CCNet, 22 November 1999


     "One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door
     and I heard the Deacon's voice exclaiming 'Arise, Abraham,
     the day of judgment has come!' I sprang from my bed and
     rushed to the window and saw the stars falling in great
     showers! But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all
     the grand old constellations with which I was so well
     acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the
     world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now."

     -- Abraham Lincoln’s recollection of the 1833 Leonid Meteor Storm


    Andrew Yee <>

    David Dunham <>

    Marc Gyssens <>

    Jim Richardson <> wrote:

    NASA Science News <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Houston Chronicle, 19 November 1999

    The Washington Post, 18 November 1999


From, 18 November 1999

By Robin Lloyd

A team of European astronomers claims to have taken an unusual direct
photograph of an object that may be a member of a class of strange
space objects -- asteroid pairs that closely orbit one another.

Asteroid (216) Kleopatra, first discovered in 1880, previously was
thought to be a solo dumbbell-shaped object, but it now appears in
infrared images taken using the European Southern Observatory's
3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile to be a pair of
bright objects closely circling one another, separated by a thin space
of unknown size.

Franck Marchis, Daniel Hestroffer and their colleagues used adapted
optics on the telescope on Oct. 25 to look directly at Kleopatra, a
Main Belt body with an elongated orbit that passes between Mars and
Jupiter. They say the session showed that Kleopatra is comprised of two
similarly sized lobes, neither of which is small enough to be called a

If the finding, reported in a recent issue of the International
Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, is
confirmed, the Kleopatra pair might not be the first of its kind --
depending upon the separation between the "twins."

In 1989, Jet Propulsion Laboratory asteroid tracker Eleanor Helin
discovered a similar binary system called 4769 Castalia, in which
the two pieces are stuck together by gravity as if kissing. That
asteroid or pair is much smaller in diameter (about a mile across) and
has been studied extensively with radar.

Still, the Kleopatra pair could be part of a small class of binary
bodies first thought to be singular and later discovered to be more
complex. Other cases include asteroids with moons -- asteroid 243 Ida
and its moon Dactyl, and asteroid 45 Eugenia, whose moon was reported
in October to be photographed by an Earth-based telescope for the first

"We're quite confident that we have two lobes," said Hestroffer, an
astronomer at the Paris Observatory's Institute for Celestial
Mechanics. "As for separation, we're quite confident that it's 0.125
arcseconds." That would put the center-to-center distance
between the two objects at 62 miles (100 kilometers).

The Kleopatra pair, currently near the point in its orbit that comes
closest to the sun, includes two low-density objects with a 5.4-hour
rotation period.

The astronomers are uncertain of the diameter of the two objects and
are waiting for more data, including observations made with radar,
Hestroffer said.

The existence of asteroid binaries raises questions about the evolution
of the solar system relics. Some are thought to have been knocked from
other larger bodies, others might be congealed piles of space rubble
left over from the initial formation of the solar system 4.6 billion
years ago.

"Now there is also a lot of work to see how long can such a system be
stable, how can it be formed," Hestroffer said. The Kleopatra pair is
too dense to be a rubble pile, he said.

Brian Marsden, who puts out the Central Bureau for Astronomical
Telegrams and is director of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge,
Mass., said the European group's report was credible enough to publish
in the circular but ideally should be confirmed. He questioned the idea
that the objects are separated by any space at all, in which case they
might be classified as a "contact binary" like Castalia rather than a
"near-contact binary," as Hestroffer suggested.

Other astronomers have reported Kleopatra as a double object in the
past, but those findings never were confirmed and relied on a different
observational technique, Marsden said.

For instance, the Hubble Space Telescope photographed Kleopatra but
failed to "confirm or rule out the binary nature" of the object,
Hestroffer said.

The whole area of binary asteroids is "very touchy," Marsden said,
because some of the earliest reports failed to pan out in the long run.
When Galileo directly imaged Dactyl orbiting Ida six years ago, the
concept of asteroid binaries gained some credibility, he said.

"There seemed to be no doubt about it from Galileo," he said. Still
Marsden wasn't sure that the concept was "100 percent proven," he said.
"Maybe a good 80 percent."

