Sent: 11 September 2003 11:08


"A pessimist is a person who is always right, but gets no enjoyment.
An optimist imagines that the future is uncertain. Our duty is to be
an optimist. Then we are prepared to do something about any threats."
   --Edward Teller, Near Earth Object Interception Workshop 1992

"Many of the giants of our age have been concerned about the
asteroid/comet danger and about our need for emergency preparedness.
Few have done more to help us to begin this important work
than Dr. Edward Teller."
   --Andy Smith, CCNet, 11 Sept. 2003

(1) WHY NOW?
    Edward Teller

    Sir Arthur C Clarke

    Andy Smith

    Oliver Morton

    Benny Peiser


                           "WHY NOW?"

        Hand-transcribed text of an after-dinner speech by

                       Dr. Edward Teller

             on the occasion of his 84th birthday
                       January 15, 1992
                Los Alamos National Laboratory

{Note: This was a banquet speech to the NASA-sponsored Near Earth Object
Interception Workshop, following birthday festivities, which included
the naming of asteroid 5006 (1989 GL5) in Teller's honor by its
discoverer, Eleanor Helin.}

There are two answers to the question "Why Now?"

First, in the last three years very remarkable changes have occurred
in the world. One of them is that I can visit Hungary. What has happened? 
Nobody present, nobody in the world, had foreseen it. Now, for the first
time, incredible things can really happen, including international
cooperation on a subject like defense against asteroids.

I cannot pass over, in talking about this subject, the indirect
and powerful ways our national laboratories contributed to what
has happened. Nuclear energy did not have the possibility of
remaining undiscovered. That it has been discovered and has been
used - probably not without mistakes, but without major mistakes -
has persuaded people who had been previously impotent and unforthcoming
to find leaders to take them one big step toward peace. That the
Russian people stood up in incredible numbers to defend their own
freedom and that of others... this was made possible by the magnificent
fact that nuclear power rested in the hands of those who did not
misuse it in a truly major way, in the hands of our government
which is in fact dedicated to peace.  It is a reason to say that we
can work on all knowledge leading to technology in the confidence
that people will use it properly...the role of the national laboratories
in bringing this about cannot go unmentioned. The big changes in the
world give a reason for "why now," and "why here" (at Los Alamos).

There is another reason: because of a remarkable number of technological
developments which have made it possible to do something about
meteorites. Computers, radar, lasers, nuclear energy... you will see
how each of these has contributed. We are now facing a problem that
before the Tunguska meteorite could not be addressed. These methods
were not available. Now they are.

I would like to make my main statement. It will be brief, but the
consequences are long. Here is my recommendation about what to do
with the opportunity that is here. We must do this in four separate
phases, one at a time. Therefore, we must give the lion's share of
attention to the first phase: knowledge.

We must find out about meteorites. A lot has been found out. Very much
more remains to be found out. In what ways? Many are obvious. I'll mention
two special points, which have not received detailed emphasis
as yet in this meeting. One is the incredible developments in Livermore
in the improvement of lasers. We can now concentrate a lot of
illumination in a narrow spectral region for a short time, with laser
pulses a hundred times cheaper than before (in terms of megabuck per
megawatt). Powerful lasers have already focussed on the moon.
With the help of rockets, or even from the Earth, we can illuminate
a meteorite that passes closer than the moon. We could heat up the
surface and watch it cool, yielding information about its conductivity.
The importance of this subject is now evident to me, although not
before yesterday.

A second example. Shall we look at them from Earth or from space? 
I don't know. But I will give an argument to look at them from space,
because it is not completely obvious. If we put the telescope on a
(low) orbiting satellite, it can see all of the sky and with no
disturbance from the atmosphere. Clearly one of their important
properties is their changing brightness because of their rotation and
changing position. These intensities can be measured from the ground.
They can be measured more quantitatively if the atmospheric
disturbances are corrected, but the disturbances cannot be eliminated
as completely as if you didn't have them in the first place.

