CCNet 106/2003 - 17 November 2003

A new survey revises down the likelihood of a massive asteroid hitting the Earth
by 20-30%. We're only due to collide with rocks larger than one kilometre across
roughly once every 600,000 years, it concludes "There was a lot of error in our
previous estimates," says astronomer Alan Harris of the German space agency, DLR.
"It's all because near-Earth asteroids are somewhat brighter than we thought".
     --Tom Clarke, Nature, 14 November 2003

Data from Ulysses show that the solar wind originates in holes in the sun's corona,
and the speed of the solar wind varies inversely with coronal temperature. "This
was completely unexpected. Theorists had predicted the opposite. Now all models of
the sun and the solar wind will have to explain this observation."
     --Louis Lanzerotti, New Jersey Institute of Technology/Bell Labs, 14 November 2003 

    Nature, 14 November 2003

    Icarus, Volume 166, Issue 1 , November 2003, Pages 116-130

    Santa Cruz Sentinel, 16 November 2003

    Oliver Manuel <>

    Andrew Yee <>


    Andrew Yee <>


Nature, 14 November 2003


A new survey revises down the likelihood of a massive asteroid hitting the Earth by 20-30%.
We're only due to collide with rocks larger than one kilometre across roughly once every
600,000 years, it concludes (1).

"There was a lot of error in our previous estimates," says astronomer Alan Harris of the
German space agency, DLR. "It's all because near-Earth asteroids are somewhat brighter than
we thought".

Near-Earth asteroids, or NEAs, are too small and too far away to measure directly, so
astronomers approximate their size from how much light they reflect. But reflectiveness
varies among asteroids of the same dimensions, thanks to different rock types or dust
coatings, says Harris.

So instead his team used infrared detectors on the powerful Keck telescope at Mauna Kea in
Hawaii to calculate the warmth of 20 NEAs - or how much energy each absorbs.

Objects either reflect or absorb the light that reaches them. So subtracting an asteroid's
warmth from the total light that falls on it from the Sun gives a better measure of how
reflective it is, and hence how large, the researchers argue.

Applying the results of the sample to the 2,200 known NEAs, suggests that around 1,090 are
more than a kilometre across. Previous estimates put the number between 1,200 and 1,300.

The analysis doesn't change the chance of an asteroid hitting the Earth, points out astronomer
Iwan Williams of Queen Mary University of London, UK. "But assuming that there are fewer
large asteroids, the damage will be less," he says.
Delbó, M., Harris, A. W., Binzel, R. P., Pravec, P. & Davies, J. K. Keck observations of near-Earth asteroids in the thermal infrared. Icarus, 166, 116 - 130, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2003.07.002 (2003). |Article|

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003


Icarus, Volume 166, Issue 1 , November 2003, Pages 116-130

Marco Delbóa, 1, Alan W. Harris, , a, Richard P. Binzelb, Petr Pravecc and John K. Daviesd

a DLR Institute of Planetary Research, Rutherfordstrasse 2, 12489, Berlin, Germany
b Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
c Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, CZ-25165, Ondejov, Czech Republic
d Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ, UK

Received 12 May 2003;  revised 9 July 2003.  Available online 22 September 2003.

We present the results of thermal-infrared observations of 20 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) obtained in the period March 2000-February 2002 with the 10-m Keck-I telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The measured fluxes have been fitted with thermal-model emission continua to determine sizes and albedos. This work increases the number of NEAs having measured albedos by 35%. The spread of albedos derived is very large (pv=0.02-0.55); the mean value is 0.25, which is much higher than that of observed main-belt asteroids. In most cases the albedos are in the ranges expected for the spectral types, although some exceptions are evident. Our results are consistent with a trend of increasing albedo with decreasing size for S-type asteroids with diameters below 20 km. A number of objects are found to have unexpectedly low apparent color temperatures, which may reflect unusual thermal properties. However, the results from our limited sample suggest that high thermal-inertia, regolith-free objects may be uncommon, even amongst NEAs with diameters of less than 1 km. We discuss the significance of our results in the light of information on these NEAs taken from the literature and the uncertainties inherent in applying thermal models to near-Earth asteroids.

Copyright © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Santa Cruz Sentinel, 16 November 2003


SANTA CRUZ - Imagine a tsunami that could wipe out Santa Cruz. Steven Ward has.

