CCNet 145/2002 -  17 December 2002

"In view of a realistic threat from Near Earth Objects (comets and
asteroids), The Aerospace Corporation has joined with the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to address technical and policy
issues relative to the defense of Planet Earth. A new forum, slated
for February 2004: AIAA's 1st Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting
Earth From Asteroids, will approach the threat from the perspective of three
levels of warnings: 1) Short term (less than 10 years warning of possible
impact); 2) Medium term (10 to 30 years warning); and 3) Long term (more
than 30 years warning), with an overarching intent to define several
possible threat scenarios and develop potential responses for each."
--American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 16
December 2002

"Disguised as futuristic ants, newly designed artificial
intelligence will be able to venture into the nooks and crannies of space
as never before possible. They're tiny and weigh in at about 2.2
pounds, but they could fan among the hundreds of thousands of asteroids
and begin to explore. They're called ANTS -- it's an acronym for Autonomous
Nano Technology Swarm, a fleet of tiny insect-like spacecraft which could
cruise all by themselves to the asteroid belt. The ANTS could provide a
hands-on survey of the asteroid belt to determine which individual
rocks had the greatest potential to generate the mother lode."
--Carole Rutland, Ledger-Enquirer, 16 December 2002

    American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 16 December 2002

    The Albuquerque Tribune, 16 December 2002

    Tucson Citizen, 16 December 2002

    Ledger-Enquirer, 16 December 2002

    New Scientist, 17 December 02

    The New York Times, 17 December 2002

    P. Michel et al.

    H. Boehnhardt et al.

    D.A. Kring & B.A. Cohen

     P. Ehrenfreund et al.

     The Sunday Times, 15 December 2002


>From American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 16 December 2002

The Aerospace Corporation to Chair AIAA's First Planetary Defense
Protecting Earth From Asteroids
Monday December 16, 7:58 pm ET

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Dec. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- In view of a realistic threat
from Near Earth Objects (comets and asteroids), The Aerospace Corporation
has joined with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to
address technical and policy issues relative to the defense of Planet Earth.
A new forum, slated for February 2004: AIAA's 1st Planetary Defense
Conference: Protecting Earth From Asteroids, will approach the threat from
the perspective of three levels of warnings: 1) Short term (less than 10
years warning of possible impact); 2) Medium term (10 to 30 years warning);
and 3) Long term (more than 30 years warning), with an overarching intent to
define several possible threat scenarios and develop potential responses for
Focused conference topics will:

    *     Examine current and future detection capabilities and options
    *     Consider current and future techniques, hardware and systems
          available to mitigate threats
    *     Discuss national and international policy implications of mounting a
          planetary defense effort
    *     Develop recommendations for future work, strategies, and policies
    *     Develop recommendations for demonstrations/experiments/near-term activities
    *     Discuss public safety and disaster preparedness implications of
          possible asteroid or comet impacts

Dr. William Ailor of The Aerospace Corporation is General Chairman of the

A Call for Papers is currently being issued, which will solicit studies on
(1) the physical characteristics of the threat population (type, size,
shape, velocity, trajectory, direction, frequency); (2) threat detection and
warning (detection capabilities and methods, probability of collision with
Earth, action thresholds); (3) mitigation techniques and scenarios
(capabilities for diverting away from Earth -- imminent vs. long-term threat
objects); (4) disaster preparedness (impact scenarios and consequences,
public notification and coordination); (5) policy and planning (political,
policy, regulatory and planning issues related to planetary defense, and
minimum level of ongoing research to maintain readiness).

For the complete Call for Papers and more information, visit the AIAA Web
site at


>From The Albuquerque Tribune, 16 December 2002

By Sue Vorenberg
Tribune Reporter

Predicting when the next big meteor will hit the Earth is a tricky business,
but scientists in New Mexico are making the process easier and more

After an 8-year study, scientists at Los Alamos and Sandia national
laboratories have made a graph of the size and energy of meteors and the
frequency at which they occur.

Even with that data, there is still a lot of work to be done before anybody
will know how to stop them, said Doug ReVelle, a Los Alamos researcher who
worked on the project.

"From an energy standpoint, the farther from Earth we find these things, the
easier it will be to push them away and protect ourselves," ReVelle said.
"The real worry is the number of people around the world trying to track
these things, and the information we have about them, is really small. There
are probably about two dozen people working on this around the globe -
that's a lot of space to cover."

A big problem with the lack of information is that most countries have no
way to tell when a meteor has hit, or if it has hit at all. And with recent
threats of military action, especially in the Middle East, that can create
some worrisome problems, said Dick Spalding, a Sandia senior engineer.

"We can see these things pretty well in the United States," Spalding said.
"But the problem is other countries might mistake a large meteor for
something else. In fact, it might be mistaken for a nuclear detonation.
Suppose a large impact event occurs over India and Pakistan, which has
happened before. If it had been big enough, since they couldn't see where it
came from, certainly one country or another might feel they had been
attacked and retaliate."

Destroying meteors and dispersing information about them is one thing, but
scientists are still scrambling to see what types and sizes of meteors are
hitting the Earth, what they're made of and where they're coming from.

Lab scientists from New Mexico, working with astrophysicists from the
University of Western Ontario in Canada and U.S. Space Command in Colorado,
have made the first small steps in the effort to understand the threat these
meteors pose.

They published their work - a graph of the size and frequency of meteor
strikes - in a paper in the November issue of the journal Nature.

"The question of how frequently meteor strikes, or bolides, occur, depends
on our ability to understand the amount of energy each one of the events
has," ReVelle said. "The typical satellite optical record gives you how much
light they emit, but until this study we weren't able to determine how that
light was related to the size and energy of one of these objects."

