario, at least I would have the opportunity to be with my daughter, just in case. I would like the opportunity to say goodbye, if it turned out to be a deadly situation. Every mother out there, I believe, would want that opportunity."

Trish, Memphis, Tenn.: "Yes, I would want to know if an asteroid was to hit Earth. Of course, people would panic, and there would probably be crime, but I would like to be able to spend my last minutes with my family in the Bahamas, spending every dime I had."

John Lindsay, Stuart, Va.: "Many more thanks should be given to our scientists who watch the skies for hidden dangers while we are at the beach or hiking in the mountains. Thank you, NASA, and all of those who are contributors to the exploration of the unknown!"

Christopher Eldridge, Harrisburg, Pa.: "I think it should continue to be reported, but with a bit less of the 'end-of-the-world tone.' (At least until the threat moves up the scale - like to something beyond "one," please!) We are new at this, and in time people will begin to know how
best to categorize these things for themselves. ..."

Copyright 2003, MSNBC


Duluth News Tribune, 7 September 2003

EYES ON SKIES: A former shuttle astronaut says more vigilance -- and money -- is needed to help prevent large space rocks from hitting Earth.

Every few years, astronomers who study asteroids are accused of crying wolf.

In 1998, one group predicted that an asteroid was headed toward a collision with Earth in 2028. A day later, another group said the estimate was based on faulty data and there was no chance of a disaster.

In April 2002, astronomers announced that they had found an asteroid a half-mile wide that has a 1-in-300 chance of hitting Earth. But it turned out that Asteroid 1950 DA, as it is formally known, won't arrive until March 16, 2880.

Hollywood has done its part, too. Movies such as "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" have entertained millions with tales of death-dealing rocks that are heading Earth's way.

Experts say alarms like these are the price we pay for better surveillance of the heavens -- and they're likely to continue as long as astronomers keep looking skyward.


"These asteroids were passing by before -- it's just that we didn't have an ability to see them," said Clark Chapman, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Arizona.

Asteroids are small celestial bodies that orbit the sun, mostly between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe that they are made of the same rocks and metals that formed the planets, and they have long been objects of curiosity and concern.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for example, spends $3 million a year to search for asteroids that are potentially big enough to wipe out the planet -- meaning bodies at least a kilometer (about 0.6 mile) in diameter.

About 100 scientists and researchers work on the asteroid search around the world, and they expect to have 90 percent of the dangerous rocks identified by 2008.

But at least one group of astronomers says that effort isn't enough.


"We're not alarmists. We're not worried about this happening tomorrow. We're just saying more attention should be paid to something that could really turn off the lights in a big way," said Thomas D. Jones, a former shuttle astronaut and leader of an effort to increase funding for asteroid searches.

According to the Southwest Research Institute's Chapman, the world's current asteroid fixation dates back to 1980, when Luis W. Alvarez hypothesized that a large asteroid had wiped out the dinosaurs by hitting Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"If one killed off the dinosaurs, I guess it hit home that someday one could kill us off," Chapman said.

NASA began to focus on asteroids in 1990, when a series of highly publicized close calls piqued public interest and prompted Congress to appropriate funds to search for them. Spaceguard, a worldwide effort established in 1991, has so far found 650 asteroids at least a kilometer wide.

In a recent letter to Congress, Jones joined 10 astronomers, historians and other experts who argued that Spaceguard's efforts aren't enough.


They want the United States to increase spending almost sevenfold to build better telescopes and look for smaller asteroids. The smaller rocks, they note, hit more often -- about once every thousand years. Their impact would have the force of a nuclear blast that could destroy major cities and perhaps entire countries.

Most asteroids are in a doughnut-shaped belt between Mars and Jupiter. They revolve in the same direction as Earth and take three to six years to complete an orbit. But others reside outside the belt, and any that approach within 30 million miles are classified as Near Earth Objects, or NEOs.

Based on records of asteroid hits and the number of asteroids actually found by astronomers -- about 100 a year -- experts estimate that there are roughly 1,100 NEOs. But that's just a guess.

"We really don't know how many there are," said Brian Marsden, who operates the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., where newly discovered asteroids are listed.

Scientists agree that a strike by a kilometer-wide asteroid would cause global catastrophe, clouding skies, dropping temperatures and killing off most plants and animals. Even smaller asteroids that break up in the atmosphere can cause tremendous destruction.