Copyright 1999,


From Andrew Yee <>

Air Force Space Command News Service
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 1999

Leonids meteor storm

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Initial indications show that the
Leonids storm did not adversely affect Air Force Space Command
satellite constellations. AFSPC officials are continuing to assess each
satellite for any residual damage.

As a matter of policy AFSPC does not comment on the status of
individual satellites. Command officials said it may be several weeks
before an anomaly caused by a Leonids impact may emerge.

Just as the Global Positioning System satellites still provide
accurate, instantaneous and reliable information to civilian users
throughout the world, AFSPC military satellites continue to provide
unequalled support to the men and women in America's uniform.


From David Dunham <>

Subject: Lunar impact seen & videorecorded; more records sought

Brian Cudnik, Houston, Texas, saw a brief flash near the center of the
Moon's dark side near the edge at about 4h 46m 20s U.T. November 18.
Observing with a 36cm telescope, he estimated that the flash, taking a
fraction of a second, was at least as bright as nearby 4th-mag. psi1
Aqr. He is sure of the event, but asked me for confirmation, to see if
a satellite glint or other close-to-Earth phenomenon might have been
involved. The observation was confirmed in a video recording that I
made using a 13cm telescope at George Varros' home in Mount Airy,
Maryland, with relatively dark skies about 35 miles northwest of
Washington, DC. The event occurred at a cusp angle of around 75 - 80N
(10 to 15 deg. north of the lunar equator) 1.7' from the Moon's edge.
The flash, timed from the videotape at 4h 46m 15s, is visible in only
two video frames, the first at about 3rd magnitude and the second at
about 8th magnitude.

The images can be viewed at The object was 
probably a Leonid since the peak of this year's display was at 2h UT as
seen from the Earth. The trailing Moon would arrive at the same solar
longitude about 3h later, near the time of the observed impact. I also
recorded 5 lunar occultations of 8th-magnitude stars an hour before the
impact, and also have an image of psi1 Aqr on the tape. Analysis of
those images and of the impact images will permit a reasonably good
determination of the brightness and location of the impact flash.
Anyone else who was recording the dark side of the Moon at the above
time should check their data and report their results to me, preferably
at both and  I am interested
in knowing about ALL observations of the lunar dark side made between
4:00 and 6:00 UT November 18th when the Moon should have been struck by
the brunt of the Leonid storm.  There are other fainter flashes in my
video record, but some of them are spurious video artifacts. I looked
at one, and it did not have the strong stellar appearance of the
4:46:15 flash.  But before checking very much for other events, I want
to know if there are any other observations that might confirm them. 
Unfortunately, I'm affraid that most observers in the central and
western USA, where the Moon was best placed at the time, bypassed the
evening lunar observations in favor of seeing the Leonid meteors during
the early morning hours; I have heard of only a few lunar attempts.  At
my location, fortunately conditions were excellant with the Moon 15
deg. above the horizon at 4:46 UT. I was able to continue the
observations until 5:30 UT.

I believe this is the first confirmed lunar impact observation.  A
probable lunar meteor impact was photographed on 1953 November 15
by Dr. Leon Stuart; see

David Dunham, IOTA, 1999 Nov 21

Joan and David Dunham
7006 Megan Lane
Greenbelt, MD 20770
(301) 474-4722


From Marc Gyssens <>

We found it necessary to produce one more update of the IMO Leonid
Shower Circular. Reading it gives you a taste of what a proper global
data analysis may yield in terms of confirming features of existing
models and revealing new features which will allow meteor astronomers
to refine these models for the upcoming storm years!

Making such a global analysis will be the next endeavor of the IMO, as
the rough techniques used for rapid information dissemination have now
been stretched to their limits. A preliminary such analysis is planned
to go in the December issue of WGN and should therefore be completed
in less than 2 (!) weeks!

