CCNet 116/2000 - 10 November 2000

"What worries me is not the short term embarrassment of the
development of this latest alert and its misinterpretation by the
media, but that we have a long-term need to deal with NEOs as a
physical threat and with NEO news and prospects. If we fail with the latter,
alienating the public or making the subject a matter for automatic jocular
dismissal by the public and the politicians, we will destroy our
prospects for the former. The fact that it is extremely likely that we
shall see no serious impact in our lifetimes is beside the point; the
responsibility for inhibiting appropriate reaction to threats on such a
scale is arguably unprecedented."
    -- Jon Richfield, 10 November 2000

    Marc Gyssens <>

    NASA Science News <>

    Ron Baalke <>

    Jon Richfield <>

    Matthew Genge <>

    A J Mims <>

    Joel Gunn <>


From Marc Gyssens <>

I N T E R N A T I O N A L   M E T E O R   O R G A N I Z A T I O N

Press release

Night of November 17-18: expectations for Leonid meteor activity

From, mainly western, Europe and Africa, as well as from large parts of
North America, Central America and parts of South America, people may see a
lot of meteors - "shooting stars" - between midnight and dawn of the night
of November 17 to 18, provided skies are clear. These meteors belong to the
so-called Leonid shower.

A first peak, visible from western Europe and Africa (including central
Europe) and NE South America, is expected around 3:44 a.m. Greenwich Mean
Time, which is 4:44 a.m. local time for most of the favored continental
European and African locations, 3:44 a.m. for the British Isles, mainland
Portugal, and the Canary Islands, and 1.44 a.m. for eastern Brazil.

A second peak, visible from large parts of North America, Central America,
and NW South America, is expected around 7:51 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time,
which is 3:51 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time, 2:51 a.m. Eastern Standard time,
1:51 Central Standard Time, and 0:51 a.m. Mountain Standard Time. This peak
falls too early for Pacific Time Zone locations, unfortunately.

At the times mentioned above, an observer at the indicated locations may
expect to see 50 to 100 meteors per hour.  A veritable meteor storm with
several tens of meteors per minute as last year is much less likely this
year, but not ruled out. Therefore, vigilance is called for!

The International Meteor Organization, who collects meteor observations
world-wide for the purpose of analysis, wishes to point the attention of the
public to this spectacular natural phenomenon.

The Leonids are caused by a stream of predominantly very small particles,
less than 1 mm in size, which orbit the Sun with a period of 33 years,
together with their parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle. The orbit of the Leonid
particles happens to intersect the Earth's orbit. Each year around November
17, when the Earth is at this intersection, Leonid particles may enter the
Earth's atmosphere and cause meteors, popularly called "shooting stars."
This year, around 3:44 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, in the morning hours of the
night of November 17 to 18, the Earth will pass through the outer regions of
a reasonably dense dust trail of Leonid particles ejected by Comet
Tempel-Tuttle 8 orbital revolutions (267 years) ago. Around 7:51 a.m.
Greenwich Mean Time, the Earth will pass through the outer regions of
another dust trail, ejected 4 orbital revolutions (134 years) ago. 

Results on past encounters of the Earth with these particular dust trails
are scarce, making it hard to predict the level of activity. The tentative
frequency of around 100 meteors per hour is our best guess, but the real
activity may be both higher or lower!  Should Leonid meteor activity not
rise above expectations in 2000, it is good to know that Leonid meteor
storms are probable in 2001 and 2002, too!

Actually, Leonid meteors can be seen every year around November 17. Along
the larger part of Comet Tempel-Tuttle's orbit, however, Leonid particles
are scattered sparsely, so that, in most years, we see only a few Leonid
meteors per hour. Only in the vicinity of the Comet, the density of Leonid
particles is much higher. Therefore, we observe much higher Leonid activity
every 33 years during a couple of years, when Comet Tempel-Tuttle revisits
our region of the Solar System. In some instances, we even see a real meteor

Old chronicles contain references to past Leonid meteor storms back to the
10th century A.D. The best-known Leonid meteor storms are those of 1833 and
1966, when tens of meteors per second darted across the skies during the
peak hour! The 1833 meteor storm was so spectacular that it in fact launched
meteor research as a branch of astronomy. Since the 1966 meteor storm, Comet
Tempel-Tuttle has completed another revolution around the Sun. The passage
of the Comet through its closest point to the Sun on February 28, 1998
marked the beginning of a five-year period (1998-2002) during which strongly
increased Leonid meteor activity is again possible.