The scientists used sound waves lower than the human ear can hear - called
infrasound - and coupled the information with satellites and ground-based
telescopes. They cataloged detailed information about 300 strikes during the
study, and through that information found a way to associate the light
generated from an object and how much energy it has.

Through that information they were able to graph data from the 300 strikes.
They found the information matched up almost exactly with other studies.

"The amazing thing is when you plot the results against these other
techniques it lowers the rate at which these really huge objects hit the
Earth," ReVelle said.

The last documented large event happened in northern Russia in 1908. The
event, called the Tanguska meteor, created a 10-megaton explosion - about 70
times greater than the Hiroshima bomb - leveling forests for 40 miles in
every direction.

Scientists had previously predicted such events occurred every 150 to 300
years, but through the graph, they were able to recompute the averages. They
now think such events occur about every 800 to 1,200 years, ReVelle said.

Smaller, but still dangerous, one-megaton explosions, about seven times
greater than the Hiroshima bomb, occur about every 100 years.

S.P. Worden, an Air Force brigadier general and astrophysics Ph.D. who
worked on the project, testified before Congress this summer that even
smaller meteor strikes could be mistaken for a missile by countries that
don't have accurate identification technology.

He has been trying to get the government to create a full-time office to
monitor meteor strikes and quickly disperse information to countries to
prevent such retaliation, Spalding said.

"That's one of the things Gen. Worden is proposing right now, and I think
he's got good reason to do so," Spalding said. "The things we're seeing
range from ordinary strikes to events that appear very similar to nuclear
explosions. Getting funding for an office like that is going to be very
hard, though. Apparently there has been good sentiment in the Senate, but I
haven't heard about any movement on that front."

Worden did not return The Tribune's phone calls despite several requests to
the Air Force for an interview.

Even with the graph, a variety of other questions about meteors remain,
ReVelle said.

"These meteors come in all different flavors - some are made of iron or
nickel, some of carbon, some are comet material," ReVelle said. "Techniques
for nudging an object away from the Earth would depend on the object. Some
softer materials could actually break up when we try to move it and end up
turning into buckshot."

It would probably cost between $5 million and $10 million a year to improve
the work being done to understand meteors, but no country has volunteered to
set up an office.

In the meantime, a lot of the work is done by scientists in their spare
time, ReVelle said.

"I think the sad thing is what it would cost to really do this job, compared
to what we're doing in other areas, is really nothing," ReVelle said. "I
find it ludicrous when you consider the consequences. Military problems
aside, eventually the Earth is going to get hammered by a really big event
that will do tremendous damage - kill people, bring down power systems,
destroy homes or cities. This is a real problem somebody is going to have to
deal with sooner or later."

© The Albuquerque Tribune.


>From Tucson Citizen, 16 December 2002


Roy Tucker stares into the icy heart of the universe most nights - via a
computer in his cozy West Side home. Unless clouds interfere, Tucker starts
his evenings by cranking up five computers that control four telescopes in
his back yard. He walks out back, opens the roof of an 8-by-12-foot homemade
structure, exposing the 14-inch telescopes. Then he takes the lid off
another telescope that sits in a nearby dome and pets his dog, Bear, before
going back inside to sit at the computers.

Tucker is among a growing group of advanced amateur astronomers worldwide
who aid professional astronomers in their research. "I thought it would be
fun to give them some friendly competition," said Tucker, who has been
monitoring the skies regularly for about six years.
Tucker, who by day is a senior engineer at the University of Arizona's
Steward Observatory, hunts mostly for near-Earth objects - asteroids or

About 11 p.m. he usually performs one final chore.

With a click of a mouse, he sends his observations to the Minor Planet
Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The
non-profit organization, run by the International Astronomical Union, tracks
the orbits of asteroids and comets.

Most of the Minor Planet Center's observers are amateurs - just 20 percent
are professionals, including members of research programs at UA and the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Tucker, 50, is one of about 100
amateur observers who deliver data to the Minor Planet Center, and he is
part of Tucson's handful of amateur astronomers who feed free information to

"Roy surveys the skies and gets lots of different objects that we then try
to identify," said Brian Marsden, director of the Minor Planet Center. "He's
almost like Space Watch himself."
The University of Arizona's Space Watch program provides the center with
several hundred observations per day.

Tucker says it's become more difficult to discover asteroids since he
started tracking them in 1996, when less than 10,000 had been chronicled.
"Back then discovering asteroids was like frolicking through the meadows and
picking daisies," said Tucker, who has discovered 160 asteroids and one

Increasingly affordable equipment and the global reach of the Internet are
behind the rise of sophisticated amateur astronomers.

The charged-coupled device, or CCD, revolutionized the capabilities of
amateur astronomers, said Leif Robinson, former editor of Sky and Telescope
magazine. CCDs, developed in the 1980s, are chips that allow astronomers to
transfer images of celestial objects electronically. Technological
improvements in the past five years such as more affordable digital cameras
also have spurred the growth in research by amateur astronomers.

"Amateurs have incredible access to equipment very similar to
professionals," says Jim Bell, an astronomy professor at Cornell University.
"Telescope makers are trying to target these folks now. In some cases they
are willing to spend a substantial amount of money."

Bell describes the amount of money amateur astronomers are spending on
telescopes and other equipment this way: "Hey, honey, let's not buy a car,
let's buy a telescope next year."

Tucker made his first CCD camera in 1993 and bought some of the components
from a line of parts that were initially developed for the Galileo space

He now has put together eight of the cameras, spending about $1,200 on parts
for each one.

