CCNet, 10 September 1999

    FLORIDA TODAY, 9 September 1999

    Michael Paine <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Andrew Yee <>


From FLORIDA TODAY, 9 September 1999

NASA budget cut $1 billion by House; fate lies with Senate

By Larry Wheeler

WASHINGTON - Turning aside complaints from pro-space lawmakers, the 
House cut $1 billion from NASA's spending bill Thursday, moving  to the
Senate the thorny question of giving more money to the civilian space
agency at the expense of veterans health care and low income housing

Unless Republican leaders redraw the budget setting spending levels for
the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Senate appropriators might have to
slice the annual bill for Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and
Urban Development, and independent agencies even thinner than did
their House counterparts.

The Senate VA-HUD appropriations subcommittee has $89.9 billion to 
work with, $5.8 billion less than House appropriators had. The spending
caps led the House to pass legislation Thursday 235 to 187 giving NASA
$12.6 billion in fiscal 2000, $1 billion below this year's spending level.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin warned that a cut that deep would
force thousands of layoffs and lead to closing at least two of the
agency's nine space centers.

Many pro-space lawmakers anticipate NASA will ultimately get the money
back - possibly as part of a broad, 11th-hour spending deal between
congressional leaders and the Clinton administration. 

But at this point, it isn't clear how that could happen without some
budgetary sleight of hand.

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.,
chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate VA-HUD appropriations
subcommittee, were still negotiating Thursday over the shape of the
$89.9 billion bill they must produce.

Mikulski, whose state is home to Goddard Space Flight Center, is fiercely
opposed to the NASA cuts the House approved.

Debate on the House floor Thursday touched on NASA only briefly, as
lawmakers marched through discussions and amendments on other

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, withdrew an amendment that would have
restored nearly $1 billion to NASA after Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y.,
invoked a parliamentary rule that effectively blocked her measure
without a vote.

"I hope to get NASA back to full funding soon," Jackson Lee said.

The bill has the support of GOP leadership. "We have limited funds but
we've done a pretty good job," said Walsh, chairman of the House VA-HUD
subcommittee. "We had to reduce fairly badly NASA's budget. Our choices
are difficult."

Once both chambers have passed a bill, members from Senate and House
will meet in conference to work out their differences.  "The conference
will be fairly difficult," Walsh said. "We have different priorities."

Also Thursday, the House International Relations Committee passed
legislation to withhold U.S. assistance to support Russia's involvement
in the International Space Station unless the White House certifies
Russian companies are not transferring missile and weapons technology
to Iran.

The bill is something of an enigma: while past assistance has come out
of NASA's budget, no funds have been specifically authorized or
appropriated for Russian participation in the space station.

Following the collapse of communist rule, Russia was invited to
participate in the space station project because the Clinton
administration said that country's involvement would save money and
speed construction of the orbiting outpost.

Last year, NASA chief Goldin acknowledged the United States might have
to pay Russia as much as $600 million to ensure it doesn't drop out
of the station project. Lawmakers refused to endorse such payments.

NASA made a $60 million payment to Russia this year after seeking
congressional approval to reprogram money intended for other purposes.

Copyright 1999, Floriday Today


From Michael Paine <>
10 Sept 1999
from Michael Paine
The Planetary Society Australian Volunteers
After a three year break a professional search for Earth-threatening
asteroids will soon begin again in Australia. The project is a
collaboration between astronomers at the University of Arizona and
the Australian National University. It involves refurbishing a
telescope at Siding Spring in New South Wales and providing a very
sensitive electronic detector array, computer pointing control and
automatic detection software.
The project will help to fill a huge gap in our ability to detect
asteroids which might collide with the Earth. Until now the only
professional searches were in the Northern Hemisphere - the southern
half of the sky was not covered. Early detection of a potentially
threatening asteroids is essential if mankind is to have sufficient
time to mitigate the threat. Even the moderate rocket power we have
available today would be sufficient to deflect an asteroid away from a
collision, provided that the action can be taken over decades and the
asteroid is given a little nudge during each orbit around the Sun.
In 1996 the Australian government cancelled the Spaceguard Australia
program, also based at Siding Spring. Between 1990 and 1996 the project
was responsible for about one third of all Near Earth Object detections
and demonstrated the importance of a Southern Hemisphere search effort.
Astronomer Rob McNaught, who is managing the new project, was a member
of that successful team.
Although the ANU/UA project is a welcome development renewed government
funding for an additional telescope will be required if the goals of
the international Spaceguard Survey are to be achieved. That goal is to
discover, within a decade, 90% of Earth-approaching asteroids with a
diameter of 1 km or more. A collision by an asteroid of this size would
be a grave threat to our civilisation and the death toll would likely be
in the hundreds of millions.
For a copy of the joint ANU/UA press release see NASA NEO News:
Australian Spaceguard Survey  (numerous links and
news items)
Australian Proposal


From Andrew Yee <>

New Scientist

UK Contact:
Claire Bowles,, 44-171-331-2751

US Contact:
New Scientist Washington office,, 202-452-1178

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: September 8, 1999, 2 p.m. EDT

A violent blast of radiation spawned the planets

THE formation of the Solar System was hurried along by a nearby gamma-
ray burst, two astrophysicists in Ireland suspect. Rather than aborting
the birth of planets, the flood of energy may have melted primordial
dust grains, seeded the formation of meteorites and helped form the
rocky planets, including Earth.

