Date sent:        Thu, 11 Dec 1997 13:28:33 -0500 (EST)
From:             Benny J Peiser <
Subject:          Louis Frank: "He is seeing things that are scientifically not
Priority:         NORMAL


University of Washington

Contact: David Brand
(206) 543-2580

December 9, 1997

San Francisco -- When University of Iowa space physicist Louis Frank
presented his evidence last May, he had much of the science community
shivering with anticipation. He claimed to have discovered 20- to
40-ton cosmic snowballs, the size of houses, pelting the Earth at the
rate of 30,000 a day. What's more, Frank presented images he had
captured of the giant snowballs.

But the snowballs may not exist. University of Washington
geophysicist George Parks has analyzed Frank's ultraviolet (UV)
camera images and has concluded that the white snow in space is no
more than black "snow" on the television screen.

After a close analysis of one hour of data supplied by Frank, Parks
says he and his collaborators are certain that Frank has been looking
at "instrument noise." It is very similar, says Parks, "to the static
you hear on your hi-fi."

Frank and Parks will debate the real vs. phantom snowballs here today
at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San
Francisco (Dec. 9 at 4 p.m.).

Frank first proposed his theory of the cosmic snowballs -- actually
small comets -- in 1986, but the idea was widely discredited. Then,
earlier this year, he presented evidence from the Polar satellite,
which carries an instrument that can produce both UV and visible
light images. Frank compared the same spots on both types of image
and concluded that these were clear evidence of the existence of the

Parks says that at first he was "agnostic" towards Frank's data. But
when he saw the far more detailed images from the Polar camera he
became suspicious. It was simply unlikely, he says, that the clusters
of spots on the images could have been caused by snowballs in space.
Parks began an analysis of his own images taken with the Ultraviolet
Imager (UVI) on the NASA Polar satellite. There he found the same
dark spots that Frank had found on his images.

He grew even more uneasy about Frank's analysis when he found that
the UVI had recorded the same dark spots while pointed at a UV light
in the laboratory.

When Parks began a minute examination of the images, made by breaking
the clusters of spots down into tiny picture point, or pixels, he
found statistical evidence that he was seeing not real events, but
what he calls an "instrument artifact."

After Parks had detailed his analysis in an article for Geophysical
Research Letters, Frank released one hour of data that overlapped
with Parks' UVI images. Parks has made a comparison of the two and
now believes, even more emphatically, that Frank has been attempting
to interpret background noise.

What is causing the spots on the images? Park blames the very
complexity of the cameras themselves, which consist of a number of
parts, including optics, an image intensifier that includes a
device for multiplying electrons, a TV screen and a light-gathering
charge-coupled device. Parks suspects that the dark spots change
character as the camera's high voltage is varied.

Parks claims that Frank has taken complex images and selected only
one tiny area as evidence of the comets' existence. "He nevers shows
the full image because it always looks corrupted by noise," he says.

Is Parks then denying the existence of cosmic snowballs? "The burden
is on Frank, he's got to prove they exist," Parks says. "He is seeing
things that are scientifically not permitted. It would, for example,
be easy for me to say these dark spots are UFOs, but it would be up
to me to prove it."

Date sent:        Thu, 11 Dec 1997 13:05:08 -0500 (EST)
From:             Benny J Peiser <
Priority:         NORMAL


University News Services
University of Iowa

100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024

Immediate Release: 12/9/97

UI's Louis Frank presents additional proof for "small comet" theory

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Two University of Iowa space physics researchers
today, Tuesday, Dec. 9, presented a new study based upon photographs
taken by cameras aboard NASA's Polar spacecraft as further proof of
their 11-year-old theory that thousands of house-sized ice comets
disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere each day.

Louis A. Frank and John B. Sigwarth presented the study at the fall
meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. The
study shows dark spots (called "atmospheric holes" because of their
appearance on film) captured in NASA photographs decrease in size and
number as the Polar spacecraft's altitude and distance from the holes
increases -- just what one would expect to find if the cameras are
taking pictures of a real phenomenon. According to Frank, skeptics of
the small comet theory who have maintained that the atmospheric holes
are caused by electronic "noise" affecting the camera will now have to
re-evaluate their position.