The most famous local amateur astronomer is David Levy, who has discovered
21 comets - eight by himself and 13 that he co-discovered with Gene and
Carolyn Shoemaker. One of the comets, Shoemaker-Levy 9, collided with
Jupiter in the summer of 1994, resulting in the greatest explosion ever
witnessed on another world, according to Levy's Web site.

Robinson estimates there are half a million amateur astronomers in the
United States, including thousands who are engaged in research ranging from
a "simple guesstimating of star brightness to discovering a new spot on

"There's no way the (5,000) to 6,000 (professionals) in the United States
can look at everything," Robinson said. "You just have a larger cadre of
people scanning the sky."

Astronomy has long benefited from the involvement of amateurs. Nicholas
Copernicus, who had many interests besides astronomy, determined in 1543
that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the solar system.

Edmond Halley, who predicted the return of the comet that would bear his
name, was an amateur, and Johannes Kepler, who made a living through
teaching and publishing books, discovered that planets orbit in ellipses,
not circles.

"Astronomy sees more serious amateur activity than in any other science,"
Marsden said.

James McGaha, 56, another Tucson amateur astronomer, lives near Sabino
Canyon on the Northeast Side. He searches the night skies for supernovas in
galaxies outside the Milky Way and for asteroids. McGaha has discovered 15
asteroids but no supernovas.
"I have come close, but no bananas," he said.

The retired U.S. Air Force pilot has taught astronomy as an adjunct
instructor at Pima Community College. He has a master's degree in astronomy
from the University of Arizona, but has never been a professional

McGaha has an observatory with a 12-inch telescope in his back yard and uses
a 24-inch telescope near Sonoita that he operates with another amateur.
McGaha conducts "follow-up research" that he e-mails to the Minor Planetary
Center between 3 and 4 a.m.

Once a professional astronomer has listed on the Internet an asteroid that
may be coming close to Earth, McGaha will generally monitor the asteroid the
next night.

McGaha's contribution is significant, said the Minor Planet Center's
Marsden, because it can help verify the existence of an object that could
potentially hit Earth.
"I very much value what James McGaha does," Marsden said.

Tucker, who received his first telescope as a Christmas present when he was
15, said he has no regrets about not turning professional.

"I guess I've never lost the excitement of astronomy," he said. "If you do
astronomy as a professional, you lose some of that."

Copyright © 2002 Tucson Citizen


>From Ledger-Enquirer, 16 December 2002


Oh the places we will go!

Disguised as futuristic ants, newly designed artificial intelligence will be
able to venture into the nooks and crannies of space as never before

They're tiny and weigh in at about 2.2 pounds, but they could fan among the
hundreds of thousands of asteroids and begin to explore.

They're called ANTS -- it's an acronym for Autonomous Nano Technology Swarm,
a fleet of tiny insect-like spacecraft which could cruise all by themselves
to the asteroid belt. Equipped with mini solar sails, each high-tech critter
would use the delicate pressure of the sun's rays to push it along on its

The ANTS could provide a hands-on survey of the asteroid belt to determine
which individual rocks had the greatest potential to generate the mother
lode. They would provide a guide to the most important and predominant
mineral resources for the future.

The ANTS mission would not launch before 2020 at the earliest, and once
we're there it will be necessary to use something called Lagrangian orbits,
or L-points, if we are to park our probes for any length of time in space.

These invisible orbits are points where the gravitational attractions of two
celestial bodies are in perfect balance. That means that a particle of
negligible mass could remain in equilibrium.

For example, between the Earth and moon there are five such points, as there
would be between any two bodies in circular orbits about each other. These
points are designated L1 through L5.

Scientists refer to these points as invisible planets, large amounts of
space where one can stop and hang out for a while without using great
amounts of energy. The view is wonderful, with no atmosphere to interfere.

The swarm would take three or more years to travel to the main belt of
asteroids. Once there, about 100 chief administrators and middle management
ANTS would consult while looking on and guiding operations.

In the meantime, some 900 or so staff assistant ANTS robots do the bulk of
the work. Only a small number of the chief administrator probes would then
make the return trip to their space-based safe harbor at the L-point,
ferrying with them the precious information acquired during the mission.

Scientists dream of creating colonies of insect-like robots, which not only
move like but also think like their biological counterparts. They would
divide responsibilities and roles much like the colonies of ants or bees
found in your backyard.

In the case of the ANTS proposal, the probes would perform their tasks
individually, but they would also swap what they've learned back and forth
so the colony would behave as a single unit or network, as would a single,
larger spacecraft.

Exploration of space began hundreds of years ago, when we looked through a
tiny telescope and learned that we were not at the center of the universe as
previously believed.

Years pass and we explore with larger telescopes that look much deeper into
the universe through eyes that can image infrared, X-rays and gamma rays. We
send spacecraft out to investigate objects in our own backyard -- the
planets of our solar system.

And now we want to send investigative robots for a more in-depth study of
these planets. Their permanent presence would give us geological information
and a more realistic look at the processes necessary to move into the next
era of exploration, when the human expansion into the solar system begins in

Carole Rutland is executive director of the Columbus State University
Coca-Cola Space Science Center. 

Copyright 2002, Ledger-Enquirer


>From New Scientist, 17 December 02
Microbes collected from the edge of space have been brought back to life in
the lab.

This enabled the high-flying organisms to be identified, almost two years
after they were found in air samples collected by a weather balloon cruising
at 41,000 metres (135,000 feet) over southern India.

The two species of bacteria (B. simplex, S. pasteuri) and one fungus (E.
albus) are similar to common ground-dwelling microbes which lurk in soil and
vegetation, says Milton Wainwright of the University of Sheffield, UK, who
worked out how to culture the cells.

How the bugs got there is not known, but there are three possibilities: they
were carried up on winds, they sneaked into the samples on Earth or they
have flown through space and are aliens making their way down to our planet.