Although 1998 gave us an unexpected (but meanwhile convincingly explained)
fireball shower, the first storm in the present Leonid epoch occurred last
year, with a peak activity around 60 meteors per minute (yielding an
equivalent hourly rate of 3700). Both peak time and actual activity matched
the predictions by astronomers David Asher and Robert McNaught very well, so
that there is good hope that the predictions for the period 2000-2002 are
reliable, too.

In order to see meteors, the sky must be clear and the selected observing
site should preferentially be free of light pollution; the less light, the
more meteors will be seen! Notice that Leonid meteors cannot be seen before
around midnight. Hence, there is no point in starting an observation
earlier. Die-hards who do not want to miss anything of the show should then
continue to watch until dawn. People who cannot afford to stay up that long
should focus on a period of 1 to 2 hours centered around the predicted peak
time for their region.

Mind that it can be very cold in mid-November: warm clothing adapted to the
local climate is essential! For comfortable observing, use a reclining
chair, and install yourself in a suitable sleeping bag or under several
blankets. While observing, do not fix a particular star, but look relaxedly
and patiently to a wide area of sky and wait for shooting stars to appear.


More information on the Leonids can be found in the International Meteor
Organization's bimonthly journal WGN and on the internet, at and

For questions, contact Marc Gyssens at or +32-477-64 05 48.

Notice that the International Meteor Organization will send out a new
release with first results on the Leonids during the European early morning
hours of November 18, immediately after the event. All recipients of the
present release will automatically receive the new release.


From NASA Science News <>

NASA Science News for November 9, 2000

November 9, 2000: On Nov. 17 and 18, 2000, space forecasters expect a series
of Leonid meteor outbursts with flurries possibly exceeding 100 shooting
stars per hour. Observers in Europe, Africa, and the eastern half of the
United States and Canada are generally favored for best viewing, but the
Leonids are notoriously unpredictable. Everyone, everywhere should remain
alert for meteors during the hours before local dawn next Friday and
Saturday. [Observing tips!]

Meteor watching under a crisp November sky with twinkling stars and bright
planets is an experience that's hard to beat -- even at 3 in the morning!
But if clouds, rain, or city lights threaten to spoil your pre-dawn
stargazing adventure, NASA scientists are prepared to help.

Before dawn on Saturday, Nov. 18th, a team of astronomers and ham radio
amateurs at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) plan to launch a
specially-equipped weather balloon to monitor the Leonid meteor shower
100,000 feet above Earth's surface, far from obscuring clouds and urban
light pollution. Video from the flight will be broadcast live on the web at and replays will be available less than 24 hours later.

This will be the third annual Science@NASA-sponsored broadcast of the
Leonids from the stratosphere. In 1998 and 1999 more than two million people
watched live webcasts during the meteor shower or saw replays the morning

This year's liftoff is scheduled for 0630 Greenwich Mean Time (0030 CST) on
Saturday, Nov. 18th, from the Marshall Space Flight Center's Atmospheric
Research Facility (ARF). The balloon will carry a sensitive low-light CCD
video camera to monitor the shower from an altitude of about 32 km (100,000

"Earth is going to pass through the outskirts of three meteoroid debris
streams from comet Tempel-Tuttle on Nov. 17th and 18th," says Marshall
astronomer Mitzi Adams. "The last of the three stream encounters will take
place at approximately 0800 GMT on Nov. 18th, just as the meteor balloon is
reaching its maximum altitude. The timing couldn't be better."

