CCNet 134/2000 - 18 December 2000

"The collision gouged a crater nearly eight miles deep and sent
12,000 cubic miles of rock, dirt and debris spinning into the earth's
atmosphere. The material blocked the sun, causing extreme changes in
the Earth's climate, which many scientists believe resulted in mass
    --Mary Lenz, University of Texas-Austin

"The rock and dust kicked up by an asteroid impact 65 million years
ago were not enough to kill the dinosaurs, according to researchers -- but
the debris may have sparked a deadly global chemical reaction in the
     --Matthew Fordahl, AP, 18 December 2000

    New Jersey Online, 18 December 2000

    Andrew Yee <>

    The New York Times, 18 December 2000

    Andrew Yee <>

    James Oberg <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Josep M. Trigo <>

    Robert E. Strong <>

    Luciano Anselmo <>

     Max Wallis <>

     Jon Richfield <>


From New Jersey Online, 18 December 2000

Asteroid impact crater examined for clues to dinosaurs' demise

The Associated Press
12/18/00 12:35 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The rock and dust kicked up by an asteroid impact 65
million years ago were not enough to kill the dinosaurs, according to
researchers -- but the debris may have sparked a deadly global chemical
reaction in the atmosphere.

New studies show the Chicxulub impact crater on the coast of Mexico's
Yucatan Peninsula is smaller than once thought, making dinosaur extinction
difficult to explain completely. Researchers presented those findings Sunday
at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting.

"If you rely on little pieces of debris actually clobbering organisms, then
you're in trouble," said Virgil "Buck" Sharpton of the Geophysical Institute
at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Since 1980, research on the dinosaurs' disappearance has focused on the
125-mile crater and the 10-mile-wide asteroid believed to have created it.
Dust from the impact was thought to have blocked out sunlight for years.

Now, however, drilling around the Yucatan crater indicates the presence of
carbonates and sulfate rocks. The new theory is that these were vaporized by
the asteroid impact, a process that would have released chemicals that
produce sulfur and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The sulfur compounds would be especially toxic, Sharpton said.

"They do nasty things. They form little globules that persist in the
atmosphere for some considerable amount of time -- decades to a hundred
years," he said. "They also mix with water in the atmosphere and produce
sulfuric acid."

So besides old theories about a nuclear winter-type global cooling,
researchers believe the giant oxygen-breathing reptiles also may have choked
on carbon dioxide and suffered showers of caustic acid.

"How do you initiate the global crisis? It had to be atmospheric chemistry
of some sort,"  Sharpton said. "That's the only way you can transport the
effect globally of something that dumps the majority of its energy into a
single spot on the Earth's surface."

Rock and dust alone from Chicxulub probably would not have been sufficient
to snuff out life on the other side of the globe, Sharpton said -- even a
small pocket of life would have repopulated the planet.

To test the theories further, Sharpton and colleagues plan to drill 1.5
miles into the crater and retrieve samples of the rock present in what was a
shallow sea when the asteroid hit. The project, located 50 miles south of
Merida will not begin before June.

Studies of Chicxulub have more value than explaining the dinosaur
extinction, said Gail Christeson of the University of Texas Institute for
Geophysics in Austin.

"We're interested not just because it's the point of impact but because of
what we can learn about other asteroid impact craters," she said.

Scientists hope to learn what might happen if a future asteroid or comet
crashes into Earth.

Other studies presented at the AGU meeting compare Chicxulub with the much
older Sudbury crater near Ontario. By comparing different levels of melted
rock at the bottom of both craters, researchers are more confident that
Sudbury was formed by a high-velocity comet and Chicxulub by a slower-moving

Comets are chunks of dirty ice; asteroids are giant rocks.

Such large impacts are estimated to occur only once every 350 million years.
That makes such craters -- especially well-preserved ones such as Chicxulub
-- difficult to find on Earth.

"We've got an opportunity, a unique opportunity on the face of the Earth, to
study a crater in three dimensions that has been preserved almost in
pristine shape," Sharpton said. "And that's really what we want to do."

Copyright 2000, New Jersey Online


From Andrew Yee <>

Office of Public Affairs
University of Texas-Austin
P O Box Z
Austin, Texas 78713-7509
(512) 471-3151   FAX (512) 471-5812

Mary Lenz, Office of Public Affairs

December 15, 2000

UT Austin scientist reports results from study of Yucatan crater linked to
mass extinctions of dinosaurs

AUSTIN, Texas -- Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin Sunday
(Dec. 17) will present a report offering new geophysical clues to a
cataclysmic event that may have killed off the dinosaurs.

This report on Mexico's Chicxulub crater will be presented by Dr. Gail
Christeson, a research associate at UT Austin's Institute for Geophysics
(UTIG), at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San
Francisco. UT Austin's involvement in the project was sponsored by the
National Science Foundation.

The Chicxulub structure was formed 65 million years ago when a large
celestial body -- a comet or an asteroid -- slammed into the Yucatan
Peninsula with a force that makes a nuclear blast seem like a firecracker.

