CCNet, 5 November 1999


     "Writing in the journal Nature, Arthur C Clarke says that alien
     civilisations should welcome the "annihilation" of the human race.
     He thinks that extra-terrestrial onlookers will be glad that our
     mishandling of technology may destroy us before we can cause havoc
     on a galactic scale."
          -- BBC, 4 November 1999

    Benny J Peiser <>

    Explorezone, 4 November 1999

    NASA Science News <>

    NASA Science News <>

    S.A. Stewart, AMERADA HESS LTD

    M.A. Wieczorek & R.J. Phillips, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

    A.T. Basilevsky et al., VERNADSKY INSTITUTE


    BBC, Online News, 4 November 1999


From Benny J Peiser <>

It is not the most pleasant of tasks to moderate an international
network that deals primarily with natural catastrophes and their
dreadful effects - past, present and future. Yet a better understanding
of our cosmic environment and the various ways it has repeatedly
punctuated life on Earth is a vital prerequisite for any preventive and
protective measures.

During the last twenty years or so, we have become aware of the
disastrous history of life on Earth. While the gloomy knowledge about
our *past* has begun to supplant the over-optimistic belief of Darwin
and his followers in uninterrupted and ever-lasting progress, there is
no reason to propound that the *future* will be, inevitably, as bleak
as the past. Regardless of how appalling past disasters may have
been, the future is not a sealed book written in the stars.

As a hopeful person, it is my firm belief that we have both the
intellectual ability and the technological skills to intervene in the
course of nature and prevent the past from repeating itself. Whether or
not we rise to the cosmic challenge is in our power - and in our
power only. This is a sanguine look at our current situation and the
existing potential for the future of human evolution.

This is also an inspiring view that used to be shared by a majority of
scientists and enlightend people around the world. In recent years,
however, more and more thinkers have started to make ghastly
predictions of the future. In their apocalyptic prophecies they often
correspond to the rise of religious mellennialism.

In item (9) of today’s digest, I have included a report by the BBC
(4/11/99) about a new book by "some of the world's greatest thinkers
[who] paint a dismal picture for the inhabitants of Earth in the next
millennium." My friend Sir Arthur is even quoted as saying we should
"welcome the ‘annihilation’ of the human race."

How can we explain this sudden outbreak of PMT [Pre-Millennium Tension]
among our brightest thinkers? These writers are not normally known for
their melancholy or portentous view of the world. And yet, it is
rather distressing to see that such influential authors have given in
to the populist fashion of pessimism.

From a historical perspective, these kind of doom and gloom predictions
are as old as civilisation. After all, pessimism has always been
particularly prevalent in times of crisis and transition. When the
traditional view of the world loses its hold and a new paradigm has not
yet fully emerged, trepidation and cynicism becomes widespread.
Undoubtedly, we find ourselves in such a state of things. But do we
really need to repeat, yet again, the follies of past hopelessness?

I belief in what philosophers have called 'Meliorism', or the belief
that though a perfect state on Earth will never be attainable, we can
still safeguard and improve the conditions of life on Earth. Leibniz
may have been wrong when he claimed that this is the best of all
possible worlds. But it certainly is the best of all the worlds we know
of and certainly worth of our protection.

Benny J Peiser


From Explorezone, 4 November 1999

By Robert Roy Britt,

When the Torino Impact Hazard Scale was unveiled, it was highly touted
as a comprehensive measure of the risk of an asteroid colliding with
Earth. Three months later, the scale has seen little use.

That suits its creator just fine.

In fact, MIT professor Richard Binzel says the less we hear about the 
Torino Scale the better -- it means there are no known asteroids 
heading toward Earth.

The scale uses numbers and colors to calculate the estimated risk of an
asteroid hitting our planet. A Zero or 1 on the scale indicates a low
probability that a particular rock from space will hit Earth; a 10 on
the scale is a near-promise of global catastrophe.

