CCNet 135/2001 - 21 December 2001

Wishing CCNet members all the best for the festive season
and a Happy New Year.
May the new year see better times and happiness for you all.
                   --Benny J Peiser


ASTEROID WATCH, 20 December 2001

    Simon Mansfield <>

    The Planetary Society <>

    Ron Baalke <>

    Denver Post, 19 December 2001


    Andrew Yee <>

    Ron Baalke <baalke@ZAGAMI.JPL.NASA.GOV>

    Larry Klaes <>

     Yvan Dutil <>

     Wolfgang Kokott <>

     Joe H Frisbee <>

     Worth Crouch <>

     Andrew Yee <>


>From, 20 December 2001

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

Editor's Note: will update this breaking story this afternoon.
A NASA decision yesterday to cut asteroid-research funding for the
Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which helps track space rocks
that might threaten Earth, surprised and frustrated many astronomers who
see the telescope as an important element in protecting Earth from a
potentially devastating collision.

This morning, NASA reconsidered the decision and said they would
continue to fund the research for 2002 while reviewing the program, has learned. The funding amounts to $550,000 out of a total
annual budget of more than $10 million at Arecibo.

NASA's annual contribution to Arecibo was augmented in recent years by
roughly $11 million investment for capital improvements, which enhanced
the telescope's ability to study objects in the solar system.

Arecibo Observatory is primarily funded, however, by the National
Science Foundation and is used for other research, including the SETI
Institute's search for signals from other intelligent civilizations.
This and other deep-space astronomy programs would not be affected by
any NASA decisions.

What would be affected is Arecibo's study of Near Earth Objects, or
NEOs.These are asteroids (and some comets) discovered close enough to
Earth to warrant reasonably quick scrutiny to make sure they are not on
a course that would hit the planet.

Once these objects are discovered, the radio telescope examines their
shape, composition and spin so that their trajectories can be pinned

Researchers estimate there are about 1,000 of these objects that are
larger than 1 kilometer (a half-mile) -- the threshold for what most
experts figure could cause global devastation.

NASA has a goal of finding 90 percent of these large NEOs by 2008. The
goal was conceived by the space agency itself and mandated by Congress.

About 500 NEOs have been found; none threaten Earth. If one is ever
found to be on a collision course with the planet, scientists might then
try to intercept the object and deflect or destroy it. No plan for such
an endeavor has been officially worked out.

Cut condemned

The Planetary Society, a space exploration advocacy and research group,
issued a statement late Wednesday strongly condemning the funding cut,
which would have taken effect Jan. 1.

"Arecibo radar observations are crucial for determining the exact
location, speed and direction of objects that approach Earth," said
Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society. "We need
this information to know how significant the probability is of any one
asteroid hitting the Earth. It is irresponsible for Congress to mandate
that NASA undertake asteroid and comet detection, and then to not
provide sufficient funds for that program."

The American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences
(DPS) also decried the action in a statement that said funding for NASA
research programs has been level over the past decade while costs have
increased and new research programs have been added.

Significant new funding has gone into astrobiology research in recent
years, for example. Meanwhile, the space agency faces budget cutbacks in
the current post-Sept. 11 political world.

In the face of these budget limits, NASA officials said that asteroid
characterization -- the sort of work done at Arecibo -- "may have to
take a back seat" to actually discovering new NEOs, according to the DPS
statement, which was attributed to DPS chairman Wesley T. Huntress and
vice-chairman Richard P. Binzel.

In interviews with, other prominent asteroid researchers
inside and outside NASA expressed shock and dismay early Thursday at the

Broader issue

Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK studies
asteroids and their risks. He is a strong advocate for increased funding
for both sorts of asteroid research programs -- initial search and
follow-up characterization.

Peiser saw a possible political motivation in the NASA decision.

"While the Arecibo shutdown is regrettable," Peiser said via e-mail
early Friday, "this decision almost looks like a political wake-up call
to Congress: Either increase the budget for NEO search and follow-up, or
NASA will not be able to fulfill its 2008 target."

Peiser adds, however, that "it is already obvious to many that this
target [of 90 percent NEO detection] won't be met given the current
funding strategy and rate of detection." He also said "there are other
radar telescopes that could be used in cases where newly discovered and
potentially hazardous asteroids are in need of refined orbit

In addition, optical telescopes around the world are used for follow-up
studies. Much of this work is done by well-equipped amateur astronomers
who are not part of any official program.

The global effort these amateurs contribute to is bursting at the seams,
meanwhile. As first revealed in October, new discoveries are
coming at such a rapidly increasing pace that experts worry they won't
be able to handle the load.

And smaller asteroids, those below the 1-kilometer threshold, are far
more prevalent and, some researcher say, cause for worry. Smaller rocks,
still hundreds of yards in diameter, have the potential to destroy a
city or cause even more widespread regional havoc. While many of these
are discovered each month, NASA has no formal plan or goal to find and
keep track of them.

Some experts call NASA's overall strategy -- focusing mostly on large
NEOs -- flawed. Peiser is among them. He also argues that NASA has not
adequately lobbied Congress for additional funds to support NEO research
in general.

"Consequently, this sad episode almost appears self-inflicted," he said.

Just before noon Thursday, however, Arecibo's Donald B. Campbell
Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, said NASA had informed him
that the decision was being reconsidered.

"NASA has indicated that they will provide some funding for the program
to allow it to carry on in the coming year," Campbell said in a
telephone interview from Arecibo. At the same time, he said, the space
agency would carry out a review of the program.

A NASA spokesperson confirmed the reversal.

Campbell said if NASA were to eliminate the $550,000 annual spending,
other research into the solar system would be affected at Arecibo.