Ward, Ph.D., a seismologist at the UC Santa Cruz Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, and his colleagues have developed computer-simulation programs to model the potential impact of an asteroid crashing into the ocean, resulting in 300-foot high waves.

The modeling comes in the wake of NASA predictions that a large asteroid known as 1950DA will crash into Earth on March 16, 2880. The odds that the asteroid will hit earth, scientists say, are roughly one-in-1000.

Ward says collisions of this magnitude have happened in the past.

"There are 100 known craters (from asteroid crashes) on land," says Ward. "As the ocean covers two-thirds of the planet, we can expect there have been at least this many asteroid- ocean collisions in the past."

Because collisions of this magnitude, though rare, are a real possibility, Ward and his colleagues are studying the potential impact on coastal regions.

Ward's models suggest that the impact, if an asteroid like the ones that have previously hit Earth slams into the Atlantic Ocean, could create waves that travel at more than 500 miles an hour.

The results of Ward's computer modeling appeared in the June issue of the "Geophysical Journal International."

Ward says that if a collision were to occur in the Pacific Ocean, coastal towns like Santa Cruz could be completely submerged.

Scientists do not know where 1950DA, if it collides with Earth, would land, nor what the impact would be.

They also say efforts to detect asteroids approaching Earth can only identify a small percentage of the ones that actually will. Many more asteroids await discovery, and of those found, some are difficult to keep an eye on.

After its initial discovery, 1950DA disappeared. It wasn't re-discovered until 2000, nearly 50 years later.

Most incoming rocks and boulders burn up in the Earth's atmosphere before they hit land, and no one needs to lose sleep over the possibility of a meteor-sparked tidal wave.

Instead, Ward says, the Monterey Bay Area is more likely to experience a tsunami as a result of a landslide or earthquake.

Ward says that Santa Cruz has earthquakes big enough to cause a tsunami every 50 years or so, which could cause large waves to head ashore.

There was a tsunami associated with the 1989 earthquake. However, it was small and barely noticeable.

Ward thinks that an earthquake of a magnitude 7.5 could cause a 15-foot tsunami to reach the Santa Cruz shoreline in a matter of minutes under certain conditions.

"It's as if a giant stood in the sea and picked up the ocean floor, tilting it and causing the water to run toward the coast," he said.

The effect is sometimes more like a flash flood than a Hollywood-style tidal wave, he explained. It's not a single, giant wave that crashes on top of houses and buildings but water that begins to flow in and never stops. Sometimes the water flows in at 30 miles an hour, and sometimes it doesn't stop for 20 or 30 minutes.

There are no documented cases of a tsunami hitting Santa Cruz after a local underwater landslide. However, Santa Cruz has been hit by tsunamis caused by earthquakes.

In 1946 an elderly man was killed by a wave while walking around the point from Cowell Beach from a 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Alaska. A Santa Cruz restaurant located at the entrance of the Municipal Wharf reported that water levels rose up to its floorboards.

Offshore earthquakes along the Pacific Rim have caused multiple tsunamis in Hawaii, where local beaches have sirens that warn beach-goers to move to higher ground when a tsunami is thought to be on the way.

In 1965, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.5 - the largest earthquake every recorded - occurred off the coast of Chili, breaking nearly 600 miles of coastline. The quake caused 20 feet of uplift and sent 10-foot high tsunamis towards Japan.

Steven Ward's Web site is

Copyright 2003, Santa Cruz Sentinel


Oliver Manuel <>

Dear Benny,

This quote (from a NASA news release) demonstrates the current state
of understanding about the origin of solar magnetic fields and solar

The complete report is below.

With kind regards,


Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 14:11:25 -0500


For more information, please contact:
Gale Scott
New Jersey Institute of Technology
(973) 596 3438

Saswato Das
Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs
(908) 582 4824


New Jersey Institute of Technology/Bell Labs physicist Louis Lanzerotti
was participated in international team that studied the unquiet sun when
it was most active and found interesting phenomena


Newark, NJ-The sun's surface is a violent and turbulent place, where
a fiery tempest always blows. Scientists are reporting in the journal
Science today that they have finally succeeded in getting a good
three-dimensional view of it.