"The balloon will carry a sensitive CCD camera to record the meteors," added
Ed Myszka, an engineer and radio amateur who built the balloon payload. "The
field of view will be about 20 degrees. That's about twice the size of the
bowl of the Big Dipper.

"We plan to downlink the video to our ground station at the ARF as an
amateur TV signal at 426.25 MHz -- that's Cable Ready TV Channel 58. The
transmission should be detectable for several hundred miles around the
launch site. Hams in the vicinity of north Alabama and Tennessee will be
able to monitor the flight themselves. And of course the video stream will
be available for everyone on the web at"

Sound effects during this year's flight will be provided by an INSPIRE VLF
radio receiver, which is sensitive to radio emissions below 10 kHz. The very
low frequency (VLF) radio band is filled with exotic-sounding signals called
spherics, tweeks and whistlers. All three are impulsive bursts caused by
distant lighting. "Spherics," which are caused by lightning strokes within a
couple of thousand kilometers of the receiver, sound like twigs snapping or
bacon sizzling on a grill. Tweeks and whistlers are caused by more distant
lightning, and sound like brief descending musical tones.

Dennis Gallagher, a plasma physicist at the Marshall Space Flight Center,
thinks that the VLF receiver might also pick up natural radio emissions from
the Leonid meteors.

"Meteoroids produce an ionized trail as they plow through the atmosphere,"
explained Gallagher. "There's a low density wake right behind the meteoroid.
Because electrons are more mobile than protons, they move in to fill the
void faster. That could set up plasma oscillations and trigger radio

The VLF receiver was donated to the Marshall Space Flight Center for this
and future flights by the Goddard INSPIRE program. It's been christened the
"Marina receiver" after the daughter of Flavio Gori, an Italian scientist
who first suggested flying the receiver.

Gallagher and his colleagues also plan to operate another VLF receiver at
the launch site to provide a ground reference for comparison with data
collected from the stratosphere. During the flight, signals from the
receiver will be converted to audio sounds and transmitted along with images
from the CCD video camera. Web viewers at will be treated to
an unusual combination of meteoritic sights and sounds.

The question of radio emissions from meteors is an intriguing one, says
Gallagher, and you don't need to send your receiver to the stratosphere to
listen in. Anyone with a VLF receiver can monitor the Leonids on November 18
and Gallagher hopes that INSPIRE participants across the USA will join in
the effort. The best way to collect data is to record the output of the
receiver on a two-track audio recorder. Record the VLF signal on one track
and a WWV time signal on the other. This way VLF pulses can be correlated
with the times of bright meteors seen from your observing site. It's also a
good idea to conduct at least one observing session a few days before or a
few days after the Leonids for comparison.

For more information about the Leonids 2000, including predictions and
observing tips, please visit Daily meteor counts and
information about other meteor showers are available at