The impact produced fires, acid rain and tsunami-like destructive waves. The
collision gouged a crater nearly eight miles deep and sent 12,000 cubic
miles of rock, dirt and debris spinning into the earth's atmosphere. The
material blocked the sun, causing extreme changes in the Earth's climate,
which many scientists believe resulted in mass extinctions.

The collision marked the abrupt end of the Cretaceous period in geologic
time and the start of the Tertiary period. And many scientists currently
believe that the event wiped out 80 percent of all living species in the
ocean. It also may have destroyed many terrestrial species, including the

Christeson and UTIG senior research scientists, including Dr. Richard T.
Buffler and Dr. Yosio Nakamura, worked with an international team of
scientists to survey the Chicxulub crater, which remains as an unusual
circular feature buried beneath 1,000 meters of sediments under the northern
Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. Co-authors on Christeson's
presentation are Jo Morgan and Mike Warner from Imperial College in London,
and Colin Zelt from Rice University in Houston.

The aim of the researchers was to determine the Chicxulub crater's actual
size and to characterize its internal structure. Such details should make it
easier for scientists to understand how the crash actually could have caused
mass extinctions. It should also allow them to assess the present-day risk
posed by the thousands of comets and asteroids that cross earth's orbit.

The team collected seismic reflection, refraction, gravity and magnetic data
over the crater. This research has provided the first direct evidence of a
crater with the multi-ring basin shape that is typical of the largest impact
craters on the moon and Venus.

The impact was so enormous it changed the shape of the earth's crust -- 22
miles below the surface of the planet. The Chicxulub crater is the first
location where deformation at the base of the crust has been found in a
terrestrial impact crater.

The scientific team concluded that the Chicxulub crater is about 125 miles
in diameter, and that 12,000 cubic miles of debris was blasted out of the
earth by the impact. The impact carved out a cavity about 7.5 miles below
sea level. Mount Everest, in comparison, is 5.5 miles high. Prior to this
research, the size and morphology of the Chicxulub crater had been in
dispute, with estimates of its diameter ranging between 180 and 300

Such a large discrepancy in size translates to a factor of ten differences
in the energy of the impact with quite different consequences for the
Earth's environment. The energy released by the impact that blew out the
Chicxulub crater was equivalent to about 100 million megatons, many orders
of magnitude greater than the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima, a 15-kiloton

To collect the seismic data in the Gulf of Mexico, the scientists deployed
an array of Ocean Bottom Seismograph (OBS), instruments which had been
developed at UT Austin's Institute for Geophysics for undersea projects such
as this one. The OBS instruments were deployed from the UT Austin Marine
Science Institute vessel RV Longhornbased out of Port Aransas.

Additional analysis of the OBS data revealed that a region at the center of
the crater about 22 miles in diameter has been uplifted by about 11 miles as
a result of the impact and removal of overlying material.

During the AGU meeting, Christeson will be a panelist at a press conference
organized by AGU on large impact events.

For more information, contact Dr. Katherine Ellins at UT Austin's Institute
for Geophysics at (512) 232-3251 or click on "research" and "OBS" at the

For information from the American Geophysical Union meeting in San
Francisco, contact Harvey Leifert at the AGU press room at (415) 905-1007,
or e-mail:


From The New York Times, 18 December 2000


AN FRANCISCO, Dec. 17 - Scientists have begun a project to drill into the
gaping crater caused by an ancient asteroid impact, hoping to determine once
and for all what led to the global extinction of the dinosaurs millions of
years ago.

The asteroid impact near the tip of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula about 65
million years ago has long been believed to be a potential cause for the
death of the dinosaurs, which vanished at roughly the same time.

Now scientists are looking at new ways of exploring the vast Chicxulub
crater in the hope of discovering how the impact triggered an environmental
catastrophe that extinguished dinosaur life around the globe.

"It's a 100 million-year event - they don't occur that often, thank God,"
Buck Sharpton of the University of Alaska Fairbanks said at news briefing
today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Mr. Sharpton and Luís Marín of the Mexican National University are
spearheading a project to drill a 1.2- mile hole into the crater, to
understand the force of the collision and its environmental results.

Drilling is scheduled to start about 50 miles south of Mérida, Mexico, in
June. The researchers will be examining rock samples for signs of how a
huge, but relatively isolated, explosion might have wiped out dinosaur life
even halfway around the planet.

Discovered in the 1970's by oil drilling teams, the Chicxulub crater was
relatively unstudied until the 1990's, when scientists linked it to theories
that asteroid impact may have spelled the dinosaurs' doom.

Other scientists hypothesize that a huge surge in volcanic activity on the
earth itself killed the dinosaurs.

The asteroid impact was like nothing recorded in human history. Millions of
years before humans even existed, a huge meteorite measuring about six miles
across and weighing perhaps billions of tons crashed into the planet in a
ball of fire, shrouding the Earth in a dense cloud of dust that blocked out
sunlight and sent temperatures plummeting.