The latter possibility fits with a theory developed by Chandra
Wickramasinghe and the late Fred Hoyle in the 1970s, which proposes that
life originated elsewhere in the Universe and hitched a lift to Earth on a
passing comet.

Wickramasinghe, at the Cardiff University Centre for Astrobiology in Wales,
is Wainwright's co-author on the new paper, along with the Indian scientists
that sent up the balloon. If the microbes were indeed drifting in from
space, Wickramasinghe calculates that up to a tonne could be landing each
year, based on the density of microbes found in the air samples.

Up draught

Wainwright admits that the simplest explanation is that the organisms, found
above 99 per cent of the Earth's atmosphere, have terrestrial origins. But,
he asks, how did they get up there?

Turbulent winds at ground level are certainly capable of sweeping particles
up into the atmosphere. But this kind of weather is confined beneath the
tropopause, which acts like a lid at about 17,000 metres.

Volcanic eruptions can push matter through the tropopause. But there were no
such events in the months before the samples were taken, and gravity would
be expected to drag any microbes back down in a few days.

However, the man-made greenhouse gases called CFCs have been found at
similar altitudes, showing that global air currents can pierce the
tropopause. Martin Juckes, an atmospheric scientist at the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory, UK, says that air flows upwards at the tropics at about
one metre per hour, and may carry material with it. But whether particles as
large as microbes could be carried to such heights is not known.


The third possibility, that the microbes represent experimental
contamination, is dismissed by Wainwright. The experimental protocol was
carefully designed to exclude contamination before the samples were
collected during the balloon flight (New Scientist print edition, 4 August

And contamination after the samples had been returned to Earth is unlikely,
he argues, because the microbes were freeze-dried. This was due to the cold,
dry conditions at 41,000 metres, he says.

To coax them into growing, Wainwright had to soak them in a nutrient
solution. They refused to multiply when spread on the jellies usually used
to culture samples - but any contaminant cells would have shown up at this
stage, he says.

Journal Reference: FEMS Microbiology Letters) (Article 10778)
Jenny Hogan
Copyright 2002, New Scientist


>From The New York Times, 17 December 2002


A group of prominent scientists is mounting an electronic challenge to the
leading scientific journals, accusing them of holding back the progress of
science by restricting online access to their articles so they can reap
higher profits.

Supported by a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation,
the scientists say that this week they will announce the creation of two
peer-reviewed online journals on biology and medicine, with the goal of
cornering the best scientific papers and immediately depositing them in the
public domain.

By providing a highly visible alternative to what they view as an outmoded
system of distributing information, the founders hope science itself will be
transformed. The two journals are the first of what they envision as a vast
electronic library in which no one has to pay dues or seek permission to
read, copy or use the collective product of the world's academic research.

"The written record is the lifeblood of science," said Dr. Harold E. Varmus,
a Nobel laureate in medicine who is serving as the chairman of the new
nonprofit publisher. "Our ability to build on the old to discover the new is
all based on the way we disseminate our results."

By contrast, established journals like Science and Nature charge steep
annual subscription fees and bar access to their online editions to
nonsubscribers, although Science recently began providing free electronic
access to articles a year after publication.

The new publishing venture, Public Library of Science, is an outgrowth of
several years of friction between scientists and the journals over who
should control access to scientific literature in the electronic age. For
most scientists, who typically assign their copyright to the journals for no
compensation, the main goal is to distribute their work as widely as

Academic publishers argue that if they made the articles more widely
available they would lose the subscription revenue they need to ensure the
quality of the editorial process. Far from holding back science, they say,
the journals have played a crucial role in its advancement as a trusted
repository of significant discovery.

"We have very high standards, and it is somewhat costly," said Dr. Donald
Kennedy, the editor of Science. "We're dealing in a market whether we like
it or not."

Science estimates that 800,000 people read the magazine electronically now,
compared with 140,000 readers of the print version. Given the number of
downloads at universities like Harvard and Stanford, which buy site licenses
for about $5,000 a year, the magazine says people are reading articles for
only a few cents each.

In many cases even such small per-article charges to access a digital
database can make for substantial income. The Dutch-British conglomerate
Reed Elsevier Group, the world's largest academic publisher, posted a 30
percent profit last year on its science publishing activities. Science took
in $34 million last year on advertising alone.

But supporters of the Public Library of Science say the point is not how
much money the journals make, but their monopoly control over literature
that should belong to the public.

"We would be perfectly happy for them to have huge profit margins providing
that in exchange for all this money we're giving them we got to own the
literature and the literature did not belong to them," said Dr. Michael B.
Eisen, a biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the
University of California, and a founder of the Public Library of Science.

When scientists relied on print-and-paper journals to distribute their work,
the Library's supporters argue, it made sense to charge for access, since
each copy represented an additional expense. But they say that at a time
when the Internet has reduced distribution costs to almost zero, a system
that grants journals exclusive rights over distribution is no longer

By publishing on the Internet and forgoing any profits, the new venture says
it is now possible to maintain a high-quality journal without charging
subscription fees.



