CCNet 130/2000 - 11 December 2000

"A Defense Department briefing paper prepared last month also cited
a 'strong government desire to avoid having more than 70 satellites
de-orbit within 14 months,' as had been planned by Motorola. A U.S.
interagency group led by the Justice Department feared that this 'might
create widespread anxiety and lead to a public outcry for ill-considered
government action,' the Pentagon paper said."
  -- Jim Wolf, Reuters, 10 December 2000

"The Geminids are a mystery. Most meteoroids that we know of come
from comets. They are set free by solar vaporization of [cometary]
ice. Geminid meteoroids, on the other hand, appear to come from 3200
Phaethon, an asteroid. We're not sure why an asteroid should have a
debris trail, but this one does."
     --Brian Marsden, Minor Planet Center, 8 December 2000

"A trawl through CCNet records, including refereed journal papers,
shows that panspermia is currently regarded by significant numbers of
practitioners as a "working hypothesis." [...] That's been true since NASA
claimed to have detected signs of fossilised life in a Martian meteorite.
But in fact, ever since SNC meteorites were established as originating from
Mars and Chassigny was shown to have been only lightly shocked in
transit, in the 1980s, panspermia has served as a working hypothesis that
was very amenable to scientific experimentation and theoretical
     --Max Wallis, Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, 11 December 2000

    Josep M. Trigo <>

    Exite News, 10 December 2000

    The Times of India, 11 December 2000

    NASA Science News for December 8, 2000

    Concord Monitor, 7 December 2000

    Science-Week <>

    Iain Gilmour & Christian Koerberl

    Max Wallis <>

    Andrew Glikson <>


From Josep M. Trigo <>

Press release from the Spanish Fireball Network (SPMN):

Two impressive fireballs, probably of cometary origin, were observed from
Spain on November 28 and 29. Both events were of short duration and happened
in diurnal hours. As consequence our network only has collected eye witness

Initially our team thought in the artificial nature of both fireballs. In
fact, these events just remind us the 27th Nov. 1999 fireball caused by the
Chinese Shenzhou Long March rocket. The atmospheric path of this impressive
reentry was analysed by us the past year (for more details please see the
SPMN homepage). Despite of these first impressions, the trajectory data and
luminous path characteristics suggested us a solar system origin for both
fireballs. This suspicion was confirmed by several specialist in satellite
decays such as: Alan Pickup and Harro Zimmer. They inform us that no reentry
events were expected for these days on Spain.

At this moment we are still collecting data of the 28th November fireball.
It was observed at midday from several cities in Andalucia and the visual
reports suggest that its absolute magnitude was close to -15. At this moment
we have only poor reports but probably in the next weeks we can elucidate
its nature and origin.

November 29th fireball has been analysed in more detail. In fact, this event
was observed from Mallorca (Balearic Islands) by several eyewitnesses. High
quality trajectory data of the fireball was obtained by Francisco Sáez
Isern, a experienced meteor observer member of the UMA team of the Mallorca
Astronomical Observatory (OAM). These high quality data were provided us by
Enric Coll showing that the fireball appeared in the evenfall at 16h41m31s
+-3s UTC. The fireball appeared from Mallorca close to the Moon and Venus,
the only celestial bodies visible at this time. The reported apparent
magnitude was -10 although probably it could have been more impressive in
the night sky. The fireball exhibited several flares along its trajectory.
At the end an impressive green flare signaled the full desintegration of the
incident body. The luminous trajectory and the ending flare suggests us a
cometary origin. Moreover, analysing the angular velocity and the apparent
trajectory in the sky we have strong evidences that this fireball was
produced by a late Leonid meteoroid.

Additional information and trajectory data can be obtained in our homepage.
We will be grateful with whoever provide us additional information on these
two big events.

Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez / Jordi Llorca Piqué
Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC)
Dept. Astronomy & Astrophysics, Univ. of Valencia
Dept. Experimental Sciences, Univ. Jaume I
Dept. Inorganic Chemistry, Univ. Barcelona
SPMN homepage:
E-mails: /


From Exite News, 10 December 2000


By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. space scientists put the odds at nearly 1 in 250
that debris from the proposed burn-up of the world's first global satellite
telephone mesh would hit someone on Earth.