Estimates now put the crater's size at about 125 miles in diameter,
indicating a force of impact equivalent to an earthquake about 10,000 times
stronger than the one that leveled San Francisco in 1906.

Copyright 2000, The New York Times


From Andrew Yee <>

Office of Public Relations
University of Rochester
Rochester, New York

CONTACT: Tom Rickey, (716) 275-7954

December 15, 2000


Even during an extraordinarily violent era in Earth's early history, when
our young planet was being whacked by asteroids and comets so frequently
that scientists refer to it as "Late Heavy Bombardment," conditions most of
the time at the Earth's surface were quite hospitable for the microbes that
lived here, according to research being presented in an invited talk this
week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San
Francisco. The work has also been accepted by the Journal of Geophysical

By making fine measurements of a kind of stardust carried to Earth by
asteroids and comets some four billion years ago, a team of scientists led
by University of Rochester geochemist Ariel Anbar has determined that only
rarely -- perhaps once every 30 to 100 million years -- was the bombardment
from the skies so severe that microbes would have had a difficult time
surviving at the Earth's surface. Even in such instances, scientists say
that hardy bacteria and viruses could have found sheltered places, such as
beneath the Earth's crust, deep in the ocean near thermal vents, and other
hiding spots, to ride out the storm.

Many scientists have assumed that no life could have survived the Late Heavy
Bombardment period, but the team's research indicates that most of the time,
conditions on Earth during this time weren't so bad. The work makes it
feasible that life on Earth's surface existed earlier than scientists have

"It's been the conventional wisdom that with all this bombardment, life
should be very hard to maintain, and some scientists have argued that the
Earth's surface wasn't habitable," says Anbar, assistant professor of earth
and environmental sciences and of chemistry. "It was a violent period in
Earth history. Sure, every 30 million years or so, life would have been
really challenging. But if microbes could find places to ride out the big
impacts, there is no reason that they wouldn't be able to repopulate the
surface and flourish. We're continually finding that life is incredibly
hardy and adaptable, and it's plausible that bacteria could have survived
these high-impact environments."

Anbar's team included Rochester graduate student Gail Arnold, who made
sensitive measurements of the metal iridium, which is rare on Earth but
abundant in space-borne objects; Kevin Zahnle of the NASA Ames Research
Center in Palo Alto, Calif., who developed a computer model to simulate
Earth under bombardment; and Steve Mojzsis of the University of California
at Los Angeles.

Mojzsis had previously discovered evidence of ancient microbial life in the
oldest sediments ever found on Earth -- 3.85 billion years old -- from
Akilia Island in southern Greenland. He and Anbar decided to study the same
sediments for signs of bombardment. In several rocks from Akilia Island
Arnold measured the level of iridium: If asteroids and comets struck the
Earth continually, the sediments should have shown high levels of iridium.
Instead, the rocks contained little iridium, indicating a break in the

"We looked in these sediments fully expecting to find high levels of
iridium. If Earth was getting pummeled, we thought we should see it. But
these rocks were quite clean of iridium," says Anbar.

Since other evidence that Earth was heavily bombarded during this time is
very strong, the finding initially puzzled the researchers. The team decided
to carefully estimate the rate of bombardment at that time. Their estimates
showed that during most of the bombardment period, large asteroid or comet
impacts would have been rare enough that their traces wouldn't be seen in
sediments like the ones they studied. They estimate that every several
hundred thousand years or so, an asteroid a few miles wide -- the size of
the object that likely wiped out the dinosaurs -- would have plunked into
Earth. They say that much larger objects, those capable of killing off most
microbial life on Earth, slammed into Earth much less frequently, probably
only once every 30 to 100 million years. The most severe bombardment
happened in very distinct episodes, with conditions in between quite livable
for microbes.

"Sure, conditions at this time were nastier than today, with objects
constantly hitting the Earth, but it was really quite rare for an object big
enough to vaporize the upper part of the ocean and do a tremendous amount of
damage to hit the Earth," says Anbar, whose work is funded by NASA's
Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation. "It's been
estimated that it would only take a few tens of thousands of years for the
planet to recover from such an event. So it would be just very short periods
of time millions of years apart when it would have been difficult to
maintain life."


