CCNet 118/2001 - 12 November 2001

"Our Government has made lots of noises about taking the cosmic
impact threat seriously but produced little hard cash. In February,
science minister Lord Sainsbury declared that the Government was
seeking to give Britain "a leading role" in tackling the threat. But this is
a Government that typically does nothing until the need to act is staring in
its face. Waiting for cosmic Armageddon before announcing a new
initiative is hardly an option, however. This week's meteor storm
might be just the shot across the bows needed to make ministers take the
cosmic impact threat seriously. For the wrecking of just one multi-
billion pound spy satellite is likely to impress ministers far more than a
scary ancient history lesson."
--Robert Matthews, "Is the World on a Crash Course to
    Daily Express, 12 November 2001

"The Sloan Survey measured main belt asteroids and assumed that the
main belt population had the same size dependence as the NEAs. It is by
no means clear that this assumption is correct, or that main belt asteroids
are a satisfactory surrogate for NEAs. [...] The Sloan Survey is an
exciting astrophysics project with great promise in a number of fields of
astronomy. It has already contributed to our knowledge of the main belt
asteroids. But it has not measured NEAs, and it has not made an
independent estimate of the impact frequency. It is therefore probably
premature to conclude from these observations of the main belt asteroids
that we should revise our estimates of the impact frequency of NEAs or of
the magnitude of the impact hazard."
--David Morrison, 9 November 2001

    The Sunday Telegraph, 11 November 2001

    Marc Gyssens <>

    Marc Gyssens & Vladimir Krumov <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    David Morrison <>

    John Spiers <>

    Michael Paine <>

    Anonymous CCNet correspondent...


>From The Sunday Telegraph, 11 November 2001

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

SPACE shuttle flights have been cancelled and the astronauts in the
International Space Station are battening down the hatches this week in
anticipation of the most violent meteor storm in decades.

The greatest risk is to communications equipment among the 600 active
satellites that orbit the Earth.

Nasa, the American space agency, has taken steps to protect the orbiting
Hubble Space Telescope, which is in the path of thousands of meteors
hurtling through space at 160,000mph.

The three astronauts on the International Space Station tomorrow are due to
make their last space walk until the storm has passed.

The cosmic fireworks will begin in midweek as the Earth begins to cut across
the orbit of Comet Temple-Tuttle and into the blizzard of meteors it trails
in its wake. The storm will reach a peak by the weekend.

The meteor shower, known as the Leonids, is an annual event. This year,
however, Earth will cut across an especially dense part of the Leonid debris
trail. Parts of the Earth should witness a spectacular light show.

Copyright 2001, The Sunday Telegraph


>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

            November 18: the day of the Leonid meteors

>From North and Central America, as well as from Eastern Asia and Australia,
people may see a lot of meteors - "shooting stars" - between midnight and
dawn of the nights of November 17 to 18 or 18 to 19, provided skies are
clear. These meteors belong to the so-called Leonid shower.

A first peak, visible from North and Central America, is expected around
9:55 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on November 18, which is 4:55 a.m. Eastern
Standard Time. An activity equivalent to several hundreds to over one
thousand meteors per hour (or 10-15 meteors per minute) is expected around
the peak time.

A second and a third peak are visible from Eastern Asia and, mainly, Western
Australia, around 5:24 and 6:13 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time on November 18,
which is 1:24 and 2:13 a.m. on November 19. The weaker first peaked is
expected to flow over into the stronger second peak, for which an activity
equivalent to several thousand meteors per hour (2 meteors per second!) is

Notice that American observers should watch in the second part of the night
of November 17 to 18, while Asian and Australian observers should watch in
the second part of the night of November 18 to 19!

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
18, when the Earth is at this intersection, Leonid particles may enter the
Earth's atmosphere and cause meteors, popularly called "shooting stars."
This year, the Earth will pass through three dense dust trails ejected by
the Comet, in addition to several fainter ones.

As the predications above are based on models, peak times and peak rates may
vary somewhat from the ones quoted above. In particular, there are
indications that the first, American, peak may be stronger than quoted here,
whereas the second and third, Asian/Australian may be weaker than quoted

Whereas Europe, Western Asia, and Africa will miss both storms, observers
there may still see several tens up to one hundred meteors per hour in the
second half of the nights of November 17 to 18 and 18 to 19.

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 in
1999, with a peak activity around 60 meteors per minute (yielding an
equivalent hourly rate of almost 4000). In 2000, no storm was seen, but
several peaks with a few hundred meteors per hour occurred. Observations in
1999 and 2000 matched the predictions by astronomers David Asher and Robert
McNaught really well, so that there is more than good hope that the
predictions for this year 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 occur in the second
half of the night. Hence, there is no point in starting an observation much
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, say, one tot two hours centered around the
predicted peak time for their

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 Marc Gyssens & Vladimir Krumov <>

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

2001 Leonids: Rapid Information Dissemination

Dear meteor observer,

>From earlier communications, you have learned that the IMO is setting up a
rapid-communication network to obtain reliable information as soon as
possible for the three major expected Leonid peaks on November 18 UT. We
invite you to contribute to this effort. 