The prospects of a casualty from the now-averted mass "de-orbiting" of the
system known as Iridium were spelled out in a previously secret study by the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The analysis was done in April as a government task force weighed fears that
a hurry-up, 14-month schedule for bringing back cast-off hardware might
trigger "widespread anxiety."

"With the information currently available, the probability of someone being
struck by surviving Iridium debris is assessed to be 1 in 18,405 per reentry
and 1 in 249 for all 74 spacecraft combined," NASA calculated.

The study was made available to Reuters by the Federal Communications
Commission under the Freedom of Information Act. It found four types of
Iridium components were likely to survive a flaming reentry into the
atmosphere -- 10-kg titanium fuel tanks, 30-kg batteries, 6.3-kg structural
brackets and 116-kg electronic control panels.

Last week, the Pentagon, citing its own needs, stepped in to rescue the
necklace of 66 cross-linked, low Earth orbiting satellites plus its spares
from the ashes of bankruptcy court.

Motorola Corp., which built, bankrolled and operated the $5.5 billion
system, had said it would begin nudging the 560-kg satellites into decaying
orbits this month in the absence of a buyer.

In staving off a fiery end for now, the Pentagon signed a $3-million-a-month
deal for unlimited air time for up to 20,000 U.S. government users of
wireless satellite telephones, including military forces worldwide.

The deal could be worth as much as $252 million if the Defense Department
picks up options for service through 2007. It was a condition for court
approval of the purchase of Iridium, for $25 million, by an investors group
led by Dan Colussy, president of Pan American World Airways from 1978 to

The Pentagon already owned about 1,600 Iridium satellite phones. The State
Department has another 2,000. They have been used by Navy ships at sea,
polar teams, special operations forces and combat search-and-rescue missions
in areas without U.S. military satellite coverage or when military channels
are full.

Iridium "will provide a commercial alternative to our purely military
systems," said Dave Oliver, principal deputy under secretary of defense for
acquisitions, technology and logistics. The Navy, for example, needed more
than twice as much such point-to-point secure communications capability as
was available, the Pentagon said.

But a Defense Department briefing paper prepared last month also cited a
"strong government desire to avoid having more than 70 satellites de-orbit
within 14 months," as had been planned by Motorola.

A U.S. interagency group led by the Justice Department feared that this
"might create widespread anxiety and lead to a public outcry for
ill-considered government action," the Pentagon paper said.

In its study, NASA said a total mass equal to 300 Iridiums, or more than
168,000 kilos, fell to Earth last year alone in "natural," or untargeted,
re-entries from decaying orbits.

Since the Soviets launched the basketball-sized Sputnik I on Oct. 4, 1957,
no one has ever been reported hurt by falling debris, though there have been
4,100 natural re-entries, said Nicholas Johnson, NASA program manager for
orbital debris and author of the report.

The bottom line, he added in an interview, is that the Iridium satellites
would plunge back to Earth if not now, then in about 108 years given their
current orbits.

The risk to life and limb, while statistically small, would increase
"somewhat" due to projected world population growth in the next 100 years,
Johnson concluded.

Copyright 2000, Reuters

MODERATOR'S NOTE: It would appear that NASA have come up with an interesting
new "Impact Hazard Scale." In the case of the re-entry of Iridium satellites
(which will not happen now for some time), the probability of risk is
related to the likelihood that surviving debris from the de-orbited
satellites will hit a person. This is an interesting approach to risk
assessment (and risk announcement) if we compare it, for example, to the
information provided by the Torino Scale. Here, a certain impact of a small
NEO (level 8 on the Torino Scale) is described as "a collision capable of
causing localised destruction." While this is certainly correct, it does not
tell us anything about the probability that such an impact will actually
occur in or over a populated area. There can be no question about it: the
next Tunguska-type impact is going to happen at some time in the forseeable
future. Given that we might even detect the object approaching Earth before
its entry into the atmosphere, it would be wise to study the Iridium case
carefully. After all, if the re-entry of tiny satellites "might create
widespread anxiety and lead to a public outcry for ill-considered government
action," can you imagine what may happen if a Tunguska-type object were
predicted to hit the Earth in a matter of days? BJP


From The Times of India, 11 December 2000

HYDERABAD: A scientific balloon carrying a special payload that will find
out if life came from space, is all set for a midnight launch from the
national balloon facility here, scientists said.

Sixteen super cooled sterilised containers -- that from the heart of the
payload - will collect air samples from heights of 10 to 35 km and bring
them back eight hours later.