Therefore it is important the IMO Visual Commission receives the full
reports of observers as soon as possible! Send your observations to
Rainer Arlt at or in any other way you are accustomed
to. When preparing your reports, mind the following two issues:

1) Report in narrow time intervals! It is in particular recommended -
   to the extent possible - to report 1-minute intervals (or shorter!)
   for the full hour between 1h30m and 2h30m UT. There are reasons to
   suspect minor peaks in this interval besides the two reported on in
   the Circular. These minor peaks will be smoothed out if you report
   in wider intervals - with 5-minute intervals, they disappear! Only
   if you report in narrower intervals will we be able to see which of
   these minor peaks are real and which are merely statistical
   fluctuations. Also for the remainder of the activity, report in
   narrow intervals, the length of which must be chosen depending on
   the number of meteors seen! Ideally, none of these interval should
   contain more than 10 meteors!

2) It goes without saying that magnitude distributions - which were
   not required in the "express reports" - must be included! Without
   these magnitude distributions, it is not possible to compute the
   population index - a measure for the ratio between fainter and
   brighter meteors - and its variation throughout the Leonid
   activity. This information is vital to compute a correct ZHR

3) Mention the center of your field of view! Also notice that the
   cloud/obstruction correction factor refers to the field of view
   ONLY! Clouds outside the field of view must NOT be accounted for!

Many of the above recommendations can also be found in Rainer Arlt's
article "Hints for Visual 1999 Leonid Observations" which was sent
out via the IMO News and MeteorObs mailing lists and which is printed
in the October issue of WGN.

We already thank those observers who have not awaited this message to
send in their complete data; the others we thank in advance for their
prompt cooperation!

Kind regards,

Rainer Arlt
Marc Gyssens


We added some data at the beginning and the end of last circular's
activity profile. It is interesting to see that the 1h53m UT secondary
peak may correspond to the 1-revolution old dust trail (although Asher
and McNaught did not expect activity from this trail, they quote
exactly this time as nodal crossing time for the 1-revolution old
trail). Also, there is evidence for enhanced activity on November 18
between 15h and 20h UT (in the order of magnitude of 100+), which in
turn corresponds to a prediction by Emel'yanenko based on an older
dust trail. These two features only give a taste of what is still to
come once a global analysis is underway!


            I M O   S h o w e r   C i r c u l a r


                    LEONID Activity 1999
                    *** 2nd  UPDATE ***

ZHRs pertaining to the pre- and post-peak activity of the Leonids have
been added. Additional comparisons with other observational reports
have been made. Some cautious interpretations are suggested.

Visual observations of the 1999 Leonids revealed a distinctive peak
with a ZHR above 5000 on November 18, 2h04m +/-5m UT (solar longitude
235.286 +/- 0.004, eq. 2000.0).

It seems that the peak time of 2h08m UT predicted by Asher/McNaught is
confirmed within a margin of at most a few minutes, although the
observed activity is significantly higher. It is reasonable to
conclude that the peak activity has been caused by the 3-revolutions
old dust trail of 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.

All observers who were able to view the peak under good sky conditions
reported an abundance of faint meteors and a relative absence of
fireballs. If this impression is real, taking it into account may
result in ZHR values somewhat higher than those quoted below.

Ten minutes before the abovementioned peak time, at 1h53m +/- 5m UT
(solar longitude 235.278 +/- 0.004, eq. 2000.0), the ZHR profile shows
a secondary peak with of ZHR of about 3500. This secondary peak does
not only occur in the combined ZHR profile below, but also in the ZHR
profile of several individual observers, and is therefore probably

Asher and McNaught mentioned 1h53m UT as the nodal crossing time for
the 1-revolution old trail, but did not expect activity from it.

ZHR levels were above 1000 from roughly 1h20m UT to 2h45m UT (solar
longitude 235.26-235.31, eq. 2000).

Apart from the secondary peak mentioned above, the ZHR profile around
the peak time looks remarkably smooth, even at the level of 5-minute
intervals. However, observers in the French Provence report that, at
the level of 1-minute intervals, additional minor peaks are visible
between 1h30m UT and 2h30m UT. Whether these are significant will be
one of the issues in a forthcoming detailed first global analysis.

Some observers noticed a drop in the population index (i.e., a larger
fraction of brighter meteors) after the peak.