From Ron Baalke <>

Steve Roy
Media Relations Department
Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville, AL
(256) 544-0034
For Release: November 8, 2000
Release: 00-311
North America's East Coast may offer best view of Leonids meteor shower, say
NASA scientists
Six teams of scientists led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala., will monitor the annual Leonids meteor shower this month
when the phenomenon is brightest over the North American continent.
Part of the monitoring activities will include the launch of a weather
balloon carrying video and audio equipment which will allow scientists and
the public to actually hear what a meteor sounds like as it crashes into
Earth's atmosphere.
The public, particularly along the East Coast, also will be able to look up
and, depending on weather conditions, see perhaps 700 or more shooting stars
per hour.
Three peak times for the showers are forecast for the East Coast -- Nov. 17
at about 3 a.m. EST and again at 11 p.m. EST, and Nov. 18 at about 3 a.m.
EST -- according to Bill Cooke, senior computer scientist at the Marshall
A Leonids shower happens every year when Earth passes close to the orbit of
the comet Tempel-Tuttle and the debris left in the comet's path. As Earth
travels through the comet dust, the debris burns up in the Earth's
atmosphere resulting in shooting stars or meteors. Some of these dust
streams actually broke away from the comet long ago. Meteors visible this
year date to 1932, 1866 and 1733.
"This year, the Moon will be in the constellation Leo -- practically on top
of the Leonids radiant," said Mitzi Adams, a Marshall Center astronomer.
"Moonlight will make fainter meteors hard to spot, but if there's a strong
outburst, stargazers could see plenty of Leonids in spite of the bright
Because this year's peak meteor activity is not projected to reach storm
level -- at least 1,000 meteors per hour -- Marshall scientists will use the
opportunity to test their accuracy at predicting Leonids intensity.
In 1999, a true "storm" occurred when up to 3,700 meteors per hour were
recorded over Israel.
"We can predict within minutes the time the meteors will peak," said
Marshall Space Environment Team researcher Dr. Rob Suggs. "What we have
trouble with is predicting the intensity."
If the intensity of a Leonids shower can be accurately predicted, scientists
will know which way orbiting satellites should be turned to keep them
operating smoothly during meteor activity.
"Satellites are an integral part of our lives now, so anything that affects
these satellites directly affects our lives," Suggs said, citing as examples
communications and television satellites.
To help protect these satellites from the fast-travelling meteors, Marshall
scientists will analyze information from the various monitoring teams and
pass it along to satellite operators.
Although a typical meteor is smaller than a grain of sand, it travels 12
miles (20 kilometers) per second. Leonids are the fastest of all meteors --
traveling at about 44 miles (71 kilometers) per second. At that speed, a
Leonids meteor could travel from New York to Los Angeles in about one
Heavy Leonids meteor storms are predicted for 2001 and 2002.
"We are getting predictions from models for next year in excess of 10,000
meteors per hour over East Asia and Mongolia," Suggs said. "In 2002,
predictions are in excess of 25,000 meteors per hour over the East Coast of
the United States."
The Marshall Center is NASA's lead center for monitoring and forecasting
meteor showers. Huntsville scientists will begin monitoring Nov. 16, using
two image-intensified camera systems and recording the meteors onto
"This year we also have a forward-scatter radar that will allow us to 'hear'
the meteors," Suggs said, explaining that the noises are caused by the
meteors interacting with ionized gas or plasma in the Earth's atmosphere.
Besides monitoring the Leonids from Huntsville, Marshall scientists also
will coordinate monitoring teams at the following locations:
* Mount Allison Observatory in New Brunswick, Canada.
* Elginfield Observatory at the University of Western Ontario, in London,
* The University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.
* U.S. Air Force LINEAR (Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research) Observatory
  in Socorro, N.M.
* Calar Alto Observatory near Almeria, Spain.
In addition to the observing teams, Marshall scientists, weather permitting,
will launch a 10-foot (3-meter) diameter weather balloon from Marshall's
Atmospheric Research Facility at 12:30 a.m. CST on Nov. 18. The balloon will
ascend approximately 20 miles (32 kilometers), carrying a sensitive camera
for capturing high-resolution television pictures of the meteors. During the
three-to- four-hour flight, the television pictures can be viewed online at
the Marshall Center's Science Directorate Web site at:
The balloon also will carry a very low frequency radio receiver that will
allow visitors to the Web site to hear the "whistlers" and other bizarre
noises that meteors might make as they enter the Earth's atmosphere.
On-board transmitters will allow local amateur radio operators, or "hams,"
to track and retrieve the balloon.
Note to Editors/News Directors: Media are invited to schedule a visit with
the Marshall Center's Leonids monitoring team during operations, including
the balloon launch on Nov. 18. To attend the balloon launch or talk with the
Leonids monitoring team, news media representatives should contact Steve Roy
of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034, or beeper
1-800-821-9641. A cellular phone number will be made available to interested
media for 24-hour, up-to-date, information during the Leonids monitoring.
Interviews, photos and video supporting this release are available to news
media representatives by contacting Roy. For an electronic version of this
release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall's News Center on
the Web at:
Print quality photos of the balloon launch preparations will be available
for downloading from the Marshall Center Web site at a future date.
[NOTE: An image supporting this release is available at]



From Jon Richfield <>


There has been a lot of disagreement and recrimination about Object 2000
SG344, but I reckon that nothing I have read so far has been calculated to
avoid similar problems in future. We have in effect a lack of any adequate
mechanism to inform the media or public and to rebuke the irresponsible

With unusually well-justified modesty (for me!) I confess that I do not have
any definitive answer to that problem, but how about the following for a
hopeful gesture in the direction of preventing more of the same every few
months in future?

