CCNet 111/2001 - 30 October 2001

"Croddy said the threat of a virus wiping out the entire human
species is simply not real. Even the most horrific virus outbreak in history, the 1918 Spanish
Flu epidemic that killed between 20 million and 40 million people,
including hundreds of thousands in the United States, eventually stopped.
Experts say new strains of the influenza virus emerge every few
decades and catch the human immune system unprepared, but prevention
measures and ever- evolving medical treatments overcome the outbreaks.
"I'd be much more concerned about an asteroid hitting the planet," Croddy
said. Croddy accused Hawking of speaking more from a religious,
apocalyptic view than from anything based on the facts of science. "What he
said is more biblical than scientific," Croddy said. Besides, he added,
"Earth's not such a bad place."
--Rob Britt,, 30 October 2001


    Michael Paine <>

    Michael Oates <>

    Duncan Steel <>

    Michael Paine <>


[insert] RE: CCNet 111/2001 - 30 October 2001

>From Rob Britt <>

Hi Benny:

Unfortunately an older version of my bioterrorism/space colony article was
published Tuesday morning. We updated it with the new version moments later,
but you were so quick that you distributed the first one. The updated
article contains an additional perspective from Freeman Dyson as well as
slightly different details regarding the support for ARC by Rick Tumlinson.
It should by noted that Tumlinson's Space Frontier Foundation has decided
not to support ARC; instead, another organization run by Tumlinson, called
FINDS, is discussing the idea with Burrows. FINDS issues grants to support
ideas that further the notion of putting humans permanently in space.

Dyson's comments do not alter the story, but they are worth noting:

"I have great respect and admiration for Hawking, but like everyone else he
sometimes talks nonsense," Dyson told Humbly, he added: "Of
course, I too could be wrong."


Robert Roy Britt / Senior Science Writer / / 215-848-8381

Science Tuesday & Astronomy Headlines by Topic:

Science & Astronomy News Briefs:

>From, 30 October 2001

By By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
Plans to save civilization from doom by sending people and important
documents into space in a 21st Century Noah's Ark may get a boost from
heightened fears of bioterrorism.

Psychologists, terrorism analysts and some space settlement enthusiasts
interviewed by said fear is the wrong motivation for any effort to
colonize the cosmos. But it might just work, others indicated, as the
pie-in-the-sky dream of moving to another planet meets the reality of
biological terrorism on this planet.

Expect to pay your way to survival, however, at least in the short run.

The apocalyptic view that humans must leave Earth or perish was raised Oct.
16 by the eminent physicist and author Stephen Hawking, who said a
bio-engineered virus will wipe out the human species in this millennium.
"The danger is that either by accident or design, we create a virus that
destroys us," he told the Daily Telegraph in London.

Hawking is off base, according to several experts who accused him of
ignoring science and speaking in language laced with religious overtones.
One critic called his doomsday prediction "regrettable hype."

Robert R. Butterworth, a psychologist versed in society-wide crises, calls
the idea of leaving the planet "a 21st Century response to an age-old

Butterworth recalls a similar sense of dread that developed late in the last
century. "During the Cuban missile crisis the only reaction was to dig down
and build fallout shelters in the face of a nuclear threat," he said. "Now
instead of digging down we're talking about flying out?"

To consider current threats as a motivation to leave the planet means "we've
resigned ourselves to the fact that the bad guys are going to win,"
Butterworth said. "That's not a very hopeful reason to do anything."

Survival of the elitist

Yet Hawking's comments come at a time when plans are already being discussed
to create a modern Noah's Ark to escape the planet and preserve humanity.
Saving yourself or protecting your progeny, however, will not come cheap.

One idea for an Ark is actually called ARC, for the Alliance to Rescue
Civilization. And if it flies, everything from DNA to important
architectural drawings would make their way to the Moon, a futuristic
spaceport, or some other safe haven. A select group of individuals would go,
too, to maintain the monumental archive and to round out, with live bodies,
what is billed as a way to save civilization no matter what happens on

It's the sort of scheme that since the dawn of the nuclear age has driven
the desire to colonize space. Yet the desire has long been scoffed at,
generating what proponents acknowledge as a significant societal giggle
factor tied to the sci-fi images conjured by such an endeavor. These
proponents have fought an uphill political and financial battle to get the
notion of sending humans beyond Earth orbit back on NASA's agenda.

They have yet to succeed. The space agency has no firm plans to send
astronauts beyond the International Space Station.