Michel P, Tanga P, Benz W, Richardson DC: Formation of asteroid families by
catastrophic disruption: Simulations with fragmentation and gravitational
ICARUS 160 (1): 10-23 NOV 2002

This paper builds on preliminary work in which numerical simulations of the
collisional disruption of large asteroids (represented by the Eunomia and
Koronis family parent bodies) were performed and which accounted not only
for the fragmentation of the solid body through crack propagation, but also
for the mutual gravitational interaction of the resulting fragments. It was
found that the parent body is first completely shattered at the end of the
fragmentation phase, and then subsequent gravitational reaccumulations lead
to the formation of an entire family of large and small objects with
dynamical properties similar to those of the parent body. In this work, we
present new and improved numerical simulations in detail. As before, we use
the same numerical procedure, i.e., a 3D SPH hydrocode to compute the
fragmentation phase and the parallel N-body code pkdgrav to compute the
subsequent gravitational reaccumulation phase. However, this reaccumulation
phase is now treated more realistically by using a merging criterion based
on energy and angular momentum and by allowing dissipation to occur during
fragment collisions. We also extend our previous studies to the as yet
unexplored intermediate impact energy regime (represented by the Flora
family formation) for which the largest fragment's mass is about half that
of the parent body. Finally, we examine the robustness of the results by
changing various assumptions, the numerical resolution, and different
numerical parameters. We find that in the lowest impact energy regime the
more realistic physical approach of reaccumulation leads to results that are
statistically identical to those obtained with our previous simplistic
approach. Some quantitative changes arise only as the impact energy
increases such that higher relative velocities are reached during fragment
collisions, but they do not modify the global outcome qualitatively. As a
consequence, these new simulations confirm previous main results and still
lead to the conclusion that: (1) all large family members must be made of
gravitationally reaccumulated fragments; (2) the original fragment size
distribution and their orbital dispersion are respectively steeper and
smaller than currently observed for the real families, supporting recent
studies on subsequent evolution and diffusion of family members; and (3) the
formation of satellites around family members is a frequent and natural
outcome of collisional processes. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).

Michel P, Observ Cote Azur, BP 4229, F-06304 Nice 4, France
Observ Cote Azur, F-06304 Nice 4, France
Univ Bern, Inst Phys, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Univ Maryland, Dept Astron, College Pk, MD 20742 USA

Copyright © 2002 Institute for Scientific Information


Boehnhardt H, Delsanti A, Barucci A, Hainaut O, Doressoundiram A, Lazzarin
M, Barrera L, de Bergh C, Birkle K, Dotto E, Meech K, Ortiz JE, Romon J,
Sekiguchi T, Thomas N, Tozzi GP, Watanabe J, West RM: ESO large program on
physical studies of Transneptunian Objects and Centaurs: Visible photometry
- First results
ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSICS 395 (1): 297-303 NOV 2002

We present the first results of BVRI photometry of Transneptunian Objects
(TNOs) and Centaurs obtained through the ESO Large Program on physical
studies of these icy bodies in the outer solar system. In total 28 objects
were observed of which 18 are new measurements. Combining our new BVRI
photometry with the data summary published by Hainaut & Delsanti (2002)
results in a database of 94 objects: 45 Cubewanos, 22 Plutinos, 13 scattered
disk objects, 14 Centaurs. The reddening range seems to be similar among the
four dynamical classes (-5 to 55%/100 nm) and only one outlier (1994 ES2)
exists. The spectral gradient distribution of the Cubewanos peaks between 25
to 35%/100 nm, while for the three other types the maximum seems to fall
below 20%/100 nm. A clustering of red Cubewanos with perihelia beyond
similar to41 AU in low eccentricity and low inclination orbit suggests that
these objects are less affected by the physical processes that potentially
produce neutral colors, i.e. resurfacing by collision and by intrinsic
activity. For Cubewanos and scattered disk objects, the range of reddening
increases with decreasing perihelion distance and with increasing orbital
excitation. A correlation of the spectral slope with inclination is present
for Cubewanos and scattered disk objects, and is non-existent for the other
dynamical types. It is unclear whether these trends (or their absence) are
discriminative for the correctness of the resurfacing scenarios. If
intrinsic activity is responsible for resurfacing, the start of the effect
inside similar to41 AU from the Sun may be indicative for the driving agent,
while in the collision scenario the survival of the red Cubewano cluster in
the central region of the Kuiper-Belt argues for the existence of a
population of bodies the surface of which is heavily radiation processed
without impact resurfacing.

Boehnhardt H, European So Observ, Alonso de Cordova 3107, Santiago, Chile
European So Observ, Santiago, Chile
Observ Paris, F-92195 Meudon, France
Astron Observ Padova, I-35122 Padua, Italy
Univ Catolica Norte, Inst Astron, Antofagasta, Chile
Max Planck Inst Astron, D-69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Osserv Astron Torino, INAF, I-10025 Pino Torinese, TO, Italy
Osserv Astron Roma, INAF, I-00040 Rome, Italy
Univ Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822 USA
Inst Astron Andalucia, Granada 18080, Spain
Natl Astron Observ, Tokyo 181, Japan
Max Planck Inst Aeron, D-37189 Katlenburg Lindau, Germany
Osserv Astrofis Arcetri, I-50125 Florence, Italy
European So Observ, D-85748 Garching, Germany

Copyright © 2002 Institute for Scientific Information


Kring DA, Cohen BA

[1] Cohen et al. [2000] recently confirmed the hypothesis that the Moon was
resurfaced by an intense period of impact cratering similar to3.9 Ga ago
and, by inference, that the Earth also sustained bombardment. Analyses of
lunar impact melts indicate that at least one of the projectiles that hit
the Moon was a differentiated iron-rich core, implying the bombardment was
caused by asteroids. Meteorite analyses indicate asteroids in the asteroid
belt were also heavily cratered similar to3.9 Ga and that the ancient
cratered highlands of Mars suffered impacts at this time. Collectively,
these data suggest there was an impact cataclysm that affected the entire
inner solar system, resurfacing the terrestrial planets, and that the source
of the impacting debris was the asteroid belt. Comets do not appear to have
been important.

