CCNet 9/2002 - 14 January 2002

"Planning has begun. The US military and NASA have worked together
on the problem for a decade. Europe and Japan have followed the US lead.
Russia and America have even cooperated on schemes to use nuclear
missiles against asteroids. The irony is inescapable: those who were
once seen as sowing the seeds of self-destruction may ensure our
preservation. A British call for a global early-warning system has
been backed by the United Nations and OECD. The biggest gap now is in the
southern hemisphere. Since 1996, when the Howard Government withdrew
funding from what was a world-leading tracking project, no facility has
been dedicated to keeping watch from the south. Australia is, as physicist
Paul Davies observes, letting down the world for the sake of a few
million dollars. An Australian, David Steel, a leader in the field
who moved to Britain after 1996, says he would "challenge anyone to find a
project with a better cost-benefit ratio".
--The Age, 13 January 2002

"I had to close the program down," said Balam, adding that he's
involved in negotiations for new funding. But he says that even
without a paycheque, "once an asteroid watcher, always an asteroid
watcher." "I've been battling on this for decades. I've been standing on
guard for thee for 25 years and it has its price. Shift work is never good,
especially when you work 15 hours at a stretch and 20 nights in a
row. "If you were to take all the professional asteroid observers in
the world, put them in the one place, you would be outnumbered by the
staff of a McDonald's Restaurant. These people are generally overworked
and underpaid."
--David Ballam, The Vancouver Province, 13 January 2002

"They're back. We can sleep easy. The ship of state is manned once
again. These parliamentary holidays leave us defenceless. A disaster
might befall our society - we were nearly struck by an asteroid, for
instance - and Parliament wouldn't be able to pass a law to stop it
happening again."
--Simon Carr, The Independent, 9 January 2002

    The Vancouver Province, 13 January 2002

    Montreal Gazette, 11 January 2002

    The Age, 13 January 2002

    The Age, 13 January 2002

    Irish Independent, 12 January 2002

    Andrew Yee <>

    Reiner M. Stoss <>

    Juergen Rendtel <>

    Anna McGuire <anna.mcguire@UCL.AC.UK >

     Jon Giorgini <>

     Michael Paine <>

     Jack G. Hills and M. Patrick Goda

     S. Fred Singer <>

     Alastair McBeath <>

     Duncan Steel <>

     David Johnson <>

     The Mirror, 12 January 2002


>From The Vancouver Province, 13 January 2002{10EE0B9E-EC91-43D9-BFFB-CEFCD7F301F4}

Charlie Anderson meets a man who spends nights looking for rogue asteroids
Charlie Anderson 
The Province
Dave Balam spends many of his nights peering through a telescope in search
of Armageddon. The University of Victoria astronomer --Uncle Dave to his
disciples -- is one of the world's foremost asteroid watchers.

For more than 20 years he has been tracking chunks of rock that are tossed
out of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and hurtle towards Earth.
Anything within 9.5 million kilometres of Earth's orbit catches his

"It's an obsession," admits Balam. "I track comets too, but I'm generally
into near-Earth asteroids. They've absorbed most of my life."

The 55-year-old astronomer and his quiet mission was exposed in the media
attention surrounding 2001 YB5, a 300-metre-wide chunk that zipped past us
last Sunday evening at 109,000 km/h.

The asteroid came within 837,000 kilometres of Earth, a miss-by-a-whisker in
astrological measurements.

"It could have vaporized the core of a city like Toronto, leaving a crater
two to three kilometres across and creating a huge fireball and shock wave
that would have knocked you off your feet in Vancouver," said Balam. Had it
hit water, about 76 per cent of Earth, it would have churned up massive
tidal waves causing even greater damage.

The asteroid was spotted on Boxing Day and passed by Earth 11 days later.

"That's pretty typical,' says Balam. "We have problems, like weather, the
moon gets in the way and there are a finite number of telescopes scanning.
Of course, we have holes in our optical fence. We find them either during or
very close to their encounter and quite often they fade very quickly, which
is why you have to react in a very rapid manner."

Although an asteroid hit could cause greater damage than any catastrophe in
man's history, watching out for one is a low priority.

Funding from a U.S. foundation to pay Balam a salary for his asteroid
watching was recently cut off, and no money has been found to replace it.

"I had to close the program down," said Balam, adding that he's involved in
negotiations for new funding.

But he says that even without a paycheque, "once an asteroid watcher, always
an asteroid watcher."

"I've been battling on this for decades. I've been standing on guard for
thee for 25 years and it has its price. Shift work is never good, especially
when you work 15 hours at a stretch and 20 nights in a row.