"A helicopter is standing by to recover the precious cargo seconds after the
balloon made the touch down," Pushapa Bhargava, former director of Central
for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and one of the investigators of
this experiment, said.

The balloon is being launched from the National Facility run by the Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, one of four such facilities in
the world.

Scientists said the balloon experiment is being carried out to confirm their
discovery of an unknown form of bacteria in air samples brought by a balloon
last April. "Exhaustive microbiological analysis" had then established that
the bacteria was a new strain never before recorded on earth, they said.

"It is tempting to speculate that these micro organisms came from space, but
their terrestrial origin cannot be ruled out", Bhargava said. (PTI)

Copyright 2000, Times of India


From NASA Science News for December 8, 2000

Most meteor showers are caused by comets, but the Geminid meteor shower,
which peaks next Wednesday morning, seems to come from a curious near-Earth

December 8, 2000 -- Early risers who venture outdoors before dawn next week
are in for a treat. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on Wednesday morning
when sky watchers could spot as many as 3 to 5 shooting stars every minute.

Geminids look like most meteors -- they tend to be fast-moving and yellow in
color. But there's something special about them. Other meteor showers happen
when Earth passes through the debris trail of a comet. Tiny bits of dust no
bigger than a grain of sand disintegrate high in our atmosphere and leave
behind dazzling streaks of light. But the parent of the Geminids isn't a
comet at all. It appears to be a curious near-Earth asteroid known as 3200

"The Geminids are a mystery," says Brian Marsden of Harvard's Minor Planet
Center. "Most meteoroids that we know of come from comets. They are set free
by solar vaporization of [cometary] ice. Geminid meteoroids, on the other
hand, appear to come from 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid. We're not sure why an
asteroid should have a debris trail, but this one does."

Sky watchers first noticed the Geminids in the mid-1800's, but for more than
a century the shower's source was unknown. Then, in 1983, NASA's Infrared
Astronomy Satellite spotted a new asteroid: 3200 Phaethon. Astronomer Fred
Whipple quickly realized that Phaethon and the Geminid meteoroid stream
follow nearly identical orbits. They move around the Sun in a one and a
half-year elliptical path that stretches from inside the orbit of Mercury
outward to the asteroid belt.

Every year in mid-December when the Geminid meteor shower is active, Earth
is barely eight lunar distances (~0.021 AU) from Phaethon's orbit. That
makes Phaethon a "potentially hazardous" near-Earth asteroid (NEA).

In most respects Phaethon appears to be an ordinary NEA, says Marsden, but
it is remarkable because it comes so close to the Sun. Its distance from the
Sun ranges from 0.14 AU at perihelion to 2.4 AU at aphelion. "The small
aphelion distance would be unusual for a defunct comet," he explained.

Phaethon's sungrazing orbit might be responsible, in part, for the Geminids.
"You could argue that a lump of dusty ice on the surface of Phaethon was
uncovered at some point and then vaporized by solar heating," he speculated.
Such an event might produce meteoroids in the style of a comet.

Phaethon doesn't have a tail now and there's no evidence that jets of
vaporizing debris are pushing the asteroid around. Whatever liberated the
Geminid meteoroids probably happened long ago.

"The Geminid meteor shower is very stable from one year to the next," notes
Robert Lunsford, Secretary General of the International Meteor Organization,
"and there is no evidence for outbursts that follow close encounters between
Earth and Phaethon." The debris trail seems to be spread rather uniformly
around Phaethon's orbit -- another indicator that the meteoroids are old.

In July 1996 astronomers saw something in the asteroid belt that could be
relevant to the past experiences of 3200 Phaethon.

"Four years ago Eric Elst contacted us from the European Southern
Observatory and reported a strange object (now known as 'Elst-Pizarro' after
its discoverers)," recalled Marsden. "It had a tail, like a comet, but no
coma. We calculated an orbit and it seemed to be a perfectly ordinary minor
planet in the asteroid belt. Furthermore, we found some older images of it
from 1979 and '85. There was no tail in those photos and by 1997 the tail
Elst saw a year earlier was gone."

Despite its brief appearance as a comet look-alike, Elst-Pizarro is probably
an asteroid, says Marsden. "We may have been seeing a cloud of dust that was
ejected by an impact with another asteroid or, perhaps, a small ice deposit
became uncovered and vaporized."