A key question: Is there anything we can do about an Earth-bound asteroid once we know about it? Movies notwithstanding, technology to throw an asteroid off-course would take about two decades to develop, said David Morrison, who oversees NASA's asteroid efforts at the Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. The method would depend on the asteroid's composition, size and speed, but recent studies have focused on changing its orbit with rockets or solar deflectors planted on the surface.

Still, the chances that a kilometer-wide "doomsday asteroid" will hit us are minuscule -- by NASA's estimate, once or twice every million years.

Copyright (c) 2003 Duluth News-Tribune


The Age (Australia), 7 September 2003

By John Elder

They came around the corner looking a little flushed: two women shaking their heads as if to say "well, what can you do?" There was a child in tow, a little girl with a Prince Valiant cut that played hell with her near perfectly round face, maybe six years old and still looking like a baby.

I was thinking she'd grow out of it eventually, when both the women said a very hearty "good evening," stopping as they said it, and then I stopped to say it back. They looked the happiest people in the world, and for a moment they lost their purpose, which was to talk about the end of the world. They wanted to know if I'd made any plans.

The street lights were up and the sky above fading, and there were a good number of people walking briskly by; fresh from the train, the trams. Across Carlisle Street two fellows in front of the fruit shop, packing up the tomatoes and such, were laughing about something, one of them slapping his thigh when the laughter couldn't be stopped. Perhaps they were talking about the end of the world, too.

Consider these two women: so excited when I said I didn't believe the world would end soon. They began talking at the same time, then one of them reluctantly quietened, while the other one asked, "Haven't you heard about the asteroid?"

The strange thing: I had just heard about it, seen it on a television, through the doorway of a laundromat. It was the night of the asteroid - the one big enough to wipe out a continent, predicted to hit Earth in less than 11 years. I didn't think of it so much as the end of the world, but as a very good time to take a cruise, far from all continents.

Then these women appeared with the dead silent child. They said they'd heard about the asteroid two hours before, one called the other; they hit the street soon after. They were with some church that had an elaborate name I'd never heard of (I had no notebook at the time). They were going out with the asteroid on their side.

Then they gave me the message: turn (to their brand of belief about which I knew nothing, beside an enthusiasm for an interactive sequel to armageddon in 2014) or "burn in hell".

They didn't try to pretty it up, get dramatic with talk of wailing and gnashing of teeth. They took turns telling me with nothing but kindness and certainty, "or you'll burn in hell".

When I thanked them for their concern and began to move away, hoping to reach the fruit-shop guys before the laughter stopped, one of the women asked, "Don't you want to set things right?"

Well, of course, I said. When you stop to think about it, sure, I said. As I turned once more to leave, I half expected one of them to clutch me by the wrist and whisper urgently, "There are signs that the end is near. Look out for the signs."

Arriving home, I was told that the Jehovah's Witnesses had also been around, talking about the asteroid - and hell.

The next day on the train, looking for signs, and the fellow across the aisle reading a newspaper, held open, with the front page facing me: a story about terrorist missiles being a real threat to passenger aircraft, and that the airlines weren't taking the threat seriously.

Time passed. A teenage girl came aboard humming, the music so loud in her headset you could hear it tripping along, you could almost hear the words. She might have been 12, off to school. When the song was over, she played it again. Where Is the Love? by Black Eyed Peas.

She mouthed the words, a pouting rap: "What's wrong with the world, mama? People livin' like they ain't got no mamas." She screwed her face up with mock angst and passion when she got to the bit that goes: "Father, Father, Father help us. Send us some guidance from above. Cause people got me, got me questionin' where is the love?"

Later, when I read these lyrics and listened to the song several times on the internet, and then found that Where Is the Love was No. 1 on the ARIA singles charts - in the same week we've been threatened with oblivion, I thought, well, hell, there's another sign. Of something.

Meanwhile, the asteroid story had gone away. That is, after scientists ran the numbers, it was declared the asteroid won't hit the planet. So maybe it had just been a sign too. Like, God got inside the astronomers' computers to shake us up a little. What a guy.


Robert Juhl <>

Dear Dr. Peiser:

For CCNet : The first meteorite impact crater in Japan has been found. Following is an article from the AP covering the discovery, which was made not far from Tokyo.