"The sun is huffing and puffing and blowing off steam," said Louis
Lanzerotti, a member of an international team that used the Ulysses
spacecraft to make the first-ever 3-D study of our parent star during
solar maximum, the peak of the sun's 11-year activity cycle.  "Ulysses
gave us a chance to observe the sun from unique vantage points to
better understand solar storms and their consequences."

Scientists have been trying to understand solar weather for years, in
an effort to better predict terrestrial consequences of solar storms.
Solar storms sometimes severely disrupt wireless telephone calls,
satellite communications and electric power grids on Earth.

Ulysses, launched in 1990 by the shuttle Discovery as a joint mission
of NASA and the European Space Agency, has an orbit that takes it
over the solar poles, giving scientists a chance to look at the sun
from all angles.

"No other spacecraft can do that," said Lanzerotti, a solar physicist
who divides his time between Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs, which he
joined in 1965 and where he is now a consultant, and the New Jersey
Institute of Technology, where he is a distinguished research
professor at the Center for Solar Terrestrial Research. "Many space
missions have observed the sun near its equator, but only Ulysses has
traveled from the solar equator to above the sun's polar caps."

Ulysses began its first solar orbit in 1992 and completed it in 1998,
a period when solar activity was at a minimum. But during the second
orbit, begun in 1998, the sun was at its most turbulent.

The scientists report that, during this period, huge explosions on
the sun hurled vast amounts of solar material into space.  Called
coronal mass ejections, since the sun's outermost layer -- the corona
-- throws them off, these swirling, boiling plumes travel out from
the sun and are thought to be caused by the severest of solar gales.

"We just had a coronal mass ejection last week," Lanzerotti noted.
"These are some of the most violent phenomena associated with the
sun. We were able to look at a few that happened around the recent
solar maximum."

The team also got to observe the solar wind - the stream of charged
particles that are emitted by the sun.   The solar wind blows out a
giant bubble called the heliosphere within the interstellar medium,
the dilute gas and dust that fills the space between stars. The sun's
influence extends far beyond the orbits of the outer planets and the
vast reservoir of periodic comets known as the Kuiper Belt because
the solar wind fills the heliosphere and  exerts an outward pressure
on the interstellar medium. (The boundary between the heliosphere and
the interstellar medium is the true edge of the solar system, a place
where a lot of interesting physical phenomena take place.  Last week,
a separate team of scientists, of which Lanzerotti is also a member,
reported in the journal Nature that Voyager 1 has reached the edge of
the solar system.)

Data from Ulysses show that the solar wind originates in holes in the
sun's corona, and the speed of the solar wind varies inversely with
coronal temperature.

"This was completely unexpected," said Lanzerotti.  "Theorists had
predicted the opposite. Now all models of the sun and the solar wind
will have to explain this observation."

Another surprising finding based on Ulysses' data is that the sun's
magnetic field originates from a magnet that seems to be
perpendicular to the sun's axis of rotation (instead of being parallel
to it, as is the case with Earth).

"At solar maximum, the sun's polar cap magnetic fields reverse
direction or sign," said Edward Smith of  NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab at
the California Institute of Technology, who is the US project
scientist for the Ulysses mission. "Inward fields become outward and
vice versa. Ulysses observations show that during this reversal, the
Sun's magnetic poles are located near the solar equator instead of in
the polar caps."

The sun has a powerful magnetic field -- the needle of a compass
placed on the sun's surface would be deflected so strongly that it
would require Herculean strength to push it back. It is thought that
solar activity is strongly related to changes in the sun's magnetic

"We knew that the sun's magnetic field was dynamic and variable,"
said Lanzerotti. "But this shows that we still have a lot of
understanding to do. No one really knows how it is formed and why it
changes as it does."

Other members of the scientific team were: R.G. Marsden (European
project scientist) and M. Landgraf of the European Space Agency in
the Netherlands; A. Balogh of Imperial College, London; G.
Gloeckler of the University of Maryland; J. Geiss of the
International Space Science Institute in Switzerland; D. J. McComas
of Southwest Research Institute; R.B. McKibben of the University of
New Hampshire; R. J. MacDowall of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center;
and N. Krupp and H. Krueger of the Max Planck Institutes in Germany.

The team's paper, "The Sun and Heliosphere at Solar Maximum,"
appears in the November 14, 2003 issue of Science on page 1165.

