From: The Red and Black, Thursday, November 12, 1987

Ecologist warns of danger from meteors

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By Keith A. Mills Red and Black Contributing Writer

The possibility of our planet being struck by an earth-orbit-crossing-object (EOCO) may seem small, but it's an occurrence that the world's governments must be prepared for, a University library employee said.

Bob Kobres, an electronics technician for the University library and director of an ecological organization, said a "significant" sized object hitting the earth's surface could result in a nuclear winter and the beginning of another dark age.

Kobres cites as an example the Tunguska object that struck Russia in 1908 and projected a 15-30 megaton blast that destroyed 700 square miles of Siberian forest and wildlife.

"There are tens of thousands of football field size asteroids like the Tunguska object and larger crossing our orbit and we are fools if we procrastinate in starting a system to deflect them," he said.

He also pointed to unexplained craters in Arizona and North Carolina [read Carolina Bays], probably caused by meteors, and the theory that a meteor caused the ice age [read climate downturn] that destroyed the dinosaurs, as proof that EOCOs have potential for extreme destruction.

Kobres said he proposes combining U.S. and Soviet space defense technology, including the Strategic Defense Initiative, and using the result to watch for and deflect meteors instead of missiles.

"In all likelihood SDI won't work so why not convert the system to something useful," he said

His plan was outlined in the fall 1987 issue of Whole Earth Review magazine. Kobres is executive director of People Resolute On Earth Doing Ecologically Nicely and Securing Peace Around Cooperative Endeavors. Linking Individual Nations Kindly (ProEden and spACE LINK).

Kobres first became interested in defending earth from EOCOs in 1966 [This was a misunderstanding about a newspaper article I pointed out to the student reporter.] after reading about project Icarus, a study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concerning the probability of the asteroid Icarus striking the earth and what could be done to prevent it.

He also saw EOCO defense as a possible way to achieve his long standing commitment to bring Eastern and Western countries together. Twenty years of research have only cemented his belief that EOCOs are a potential threat, he said.

Some University professors feel Kobres is concerned about something there is no need to worry about.

J. Scott Shaw, a University astronomy professor, said the odds of a meteor striking earth are so minimal that no one should worry about it.

A meteor one kilometer in diameter, like the Tunguska object, only falls to earth an average of every 250,000 years. An object large enough to possibly cause a nuclear winter only falls an average of every 100 million years. "Overall there's a much better chance we'll destroy ourselves without needing a meteors help," Shaw said.

Kobres said the fact that no "significant" sized EOCO has plummeted to earth in recent history in no way alters the chance that Earth could be hit at any time.

He said it would be "easier to convince" the Soviets than our own government to combine space defense technology.

"The Russians are heavily devoted to space exploration and would consider it (combining forces) a blessing," Kobres said. The U.S. government would be the hardest to convince, "they would be fiddling around while earth burns."

However, William Chittick, a University political science professor said he doubts the U.S. and Soviets could trust each other enough to combine space defense technology. "If they did get together on space defense, it would be to a limited extent," Chittick said.

Kobres said the meteor deflection system also would serve the purpose of mining precious resources from meteors while still in space.

"This would save earth's resources and allow the mining to be done in an environment where energy is free," he said.

Shaw said the possibility of mining iron-nickel asteroids in the future is good, though it's not economically feasible at present.

The most important thing now is a shift in Soviet and U.S. attitudes. Kobres said.