Kring DA, Univ Arizona, Lunar & Planetary Lab, 1629 E Univ Blvd, Tucson, AZ
85721 USA
Univ Arizona, Lunar & Planetary Lab, Tucson, AZ 85721 USA
Univ Tennessee, Dept Geol Sci, Knoxville, TN 37996 USA

Copyright © 2002 Institute for Scientific Information


Ehrenfreund P, Irvine W, Becker L, Blank J, Brucato JR, Colangeli L, Derenne
S, Despois D, Dutrey A, Fraaije H, Lazcano A, Owen T, Robert F
REPORTS ON PROGRESS IN PHYSICS 65 (10): 1427-1487 OCT 2002

Stellar nucleosynthesis of heavy elements such as carbon allowed the
formation of organic molecules in space, which appear to be widespread in
our Galaxy. The physical and chemical conditions-including density,
temperature, ultraviolet (UV) radiation and energetic particles-determine
reaction pathways and the complexity of organic molecules in different space
environments. Dense interstellar clouds are the birth sites of stars of all
masses and their planetary systems. During the protostellar collapse,
interstellar organic molecules in gaseous and solid phases-are integrated
into protostellar disks from which planets and smaller solar system bodies
form. After the formation of the planets 4.6 billion years ago, our solar
system, including the Earth, was subjected to frequent impacts for several
hundred million years. Life on Earth may have emerged during or shortly
after this heavy bombardment phase, perhaps as early as 3.90-3.85 billion
years ago, but the exact timing remains uncertain. A prebiotic reducing
atmosphere, if present, predicts that building blocks of biopolymers-such as
amino acids, sugars, purines and pyrimidines-would be formed in abundance.
Recent modelling of the Earth's early atmosphere suggests, in contrast, more
neutral conditions (e.g. H2O, N-2, CO2), thus, precluding the formation of
significant concentrations of prebiotic organic compounds. Moreover, even if
the Earth's atmosphere were reducing, the presence of UV photons would
readily destroy organic compounds unless they were quickly sequestered away
in rocks or in the prebiotic ocean. Other possible sources of organic
compounds would be high temperature vent chemistry, although the stability
of such compounds (bases, amino acids) in these environments remains
problematic. Finally, organic compounds may have been delivered to the Earth
by asteroids, comets and smaller fragments, such as meteorites and
interplanetary dust particles.

It is likely that a combination of these sources contributed to the building
blocks of life on the early Earth. It may even have taken several starts
before life surpassed the less than ideal conditions at the surface. What is
certain is that once life emerged, it learned to adapt quickly taking
advantage of every available refuge and energy source (e.g. photosynthesis
and chemosynthesis), an attribute that eventually led to complex metabolic
life and even. our own existence.

Current experimental research investigating the origin of life is focused on
the spontaneous formation of stable polymers out of monomers. However,
understanding the spontaneous formation of structure is not enough to
understand the formation of life. The introduction and evolution of
information and complexity is essential to our definition of life. The
formation of complexity and the means to distribute and store information
are currently being investigated in a number of theoretical frameworks, such
as evolving algorithms, chaos theory and modem evolution theory.

In this paper we review the physical and chemical processes that form and
process organic matter in space. In particular we discuss the chemical
pathways of organic matter in the interstellar medium, its evolution in
protoplanetary disks and its integration into solar system material.
Furthermore, we investigate the role of impacts and the delivery of organic
matter to the prebiotic Earth. Processes that may have assembled prebiotic
molecules to produce the first genetic material and ideas about the
formation of complexity in chemical networks are also discussed.

Ehrenfreund P, Leiden Observ, POB 9513, NL-2300 RA Leiden, Netherlands
Leiden Observ, NL-2300 RA Leiden, Netherlands
Leiden Univ, Leiden Inst Chem, Soft Matter Astrobiol Lab, NL-2300 RA Leiden,
Univ Massachusetts, Dept Astron, Lederle Grad Res Ctr 619, Amherst, MA 01003
Univ Calif Santa Barbara, Inst Crystal Studies, Dept Geol Sci, Santa
Barbara, CA 93106 USA
Lawrence Livermore Natl Lab, H Div, Shock Phys Grp, Livermore, CA 94551 USA
Osserv Astron Capodimonte, INAF, I-80131 Naples, Italy
Ecole Natl Super Chim Paris, CNRS, UMR 7573, Lab Chim Bioorgan & Organ Phys,
F-75231 Paris 05, France
Observ Aquitain Sci Univers OASO, F-33270 Florac, France
Observ Grenoble, LAOG, Astrophys Lab, F-38041 Grenoble 9, France
Univ Nacl Autonoma Mexico, Fac Ciencias, Mexico City 04510, DF, Mexico
Univ Hawaii, Inst Astron, Honolulu, HI 96822 USA
Museum Natl Hist Nat, Lab Mineral, F-75005 Paris, France

Copyright © 2002 Institute for Scientific Information


>From The Sunday Times, 15 December 2002,,2099-505027,00.html


It is set to be the great debate of 2003. Fifty years after the discovery of
DNA, even as we unlock the secrets of life, humanity is on the verge of
being snuffed out. Serious scientific voices are raising concerns that this
world may not survive the new century. We are threatened from without and
from within - by forces beyond our control, and by those we have engineered
and which may yet come to control us Bryan Appleyard reveals the 10 main
threats to life on Earth
To be brutally frank, we're not going to make it. The human race is doomed,
either through what insurers coyly describe as an 'act of God' or through
our own stupidity. Earth, we know for sure, will be destroyed in 5 billion
years when the sun turns into a red giant and engulfs the inner planets of
the solar system. But don't console yourself with the idea that, by then, we
shall have happily colonised some other corner of the galaxy: human survival
even into the 22nd century is already looking like a long shot.