Meanwhile, since its inception in June, questions have arisen about the
effectiveness of Binzel's scale, initially billed as a Richter scale
for asteroids. Critics are also scratching their heads over how the
scale came to be accepted by the scientists and organizations
responsible for keeping track of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

NEOs are Sun-circling comets and asteroids -- chunks of rock and iron
-- that spend some portion of their time relatively near our planet,
occasionally developing a gravitational propensity for wreaking a little
terrestrial havoc. Many scientists believe a large asteroid was
responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs.

Brain Marsden, director of the Minor Planet Center, told that the Torino Scale is "largely irrelevant," charging
that it does little to inform the public and is an oversimplification
for serious researchers. He is also baffled over how the scale was
loosely adopted by the International Astronomical Union, the organizing
body that oversees the Minor Planet Center, a clearinghouse for all
such information.

While the Torino Scale's official status within the IAU is unclear,
most NEO researchers say it has the potential to be useful, even if
they have concerns about its adoption.

The impact of Deep Impact

While few prominent scientists in the NEO community share Marsden's
highly critical view, he is a key player in the search for space rocks.
Besides directing the Minor Planet Center, he is known for having
triggered the first widespread fears of a so-called Deep Impact with
his announcement in March 1998 that asteroid 1997 XF11 could strike the

The risk for XF11 was subsequently found to be Zero, after fresh data
was studied. Many NEO researchers argue that the public was needlessly
alarmed -- it was the very next day that the new calculations put the
threat to rest.

"A number of people in the NEO community have issue with the way Brian
handles observations and orbital predictions," said Kelly Beatty,
senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine and a contributor to the
development of the Torino Scale.

But Marsden says the announcement of XF11 was the very thing that
brought out the additional data that eliminated the threat. In the end,
he says, the publicity helped improve NEO research. To be sure, XF11
was a catalyst for scientific discourse that eventually contributed to
the adoption of the very Torino Scale that Marsden criticizes.

The publicity surrounding XF11, and the confusion generated in the
scientist-journalist-public communication pipeline, were key events
that encouraged the NEO community to support Binzel's Torino Scale..

It's just a tool

Binzel characterizes the colorful, numbered chart as a useful tool that
puts the vast majority of possibly threatening asteroids in Category
Zero, which he says appropriately downplays the public perception of
any minuscule threat.

On the Torino Scale, the Zero category states the likelihood of a
collision is "well below the chance that a random object of the same
size will strike the Earth within the next few decades." (The
implication being that there is always a chance we will be
sucker-punched by an asteroid that has not yet been discovered.)

"We do not have to create pubic alarm every time we discover an object
that has the most remote chance of striking Earth," Binzel told in a telephone interview. Yet he firmly agrees with
Marsden that objects falling into the Zero category need further
attention. This category was not designed to remove objects from the
scientists' mental radar, Binzel says, but rather to earmark them for
more study. If further observations warrant, an object can move
upward on the scale accordingly.

Marsden, however, says the scale's ambiguity makes it difficult to
decide where an object belongs, adding that the scale does not properly
consider objects that may present a threat many decades into the future
and therefore require significant additional observations.

Further, as Marsden sees the system, most NEOs won't reach level 1 or
higher until a second round of calculations is made. But if a 
particular NEO is buried in the catch-all Zero category, it's orbital
calculations are not in need of official IAU peer review, as defined by
the Torino Scale's guidelines. Therefore, researchers are free to
publicize their findings, as has been done in at least one case since
the Torino Scale went into effect, of what everyone would agree is an
object with a relatively low-level threat.

On the other hand, calculations of an NEO that merits a ranking of 1 or
higher are supposed to be reviewed by the IAU prior to being published.
Marsden argues that the calculations do not need reviewing, as prior
announcements in the field have not been faulty because of any

Marsden says pervious NEO announcements, regardless of their public
effect, have increased awareness within the NEO community of the need
to use all possible means to make additional calculations once an
object has been discovered.

"The public is more of a problem," Marsden says, "because they have
unfortunately received the messages that astronomers make mistakes in
their calculations (which is not true) and that they fight with each
other (which is)."