First of all, we want to point out you must DISTINGUISH between the USUAL
OBSERVATIONAL REPORTS, such as collected by the IMO's Visual Commission, and
which may be used for detailed, global analyses, and the "EXPRESS REPORT"
described below which serves as sole purpose the compilation of a first
rough but reliable picture of the activity within hours after receipt.

For the USUAL, VISUAL OBSERVATIONAL REPORTS, Rainer Arlt already sent two
circulars via IMO-News and Meteorobs. Please read these carefully and try to
apply the instructions given there to make sure the maximum possible can be
obtained from your observations!

The EXPRESS REPORT should have the following format (do not forget the

2000 November 17/18
Meteo R. Observer
Fireball City (45N 10E)

Time Interval (UT)    Lim. Magn.    Nr. of Leonids    Remarks (if any)
03:15-03:30           5.8           7                 None
03:30-03:45           5.9           16                None
03:45-04:00           6.1           56                None

Bin your observations for this "express report" in reasonable time
intervals, depending on the strength and the variation in activity (e.g., a
few minutes at the peak time, 15 minutes further away from it).

(Again, the full report of your observations will be different from this
express report, as in the former shorter intervals may be required as well
as magnitude distributions and some additional data - see Rainer Arlt's
visual observing and reporting hints - but the above data suffice for the
purpose indicated.)

If you wish to collaborate with the IMO in this respect, please send your
express report ONLY for your peak night (Nov 17-18 in America, Nov 18-19 in
Eastern Asia/Australia) *** IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE OBSERVATION *** to both of
the following email addresses:

 -------------------------             PRIMARY             Back-up


This year's coordinator will be Vladimir Krumov (Varna, Bulgaria).

(Note that observations from Europe/Western Asia/Africa are also needed, of
course, and that you send full reports of these as quickly as possible to
the IMO's Visual Commission; for logistic reasons, however, the
rapid-communication network will be restricted to the three major peaks,
this year.)

Marc Gyssens & Vladimir Krumov
International Meteor Organization


>From Andrew Yee <>

Sky & Telescope Magazine

For immediate release: November 8, 2001


Most everyone has glimpsed an occasional "shooting star," or meteor. But
imagine what it would be like to see hundreds -- or even thousands -- of
them in a single night. Such a spectacle may occur in the hours before dawn
on Sunday, November 18th. In fact, if astronomers' predictions hold up,
skywatchers in North America can expect to see their most dramatic meteor
display in 35 years. "Earth is about to plow through a cloud of space dust
that could light up our skies with celestial fireworks," notes Alan
MacRobert, senior editor for SKY & TELESCOPE magazine.

These meteors, called Leonids because they appear to radiate from the
constellation Leo (the Lion), will signal the arrival of fast-moving dust
particles shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which loops around the Sun every 33
years. Like a truck on a dirt road, the comet creates a dusty wake that
spreads along its orbit. When Earth crosses that orbit in mid-November each
year, skywatchers usually see a handful of shooting stars, a weak meteor
"shower." But three times each century Earth crosses the dust stream where
it's especially dense, and when that happens we experience what astronomers
call a meteor "storm."

Meteors are created when sand- or pebble-size grains strike Earth's
atmosphere at high speed and create streaks of superheated air along their
paths. The Leonids, which are one of a dozen or so annual meteor showers
caused by streams of cometary debris, arrive at a blistering 44 miles (71
kilometers) per second -- the fastest known. Two years ago the Leonids
briefly peppered the skies over Europe and the Middle East with 3,000
meteors per hour (nearly one every second). In 1966 lucky observers in the
southwestern United States gaped in awe for 20 minutes as Leonid meteors
fell at the rate of 40 per second!

In the November 2001 issue of SKY & TELESCOPE, meteorologist Joe Rao
assesses the predictions provided by three teams of specialists, who agree
that two dramatic storms appear likely this month.

A burst lasting perhaps two hours is expected in the predawn hours of
November 18th for observers throughout most of North and Central America.
The maximum rates should occur near 5:00 a.m. EST (corresponding to 4:00
a.m. CST, 3:00 a.m. MST, 2:00 a.m. PST). With no moonlight spoiling the
view, the storm may briefly spawn anywhere from several hundred to 1,000 or
2,000 meteors per hour for observers with clear, very dark skies. A fourth
prediction, issued recently by NASA researcher Peter Jenniskens, argues that
the hourly rate could top 4,000.

An even bigger storm is expected 8 hours later for viewers rimming the
far-western Pacific Ocean. Because these locations lie on the other side of
the International Date Line, this peak occurs before dawn on November 19th.
Several thousand meteors may streak across the sky for an hour or so
starting about 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. in eastern Australia (depending on
location); 2:00 a.m. in Japan; and 1:00 a.m. in western Australia, the
Philippines, and eastern China.

"If Earth manages to pass through a thick concentration of material," Rao
notes, "the upper atmosphere can blaze with meteors storming like a fiery
rain from the Sickle of Leo."


Peak Activity in North America (morning of November 18th)

                     Hourly Rate     Midpoint time     Midpoint time
                                         (EST)             (PST)

Asher & McNaught           800          4:55 a.m.         1:55 a.m.
Brown & Cooke             1300          8:00 a.m.         5:00 a.m.
Lyytinen & Van Flandern   2000          5:28 a.m.         2:28 a.m.
Jenniskens                4200          5:09 a.m.         2:09 a.m.