About NJIT

NJIT, located in Newark, New Jersey, is a public, scientific and
technological research university enrolling more than 8,800
students.  The university offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral
degrees to students in 80 degree programs throughout   its six
colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of
Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of
Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing
Sciences.  The division of continuing professional education
offers adults eLearning, off campus degrees and short courses.
Expertise and research initiatives include architecture and
building science, applied mathematics, biomedical engineering,
environmental engineering and science, information technology,
manufacturing, materials, microelectronics, multimedia,
telecommunications, transportation and solar astrophysics.  NJIT
ranks in the top tier of U.S. News & World Report's list of
national doctoral universities.

About Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs

Bell Labs is the leading source of new communications technologies.
It has generated more than 30,000 patents since 1925 and has played
a pivotal role in inventing or perfecting key communications
technologies, including transistors, digital networking and signal
processing, lasers and fiber-optic communications systems,
communications satellites, cellular telephony, electronic switching
of calls, touch-tone dialing, and modems.  Bell Labs scientists
have received six Nobel Prizes in Physics, nine U.S. National
Medals of Science and eight U.S. National Medals of Technology. For
more information about Bell Labs, visit its Web site at

Lucent Technologies (NYSE: LU), headquartered in Murray Hill, N.J.,
USA, designs and delivers networks for the world's largest
communications service providers.  Backed by Bell Labs research and
development, Lucent relies on its strengths in mobility, optical,
data and voice networking technologies as well as software and
services to develop next-generation networks.  The company's systems,
services and software are designed to help customers quickly deploy
and better manage their networks and create new, revenue-generating
services that help businesses and consumers. For more information
on Lucent Technologies, visit its Web site at


Andrew Yee <>

Public Affairs
Air Force Research Laboratory

CONTACT: John Brownlee
PHONE: (505) 846-4704

November 3, 2003


Air Force Keeps a Wary Eye on Ferocious Space Storms

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, MA -- If you plan to orbit the Earth this week, be sure
to pack plenty of sunscreen. Two whopping solar flares -- among recorded
history's worst 20 -- have blasted the Earth's protective magnetosphere with
potent clouds of solar radiation and energized particles from the sun, leaving
in their wake the potential for fried satellites and scrambled circuits on the
ground. Not good news for electronically-dependant military and civilian
telecommunication operations.

But instead of merely complaining about this "weather" in space, solar
physicists at the Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) Space Weather Center of
Excellence outside Boston are actually doing something about it. And they rely
on one of their most recent space-based tools, the Solar Mass Ejection Imager
(SMEI), to track the sun's activity.

Also known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, solar eruptions are incompletely
understood yet natural phenomena that occur periodically -- often in 11-year
cycles -- and with varying levels of intensity. They trigger geomagnetic storms
-- this week's first one rated at G5, the highest possible -- harmful to
spacecraft and communications, increase radiation exposure for astronauts and
high-flying aircraft, and damage ground-based power grids and subsystems. Such
storms have impaired U.S. communication satellites in the past and blacked-out
power stations in Canada. This week's solar assault forced some air traffic
controllers to alter aircraft flight plans due to disrupted radio transmissions
and crippled two Japanese satellites. If CMEs were better understood and more
accurately anticipated, steps might then be taken to mitigate their disruptive
effects, such as temporarily shutting down satellites and switching off power
systems. SMEI is now beginning to help shed some light on the yet hidden
mysteries behind solar storms and their effects on advanced technology.

For its solar reconnaissance mission, SMEI uses first-of-a-kind cameras aboard
Coriolis, a DoD Space Test Program spacecraft. Launched just nine months ago,
SMEI and its highly sensitive cameras reached orbit just in time to study how
such violent storms behave. Built as a proof-of-concept experiment to detect,
track and forecast CMEs, SMEI has now detected many of the sun's radiation-laden

"An Earth-bound CME looks like a broad, bright, outward-moving ring with the sun
at its center, or a halo," said AFRL geophysicist David Webb. "Our SMEI cameras
have detected two of them within the last week, which were part of a series of
major events centered around two huge sunspot groups on the sun," he added. An
image of the first event in this series appears in Figure 1. Fig. 2 shows two
white light images of the Sun showing the motion of the sunspots over 5 days.