In his forthcoming book, Our Final Century, the British cosmologist Sir
Martin Rees rates our chances as no better than 50-50. Bill Joy, the founder
of Sun Microsystems and one of the leading technocrats of our time, thinks
machines will soon usurp the human race. Others think nanotechnology - the
construction of molecular-sized machines - will reduce the Earth's surface
to a featureless goo. Genetically engineering viruses or bacteria may have
the same effect. Meanwhile, we are overdue for a super-volcanic eruption -
the most recent was 74,000 years ago - or an asteroid or comet impact like
the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago. Then there's global
warming. And don't get me started on the impending vacuum metastability
disaster.The good news is you can make money out of this. William Hill
offered me absurd odds of 1m to 1 against the end of the world by 2200,
based on the assumption, as one William Hill spokesman said, that
'bookmakers will go to heaven - albeit temporarily - to pay those punters
who have bet on the end of the world'. I told them Rees's odds, but they
were unmoved on the basis that he and his publishers would say that,
wouldn't they?

But the bookies are wrong. The threats to our survival are numerous and
imminent. There are two categories of catastrophe to be considered: the end
of the world (killing all humans and perhaps destroying the planet), and the
end of the world as we know it (a disaster large enough to transform human
civilisation, killing millions if not billions, but leaving survivors). Both
scenarios can be caused by nature or by humanity.

And why is this suddenly an issue? The answer is knowledge. We now
understand that the human race has prospered in a period of unusual cosmic
and geological calm. We know that the issue is not if some awful natural
disaster will happen, but when. And our knowledge has brought us to a
technological brink: we have the means to destroy the world. 'If hamadryas
baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week,' said
the great biologist E O Wilson. But just a few fragments of DNA separate us
from baboons. Furthermore, when the Americans tested the first atom bomb in
1945, some scientists believed the test would set the atmosphere on fire or
start a catastrophic chain reaction in the hydrogen locked up in the oceans.
But they went ahead and did it on that well-known principle of modern
physics: 'What the hell, let's give it a whirl.'Here, then, are the top-10
terrible things that might happen. The only question is whether they will
finish us off completely, or just knock us back. We are 6 billion
ill-tempered neurotics clinging to a rock in an utterly indifferent, violent
universe. Never has the fragility of our existence been more apparent. That
thought alone might be of some hope. The first images of Earth from space
fired the environmental movement with the vision of a species that trod more
lightly on our delicate planet. New awareness of how easily we might be
extinguished by our own or nature's actions might lead us to draw back from
more obvious dangers. But it might not. Life on Earth will then turn out to
have been a temporary anomaly, a pale flicker, a brief cry in the darkness
and silence, seen and heard only by God.


MODERATOR'S NOTE: CCNet subscribers are reminded that cultural pessimism and
secular apocalypticism is a 20th century European ailment that - thank
goodness - is not shared universally. For a much optimistic outlook to the
21st century, see

By Kenneth Silber

Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century, by Michio Kaku,
New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 403 pages, $24.95

Visions begins on a note of arrogance. Unlike previous efforts to chart the
future of technology, Michio Kaku assures us, his predictions are likely to
be correct. As science approaches a full understanding of the laws of
nature, a scientific consensus is emerging about where technology is headed
and on what timetable. This book, Kaku asserts, reflects that consensus.

Baloney. What is remarkable about many of the advanced technologies Kaku
discusses--artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nuclear fusion,
electric cars--is the distinct lack of scientific unanimity about their
potential. For every physicist who says that fusion is "the energy of the
future," there's another who replies, "Yes--and it always will be." Even
when the experts are in general agreement--as they once were about the
infeasibility of cloning an adult sheep--consensus has hardly proven a
guarantee of predictive accuracy.

Nonetheless, Kaku, a theoretical physicist and high-profile popularizer of
science, has written an absorbing book, filled with thoughtful speculations
about the 21st century and beyond. Visions sketches what might emerge from
three 20th-century scientific upheavals: the "computer revolution," the
"bio-molecular revolution," and the "quantum revolution." These revolutions
are interconnected, as Kaku notes; discovery of the DNA double helix, for
example, relied on X-ray crystallography, a technique derived from quantum
physics. Such linkages, he expects, will take on growing importance in the
next century, in the form of DNA-based computers and other hybrid

Visions provides an intriguing (and explicit) rejoinder to The End of
Science, the 1996 book in which journalist John Horgan argued that the era
of scientific discovery is sputtering out in disappointment and confusion.
Similar to Horgan (but unlike eminent scientists such as Roger Penrose and
Freeman Dyson), Kaku believes that breakthrough insights into nature's
workings, such as evolution and relativity, are now mainly things of the
past. But where Horgan detected intellectual drift and technological
stagnation, Kaku sees something very different: The age of discovery is
giving way to the age of mastery. Having learned the universe's rules,
humans are finally ready to become full-fledged players in the game.

The quantum, biomolecular, and computer revolutions, in other words, are
enabling us to be "choreographers of matter, life, and intelligence," no
longer mere passive observers of nature's dance. Yet even while taking this
expansive view of technology's potential, Kaku is adept at recognizing
technological hurdles and limits.

Computing power, Kaku expects, will become increasingly cheap and ubiquitous
in the next two decades, manifested in such products as wearable computers,
smart cars, and digital scrap paper. Helpful (but sometimes annoying)
"intelligent agents" will sort your e-mail, update your schedule, and remind
you to watch your diet. But before long, Kaku notes, chip making will bump
up against the physical limits of silicon, and further progress will depend
on the development of holographic memory, organic processors, quantum
transistors, and other exotic technologies.