Best wishes,

Robert Juhl, Fujisawa, Japan

Associated Press, 5 September 2003
Associated Press Writer

TOKYO -- A crater from a meteorite impact more than 20,000 years ago has been discovered in the Japanese Alps, an amateur geologist announced this week. The crater is the first found in this country.

Masao Sakamoto said the crater stretches 900 yards in diameter and spreads out across rugged, heavily forested land in Nagano prefecture (state), about 100 miles west of Tokyo.

Sakamoto, who announced his discovery at an academic symposium earlier this week, said it went largely unnoticed because only about 40 percent of the crater is visible.

"If it had been a clear, pretty circle, it would have been obvious that was a crater," Sakamoto told The Associated Press on Friday. "Everyone around here is really surprised by this."

Sakamoto said analysis of the soil at the site indicates a meteorite about 45 meters (150 feet) across smashed into the area about 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

Sakamoto, an elementary school teacher, said he studied the crater -- located in the town next to his -- for 20 years before he was able to determine it had been formed by a rock from outer space.

At first, Sakamoto thought the mountain ridge and basin might have been formed by a volcano, a fault, or even sculpted out by a glacier. But the soil he found didn't match any of those theories.

After studying craters in the United States and Europe, he discovered some of them had similar features to his ridge -- including a mysterious uneven stretch of valleys and hills in middle of the woods.

Quartz found on the site was then proved to have been formed as a result of the intense heat created by the impact of a meteorite, Sakamoto said.

Sakamoto presented his findings at a symposium sponsored by the National Institute of Polar Research, which is involved in geology and geophysics studies. The announcement was front-page news in Japan.

Sakamoto said he hopes the finding of an impact crater in Japan will allow his colleagues easier access to carry out field studies in meteorite research.

"The biggest honor is to have spurred such opportunities in Japan," he said.

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press,0,31368.story?coll=sns-ap-science-headlines

============ LETTERS ============


Brian G. Marsden <>

In all this unnecessary fuss about 2003 QQ47, which briefly reached
Torino Scale 1, it was heartening to see in Saturday's CCNet some hints
that the trouble was perhaps not so much excessive reporting by the
U.K. NEO Information Centre and the media, but the failure of the Torino
Scale  itself. By calling the Torino Scale "absurd", David Asher succinctly
echoed what several of us were complaining about soon after the Scale was
announced (with so much fanfare) in 1999, and it was encouraging to see Kelly
Beatty's admission that his "original enthusiasm ... was misplaced". However,
Kelly's promise to restrict mention in Sky & Telescope to Torino Scale values of 2
and higher may not be sufficient.  As I pointed out long ago, a shift of only
some 30,000 km could have put 1997 XF11 on 1998 March 11 at Torino Scale 6 for
2028, yet the impact possibility would still have completely gone away the next
day with the recognition of the observations from 1990.  

But the fact is that to have something show up on the NASA/JPL and
NEODys riskpages at Torino Scale 2 (or 6), if only briefly, would in
itself be considered newsworthy--the first time it happens.  It was clearly
also newsworthy when 2002 NT7 went positive on the Palermo Scale, and that
David Whitehouse should have written a story about this was fully
understandable. (When I heard about it two months ago I congratulated him on his
award, which was on the recommendation of a panel of 200 professional journalists
from all over Europe.) 

It is great that NASA/JPL and NEODys are routinely checking for NEA impact
possibilities, essentially in agreement with each other and with updates generally
on a daily basis.  That these remote possibilities exist, if only for a
matter of a few days, is important in that they alert astronomers, including
amateur astronomers, to the importance of making further observations, as well
as of searching for possible images on old photographs, in the expectation that
the additional data will rather quickly render the objects perfectly "safe".
That is all. Given that it is now quite routine, it would actually be completely
appropriate to remove from the riskpages all mention of the Torino Scale values. 
Of course, this might send reporters in the direction of the Palermo Scale values
instead, something they have hitherto been discouraged from using (for reasons that
have never been particularly clear to me).  But there would then be the option of
removing them too, if their use were to inspire too many unnecessary alerts in the
press. Would removal of the scale values result in our failure to recognize a genuine
NEA danger, should that occur?  Of course not! Believe me, if such a case actually
arose, particularly if it were imminent, word would soon get around...
Brian G. Marsden


John Michael Williams <>

Hi Benny.

I only know about the "Torino Scale" what I read in the papers
(and CCNet), but from your most recent issue, I think Asher is
right and that the problem is in the scale, not in the rules for
using it, or in the press's reporting practices.