"This result is a marvelous confirmation of the reality of atmospheric
holes," says Frank, a Fellow of the AGU and of the American Physical

The latest study examines June 1, 1997 photographs of the Earth's upper
atmosphere, comparing one set of pictures taken from between 3 and 5 Earth
radii above the surface to another set taken at altitudes of between 5 and 8
Earth radii. A total of 5,650 atmospheric holes were observed in the images,
however the high altitude photographs showed an 80 percent drop in the
frequency of atmospheric holes in comparison to the low altitude data. Also
a greater number of atmospheric holes were photographed during early morning
hours than during evening hours.

At the spring AGU meeting in May, Frank revealed a series of
photographs taken by cameras aboard NASA's Polar spacecraft as proof of the
existence of the 20-to-40-ton ice comets that, over the age of the Earth,
could have provided enough water to fill the oceans and plant the seeds of
life. The pictures ranged from one of a small comet the size of a
two-bedroom house disintegrating some 5,000 to 15,000 miles above the
Atlantic Ocean to an image of light emitted by the breakup of water
molecules from a small comet less than 2,000 miles above the Earth. Frank
and Sigwarth, who co-discovered the small comets and designed the three
Visible Imaging System (VIS) cameras aboard the Polar spacecraft, said the
pictures proved the existence of the small ice comets, but some doubters
remained. (Since then, a satellite trailing the Space Shuttle Discovery in
August detected significant amounts of high-altitude water vapor, a finding
that supports the small comet theory.)

"Despite all of the evidence that the atmospheric holes were a
geophysical phenomenon and not an artifact of the camera, many members of
the scientific community refused to accept the reality of the atmospheric
holes because of the immense implications of the large fluxes of small
comets in the vicinity of our planet," says Frank.

Frank first announced the small comet theory in 1986, after examining
images recorded in photographs taken by NASA's Dynamics Explorer 1
spacecraft. A specially-made camera had been designed to take pictures of
the northern lights, a mission it completed successfully when it captured
the first images of the complete ring of the northern lights from above the
north pole. But some of the images contained unexplained dark spots, or
atmospheric holes. After eliminating the possibility of equipment
malfunction and numerous other explanations, Frank and Sigwarth concluded
that the atmospheric holes represented clouds of water vapor being released
high above Earth's atmosphere by the disintegration of small ice comets.

They calculated that about 20 comets enter the atmosphere each minute. At
that rate, the steady stream of comets would have added about one inch of
water to the Earth's oceans every 20,000 years -- enough to fill the oceans
over billions of years. The theory was immediately controversial, with
people asking why such objects hadn't been observed previously. Frank
countered that not only their small size -- 20-to-30-feet in diameter --
makes observation difficult, but also that water striking the upper
atmosphere glows very faintly as compared to the bright glow of metal and
rock in solid meteors.

Not until the 1996 launch of Polar, with its two sensitive visible
light cameras and one far-ultraviolet light camera, was there a chance to
photograph the small comets with greater resolution.

(For further information, see the small comets web site:

Date sent:        Thu, 11 Dec 1997 10:41:20 -0500 (EST)
From:             Banny J Peiser <
Priority:         NORMAL


From: METEORITE! November 1997, 3:4, pp. 34-36

Natural Catastrophes During Bronze Age Civilizations: Archaeological,
Geological, Astronomical and Cultural Perspectives

by Mark E. Bailey <

Nearly a hundred astronomers, historians, archaeologists and others
gathered in Cambridge from 11-13 July 1997 for the second international
conference of the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies. The purpose - to
discuss the near-simultaneous ending of Bronze Age civilizations world-wide,
in particular whether the 'giant comet' hypothesis, associated principally
with the names of Clube & Napier and Hoyle & Wickramasinghe, could be
substantiated by ground truth in the archaeological, geological,
climatological and historical records.

Depending on one's chronology and the geographic region under
discussion, the Bronze Age started c.3500 BC and continued for two or
three thousand years until approximately 1500 - 500 BC, encompassing
not only the main construction phases of Stonehenge and its megalithic
counterparts elsewhere, but also the genesis of kingship, priesthood, human
and animal sacrifice, the evolution of religious views from polytheism to
monotheism and - significantly to astronomers - a burgeoning interest in the
celestial sphere.

The heart of the astronomical thesis is that changes in the Earth's
near-space astronomical environment, corresponding to the orbital
evolution and hierarchical fragmentation of a giant comet - possibly
the progenitor of Encke's comet, have produced surges in the rate of
accretion of interplanetary dust and associated episodes of bombardment of
larger bodies (diameters 10 - 100 m) on time-scales of historical interest
(decades to millennia).