(These meteors will be dominated by dust particles shed by Comet Tempel-
Tuttle in 1767, though Brown & Cooke believe the dominant source will be
dust shed in 1799.)

Peak Activity in Asia and Australia (morning of November 19th)

                     Hourly Rate     Midpoint time     Midpoint time
                                        (Toyko)          (Sydney)

Asher & McNaught          2000         2:24 a.m.         4:24 a.m.
                          8000         3:13 a.m.         5:13 a.m.
Brown & Cooke              800         2:00 a.m.         4:00 a.m.
Lyytinen & Van Flandern   8500         3:15 a.m.         5:15 a.m.
Jenniskens                1800         2:08 a.m.         4:08 a.m.
                          2700         2:55 a.m.         4:55 a.m.

(These meteors, which may arrive in two distinct bursts, will be dominated
by particles shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle in 1699 and 1866, respectively)

Left: This "meteor's-eye view" shows how Earth will be oriented for the
first expected peak of the Leonid shower on November 18, 2001, at about 5
a.m Eastern time. This is when the various experts predict that Earth will
encounter particles released by Comet Tempel-Tuttle in 1766. While this
entire hemisphere will experience the shower, meteors will only be visible
in the nighttime region to the left. Right: About 8 hours later, a second
and perhaps stronger burst of meteors is expected over the Pacific Ocean,
favoring observers in Australia and eastern Asia. Sky & Telescope diagram.


>From David Morrison <>

NEO News (11/9/01) Impact frequency again

Dear friends & students of NEOs:

One of the persistent topics in NEO studies is the frequency or rate of
impacts of differing sizes. This impact rate depends on the population of
near-earth asteroids (NEAs) and occasional comets, and the dynamics of their
obits that ultimately may bring them into collision course with our planet.
This edition of NEO News notes a recent paper from the Sloan Digital Sky
Survey team at Princeton, which reports on the implications that the Sloan
Survey data may have for NEA impact rates.

Before discussing these results, it may be worth noting that the exact
statistical frequency, while of interest to asteroid scientists, is not
directly relevant to the present impact hazard.
Impacts by NEAs of any size are exceedingly rare, from the 5-megaton limit
of atmospheric shielding up to the hundreds of millions of megatons
associated with mass extinctions. Statistically, no impact is to be expected
within a human lifetime. The real issue, therefore,
is whether against the odds there is an NEA on an impact trajectory. If
there is such a threat, we want to identify it and deal with it. That is the
purpose of the Spaceguard Survey. The important issue is not the average
frequency of impacts but whether we can expect an impact within our
lifetime, or the lifetime of our grandchildren.

Still, the total population of NEAs and their average impact frequency are
often discussed. Sometimes these issue are used as a "hook" to attract
attention to work that might otherwise be overlooked by the media and the
general public. This week there has been considerable press interest in the
conclusion that the new Sloan Survey results have reduced the estimated
frequency of impacts and therefore that we were safer than had been
previously thought. It is true that the estimated frequency for impacts by 1
km and larger NEAs has dropped in recent years, but not by more than the
probable uncertainties, which have been given by most scientists studying
the problem as about a factor of 2 or 3. Since the mid-1990s, the most
common estimate has been that the Earth is hit by a "civilization
threatening" impact (by a 1.5-km-diameter asteroid) about twice per million
years, which is equivalent to a 1-in-5000 chance per century. But it is hard
to tie down such estimates, in part because there is also a range of
uncertainty as to what constitutes a civilization threatening impact,
spreading over at least a factor of two in asteroid size (from 1 km to 2 km

Alan Harris of JPL has provided several estimates of the impact frequency
for NEAs with absolute magnitude H less than 18 (approximately corresponding
to a 1-km asteroid with average reflectivity or albedo). For these estimates
he used various recent values of both the population of NEAs and their
dynamical lifetime (how long they orbit the Sun, on average, before they hit
the Earth). These estimates for the chances of an impact in the next century
are: 1 in 8600, 1 in 7100, 1 in 4800, and 1 in 4000. Expressed in terms of
NEAs 1.5 km in diameter, the estimated impact frequencies are 1 in 12000, 1
in 14000, 1 in 10500, and 1 in 8800. The range in these values, which us
about a factor 3, is probably representative of our uncertainty in the
impact frequency.

It should be noted that all of Harris's numbers are based on the directly
observed population of NEAs, of which nearly 1500 are now known. In
contrast, the Sloan Survey measured main belt asteroids and assumed that the
main belt population had the same size dependence as the NEAs. It is by no
means clear that this assumption is correct, or that main belt asteroids are
a satisfactory surrogate for NEAs.