So in recent years, many of the movement's most vocal supporters have given
up on NASA. Private enterprise is the only hope, they say, and the almighty
dollar will drive any serious effort to put people on the Moon, Mars or
anywhere else.

Burrows' ARC

ARC is the brainchild of William E. Burrows, author of This New Ocean: The
Story of the First Space Age, and several other books about space, is also a
New York University journalism professor. He's been hatching the concept for
more than a year.

"It's a deadly serious idea," Burrows said in a telephone interview.

"It's not a time capsule," he explained, "but a continuously fed system by
which we would in effect back up the planetary 'hard-drive' system." It
would involve sequestering people, genetic codes, important engineering and
historical documents, photographs and cultural items. "Everything we can get
out of here."

Burrows is not counting on any governmental agency to support his plan. Nor
does he expect the current threat of bioterrorism to compel average citizens
to jump aboard, two-by-two.

"Space is an elite undertaking," he said. "Not everyone came out to say
goodbye to Columbus. Most people want three square meals a day and a roof
over their heads."

But Burrows' idea has caught the attention of the Space Frontier Foundation,
which helped to privatize the Russian Mir space station for a year before it
fell, by leasing it from Russia through MirCorp, which the foundation funds.
The foundation also helped secure millionaire Dennis Tito's trip to the
International Space Station after Mir came down. Now MirCorp has plans to
launch a small, private space station.

"We are developing a possible project with [Burrows]," said Rick Tumlinson,
director of the Space Frontier Foundation. Tumlinson told last
week that the foundation and Burrows are discussing how to fund the
necessary buildup for the ARC program, preliminary steps that would, if
carried out, lead to eventually placing the first documents and people on
the Moon or elsewhere in space.

No agreement has been reached.

"I see it as another rope by which we can pull ourselves off of the shores
of Earth and outward," said Tumlinson. His philosophy for achieving space
settlements is to pursue several lines of otherworldly exploration and
travel, including space tourism, to plant the overall possibilities more
firmly in humanity's consciousness -- and to put them squarely on the
collective human to-do list.

"Going to space requires the cumulative effect of a lot of desires and
activities," he said.

While Tumlinson's goal is to popularize space and to make it accessible to
everyone, he acknowledges that money will largely control who goes and who
stays in the near future.

"At first, the preponderance of people going into space are going to have to
purchase their tickets," he said. "However, there are mechanisms in our
society for regular people to get up there." He means game shows and
lotteries, for which he said negotiations are in the works.

Ultimately, in Tumlinson's view, free enterprise would bring the cost of
space travel down so average citizens could get a new, totally cosmic

We're talking decades down the road, however, even by optimistic estimates.

Meanwhile, Tumlinson said a silver lining could emerge from the current
cloud of terrorism and anthrax scares that have raised fears among

"If this makes people think about mortality ... then in a way this ugly,
terrible thing has done something good," he said. "If we begin to put
mechanisms in place to insure the survival of civilization, then there is a
rainbow in this storm."

Support for Hawking

Prominent author and astrophysicist J. Richard Gott III has been arguing for
years that space colonization is important for the future survival prospects
of the human race. The Princeton University professor embraced Hawking's
words last week in an e-mail interview.

"We stay bound to Earth at our peril," Gott said.

Gott makes the case in his new book, Time Travel in Einstein's Universe,
where he warns that the risk of developing technology to the point that you
can colonize space also raises the possibility that the technology will be
used for ill purposes, such as biological or nuclear warfare.

"So it was especially heartening to me to see that Stephen Hawking has
embraced this idea as well," Gott said. His reasoning extends beyond
Hawking's narrow focus on viruses:

"Whatever may eventually cause the human race to go extinct may well be
something unanticipated -- for it would be, by definition, a cataclysm the
likes of which we had not experienced before," Gott said.

While he stopped just short of saying that current bioterrorism efforts
could fuel a stronger desire in society for space settlement, Gott said it
could have an effect. "The current situation has perhaps made us more keenly
aware of the dangers we face staying confined on the Earth where disasters,
either natural or of our own making, may do us in."

Are we doomed?

Many scientists argue that there is no need to worry about the mortality of
civilization right now. Eric Croddy is an expert on chemical and biological
weapons at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Croddy said the
threat of a virus wiping out the entire human species is simply not real.

Even the most horrific virus outbreak in history, the 1918 Spanish Flu
epidemic that killed between 20 million and 40 million people, including
hundreds of thousands in the United States, eventually stopped.

Experts say new strains of the influenza virus emerge every few decades and
catch the human immune system unprepared, but prevention measures and
ever-evolving medical treatments overcome the outbreaks.