From James Oberg <>

From The Moscow Times, 16 December 2000


By Kevin O'Flynn
Russian scientists warned this week that life as we know it could end as
early as Monday (sic), if any one of the massive asteroids whizzing through
the cosmos should happen to be making a beeline for Earth.
"There is a threat to humanity," said Vadim Simonenko, deputy head of the
Institute of Technical Physics.
Simonenko was among the impressive array of experts attending a news
conference with a title straight from a 1950s B- movie: "Asteroid Danger:
How to Save the Earth From Cosmic Catastrophe."
The conference, held Thursday at the House of Journalists, brought together
astronomers, physicists and nuclear experts to urge global cooperation in
saving the world from a devastating asteroid collision that could leave
millions dead or even wipe out civilization entirely.
With asteroids measuring up to 10 kilometers in diameter and traveling at
speeds of up to 20,000 kilometers an hour, Earth would stand little chance
if it was hit by a big one.
The Thursday gathering, including Simonenko, whose institute is a part of
the Russian Nuclear Center, called for the organization of a world body to
scour space for incoming objects and destroy any potentially dangerous
flying objects with nuclear missiles.
In the case that preemptive measures fail, the citizens of the world should
be prepared to relocate to the moon (sic), the scientists added.
"After a collision with one of these asteroids, there'll be only fragments
left of Earth (sic)," said Alexander Bagrov, senior scientist at the
Institute of Astronomy.
Bagrov added that current technology allows experts to detect incoming
objects no earlier than three days ahead of time (sic) hence the suggestion
that the day of reckoning may come as early as Monday.
Bagrov, a tall, thin balding man with a moonlike face, led the rallying cry
of the doom-mongers, telling grim tales of other planets done in by
Five billion years ago, he said, the planet Phaeton (sic), located between
Mars  and Jupiter, the area where the orbit of most asteroids lie, exploded
into millions of bits after being hit by an asteroid 1,000 meters wide
"And [Phaeton] was many times bigger than Earth," Bagrov warned. "After a
collision with one of these asteroids there'd by only fragments left of
The asteroid that destroyed Phaeton also went on to cause the demise of life
on Mars (sic), when one of the fragments of the shattered planet whacked
into Mars (sic), causing it to sink into a grim nuclear winter that killed
all life forms and turned it the bright red color it is today.
The only trace of life left on Mars is a "face with tears on its cheek"
(sic) visible on the planet's surface, Bragov said.
Comets and asteroids have been slamming into Earth since time began. A huge
asteroid that hit the planet 65 million years ago is believed to have killed
off the dinosaurs.
But it has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that scientists have started
to seriously consider the threat that asteroids, comets and other so-called
NEOs, or Near Earth Objects, potentially pose to contemporary civilization.
"Ten years ago it was thought fantastic," Simonenko said of the concept that
life on Earth could be wiped out by a NEO hit.
Everything changed, however, when an American scientist proved that a huge
crater in the state of Arizona was caused by a meteorite and not, as
previously thought, by volcanic activity.
Scientists now agree that there are millions of asteroids out there that
have a chance of hitting the Earth.
If an object of more than 10 kilometers in diameter hits the Earth then
there's not much chance of anyone surviving, according to a British task
force that earlier this year published research on NEOs. Luckily, the chance
of that happening is about once every hundred million years, the research
More dangerous are smaller objects of one kilometer or more which could
destroy cities (sic), change the climate and cause huge tidal waves all over
the Earth.
There are roughly 1,000 such asteroids, roughly half of which have been
identified as unlikely to strike the Earth.
An ongoing project at NASA hopes to identify an additional 40 percent of the
asteroids within the next decade.
Even smaller objects, those under a kilometer, would still cause devastation
equivalent to a number of nuclear bombs, but few of these have been
Russia has already been hit by two large asteroids in the last 100 years.
In 1908 an asteroid crashed into Tunguska, a remote area of Siberia, causing
devastation across an area the size of London.
Nearly 40 years later another asteroid hit Sikote-Alin, also in Siberia,
smashing more than a hundred craters into the land.
If one of these asteroids had hit a city then millions of people would have
Alone, Russia has little funding to devote to NEO studies.
According to Anatoly Zaitsev, the head engineer at the Scientific Production
Association, a manufacturer of satellites, an international body is needed
to track all flying objects and act quickly with nuclear missiles if needed.

Zaitsev said that there is also a need to discuss the practical and moral
problems associated with NEO vigilance.
Do you really want to tell the citizens of Perm that a meteorite is headed
for their town square, he wondered, pointing to the rash of suicides and
general panic caused two years ago in the United States when the Haley-Bop
(sic) comet came unusually close to Earth.
If the big one does come, Zaitsev added, people should be prepared to
evacuate the planet - potentially relocating to the moon (sic).
But how will we choose who goes, someone asked.
"Ah, that's the problem," Zaitsev said.

Copyright 2000, The Moscow Times

MODERATOR'S NOTE: "How to save the world from cosmic catastrophe?", Russian
researchers asked last Thursday at a Moscow press conference reported above.
May I suggest to start with accurate information presented to the public
rather than this kind of ridiculous hotchpotch of misleading scare stories.
The report sounds more like an April fool's trick. Perhaps some of our
Russian subscribers could help to enlighten us about this latest noice
coming out of Moscow.


From Andrew Yee <>

Public Affairs (PA)
Los Alamos National Laboratory

CONTACT: David Lyons,, 505-665-9198


Los Alamos Volcanologist: apply lessons from meteorology

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Dec. 15, 2000 -- Reducing the danger posed by volcanoes
will require volcanologists to integrate data from throughout volcanology to
build predictive simulations and models, according to Greg Valentine, a
volcanologist at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory.
By effectively integrating geological, geochemical, geophysical, and
remote-sensing data through the use of geographic information systems, or
GIS, volcanologists will be able to create easy-to-understand visualizations of volcanoes.