Reports from Mohammad Odeh (Jordanian Astronomical Society),
Casper ter Kuile (Dutch Meteor Society, observing near
Valencia, Spain), Mark Kidger (Canary Islands), and Ilan Manulis and
Alex Mikishev (Israel) are very consistent with the picture sketched

In addition, radio data from K. Maegawa (Toyokawa Meteor Observatory,
Aichi, Japan) reported by Kazuhiro Suzuki and the backscatter
radar data from Ondrejov Observatory (Czech Republic) reported by
Petr Pridal and Rosta Stork yield a peak time between 2h00m UT
and 2h10m UT.

When the Americans took over from the Europeans on November 18 UT,
activity stayed stable with a ZHR of 56 +/- 2 between 0500 UT and
1400 UT  (solar longitude 235.409-235.787, eq. 2000.0). The ZHR during
the interval between 1400 UT and 1500 UT, however, doubles in the
observations of Hawaiian-based Jim Bedient. Kun Zhou reports ZHRs
above 100 for the interval between 1625 UT and 1936 UT (solar
longitude 235.889-236.023, eq. 2000.0).

Masaaki Takanashi of the Nippon Meteor Society reports ZHRs above 100
between 1500 UT and 2000 UT (solar longitude 235.829-236..040); in the
first half of this period even up to around 300. Rates drop sharply
towards the end of the Japanese observing window.

ZHRs during the West-European observing window of November 18/19 were
consistently around 25. This is consistent with very low activity
registered by the Ondrejov radar that night, as reported by Pridal and

Although the available data are not yet conclusive, it seems that
there are consistent indications for enhanced activity with ZHRs
around or above 100 between November 18, 1500 UT and 2000 UT (solar
longitude 235.829-236.040, eq. 2000.0).

It is interesting to note that Emel'yanenko predicted a small secondary
peak on November 18.7 UT due to an older duster trail.

Emel'yanenko also expects significant Leonid activity on November
19.7-19.8 UT (solar longitude 236.960, eq. 2000.0). Whether or not
this activity materializes, and whether any other peaks in the
observed activity profile exist, can only be revealed by a detailed
global analysis of data, which is forthcoming.

The following observers (with their observing sites, not their
nationality or country of residence) have contributed data immediately
after the event, from which the ZHR profile given below
has been derived:

Rainer Arlt (Spain), Jim Bedient (Hawaii), Felix Betonvil (Canary
Islands), C.L. Chan (China), Mark Davis (USA), Asdai Diaz (Cuba),
Yuwei Fan (China), Fei Gao (China), Lew Gramer (USA), Rafael Haag
(Brazil), Wayne T.  Hally (USA), Dave Hostetter (USA), Andre Knoefel
(Spain), Detlef Koschny (Spain), Wen Kou (China), Alastair McBeath
(UK), Alfredo Pereira (Portugal), Josep Ma. Trigo-Rodriguez (Spain),
Helena Valero-Rodriguez (Spain), James Smith (Canada), Renke Song
(China), Wanfang Song (China), Jan Verbert (France), Catarina Vitorino
(Portugal), Jean-Marc Wislez (France), Mariusz Wisniewski (Poland),
Dan Xia (China), Kim S. Youmans (USA), Dongyan Zha (China), Jinghui
Zhang (China), Yan Zhang (China), Kun Zhou (China), Jin Zhu (China).

(For groups of observers, only the name of the contributing
observers have been mentioned.)