For over a century, astronomers have tried to understand what made
clumps of dust circling the young Sun melt into chondrules-rocky
beads rich in iron and silicon minerals that make up the bulk of stony
meteorites. Suggestions included shock waves and gigantic flashes of

Now Brian McBreen and Lorraine Hanlon of University College Dublin
suggest that all the chondrules in the Solar System formed in a matter
of minutes 4.5 billion years ago when a gamma-ray burst-one of the
most powerful explosions in the Universe-seared the dust and gas
circling the Sun with intense X-rays and gamma rays. Astronomers
aren't sure what causes gamma-ray bursts, but they may occur when
supermassive stars explode at the end of their lives (New Scientist,
3 April, p 5).

In a paper that will appear in a future issue of Astronomy and
Astrophysics, McBreen and Hanlon calculate that a gamma-ray burst
within 300 light years would have flooded the dusty disc circling the
young Sun with enough energy to fuse up to 100 Earth masses of material
into droplets that cooled into chondrules. These, and the dust from which
they formed, are rich in iron, which would have soaked up X-rays and
gamma rays very efficiently. "It explains the key role played by iron,
which dominates the X-ray and gamma-ray absorption," says McBreen.

If the theory is right, it makes the Solar System more unique than many
scientists would like. McBreen and Hanlon believe that only one Sun-like
star in a thousand would have been close enough to a gamma-ray burst
to form chondrules. Because they also think that the dense chondrules
settle quickly into the plane of a protoplanetary disc and speed the
formation of planets, their theory implies that solar systems such as
ours are rare.

"Forming chondrules really is a long-standing problem, so if this
mechanism accounts for them, that would be pretty fantastic," says
Alan Boss, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington
DC. Still, he is reluctant to rely on an unlikely event as a crucial factor
in the formation of the Solar System, and wonders whether the idea can
explain other features of chondrules, such as their size and abundance.
"I don't think you'd want to invoke it unless it takes care of everything,"
he says.

Specialists in meteorites are intrigued by McBreen's idea. "Chondrule
formation remains a thorny subject, so it's good to see a new idea in
the area," says Ian Wright, a meteoriticist at the Open University in
London. He notes that most of the researchers studying meteorites
believe chondrules did not form all at once, although the case is not
closed. "It will certainly cause debate, and it's an interesting idea
that can be tested in our labs."

Author: Robert Adler
New Scientist issue 11th September 99


From Andrew Yee <>

New Scientist

UK Contact:
Claire Bowles,, 44-171-331-2751

US Contact:
New Scientist Washington office,, 202-452-1178

The world's oceans seem to be draining away

Within a billion years, our planet could be as dry and barren as Mars,
claim geologists in Tokyo. They have calculated that the oceans are
leaking water into the Earth's mantle five times as fast as it is being

Geoscientists believe that a huge reservoir of water is bound up in
minerals in the transition zone between the upper and lower mantles,
about 400 kilometres below the Earth's surface (New Scientist, 30
August 1997, p 22). Water enters the mantle at subduction zones, where
oceanic crustal plates dive under continental plates. It returns to the
surface at volcanic hot spots and mid-ocean ridges, where molten rock
from the upper mantle is pushed up through the Earth's crust.

Most researchers have assumed that these flows are roughly in balance.
But when Shigenori Maruyama and his colleagues at the Tokyo Institute
of Technology tried to provide some hard numbers, they came to a very
different conclusion. Each year, they say, about 1.12 billion tonnes of
ocean water seeps into the mantle's transition zone. Yet they can only
account for 0.23 billion tonnes moving in the opposite direction. "The
world's oceans will dry up (sic!) within a billion years," says
Maruyama. "Earth's surface will look very much like the surface
of Mars (sic!), where a similar process seems to have taken place."

Maruyama bases his calculations on estimates of the volume of rock
being subducted and the volume leaving the mantle, and experiments
showing how much water is absorbed by the minerals, primarily
lawsonite, formed in subduction zones at about 100 kilometres below
the surface.

As they travel deeper, these minerals become unstable and release the
water into hydrous dense silicates, which enter the transition zone. But
this happens only if the temperature increases relatively slowly with
depth -- otherwise the water would be released at a shallower depth and
return to the surface. "In the early part of Earth's history the temperature
gradient in the subduction zones was far too high," says Maruyama. "But
around 750 million years ago the subduction zones cooled to the point
where the process could begin."

Since then, Maruyama estimates, the leakage will have caused sea level
to drop by around 600 metres. This trend would largely be obscured in the
geological record by shorter-term variations in sea level.

Maruyama will present his findings at a meeting of the American
Geophysical Union in San Francisco in December. But his team's work is
already making waves. "The general idea appears quite plausible," says
Raymond Jeanloz of the University of California at Berkeley. The difficulty,
he says, is being sure you've accounted for all the mantle's inputs and

Maruyama believes that his figures for water loss from the oceans are
conservative. But he admits that there are uncertainties about the exact
amount of water emerging from mid-ocean ridges.

Even if Maruyama's calculations are spot on, however, the process will
not counter the short-term problem of sea level rises caused by global
warming. And a billion years from now, the Earth will probably have
bigger problems than leaky oceans. By that time the Sun will be expanding,
making life uncomfortably hot for whoever -- or whatever -- is still
living on the planet.

Author: Peter Hadfield, Tokyo
New Scientist issue 11th September 99

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