SMEI, in a sun-synchronous polar orbit around the Earth, can detect even fast,
Earth-bound CMEs up to a day before their arrival, providing valuable early
warning of an impending storm unobtainable until now. Warning time is truly of
the essence here, given that one solar eruption this week took only took 19
hours to reach the Earth. Seeing CMEs in this distance range (20-180 degrees
from the sun) is a new capability that along with other space environment
sensors promises to greatly enhance the space weather "big picture."

"Although the jury is still out on what impact all this recent solar activity
has had on satellites and ground communications, we expect that SMEI, only in
its first year of operation, will better enable us to predict future solar
events and provide earlier warning of incoming CMEs," he said. "Then we can take
preventative measures to protect sensitive electronics, in space as well as on
the ground."


[Figure 1: (62KB)]
Partial field of view of SMEI camera 3 on Oct. 29 at 02:10 UT. The + sign
denotes the Sun's position and the dark circle is an excluded zone around the
Sun. This is a difference image of the previous orbit subtracted from the
present one. Arrows point to bright/dark arcs to the upper right and the bright
structure to the lower left that are parts of the halo CME. Black/white areas
are contamination by particles in Earth orbit.

[Figure 2: (43KB)]
White light images of the Sun on Oct. 23 and 28, both at 00:00 UT. From SOHO MDI


Extraterrestrial Resources: 'Living off the Land'

By Leonard David

GOLDEN, Colorado -- Outer space has an endless supply of resources. Within rocket's reach there are light buckets full of intense solar energy, at least out to Mars. Then there are valuable materials on the Moon, as well as on Mars and its moons. Near Earth asteroids offer yet another mother lode of minerals.

At present, the vast gulf of space prohibits access to these treasures, but a loosely knit group of like-minded experts believe that by tapping the rich resources of space, humanity's foothold on other worlds will be far more secure and long-lived.

Mining specialists, space engineers, and energy strategists were among those gathered at Space Resources Roundtable V, held here October 28-30 at the Colorado School of Mines.

Also giving space resource mining its "due diligence" were lawyers. Turns out you can't leave Earth without them.

Trans-space railroad

If humans are ever to truly spread their wings in space, they must be nourished and sustained by space resources. That means no less than "living off the land", severing the supply umbilical of Mother Earth. It's also tagged as in-situ resource utilization -- or ISRU in space lingo short speak. Off-world resources can be transformed into oxygen, propellant, water, as well as used for construction purposes and to energize power stations. 

As new trade routes flourish in space, space resources, particularly energy and the systems needed to collect and distribute it, will grow in importance as their value and uses begin to be realized. Moreover, commercial opportunities are expected to exist within this growing domain.

"ISRU really is the stepping stone, a key part of the development of space," said Gerald Sanders, Chief, Propulsion and Fluid Systems Branch at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "We can do things at low Earth orbit bringing materials up from Earth. But once you start getting any distance away from low Earth orbit, the leveraging just isn't there," he told .

Sanders envision a progressive build-up of space infrastructure, akin to a space-based railroad. Part of that trans-space network of hardware is a depot at the Lagrangian L1 point, along with use of Moon-made propellant.

In the past, rocketeers have been focused on cutting the costs of lobbing payloads from Earth into space. In some quarters, that has evoked a "so cheap to launch, everything can be thrown away" attitude. But even if launch costs were radically reduced, Sanders said, not throwing space hardware away makes far greater sense.

All that translates into reusable and sustainable space infrastructure.

International bid for the Moon

"The enthusiasm is perennial. We're all infected with the same dream," said Brad Blair, Ph.D student in mineral economics at the School of Mines. He acknowledges that the NASA humans-to-the-Moon program of the late 1960s into the early 1970s was a certifiable statement of American technical prowess.

In essence, the dusty dozen Apollo moonwalkers were the first prospectors to site-survey another world.

"Apollo was a grand one but there was a lot of potential that was left left hanging for the last 30 years or so," Blair said. "We seem to be hooked on this idea of throwing away infrastructure as soon as we make it in space," he added.

"It's very interesting right now to realize that there are two countries with the ability to put humans into space, and the United States is not one of them," Blair said, noting China's recent entry into the human spaceflight arena along with Russia's on-going launch of passenger-carrying Soyuz spacecraft.