"I'd be much more concerned about an asteroid hitting the planet," Croddy

Croddy accused Hawking of speaking more from a religious, apocalyptic view
than from anything based on the facts of science.

"What he said is more biblical than scientific," Croddy said. Besides, he
added, "Earth's not such a bad place."

Most space colonization enthusiasts share this planet with Croddy, as well
as his view of it. But whether stated or not, the desire to ensure survival
has always permeated their plans.

Asteroids, in fact, frequently top the list of reasons to flee. Ample
evidence suggests that many species -- including dinosaurs -- have perished
as the result of colossal impacts in the past.

Most top asteroid researchers -- inside and outside NASA, on or off the
space settlement bandwagon, recognize that sooner or later another large
space rock will hit Earth, triggering a global catastrophe that could place
human life in the balance. It probably won't happen for thousands of years,
maybe 300,000, but it could happen tomorrow.

Stephen Hawking has broken no new ground in suggesting fear as a motivating
factor for intelligent beings to develop an exit strategy.

Fear, in fact, has a long history of pushing humans to new frontiers. Cold
War worries, more than anything else, put Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Fear
of British rule and religious oppression helped to create the United States.
And fear mixed with opportunity drove early humans to leave Africa, settle
new lands, then later to migrate away from advancing glaciers.

Other reasons to go

But fear is just one factor that could push earthlings to the next frontier.
Pure profit potential and the lure of scientific discoveries may prove to be
the more productive enticements.

"I feel we should not go into space out of fear, either fear of asteroids,
nuclear war, worldwide epidemics, pollution or industrial collapse," said
Bruce Mackenzie, a member of the board of directors of the National Space

"Those are all valid reasons, but they are not good long-term motivations,"
said Mackenzie, who stressed that he speaks for himself and not the
organization. "I prefer positive motivations, such as the almost unlimited
resources offered by asteroids, moons and other planets."

Whether opportunity or fear will eventually push us off the pale blue dot
that has been home to hominids for more than a million years, no one is
going anywhere anytime soon. At least not on a permanent basis.

Even the Space Frontier Foundation's Tumlinson, arguably the most energetic
and productive proponent of space settlement, expects the whole process to
take a generation. Sure, the first tourist has already flown. Others may
soon follow. Mars could conceivably be visited in a decade or two.

But Tumlinson's ultimate goal is to have people calling space their home --
forcing FedEx to add rockets to its fleet of planes and trucks. And he hopes
to live to see it happen, in 35 to 40 years.

Similar goals were voiced with great confidence 40 years ago, of course. But
Tumlinson thinks the mechanisms are now in place to make it a reality. NASA
has done its job, punching open the near frontier, he says. Now it's time
for the space agency to get out of the way. Private enterprise, say
Tumlinson and many of the other true believers, is poised to take over the
quest to the Moon and beyond.

"It's no longer pie in the sky," says Tumlinson.

Copyright 2001,


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny has just posted an update to Rob Britt's article about the
forthcoming Leonids event:
Leonid Meteor Shower:Prediction Revised for November Event

Here are McNaught and Asher's new predictions for the peak rates (note that
the peak may last less than one hour). All time are for Nov. 18, 2001. This
chart is updated as of Oct. 30, 2001:

      Where When
North & Central America       4:55 a.m. EST                 800 per hour
Australia; East Asia          17:24 UT                      2,000 per hour
Western Australia; East,
Southeast & Central Asia      18:13 UT                      8,000 per hour

Michael Paine



>From Michael Oates <>


It's news articles like this one (COMET'S DEATH DIVE CAPTURED BY SATELLITE,
CNN, 26 October 2001)
that really annoys me. How can they say "the satellite has spotted more than
365 comets" and "...most prolific comet finder in the history of astronomy"
when it did nothing of the sort. The spacecraft and it's instruments
recorded images, and that's all, it is the person who inspects
the images who discovers the comets.

I can say this with some authority, as I have discovered over one third of
all the comets in SOHO images totalling 132 comets. What the article also
conveniently omits is that the comet referred to, was discovered by amateur
astronomers XingMing Zhou and Xavier Leprette. I not sure yet who will be
getting credit for it's discovery. In fact most of the comets have been
discovered by amateurs, myself included.

It is almost as if they are too ashamed to admit that amateurs are finding
more than the professionals!