Valentine pointed to the field of meteorology, which for years has
integrated satellite images and surface measurements into effective
predictive models and visualizations, as a well-known, successful example of
this approach.

"In order to see major advances in reducing volcanic danger, volcanologists
must come together and integrate their various subfields and specialties,
which until now have often remained separate. Much good work is done in
volcanology, but just as it happens in other fields, too often we don't talk
to our colleagues and try to put all of the pieces together," said
Valentine, who leads the Geoanalysis Group at Los Alamos.

Valentine put out this call to his volcanologist colleagues in a
presentation made at today's (Dec. 15) session of the American Geophysical
Union fall meeting in San Francisco. His talk was part of an AGU session on
the future of volcanology.

Valentine, who co-authored the talk with Geoanalysis Group member Gordon
Keating, said that his goal is for volcanologists in the future to be able
to predict potential eruptions and provide meaningful information and
warnings to city planners, emergency responders and nearby populations. To
accomplish this, he said that researchers will need to start working
together to integrate data and research from all of the subfields of

This integration, he said, can be greatly facilitated by relying on
Internet-based GIS and numerical simulations to build digital models of a
given volcanic system, from its deep magma plumbing up to its surface
expression, including infrastructure and other societal data in the vicinity
of the volcano.

Valentine said that approximately 200 million people live near active
volcanoes and could some day be directly impacted by an eruption. Similarly,
he said that volcanic information could be helpful for city planners and
others looking at development.

"Volcanologists are in luck, though, because there are great examples in
other fields of how this type of cooperation and integration can take
place," Valentine said. "For instance, you don't have to look further than
your local television news to find examples from meteorology." Other
examples exist in environmental remediation and petroleum reservoir

Meteorologists rely heavily on predictive models and visualizations that can
be easily understood by the public. Similarly, scientists involved in
environmental cleanup or remediation efforts have successfully integrated
geologic and hydrogeologic models of cleanup sites with detailed data of the
known contaminant boundaries to build simulations that predict the extent of
contaminant plumes.

Valentine believes that volcanology is ripe for the same types of
integration that have led to successful outcomes in other fields.
Integrating information such as fluid and solid dynamics models of magma
chambers with GIS databases allows for effective simulation and
visualization. Based on this information, decision makers can predict
eruption dynamics for different scenarios, overlay model predictions on
infrastructure and other cultural data, and ultimately come up with improved
risk estimations.

Integration efforts similar to those described by Valentine were articulated
by Flavio Dobran and his colleagues in Italy around a decade ago and are
beginning to take root in the volcanic hazards programs of some countries.
However, Valentine said, the power of this integrated approach needs to be
recognized and more broadly adapted throughout the volcanology community.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California
for the U.S. Department of Energy.



From Josep M. Trigo <>

We would correct an important mistake appeared in a press release published
in CCNET the past December 11th. We suggested that the daylight 29th Nov.
fireball could be associated to the Leonids shower but it was a mistake due
to an incorrectnes on the calculated rise and set times of this radiant. In
fact, although the angular velocity and orientation would be adequate, the
Leonids radiant was a lot of degrees under the horizon when the fireball
appeared!. Considering this fact, our data suggests that this fireball had a
sporadic origin, probably coming from the apex source. Perhaps in next weeks
we can obtain detailed trajectories from other sites
to adjust its approx. radiant.

In connection with this mistake some people ask us on the possibility to see
a fireball when its radiant is under the horizon. It is practically
impossible but, sometimes, very active showers can produce extreme cases of
visible meteors (or fireballs) when its radiant is in or lightly (a few
degrees) under the horizon.

Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez
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 Robert E. Strong <>

Dear Benny Peiser,

The Near Earth Object Foundation is partnering with West Liberty State
College, Grand Vue Park, and the Space Studies Institute to sponsor the Sir
Arthur C. Clarke Near Earth Object
Observatory. The Sir Arthur C. Clarke Near Earth Object Observatory was
created as a prototype observatory to develop techniques and perform
observations to discover, characterize, and monitor near Earth objects
(NEOs) which may potentially impact the Earth. The Sir Arthur C. Clarke NEO
Observatory's goals include not only observational astronomy, but the
advancement of observational technology and the education of those who in
the future will carry on our mission.