Elst-Pizarro spends all of its time in the main asteroid belt where
asteroid-asteroid collisions are most likely to happen. Phaethon spends less
time there, but it does visit the asteroid belt every 17 months when it
reaches its farthest point from the Sun. A collision between Phaethon and
some smaller object in the asteroid belt might account for the Geminid
debris stream. Detailed studies of Geminid orbits, however, indicate that
the meteoroids more likely crumbled away while Phaethon was close to the
Sun. Once again, there's no clear solution to the Geminid riddle.

The mysterious Geminids will be on display Wednesday morning, Dec. 13th,
when the ongoing shower reaches its day-long peak. Most years stargazers in
rural areas can see as many as 140 Geminids per hour. That number will be
substantially reduced by the glare of a nearly-full Moon on Wednesday.

"The brutal moonlight will prevent us from enjoying the Geminids as much as
usual," laments Lunsford. "I would estimate that rates will average 20 to 30
per hour for most observers."

No matter where you live, the best time to watch will be during the hours
before dawn on Wednesday. Meteors will streak away from a point (called the
"radiant") in the constellation Gemini. Geminids can appear anywhere in the
sky, but their trails will point back toward the radiant, which will lie
some 60 degrees above the southern horizon at 4 am as seen from mid-northern
latitude observing sites.

Even if the 2000 Geminids produce fewer meteors than usual, they're still
worth watching. The morning sky this month features an array of bright stars
and planets including Jupiter, Saturn, Sirius, the constellation Orion, and
even the subtle Pleiades. A trip outdoors before breakfast on Wednesday is a
no-lose proposition (weather permitting!).

And if you see a smattering of Geminids, just remember, each and every one
is a bona-fide enigma -- baffling and dazzling in equal measure!

Tune in to for more information about the ongoing Geminid
meteor shower.


From Concord Monitor, 7 December 2000

If Monday's fire wasn't caused by a meteorite, what was it?

Monitor staff

SALISBURY - Ron Baalke of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab saw the story about the
meteorite in a small New Hampshire town online. It seemed a spectacular
occurrence - meteorites are rare to begin with, but it's unheard of to see
one land on Earth still burning. So, on his California computer, he
forwarded the news to a London-based electronic network that disseminates
information on catastrophic asteroids and cosmic disasters.

The "CCNet" published Baalke's post about the supposed Granite State
meteorite, and sky-minded scientists across the world read the news.

Salisbury, New Hampshire, was famous.

Since Paul Kornexl and Donna Ayoub saw a fireball plummet from the sky into
the woods behind their houses Monday evening, Salisbury and its potential
meteorite have gained worldwide attention. While Kornexl, Ayoub and her
husband, Dave, continued to scour the muddy ground yesterday for
extraterrestrial signs, scientists from New Mexico to Moscow - aided by the
more-familiar science of the Internet - were conjecturing on just what
happened behind quiet Hensmith Road.

The first report that had come out of Salisbury said a meteorite had landed
in the woods behind 129 and 137 (which are next to each other) Hensmith
Road. The blazing softball-sized object had started two small fires in the
dried leaves Monday evening, and neighbors had rushed to douse the flames.

"It's a little weird for my book," said the fire dispatcher Monday. "I've
never had anything drop out of the sky on my watch."

By the time firefighters arrived on scene the blaze was extinguished. But
the curiosity wasn't.

Kornexl had been standing next to his shed when he saw the fireball land.

"I was dumbfounded," he said.

The next day, when a scientist from the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium
examined the scene, and other experts pieced together the reported details,
the explanation of a meteorite seemed less and less plausible.

A meteorite would not have been burning when it hit the ground, scientists
said. It would have left a crater when it landed and it would not have come
in on an arc like residents described.

But the woods were deserted. Kornexl, who spent six years in the Army, said
the scene didn't fit with any weapon he knew of. And air control and
military officials said there was nothing overhead at the time.

So the question lingered. What sort of unearthly visitor had shown up in

The conjectures started coming in yesterday morning. Robin Griffith, who
lives outside Houston, Texas, said the New Hampshire fireball was similar to
a flash of light she saw from her deck back in July.

"If it had streaked I would have thought it was a shooting star," she said.
But she added that her siting was exactly the same - she didn't see her ball
of light fall to the horizon.