"Arecibo would live on, but there would be a big hole in solar system
study," he said
Copyright 2001,

>From, 20 December 2001

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

In announcing a 27 percent cut in funding for asteroid research at the
Arecibo Observatory, a top NASA official said today that the National
Science Foundation should step up to the plate and share the burden of
protecting Earth by paying for the whole program.
The program involves $550,000 that NASA has provided each year to the
observatory in Puerto Rico to support personel and operation of equipment
needed to study Near Earth Asteroids, or NEOs. These are objects larger than
1 kilometer (.62 miles) that could threaten the planet with global

Some 500 NEOs have been discovered, but about 500 more are thought to exist.
NASA has a congressional mandate to find them by 2008.

Arecibo's radio telescope does not find asteroids. Rather, it helps to
characterize them -- to learn what they are made of, how dense they are, how
they spin, and where they are going.

NASA officials said they were eager to shift money into programs that find

But in a sign of the turmoil that comes with tough budgetary times, NASA
informed Arecibo one week ago that they would eliminate the funding, then
said today that they would instead reduce it to $400,000 for 2002 and then
subject it to peer review.

The temporary reprieve was first reported by earlier today.

Next September, Arecibo would have to request this money and compete with
other funding requests, said Colleen Hartman, director of NASA's Solar
System Exploration Division, in a conference call with reporters this
afternoon. She said Arecibo managers would have to submit a proposal to NASA
that would be peer reviewed along with other requests for research money.

"Based on our external review process" Arecibo may or may not get funded,
she said.

Others should help

Meanwhile, Hartman said NASA would try to persuade the National Science
Foundation (NSF), which provides the bulk of Arecibo's nearly $11 million
annual budget, to take on the cost of the asteroid program.

The NSF should "step up to the plate," said Ed Weiler, associate
administrator for space science at NASA Headquarters.

"NASA has gotten the primary responsibility for protecting Earth," Weiler
said. "Worrying about NEOs is not just a NASA job. It should be shared by
the agencies."

A spokesman for the National Science Foundation said his agency is not yet
prepared to evaluate the merits of such a plan.

"This all happened so fast that we don't really have a view, a program or a
plan," said Richard Barvainis, the NSF's program director for radio
astronomy at Arecibo. "We simply haven't had time to analyze what the
impacts would be. It was news to us last Thursday."

Officials at Arecibo could apply to the NSF for the funding. The proposal
would be subject to peer review like any other submission, Barvainis said. A
decision would take three to six months and would be based on the peer
review, the overall NSF astronomy budget, and the priority in relation to
many other programs, he said.

Barvainis points out that by providing $9.5 million annually to Arecibo, the
NSF provides the core support for the telescope's operations and

"Without such support the planetary radar program could not exist, and so
NSF is indeed already contributing in a substantial way to this effort," he

Why we care

NASA spends $3.55 million overall each year searching for and studying NEOs.
Much of that money involves space-based research like the photos and data of
asteroid Eros collected earlier this year by the NEAR spacecraft.

Scientists want to characterize space rocks so that if one is ever found to
be heading our way, an effort could be mounted to deflect or destroy it.

"Before you send Bruce Willis with a bunch of nukes, you better know what
these things are made out of," Weiler said. "Density is kind of important
when you're trying to blow it up."

Weiler argued that the space-based efforts are more productive than
ground-based for characterizing asteroids.

Still, several astronomers said Arecibo is a crucial element in the effort
to learn what asteroids are made. The initial NASA decision to kill the
funding was criticized by several astronomers when it was made public late
Wednesday, Dec. 19.

"It was quite a shock to me," said Donald B. Campbell, a Cornell University
professor and head of the Radar Astronomy Group at Arecibo. NASA informed
Campbell of the cut via a letter that was mailed in early December.

Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, called the
decision "very short-sighted," in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

NASA's Hartman said today's reversal was not made because of the criticism.
She said she spoke with Campbell each of the past three days about options
and told him of the reversal Thursday morning.

Weiler said NASA's desire to be relieved from funding the Arecibo program
did not mark a move away from ground-based astronomy in general. He said it
was a mistake that NASA ever got involved in this particular program without
subjecting it to formal peer review, an error that the agency was now trying
to rectify.

Arecibo is a giant radio telescope -- the dish is 1,000 feet across (305
meters). It is used to study everything from Earth's atmosphere to asteroids
and distant galaxies. It is also employed by the SETI Institute to search
for signals from other intelligent civilizations. None of these other
programs would be affected by any NASA decisions.

NASA also provided about $11 million of capital funds in recent years that
enhanced Arecibo's ability to study solar system objects. The annual
$550,000 contribution also allowed for studies of other objects in the solar
system besides asteroids
Copyright 2001,


>From Simon Mansfield <>

Lynn Cominsky, American Astronomical Society

For Immediate Release:


Dr. Wesley T. Huntress, Jr.
DPS Chair

Dr. Richard P. Binzel
DPS Vice-Chair
617-253-6486 or


NASA has notified Don Campbell, Associate Director of the National
Astronomy and Ionosphere Center at Arecibo and Head of the Radar
Astronomy Group, that all funding for Arecibo radar studies will be
terminated on January 1. The large Arecibo dish is used to characterize
the surface properties and shapes of asteroids having orbits that bring
them close to Earth. It has recently discovered a satellite around one
of them, which provides information about the asteroid's interior
structure. Arecibo radar measurements provide the most precise orbits
for these objects, from which the best assessment of their hazard to the
Earth can be made. The research is part of NASA's program to identify,
by 2008, all objects larger than 1 km with near-Earth orbits and to
characterize a portion of them. The U.S. Congress mandated this program
several years ago.

NASA currently funds a number of search and follow-up programs to find
these near-Earth objects and to determine their orbits. With no
additional funding to meet the Congressional mandate, NASA has carved
$3.55M out of other portions of its planetary astronomy research and
analysis program in FY2002. The Arecibo program is unique in the
precision of its measurements and its ability to characterize these
targets, but pressure from increasing costs in the search and recovery
programs required to meet the 2008 deadline, with no increase in funding
for the program to do the job, has caused NASA to cannibalize other
programs. Arecibo is the latest victim.