Blair senses that there is an "international bid" for the Moon, driven by such nations as China and India that want to go the lunar distance in years to come.

Is there a lunar payoff out there?

Finding an economic return on the Moon is critical for any commercial enterprise to cough up investment money, Blair said. "All of our research so far indicates that there's still need for reliance on the government to get that kicked off."

Once an entrepreneur sees a profitable edge to a Moon-derived product, Blair foresees a stampede towards the door by space capitalists trying to make the next buck. It's a matter of getting the process started. NASA has the ability to open those doors, to reduce the business risk and help spearhead the economic development of space, he said.

Strategic and economic potential

The concepts for utilizing the Moon's resources continue to expand, said Michael Duke, the Roundtable's organizer and Director of the Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space (CCACS) at the School of Mines.

Duke said that the discovery of hydrogen deposits -- perhaps in the form of water -- at the lunar poles should be stimulating NASA and other countries to investigate the strategic and economic potential of that resource.

Data presented at the Roundtable meeting suggests propellants produced from lunar ice could be developed commercially, Duke said. "However, we must first learn more about its location and concentration."

A surface exploration program to one of the lunar poles should be undertaken, Duke believes, to better determine just how much ice is resident there and how tough it would be to mine the material, then process it to produce fuel. "Lunar propellant can become a stepping stone for human expansion into the solar system," he said.

Whether or not water ice is tucked away in niches at the lunar poles remains debatable, however.

Researchers analyzing data gleaned from NASA's Lunar Prospector orbiter, as well as the Pentagon's Clementine spacecraft, argue that hydrogen, likely in the form of water ice, exists in huge quantities hidden within craters free of the Sun's warming rays.

It was reported at the meeting that there are "discrepancies" in the data supporting the water ice idea. Carbon deposits at the lunar poles, rather than hydrogen/water ice, was offered as one possibility for what has been detected on the Moon.

Legal landscape

The greatest need -- to prepare not only for Moon mining, but also digging out resources from Mars -- is not for technological breakthroughs. Rather, it is for information and clarification.

That's the belief of Leslie Gertsch, Assistant Professor of Geological Engineering at the Rock Mechanics & Explosives Research Center at the University of Missouri-Rolla.

It is obvious that fundamental differences exist between the working conditions on Earth contrasted to the Moon and Mars, Gertsch said. On the other hand, we shouldn't forget the know-how gained by humans after more than 10 millennia of extracting natural resources on our own planet, she noted.

First of all, Gertsch said, the legal landscape for extraterrestrial resource ownership and extraction must be clarified. Additionally, there needs to be detailed feedstock specifications for products that could be made using off-Earth materials. Obtaining more, and higher resolution data on prospective deposits needed for space mining -- using both orbiters and landers -- is critical too. Lastly, achieving and maintaining the link to the Moon and Mars is key, she said.

Extraterrestrial mining is sure to involve interactions that won't be discovered until on-the-spot work takes place, Gertsch said. The effects of gravity, vacuum, even how particles act when put in a pile or fed through processing machinery...these and other factors need to be considered in moving space mining into high gear, she said.

Terrestrial mining and milling are not designed for use on the Moon or Mars, Gertsch said. "They are doable, but at the cost of being terribly inefficient. Modifying these processes to bring their efficiency up to commercial levels will be non-trivial, but it's not necessary to achieve perfection beforehand," she reported.

"We need to get out there and try these things out," Gertsch advised.

Glass roads

Throughout the three-day meeting, numbers of space mining ideas were tabled.

For example, Lawrence Taylor, Director, Planetary Geoscience Institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville advanced the idea of microwave processing of lunar soil.

Taylor, along with colleague Thomas Meek, is studying how lunar regolith -- the topside blanket of "soil" comprised of stone, fine powder and rock fragments -- can be sintered and melted to create a variety of products.

"What's been found really presents us with a fantastic situation," Taylor explained. First of all, the magnetic properties of lunar soil are a lot different than ever thought. Making use of an array of microwaves, working at adjustable frequencies and power settings, lunar soil can be simply and effectively sintered to varying depths.

"I can actually put a glass coating on the upper inch or so. I can make whatever kind of roads you want," Taylor said.