What worries me is not the short term embarrassment of the development of
this latest alert and its misinterpretation by the media, but that we have a
long-term need to deal with NEOs as a physical threat and with NEO news and
prospects. If we fail with the latter, alienating the
public or making the subject a matter for automatic jocular dismissal by the
public and the politicians, we will destroy our prospects for the former.
The fact that it is extremely likely that we shall see no serious impact in
our lifetimes is beside the point; the responsibility
for inhibiting appropriate reaction to threats on such a scale is arguably


1) There is NO way we can police everybody's press releases and even if
we could, it would be a wasteful and doubtfully ethical thing to try to

2) There is no, NO, *!NO!* way we can educate, persuade or coerce the
media into anything resembling collective, competent, responsible
reporting of threats and discussion of appropriate planning or reactions.
Again, to try to do so would be doubtfully ethical.

(Ironic isn't it? Any attempt to control the media is a heinous crime, while
the only serious crime a member of the media can commit is to fail to please
the sponsors. You doubt me? I am over-cynical? You will have to look long
and hard for so much as a collective professional "Tsk Tsk!" over cynical,
malicious or incompetent reporting. Major news executives have been
arrogantly outspoken about their total lack of interest in accuracy, good
faith or corrections to material reported in ignorance, negligence or bad
faith. And how often is the correction of
even the most disastrous blunder displayed prominently on the front page?)

3) Even if we could police releases with technical content, the subject
matter often lends itself to uncertainty and disagreement in the early
stages. For instance in the current case some reckon that in fact the
guidelines were appropriate and complied with, while others point to the
flap and derision that could have been avoided by delaying another day or

4) Even if the other factors were nullified we still have no really
useful scale of threat.  Personally I have proposed and supported the
two- or three-digit scales (such as magnitude, probability and ETA) but my
proposals were seen as either frivolous (which they were not) or too
difficult for the public. (I question this, but...) The Torino Scale has the
advantage of being simple because of having only one dimension and no
logical coherency to worry about.

As for our attitude in attempting to construct a system to obviate such
problems in future, I commend your attention to John Gall's grossly
neglected book: Systemantics. (Check "systemantics" on Amazon). Two of his
many valuable aphorisms are: "Systems run best when designed to run
downhill" and: "Loose systems last longer and function better." Trust
me, he knew what he was talking about! Our best bet is to make sure that
what needs to be known is easily accessible both to the media and to members
of the public who have the nous to look it up for themselves. Updates should
be informal in the interests of speed, subject only to verification of the
good faith and source of the material.

There is no hope of making everyone happy, but we have several examples of
just how valuable a resource can be without being grossly expensive.,, various "Skeptic" sites and are examples of quite priceless services
economically maintained largely by volunteers. (It seems that another one
called CCNet has earned a good level of respect, but its format is not
currently suited to the proposal that follows.)

For want of a better name (I don't know that this is a particularly good
one, but we can choose something better at leisure) let's imagine a site
called It should not be hard to get a little
sponsorship. Possibly it could be piggybacked onto some other service,
such as Yahoo or Netscape.

The format could include:

1) Prominently accessible introductory material on the nature and
intention of the site, the nature of the threats considered, the
recommended use of the facilities offered and links to sites whose
functions might easily be confused with this one or which supplement this
site, such as CCNet. (In principle there is no need to restrict discussion
to NEO threats and in fact it would probably be beneficial to accommodate
as many categories as practical.) As for sponsors' banners, I do not feel
strongly about anything that does not detract from the usefulness of the
site as long as it will support the service.