NASA has invested $11M in the Arecibo facility to upgrade it for
carrying out radar studies of solar system objects as distant as the
moons of Saturn (in support of the Cassini mission), but now has no
funding to make the observations. NASA research programs have been
level-funded over the past decade while costs have increased and new
research programs have been inserted. The agency has recently committed
to increase funds for its research programs at the rate of inflation and
provide some new funding for astrobiology. In such a constrained fiscal
environment, NASA says that asteroid characterization "may have to take
a back seat" to NEO search and recovery because it "can no longer do
everything it is supposed to do". In the meantime, the rest of NASA's
observational astronomy program and mission support suffer and a
substantial investment in a national facility is abandoned.

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical
Society believes that the Arecibo program should not be terminated to
meet an arbitrary deadline. The Congressional language says that these
goals should be achieved "to the extent practicable" not at all costs.
The NASA NEO search program is already making excellent progress. In the
long term we call on the Administration to work with the Congress to
increase the resources for non-astrobiology research programs in NASA
Space Science as they provide the knowledge base on which our solar
system exploration efforts rely.

The DPS is the world's largest professional organization dedicated to
the exploration of the solar system.


>From The Planetary Society <>


The Planetary Society
65 N. Catalina Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106-2301 (626) 793-5100 Fax (626)
793-5528 E-mail:  Web:

For Immediate Release: December 19, 2001                               
Contact: Susan Lendroth


The Planetary Society strongly condemns NASA's decision, announced
today, to terminate radar observations of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) from
the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Arecibo is the most powerful
radio observatory on Earth and is the most accurate instrument we have
for studying NEOs.

NASA made its decision because of being inadequately funded to meet a
congressionally mandated goal of detecting all objects larger than one
kilometer in near-Earth orbits by 2008.

"Arecibo radar observations are crucial for determining the exact
location, speed and direction of objects that approach Earth," said
Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "We need
this information to know how significant the probability is of any one
asteroid hitting the Earth. It is irresponsible for Congress to mandate
that NASA undertake asteroid and comet detection, and then to not
provide sufficient funds for that program."

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Goldstone Tracking
Station in Barstow California, which is part of the Deep Space Network,
are the only two radar sites capable of asteroid observations. Goldstone
is not as powerful as Arecibo and is very busy supporting spacecraft

The funding problem arose when funds to provide facility support at
Arecibo had to be taken out of the asteroid observation program in NASA.
That program includes the high-priority optical telescope searches for
Near-Earth Objects, a class of bodies that includes asteroids and comets
whose orbits carry them close by our planet.

Radar observations provide the very accurate position and velocity
information necessary to determining the orbits and predicting the
future paths for the objects that come very close to Earth.

"The decision to eliminate these Arecibo observations, and not obtain
precision data, is very short-sighted," commented Friedman. "If an
object is discovered headed to Earth, we are certainly going to wish we
had the ability to track it accurately."

In addition to providing detailed position and velocity information, the
Arecibo observations also are often the only way to characterize the
NEO's shape and rotation. This information is critical to the science of
NEOs, and to understanding their origin and evolution, and the important
role they have played in the evolution of terrestrial planets.

A NEO that struck the Earth 65 million years ago triggered the
extinction of the dinosaurs and most species then flourishing.  Another
such object could come our way at any time.

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary
Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to
continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With members in over 140
countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.

For more information about The Planetary Society, contact Susan Lendroth
at (626) 793-5100 ext 237 or by e-mail at

>From Ron Baalke <>

December 19, 2001

A 28-image mosaic of Asteroid 1998 WT24 taken during the
asteroid's recent flyby of Earth are now available here:

These radar images were taken using the Deep Space Network
antenna at Goldstone, California, and the radar telescope at
Arecibo, Puetro Rico.  These images show one full rotation of the
asteroid.  The images are courtesy of Steve Ostro from the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Ron Baalke


>From Denver Post, 19 December 2001,1002,53%257E283979,00.html

Colorado sleuths track August fireball

By Ann Schrader
Denver Post Science Writer

Wednesday, December 19, 2001 - A blazing fireball that boomed and burst over
Colorado on Aug. 17 most likely came from the asteroid belt beyond Mars, a
finding that meteorite hunters believe will help in finding remnants.

The estimated 1-ton, desk-size hunk of space debris was 40 times brighter
than the moon when it exploded about 15 miles above Earth's surface just
northwest of La Garita in Saguache County.

Witnesses said the fireball had a near-vertical entry before breaking into
two main pieces and shedding several smaller ones. Sound-monitoring stations
operated by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico clocked the
rock at more than 25,000 mph.

Reports from observers in all directions, including more than 1,000 phone
calls and e-mails, gave the meteorite posse at the Denver Museum of Nature &
Science the information needed to calculate the fireball's trajectory.

They've pegged a 10-mile-square area in the Rio Grande National Forest in
the La Garita Mountains as the likely landing zone. The terrain is rocky,
rugged and remote, leading posse leader and museum geologist curator Jack
Murphy to admit the odds of finding a chunk of the blackened space rock
"aren't too good, to be honest."

But the information has been used to plot where in the universe the debris
originated - the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Gravitational forces exerted by the two planets probably popped the
meteoroid loose, Murphy said. He's eager to recover pieces.

"They would undoubtedly be a stony or nickel iron meteorite similar to
others traced to the asteroid belt," he said, and "would tell us something
about the parent body, the composition of an asteroid. It could be a new
classification of a meteorite."

Tracing the meteorite back to its space haunts was the work of Frank
Sanders, a radio spectrum expert with the Institute of Telecommunications in

"I've had a curiosity for some time about the feasibility of computing the
orbits of big fireballs that plow into our atmosphere," Sanders said. So
last year, he worked out a computer program to do that.