Can this line of argument be sustained, or like many a beguiling
'Theory of Everything' will it suffer the usual fate of beautiful
theory wrecked by ugly fact? Moreover, even if only some elements of
the theory should stand the test of time, what, if any, are the lessons for
the future of modern civilization?

The current hazards due to near-Earth objects were considered at a
meeting held the previous day at the Royal Greenwich Observatory,
Cambridge. The discussion concluded that civilization would be unlikely to
survive the impact of even quite a small astronomical body; and the level of
the actuarial risk to society from the observed population of near-Earth
asteroids is much greater than that associated with hazards that society
routinely considers suitable for detailed assessment and mitigation.

The SIS meeting opened with a keynote presentation by Robert Matthews
(Science Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph), who drew together what he
called two 'modern myths': namely, that what happened long ago is complete
nonsense; and that the Earth is a Safe Place. These topics, illustrated with
examples from mythology and of glyphs and relics, went to the heart of the
subject of the conference and demonstrated above all the value of
open-minded, multidisciplinary investigations. It was fascinating to hear
the fourth estate appeal to academics to talk to journalists ('get the
message out as often as possible'); and the justification of the importance
of the message, namely 'Why should we care?': because it's fascinating, part
of our culture, and directly relevant to our survival on this planet.
Quoting George Santayana, Matthews reminded the audience that those who
forget the past are condemned to re-live it.

The astronomical backdrop against which changes in human civilization
are measured was reviewed by Mark Bailey and Bill Napier (Armagh
Observatory). So far as comets are concerned, the key recent
discoveries are that (i) 'giants', those with diameters greater than
about 100 km, drop into the short-period system roughly once every
20 - 200 thousand years; (ii) their orbital evolution is likely to
involve episodes of Sun-grazing, a mechanism able to fragment even a
large body; and (iii) Tunguska-class bodies (objects with sizes a few
tens of metres) probably arrive at mean intervals ~100 years, randomly if
from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and clustered in time
if predominantly in streams of cometary origin.

Bill Napier pointed out that the greatest immediate extraterrestrial
hazard is probably that due to oceanic impacts, involving objects with
dimensions greater than about 200 m (expected to recur on the average about
once per 5 - 10 thousand years), producing hemispherically destructive
tsunami. The long-term threat from the arrival of a giant comet in the inner
solar system is comparable to that from the impact of a 1-km diameter
asteroid, in that both have a recurrence interval on the order of 100,000
years, and either could end civilization.

During discussions the debate focused on whether Bronze Age
civilizations collapsed simultaneously, and, if so, on a regional or
world-wide basis; and whether purely terrestrial or extraterrestrial
processes were involved. Is the ultimate cause of the collapse of a
civilization simple (as for the single impact hypothesis for the K/T
extinction) or complex, involving diverse factors? For example, the
combination of climate change, mass migration, war and economic
collapse would undoubtedly be worse than one of those factors acting
alone. As in the analogous mass-extinction of life debate, the SIS
meeting demonstrated that such questions are in principle resolvable by
detailed stratigraphical analyses and investigations in the field.

Continuing the astronomical theme, Duncan Steel (Spaceguard Australia) gave
an ingenious interpretation of the earliest phases of construction of
Stonehenge, pointing out that according to the giant comet hypothesis
episodes of enhanced terrestrial bombardment are expected to occur when the
orbit of the Encke comet dust trail intersects that of the Earth. This leads
to the suggestion that pairs of bombardment events will occur a few
centuries apart, themselves separated by 2500 - 3000 years, and that such an
episode may have occurred c.3600 and 3200 BC.

The astronomical session culminated with a wide-ranging review by
Gerrit Verschuur (University of Memphis) of the impact of the 'new
astronomy' on human thought and behaviour. There is no doubt that the
Earth is repeatedly struck by massive bodies - the late stages of a
declining planetary accretion - but the real questions are when was the last
major event and when will be the next? Verschuur's tale had a moral: when
Pandora opened her box of calamities, there fell out Hope. And 'Hope' gets
in the way of devising strategies to deal with the impact hazard to
civilization. Whereas, in the chaotic evolution of life on Earth,
contingency teaches us that from a biological perspective we are 'lucky' to
be here, our key advantage, according to Verschuur, is the human ability to
communicate information, and hence more effectively to adapt to rapid
environmental change, whether caused by astronomical or purely geological

Subsequent papers, including poster presentations, focused on
Archaeology, Geology and Climatology, History and Culture, and
the boundary between Archaeology and History. There is no space to
review these in detail, but a flavour of the discussion is given below.