"I don't believe mine was what y'all had," she said. She gave the name of a
scientist in Russia who had studied her incident. Andrei Ol'khovatov had
read the posting on CCNet and had asked her to get more information about
the New Hampshire incident.

Ol'khovatov had his own opinion. "It was probably not a meteorite," he wrote
in an e-mail, "but a geophysical meteor (high-speed ball lightning). I
investigate these events for some years."

Ol'khovatov's Web page has scores of information about incidents of
geographic meteors, what he describes as a rare type of electric atmospheric
discharge like ball lightning. He suggests TWA Flight 800 and other airline
disasters may have been caused by this natural phenomena. Salisbury's fire
could be just the latest incident.

Richard Spalding, a senior engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories in
New Mexico, a U.S. Department of Energy national security lab, had his own
theory. Apart from the lab, Spalding has studied flashes in the atmosphere -
of which meteors are one sort and lightning another.

"This particular article is reminiscent of quite a number of events I've
looked into in which people claim they've seen a fireball come all the way
to the ground," he said. "I think they are an electrical manifestation -
akin to lightning but with nothing to do with thunderstorms."

Spalding said evidence of this sort of event could be gained by analyzing
some leftover material at the site.

"It's quite possible there are some radioactive trace elements that are
formed by the ions," he said. The Ayoubs, he said, agreed to send him some
ground samples. "If found, there's no mistaking something very strange had
occurred. There's only one way those elements could be created. It requires
high energy radiation."

Scientists conjecturing on the Salisbury mystery got more information from
residents yesterday as more people came forward with reports of seeing the

Phil Plait, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and
who developed the Web site to clear up misconceptions about
his science, said he spoke to more Hensmith Road residents who saw the

"I really, strongly feel it's not a meteorite," he said after hearing the
residents' descriptions. "I, unfortunately, don't have a good alternative
explanation. Unless it was something thrown from a distance. Sometimes these
things are mysteries forever."

But if the bright light New Durham resident Ron Nordquist saw Monday night
was the same fireball, it couldn't have been an object simply thrown over
the trees.

Nordquist said he saw the glowing ball as he walked his dog around 5 p.m.

"It was like the brightest star you've ever seen," he said. "It was going
down instead of going across the sky. It seemed like it was going in slow
motion, even though it happened in seconds. I looked at the dog and I said
'did you see that?' "

Nordquist mentioned the site to his brother on the phone that night. It
wasn't until he read the paper that he made a connection.

"I got my map book and looked for Salisbury. And right away, when I saw M6
or whatever the page was, right away I started getting goose bumps. I looked
up New Durham, I looked at Salisbury. And I said to myself, 'my goodness,
I'd seen that.' "

The scientific search is still on.

Sandt Michener, a scientist at the planetarium, said while he still doesn't
believe the object was a meteorite, he thinks the incident is worth
investigating further.

"There are a lot of ideas, but it's just so many possibilities," he said.
"If it is a meteorite, or if it's something else, it's unusual enough to
merit an investigation."

© Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Patriot


From Science-Week <>

ScienceWeek Abstracts Edition - December 8, 2000


Although the presence of fossils of living nanoscale forms in known
meteorites now seems questionable if not refuted, there has recently been
some interest in reports of living nanoscale
entities present as pathogens in mammalian host systems including humans.
But new experimental evidence does not provide plausible support for the
existence of a previously undiscovered genus of "nanobacteria". Instead,
experiments provide evidence that biomineralization previously attributed to
nanobacteria may be initiated by nonliving macromolecules and transferred on
"subculture" by self-propagating microcrystalline apatite.

Copyright (c) 1997-2000 ScienceWeek; All Rights Reserved


Edited by Iain Gilmour & Christian Koerberl
Springer  (Berlin, Heidelberg, New York 2000)
ISBN 3-540-67092-0
List Price DM 198 (ca.£60.00)


This volume is the first one to result from the activities of the new
scientific program on "The Response of the Earth System to Impact Processes"
(IMPACT) of the European Science Foundation (ESF). The ESF is the European
association of national funding organizations of fundamental research, with
more than 60 member organizations from more than 20 countries. One of the
main goals of the ESF is to bring European scientists together to work on
topics of common concern. The ESF IMPACT program deals with all aspects of
impact research, mainly through the organization of workshops, exchange
programs, short courses, and related activities. An important aspect of the
program is to bring people together to help stimulate interdisciplinary and
international research.