Then Sanders waited. At 10:44 p.m. Aug. 17, the Colorado sky flashed with
the brightest fireball that Murphy has heard of in 30 years of
meteorite-hunting work.

The date, time, angle, direction and suspected speed were fed into Sanders'
program. Sanders found that the meteorite was born between the inner edge
and the outer edge of the asteroid belt, a place where tons of debris lurk.

Come spring, the meteorite posse hopes to end the saga by combing the target
area after getting permission from the U.S. Forest Service and neighboring

All contents Copyright 2001 The Denver Post

Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington                 Dec. 19, 2001
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Kathleen Burton
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
(Phone: 650/604-1731)

RELEASE: 01-253


     A discovery by a NASA scientist of sugar and several
related organic compounds in two carbonaceous meteorites
provides the first evidence that another fundamental building
block of life on Earth may have come from outer space. A
carbonaceous meteorite contains carbon as one of its
important constituents.

Previously, researchers had found in meteorites other
organic, carbon-based compounds that play major roles in life
on Earth, such as amino acids and carboxylic acids, but no
sugars. The new research is reported in a paper,
"Carbonaceous Meteorites as a Source of Sugar-related Organic
Compounds for the Early Earth," by Dr. George Cooper and co-
workers at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
The work is published in the Dec. 20 issue of Nature.

"Finding these compounds greatly adds to our understanding of
what organic materials could have been present on Earth
before life began," Cooper said. "Sugar chemistry appears to
be involved in life as far back as our records go." Recent
research using ratios of carbon isotopes have pushed the
origin of life on Earth to as far back as 3.8 billion years,
he said. An isotope is one of two or more atoms whose nuclei
have the same number of protons but different numbers of

Scientists have long believed meteorites and comets played a
role in the origin of life. Raining down on Earth during the
heavy bombardment period some 3.8 billion to 4.5 billion
years ago, they brought with them the materials that may have
been critical for life, such as oxygen, sulfur, hydrogen and
nitrogen. Sugars and the closely related compounds discovered
by Cooper, collectively called "polyols," are critical to all
known life forms. They act as components of the nucleic acids
RNA and DNA, constituents of cell membranes and cellular
energy sources.

"This discovery shows that it's highly likely organic
synthesis critical to life has gone on throughout the
universe," said Kenneth A. Souza, acting director of
astrobiology and space research at Ames. "Then, on Earth,
since the other critical elements were in place, life could

Cooper identified a small sugar called "dihydroxyacetone" and
several sugar-like substances, known as sugar acids and sugar
alcohols, in his study of the Murchison and Murray
meteorites. All these are important for life today. He also
found one sugar alcohol, glycerol (also known as glycerin),
that is used by all contemporary cells to build cell walls.
In addition, Cooper discovered preliminary evidence of other
compounds that may contain larger sugars critical in cellular
metabolism, such as glucose.

There still are many unknowns though about the chemistry that
existed before the origin of life on Earth, according to
Cooper. "What we found could just be interesting space
chemistry, and polyols could be just relatives of the
compounds that actually gave rise to early life." More
research on the meteorites is essential to determine the
significance of these findings, he concluded.

The Murchison meteorite, found in Australia in 1969, is a
famous example of a carbonaceous meteorite that contains
numerous amino acids and a variety of other organic compounds
that are thought to have played a role in the origin of life.
The Murray meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1950, is similar
to Murchison in its organic content.

Related information about the Cooper paper in Nature can be
found at:


Further information about the Murchison meteorite is
available at:

NASA's Exobiology Program provided funding for the research.


>From Andrew Yee <>

[Extracted from inScight, Academic Press,]

Tuesday, 18 December 2001, 5 pm PST

A Comet's Black Heart

SAN FRANCISCO -- For all their flashy displays, comets are black at
heart. The latest encounter with a comet's core has proven that point
to a surprising degree. Images from the Deep Space 1 spacecraft show
that Comet Borrelly is the darkest object yet observed in the inner
solar system, and several spots on its surface are blacker than
anything planetary scientists have ever seen.

Deep Space 1 flew past Comet Borrelly on 22 September, spotting jets
of gas and dust streaming from the thinnest part of the comet's
bowling-pin-shaped core. The initial images suggested that Borrelly may
soon break up (ScienceNOW, 25 September). Subsequent images, shown here
on 13 December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union, reveal
new details of the modest jets and the reflectivity of Borrelly's
8-kilometer-long nucleus, the asteroid-like body at the center of the

On average, Borrelly's nucleus reflects a low 2.5% to 3% of the light
that strikes it, says Deep Space 1 project scientist Robert Nelson of
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. That's darker
than the 4% reflectance measured for Comet Halley by the European
Space Agency's Giotto spacecraft in 1986, and it rivals the dark
hemisphere of Saturn's odd moon Iapetus. Struggling to find a substance
on Earth with shades as dark as Borrelly's, Nelson could come up with
only one thing: photocopy toner.

The real surprise was a cluster of spots on the comet's nucleus that
are three times darker than the rest of it, reflecting less than 1%
of light. Analysis shows that these spots are real, not just shadows
or pits, says Deep Space 1 imaging scientist Larry Soderblom of the
U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. The team suspects that
something in the comet's texture explains its inky blackness, as solid
materials don't normally reflect so little light.

A fluffy or honeycombed texture is the most likely explanation, agrees
space physicist Tamas Gombosi of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,
a veteran of the Giotto mission. That texture traps and absorbs most
photons of light, Gombosi says. Planetary scientists expect that
mixtures of dust and ice turn black after billions of years of
irradiation by photons and high-energy particles from the sun, but
they don't yet know the details of that composition. Answers may come
from Deep Impact, a projectile that will slam into Comet Tempel 1 in
July 2005, when a flyby spacecraft will study material beneath its

2001 The American Association for the Advancement of Science



Friday, 14 December 2001

Space probe shows comet sense

Deep Space 1 reveals Borrelly's dark secrets.


