CCNet 75/2003 - 16 September 2003

Astronomers from Sydney University have come forth with a solution to a
mysterious new object recently discovered in our Milky Way. In a letter soon
to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical
Society, Dr Alon Retter and Dr Ariel Marom from the Department of Physics
suggest that this phenomenon is an expanding giant star swallowing nearby
planets, an event which may one day befall our own planet....
    --The University of Sydney, 16 September 2003

A Japanese researcher is causing a stir in Tokyo with a prediction based on
his study of radio waves that a major destructive earthquake is highly likely
to hit the city this week. Yoshio Kushida, a well-known self-taught astronomer
who runs his own observatory just outside Tokyo, published on its Internet site
his prediction that a quake with a magnitude of "7" or greater was likely to
strike the metropolitan area on Tuesday or Wednesday. The prediction was soon picked
up by a popular weekly magazine and a major daily...
    --CNN, 15 September 2003

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht
oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and
lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can
sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by
it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.
      --fnoud somewerhe on the innteret, can't rembemer werhe....











CNN, 15 September 2003
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- A Japanese researcher is causing a stir in Tokyo with a prediction
based on his study of radio waves that a major destructive earthquake is highly likely
to hit the city this week.

Yoshio Kushida, a well-known self-taught astronomer who runs his own observatory just
outside Tokyo, published on its Internet site his prediction that a quake with a
magnitude of "7" or greater was likely to strike the metropolitan area on Tuesday or

The prediction was soon picked up by a popular weekly magazine and a major daily.

It has since been spread by word of mouth, prompting some of the more nervous residents
of Japan's quake-prone capital to stock up on bottled water, candles and other disaster

"It's quite frightening," said Ichiro Makita, 48, a company employee who said he had heard
about the prediction from a friend. "I'm trying to avoid old buildings and have stocked
up on emergency supplies like an emergency radio and lamp."

The earthquake research establishment has largely ignored the warning.

Forecasting quakes is generally considered to be impossible with current technology,
and Kushida's method of using anomalies in the VHF range of radio waves to predict
the timing and intensity of tremors has not gained many believers in the scientific community.

Yukio Misumi, a spokesman for the Central Meteorological Agency, said he was familiar
with Kushida's prediction but added that the agency was not doing anything in particular
in response to it.

"Our stance is that we are prepared for a magnitude-8 quake in Japan," he said. "But
presently, there is no scientific method or technology that would allow us to predict
where or when a magnitude-7 might occur. We can't predict earthquakes."

"We have nothing to specifically to say about Kushida's research," he added. "He's
simply expressing his own scientific opinion."

Kushida, however, is convinced he is on to something and has a duty to inform the
public of the threat.

Originally a self-taught astronomer, Kushida opened his private Yatsugatake Observatory
in 1985, using radio waves to track passing meteors.

He got his name on a pair of newly discovered comets before becoming interested in
seismology after the devastating earthquake that hit the western city of Kobe in 1995.


His theory: as pressure builds in the Earth's crust before an earthquake, tiny cracks
and magma movements can affect charged particles in the atmosphere, and the resulting electromagnetic changes can be picked up by radio receivers.

Extrapolating from past examples including the Kobe quake, which left more than 6,000
people dead, Kushida believes the waves indicate a shallow and powerful temblor is very
likely to hit the Kanto plain, where Tokyo is located.

"It would be terrible not to warn people of a possible disaster in case a quake actually occurs," he said.

"If my prediction turns out to be a false alarm, I may face a lot of complaints and
harassment and I may not be even able to continue my research. Even so, I thought I
should warn every one of the possible danger."

Such warnings hit a sore nerve in Tokyo, which was ravaged by a quake and fire in 1923
that killed more than 120,000 people and which experts agree is overdue for another
"big one." Still, some people said they'd rather be scared than unaware.

"The Japanese have a short-term memory when it comes to earthquakes," said Yoshio Aoyama,
64, a company employee. "I think it's good to publish things like this periodically."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Can I remind readers that there is a genuine difference between
disaster scares announced or published by scientists and subsequently reported by the
media, and their critical analysis or dismissal on this network. CCNet is certainly
not a messenger of doom-and-gloom: quite the opposite, it's well know for scientific
optimism and technological confidence in the face of potential hazards. To claim that
CCNet is fuelling the fire of asteroid, global warming or earthquake scares by
*reporting* and *criticising* them, (as a couple of colleagues seem to suggest) is
absurd. Such insinuation comes close to accusing the fire service of sensationalism by
rushing to a house fire in order to extinguish the flames. BP


Nanaimo News, 15 Sept. 2003

Where were you when the big boom hit?

Bill Weller wants people to answer that question to help find what he believes caused that loud bang last week - a meteor striking the earth's atmosphere.