Date   Period (UT)  Time (UT)  Sol. Long.  ZHR +/-
Nov 17 0057-0545    0339       234.344       14     2
Nov 17 0600-1000    0800       234.527       16     2
Nov 17 1600-2010    1805       234.951       30     5
Nov 17 1900-2200    2030       235.052       53    14
Nov 17 2300-2400    2330       235.178       82     6
Nov 18 0000-0050    0026       235.217      210    60
Nov 18 0030-0100    0048       235.233      370    80
Nov 18 0050-0130    0110       235.248      560    90
Nov 18 0115-0145    0132       235.263     1160   180
Nov 18 0139-0155    0148       235.275     2360   600
Nov 18 0145-0200    0153       235.278     3430   750
Nov 18 0154-0205    0158       235.282     2820   550
Nov 18 0159-0209    0204       235.286     5400   880
Nov 18 0200-0215    0209       235.289     3540   580
Nov 18 0212-0233    0222       235.298     2110   580
Nov 18 0223-0247    0238       235.310     1140   280
Nov 18 0244-0320    0257       235.323      690   150
Nov 18 0315-0400    0340       235.353      240    60
Nov 18 0347-0505    0423       235.383      153    59
Nov 18 0500-0630    0537       235.435       57    11
Nov 18 0609-0800    0656       235.490       62    11
Nov 18 0711-0900    0756       235.532       51     9
Nov 18 0812-0925    0847       235.568       57     4
Nov 18 0901-1100    0958       235.618       59     9
Nov 18 1100-1400    1254       235.741       56     4
Nov 18 1400-1500    1430       235.808       90    12
Nov 18 1625-1936    1825       235.973      106    13
Nov 19 0018-0445    0306       236.338       23     2

Marc Gyssens, 1999 November 20, 18h UT


From Jim Richardson <>

Hello All,

The final Internet version of my narrative report on the 1999 Leonids
is now up at:

While revisions and updates to this report will be continued for 
inclusion in the next issue of Meteor Trails, this is my last
planned revision for the AMS Website (I have school work to catch
up on!). Below is an excerpt from the report conclusion that I
wish to share:

We would like to heartily thank the dozens of observers worldwide
who  either sent in their observing reports directly to the AMS or
NAMN, or who made their observations available through one of the
many astronomy Internet mailing lists. The speed with which all of
the various meteor organizations were able to get out current
information on the Leonids this year was unprecedented in the
history of this field. While promoting and conducting good
scientific data collection and data analysis in the area of meteor
astronomy remains the primary mission of the AMS, it has been a
very enjoyable experience to collect and organize the anecdotal
accounts contained on this page. Along with their great scientific
value, rare meteor shower outbursts have a historical value as
well, and the personal accounts of what happened with real people
on the night of such an outburst will be long remembered, along
with the advances made in meteor science.


I would also like to especially thank Mark Gyssens and the IMO team
members that stayed home and performed an outstanding job while
allowing others to chase after the shower.  Your news releases and
extremely fast analysis were most appreciated.

Best regards,


James Richardson
Department of Physics
Florida State University (FSU)

Operations Manager
American Meteor Society (AMS)


From NASA Science News <>

NASA Space Science News for November 21, 1999

Meteor Balloon Update:  Replays from the 1999 NASA meteor balloon
flight are now available at The peak of the Leonid
meteor storm did not take place over the eastern US where the balloon
was launched. Nevertheless, some interesting sights and sounds were
recorded. Also featured on the website is a spectacular
picture of  a Leonid fireball exploding over the Italian Alps on
November 18, 1999.



From Andrew Yee <>


Friday, November 19, 1999

Leonid Jilts Eager Observers
By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

STARFIRE OPTICAL RANGE -- Nature, scientists have learned over the
centuries, can be a stingy master.

It demands skill and patience, then doles out its rewards in large
measure based on luck.

That was Air Force astronomer Jack Drummond's dilemma as he waited on a
rooftop in the darkness Thursday morning for the meteor shower that
never came..

With all the technological horsepower of one of the most advanced
astronomical observatories in the world, with a suite of specialized
instruments assembled from around the country for this occasion,
Drummond waited.

Near the southern edge of Kirtland Air Force Base, the Starfire Optical
Range is one of the Air Force's premier observatories. It is dedicated
primarily to refining the technologies needed to take pictures of
orbiting satellites, but in the process it has developed some of the
most advanced systems for taking sharp, clear images of astronomical
objects in the night sky.

This week, scientists gathered there to train their tools in the Leonid
meteor shower.

Inside the warmth of the observatory's two control rooms, teams of
technicians and scientists scanned their computer monitors and waited
for what was, for all practical purposes, a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

The Leonid meteor shower is an annual affair, but once every 32 or 33
years it puts on a dramatic show, as Earth slices through a fresh trail
of dust laid down by the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

As the rain of little dust grains slash through the very upper layers
of Earth's atmosphere, they give scientists a unique opportunity to
understand both the matter coming in from space and the layer of air
it's hitting.