Focused microwaves can blast the lunar soil to also make shielding, antenna dishes, glass fiber, and other products, such as solar cells made out of ilmenite. Even an igloo can be made using the concept, Taylor said.

"It depends on how far you want to stretch your imagination," Taylor said. The best match of Moon and microwave processing, in terms of efficiency and soil composition, is the Apollo 17 landing site - the valley called Taurus-Littrow.

Master of the space domain

A relatively new legal concept, "telepossession", was detailed at the Space Resources Roundtable.

Richard Westfall, head of Galactic Mining Industries, Inc. of Denver, Colorado, suggested that telepossession can be used to establish title to asteroids accessible from Earth orbit.

The notion is to use robot emissaries to perform tasks that a hands-on asteroid miner could do at a remote site. That includes gaining legal domain over a property and establishing a form of legal possession of the mini-world. Here on Earth, this legal model has been applied to maritime salvage of a shipwreck using underwater telerobots.

Westfall proposed creation and use of Telepossession Probes: A lander and a relay spacecraft.

Rendezvousing with an asteroid in space, the lander performs the tasks of assaying the space rock, drilling, and turning out a product. All these lander activities are sent to the relay spacecraft. This relay craft not only oversees the asteroid's position and condition 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but also collects assay data and transmits this information to Earth operators.

No doubt the idea of gaining some sort of legal footing on an asteroid via robots is sure to spark legal beagle-type debates.

"Part of the education process in the international legal community is to educate people that resources in outer space are virtually unlimited," noted Wayne White Jr., a space law consultant in Huntsville, Alabama. "There's more than enough for everyone," he said.

"We must look at the great frontier of space as the next place to get our large injection of resources," Westfall said. "I admit that we might be opening a can of worms. But you've got to have worms to catch fish," he said.

Copyright 2003,


Andrew Yee <>

ESA News

31 October 2003

Signals from space enable earthquake detection

A violent earthquake that cracked highways in Alaska set the sky shaking as well
as the land, an ESA-backed study has confirmed.

This fact could help improve earthquake detection techniques in areas lacking
seismic networks, including the ocean floor.

A team from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and the California
Institute of Technology has successfully used the Global Positioning System
(GPS) satellite constellation to map disturbances in the ionosphere following
last November's magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Denali, Alaska.

Their paper has been published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research
Letters. The research itself was carried out in support of ESA's Space Weather
Applications Pilot Project, aimed at developing operational monitoring systems
for space conditions that can influence life here on Earth.

The ionosphere is an atmospheric region filled with charged particles that
blankets the Earth between altitudes of about 75 to 1000 km. It has a notable
ability to interfere with radio waves propagating through it.

In the particular case of GPS navigational signals, received on Earth from
orbiting satellites, fluctuations in the ionosphere -- known as 'ionospheric
scintillations' -- have the potential to cause signal delays, navigation errors
or in extreme cases several hours of service lockouts at particular locations.

But while such interference can be an inconvenience for ordinary GPS users, it
represents a boon for scientists. By measuring even much smaller-scale shifts in
GPS signal propagation time -- caused by variations in local electron density as
the signal passes through the ionosphere -- researchers have at their fingertips
a means of mapping ionospheric fluctuations in near real time.

The French and US team made use of dense networks of hundreds of fixed GPS
receivers in place across California. These networks were originally established
to measure small ground movements due to geological activity, but they can also
be utilised to plot the ionosphere structure across three dimensions and in fine

Then when the Denali earthquake occurred on 3 November 2002, the team had a
chance to use this technique to investigate another distinctive property of the
ionosphere, its ability to work like a natural amplifier of seismic waves moving
across the Earth's surface.

There are several different types of seismic waves moving the ground during an
earthquake, the largest scale and the one that does most of the movement is
known as a Rayleigh Wave. This type of wave rolls along the ground up and down
and side-to-side, in the same way as a wave rolls along the ocean.

Previous research has established that shock waves from Rayleigh Waves in turn
set up large-scale disturbances in the ionosphere. A one millimetre peak-to-peak
displacement at ground level can set up oscillations larger than 100 metres at
an altitude of 150 km.