I would also like to comment on the statement in the Sloan news release that
"the new impact risk estimate, like most previous ones, relies on
assumptions about a single event 65 million years ago when a 10-kilometer
asteroid collided with earth and killed the dinosaurs. The researchers
assumed that such impacts occur on roughly 100 million-year intervals and
used that statistic to calculate the impact odds for the more common
asteroids of smaller sizes." As one of the first to publish NEA impact
frequencies (with Clark Chapman, see our Nature paper in 1994), I note that
we made no such assumption. Nor, to my knowledge, have any previous
estimates involved any assumption about the frequency of KT-size impacts.
Indeed, we have no way from a single example 65 million years ago of
estimating the average frequency of such impacts. To my knowledge, this
Sloan impact frequency estimate is the first to depend on such an

The Sloan Survey is an exciting astrophysics project with great promise in a
number of fields of astronomy. It has already contributed to our knowledge
of the main belt asteroids. But it has not measured NEAs, and it has not
made an independent estimate of the impact frequency. It is therefore
probably premature to conclude from these observations of the main belt
asteroids that we should revise our estimates of the impact frequency of
NEAs or of the magnitude of the impact hazard.

David Morrison


NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near
Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the
responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions
of NASA, the International Astronomical Union, or any other
organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact
For additional information, please see the website: If anyone wishes to copy or
redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please
include this disclaimer.



>From John Spiers <>

Dr. Peiser,

Given the recent discovery in Iraq, is it safe yet in academia to say
Velikovsky was on the right track?

John Spiers

MODERATOR'S NOTE: While the conspicuous Al Amarah structure awaits detailed
inspection and analysis, there can be no doubt in my mind that Immanuel
Velikovsky was indeed on the right track - regardless of the geological
origin of the Iraqi crater and despite Velikovsky's planetary gobbledygook.
I sympathise with Sir Fred Hoyle's rather generous and far-sighted summary
of Velikovsky's place in science:

"Not long before my visit in Princeton [in 1953], an eruption over a
seemingly trivial affair had occurred among American astronomers. Immanuel
Velikovsky published a book with the title 'Worlds in Collision' in which he
claimed that a sequence of dynamically impossible events had shaped society
circa 3000 B.C., giving rise to well-known myths and legends. The book cared
naught for science but a great deal for Velikovsky's reading of ancient
documents, his expertise being in the deciphering of such papers. The book
caused a sensation both with the public and among astronomers, the latter
becoming stirred to near-violent displays of outrage. Such eminent figures
as Harlow Shapley were heavily involved. It could be said that Shapley
became angry even to the point of incoherence.

During my stay in Princeton, Velikovsky attended the weekly astronomy
seminars, whether to learn something of astronomy itself or to learn what
made astronomers tick, I never really discovered. Perhaps because I couldn't
see what the fuss was about, and so was calm about it, Velikovsky used to
come to talk at the tea intervals that preceded the seminars. I managed to
convey to him that our ground rules were different from his. He believed in
the primacy of documentary evidence, whereas we believed in the primacy of
mathematical rules, rules that enabled us to predict, with a high degree of
acuracy, where and when the next total eclipse of the Sun was going to
occur. This made Velikovsky look sad, which is how we departed.

It must have occurred to me that the intensity of the fuss was peculiar.
After all, the world is full of crazy notions, notions the public keep on
buying, as Barnum's remark about a sucker being born every minute makes
clear. I suppose I passed the situation off with the thought that Americans
are highly emotional poeple, which, in some degree, is true. But is it
sufficient true to explain why Harlow Shapley, a most distinguished
astronomer, was prepared to parade himself on the national stage over what
was claimed to be nothing but claptrap? Or could it be that Velikovsky had
revealed, admittedly in a form that was scientifically unacceptable, a
situation that astronomers are under a cultural imperative to hide? Could it
be that, somewhere in the shadows, there is a past history that is
inadmissible to discuss?"
     --Fred Hoyle, Home is where the Wind blows. Chapters from a
Cosmologist's Life,
       Oxford 1997, 285/86


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

I found this site by accident:
A bit weird but there might be something of interest



>From an anonymous CCNet correspondent...

Press Release from the Slone Digital Survey, Princesstown University

The likelihood of the average American being attacked by a wild animal has
been shown to be much less than previously estimated, according to new
results from the Slone Digital Survey, operated by Princesstown University

Records of attack rates compiled by mammal experts had indicated that a
large fraction of deaths caused by wild animals in Africa are due to
hippopotamus strikes. New observations by the Princesstown researchers,
however, show that there are fewer hippopotamuses than earlier counts

Using their new data they have extrapolated the figures to obtain a kill
rate for inhabitants of North America.

"Although we cannot be sure that our detections were all hippopotamuses -
for example some may have been elephants or wilderbeast - we are convinced
that our figures represent a much-improved evaluation of the numbers of
large gray-brown mammals in Africa" said a spokesman for the team, Dr
Neophobius Snobbs. He continued: "While some detractors have criticized us
for not including smaller beasts like lions and hyenas in our analysis, so
far as we are aware these do not pose a
danger to humans."

The team have also dismissed the arguments of public safety experts who
point to grizzly bears as being a significant risk. "I've never seen a
grizzly  bear in  Princesstown," countered another member of the team,
"whereas I remember seeing a hippopotamus in Central Park Zoo when I was a
kid. And that's only a handful of miles from here."