"It's a pretty specialized event," said University of Arizona scientist
Lyle Broadfoot, who bolted his instruments to a Starfire telescope for
this year's shower.

But the storm's peak came at the wrong time for Drummond and his
colleagues. In Europe, around 7 p.m. New Mexico time, observers counted
some 2,000 meteors an hour. Drummond and his colleagues saw just a
handful, spending the evening milling about in frustration as their
instruments sat idle and a bank of clouds slowly enclosed the sky from
the west.

Drummond, who said he's always wanted to see a true meteor storm, was
philosophical. The next big Leonid extravaganza isn't expected for
another 33 years.

"I'll be 87," he said as he sat on the cold in the roof, "so I'll have
a chance. Medicine is making us live longer."

Copyright 1999 Albuquerque Journal


From Houston Chronicle, 19 November 1999

Brilliant Leonid storm likely fodder for later Lincoln speech

Associated Press

SAN MARCOS -- The Great Emancipator was no Chicken Little.

Southwest Texas State University astronomer Don Olson believes he has
proof that Abraham Lincoln saw the brilliant Leonid meteor storm
of 1833 when Lincoln was a young man living in New Salem, Ill.

The future 16th president likely was one of the few people around who
didn't think the sky was falling, Olson said.

Olson uses astronomical calculations and historical research to
determine what the skies looked like during key moments in history
and what famous people of the past saw when they gazed heavenward.

The annual Leonid meteor shower, which is particularly intense
every 33 years or so, reached its peak brightness last week.

The meteor shower is made up of a hail of dusty, icy rubble thrown
off by the Tempel-Tuttle comet as it races around the sun. When
the Earth's orbit carries it into the path of these cosmic
pellets, they burn up in the atmosphere in a display of
shooting stars.

The 1833 meteor shower was one of the most brilliant light shows
ever witnessed from Earth, Olson said. Many people probably
thought it was the end of the world.

Olson traced Lincoln to the 1833 storm after reading a passage by
Walt Whitman, which recounted a story Lincoln told during the
Civil War.

Lincoln told the story to a group of bankers who worried about the
stability of the Union. According to Olson, Lincoln, then 24, was
boarding with a Presbyterian deacon in New Salem at the time of
the meteor shower.

"One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door and I
heard the Deacon's voice exclaiming `Arise, Abraham, the day of
judgment has come!' I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window
and saw the stars falling in great showers!" Lincoln recalled.

"But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old
constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true
in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then,
nor will the Union now."

That's vintage Lincoln, said Gene Griessman, who has written and
starred in a one-man play about the former president, An Evening
with Abraham Lincoln.

"Lincoln was fascinated by astronomy and fascinated by science,"
Griessman said. "Lincoln was a cool, unflappable person who wanted
to find out why things really happened," he said. "He was probably
the only person in New Salem who didn't think God's Judgment Day
had arrived."

Copyright 1999, AP


From The Washington Post, 18 November 1999

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 1999; Page A01

Scientists have discovered an ancient coastline 550 feet below the
surface of the Black Sea, providing dramatic new evidence of a sudden,
catastrophic flood around 7,500 years ago--the possible source of the Old
Testament story of Noah.

A team of deep-sea explorers this summer captured the first sonar
images of a gentle berm and a sandbar submerged undisturbed for
thousands of years on the sea floor. Now, using radiocarbon dating
techniques, analysts have shown that the remains of freshwater mollusks
subsequently dredged from the ancient beach date back 7,500 years and
saltwater species begin showing up 6,900 years ago.

Explorer Robert D. Ballard, who led the team that collected the shells,
said the findings indicate a flood occurred sometime during the
600-year gap. "What we wanted to do is prove to ourselves that it was
the biblical flood," Ballard said in an interview this week.

The findings offer independent verification of a theory advanced by
Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman that the
Black Sea was created when melting glaciers raised the sea level until
the sea breached a natural dam at what is now the Bosporus, the strait
that separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Black Sea.