Binzel approaches his hazard scale from a whole different trajectory,
stressing that there are other means of communication between
scientists. The Torino Scale is not intended to facilitate that process,
he says, but rather to communicate between scientists and the public.
Those outside the NEO community, he points out, cannot be expected to
comprehend the complexity of the individual calculations. Still, the
scale's apparent adoption by the IAU means researchers do have to
consider it.

"So I think the disagreement is a question of what language we use,
what method we use to draw attention in the scientific community to an
object that urgently needs follow-up measurements," Binzel said.

Estimating the danger

An asteroid capable of global disaster would have to be more than a
quarter-mile wide. It would rock the planet with earthquakes and
volcanoes and raise a cloud of dust that would darken the skies for
months, destroying agriculture and, possibly, many species of plants
and animals. Asteroids that large strike Earth only once every 1,000
centuries on average, NASA officials say. Smaller asteroids that are
believed to strike Earth every 1,000 to 10,000 years could destroy a
city or cause devastating tsunamis.

There are many variables that go into gauging asteroid risk, including
the object's current position, movement, mass, and proximity to other
objects in the solar system. The biggest challenge for researchers is
calculating possible orbital perturbations that can, down the road, set
an NEO on a new and potentially dangerous course.

A series of such gravitational tugs -- from Earth, Jupiter or some
other body -- can cause an asteroid to make a close pass in, say 20
years, then be sucked into a different orbit and make an even closer
pass many decades later.

All these calculations result in impact probabilities that are
typically very small, on the order of 1 chance in a hundred million or
less. Nonetheless, these teensy odds of doom have made big headlines.

As recently as April of this year, asteroid 1999 AN10 found its way
into major American newspapers after researchers in Italy calculated
that it had a 1-in-a-billion chance of bothering us in 2039. Follow-up
observations eliminated the threat.

There are some 800 known Near-Earth Asteroids, most of which pose no
danger (comets are tallied separately). Of the 800, nearly 200 have
been identified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), which might
come within 5 million miles of Earth in the future. Most of these pose
no real threat, but a few have the potential of one day being perturbed
into a dangerous orbit.

The Byzantine politics of science

Much of Marsden's criticism of the Torino Scale is political in nature.
He accuses officials of holding "secret" meetings about the idea and
giving it a tacit nod without presenting it to the proper committees.

"The next thing that happened," Marsden says, "after secret and minimal
discussion by two or three nonmembers, was the NASA/MIT press release
that claimed… that the IAU had adopted it. The actual IAU leadership
position was that, OK, it is a 'tool' that can be used, amended or
discarded as appropriate. I am utterly amazed at statements from some
of the NASA leadership to the effect that the scale is the greatest
thing since sliced whatever."

In the original press release, Carl Pilcher, science director for solar
system exploration in NASA's Office of Space Science, called the
scale "a major advance in our ability to explain the hazard proposed
by a particular NEO."

Binzel agrees that the process of approval did not strictly follow IAU
guidelines, and that "where it is within the IAU is a fuzzy thing." But
he points out that every effort was made to get the wording correct,
and the IAU General Secretary approved the press releases.

Finding support

Among researchers, these processes have not helped to buoy support for
the Torino Scale as much as a more formal approach might have.

At Liverpool John Moores University, Dr. Benny Peiser moderates an
often controversial but widely read scholarly electronic newsletter.
Peiser's CCNet covers all aspects of what the professor [sic] calls
neocatastrophism. Daily, asteroids and the threat of impact dominate
the articles, news items, open thoughts and sometimes-biting

Peiser, who supports the Torino Scale but expects it will need to
evolve, says the controversy stems in part from the fact that it did
not go through a proper review process. He says the details for
refining the scale were entrusted to the IAU and the scientific
committee at a June IMPACT meeting in Torino, Italy, where the scale
was presented and approved (in principle, he notes).