A state-of-the-art space probe has shed new light on what may be the
darkest object in the Solar System.

The potato-shaped comet Borrelly, although less showy than its better-
known cousin Halley, is turning out to be something of an enigma,
researchers told this week's meeting of the American Geophysical Union
in San Francisco.

The Deep Space 1 (DS-1) spacecraft snuggled up to the 8-kilometre-long
comet on 22 September. A camera on-board peered into Borrelly's
profound gloominess, and discovered that the comet absorbs almost 98%
of the light that reaches it.

"There are few things in everyday life as absorbent as that," says
Robert Nelson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
a member of the DS-1 team -- photocopier toner being about the only
other thing.

Such very low reflectance, or albedo, is common in comets, which
contain large amounts of carbon. But Borrelly's blackness is
unrivalled in the Solar System, except perhaps by one of the moons
of Saturn, Iapetus, which is almost too dark to see.

Bad behaviour

As if Borrelly's blackness wasn't enough, other DS-1 data suggest that
it is also behaving very strangely for a comet.

The Sun's heat boils off ice, other chemicals and dust trapped in
comets. On bodies such as Halley, these emissions occur evenly. But
jets of material spew out from patches in Borrelly's narrow middle
section. "They look just like nozzles," says Laurence Soderblom of
the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona.

In fact, Borelly is losing about two tonnes of material into space
every minute from its middle section. Within 10,000 years "it will
burn itself in two", says Soderblom.

And the material is heading the wrong way. Emissions usually head
towards the Sun, parallel to a comet's plane of orbit. Borrelly's
ejections are offset by about 30 degrees.

Soderblom suspects either that surface features on the comet trap
sunlight, concentrating the evaporation, or that energy stored deep
within Borrely expels material. He hopes that further analysis will
help to explain the bizarre behaviour.

The missing link

Comet composition is of particular interest to planetary scientists as
comets are composed of the same ancient material that clumped together
to form the planets of the Solar System, including Earth. "They are
the missing link in the dynamics of how solar systems form," says
Donald McCarthy, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Initial data suggest that Borrelly contains little if any water ice,
unlike many other comets, but consists instead of large grains and
organic molecules.

Getting close to a comet, says McCarthy, who watches them with ground-
based telescopes, is important as you can see the core, which is
usually obscured by dust and gas. Close-ups also help to identify
chemical components before they become ionized in the vacuum of space.


DS-1 was launched in 1998 primarily to test new technologies for Solar
System exploration, particularly a highly fuel-efficient ion-propulsion
system. But when its star-tracking navigation device failed, DS-1
missed a rendezvous with asteroid Braille and the spacecraft's handlers
regained control only just in time to send it off to meet Borrelly on
its 7-year orbit of the Sun.

This successful encounter has proven its worth as far as ion engines
are concerned, says Nelson. "Ion propulsion is now the technology of
choice for propulsion in deep space," he says. The DS-1 mission ends
next week.

Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2001


>From Ron Baalke <baalke@ZAGAMI.JPL.NASA.GOV>

Archaeologists rewrite timeline of Bronze and Iron Ages, including
early appearance of alphabet

FOR RELEASE:  Dec. 19, 2001
Cornell University News Service

Contact:  Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Office:  607-255-3290

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Using information gleaned from the sun's solar cycles
and tree rings, archaeologists are rewriting the timeline of the
Bronze and Iron Ages.  The research dates certain artifacts of the
ancient eastern Mediterranean decades earlier than previously
thought. And it places an early appearance of the alphabet outside
Phoenicia at around 740 B.C.

Writing in two articles in the forthcoming issue of the journal
Science (Dec. 21), archaeologists from Cornell University and the
University of Reading (England) and a physicist from
Ruprecht-Karls-Universit&auml;t Heidelberg (Germany) have given a new
kind of precision to the timeline of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the
Aegean and the Near East.

"Establishing this chronology means that the objects -- metalwork,
furniture, woven textiles, and an alphabetic inscription found in a
tomb in central Turkey -- were older than previously thought by some
22 years," said Peter I. Kuniholm, Cornell professor of art history
and archaeology.

Among the artifacts found in the Midas Mound Tumulus at Gordion, the
capital of ancient Phrygia, a site west of Ankara, Turkey, is a
shallow, bronze bowl with a patch of beeswax on the rim carrying an
alphabetical inscription.  The inscription is a precursor to -- or
contemporary with -- the earliest attested occurrences of the Greek
alphabet.  In addition to letter forms known from ancient Greek,
there is a vertical arrow, known also from Etruscan inscriptions.

With the new chronology, the bowl now is independently dated circa
740 B.C., making its inscription as old as the oldest known artifacts
on which the Greek alphabet appears: an oinochoe (a wine pitcher)
from the Dipylon cemetery in Athens and a cup from Pithekoussai (now
Ischia) in the Bay of Naples.  The estimated dates of these pots
previously had provided archaeologists with only an approximate date
for these early alphabetic inscriptions. "The alphabet, which
originated in Phoenicia at a time that is still disputed, was moving
west at a rapid pace, traditionally thought to be by sea but now
clearly by land as well.  That's what this chronology shows: The
alphabet was really catching on," says Kuniholm. Scholars believe
that the birthplace of all Western alphabets, including the Greek and
Roman, was Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon, Israel and Palestine). The
oldest known Phoenician inscription was found in the Ahiram epitaph
at Byblos, Lebanon, dating from about the 11th century B.C.  Scholars
think the alphabet was spread throughout the Mediterranean by traders
who found the new shorthand an improvement over the syllabic scripts
such as Linear B and cuneiform Hittite.