An apocalyptic deluge followed, inundating the freshwater lake below
the dam, submerging thousands of square miles of dry land, flipping the
ecosystem from fresh water to salt practically overnight, and probably
killing thousands of people and billions of land and sea creatures,
according to Ryan and Pitman.

The two scientists described the catastrophe in their book "Noah's
Flood," based on 30 years of research that began with coring samples
showing the same abrupt transition from lake to sea that Ballard
confirmed with his dredge. No one had ever actually seen the old
shoreline, however, until Ballard's team captured sonar images of it in

Ryan and Pitman also suggested that the flood may have triggered
massive migrations to destinations as diverse as Egypt, western Europe
and central Asia, an idea that has provoked some academic controversy.
Scholars also question whether any natural disaster could be
conclusively identified as the inspiration for the story of Noah's

"All modern critical Bible scholars regard the tale of Noah as
legendary," said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology
Review. "There are other flood stories, but if you want to say the
Black Sea flood is Noah's flood, who's to say no?"

Shanks pointed out that biblical scholars date the writing of the Book
of Genesis, from which the story of Noah is taken, at sometime between
2,900 and 2,400 years ago, and a similar event is described in the
Mesopotamian Gilgamesh legend, written about 3,600 years ago.

But while Ryan and Pitman do not prove that the Black Sea flood
directly inspired Gilgamesh or Noah, their theory argues persuasively
that the event was probably horrific enough for scribes and minstrels
to remember it for thousands of years.

And regardless of the historical context, the science of the Black Sea
flood stands undisputed. Ryan and Pitman dated the event at 7,600 years
ago, and they fixed the likely depth of the ancient coastline almost
exactly where Ballard found it.

"It feels good," Pitman said of Ballard's findings, analyzed by the
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Pitman noted
that the new research took place on the Black Sea's southern shore near
the Turkish port of Synope--far from the northern waters where he and
Ryan had worked.

The flood, the underwater coastline and the likelihood that ancient
settlements lie on the submerged plain have added a new dimension to an
already ambitious project.

The region's main archaeological attraction has always been the Black
Sea itself, composed mostly of dense Mediterranean salt water that
immediately plunged to the bottom of the freshwater lake when the
Bosporus gave way 7,500 years ago.

Ever since, the less dense water on top has acted as a 500-foot-deep
lid on a 7,000-foot-deep oxygen-free abyss--a watery wilderness where
scientists suspect there may be 7,500 years of shipwrecks preserved in
almost pristine condition.

The tantalizing prospect of exploring this environment piqued Ballard's
interest several years ago. Beginning with the Titanic in 1985, Ballard
has found several historic wrecks in deep water using manned
submersibles and robotic vehicles.

The Black Sea project, funded by the National Geographic Society and
the University of Pennsylvania, began in 1995, when teams of
archaeologists on land and in shallow water began mapping Synope and its

Synope is about 200 miles directly south across the Black Sea's abyssal
waters from the Crimea--a natural terminus for an ancient trade route.
Ballard said he intends to use a deep-sea robot next summer to look for a
sea lane.

"The first thing you find is trash; you didn't have Adopt-a-Highway
then," he said. And where there is trash, there are sure to be wrecks.
"My biggest problem is going to be trees," he added. If wooden ships
can survive in the Black Sea's depths, then so can trees. The bottom
could look like a forest.

These difficulties, Ballard said, are different from those inherent in
the search for flood-plain settlements. Many of these were probably
buried--and lost forever--when a thick layer of sediment swept into the
old lake with the flood waters. And Ballard suspects many others have
been destroyed by the trawlers that have been scouring the sea bottom
for thousands of years.

Still, he said, there are plenty of "relic surfaces" near Synope, where
the water simply rose quickly to submerge intact whatever lay below.
Ballard's sonar sweeps this summer found a gentle coastline "frozen in
time," he said.

"In a perfect world you'll see a fence," Ballard said, or maybe a
stockade or even a house. And there will likely be plenty of artifacts,
because "when the flood came, people just had to run."

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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