"Given that significant objections in addition to relevant suggestions
for improvement were made public at the IMPACT meeting, the failure
to submit the Torino Scale for scientific review appears to have had a
detrimental effect," Peiser told

Torino the teenager

In talking with several experts, it becomes clear that the Torino Scale
is like a typical teenager: It has not yet staked out who or what it
really is, or where it is going. But most NEO researchers expressed
optimism that the scale -- or some grown-up version of it -- will stick.

It's exact role, however, remains to be determined. Peiser points out
that the most important aspect surrounding a potentially hazardous
asteroid is data, and more of it, which is the only way to determine or
eliminate the ultimate threat.

"The Torino Scale was, I guess, mainly created as a sedative for the
general public," Peiser said.

Meanwhile, Binzel says the scale's real intention is as a tool for
journalists. While this was not the focus of press releases regarding
the scale, Binzel did seek input on the idea from three science
journalists prior to presenting the revised version in Italy (a previous
version in 1995 was never adopted).

Beatty, the Sky & Telescope editor, was one of those contributors, and
he says Binzel's first challenge is to get the astronomical community
to adopt the scale, and then the journalists will follow. Beatty said
some sort of resolution might come at an IAU meeting scheduled for

"Assuming the astronomical community gets behind it, then it creates a
metric that journalists can rely on," Beatty said. "My take is that
this is version 1.0 of this scale. I suspect that as our knowledge
becomes more complete... we may find the scale defined differently to
represent the hazards."

While willing to consider altered future versions, Binzel said, "we
don't want to make changes and revisions that end up confusing the
public. If it doesn't work in its test phase for the next several
years, we can think about ways to change it."

Meanwhile, out there in the grand void are a handful of comets and
asteroids with our collective names etched all over them. Similar
objects have hit Earth before, others will arrive in the future. While
pure chance could cause such a catastrophe tomorrow, odds are such
a thing won't happen for a long, long time.

Providing this perspective -- in a simplified way to the general public
-- is the primary purpose of the Torino Scale, Binzel said. "If I tell
you an object is a 1 on a 10-point scale, where 10 is total disaster,
immediately you know there is no major cause for public concern." ez

Copyright 1999, Explorezone


From NASA Science News <>

NASA Space Science News for November 5, 1999

A Surprise November Meteor Shower? On November 11, 1999 Earth will pass
close to the orbit of newly-discovered Comet LINEAR C/1999J3. The
result could be a new meteor shower -- the Linearids. This article
includes tips for visual and ham radio observing. FULL STORY at


From NASA Science News <>

NASA Space Science News for November 4, 1999

This week's episode of Thursday's Classroom is the second in a series
about the Leonid meteor shower, expected to strike on November 18,
1999. Kid's stories examine the history of the Leonids and the
discovery of this shower in 1833.  Activities include "Time Travel
Postcards" (students pretend that they just saw the 1833 meteor storm,
and write postcards to kids in 1999 describing the event), "Speeding in
Space" (a high-velocity math exercise), "The Great Leonid Meteor Play",
and more! VISIT



S.A. Stewart: Seismic interpretation of circular geological structures.
PETROLEUM GEOSCIENCE, 1999, Vol.5, No.3, pp.273-285


3D seismic data provide images of geological features which are
approximately circular in plan view but whose shape and origin may not
be possible to constrain using 2D seismic data. As 3D seismic data
become more commonly employed in hydrocarbon exploration, the number of
demonstrably 'circular' structures will increase. At least ten
different geological processes can result in seismically resolvable
'circular' structures in sedimentary basins. These include salt/shale
diapirs, salt withdrawal basins, polygonal fault blocks, dissolution
collapse hollows, breccia pipes, calderas, gas pockmarks, bioherms,
sand volcanoes, pull-aparts, impact craters and tectonic folds.
Geometrical and geological criteria for each are summarized to
facilitate identification of such features should they be encountered
in the course of a 3D seismic interpretation. Certain types of
geological feature have distinctive properties, others are less
straightforward to recognize on the basis of individual criteria.
Copyright 1999, Institute for Scientific Information Inc.