The scale is supposed to be the way of registering a consensus. 
Such a scale is the mode of converting observations, calculations,
or private discussions into an agreed-upon, public meaning,
at least within the group pf astronomers interested in asteroid "threats".

The scale clearly is unbalanced. There seem to be just two values
in it for an initial consensus to be posted and evaluated: "0" for
"no threat" and "1" for "merits careful attention".  Thus, the designers
of this scale, which has values from 0 to 10, meant for it to be used
to carefully distinguish shades of meaning of how "we're all gonna die",
rather than carefully to shade levels of accuracy in the absence of
any threat.

This is the reason for the recent preposterous misuse of a few,
early observations by observers posting a scale value merely to log
a quest for consensus.

The scale should be revised or discarded. One possible revision
would be to add negative values for cases in which no threat had
been established. For example, values of -10 to -1 might be given
some interpretation based on number of data points and repeatability
of the calculations.

The scale has to be made more logarithmic, so it better amplifies
the range of no-threat observations and compresses possible threats
into maybe one or two values.

If the risk of collision really WAS serious, then why not waste a few
words on it, rather than arguing over which of eight or nine numbers
should be buoying us along on our way to extinction?

                      John Michael Williams


Joshua Kitchener <>

Hi Benny,

I offer a different perspective about 2003 QQ47, and
the now familiar media events which accompany such

As you point out, most of the media are for-profit
companies. Their agenda is to attract attention, and
that means focusing on issues which people tend to be
interested in. The issues that are given attention by
the media are probably reflective of conventional
public interest.

People are clearly interested in asteroids, but not
necessarily because they pose a threat.

CCNet has been described as a newsletter about "NEO
Catastrophism". And, the readers of CCNet should admit
that we have emphasized the impact hazard when
presenting asteroids to the public.

Occasionally asteroids are dangerous, and they
certainly must be tracked, but that is not the primary
reason why people should pay attention to them. They
are a fundamental part of our little corner of space,
and they may even hold the keys to life on Earth.

We may be surprised by the public's receptivity. Not
long ago, there were a couple of magazines about
astronomy, and even the occasional program on public
broadcasting. Today we have specialized science-based
television networks, and countless sites on the
internet. This is all supported by an obvious public
appetite for science and astronomy.

Finally, if we're concerned about a public suspicious
of government conspiracies and coverups, then perhaps
we should address the big question:

What should the policy be if a comet suddenly brightens and
is bound to collide with Earth in six months?

Most respectfully,
Joshua Kitchener


The Irish Independent, 7 September 2003

FEAR no more. The giant asteroid predicted to hit the earth in 2014 is now believed to have strayed off track.

However, Irish experts monitoring outer space say they believe one will wipe us out eventually.

The asteroid subject to current observation - which could kill 1.5 billion people if it were to collide with earth - will now veer off course by approximately a million miles.

Experts had originally predicted that the asteroid would strike at 9pm on March 21, 2014, but confusion is now in the air, with some scientists claiming otherwise.

Those tracking it now calculate that the asteroid - which is two-thirds of a mile wide - will in fact be one million miles from earth, dispelling concerns that it will cause an explosion up to eight million times the size of that experienced in Hiroshima.

Scientists raised fears last week, warning that an area the size of Europe could be wiped out by the 2,600 million-ton rock, which would be travelling at a speed of 750,000mph.

Dr Alan Fitzsimmons, lecturer in astrophysics at Queens University in Belfast, said that if it did hit, "it would take out countries and wipe out the world's climate and millions of people would die on impact."

The aftermath of the asteroid could also have widespread global repercussions, causing huge fire storms and tidal waves.

David Moore of Astronomy Ireland said: "It would put an end to the technological society as we know it and would knock earth's population back to the Stone Age".

The only good news is that the odds of the rock - labelled 2003 QQ 47 - hitting earth are now 909,000/1. The rock is thought to be a 10th of the size of that which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Experts estimate that a space rock 25 yards in diameter hits earth about once every 100 years, and one 75 yards wide smashes into us approximately every 1,000 years.

So, although we may be in the clear for the time being, an asteroid is bound to hit us, said Dr Fitzsimmons.

"It's not going to hit us in 2014," he said, "but an asteroid will eventually hit earth, we just don't know exactly when."

Copyright 2003, The Irish Independent

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