"If you were to take all the professional asteroid observers in the world,
put them in the one place, you would be outnumbered by the staff of a
McDonald's Restaurant. These people are generally overworked and underpaid."

Tracking asteroids begins with the raw data on celestial objects gathered by
a series of automatic telescopes. Balam examines a regular "hit list" of
possible asteroids and then measures and tracks them in the night sky, using
his own specially designed software.

"In reality, I'm sitting in a dome, in a very large tracking system," says
Balam. "It's very much like an air traffic controller except in this case
it's a little bit deeper out there."

Balam carefully measures the movement of light that may indicate an
asteroid. If the light moves clearly in an arc, it is a good sign because
the asteroid will certainly miss Earth. If the light grows brighter with
hardly any deviation, that is bad news. It means it is heading straight for

"It's a good cause for flared nostrils and beads of sweat breaking out on
your forehead," chuckles Balam.

He refers his findings back to the International Astronomical Union. If
Armageddon is on the way, he prefers notification to be made in a balanced

"We have had cases in the last few years when some of our colleagues jumped
the gun, cried wolf and made a real mess of it. Being scientists, we really
must be sure of what we're saying and that includes not crying wolf."

Sometimes, the wolf does call.

One asteroid, estimated at 10 kilometres in diameter, smashed into the
Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago taking out the dinosaurs and
much of the other life on the planet. In 1908, a 60-metre-wide asteroid
piled into Siberia, a 12-megaton impact that reduced 40 kilometres of forest
to kindling.

The most recent near miss came in 1994 when a small asteroid of some 20
metres in diameter flashed within 120,000 kilometres of Earth. Had it
struck, it would have created an eight megaton impact many times the
strength of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Asteroid impacts have played an important role in Earth's history.
Scientists believe mankind owes its existence to the asteroid that wiped out
the dinosaurs. Perhaps the next species to dominate Earth may owe its
existence to an asteroid wiping out humans.

"Every planet was formed by . . . asteroid impact," says Balam.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. It is a fact of life. It has
happened in the past and it will happen again. There is no if about this.
Whether we, as a species, are ready to handle that sort of thing is still up
in the air."

Copyright 2002 The Province


>From Montreal Gazette, 11 January 2002{8ECC4EF2-A8EE-41E5-8607-A6748C624991}

Just when you thought it was safe to stick your neck out and scope the stars
again ...

Perhaps you, too, noticed a small item nearly buried in this newspaper a few
days ago. An asteroid big enough to obliterate all of France zipped past
Earth on Monday.

The asteroid, dubbed 2001 YB5, came within 837,000 kilometres of Earth. That
might sound like a comfortable distance away from us. Experts suggest
otherwise. In fact, a few degrees difference in the asteroid's orbit could
have been all that separated many Earthlings from imminent doom.

It's not enough that we must now live in mortal fear of terrorist attacks
from above and Mad Cow disease outbreaks on terra firma, but David Levy, the
esteemed Montreal-born astronomer, now based in Vail, Arizona, can't rule
out the possibility of Armageddon by asteroid on this planet.

"Every few months we get a scare like this, but the trouble is that the
asteroid is discovered just a few days before it makes a close pass by the
Earth," Levy said. "What's really scary is that even if the asteroid were on
a collision course with Earth, we would have no time to react or attempt to
change its course."

Levy estimates that close to 30,000 asteroids have been discovered and that
astronomers are aware of their orbits.

"I can promise that none of these asteroids are in danger of hitting the
Earth within the next century. But it's the asteroids that just appear out
of the blue that are problematic. Then all bets are off."

He points out that the 2001 YB5, about 300 metres in diameter, could have
taken out a country the size of France and done significant damage.
"Millions would have been killed," he said. "And if the asteroid had hit in
an ocean - and there's a three in four chance that it would - the ensuing
tidal wave would be enough to bring down half the buildings in Manhattan."

But that pales next to the extensive global damage an asteroid [1000] metres
or more in diameter would cause.

"It would trigger a major drop in global temperature, which could spell the
end of life on the entire planet," said Levy, author of 21 celestial books
and an Emmy Award-winner for the Discovery Channel's Three Minutes to
Impact. "If it landed in an ocean, it would trigger a tidal wave half a mile
high, which would produce catastrophic floods everywhere."

Levy figures the odds of an Earthling being hit by [such] an asteroid during
their lifetime are about 1 in 100,000. On that note, he bemoans the minimal
amount of funds spent on asteroid security compared to the money available
for aviation security. "It's so negligible, about $3 million a year for the

In fact, a Canadian asteroid-research program in Victoria was just shut down
at the beginning of this month because of a lack of funding.

