CCNet DIGEST, 30 November 1998

    The Times, 28 November 1998

    Jim Richardson <>

    NASA Science News <>

    Daniel Fischer <>

    Rob McNaught <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Michael Paine <>


From: The Times, 28 November 1998

Free marketeer sees asteroid as new Yukon, writes Damian Whitworth

ON MONDAY Jim Benson hopes to complete a deal to buy a former junior
rifle range on the outskirts of San Diego.

He plans to convert it into a workshop where technicians can make a
small spacecraft. With this he hopes to become the first man on Earth
to own another planetary body and start a 21st-century gold rush.

In early 2002, asteroid 4660 Nereus will come to within about 2.5
million miles of Earth, which, in space terms, is pretty close.

Some scientists believe that Nereus has quantities of water sufficient
to have supported life; others that it could be stuffed with precious
metals. Mr Benson intends to find out.

The Near Earth Asteroid Prospector is scheduled for launch, probably
from Russia, in 2001 on the first private mission outside Earth's
orbit. The unmanned hexagonal craft, about 6ft by 3ft, will make six
close passes of the Moon before being kicked out to chase Nereus and
eventually make a rendezvous.

Mr Benson hopes that the experiments he conducts will not only make him
a fortune but also start a race to discover and exploit other planetary
bodies. He will claim ownership of this one himself.

Mr Benson, 52, retired a couple of years ago having sold his computer
software company and needing never to work again. But after six months
of pottering around his Colorado home he found he was bored and started
looking for something else to do.

A space fanatic ever since he joined the Science Fiction Book of the
Month Club at the age of ten, he immersed himself in space literature
and was particularly excited by a book by Dr John Lewis, of the
University of Arizona, entitled Mining the Sky.

Like the prospectors of the 19th century, Mr Benson's eyes lit up and
he founded SpaceDev, with offices in San Diego and Washington.

He is entering a business so expensive and so risky that it would be
easy to say his grand vision is madness. But he has some impressive
backers. Daniel Goldin, Nasa's reforming administrator, is impressed by
his plans and he has recruited many of the top people in their fields
to join him, including Peter Smith, who was responsible for the camera
that produced the astonishing pictures returned from the Mars
Pathfinder mission. Mr Benson's business plan sounds impressive.

The spacecraft will be built from tried and tested off-the-shelf
components, as will be the launch rocket. The mission, he says, will
cost $50 million (30 million) and be funded entirely by charging $10
million to $15 million to conduct experiments. Ten experiments will be
a nice little earner. He says that other national space agencies,
including Brazil and Canada, are interested and Nasa will probably buy
research data.

"When you look at it, we are not doing anything new at all. But we will
be the first commercial company to launch a mission beyond Earth orbit.
And we will be the first private space mission to land on another
planetary body," he says.

The long-term strategy is to examine ways of plundering the natural
resources of the universe. "The resources on Earth are finite and it is
hard to argue with the fact that they are becoming more difficult to
get at," he says. "We will cross a threshold when it is less expensive
to use those resources concentrated in space than those dispersed on

It is no surprise to hear that much of the coming months will be taken
up in addressing conferences. He is unashamedly capitalist in his
approach. NEAP must make a profit, "or its first mission will be its
last. If we want to go to space to stay, space has to pay".

He also believes passionately that the privatisation of space
exploration is the way forward: "I'm keenly interested in opening up
the space frontiers for all humanity. We have got to get off this
planet. There are more jobs to be created, more wealth to be created,
in space than any other imaginable sector.

"Space is a place, not a government programme. When people realise that
a small company can launch a successful mission, it will unleash a lot
of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It is an infinite frontier
and humanity has always been challenged by frontiers."

He added: "This mission could set a precedent for private property
rights in space. We are going to a small planetary body, without public
subsidy, at our own risk and expense. If we are there, we landed on it,
it's ours."

Copyright 1998, The Times Newspapers Ltd.