Kuniholm and his colleagues are using the science of both carbon
dating and dendrochronology, dating through tree rings, to calibrate
history.  Their latest research involved carbon-14 analysis on
10-year slices -- that is rings covering 10 years of growth -- on
wood from pine trees from the Catacik Forest in Turkey and from oak
trees in Germany.  By currently accepted models, the carbon-14
concentrations should have been identical in both the pine and the
oak. And while the scientists discovered that this was true in
general, they were surprised to find that for certain key periods,
the Turkish pine appeared to be older than the German oak by as much
as 17 years.  "Those pieces of wood are the same tree-ring age, and
they should have the same radiocarbon age, but they don't," says

What happened, Kuniholm believes, is that the Turkish pine, growing
in a warmer climate and at a lower latitude, absorbed less carbon-14
during documented periods of so-called solar minima -- prolonged
cooling periods in the Northern Hemisphere, such as those in the
eighth and ninth centuries B.C. and in the 15th and 16th centuries
A.D.  The German oak, which starts its growing season later in the
spring than does the Turkish pine, absorbed measurably more amounts
of carbon-14 during such cooling periods.  "The trees are like a tape
recorder of the radioactivity of the cosmos," Kuniholm said, "but
they record only when they are growing."

Carbon-14, an isotope of the element carbon, is produced in the
Earth's lower stratosphere by the collision of neutrons, produced by
cosmic rays, with nitrogen. (An isotope is made up of atoms of the
same element but with different numbers of neutrons.) During periods
of high solar activity, the solar wind prevents charged particles
from entering the atmosphere -- thus producing little carbon-14.
However, carbon-14 production peaks during the solar minima, and it
enters the Earth's troposphere as carbon dioxide-14 during the late
spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  By the following spring, the
higher concentration of carbon in the troposphere is diluted.  Thus,
German oak, which grows late in the spring and summer, absorbs less
carbon dioxide-14 than Turkish pine or juniper, which grows from the
early spring to summer.  "This is the first time scientists have been
able to note a regional difference in tree rings of the same
dendrochronological age," says Kuniholm.  "Sadly, now, with all the
carbon in our atmosphere, with the pollution we have from our cars
and factories and energy facilities, the trees have all but given up
providing many of these valuable signals."

Kuniholm's co-authors on the Science papers were Sturt Manning of the
University of Reading, Bernd Kromer of
Ruprecht-Karls-Universit&auml;t Heidelberg, and Maryanne Newton,
Cornell doctoral candidate. Research collaborators also include Marco
Spurk, Universit&auml;t Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany, and Ingeborg
Levin, Universit&auml;t Heidelberg, Germany.  The concurrent Science
articles are titled, "Regional Radioactive Carbon Dioxide Offsets in
the Troposphere: Magnitude, Mechanisms and Consequences" and
"Anatolian Tree Rings and a New Chronology for the East Mediterranean
Bronze-Iron Ages."

The research was funded by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the
National Science Foundation, the Malcolm H. Wiener Foundation, the
Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Germany's Federal Ministry of
Educational Research.

Related World Wide Web sites:  The following sites provide additional
information on this news release.  Some might not be part of the
Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their
content or availability.

o Aegean Dendrochronology Project: <>

o A companion opinion piece in Science by Paula Reimer, Livermore
Laboratories: <>


>From Larry Klaes <>

The Observer, 16 December 2001
Amelia Hill

The story of the lost city of Atlantis has fascinated academics and
romantics for thousands of years. But despite the legend one leading
expert has finally admitted the truth: it never existed.
Ever since Plato insisted that his tale of a seafaring civilisation
consigned to the deep by earthquakes and floods was true, the search for
the lost empire has spanned the globe - in September two explorers
claimed simultaneously to have found it at the top of a volcano and at
the bottom of the Mediterranean.

But now Alan F. Alford, one of the world's authorities on ancient
mythology, claims to have uncovered the truth: the Greek philosopher
invented Atlantis as a metaphor for the ancient version of our 'Big
Bang' theory.

'My findings allow us, for the first time ever, to get inside Plato's
mind and reconsider the story of Atlantis from an ancient, rather than a
modern, perspective,' said Alford, who has spent the last five years
investigating the story.

'Behind the tale lies a single secret of stunning simplicity: namely
that although Atlantis was a lost paradise, it was not a lost city,
island or continent, but a lost planet of the former golden age,' he
added. 'The loss of Atlantis was meant to signify a totally profound
event - the cataclysm of all cataclysms that disrupted the universe at
the beginning of all time.'

It has long been acknowledged that there is strong scientific evidence
for the explosion of one or more planets in our solar system from about
427 to 347BC (around the time Plato was writing), rationalised then by
the creation of the 'exploded planet myth'.

'The myth held that the cosmos was born when a planet crashed on to a
dead, dry Earth, spreading the seeds and water of life,' said Alford. 'I
maintain that it is this myth that the tale of Atlantis was created to

According to Plato, Atlantis sank around 9600BC (by our modern-day
system of dating). But extensive scientific investigations of the ocean
floor have yielded no trace of the lost island.

The popular view is that Plato's story is historically accurate and he
simply got his geographical facts wrong. The search, as a result, has
spanned the globe, with the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian
seas, as well as the English Channel and the Arctic coming under
suspicion. Crete, Cuba, the Americas and Antarctica have also been
claimed as the lost continent.

Alford dismisses such theories: 'Plato is the sole authority on the
story of Atlantis and to ignore what he said is to invent a new myth of
one's own.'

To search for Atlantis in the physical world, or in the physical
universe, Alford believes, is contrary to Plato's most fundamental
belief: that reality was not to be found in this world.