The boom hit Nanaimo last Wednesday just before 1 p.m. It rocked the ground in some places and was heard as far north as Nanoose Bay and as far south as Salt Spring Island.

Theories on its cause ranged from a sonic boom from a military jet through a small earthquake to lightening, but the experts ruled out all those possibilities.

But Weller, a professor of astronomy at Malaspina University-College, says he's sure it was a meteor.

"Having meteors in the daytime isn't an uncommon thing, this one was just a little bigger," he says,

He estimates it was somewhere between the size of a baseball and a watermelon.

If it wasn't destroyed from the impact of striking the atmosphere, there's a chance it struck the ground.

Now Weller wants to get as much information as possible, in case it can be found.

"If anyone heard it, send a report to me at the college and give me their nearest street intersection, and tell me if it was loud or really loud - or if they didn't hear it," Weller says.

Please email or phone 753-3245, extension 2333.

Copyright 2003 nanaimo

New studies show secondary cratering may be of primary importance.

by Richard Talcott

In the high-tech world of modern science, where sophisticated computers tear through complicated calculations, the value of arithmetic might seem negligible. Yet simply being able to count proves to be one of the most powerful weapons in a planetary scientist's arsenal. Counting the number of craters on the surface of a planet or moon is the best way to estimate the age of the surface (assuming you can't bring a sample back to the lab). Planetary scientists pore over detailed images to see how many craters pock the surface. Lots of craters means the surface has been exposed for a long time to bombardment by projectiles; pristine surfaces imply a young age. A key to interpreting the data, however, is to account for the number of secondary craters - those formed when material blasted out by a primary impact rains back down, creating additional craters. Two new studies presented at last week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Monterey, California, highlight the significance of secondary craters. In the first, Edward Bierhaus of Lockheed Martin reported on his team's study of Jupiter's moon Europa.

Europa's surface ranks among the youngest in the solar system. Tidal forces heat the interior, resulting in a global ocean hidden beneath an icy crust. Over millions of years - short in the history of the solar system - the craters melt away. Images from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft show only about 40 large craters on Europa's surface. Yet Bierhaus and his team found that the number of craters rises dramatically when smaller secondary craters are counted. Using high-resolution Galileo images, "we've identified more than 26,000 craters on less than one percent of Europa's surface," says Bierhaus. Nearly all of those are secondaries, created in the aftermath of the few dozen large impacts. Planetary scientists estimating surface ages prefer using smaller craters because they are more numerous and thus yield statistically more significant results. But the team's findings suggest that lots of small craters do not necessarily mean great age. Comets create most of the impact craters in the jovian system, so the lack of small primary craters also implies a possible lack of small Jupiter-family comets. Because many of these comets originate in the Kuiper Belt, Bierhaus thinks the crater study may indicate a scarcity of small objects in the Kuiper Belt.

Finally, Bierhaus thinks that the apparently easy formation of secondary craters may create difficulties with the small-crater record in the inner solar system. As if to emphasize that point, Nadine Barlow of Northern Arizona University reported on her study comparing secondary craters on Mars to those on Earth's moon. Planetary scientists typically apply the well-established link between crater numbers and surface ages derived from our moon to other objects in the inner solar system. Barlow compared the number of secondaries on Mars and the moon produced by relatively recent impacts of asteroids with diameters of 1 kilometer, 5 km, and 10 km. Using detailed images of Mars from the cameras onboard the Global Surveyor and Odyssey spacecraft and of the moon from Clementine and Lunar Orbiter, Barlow found that martian impacts produce fewer secondary craters than do lunar impacts of similar energy. She suspects this happens because larger impacts on Mars rapidly melt ice just below the surface surrounding the site. Some researchers have used crater counts to derive exceedingly young ages for some martian terrains. But because impacts of similar age and energy produce fewer secondaries on Mars than on the moon, Barlow argues that "the quoted terrain ages on Mars are actually older than currently proposed."

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


Kevin Yates <>

Dear Benny,

I was disappointed to read the article in the People on 13 September that
stated 'WORLD SET TO END AT 10PM ON MAY 19, 2031', and I was particularly
concerned to see a quote from me that, by its presence, suggested my
endorsement of the article. Given recent events surrounding QQ47, I am keen
to point out that when I was contacted by the People, it was in the context
of a story about the House of Lords question to Lord Sainsbury. Within the
conversation I was asked about QO104 being on course for Earth in 2031.

I could not have been clearer in my language in pointing out that no
scientist or astronomer was saying that QO104 was a cause for concern, and
that its being a Torino 1 was a fairly routine occurrence. I was then asked
what damage it would cause, to which I again replied that there was not much
point to this type of question, because no one was saying it was going to
impact. The question was then rephrased to what sort of damage an asteroid
'like' this would cause 'if' it did impact. I answered this question, but
stressed the fact that QO104 does not pose a serious threat and any story
that reported it as such would be inappropriate. I was assured that the
story was about the question to Lord Sainsbury.