The purpose of the present project was to capitalize on an earlier press
release, when much publicity was gained by the team's claim that their
detection of a smaller number of main-belt asteroids in the 1-km size range
had important implications for the probability of such a projectile hitting
the Earth soon. "We were amazed. We never expected the media and the public
to be so gullible. Admittedly this is something we know nothing about but,
hey, look at all that coverage. So we figured we could pull the same stunt
with hippopotamuses"

When asked about polar bears, the Dr Snobbs said that, according to their
working definition, white animals cannot be dangerous. "To imagine otherwise
would be as silly as thinking that a comet could strike the Earth," he said.
"Clearly this makes no sense. We deal with white animals all the time - cats
and mice, mostly - and although a cat may scratch you occasionally, they are
not life-threatening." When pressed further, he commented that in any case
polar bears live only in parts of Canada, not the United States, and
Canadians don't count.

Still other critics have argued that, even if there are a few hippopotamuses
in zoos, the hazard they represent is tiny. "This shows a profound ignorance
of recent scientific advances" said Snobbs. "Global warming is an
established fact. This means that North America will get hotter, and soon
will be like the African savannah lands, and so hippopotamuses will flourish
in the Midwest." When asked how they would get there, Dr Snobbs said that
the time scale involved was some millions of years, over which
hippopotamuses would evolve so as to develop wings, just like pigs have now.

"Now we have discounted this absurd notion that bears are dangerous, through
our brilliant observations of hippopotamuses, we intend to return to our
real interest: pussy cats. These are certainly not dangerous, but they're
hugely important. Just think how many cats appear on calendars every year"
said the team leader, Professor Felix Catophilus. "Cats are wonderful, and
fully justify the billions we persuade governments to spend on
feline-related research. At one stage we were a little worried about all
this attention being paid to grizzly bear attacks - and, hey, the threat of
huge amounts of money being spent on anti-venom to save people bitten by
snakes or stung by bees - but now we are confident that attention (and more
important, funding) will remain with us pussy-cat lovers."

The Digital Survey gets its name from the fact that one of its major
purposes is giving a middle finger to researchers in other areas, by
purporting to have uncovered data that detract from the careful work of

Professor Felix Catophilus: (666) CATS-R-US
Dr Neophobius Snobbs: (911) NO-2-NEOS

The CCNet is a scholarly electronic network. To subscribe/unsubscribe,
please contact the moderator Benny J Peiser <>.
Information circulated on this network is for scholarly and educational use
only. The attached information may not be copied or reproduced for
any other purposes without prior permission of the copyright holders. The
fully indexed archive of the CCNet, from February 1997 on, can be found at
DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in the articles
and texts and in other CCNet contributions do not  necessarily reflect the
opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the moderator of this network.



"Should an unexpected meteorite impact event happen in the Middle
East today, could it trigger a nuclear exchange given the present
instability in the region? According to Astronomer Dr. Brian
Marsden, it could, and that our chance of detecting a 150-meter
meteorite prior to impact in a region like the Middle East is "somewhere
between none and dumb luck."    
--Marshall Masters, YOWUSA.COM, 10 November 2001

"Villagers fearing they were being bombed rushed to nearby army
barracks for protection after what was thought to be a large
meteorite landed near Kauyen Toro in north-west Nigeria."  (AFP)
--The Daily Telegraph, 10 November 2001


>From YOWUSA.COM, November 10, 2001

Exclusive YOWUSA Interview With Dr. Brian Marsden, Associate Director of the
Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatories Reveals a New and Frightening
Post-911 National Security Risk

YOWUSA.COM, November 10, 2001
Marshall Masters

During a joint news conference with French President Jacques Chirac last
Tuesday, President Bush warned the world of the specter of a nuclear
catastrophe as a result of Osama bin Laden's likely acquisition of nuclear
weapons from maniacs like Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Further, The
Sunday Telegraph (London) just published an article regarding new evidence
that Iraq was struck 4000 years ago by a 150-meter meteorite which begs the
question: Should an unexpected meteorite impact event happen in the Middle
East today, could it trigger a nuclear exchange given the present
instability in the region? According to Astronomer Dr. Brian Marsden, it
could, and that our chance of detecting a 150-meter meteorite prior to
impact in a region like the Middle East is "somewhere between none and dumb

Why This Is a National Security Issue

The obvious answer is that President Bush has put the world on notice -
these maniacs will soon if not already posses these weapons, and they will
use them to start a global nuclear war.

Experts say bin Laden would face huge technological obstacles in building a
nuclear bomb, but a small-scale device would be within al-Qa'eda's reach if
it could buy or create nuclear material.
Analysts say bin Laden also might be able to build a "dirty bomb" that
wouldn't cause a nuclear explosion but could spread enough radioactivity to
kill thousands in an urban environment.
While the Pakistani majority does not support the Taliban and in turn, Osama
bin Laden a large minority does and within that minority are high-ranking
members of Pakistan's intelligence operations and nuclear weapons
development programs. This fact now presents a very real possibility that
Osama bin Laden could obtain a substantial share of Pakistan's nuclear
weapons.  For this reason, the country is seeking to protect its nuclear
arsenal with the help of China.

The threat to weapons widely regarded as the Pakistan military's 'crown
jewels' has forced Islamabad 'to consider removing warheads to China,
Pakistan's closest strategic ally in the region,' the Sunday Times reported.

The prospect that loose warheads might be loaded onto helicopters or moved
around a region foaming with fundamentalist turmoil is adding to fears in
Washington that the war in Afghanistan might provoke a nuclear crisis. 