Copyright 2001, The Observer

For expanded information on Alford's new book on mythology see his website



>From Yvan Dutil <>

Dear Benny,

I would like to comment on a statement you gave to

"Peiser adds, however, that "it is already obvious to many that this target
[of 90 percent NEO detection] won't be met given the current funding strategy
and rate of detection." He also said "there are other radar telescopes that
could be used in cases where newly discovered and potentially
hazardous asteroids are in need of refined orbit calculations."

First, whenever the funding level we will not be able to meet the 2008
target. Even if suddenely money would fall from the sky to buy the
largest NEO surveillance system thinkable, the developpement and
construction time will push us beyound 2008 anyway. This is one major
reason why the construction of 6 2-3 meter class telescopes dedicated
to NEO survey has not been surported in the past. Upgrading existing
facilities was seen as a much efficient short term approch.

Second, there is not much radar system around to replace Arecibo. I
did a survey of radar facilities available for active SETI a couple of year
ago. Essentialy, the list ends to Arecibo, Goldstone, Evpatoria (Ukraine).
Haystack may also do some job. The last one been much less powerful
(and useful) than the two first. Of those institutions, only Arecibo and
Goldstone are doing routine asteroid observation. Evpatoria, only beam
an asteroid once, Toutatis in 1992. Haystack did it once two, Icarus in

In such circonstances, it is really obvious that the loss of  Arecibo could
NOT have been easily compensated.

Yvan Dutil

MODERATOR'S NOTE: All I tried to point out was that the envisaged
cancelation of Arecibo's NEO funding - which I strongly oppose - would not blindfold
us completely in such cases were only radar observations could produce
refined orbital data. And if NASA officials now realise that their
Spaceguard strategy cannot be fully achieved by 2008, would it not be wiser
to revise the strategy accordingly and start lobbying for additional NEO
projects and significantly enhanced funding? BJP


>From Wolfgang Kokott <>

Lieber Herr Peiser,

I just read your review of Cunningham's "Ceres, and I cannot resist
throwing in my own piece of rock:

Olbers definitely had no reason at all to expect a second planet in
the vicinity of Ceres. While continuing his observations of Ceres,
on March 28 he surveyed the stars in the vicinity, and he noticed a
new object very close to the January position of Ceres -- which
definitely had not been there before. The determination of its orbit
turned out to be difficult, neither a circle (for a planet) nor a
parabola (comet) seemed to fit. Of course, that was due to the
comparatively large values of excentricity and inclination involved.
As late as June 1, the real situation (nearly-intersecting orbits)
had become clear, and Olbers started to speculate about a
potantially catastrophic common origin of the two planets -- not
even daring to call this speculation a hypothesis.

The discovery of Juno, the third of the threesome, strenghtened the
breakup hypothesis, and Olbers not only took note of this situation
but even proceeded to estimate the secular changes of the orbits in
order to define time and place of possible real intersections.
No indication at all of him abandoning the breakup hypothesis, in
late 1804, on the contrary!

It was the discovery of Vesta (1807) which spoiled the pattern.
Olbers found its orbit to be smaller and less excentric than these
of the former three asteroids. This object did not readily support
the breakup hypothesis, and so Olbers did decide to shelve the
matter, awaiting further empirical evidence as was always his
custom. (Subsequently, the smashed-planet hypothesis continued to be
championed by a minority of astronomers; it was finally put to rest
about in the middle of the 20th century by new developments of solar
system cosmogony.)

As for Olbers, he did never shrink back from the notion that "a
planet could be shattered". In fact, the idea that giant comets
could cause global catastrophes had been on the agenda since the
times of Halley and Whiston, it had been reinforced, in 1770,  by
the discovery by Lexell of a comet passing the Earth  at a distance
of 2 million kilometers. In 1810, Olbers took stock of the related
scientific debate during the 18th century and published his
important treatise "Ueber die M"oglichkeit, dass ein Komet mit der
Erde zusammenstossen k"onne". He also attempted to calculate the
probability of a central catastrophic collision, which he set to a
reassuring one event in 219,631,150 years -- subject to some
corrections if his data on number and distribution of comets should
need to be amended. However, also passing strikes, close encounters
etc. had to be taken into account, and Olbers explicitly voiced the
opinion that major paleontological changes on our planet could have
been the result of encounters with comets. The range of
possibliities includes even comparatively small shifts of the
Earth's axis, rotation, center of gravity. While refraining to
speculate from insufficient evidence, Olbers reassures his readers
that the periods of time involved stand in no realistic proportion
to a human lifetime.

No shrinking away from cosmic (or global) catastrophes, then.

As for the position of Bode, after some short period of deliberation
he decided to accept Pallas as the ninth ''main planet''
(Hauptplanet) of the solar system, to be followed by the tenth
(Juno) and eleventh (Vesta). [Main planet was to be understood in
the sense of a real planetary body, as opposite to the planets'

Concerning the Titius-Bode "law" (I prefer "rule"), Bode was the
first to put a *planet* into the Mars/Jupiter gap. Titius (as quoted
in your review, too) was content with the notion of the two
hypothetical satellites of Mars. This piece of numerology really
dates back to the times of Kepler (Earth has 1 satellite. Jupiter
4, therefore Mars, in-between, rates 2, a.s.o.), and it throws some
light on the astronomical prowess of the math teacher and nature
historian Titius.

As for religious beliefs, the individuals of the period in question
ought to be treated individually. While Herschel, and even more so
Bode, had some firm notions about the Founder of the Universe, men
like Gauss and Olbers did restrict themselves to empirical facts,
leaving philosophical questions to the philosophers.
Anyhow, any a priori acceptance of philosophical tenets interfering
with astronomical evidence went out of fashion after the German
philosopher Hegel did manage to publish his "proof" that the
number of planetary bodies was limited to the magical figure seven -
his tract appeared in print just in 1801, right after the discovery
of Ceres. Scientists (e.g., Zach) did not hesitate to publish their
opinion on that matter.