Marie-Agnes Courty (CNRS, Grignon) presented new archaeological data
concerning a catastrophe inferred to have occurred in the Middle East
c.2350 BC. She emphasized the importance of high-time-resolution
archaeological investigations in the assessment of natural catastrophes on
societal collapse, the data in this case indicating the combination of a
burnt surface horizon and air blast, consistent with a Tunguska-like
fireball, but possibly also a major volcanic event.

The evidence for regional environmental change at about the same time
was confirmed and extended by Mike Baillie (Queen's University
Belfast), whose tree-ring analyses of Irish bog oaks showed very
significant narrowing of the rings around the year 2345 BC, associated with
identified tephra from the Icelandic Hekla 4 volcano, dated to 2310 +/- 20
BC. This suggests a volcanic origin of the c. 2350 BC event identified by
Courty, but the period in question is also associated with other events,
including floods, the creation of new lakes and even the traditional start
of Chinese history! In Baillie's words, 2345 BC 'is a classic marker date,
i.e. a date which will show up on a regular basis in studies of various

In this instance, as indeed at other times (e.g. 1628 BC, 1159 BC, 948 BC,
430 BC and 540 AD), there are glimpses of possible volcanic signatures and
hints of world-wide events, the volcanic cooling often superposed on longer
term climatic trends and providing the final straw that broke society's
back. This leaves a question, namely what caused the long term colling

Whether the climatic down-turns are associated with impacts or
stratospheric dust loading (or neither of these) remains to be seen,
although as highlighted by Benny Peiser (Liverpool John Moores
University) the period c. 2300 BC crops up surprisingly often, even in
studies of dated craters. As for the archaeological record, it is still
difficult to know what precise signature to look for: the Tunguska blast
(which was undoubtedly devastating) left no crater, whereas the
similar-sized Meteor Crater projectile left a hole more than a kilometre
across. Moreover, as shown by Amos Nur (Stanford University, California)
even earthquakes can produce regional devastation, and may occur bunched in
time over a period less than a century, followed by a quiet phase lasting
hundreds or thousands of years, rather like the frequency of impacts from a
massive disintegrating comet,

The physical connection between impacts or cosmic dust accretion on the one
hand and volcanic eruptions, or other manifestations of environmental change
on the other, for example, that shown in the climatological record, is at
present tenuous, but the marker dates frequently show up. Bas van Geel
(University of Amsterdam) highlighted a further connection, this time
between the sharp increase in the (14)C content of the atmosphere between
c.850 BC and 760 BC and the climatic down-turn in Western Europe, indicating
a transition from a relatively warm, dry situation prior to 850 BC to
subsequent much cooler, wetter conditions. The suggestion is that reduced
sunspot activity allowed an enhanced flux of high-energy galactic cosmic
rays to reach the top of the atmosphere, leading to increased cloudiness,
and hence lower temperatures and higher precipitation.

Turning briefly to the possible cultural implications of such external
forcing of the environment; if humankind has occasionally been exposed to
environmental catastrophes having a scale and nature unlike any modern
analogue, it is of interest to ask what might be society's reaction to such
events. Gunnar Heinsohn (University of Bremen) focused on the start of the
Bronze Age as the beginning of the period associated with the onset of
kingship and priesthood (the two have subsequently been inextricably
linked), and the notion of kings being anointed from heaven. The emergence
of the Bronze Age remains an enigma, unless one accepts the premise of a
catastrophic environmental change, but the available evidence nevertheless
indicates destruction of the previous society followed by a rise of
cult-centres and priests. At what time - and why - did the concept of 'god'
emerge, and which ghosts were the early rituals intended to lay to rest?

A related theme was pursued by Irving Wolfe (University of Montreal),
developing the notion of sharp cultural and religious changes
associated with environmental changes observed particularly around the
Bronze-Age/Iron-Age boundary c.600 BC. Again much research remains to be
carried out, but a broad-brush view is that a possible regional or global
natural event during the first millennium BC led to social upheaval which
culminated in the pre-Socratic Greek view of the world that eventually laid
the distinctive cultural foundations of the modern age.

This review would be incomplete without reference to the sterling
organization of the conference by SIS members and the highly successful
'Cambridge-Conference' e-mail forum administered by Benny Peiser from the
Liverpool John Moores University. Both spanned a wide range of topics, were
intellectually stimulating and raised many new questions in the minds of

CCCMENU CCC for 1997