But even if Osama bin Laden is unable to obtain his own nuclear arsenal via
high-ranking Pakistani sympathizers, there is always Saddam Hussein. A known
supporter of terrorism, Saddam has been able to revitalize his nuclear arms
development program since facing down President Clinton in 1998. In that
showdown, Saddam prevailed, and was able to expel remaining U.N. arms
inspectors from Iraq.   

In a speech televised in Baghdad last September, Saddam told his nuclear
energy officials that "the battle is your battle," that Iraq's enemies "will
be defeated when their losses will be as huge as the gains they had hoped to
achieve," and that "the Nuclear Energy [Association] has a big duty in this

What is most dangerous about men like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is
that they are violent opportunists who will strike provided they can avoid
responsibility for their attacks.  In the event of an unforeseen meteorite
impact, they would use the event as a pretext with "legitimate appearance"
for the purpose of a first strike. And this has astronomers deeply worried
because of the difficulties in finding Earth-crossing objects in the
150-meter size range.

Interview with Dr. Brian Marsden

In this November 6, 2001 telephone interview between Marshall Masters of
YOWUSA and Dr. Brian Marsden, Associate Director of the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory, the possibility that an unforeseen impact event
could be used a pretext by international terrorists to start a global
nuclear holocaust was examined.

MARSHALL MASTERS: President Bush has just warned the world that Osama bin
Laden is working to gather weapons of mass destruction including biological,
chemical and nuclear devices. Also, we know that Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein has revitalized his nuclear weapons program. Keeping this in mind,
may I call your attention to an article in the published in the Sunday
Telegraph of London last Sunday. It suggests that an impact event in
Northern Iraq, wrecked the ME civilization some 4,000 years ago in the area
of Mesopotamia. Dr. Marsden, if such an impact event were to occur in the
same area of the world today and without prior notice, could it trigger a
regional or global nuclear exchange?

BRIAN MARSDEN: Yes, an unforeseen impact like the one mentioned in The
Sunday Telegraph article could certainly trigger a regional if not global
nuclear exchange, and this new concern goes straight to the heart of a
change that is taking place in the NEO (NEAR-EARTH-OBJECT) community. 

Prior to 911, the cause-and-effect relationship between an impact event and
a global nuclear exchange was nothing more than a theoretical debate.
However, since 911 it is no longer theoretical. It is now a very real threat
for the very reasons that President Bush pointed out during his press
conference with President Chirac.

MARSHALL MASTERS: If this is a new threat since the attack on America, what
kind of impact event scenario could trigger as you say, "a regional if not
global nuclear exchange."

BRIAN MARSDEN: Before delving into any one scenario, we must first ask the
question: could they see it coming? if we suppose the Iraq feature mentioned
in the Sunday telegraph was an impact event, the impactor was perhaps a
150-meter object.  That would be very tough for our best neo search
programs. As for Iraq, I do not ever recall seeing an neo sighting coming
out of that country.

Granted, there are probably people in Iraq who have read books and are
knowledgeable about meteor impacts, but the question of their access to the
leadership of Iraq is debatable.  Also, we simply do not know if Saddam
Hussein will seek out their advice. Therefore, Iraq really has little or no
practical ability to differentiate between an incoming NEO impactor and a
nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

This then brings us to two frightening possibilities for a scenario. Saddam
could initiate a retaliatory nuclear or biochemical launch against Israel
and NATO member states because of a sighting error or, he uses the event as
a pretext to justify a first launch. Either way, a great many people will
die awful deaths from both the impact event as well as the ensuing war.

MARSHALL MASTERS: When you say that people will die from the impact event as
well as a nuclear exchange, the issue of yield becomes relevant given that
the same measure of force is used to determine the destructive force of both
meteorites and nuclear warheads.  For the sake of argument, how large would
a meteorite need to duplicate the severe regional havoc as the one that
struck Mesopotamia (Northern Iraq) 4,000 years ago?

BRIAN MARSDEN: as I say, it looks as though the meteorite might have been
150 meters across--the size of one of the pyramids in Egypt, say.  An impact
like that corresponds to about 100 megatons of TNT, a little larger than the
largest nuclear detonation to date.  The 150 meters is a guess based on the
size of the crater.  Of course, the impactor could have been somewhat larger
before it came into the earth's atmosphere.

MARSHALL MASTERS: Why do you say it is tough to detect 150-meter objects
with our search programs?

BRIAN MARSDEN: NASA has set a goal to find 90% of the kilometer-sized NEO's
by 2008.  It did this because it was interested in finding objects that, if
they impacted the earth, would directly affect everyone on the planet.  It
is only just becoming interested in objects half a kilometer across or less,
but our current equipment is not optimized to find these smaller objects.
Furthermore, the smaller the size the more numerous the objects, which makes
it harder to catalog a significant fraction of them.

MARSHALL MASTERS: How is NASA in fact doing in terms of its goal?

BRIAN MARSDEN: NASA'S goal with regard to the kilometer-sized NEO's is a
little over-optimistic.  Even though we have found perhaps 50% of the
kilometer-sized NEO's (or, more correctly, near-earth asteroids), it gets
progressively more difficult to find the remainder.  After all, we were
already 30% complete five years ago, and I doubt that we can be more than
70% complete by 2008.  