Michael Oates


>From Duncan Steel <>

Dear John,

In your analysis (CCNet 29 Oct. 2001), you appear, unfortunately, not to
have taken into account the fact that objects radiate energy at a rate that
is strongly dependant upon their temperature. This is the Stefan-Boltzmann

F = A epsilon sigma T^4

F = emitted flux (Watts)
A = surface area involved (m^2)
epsilon = emissivity (composition and structure dependant,
value from 0 to 1)
sigma = Stefan-Boltzmann constant = 5.67 x 10^-8 (SI units)
T = temperature in Kelvins

In your scenario you have the meteoroid being non-isothermal so as to have
heat being conducted from one side (sunlit) to the other. Thus one side is
higher T, hence that side emits more radiation, in the contrary sense to
that idea you describe.

The reality of the situation will depend upon the meteoroidal conductivity,
or more particularly what is termed its thermal inertia. For details see my
paper in MNRAS, volume 228, 1-17 (1987). We may expect small meteoroids to
be *very* poor conductors of heat.

In addition, the reality is that like everything else in the universe,
meteoroids spin. In fact the general rule is that objects spin at a rate
limited by their strength (i.e. they spin at just below the rate at which
they'd fly apart). For small objects the strength is set by cohesive forces.
For larger objects (like galaxies) its gravity. A few objects may spin
slowly, but most spin as fast as they can

Hope this all helps,

Duncan Steel


>From Michael Paine <>

The items circulated by David Morrison on 26 October discuss the risk from
asteroids of different sizes. An estimate of this risk came out of my use of
John Lewis's Hazards software, reported in the story "SIMULATING
More details are at

This involved a monte carlo simulation of one million years and recording
the worst impact in each of 10,000 centuries. This tends to underestimate
the smaller impacts (since more than one impact may occur in a century) but
will give a useful ballpark estimate. Subject to this
precaution the cumulative number of fatalities per year tended to double for
each step up in asteroid size. For example sub-200m fatalities averaged 570
per year whereas  those in the 200-499m range averaged 530 per year.
Similarly, sub-km impactors averaged 1600 per year whereas
those in the 1-2km range averaged 2500 per year.

Beyond 2km impactor diameter the risks become more chaotic because the
average interval between events is similar to the length of the simulation.
By chance (!) with my simulation a 2km diameter long-period comet struck the
Earth, causing billions of fatalities and added about
3000 fatalities per year to the overall figures. Ultimately these deadly
objects cannot be ignored by mankind but, for now, it does seem appropriate
that they assume lower priority in the search efforts.

I should add that John Lewis's program was designed primarily for simualting
the effect of small impacts over timescales of 1000s of years. In using it
to cover millions of years and 1km+ impactors, I made some additions to the
program to estimate global deaths from the severe
environmental effects of such impacts. These estimates are pretty shaky but
that may not matter too much when we are talking about a 2km comet.

If anything, these simulations suggest that the smaller NEOs are less of a
hazard, in terms of average annual fatalities, than Al Harris's assumption
that the risk is about the same for each size group.

The other side of the coin is the chance that Spaceguard will detect an
object before impact. The CCNet posting of 20 April 1999 included my rough
estimate of these figures, based on the "completeness" estimates of the 1992
Spacegaurd report (assuming the full Spaceguard program is
in operation). Repeating that table and adding the simulation results:

Diameter Chance in Completeness  Chance of   Average
(m)      50 yrs    after 10yrs   detection*   Annual
                   1 in...       1 in...     Fatalities
50       2         0.5%          400         240
100      20        2%            1,000       230
200      100       20%           500         530
500      800       50%           1,600       616
1,000    2,000     90%           2,222      2500

* Chance of a detected object impacting in next 50 years

Notice that the odds of detection are roughly the same for each size group.
What changes is the number "slipping through the net". As I have said
before, one problem with promoting Spaceguard is that, for the smaller NEOs,
there will always remain a fairly high risk of a surprise impact. Al Harris
suggests that we have a better then even chance of discovering the next
"Tunguska" before it finds us. My calculation has been done on a different
basis, since it only covers the decade long "initial" Spaceguard search (on
which the completeness estimates were made). Also Al Harris notes that an
Earth-impactor is more likely to buzz the Earth several times before
impacting (possibly decades later) and it is during these close approaches
that detection becomes much more likely.

Finally, it was pleasing to see the comment that a southern hemisphere
search telescope, although "not an absolute requirement", would go a long
way toward filling gaps [resulting from having all the search telescopes in
the northern hemisphere]. I hope that the incoming Australian Federal
Government will look more seriously at this issue (we have an election in
less than two weeks).

Michael Paine

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