M.A. Wieczorek*) & R.J. Phillips: Lunar multiring basins and the
cratering process. ICARUS, 1999, Vol.139, No.2, pp.246-259

   1169,ST LOUIS,MO,63130

Numerous studies of the lunar gravity field have concluded that the
lunar Moho is substantially uplifted beneath the young multiring
basins. This uplift is presumably due to the excavation of large
quantities of crustal material during the cratering process and
subsequent rebound of the impact basin floor. Using a new dual-layered
crustal thickness model of the Moon, the excavation cavities of some
nearside multiring basins (Grimaldi and larger, and younger than
Tranquillitatis) were reconstructed by restoring the uplifted Moho to
its preimpact location. The farside South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin was
also considered due to its importance in deciphering lunar evolution.
Restoring the Moho to its preimpact position beneath these basins
resulted in a roughly parabolic depression from which the depth and
diameter of the excavation cavity could be determined. Using these
reconstructed excavation cavities, the basin-forming process was
investigated. Excavation cavity diameters were generally found to be on
the small side of most previous estimates (for Orientale the modeled
excavation cavity lies within the Inner Rook Ring). Additionally, with
the exception of the three largest basins (Serenitatis, Imbrium, and
South Pole-Aitken) the depth/diameter ratios of the excavation cavities
were found to be 0.115 @ 0.005, a value consistent with theoretical and
experimental results for impact craters orders of magnitude smaller in
size. The three largest basins, however, appear to have significantly
shallower depths of excavation compared to this trend. It is possible
that this may reflect a different physical process of crater formation
(e.g., nonproportional scaling), special impact conditions, or
postimpact modification processes. The crustal thickness model also
shows that each basin is surrounded by an annulus of thickened crust.
We interpret this thickened crust as representing thick basin ejecta
deposits, and we show that the radial variation in the thickness of
these deposits is consistent with scaling laws obtained from
small-scale experimental studies. If multiring basins ever possessed a
terraced main crater rim, this terraced zone may be presently
unrecognizable at the surface due to the emplacement of ejecta deposits
that exceed a few kilometers in thickness exterior to the excavation
cavity rim. We also show that the interiors of many basins were
superisostatic before mare volcanism commenced. Those basins that were
closest to approaching a premare isostatic state lie close to or within
an anomalous geochemical province rich in heat-producing elements. (C)
1999 Academic Press.


A.T. Basilevsky*), J.W. Head, M.A. Ivanov, V.P. Kryuchkov: Impact
craters on geologic units of northern Venus: Implications for the
duration of the transition from tessera to regional plains. GEOPHYSICAL
RESEARCH LETTERS, 1999, Vol.26, No.16, pp.2593-2596


Using Magellan SAR images and the Schaber el al, [1998] crater data
base we examined impact craters in the area north of 35 degrees N and
determined the geologic units on which they are superposed. The crater
density of the regional plains with wrinkle ridges (Pwr) was found to
be very close to the global average and thus the mean surface age of
the plains is close to the mean surface age of the planet (T). About 80
to 97% of the craters superposed on a composite unit that includes
materials of Tessera terrain (Tt), Densely fractured plains (Pdf),
Fractured and ridged plains (Pfr), and Fracture Belts (FB), also
postdate the regional plains. Thus, the time interval between the
formation of these older units and emplacement of the regional plains
(Delta T) should be geologically short, from a few percent to about 20%
of T, or approximately 40 to 150 m.y. This means that in the area under
study, volcanic and tectonic activity in the beginning of the
morphologically recognizable part of the geologic history of Venus
(about the last 750 m.y.) was much more active than in the subsequent
time. Copyright 1999, Institute for Scientific Information Inc.