Furthermore, in setting the 90% goal, NASA was really thinking only of
actual detection, and it made little or no provision for the task of
determining the orbits of the objects found with sufficient accuracy to say
for sure that some of them cannot hit us during the next century or so.
Nevertheless, since impacts by kilometer-sized objects statistically occur
at intervals of 100,000 years or more, the odds are better than a thousand
to one that we shan't be hit by one, known or unknown, during the next

While being good odds, they are clearly not acceptable, given the immensity
of the disaster if we just happen to be unlucky.  But given that we shall
surely be continuing to search and refine orbit computations for
kilometer-sized objects long after 2008, the chances will increase, as time
goes by, that we shall indeed be able to recognize the next kilometer-sized
impactor and the date it will hit at least decades ahead, and that will
presumably be enough to send out missions to deflect it.

MARSHALL MASTERS: So you're saying the situation is acceptable with regard
to kilometer-sized objects?

BRIAN MARSDEN: Actually, I think it basically is.  There is the problem of
the long-period comets, which are simply too far away and faint to detect
more than a year or two before they could hit us.  I think these represent
less than 2% of the problem, but if the hope is actually to find the comets
before they hit, we have to continue to search indefinitely.  The real
difficulty is whether with even two years' notice (and it might be a lot
less), we could actually take evasive action.

MARSHALL MASTERS: And what about 150-meter asteroids like the one that seems
to have hit Iraq 4,000 years ago?

BRIAN MARSDEN: Here the situation is very different.  We currently know at
most 2% of the population.  True, we knew perhaps only 0.5% of them five
years ago, but we've obviously got a very long way to go before we'd be
likely to know the one that is next going to hit us.  Furthermore, that next
hit is likely to be quite soon.  Statistically, a 150-meter object hits the
earth every few thousand years, and if that one in Iraq was the last one,
the next is just about due any day now.

MARSHALL MASTERS: Given that you feel we do not face an imminent danger from
the Kilometer-wide NEO Earth crossers that has NASA's full attention, you've
sure got me worried now about the 150-meter objects.  If it is a fact that
we are now in the statistical crosshairs of an impact event like the one
that devastated Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago, I've got to ask:  Are we
vulnerable to an unforeseen impact event of this magnitude today because we
simply lack the technology to track the150-meter NEO's?

BRIAN MARSDEN: No, we have the technology we need to find and catalog these
objects available today.  The reason it is sitting on the shelf is that we
simply lack the political will to put it to work, because politicians find
the costs to be unattractive.

Keep in mind that the funding set aside for attending to dangers is
calculated on a cost-per-death basis.  At some point, it simply becomes
prudent from an accounting standpoint to let people die even though their
deaths can be prevented. 

I personally find this cost method analysis to be morally repugnant. But it
is, you could say, the Golden Rule.  He who has the gold makes the rules. In
this case those who make the rules have set an arbitrary limit on what they
are willing to spend and all we can do is to make what little they give us
go as far as possible.

Perhaps the new world we live in since 911 will change all that. One can at
least be hopeful and assume so. In any case, the new scenario conceivably
affects everyone on the planet indirectly.

MARSHALL MASTERS: Assuming that the government's thinking has changed, and
that our leadership is now viewing smaller impacts as a matter of national
security and were suddenly willing to fund a search program for 150-meter
objects, what technology would you need to catalog these objects; what would
it cost; and how soon could you have it up and running?

BRIAN MARSDEN: If national security were the primary justification for this
level of effort, we would need to use build and deploy a suite of advanced
special purpose 4- OR 5-meter telescopes in the Northern and Southern
hemispheres, along with computer analysis support and adequate 24/7

Off-hand the cost to build and deploy this system, not including operational
costs, would be approximately 10 million dollars per telescope and it could
take several years to make the full system operational.  However, this
would, after a few decades, give us a better than 50% chance of finding
potential 150-meter impactors, as opposed to the at best 2% chance we have

Operating costs would likely be in excess of 10 million dollars per year,
and there is a 1% chance the next 150-meter impactor will come, unannounced,
during this time.  Granted, a success rate of more than 90% would therefore
be nice, but that would require extensive searches from space and the
enormous additional cost that would entail.  After all, 50% is a lot better
than we should have if we don't move beyond our current chicken-feed

MARSHALL MASTERS: Any substantial gain in our ability to detect these
150-meter objects is better than what we've presently got, but given the
current fragile and explosive tensions in the Middle East, we simply haven't
got years to deploy such a system, which is not to say it shouldn't be done.
However, for the sake of decreasing what is obviously a serious threat to
our national security, what can we do today?

BRIAN MARSDEN: There a great deal we can do today, provided we have the
political resolve.  For example, there are more than enough telescopes of
sufficient size currently in operation that could be quickly re-purposed to
the task cataloging 150-meter NEO Earth crossers, that is, provided the
owners of those telescopes could be convinced to allow the conversion.  Aha,
and there would be the rub.  Somebody would have to scratch their backs to
get them.  However, this would get us up and going in relatively short
order. Again, it is only a matter of will.  We have the technology and as my
friends at NASA would say, "we're good to go."