The dedication of the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Near Earth Object Observatory
coincided with Sir Arthur C. Clarke's 83rd birthday, Saturday December 16,
2000. The dedication site will be at the Observatory itself behind the
residence of 1916 Warwood Avenue, Wheeling West Virginia.
The Near Earth Object Foundation plans to eventually have a thousand such
NEO observatories around the world collectively dubbed the k-SkyWatch
Survey, a program to survey the Earth's sky for near Earth objects (NEOs),
such as asteroids and short and long period comets whose orbits cross the
orbit of the Earth. These NEOs have a potential of catastrophically
colliding with the Earth, resulting in possible severe devastation and
widespread species extinction.
The Near Earth Object Foundation staff is a dedicated group of Wheeling area
amateur astronomers (The NEO Group) assembling the materials and skills to
start the grand vision of a
global NEO defense survey - k-SkyWatch Survey. The Sir Arthur C. Clarke Near
Earth Object Observatory is the first NEO Observatory in the k-SkyWatch
The heart of the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Near Earth Object Observatory is a
fully computerized Meade LX200 12" f/10 telescope complete with CCD camera.
The telescope is housed in a 6' HOME DOME from Technical Innovations. The
entire functioning of the observatory will eventually be remotely

If you would like to learn more about this research and educational
endeavor, please visit us at our website at


Robert E. Strong


From Luciano Anselmo <>

Dear Benny,

Perhaps you may be interested in a classification scheme of uncontrolled
satellite re-entries (see the attached document), introduced at CNUCE/CNR in
1995, to present the associated risk in a synthetic way.

Sometimes, a quantitative impact risk on the ground for a known spacecraft
may be evaluated, but the fine details of the satellite manufacture and very
complex software codes are needed to obtain accurate results. However, when
such information/tools are not available, the CNUCE classification can
provide a reasonable qualitative guess of the risk for each specific event.


Luciano Anselmo                               Phone:    +39-050-315-2952
Spaceflight Dynamics Section                  Fax (G3): +39-050-313-8091
CNUCE Institute                               Fax (G4): +39-050-313-8092
CNR - Area della Ricerca di Pisa
Via Alfieri 1
Loc. San Cataldo - Ghezzano         E-Mail:
56010 San Giuliano Terme         CNUCE URL:
Pisa - Italy                  CNR Area URL:


(Space Debris Monitor, No. 4, CNUCE Institute, CNR, Pisa, Italy, April 1995)

Luciano Anselmo

In order to express the associated risk in a synthetic way, the re-entry in
the Earth's atmosphere of uncontrolled space objects is classified in terms
of mass categories and event classes. The re-entry category [M] is defined
by the following relationship:
M = Log_10 ---

where m is the mass of the space object in kg. Table 1 shows the CNUCE scale
in detail, together with an approximate risk descriptor. At present, the
re-entry events closely monitored are those with M ³ 1.6, corresponding to a
space object mass of 4000 kg, or larger.

Table 1


Category Risk
Mass [kg] Scale (M)
100 0 Negligible
1,000 1 Small
10,000 2 Minor
100,000 3 Moderate
1,000,000 4 Substantial

However, the space object mass is not sufficient to characterize a re-entry
event. Therefore, some re-entry classes were defined as well, as presented
in Table 2.

Table 2


Re-entry Event Description
Possible nuclear, biological or chemical contamination C
Complete object disintegration in the high atmosphere
Fall of large fragments (³ 10 cm) on the ground
Object able to maintain its structural integrity during the re-entry S


· Cosmos 1900: 1.6 CF
· Salyut 7: 2.6 F
· FSW-1 5: 0.8 S
· TSS 1R: 0.8 D


This note is based on a translation of "Classificazione dei Rientri", Space
Debris Monitor, No. 4, Istituto CNUCE, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche,
Pisa, Italy, April 1995, p. 2.


From Max Wallis <>

Andrew Glikson responded (CCNet 13 Dec.) to my critique (CCNet 11 Dec.) of
his essay calling panspermia a "philosophical notion" (CCNet 1 Dec.). For
all his diversionary points, Andrew Glikson cannot deny that panspermia is
accepted as a "working hypothesis" by a range of scientists, including many
participants in CCNet. Diverse experimental and theoretical studies nowadays
get funding from official bodies and are published in pucker refereed

Mainstream scientists are keen to be involved in publications, as the
strings of names on the Mileikowsky/Icarus paper and last week's on
magnetite crystals in the Allan Hills meteorite demonstrate.

Panspermia even satisfies Glikson's Popperian criterion of being testable,
re. interplanetary dust and meteorites. The same does not apply to the Drake
equation which he outlines.

The Drake equation is numerology of disconnected systems. It implies life
does not abound astronomically, but is confined to relatively few planets
and stars. At heart it's philosophical and untestable, just a methodology
for dissecting an issue. It breaks down if the likelihood of life developing
spontaneously is minuscule compared with infection, whether natural or
planned (by intelligent beings). 

Let's ask how does panspermia compares with its competitor - the spontaneous
generation of life on earth - the hypothesis favoured for most of the last

The tens or hundreds of experiments following Urey-Miller ran into sand.
Self-organising principles from coacervate drops to crystal substrates
provided a little progress. But the rot started once the atmospheric
chemistry of the early earth was realised to be more oxidising than
reducing, and the necessary pre-biotic chemicals were deemed easier to
obtain infalling from space. 

So spontaneous generation on earth is no longer a very healthy hypothesis.
Spontaneous generation might indeed occur in some other solar system
environment, as opposed to the pre-solar nebula being seeded with life.
Panspermia could be said to include the former as well as the latter option.