What the team were able to do following the Denali quake was detect a
distinctive wavefront moving through the ionosphere. "Using the network allowed
us to observe the propagation of the waves," explained co-author Vesna Ducic.
"We could also separate the small total electron content signal from the very
large total electron content variations related to the daily variation of the

The team observed a signal two to three times larger than the noise level,
arriving about 660 to 670 seconds after the arrival of Rayleigh Waves on the
ground. And because around six GPS satellites are visible to every ground
receiver they were able to calculate the altitude of maximum perturbation --
around 290 to 300 km up.

The signals were weak and only sampled every 30 seconds, with a maximum
resolution of 50 km and the overall noise rate high. But the ionospheric signal
observed had a clear pattern consistent with models of seismic behaviour. The
hope is that the technique can be improved in future, and used to detect
earthquakes in areas without seismic detectors, such as the deep ocean or near

"In the framework of Galileo we plan to develop this research," said Ducic.
"Galileo will double the number of satellites and therefore will allow much more
precise maps of the ionosphere. We can also foresee that Europe will develop a
dense network of Galileo/GPS stations that will take part in the monitoring of
these phenomena.

"ESA, together with the French Ministry of Research and CNES have already
decided to fund a pre-operational project called SPECTRE -- Service and Products
for Ionosphere Electronic Content and Tropospheric Refractive index over Europe
from GPS -- devoted to the high-resolution mapping of the ionosphere. We will be
carrying out mapping above Europe as well as California.

"These investigations will support the French space agency CNES's DEMETER
(Detection of Electro-Magnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake Regions)
microsatellite, to be launched in 2004 and devoted to the detection in the
ionosphere of seismic, volcanic and man-made signals. These ESA activities will
be performed in the framework of the Space Weather Applications Pilot Project."

The Space Weather Applications Pilot Project is an ESA initiative which has
already begun to develop a wide range of application-oriented services based
around space weather monitoring.

The co-funded services under development -- of which this project is one -- also
include forecasting disruption to power and communication systems, and the
provision of early warning to spacecraft operators of the hazards presented by
increased solar and space weather activities. The hope is that an a seismic
detection service based on ionospheric measurements may in future supplement
existing resources in Europe and elsewhere.

Related links

* Geophysical Research Letters
* Article abstract
* ESA Space Weather Applications Pilot Project
* Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris


[Image 1:]
An Alaska Department of Transportation truck sits at the edge of one of the
large cracks on the Tok Cutoff Highway, near Mentasta, Alaska, Monday, Nov. 4,
2002, caused by an 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Sunday that rocked a sparsely
populated area of interior Alaska. Bruce Turner of the West Coast and Alaska
Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said the quake hit at 1:13 p.m Alaska
Standard Time and was centered 90 miles south of Fairbanks.

Credits: AP Photo/Alaska Department of Transportation

[Image 2:]
Solid Earth-atmosphere coupling at teleseismic distances. Adapted from Calais &
Minster [1995]. Data shown correspond to the vertical displacement in France
after Izmit earthquake recorded on SSB seismometer (Geoscope, France) and by the
Francourville Doppler sounding network, at an altitude of about 170 km.

Credits: ESA

[Image 3:]
Image of the wave front in the ionosphere and its intersection of signals
between GPS satellites 26 and 29 and California GPS stations. The wave front can
be detected by measuring the total electron content of the signals.

Credits: ESA

[Image 4:]
The figure shows California GPS receivers location and 'piercing points' for
ionospheric measurements from all receivers in California (SCIGN + BARD + IGS
GPS networks). Different satellites are shown in different colours. The black
star shows the epicentre location for the Denali earthquake. The piercing point
is the intersection point between the GPS ray path (receiver-satellite) and a
spherical shell with infinitesimal thickness at the mean altitude of the peak in
the electron density profile.

Credits: ESA

[Image 5:]
Galileo's new technology will revolutionise our transport systems, increasing
safety and improving efficiency; this will make for better quality of life and
less pollution in our cities. Galileo will also bring benefits in other aspects
of everyday life, with precision farming raising yields, improved information
for emergency services speeding up response times, and more reliable and
accurate time signals underpinning our most vital computer and communications

Credits: ESA - J.Huart

[Image 6:]
The DEMETER (Detection of Electro-Magnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake
Regions) microsatellite will be launched by the French Space Agency CNES in
2004. It is designed to detect fluctuations in the ionosphere.

Credits: CNES

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