MARSHALL MASTERS: It is reassuring to know that we have an immediate and
workable option, but the political process in Washington has more twists and
turns than a donkey trail, and all too often all you're left with is what
the donkey leaves behind.  Given this, if both of your short-term or
long-term options are viewed as being politically untenable, is there a
politically expedient compromise path we could follow?

BRIAN MARSDEN: we're already stretched to the extreme by obtuse political
compromises and from a general deficiency of funding from NASA and other
international organizations and nations.  The problem is that computers --
and even the 1-meter telescopes and imaging devices that are currently being
used -- are cheap when compared with people. Everyone seems to think that
computer technology is all we need, but we cannot do the whole thing with
computers alone. 

Regardless of the equipment funding, it takes real people with real talent
and a real commitment to make this work properly.  However, this requires an
ongoing commitment, and this I fear would frighten those in Washington more
than anything else.

MARSHALL MASTERS: One of the most tragic lessons we learned as a result of
9-11, is that when we allow ourselves to become overly dependent on
computers as a people replacement, we're inviting unforeseen catastrophe.
However, many would still argue that it is easier to measure productivity
gains as result of computerization, as opposed to the efficient recruitment
and management of qualified people.  With this in mind, how could you
possibly hope to justify the additional manpower requirements inherent a
project of this scale?

BRIAN MARSDEN: That would be very simple.  Because the NEO search programs
have always had to beg for money the staff of the Minor Planet Center work
unpaid hours every week.  A short week for us is 80 hours, even though we
are salaried at 40 hours. 

But those of us who work on that scale are the lucky ones, you might say, as
others in the search business willingly work full time + overtime weeks but
are paid for only 20 hours. Why do they do it?  Because they believe so much
in what they are doing!  I'd certainly love to see a defense contractor like
Boeing or Lockheed get that much productivity out their employees, even at
twice the price.

MARSHALL MASTERS: To be honest, Dr. Marsden, I was a contractor at Lockheed
myself on a satellite project, and from my personal experience I would
definitely say that you have an airtight argument there. But then, I'm not
the one making the decision.  But if I were, the first question I'd ask you
is: "Given your present situation, what are your chances of finding a
150-meter impactor before it starts a nuclear war in the Middle East?"  How
would you answer that question?

BRIAN MARSDEN: Given the present level of financial support for our present
efforts, the chances are somewhere between none and dumb luck.  Simply put,
we must now consider ourselves to be wholly vulnerable to this risk, and all
of us in the NEO-detection field find this deeply troubling, since the world
changed for the worse on September 11.

It is About Our Lives and Their Legacies

After concluding my interview with Dr. Marsden, I made a cup of hot coffee
and reviewed our question-and-answer session several times. The part that
really bothered me the most is that our leaders use formulas to decide who
will die and who will live. Perhaps there was a time when that was a
politically expedient way to manage the NEO threat, but wasn't it was also
that kind of thinking that allowed us to blindside ourselves to the events
leading up to September 11, 2001?

Is it possible that our leaders in Washington will give this national
security threat the attention it deserves?  Most likely not, but they can
depend on one absolute - the Internet will not give them a pass should they
fail us again by letting an unforeseen impact event trigger a global nuclear

Warnings like those mentioned in this article will be tucked away in the
niches and corners of the Internet where future historians will eventually
find them.  In that future time, the most urgent goal of generations will be
defined with a simple mantra, "never again."  With this mantra in mind, they
apply these candid warnings with firm brushstrokes across the legacies they
will paint for our leaders. 

No matter how great your achievements in this lifetime can be; leaders
beware - do not ignore this potential brushstroke of fate if you truly value
your own legacy. 


About Dr. Brian G. Marsden

Associate director and astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Born in Cambridge, England, Dr. Marsden lived through the air attacks on
England during WW II as a child and remembers the horrors of what happens
when death falls from the sky. Filled with a great purpose by those early
memories, he is committed advocate of public education about the
ever-present threat of impact events, which he does in addition, to his many
NEO detection responsibilities.  He is truly a hero by today's definition of
the term. 

SPECIALTIES: Celestial mechanics and astrometry, with particular application
to the study of comets and asteroids.
EDUCATION: Undergraduate education at Oxford University; Ph.D. degree from
Yale University; dissertation on the orbits of the Galilean satellites of
NOTABLE DISCOVERIES: Successful track record of predicting the return of
several lost comets and asteroids. His most famous prediction was the 1992
return of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which has the longest period of any comet ever
successfully predicted.
PUBLICATIONS: "Catalogue of Cometary Orbits" -- Thirteen editions published
since 1972.  
(1978 - Present). Responsibilities include the issuance of electronic
information several times each day plus batches of printed circulars monthly
with positional observations, orbital elements and related information about
comets and asteroids.

Director, IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (1968 - 2000).
Responsibilities included the timely dissemination of information about
transient astronomical objects and events. 

Copyright 2001, YOWUSA.COM


>From The Daily Telegraph, 10 November 2001

VILLAGERS fearing they were being bombed rushed to nearby army barracks for
protection after what was thought to be a large meteorite landed near Kauyen
Toro in north-west Nigeria. (AFP)

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