I hope this goes some way to reassuring the readers of CCNet that the NEOIC
was not the source of this story, and that we did everything we could to
dissuade the People from going down the route they chose.



Kevin Yates (FRAS)
Space Communication Manager
National Space Centre
Exploration Drive
Leicester LE4 5NS
+44 (0)116 258 2130


Alan Fitzsimmons <>

Dear Benny

Re: your latest CCNET roundup (15 Sept. 2003).

It might help non-UK readers to put the latest newspaper articles
into context. Both The People and The Sunday Life are tabloid newspapers,
published on a Sunday.  These papers are generally used as a news source for
the lives of soap opera stars and footballers, rather than scientific
investigations. Hence they unfortunately (for this case) have large
readerships, but are not generally highly regarded.

It is of course highly unfortunate that these stories have appeared, but one
hopes that the UK media are now bored with this subject for some time to

Best Wishes,
Alan Fitzsimmons

P.S. The Sunday Life is a sister paper to a daily Northern Ireland newspaper,
and is essentially a hyped-up version of a story that appeared in there. I
had no prior warning of this story being printed.

P.P.S. I always thought a `boffin' was some type of flightless seabird...

Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons                 Tel: +44 (0) 2890-273124
APS Division                         Fax: +44 (0) 2890-438918
Dept. of Pure & Applied Physics   e-mail:
Queen's University Belfast           WWW:
Belfast BT7 1NN
Northern Ireland


Matt Genge <>

Dear Benny,

I entirely agree with your comments of the last CCNet, except for the bit
about "only fools and horses believe this story". I am under the impression
that horses can't read, although I suppose if someone read it to them, and
they are a very intelligent horse, then you might have a point. However, if
I had said, word for word, ""There is a very good chance that in a mere 10
generations our world is almost wiped out [by 1950DA] and no one seems to
care", I would have to hold my head in shame. I actually just quoted the
probability of 1 in 300, said the asteroid is on the threshold of the size
that could cause global devastation, and said "the public don't seem to
care". It is not a literal quote.

My nutty back of the envelope calculation was, of course, an analogy, and
not directed specifically at 1950DA but at 1 km-sized asteroids in general.
Analogies are one of the best ways to illustrate complex scientific
problems to the public and to encourage them to remember a single important
point. In this case it addresses the common misconception that "nothing
could be done" to divert an asteroid. A Robin Reliant is a suitably amusing
vehicle, with a certain reputation, and showing that the 1000 N it can
generate (in thrust not an impact) is sufficient to divert a 1 km asteroid
given  ten years, makes the public understand that something can be done.
It demonstrates that a small impulse, applied for a long period of time can
divert an asteroid.

The story was covered by all the UK papers and by using a humorous analogy
there are now millions of people who will remember this one small fact "we
can divert asteroids". The coverage was variable, The Sun implied that
Robin Reliants were to be used to divert 2003 QQ47! Why I wonder would we
want to divert it?

The calculation was based on Ahrens and Harris (1994) in "Hazards due to
Comets and Asteroids" who gave an expression for the velocity change
required to divert an asteroid as dv = 0.07(m/s) / t(yrs). Hence the 0.7
cm/s velocity change required. Given a force of 1083 N calculating the
acceleration and the time required to accelerate the asteroid by 0.7 cm/s
is trivial. Of course, this is an empirical calculation and thus a first
order approximation, but it is valid within the assumptions made. I too was
very surprised it was only one Robin Reliant.

All the best,
Matt Genge

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Matt, I very much appreciate your intention to instill
some technological and practical realism and genuine hope into the British
obsession with so-called "doomsday" asteroids. Yes, I share your view that
"we can divert asteroids" - if need be! The problem with using analogies, however,
is that they often tend to compare two things that are too dissimilar. Then an
analogy becomes a false analogy. Discussing one vehicle (car) as analogous to
another vehicle (space rocket) creates a lot of confusion and very little
understanding of the complexities of NEO mitigation. Although several similarities
do exist (both are 'driven' by some form of thrust, just like my daughter's
push chair for that matter...), it is obvious that the differences between these
vehicles are greater by far (their purpose, their mode of 'locomotion', their
target and location, their energy consumption, their thrust, etc.). Since the
differences between a car that moves on a road and a space rocket flying in space
are greater than their similarities, we should perhaps leave such comparisons
to,  ... plonkers ....:-) BP


Andy Hollis <>

All the discussion about the Torino Scale recently is understandable but
seems to dismissive to me.

It is a tool and I would think valid on that basis.  The descriptions are at
fault.  Scale 1 to a scientist being described as meriting careful attention
means just that - get more data.

To the lay public the first reaction is why does it need attention?  Oh dear
it is probably going to hit us.