On the other hand, Glikson seems to advocate a new organising principle for
spontaneous generation, in writing "the biosphere is founded on... quantum
information laws", justifying this philosophical notion only by reference to
the writer-populariser Paul Davies. 

Early in his writing career, Davies did get to grips with the concepts of
quantum theory [1], that signals have to travel across space without
travelling through space; and that collapse of the wave function, caused by
an observer, occurs instantaneously. Quantum theorists did not resolve these
problems [2], but went on to construct grander edifices.

At the basis of the ill-defined quantum information notion is "quantum
entanglement", which led me last week to challenge the experimental basis of
the latter.  It's the experimenters and physics journals [3] that ascribe
the term "crazy" to the photon-entanglement interpretation of the optical
crystal experiments - "crazy" because of conflicts with locality and

That does not mean that Glikson and Davies are crazy to accept it. But
scientists are honour-bound to consider material critiques and references
[3-5] rather than rush to rejection.  And to acknowledge that spontaneous
generation has rebuffed experimental efforts, reducing belief in that
hypothesis to the philosophical more than the scientific.

[1] Ian Brown and Paul Davies: The Ghost in the Atom (Camb. U.P. 1986)
[2] Trevor Marshall and Max Wallis: A sceptic at large in the magical maze
(New Sci. 136, p.44 (24 Oct. 1992)
[3] Greenberger D, Zeilinger A, Quantum theory still crazy after all these
years, Physics World, 8, 33-38, 1995.
[4] Wallis M K, Contemporary Phys. 39, 483-486, 1998; New Scientist letters,
23 May 1998
[5] Marshall T W, webpage -


From Jon Richfield <>

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may
be mistaken."
--Oliver Cromwell

In any matter concerning scientific research, speaking as experts or
research workers or the like, we should refuse to make any statement unless
we are sure that every observation is controlled and every pronouncement
logically valid, precisely worded and cogent.

Or should we? Life really is short and resources, including our goodselves,
are meagre.  Our hunger for discoveries that matter to us is such that we
must skimp the effort that would be demanded by sustained punctiliousness in
items that we see as trivialities or secondary concerns.  Nor can we really
insist on perfect composition and le mot juste for every statement of what
we see as obvious.  A certain impatience is understandable when nigglers
demand plodding preparation
and polish before accepting support for the central theme of our passions.
The big names in the history of science were not always punctilious.  In
fact, the papers reporting some of the greatest discoveries would give any
professor a stroke if he caught any of his research students publishing
anything so cavalier today.  Surely we should make some allowance to respect
the very instincts that underlie our human insights?

And yet sometimes, I beseech you, think it possible you may be mistaken,
even in what you see as truisms.  The evidence you took for granted may be
misleading, the knowledge you took for granted may be delusion, and horror
of horrors, the penetration of your razor-keen insight may fail you in
proportion to your own self indulgence in taking it for granted.  There is
no fool like an old fool or a young fool unless it is a middle-aged fool
whose subject knowledge and professional confidence are at their peak, and
whose contempt for quibbles and time wasting doubts thrice arm him against
dithering dissent.

And what is the Jeremiad about THIS time, I hear you sigh? Nothing special.
Just me, ungracious partisan, and unsporting sod that I am, and unregenerate
with it, I assure you,  carping yet again at the sterling new work
supporting the theses of the panspermists!

Well, make the most of it. While they are at it, critics might as well add
that I wax increasingly acerbic as the bull market in crushing
demonstrations and watertight panspermic arguments waxes increasingly
euphoric. With all respect for the delicate feelings of the impatient
vanguard, every new thrill in the last few months has seen me out by the
same door as in I went.  Cosmic bacteria were conjured from tarry collisions
in space, micro-nodules in lunar and putative Martian material have been
represented as palpable bacterial fossils, and now we have bacterial
magnetite from Mars. We read that it cannot be anything but bacterial,
because some of the specimens examined are indistinguishable from known
terrestrial bacterial magnetites in five of six characteristics observed for
biogenically controlled mineralization of magnetite crystals.  No one so
far, it seems, has succeeded in obtaining such crystals other than from
bacterial sources.

So what am I bitching about? If someone had made similar observations of
magnetite crystals in say, lacustrine sediments on Earth, would I have been
equally virtuously curmudgeonly?  Is there something about local sediments
that renders them less likely to harbour surprises and temptation to error,
than Martian meteorites?  You are quite right. I am maintaining double
standards of vigilance. I am fairly relaxed about letting a booboo pass, concerning a few
terrestrial observations, even if it leads to quite a major blind alley,
such as in the case of polywater, or the role of Al as cause of
Parkinsonism, or the ability of rats to control the blood pressure in their
ears.  All such blots on the record of speculation and research will come
out in the wash in due course, usually in pretty short order too.