From Jim Richardson <>

For many years during the 1950's and 1960's, a standard team of six
observers was frequenctly employed in doing visual meteor data
collection. This is especially true for the programs supervised by
Peter Milman, at Springhill Observatory in Ottawa, Canada.  A large,
heated, hexagon-shaped observing "coffin" was utilized, with each
observer covering a 60 deg azimuth section of the sky, while lying at
an inclined angle to the horizontal.  Observers would call out their
noted meteors to a separate recording individual, and double-counting
was prevented.  it was not expected that this standard team of six
would detect ALL meteors occurring over the viewing area, but would
instead show decreasing success as the meteor magnitudes grew fainter:

"Millman believed that his standard team of six observers should see
all zero-magnitude meteors, but only 60 per cent of the first
magnitude, 25 per cent of the second magnitude, 10 per cent of the
third, 2 per cent of the fourth, and less than 0.5 per cent of the
fifth-magnitude objects, visible over the entire sky. Other workers
have evolved still different correction factors for this effect...."
From:  "Meteor Science and Engineering," D.W.R. McKinley (1961).
McGraw-Hill Book
Co.:  New York.

Milman attempted for many years to make his team of six observers the
standard for the visual meteor science community, and references to it,
and the correction factors utilized, are frequent in the literature. 
Although the American Meteor Society generally used the single visual
observer for its own work, I have ocasionally run across pictures or
references to a team of six observers, arranged in a hexagon, covering
the whole sky together -- although each of these observers were
required to record his-her own data separately from the others.

Thus, although it is not the method currently in vogue with visual
meteor observers, the La Palma method is not entirely baseless either. 
There are even correction factors in the old literature which might
place these counts back in terms of the single-observer  visual rate
used today. The most restricting aspect of the method is that only a
2-minute count was done:  this should have been preferably over a much
longer period. But there were other observers in the Canary Islands at
the time, so we do have other data to compare with. 

I commend the astronomers at La Palma for attempting to gather some
useful information, and on the spur of the moment when faced with
extraordinary circumstances. I find it unrealistic to expect
professionals to be familiar with the current methods utilized by data
collectors in a field far outside of their own specialty.  Even if the
counts obtained are not especially useful, the anecdotal account   of
the Nov 16-17, 1998 Leonids will become historic (along with several
others from that night) in the annals of meteor astronomy. The record
is much appreciated.

Best regards,


James Richardson
Tallahassee, Florida

Operations Manager / Radiometeor Project Coordinator
American Meteor Society (AMS)


From NASA Science News <>

Last week's Leonid meteor shower featured an unusual number of
fireballs. Many cast shadows, lit up the sky, and some reportedly
caused sonic booms. Readers from around the world contributed photos of
these meteors and their colorful remnants for this article.  FULL STORY


From Daniel Fischer <>

A much longer report on the Mongolian Leonid expeditions is now ready 

together with some interesting links. Pictures will be added next week.


Daniel Fischer

From Rob McNaught <>
Now that the 1998 shower is over, here are a few more musings on 1966
1) As I mentioned previously, seeing 40 meteors in a one second
interval does not equal a RATE of 40 meteors per second.  Some meteors
already in flight when that one second interval starts must be removed.
With the radiant high in the sky from SW USA when 40 Leonids were being
reported every second, the duration (D) of the Leonids would be short
and I assume 0.3 seconds for the average meteor..  My statistics are not
strong, but I believe the correction from the number seen (N) to a rate
(R) in time (T) is