If scale 1 were just described as "Needs more data" it would not be
inflammatory and much of the scare mongering would (should?) not occur. 
So I wonder whether just a new description for each value would suffice.

Don't ditch just amend/adjust with the light of experience.  It is a tool -
but no more nor less than that.

Regards    Andy Hollis

Dr Andrew J Hollis        Tel  UK 01270 883304


Mark Kidger <>


This comment by Michael Paine appeared in yesterday's CCNet (15 Sept. 03)

"Also in that CCNet, Brian Marsden suggested that the ratio of the days
to impact and the  days of observations be included in a revamped Torino
Scale. This would then be a rough measure of confidence in the impact
prediction. One concern is that, for a short period of observations this
would be highly sensitive to the number of days and could make the
somewhat chaotic current situation (where prediction calculations can
fluctuate dramatically) even more "unstable"."

Yes, there would be some initial instability in the Marsden scale value, but
I think that this is irrelevant. If the cut-off value is set at, say, 1:100,
who cares if a new NEO is fluctuating wildly initially with values from
10^-5 to 10^-7 say? The whole point of this scale is that only objects
with a good orbit and a impactor in the relatively near future would be
flagged as these are the important ones. If the Marsden Scale value is 10^-6
it means either that the arc is very short, or that the impactor is in the
distant future, or both, in which case there is plenty of time to improve the
orbit and get rid of possible impactor solutions before anyone even starts to
think about worrying. However, a Marsden Scale value of 100 indicates a very
solid orbit and/or threat in the very near future and such events are the ones
that we should worry about. In these cases the value would fluctuate strongly
only if there is a short arc and a potential impact is imminent in which case
we should most certainly take the object very seriously!

In other words, the case that Michael Paine posted does not in any invalidate
the Marsden Scale as a tool to guide us on threats.

Mark Kidger


Jacqueline Mitton <>

The University of Sydney

16 September 2003


Astronomers from Sydney University have come forth with a solution to a
mysterious new object recently discovered in our Milky Way.

In a letter soon to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal
Astronomical Society, Dr Alon Retter and Dr Ariel Marom from the Department
of Physics suggest that this phenomenon is an expanding giant star
swallowing nearby planets, an event which may one day befall our own planet.

Their research provides data to support the theory that the multi-stage
eruption of the OEred giant¹ known as V838 Monocerotis observed last year was
fuelled as it engulfed three near orbiting planets. This could be the first
evidence for an event that had been predicted but not known to have been
observed so far.  The work identifies a new group of objects with stars that
swallow planets.

Astronomers had previously been unable to explain a spectacular explosion
that transformed a dim innocuous star into the brightest cool supergiant in
the Milky Way.  The event was originally discovered by Australian amateur
astronomer, Nicholas Brown in January 2002, when V838 Monocerotis suddenly
became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun. In an ordinary nova
explosion, the outer layers of a compact star are ejected into space,
exposing the super hot core where nuclear fusion was taking place.  By
contrast, V838 Monocerotis increased enormously in diameter and its outer
layers cooled and were very disrupted but still conceal the giant's core.
Beautiful images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope showed evidence of a
previous eruption that ejected material from this object in the past. This
too is very unusual.

The Sydney team suggests that the outburst of V838 Monocerotis took place as
it swallowed three massive Jupiter-like planets in succession. Evidence for
this is provided through study of the shape of the light curve and
comparison between the observed properties of the star and several
theoretical works.  In their scenario, in addition to the gravitational
energy generated by the process, there may also have been a rapid release of
nuclear energy as OEfresh¹ hydrogen was driven into the hydrogen burning
shell of the post-main sequence star.

Interestingly past studies have also suggested that the inner planets in our
solar system, Mercury, Venus and maybe even Earth, should be eventually
swallowed by the Sun.  Previous research has proposed that this is in fact a
common characteristic and that many giant stars have consumed planets during
their evolution.  The current work suggests that the engulfment of a massive
planet can cause an eruption of the host star.

Explaining the methods used during their study, Dr Retter said:  OEThe
careful inspection of the light curve of V838 Monocerotis showed that the
three peaks have a similar structure, namely each maximum is followed by a
decline and a very weak secondary peak.  The shape of the light curve
prompts us to argue that V838 Mon had three events of similar nature, but
probably of different strengths. The obvious candidate for such behaviour is
the swallowing of massive planets in close orbits around a parent star.¹

According to this work, there should be more examples of expanding giants
that swallow less and lighter planets thus showing weaker and less
spectacular eruptions.

For further information please contact

Jacob O'Shaughnessy, Media Officer, University of Sydney, telephone: +61 2
9351 4312


Alon Retter,
telephone (work): +61 2 9351-4058    (home): +61 2 9665-3683

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CCCMENU CCC for 2003