R.W. Wichman: Internal crater modification on Venus: Recognizing
crater-centered volcanism by changes in floor morphometry and floor
No.E9, pp.21957-21977


Bright-floored and dark-floored craters on Venus show systematic
differences in their size, distribution and apparent modification.
Bright-floored craters exhibit the following characteristics: an
interior radar brightness comparable to the youngest craters on Venus,
a tendency toward smaller crater diameters, and a broad range of crater
elevations. In contrast, the dark-floored craters are darker than
pristine craters on Venus, are typically much larger, and
preferentially occur at lower elevations. They also have larger floors
than pristine craters of the same size and are similar in many respects
to floor-fractured craters on Venus. Of the four proposed origins for
dark crater floors, these observations are most consistent with
crater-centered volcanism. Surface weathering or eolian deposition may
contribute to floor darkening in some cases, but neither of these
mechanisms, nor impact melts, can independently explain the full range
of observed modifications. Based on the measurements of this study,
volcanism has affected at least 6-13% of the impact craters on Venus.
The estimated lava fill thicknesses are of the order of 100-500 m.
Thus, if these flows are representative of eruptions elsewhere in the
Venusian lowlands, the implied average flux of plains-forming
volcanism on Venus for the last 300 m.y. is similar to 0.01-
0.02 km(3)/yr. Copyright 1999, Institute for Scientific Information


From the BBC, Online News, 4 November 1999

The future's not all bright

Visions of the future from some of the world's greatest thinkers paint
a dismal picture for the inhabitants of Earth in the next millennium,
with humans vying for supremacy with a new species of intelligent

Predictions, a new book including contributions from such esteemed
visionaries as sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke and economist JK
Galbraith, suggests that within two decades a new life form will have
evolved from artificially intelligent machines.

This development will occur "far more rapidly than biology will ever
permit," reckons Clarke, author of 2001.

With independent-minded machines threatening to leave us behind, the
book predicts that humans will turn to genetics and computer implants
in a bid to compete.

Geneticist Dr French Anderson fears that, not content with curing all
disease using gene-based treatments, people in the next millennium will
attempt to "improve" themselves and their children.

"Eugenics [might] be practised on a scale far larger than any
'selective breeding' policy could accomplish."

The end of sex

Couples will no longer have sex to reproduce, with individuals relying
on sperm and egg banks instead.

Cybernetics expert Kevin Warwick, who already has a chip in his arm to
remotely operate doors and switch on his computer, predicts that
similar implants will become commonplace.

The time may come when such devices will make speech obsolete, with
humans communicating to each other telepathically.

Such developments could pose a real threat to our established notions
of who we are.

"A human brain is a stand-alone entity, guaranteeing a unique human
identity," Warwick said. "But link a human brain via the internet to
other brains, both human and machine, and what of the individual then?"

The anthology of forecasts by 30 noted thinkers - including Umberto Eco
and Richard Dawkins - does envisage exciting leaps forward in space

Prince in space

Arthur C Clarke even predicts that Prince Harry, youngest son of the
Prince of Wales, will be the first royal to holiday among the stars.

He also says that by 2057, a century after Sputnik was launched, man
will stand on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

However, many of the great minds quizzed were less than positive about
the prospects for the future.

British scientist Susan Greenfield thinks the attention span of humans
will be eroded to the point where we will become a "society of
restless, unimaginative individuals".

American feminist and historian Elaine Showalter suggests that future
generations will be dogged by "new paranoias, new hysterias, new
conspiracy theories and new imaginary diseases".

Sian Griffith, the Times Higher Education Supplement journalist who
edited Predictions, said lessons should be learned from the prophesies.

"I get the sense from these predictions that there is a limited time
span for human beings unless we change."

"There's a sense that we'll be struggling all the time, trying to do
new things, but with a sense of disaster looming."

Humans: A lethal mutation

Linguist Noam Chomsky describes the human race as a "lethal mutation",
acquiring in an evolutionary heartbeat the capacity to destroy
ourselves and the other life forms which share our planet.

"Perhaps it will find ways to contain its destructive impulses. A
rational Martian spectator might not be sanguine about the prospects."

Writing in the journal Nature, Arthur C Clarke says that alien
civilisations should welcome the "annihilation" of the human race.

He thinks that extra-terrestrial onlookers will be glad that our
mishandling of technology may destroy us before we can cause havoc on a
galactic scale.

Copyright 1999, BBC

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