After 2020, Kaku predicts, the first glimmerings of true artificial
intelligence will appear, as computers acquire common sense and as the
Internet evolves into something similar to the "magic mirror" that imparts
wisdom in fairy tales. After 2050, robots endowed with some degree of
consciousness and self-awareness may roam the earth. Might humanity
eventually be enslaved or slaughtered by its robotic creations? Kaku closes
his discussion of artificial intelligence with an overview of the built-in
safeguards that should be devised to prevent such an outcome.

Biotechnology also will make vast strides in the early 21st century,
according to Kaku. By 2020, the genetic underpinnings of many hereditary
diseases will be understood, and entire classes of cancer will be curable.
People will own CD-ROMs containing their own personal DNA codes. Between
2020 and 2050, genetic research will see slower progress, as scientists
grapple with the intricacies of gene function and protein folding. During
this period, however, it will become possible to grow new vital organs in
the lab, perhaps extending the human life span by decades.

After the century's midpoint, Kaku writes, "we may be able to manipulate
life itself." Yet he is impenetra-bly vague about what this means. More
interesting is Kaku's discussion of feats that probably lie beyond biotech's
reach. Performing major design changes on human beings--say, growing wings
on a person's back, in Kaku's whimsical example--is unlikely to be feasible
even in the late 21st century. Consider the obstacles involved: The genes
that initiate wing formation in a bird or insect may do nothing in a human
(or may activate homologous organs, such as arms); these genes would have to
be altered to allow a wingspan of some 20 feet; and the human's entire
genome would have to be transformed to create the lighter bones and stronger
muscles required for flight.

Surveying the "quantum future," Kaku assesses a broad range of possibilities
for manipulating matter and developing new sources of energy. Electric cars
and magnetic-levitation trains are emerging as viable forms of
transportation, he argues, and solar power is poised to become a leading
energy source. Room-temperature superconductors and microscopic lasers may
find numerous industrial applications. Nanotechnology's molecule-sized
machines are of uncertain feasibility, Kaku notes, but dust-sized sensors
and motors will be used widely in the coming decades. Some other staples of
science fiction, such as force fields and portable ray guns, appear to be
incompatible with known laws of physics, he adds.

Space technology will make steady, if unspectacular, progress in the next
few decades, according to Visions. Kaku is dismissive of the notion of a
manned mission to Mars in the early 21st century, basing his argument on
exorbitant cost estimates now widely regarded as erroneous. Yet after 2020,
he emphasizes, astronomical instruments may be sensitive enough to detect
Earth-like planets in other solar systems. The century's latter half may see
ambitious efforts to develop fusion-powered interstellar rocket ships.
Antimatter engines loom as an intriguing prospect sometime beyond 2100.

Kaku's social and political asides are less imaginative than his
technological speculations. He argues, plausibly but predictably, that the
economic strength of nations in the 21st century will depend on their
technological prowess. In chapters devoted to "second thoughts," he presents
grim scenarios of "information ghettos" and bioengineered germ weapons; his
solutions are unremarkable generalities about education and international
cooperation. Some of Kaku's political pronouncements are mere clichés.
Discussing the nation-state's future, he writes, "As John Lennon said in his
song `Imagine,' perhaps it's not hard to imagine a world without nations."

Might a public backlash against technology derail much of the progress
forecast in this book? The history of advanced technologies in the 20th
century--nuclear energy comes to mind--indicates that not everything that is
technically feasible will end up receiving political and social acceptance.
Certainly, the 21st century's "choreographers of matter, life, and
intelligence" will face their share of protest movements and hostile
regulators. Visions, however, has little to say about such matters.

That is unfortunate, since Kaku's own experience might have provided an
interesting perspective. A longtime antinuclear activist, he was a leading
figure in the 1997 protest campaign against the Cassini space probe, a
plutonium-using scientific mission to Saturn. Critics of the anti-Cassini
movement, including me, argued that the campaign relied on gross
exaggerations of the mission's risks and that the broad opposition to "nukes
in space" threatened to cripple space exploration. In addressing the
uncertainties of technological change, Kaku the author might have taken some
tips from Kaku the activist.

Yet even if technology follows a more unpredictable--and politically
volatile--path than the one glimpsed in Visions, the book's strengths
readily outweigh its weaknesses. Kaku's predictions are intelligent and
thought-provoking, and his technological optimism never veers into an
unconvincing techno-utopianism. Moreover, no one can accuse him of thinking
small. Looking beyond the 21st century, Kaku sketches out a bold future of
galactic colonization and more.

Drawing upon categories devised by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev,
Kaku sees technological civilizations advancing through several phases:
Types I, II, and III. Type I refers to a global civilization, the masters of
a single planet. A Type II civilization utilizes the resources of an entire
solar system; such a society might even build a vast shell or "Dyson sphere"
around its star. A Type III civilization operates on a galactic scale,
occupying numerous solar systems. In this scheme of things, humanity is
currently a backward society, or Type 0, but is on the verge of attaining
Type I status.

Becoming a Type II civilization will take many centuries, according to Kaku,
and achieving galactic Type III status requires many millennia. But it's
worth the effort: Civilizations of Types II and III are invulnerable to
asteroid impacts, supernova explosions, and other natural disasters.

Toward the book's end, Kaku launches into a discussion of wormholes,
superstrings, and other exotica of modern cosmology. After billions of
years, even galactic civilizations are doomed, as the universe freezes in a
Big Chill or collapses in a Big Crunch. But on the book's last page a new
category is introduced: the Type IV civilization, masters of space and time.
Such beings might be able to build tunnels to parallel universes. Here,
then, is Kaku's ultimate statement of technological optimism: Intelligent
life might survive the end of our universe.

Kenneth Silber writes about science, technology, and economics.

Copyright 2002, Reason Magazine

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