                R = N * T/(T+D)
Thus for N=40 Leonids seen in T=1sec with D=0.3 sec gives R=31
Leonids/sec. This converts to an observed rate of 110,000/hr for the
Milon observations at Kitt Peak.
James Young and others at Table Mountain estimated 50 Leonids visible
in a 1 second glimpse, which in the above gives R=38 Leonids/sec and
2) I do not accept the argument that 1 second was not 1 second and I
don't know why this should be brought into question.  I would imagine
that most competent amateurs for whom time is an important quantity,
could estimate a one second interval quite reasonably.
3) Regarding the stellar limiting magnitude from Kitt Peak based on the
visibility of the Gegenschein, Marco suggests it was fainter than +6.5.
I can still see the gegenschein when I take my glasses off when my
stellar limiting mag drops to around +5.  The visibility of a diffuse
object cannot put strict constraints on the visibility of stellar
4) The suggestions that the high rates (corresponding to ZHRs>100,000)
in 1966 don't correspond to observations overall may be the case, but
my limited knowledge of 1966 observations show no inconsistency.  The
Young and Milon estimates are mentioned above, but Perry Bell in
Lubbock, Texas counted about 25/sec near the peak commenting "Because
of the great number of meteors and the tremendous rates of fall during
the peak of the shower from 5:35 to 5:55, with attendant lag in
counting quite obvious, one might reasonably correct the actual count
by at least 50 percent if not more." (The Review of Popular Astronomy,
Vol 61, No 543, 1967 Jan/Feb, pp9-11). Note that these are rates and
not counts of what was visible in a one second "snapshot".  Correcting
by +50% gives R=37 Leonids/sec and 135,000/hr.  As Bell commented that
"At least one-half to two-thrids of the members of this shower were
fireballs." [for which he used the definition "as bright or brighter
than the brightest stars"] it would seem unlikely to me that any
correction from an assumed faint limiting magnitude to +6.5 would be of
much relevance.
5) When corrected for radiant elevation, these estimates imply a
ZHR >100,000.
Cheers, Rob McNaught


From Andrew Yee <>

University of California-Berkeley
NEWS RELEASE: 11/25/98
Searching for ET from home -- UC Berkeley launches project to draw
public into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence
By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
BERKELEY -- One hundred lucky pioneers will get the chance of a
lifetime this month -- the opportunity to participate in a unique
search for extraterrestrial intelligence from their desktop computer.
These one hundred will test a one-of-a-kind computer program called
SETI@home that allows a desktop PC to analyze radio data from space in
search of intelligent signals. If all goes well, the finished product
will roll out next April for 100,000-plus people who have already
signed up to participate.
The computer program is essentially a screen saver that kicks in when
your desktop computer is idle, and crunches data collected from a radio
dish in Puerto Rico.
"SETI@home is a way of harnessing all the idle computers to increase
our computing capacity and our chance of finding extraterrestrials,"
said SETI@home project scientist Dan Werthimer, a research physicist at
UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory.
SETI@home -- named after the acronym for the search for
extraterrestrial intelligence, SETI -- is a way for UC Berkeley's SETI
physicists to more thoroughly analyze the data they receive daily from
their ongoing survey of the sky using the large radio dish at Arecibo,
Puerto Rico. This 20-year-old search, which piggybacks on the Arecibo
telescope, is called SERENDIP IV -- the fourth incarnation of an
instrument designed to Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from
Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations.
Unfortunately, the computer capacity available to SERENDIP is
sufficient to look for only the most obvious signals from
extraterrestrial civilizations, Werthimer said.
"In terms of science, SERENDIP is very powerful, but it looks for a
very restricted class of signal," said Werthimer. "SETI@home does an
exceptionally good job of analyzing a small band of signals very
The radio data is broken down into small chunks -- typically a range of
wavelengths -- through which the screen saver program can search for
patterns that may indicate a deliberate broadcast from a distant
"You can download enough data through the internet in five minutes to
keep the computer analyzing for several days," said computer scientist
David Anderson, project director and a long-time volunteer with the
project. "The computer then sends back a summary of the interesting
stuff it found, and gets another chunk of data."
As the computer works away at the data, the computer screen displays a
three-dimensional graph charting the signal analysis.
Anderson developed the screen saver program that crunches the data, now
available only for PCs. He currently is developing versions for
Macintosh, Unix, Linux and other systems.
"The point is to get the bugs out of the software so we are ready to go
for 100,000 people in April," Werthimer said.
The SETI@home project is the first "distributed computing" project to
offer the general public the opportunity to participate in important
research. Distributed computing is a way of breaking down a problem
requiring lots of computation into small chunks that can be done by
many small computers distributed anywhere in the world.
"Ours is the first that actually does a useful computation and sends
data both ways through the pipe," Anderson said.
The type of data coming from SERENDIP is particularly suitable for
distributed computing, Anderson said, though other major scientific
projects -- drug discovery, for example -- might also be candidates.
The main requirement is number crunching, or in computer jargon, CPU
(computer processing unit) time.
"Projects suitable for distributed computing are those that are very
CPU intensive with not a lot of data to transfer," Anderson said. "But
there are many such projects, which may create a future market in
SETI@home has been building to this point for several years, mostly
with the help of volunteers. What finally got it off the ground,
however, was an infusion of money from the Planetary Society, which
donated $50,000, and Paramount Studies, which donated another $50,000
and is tying the project to the launch of its new movie, "Star Trek:
Insurrection," December 11. Sun Microsystems also has donated computer
equipment to SETI@home.
With the publicity generated by these two donors, the project is
getting a thousand new sign-ups each day, Werthimer said.
The SERENDIP IV instrument on the 1,000-foot diameter Arecibo dish
looks at radio signals in the "water hole," an area of the spectrum
identified as a possible region where advanced civilizations might
broadcast a signal. It is located to either side of the 21 centimeter
wavelength, the wavelength of light absorbed by water molecules in
SERENDIP records signals in a band around the water hole and stores
them on magnetic tape, which is expressed to UC Berkeley for analysis.
The more detailed analysis that can be done by the SETI@home screen
saver will look for unusual patterns that are too complex and time
consuming for the SERENDIP project to attempt.
Whatever interesting signals may turn up from SETI@home must be checked
by people like Werthimer to make sure they are not due to radio
interference from Earth or orbiting satellites.