2) Some sort of index facility for seeking items on any particular
theme or event. I notice that there is a site (I think that maintains a collection of references to past
disasters, but as far as I can make out, it is primarily retrospective and
non- analytical. (This is not intended derogatorily, but to observe that
it does not fulfil the need that I am addressing.)

3) What would amount to a data base of items under discussion. Items
would be strictly moderated; this is not a freedom-of-the-press
facility, but the equivalent of an informal learned journal, updated as
appropriate and supported by those recognised as skilled in the
subject matter. Anyone who objects to establishment strictures is free to
set up his own site where he may be as shrill as he pleases. Note also the
item on the informal part of the site, described below.  We may be wrong
at times (well, just once, anyway!) in excluding the "END-IS-NIGH"
sandwichboarders, but then we are not claiming infallibility, just
responsibility in handling respected sources.  The site would concentrate on
threats of real concern to at least large sections of the planetary
public and which should at least be notionally addressable; we might
not be able to do much about say, a really large, wandering Kuiper
object, but would at least be able to discuss the options.  If the end
really IS nigh, it is not clear *what* to do about it!

4)  Each item would have a more or less formal portion describing:

   The substance of the event, including news, updated as information
becomes available or as situations develop, together with
authoritative discussions of prospects, implications, urgency and so on.
   The source(s) of the information, including contact information if
available and relevant.
   The nature of the threat (NEO, Tectonic, Climatic, Epidemic etc)
   Scale, scope and probability. Including as many different scores on
as many different scales as may have found favour somewhere.  Anyone
rejecting complicated three- or five- digit codes or graphic symbols could
use the Torino scale or whatever other indicators become fashionable.
It would not be in anyone's interest for us waste our efforts on
partisanship towards one indicator or another, even if the site did include
a critical assessment of the usefulness and meaning of each scale.
   Estimated time and location of the threat.
   Proposals for dealing with the threat if applicable.
   Assessments of the quality and perceived reliability of the items or
other relevant disagreements or discussions from authorities, such as
recommended action on the part of the authorities, public and media.

5) There should be a less formal, but preferably also monitored,
threaded discussion forum in which participants could make enquiries,
offer information, express views, offer informal information or
proposals etc.

6) For each class of threat there could be a reference text discussing
the subject in general and an FAQ.

7)  A special category of report for debunked reports or retractions
etc.  Well-established hardy-perennial categories of misinformation could
have their own standing items.

What is the point, you ask?

Suppose we achieve a loose but wide agreement that whatever authorities may
release to the general media, they also (first?) make the definitive
background available to threatsource.  Anyone who wants the kudos of making
the FIRST ANNOUNCEMENT could do so in threatsource as early as he liked,
risking the egg on his face, as long as the monitors accept that his report
is permissible, even if premature. In the posting the monitors would then
include their assessment of prematurity or unreliability or relevance.  In
particular their remarks should prominently and right in front, state the
appropriate status for journalists.  (Some sort of ascending or
multidimensional scale like: Nonsense, retraction, rumour, speculation,
early and imprecise observations, reasonable confidence about matter under
investigation, verified, precise prediction and proposed reaction and so on)
so that if any journalist fabricates an inappropriate doomsaying certainty,
anyone following up the item will immediately see the associated warning,
together with any subsequent developments.

Journalists will then be in a far poorer position to snigger or fulminate
about comic scientists with their fanciful and ephemeral doomsday scenarios.
There would no longer be a basis for criticising announcements as either
premature panic mongering or as paternalistically leaving the public
unnecessarily in the dark.

If things develop well, such a site could become the de facto first place to
look for information concerning large-scale threats. Only someone looking
for a paid exclusive would have any incentive to post elsewhere because this
would be the spot that all the journalists would be keeping an eye on for
early warning and expert assessment.

Such a threatsource site would be cheap, simple and valuable as a resource.
It would be imperfect, certainly, but better than anything at present in
place and would be flexible and self-tuning as people became more used to
having such a facility available.