I have a practically religious belief that the most important thing
is knowledge, which is in principle good. We need to measure
intensities to 0.1%, which can be done by CCD's. Unlike photographic
plates, which are clumsy and old-fashioned, CCD's report directly to
a computer, and then you can perform miracles. With 50 bits to a hundred
bits you can get accurate positions of stars and spectral lines. The
Sun changes intensity % to 1% every eleven years. We have similar
information to date on a few dozen stars. Let's get stellar variability
to 0.1% for a million of them, 10^8 bits. Ask the computer to check
the catalog. We don't want to know this to find out about the long-term
energy variation in stars - it has been a million years from the
production of energy to when it is emitted. What we see on the short
term is due to hydrodynamics, which we don't understand (except for
Cepheid variables). We're ignorant about the smaller variations.
Why do we want to know about them? I'll tell you after I find out.
Galileo said look first, then find out what the problems are.
From space you have a better possibility of learning about meteorites
and also about this entirely different branch of science.

This project might be done internationally; a national effort would
be difficult and expensive. But the public interest exists for this
first step of knowledge.

The second step is experimentation. Every year one of these potentially
dangerous meteorites (it is not actually dangerous) comes closer than
the moon. We should send out satellites to discover them, try to do
what you would do for defense if you needed to, whether nuclear or
non-nuclear. We can give an absolute guarantee that we will have no
detectable radioactivity on the Earth.  These could be stones, rubble
piles, a comet, chondrites, iron meteorites - whatever - you take
the best look at them and experiment, so if and when a real danger
occurs, you have already practiced. Do it internationally. The United
States should pay less than half the cost; this is not to save dollars,
but criticism from other nations would be much more constructive if they
were paying. The planning, the money, the actions should all be
international. If a threat occurs, the knowledge from our
experimentation can be used.

The third phase is defense against a meteorite that is going to hit.
One might think about starting to make plans about who decides what
to do when it happens. Perhaps it is good to make plans. I'll say why
it might not be good. I hope that we will have more than three months'
notice, not about a hypothetical object, but about a real one that
will hit. Maybe we should evacuate 1,000 people or maybe we should
use one of the methods we have already practiced. If the decision on
how to decide is made in advance, it will be made by bureaucrats. 
If the threat is happening, the people will decide; I trust the
people better. If the object is deflected, then we have step number

As step four, we can make plans for the safety of the whole future.
I would like to practice on a small one because there is a 99% chance
that a small one will come before a big one, so it is the optimal

In this extraordinary time, which is the end of three years of miracles,
we are looking into only the possibility of a better future, because
there are big and different changes for different people in 1992 (like
starvation). This is a crisis for which the Chinese symbol that means
both danger and opportunity applies.  Defense against meteorites is
one way to make the opportunity more and more real.

I will make a more general remark about how the opportunity should be
used. The right solution was proposed in early 1946 to the U.N. Its
outstanding characteristic was to seek security in cooperation and
openness (not secrecy) in the ashes of the Lilienthal report. It was
proposed by Oppenheimer, who was not a right-winger; and by Baruch,
who was not a left-winger, and presented to the United Nations. All
political parties supported it, the right solution, but it went to
nought due to the veto of Stalin. It involved an International
Atomic Development Authority with limited but sufficient powers. 
I think we can succeed now.

Two last things.  First, you might call me over-optimistic. We should
be daunted by neither war nor meteorites. Man has been called a
problem-solving animal. Man and woman are called problem-creating
animals. We will have new problems to solve. I am optimistic, however,
and not only because it is my birthday.

Second, a pessimist is a person who is always right, but gets no
enjoyment. An optimist imagines that the future is uncertain.
Our duty is to be an optimist. Then we are prepared to do something
about any threats.


Sir Arthur C Clarke, Sri Lanka

Dear Benny,

Thanks - quite a guy! But don't think we ever had any contact.
As you know, I've tackled this subject in HAMMER OF GOD - and in
RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA - where I chose tomorrow - WTC + 2! - for the
catastrophe...And invented the name SPACEGUARD...
Hard at work on THE LAST THEOREM - my final novel.
All best,

Arthur        10 Sept 03


Andy Smith <>

Hello Benny and CCNet,

Many of the giants of our age have been concerned
about the asteroid/comet danger and about our need for
emergency preparedness. Few have done more to help us
to begin this important work than Dr. Edward Teller.
In the early 90's he participated in many of the key
technical planetary defense (PD) conferences and we
dedicated an asteroid to him, as a tribute. He was
also instrumental in promoting the landmark
international Planetary Defense Workshop (Livermore,
Ca.,1995)and the preservation of the outstanding
proceedings, on the Web. We will remember and miss

AIAA Planetary Defense Conference - 23-26 Feb. 2004

It is a pleasure to report that the program for the
AIAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC)seems
outstanding and it should be on the Web soon, along
with registration information. The conference is
international, in scope. It will address the basics of
PD and examine several emergency scenarios. Some of
the Space Guard and Space Shield folks are involved.
The Aerospace Corporation is doing a lot of the
planning and organizing - to their great credit.

The AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics) has been in a leadership role, on this
important subject, for more than a decade. They wrote
two important  policy papers which helped to start
some of the key programs and we are grateful to them
for their many contributions.

A Salute to the B612 Foundation

This outstanding new program seeks to promote the
development of an NEO deflection capability by 2015
and we certainly welcome them to the club.
Astronaut/scientist/engineer Rusty Schweickart has
been instrumental in getting this impressive program
going and he will make a major input to the AIAA PD

We hope they will involve the excellent specialists
from Russia and elsewhere and that this will be an
outstanding international effort. Many of the papers
at the 1995 PDW (on the Web) pointed to the importance
of this capability and to our global ability, even at
that time, to develop a defensive system. What we need
is a sufficiently high priority and modest funding. 

Most of the PD equipment needed is on-the-shelf, so
such a program can and should be very cost-effective.
Our estimate of the time required to assemble and
launch one or more defensive missions, in the 90's,
was about 2 years. A good global program should be
able to reduce that to a few weeks and to improve the
effectiveness, markedly.
We thank Rusty and his associates for their efforts
and we wish them well. Many of the astronauts and
cosmonauts have strongly supported PD and they could
unite to support B612.

The NEO Hunt

We commmend the dedicated NEO search teams. This will
be another outstanding year and we should again pass
the 400 mark. However, it will not be as good as last
year. Funding and priority problems may be creeping in
again. Perhaps these issues can be raised at the PDC.

Major Thrust

Our further studies of the Tambora induced famines, in
1815 (and the series of subsequent famines), strongly
suggest that the threshold for a global catastrophe is
in the 200 meter NEO range and that the engine is
starvation. Accordingly, we urge the initiation of
programs aimed at meeting the extended emergency food
need. This may require the rapid shifting of food
production and the development of special emergency
crops (perhaps using genetic modification methods). If
any CCNet subscribers have ideas and/or related
activities planned or underway, regarding this need,
we invite communication.

Andy Smith/International Planetary Protection Alliance (IPPA)


Oliver Morton <>

At 9:38 am +0100 10/9/03, you wrote:
> Edward Teller, one the 20th century's most important and most
> controversial scientist died yesterday, aged 95. He was the unsung
> hero of the free world who was instrumental in the West's defeat
> of both Nazi Germany and Sowjet dictatorship.

Benny, what do you see as Teller's instrumental role in the defeat
of Nazi Germany? It's fairly hard to see any way to link the defeat
of Germany to the  Manhattan Project. And besides, Teller's role in
the original fission-weapon development was not particularly great.
After two failures to deliver what was required of him, and in part
at his own request, he was removed from work on the development of the
atomic bomb in the spring of 1944. He did, in his own words "act as
Szilard's chauffeur", driving him out to meet Einstein on Long Island
when the Einstein letter to Roosevelt was being drafted in 1939.
But that, and the rest of his moral support for Szilard and Wigner at
that time, is surely not what you'd call instrumental.

And I'm not sure I'd call him the "father of planetary NEO defence",
either. I'd have though that honour should go to either the
originator of the idea or the person who gets a successful program
started. Studies of interception had been around since the 1960s,
and I don't know of any Teller interest before the late 1980s/early
1990s; nor has anything Teller was associated with matured into a
defence system. Teller may have been far more active backstage than
those of us outside his world can know, and I'd be fascinated to hear
more about that. But if so, it is hard to see to what effect. It's
also worth pointing out that it is conceivable his association with
ideas about planetary defence was actually detrimental, in that there
has always been a suspicion in some quarters that the whole idea is
make-work for idle hands at places like Livermore.