Yes, I should be ashamed of myself, holding the Purity of Research and the
Responsibility of the Scientist in such low regard, but there it is and
there is <shudder!> worse.  Not only are my standards double, but they are
biased! In some affairs, such as that of polywater, I swallowed the new
line, and in others, such as cold fusion and the Benveniste homeopathy
fiasco, I mocked it! Is it possible to sink so low?  Could I possibly
justify my sin or expiate my guilt?

Mebbe, mebbe not.

In all such cases, in due course all is revealed. There are plenty of rats,
of putative polywater and Parkinsonism for anyone to duplicate or fail to
duplicate the crucial observations.  Where I accepted as sound evidence,
material that proved to be radically erroneous or at least unrepeatable, and
in particular if it was in a field beyond my competence to evaluate, I
shrugged off my innate gullibility with philosophy or with irritation,
depending on the details. How else?  Am I to do a crash course at post
graduate level, including field experience, in the research techniques in
every discipline concerning every claim that interests me, or about which,
as a responsible member of the public I am required to form
cross-disciplinary opinions and insights?  Then I fall miserably short.  Mea
culpa, maxima culpa!

Please don't misunderstand, this is my repentant expression:


And until someone tells me of a good alternative, that is how repentant I
remain. John Maynard Keynes is quoted as saying: ""When someone convinces me
that I am wrong, I change my mind; What do you do?"  For my part I think
that I am not much harder to convince of my own fallibility than most, but
of course, I may be wrong. If so, feel welcome to change my mind for me.

Conversely I see no reason to change my mind any faster than that, whether
the proselytizer happens to be one of my personal heroes or one of the
pullulating Gellers or von Daenikens of our population of fakes, fads and
fallacies in science or fantasy.  Nor can I recommend any other attitude to
anyone else, even if the  the proselytizer happens to be myself.  One
develops an opinion and changes it in the light of information, insights and
tastes, apprehensions and misapprehensions, and in the light of the case
presented by workers publishing in the respective fields.  If the case
doesn't hold water in the light of my insight and experience, I tend to be
hard-nosed, otherwise I tend towards gullibility and believe me, I can be
very, very gullible!

Good heavens, I even swallowed Neo-Darwinism and have not yet so much as
developed a case of hiccoughs!

But when I am told that someone has observed material that strikes me as a
priori implausible, when it demands a serious paradigm shift, when it is
very, very hard to get control observations, when the evidence is pretty
tenuous (such as inferring space-faring bacteria from putative tar-puffs)
and when the biological assumptions and deductions strike me as inconsistent
and unpersuasive (such as selective standards favouring abiogenesis in space
and forbidding it under far more plausible circumstances on Earth) why, then
I wax positively refractory!

I may be wrong, as I have been wrong in the past, but if so, it is the facts
I shall be wrong about, not about the arguments.  Bad material and bad
reasoning are not improved by referring to sound subject matter.

Assumptions about the biological origin of material on Earth usually can be
supported or invalidated by examination of associated evidence. Are the
particles the only evidence?  Are they just a selected sample of particular
parameters in a much more extensive range? Are they associated with other
microbial material, or is it all igneous or metamorphic? Is the source
definitely lacustrine?  Etc etc.  Competent workers have a number of other
things to bear in mind, whether unconscious or ticked off on check-lists.
The history of palaeontology abounds with delusions stemming from isolated
observations out of context.  And who are you and I to sneer?  What branch
of science is immune to misleading incidental evidence? Certainly not
physics! Definitely not astronomy!

Even cosmologists are said to be occasionally just a little eclectic in the
items of hard evidence they employ in their construction of hard theories.

Must we then reject everything that we cannot support with chapter and
verse? Certainly not. For some material, context will eventually turn up.
Even some for which there is never specific support, can be of value in our
mental filing cabinets, when we have to synthesise our mental structures for
dealing with a field.  We can respect our capacity for making errors, even
stupid errors, on the road to new insights and new demonstrations.  But
dealing with such material is very different from dealing with cogent,
repeatable measurements or presenting cogent arguments.

And wishful thinking is a poor substitute for logic. If I discover an object
that I have not (yet) succeeded in replicating, nor observed to my own
satisfaction under other circumstances in nature, it need not follow that
only divine agencies, or even that only a particular biological agency,
could have been responsible. To prove that would require proving a negative;
not even the discourtesy of refusing to accept that something is impossible just because
someone has failed to do it, will drive me to accept that failure as proof.
Suppose a specific form of magnetite crystal does turn out to require an
organic component for its formation, it does not follow that the organic
material has to be of biological origin.  There are many organic materials
of abiological origin.  And the fact that no one has seen such a crystal
form outside a bacterium, does not prove that every such crystal formed in a

Especially if the crystal is one-sixth unlike the warranted original
bacterial product.

Now, you will be familiar with the reports that gave rise to this diatribe,
but do not misunderstand.  I never read the original, only an abstract and
an essay incorporating apparent interview material and lines like: "ISU
So I am not at this point calling anyone working in the field a damned fool.
But I hope it will be clear why that compelling evidence does not yet have
me flinging myself onto my horse and galloping off madly in all directions.

Not yet!



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