Impacts of asteroids or comets on the Earth surface have played an important
role in the evolution of the planet. The ESF IMPACT program is an
interdisciplinary program aimed at understanding impact processes and their
effects on the Earth System, including environmental, biological, and
geological changes, and consequences for the biodiversity of ecosystems. The
program is geared towards understanding of the linkage between impact
processes and the Earth System, i.e., defining and studying the effects of
impact events on the environment, including atmospheric, climatic, biologic,
and geologic effects and interactions between these subsystems. Important
aspects of future research regard also the consequences of the high-energy
impact events for the biodiversity of ecosystems. Comprehending the
processes that are responsible for these interactions is the key goal of the
program. Currently 12 countries sponsor the program, which was launched in
1998, but an expansion to 14 countries is anticipated.

The first workshop to be organized as part of the ESF-IMPACT program was
held at Robinson College, Cambridge, United Kingdom, from December 13th to
15th, 1998, in. A total of 56 scientists from 10 European countries, the
United States, Russia and South Africa attended.

Contributions at the meeting covered the following themes:

* Impacts and the Origin of Life on Earth and Mars
* Late heavy bombardment and impact processing of the Earth
* The Earth's Early Cratering Record
* Micrometeorites and Spherule layers
* Impacts through geological time

A selection of 17 papers resulting from this meeting is included in the
present volume. Manuscripts were reviewed by two referees and were
considered for publication on the basis of originality and the themes
discussed at the workshop.

There is currently some discussion on the present state of scientific
understanding of the role impacts may have played in the biological and
geological evolution of the Early Earth. There is good evidence that simple
single celled life forms were already present at the start of the Archean,
which means that chemical evolution must have occurred during the Hadean and
life had probably originated at around 4 Ga. Since there are no Hadean
rocks, our knowledge of the Earth's history during this period is
necessarily based on indirect evidence. The Earth acquired an oceanic-type
crust formed shortly after the process of core-mantle separation occurred
some 4.5 Ga, although we have no record of it in the rocks. By 3.8 Ga light
granitic continental crust had formed from the mantle. Proof of this comes
from the 3.8 Ga granites and associated metamorphosed volcanic and
sedimentary rocks at Isua in western Greenland, which represent the oldest
piece of primitive crust known to geologists. Conditions at the Earth's
surface and in the atmosphere during the Hadean must have had a powerful
influence on chemical evolution. Estimates for the growth of continents on
the early Earth cover a wide range of parameters save that there were no
continents at the beginning. This results in most scientists assuming that a
global ocean existed in which the pre-biotic chemistry that led to the
origin of life to place.

The possibility of continued intense bombardment by meteorites long after
the Earth had formed has led some scientists to conclude that the emergence
of life could have been deterred for hundreds of millions of years. Many of
the projectiles would have been much large enough that they would have
generated enough heat to boil the surface of the oceans as well as throwing
large clouds of dust and molten rock into the atmosphere. The implication of
this hypothesis is that the impacts would have deterred the emergence of
life anywhere near the surface of the oceans until perhaps as late as 3.8
billion years ago. On the other hand, comets and meteorites may have
delivered important organic molecules to the Earth. The question of how this
delivery could have influenced the development of life on the early Earth,
and if bacterial life forms could survive the forces of an impact, are
discussed in the paper by Burchell et al. The macromolecular organic
materials present in meteorites and their role in the origin of life on
Earth are subsequently discussed by Sephton and Gilmour, and in a related
paper, Wright et al. discuss the effects of atmospheric heating on carbon
compounds in meteorites and micrometeorites.

Only 10% of the 150 or so known impact craters on Earth date from the
Precambrian, an Era spanning some 88% of the Earth's history. The
Precambrian encompasses fundamental events in the origin and evolution of
our planet from the origin of life itself, the development of continents, to
the development of eukaryotic organisms and the vast diversification of life
that occurred at the end of this Era. We know from the lunar cratering
record that the Earth was subject to intense bombardment by asteroids and
comets early in its history on a scale far greater than anything it has
experienced since. Koeberl et al. discuss their search for evidence of such
a heavy bombardment on Earth in about 3.8 to 3.9 million-year-old rocks from

Another hot topic is the geological evidence for Early Archean impact
events, in particular the occurrence of spherule layers in the Precambrian
Barberton formation (South Africa), which may represent the remnants of
large-scale impact events. This is a controversial area, because many of the
normally accepted criteria for the identification of impact structures, such
as shock metamorphism in rock-forming minerals, are not preserved.
Shukolyukov et al. present new data based on chromium isotopic ratios that
they argue proves that the large platinum group element enrichments
associated with these spherule layers are extraterrestrial in origin. In
contrast, Reimold et al. argue that the enrichments are too great to be of
primary origin and suggest that the mineralogical and geochemical features
of the spherule layers are the result of (secondary) mineralization.