None of this is to say he wasn't a great physicist, a world-historical
figure, and a very imaginative man, to boot -- also one who inspired
touching loyalty in colleagues that bordered on the filial. I remember
that on the last morning of the Erice meeting that Pete Worden arranged
in 1992 (IMS) he talked about Jupiter, realising that it would get hit
by things a lot more frequently than other planets, and speculated as
to whether the Great Red Spot had in some way been triggered by an
impact centuries ago. It was the first thing I thought of when I
heard about Shoemaker Levy. (His idea that large explosions might
influence storm patterns might, I suppose, have arisen from the notion
he briefly explored that nuclear weapons could be used to modify the
weather and relieve a Californian drought, something I once heard
about from a Livermore climate modeller...)

best, o


Benny Peiser <>

Oliver, don't underestimate Albert Einstein's letter in 1939 to
U.S. President Roosevelt. The letter itself was the result of
advise he had received from Teller and Szilard. As it turned out,
their warning that Hitler was already working on an atomic bomb
that "if carried by a boat and exploded in a port might very well
destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding
territory" was wrong. With the outbreak of World War II, the U.S.
administration - against strong popular opposition - began supporting
Britain under siege with large amounts of military and economic
assistance. Eventually, the U.S. recognised that Hitler had to be
defeated by American military force and entered the war. But when
WWII ended, no weapons of mass destruction were found (sounds familiar,
Einstein, Teller and Szilard - three of the greatest scientific minds
of the 20th century - were wrong about Hitler's possession of atomic
weapons, but not about his drive to acquire them. Given enough time,
Hitler might well have developed the first useable atomic weapons.
And the world we live in would be a much different place. On the
second anniversary of 9/11, it is prudent to remember the painful
lessons from our battles against Nazi Germany and Soviet dictatorship
as we face new totalitarian regimes that threaten international
security and the community of free democracies. BP

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Sent: 11 September 2003 14:55


David Whitehouse <>

Dear Benny,

After QQ47, I would say that if the Torino Scale (TS) has been developed
as a PR tool then it is clearly failing. I have heard it said that the
TS is fine but researchers and reporters should understand and use it
better. This is a curiously circular logic. In my view just saying
that shows how inadequate the TS is, being a PR tool that so many
misunderstand and misuse.

Clearly, QQ47 became a story because it was TS1. It remained a story because
of the inertia of a good tale spiced up with some juicy figures, and the
lack of effective media management when it got out. I stayed out of it
because it was not a story (unlike NT7). But when the story became something
else, i.e. there is no real risk, I, like others who initially stayed out,
waded in.

The TS is now the problem, not the solution. The TS is great for journalists
as it gives them opportunities to do stories they would not have had without
it. The TS, unwittingly, has institutionalised sensationalism. I have heard
that the TS is being modified. May I ask by whom, and if many media
professionals are involved, especially those with experience of previous

I think that the comparison of the TS with the Richter Scale is unwise. The
situations are not comparable.

I am also concerned about the way some are analysing past scares in a way
which is not, in my view, either objective or helpful in determining what to
do in the future.

"Cherry picking" individual sentences from press releases and reports, using
them out of context and basing an argument around them leads to a spurious
case. One could equally selectively highlight other sentences in the same
documents and come to an entirely different view. There is a selection effect
here. Quotes are being chosen and used to support a foregone conclusion, and
less convenient ones ignored. This would not be tolerated in science, so why
is it in media studies?

It is a fruitless exercise. It is not the way PR and media professionals go
about things because they know better. They know that such an approach
offers a narrow and unworldly view of the process of communicating
scientific issues to the public. What is one to make of reports (or chapters
in forthcoming books) that analyse the media in such a partial way.

No member of the public looks at reports that way, no member of the press
looks at press releases that way.

Are the annual scares, even if some of them did not deserve to be stories,
causing any real harm? The public are not stupid. How many of them, now,
believe we're all doomed in a few years thanks to QQ47? They know that the
previous scares went away, and even a cursory reading of most of the
articles about QQ47 would have told them that this one almost certainly would
go away as well. Are some not taking this too seriously? As they say, there
is only one thing worse than being talked about...

And do not underestimate the resourcefulness of journalists who will
constantly surprise with the way they can get a story seemingly out of


David Whitehouse
Science Editor
BBC News Online

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please contact the moderator Benny Peiser <>.
Information circulated on this network is for scholarly and educational
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any other purposes without prior permission of the copyright holders.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in the
articles and texts and in other CCNet contributions do not necessarily
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CCCMENU CCC for 2003