Mit den besten Gr"ussen
Wolfgang Kokott


>From Joe H Frisbee <>


The enclosed link from NASA Watch ( describes a
proposal of interest to CCNET readers. Without regard to the scope or
details contained in the presentation, its existence is an additional
step toward serious consideration of the hazard presented by NEOs.

Joe Frisbee
United Space Alliance, USH-483L
Collision Probability Analysis
600 Gemini
Houston, TX  77058

WkPh      281.282.2816
WkFax     281.282.4826

Contents of this email are not intended in anyway to represent the
opinion of United Space Alliance, its parent companies, its
subcontractors or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration


>From Worth Crouch <>

Dear Dr. Peiser:

I want to thank CCNet, SpaceDaily, MarsBugs,, and other open
minded internet publications for pioneering the message that there is an
established threat of comet/asteroid impacts with the Earth. I also want
to genuinely express my appreciation to all of the publications
mentioned or alluded to for printing my thesis, which defines mankind's
role in the cosmic catastrophe equation. To show my appreciation I want
to invite those interested to my newly completed Web page <http://
<> > where my
thesis is illustrated and published. Also speaking arrangements can be
made with me, on that page, so that I can continue to inform and update
the public about the cosmic threat to our planet in person.

CASTROPHE SURVIVAL STRATEGY - I had not seen any of the
space-collision-event motion pictures; furthermore I had no idea I would
reach the conclusions I came to. On July 20, 1998 when I completed and
copyrighted my astrobiological thesis I didn't know if anyone would take
it or me seriously. I was trained to believe the scientific dogma that
the Earth and its' inhabitants faced an ultimate fiery death when the
sun becomes a red giant and that was the way the end would be. In fact I
had only intended to complete Charles Darwin's DESCENT OF MAN because I
believed the space age had opened the door for its' completion and I
knew something about that because I had helped open the door. Having
been trained in history, biology, psychology, engineering, and geology I
was pretty conservative, and I didn't even know I had interred the field
of astrobiology until my research found the NASA Astrobiology Institute
and my paper was accepted for presentation to their annual 2001
Washington DC meeting.

However, if my thesis is closely examined it can be deduced that the
paper gives mankind a reason for existence and scientifically verifies
the Native American belief that we are the caretakers of the earth and
its' creatures. I hope my Choctaw (Native American) heritage didn't
color the conclusions of my paper. My thesis in part deduces that Homo
sapiens occupy the biological niche humankind has evolved to fit into
and fulfill, which is to be the caretakers of the Earth and its' living
things. I honestly believe it is probably coincidental that most native
people agreed with what I wrote about our place on this Earth, or maybe
it's because they have good common sense. Anyway, my thesis presents
mankind's niche as being one step beyond most native beliefs when I
conclude that our role is ultimately to save the life from this planet
from cosmic destruction.

My Choctaw colleagues and I have recently placed my thesis online. - A
SURVIVAL STRATEGY - and it can now be found illustrated on the internet
by utilizing the address <http://  <> >. Moreover, my Web page advertises my intent
to speak to interested groups to promote the goal of planetary defense
and human continuance.

I also believe that as we venture into space, colonize, and terraform
marginal habitats our species will rapidly adapt to new environments.
Adaptation will be by artificial, manipulative, and natural selection
and the change in our species, because of swift artificial and
manipulative selection might bring about the greatest evolutionary
transmogrification in mankind's history. Or of course we still might all
perish is a cosmic catastrophe because too few are capable of
understanding so much.


Worth F. Crouch (Talako)
Choctaw Society of Astrobiologists


>From Andrew Yee <>

New Scientist

Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London
Tel: +44(0)20 7331 2751 or email


Christmas star cover-up

AN AMERICAN astronomer claims he has found the first mention of the
star of Bethlehem outside the Bible. The reference is in a 4th-century
manuscript written by a Roman astrologer and Christian convert called
Firmicus Maternus.

Michael Molnar, formerly of Rutgers University in New Jersey, is the
originator of the idea that the star of Bethlehem was not a spectacular
astronomical event such as a supernova or a comet but an obscure
astrological one. The event would nevertheless have been of great
significance to ancient Roman astrologers. After studying the symbolism
on Roman coins, he concluded that the "star" was in fact a double
eclipse of Jupiter in a rare astrological conjunction that occurred in
Aries on 20 March, 6 BC, and again on 17 April, 6 BC (New Scientist,
23/30 December 1995, p 34).

Molnar believed that Roman astrologers would have interpreted such an
event as signifying the birth of a divine king in Judea. But he lacked
proof. Now he says he has found it, in the Mathesis, a book written by
Maternus in AD 334. Maternus described an astrological event involving
an eclipse of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries, and said that it signified
the birth of a divine king.

"Maternus did not mention Jesus's name," says Molnar. "But Roman
astrology was a popular craze at the time and everyone reading
the book would have known the reference was to Jesus and that the
astrological event was the star of Bethlehem."

So why did Maternus not mention Jesus by name? According to Molnar,
early Christians hated pagan beliefs and did not want to justify the
Biblical story with astrological mumbo-jumbo. The idea that the stars
govern our fate flew in the face of belief in a Christian God as the
controlling force in the Universe. "Being a pagan who had converted
to Christianity during his lifetime, Firmicus was torn," says Molnar.
"Hence his use of astrology to support the Christian story, but in a
veiled way."

According to Molnar, it was essential to early Christians that the
true nature of the star be hidden, otherwise theologians would be
mired in debate about celestial influences that were not part of
Christianity. So they buried the knowledge of the star's astrological
roots and in time it was forgotten.

"I take Molnar's work quite seriously," says Owen Gingerich, a
historian of astronomy at Harvard University. "Anything he comes up
with along these lines has to be considered as being very likely


Author: Marcus Chown

New Scientist issue: 22/29 December 2001


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