The importance of the recognition of an impact record in the Precambrian
sedimentary succession is also emphasized by Simonson et al. Impact
structures per se, as well as their proximal ejecta blankets, are limited to
areas on the order of a few hundred kilometers in diameter, whereas distal
ejecta from the largest impacts can be distributed globally. These authors
examined various late Archean to Paleoproterozoic formations from Australia
and South Africa that contain preserved spherule layers. They interpreted
these layers as altered microtektites and microkrystites and therefore
inferred that they have an impact origin.

A different type of extraterrestrial deposit is described by Kettrup et al.,
who discuss occurrences of fossil micrometeorites from about 18 to 1.9
billion year old sediments in Finland. It is astonishing that these
materials have survived with only little alteration.

A major theme of the workshop was the need for the better recognition of
ancient impact events in the geological record. Vishnevsky and Raitala
describe the use of impact-produced diamonds as indicators of shock
metamorphism in Precambrian rocks. Gibson and Reimold provide a useful
review of the Vredefort impact structures in South Africa (with an age of
2.02 billion years the oldest, and by chance also the largest known, impact
structure on Earth) as a case study for old, deeply eroded impact
structures. Kenkman and co-workers cover techniques of structural geology in
their contribution that might be applied in future from a better
understanding of the geology of large ancient impact structures. In a
related paper, Abels et al. describe the use of remote sensing techniques in
the study of old and deeply eroded impact structures.

More general topics follow. Hughes provides a review of cratering rate
investigations, and Jones et al. discuss rarely studied features of
carbonate rocks that result of from impact-induced melting processes. At the
end is a trio of papers by Lilljequist, Suuroja and Suuroja, and Puura et
al., describing various Scandinavian structures as case studies of more
recent impact events.

From these contributions, and from the discussions at the workshop, it is
clear that impact cratering events have played a major role in the very
early history of our planet. We are only beginning to try and decipher the
evidence of such early events, as we currently do not even have good
criteria for the recognition of Early Archean impact events, and a lot
remains to be done. We hope that the current volume is a first step in the
right direction. 

Iain Gilmour, Open University University of Vienna , Milton Keynes, UK
Christian Koeberl, Vienna, Austria
December 1999

For further information, please contact:
Dr Iain Gilmour 
Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute                
The Open University
Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA         
United Kingdom         


From Max Wallis <>

Konrad Ebisch on CCNet of 4 December sarcastically contrasted Andrew
Glikson's assertion
  "...there can be little doubt that life abounds throughout the
with Glikson's put-down for panspermia as an "Extraordinary claim" and "a
philosophical notion rather than a scientific theory" (CCNet essay of 1

The description of one hypothesis makes it sound like an accepted theory,
while the other sounds like a nut-case notion, commented Konrad, finishing
with a plea for open minds. While polemical essays have a place, I'd comment
more strongly about Glikson's loose terminology.

Classification of ideas as 'notions', 'hypotheses', 'theories' or
'paradigms', with or without the descriptor 'scientific', is amenable to
philosophical and linguistic analyses. A trawl through CCNet records,
including refereed journal papers, shows that panspermia is currently
regarded by significant numbers of practitioners as a "working hypothesis".

That's been true since NASA claimed to have detected signs of fossilised
life in a Martian meteorite. But in fact, ever since SNC meteorites were
established as originating from Mars and Chassigny was shown to have been
only lightly shocked in transit, in the 1980s, panspermia has served as a
working hypothesis that was very amenable to scientific experimentation and
theoretical analysis.

Evidently there were cultural inhibitions up till the last few years, but
the stages summarised by Matthew Genge (CCNet last week)

- ejection from Mars
- survivability during ejection and transport
- planetary landing

were all topics of scientific study in the 1980s. Theoretical and
experimental developments over the last few years have served to confirm the
picture - which is the method whereby hypotheses turn into theories, and
eventually into paradigms.