I am uncertain how to deal with the status of such postings relative to
subsequent publication of full report in professional journals. I suspect
that each journal would have its own policy concerning pre-publication.
However, a good case could be made for permitting threatsource releases
where a threat was involved, as long as the threatsource release referred
adequately tothe prospects for forthcoming publication in the journal in

OK, that should do for a first pass.  Any comments?

Go well all,


Before you can do something, you must first do something else.


From Matthew Genge <>

The SG344 affair has illustrated quite clearly that of all the things
scientists (including myself) are good at communicating a story to the media
is not one of them. Leave a scientist in a room for five minutes with a
journalist and one of them will probably live to regret talking so much.

To win in the media game scientists must remember what journalists want. A
journalist has the very difficult job of coming up with one or more articles
per day that their audience will actually want to read. They have to plough
through enormous amounts of information and try to identify what is new,
interesting and significant about a story, then they have to summarise it,
and they have to do this by yesterday. Journalists want to be right, its not
in their best interests to publish incorrect information, and if what a
scientist tells them one day turns out to be different the next then this is
also news and we shouldnt be surprised that its reported as such.

Giving the media what they need goes a long way to getting your message
across correctly. The facts, in simplified form, and a few irresistable
quotes to be used. If there's uncertainty in what you're presenting then
make sure this is emphasised all the way through so it cant be
misunderstood or left out as an unnecessary complication. Better still wait
till you're certain before you make definite predictions that will be quoted
as fact. For SG344 we were right to report the discovery and hazard, any
delay might appear suspicious, but should the date and impact probability be
reported as a quantified fact when we knew that it would probably change
with further observations? A simple statement such as

"A small asteroid SG344 has been discovered that has a non-zero
chance of colliding with the Earth in the next 50 years. Observations
over the next few days by astronomers from around the world will
confirm whether this asteroid poses a threat. A press release will be
issued once the impact hazard has been evaluated."

could have been better. If the discovery was reported in such a way it is
unlikely that it would have made front page news until its was confirmed and
best of all we couldn't be accused of withholding information because the
only things were not saying are the things we're not sure about.

Finally, the best way to win in the media game is not to play. If you have
to make regular press releases on issues of global importance then employ a
press  officer to do it for you.

Matthew Genge
The Natural History Museum 
Dr Matthew J. Genge
Researcher (Meteoritics)
Department of Mineralogy, The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.
Tel: Int + 020 7 942 5581
Fax: Int.+ 020 7 942 5537
Staff internet page

"The best way to win an argument is to begin by being right."


From A J Mims <>


I enjoy your work and the open discussion it creates. I must disagree with
the ego of scientists who believe they know exactly what is good for the
masses to know and not know. Remember the scientists on planet Krypton in
the Superman movie? What if there were a high probability of a huge disaster
in 5 years; and, what if there were a built-in six month period of silence;
I fear that there would be great pressure during this time to keep the news
secret altogether. Some greater than average heads might feel that the
masses not knowing is better. Hogwash- !!

Also if science is a lot like making sausage then it is about time that the
public found out.  Those who can't stand the truth and start ignoring the
media warnings will actually be part of the solution; as will those who
overreact and prod the politicians for action. 

Never try to keep the truth from the people- even for six months. 

Keep up the good work. 


A J Mims
Senior Principal Engineer-Scientist


From Joel Gunn <>

Dear Benny,

Relative to the comment by Mike Barlow: I follow CCNET because it has a good
interdisciplinary mix of astronomical and earth system related information
on geophysics, biological consequences of impacts, social consequences, etc.
An I generally recommend to others that they follow it for the same reason.
The global change (warming if you want to take a one-sided perspective) is
an important part of that mix. I think that departmentalizing news based on
disciplinary orientation thwarts the underlying utility of the list serve
rather than enhances it.  Selection of global change research news and
anything else that applies should be made as they relate the overall
earth-astronomical system in the long and short term. 

Joel Gunn

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