"We're not asking people to call the press when they see a spike on the
screen," Werthimer said. "We get strong signals all the time and have
to sift through them."
[NOTE: More info of SETI@home is available at]


From Michael Paine <>

The following was published in the December 1998 (Vol 70, No.12) issue
of Engineers Australia.
The Editor, Engineers Australia. Audiences who saw the movies Deep
Impact and Armageddon no doubt came away thinking that we don't need
Bruce Willis to save the world because there is a dedicated band of
scientists staring at the skies looking out for an asteroid "with our
name on it". Sorry - think again. The worldwide detection effort is at
most, about one tenth of that needed to meet the realistic goals of the
proposed international Spaceguard Survey. The shameful fact is that
Australia's contribution is essentially zero. Government funding for a
low-budget but highly successful asteroid search program was cut in
1996 - probably because it straddled ministerial portfolios and there
was no appropriate budget pigeonhole. In the next 50 years there is a 1
in 2,000 chance of a 1 kilometre diameter asteroid impacting the Earth
at a speed of around 70,000km/h. At this speed the object has more
energy than its equivalent mass in TNT. The consequences would be
global and catastrophic - this would not be an "extinction event" but
perhaps one quarter of the world's population would die and
civilisation would collapse. Impact by smaller objects occur more
frequently  and could threaten the fragile global economy. Why I am
raising this issue in an engineering magazine? I am a mechanical
engineer  with a background in road safety research. When I applied the
cost-effectiveness procedures that are used to justify road safety
initiatives to the Spaceguard proposal I realised that the project was
highly cost-effective. Furthermore this was based on very conservative
estimates because it only considered Australian lives saved; it did not
consider global fatalities, the economic consequences of an impact or
the effects of tsunami hitting low-lying coastal areas. This is clearly
a government responsibility but it appears that Australian politicians
are not prepared to consider an issue that, in their judgement, is not
likely to have an effect before the next election. I am hopeful,
however, that corporate Australia is more prepared to look to the
longer term and will sponsor an Australian Spaceguard program. This has
occurred in the USA with the successful Spacewatch project. With this
in mind I have prepared a website with a comprehensive proposal for 
Australia. This has been done entirely on a voluntary basis with a
determination to "make things happen". On the Web see or
search Alta Vista for "Spaceguard Australia".

Michael Paine

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