What of Andrew Glikson's starting point that "life abounds throughout the
universe"? Myself I give that higher status than a "nut-case notion", taking
it as a working hypothesis that leads to comparing interstellar transfer
(panspermia again) with spontaneous generation on individual sites through
the galaxy. But others may accept it on general grounds, eg. a dislike of
geocentric ideas. For them it is a philosophical notion.

As further example, take Andrew Glikson's "the biosphere is founded on yet
little understood universal quantum information laws". One problem with such
a statement is that philosophers view "laws" as human constructs. And
Newton's laws, for example, had limited lifetime (or applicability). 

I'm more concerned with the "quantum information" reference, which as we all
know is based on mind-boggling concept of entanglement - that quantum
objects separated by macroscopic distances have faster-than-light linkage.

I say "mind-boggling" because that is the description of one of the foremost
experimentalists of their explanation of photon coherence experiments with a
pair of optical crystals [1,2]. From the viewpoint that a 'photon' can be on
two paths simultaneously but when detected is only on one of the paths, they
inferred from the two-crystal experiment that "what is knowable in principle
rather than what is known" determines the photon path.  A mind-bogglingly
anthropocentric explanation!

Quantum information "laws" based on entangled photons are inconsistent with
the wave theory of light and run up against fundamentals of locality and
causality, that ensure time sequence and require signals to have a finite
speed [3]. The basis is the mystical or even crazy [4] interpretation of
quantum physics espoused by Paul Davies, as cited by Glikson. So the quantum
information law foundation of Glikson's biosphere may be in fashion, but is
in conflict with basic scientific concepts. That surely excludes it as a
scientific hypothesis and puts it more in the category of a "notion".

Why Glikson and scientists in general adopt unscientific notions is a
sociological and cultural question, as were "inhibitions" on panspermia
mentioned above. I wouldn't address that, apart from noting that scientists
are human.

[1] Greenberger D M, Horne MA, Zeilinger A, Physics Today, 46, 22, 1993
[2] Wallis M K, Contemporary Phys. 39, 483-486, 1998; New Scientist letters,
23 May 1998
[3] Marshall T W, webpage -
[4] Greenberger D, Zeilinger A, "Quantum theory still crazy after all these
years" Physics World, 8, 33-38, 1995.

Max Wallis < >    
Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology


From Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny

I refer to the news item "Another blow to geological gradualism: continental
land masses created in fast bursts" (CCNet 7.12.00). While I have not as yet
seen the original article, I suggest that rather than constituting "ANOTHER
BLOW to geological gradualism ... " etc., the way this news item is
presented is ANOTHER BLOW to the accurate reporting of scientific results,
as follows:

1. Continental masses form by a variety of mechanisms, including (a) lateral
accretion along ocean margin subduction zones and arc-trench accretional
wedges; (b) intercontinental collisions, for example the Himalaya, where
sediments, volcanics and intrusive plutons accumulate and undergo partial
fusion, and (c) production and emplacement of magmas at a range of crustal
levels consequent on partial melting of the subcontinental mantle and deep
crustal anatexis, magmatic underplating and intrusion.

2. The rates of continental accretion are determined by the time-integrated
interval/s over which the various components (sedimentary, volcanic,
plutonic) are added laterally and vertically to
the continental crust, as measured by isotopic age determinations of
accreted terrains - a relevant example being the subducted northeast Pacific
margins. The distribution pattern of isotopic age data does in fact reveal
episodic continental accretion rates, including periods of
intense thermal-igneous-tectonic events represented by peaks on isotopic age
frequency plots. Examples are magmatic-tectonic maximae about 1.8 Ga
(billion years), 2.7 Ga , 3.2 Ga, 3.5 Ga. The factors underlying this
episodicity remain subject of a range of geotectonic models.

3. The viscous flow rate of any individual magmatic increment, for example
the mobile crystal/melt mass which forms a granitic pluton, depends on
factors such as the composition of the magma, degree of crystallisation,
water content, attendant lithostatic pressures and tectonic stress field,
and so on. However, the consequent magmatic viscous flow rates have nothing
to do with the overall temporally protracted or episodic rates of
continental accretion.

Andrew Glikson
Austrtalian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200

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