Levy, who has discovered 21 comets as well as countless asteroids, is most
renowned for co-finding the Shoemaker-Levy 9. Astronomy buffs will recall
that this comet collided with Jupiter in 1994 and spawned much panic, not to
mention a few movies, about the destruction of Earth by killer asteroids.

Last summer, Levy paid tribute to the town where he started off his
star-gazing by naming an asteroid he helped to discover, Montreal. He also
dubbed another of his co-discoveries, McGill, after his alma mater.

This Montreal asteroid, about the same size as the city, prompted some
cynics - that would be me - to suggest that if it ever landed here, our
megacity woes would be finished: one island, one cloud of dust.

The good news, according to Levy, is that the odds of the Montreal asteroid
ever colliding with Earth are about 1 in 100 million.

And even if it did ever veer dangerously close to these parts, Levy
indicates that with sufficient warning of an approach - a few years - the
technology is available to deploy nuclear weapons and alter the asteroid's
orbit away from Earth. What really concerns Levy, though, is the converse.

"It wasn't too long ago when Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto,
suggested that if we can develop the technology to change the orbit of an
asteroid, it's not beyond the realm of possibility for a terrorist
organization to steal that technology and to get an asteroid to hit Earth
deliberately," Levy said in a most ominous tone.


Just something else to keep us awake at night.

Copyright 2002, Montreal Gazette


>From The Age, 13 January 2002

Phew, that was close! When an asteroid 300 metres wide misses Earth by
600,000 kilometres, most people only jokingly speak of a near-miss.
Astronomers, however, take a much more serious view of what happened at
6.37pm on Monday. They warn that Hollywood blockbusters such as Armageddon
and Deep Impact have a basis in discomforting fact: asteroids have
devastated life on Earth in the past, and could do so again. Indeed, not
only cinema, but the biblical book of Revelation presents images of earthly
catastrophe that correspond disturbingly to asteroid impact. Last year, when
Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was asked to look ahead
to 3001, he cautioned that one couldn't simply assume civilisation would
still exist. His main reason was the threat of asteroids and comets.

To contemplate Earth's place in the universe is a humbling experience: our
small planet travels through a cosmic shooting gallery, in which the bullets
can be kilometres across and 10 times as fast. The vast emptiness of space
dramatically improves our chances, but Earth has suffered four major impacts
in the past century, fortunately in uninhabited parts. When a relatively
modest asteroid, 60 metres wide, exploded 10 kilometres above Siberia in
1908, thousands of square kilometres of forest were razed. As recently as
May 1995, Perth residents were jolted awake by a sonic boom. An asteroid,
incongruously likened to a basketball court, had plunged through the
atmosphere before exploding 20 kilometres up. "It nearly got through to
Earth," said a local astronomer. "We like them a bit further out." They have
got through before. In Australia, they left craters such as the 600
million-year-old Lake Acraman, 100 kilometres across, and a similar giant in
the north-west from at least 200 million years ago. The one-kilometre Wolfe
Creek crater is only 300,000 years old.

When nuclear physicist Edward Teller first proposed a tracking system and
missile arsenal to divert asteroids, he was ridiculed. Now for some people
his status as "father of the hydrogen bomb" may not recommend his plan as
rational but, as scientists and historians alike can attest, the world is
sufficiently mysterious that, frequently, what appears absurd later turns
out to be sensible. "Nobody believed Chicken Little when he said that the
sky was falling," the late American scientist Eugene Shoemaker wryly
observed, "but occasionally the sky does fall, and with horrendous effects."

By July 1994, when the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet hit Jupiter, blasting an area
four times the size of Earth, many experts had been persuaded. It is
asteroids bigger than a kilometre across that threaten us with extinction.
Among astronomers, the pessimists say there is a one-in-1000 chance such an
asteroid will hit within 100 years; the optimists say one in 5000. That is
not reason enough to lie awake at night, but should prompt us to take some
action - after all, a one-in-a-million chance of victory is enough to
persuade millions of people to buy lottery tickets. When it comes to being
hit by a big asteroid, the scientific consensus is that in time it will
happen- unless we use technology to defend the planet.

Planning has begun. The US military and NASA have worked together on the
problem for a decade. Europe and Japan have followed the US lead. Russia and
America have even cooperated on schemes to use nuclear missiles against
asteroids. The irony is inescapable: those who were once seen as sowing the
seeds of self-destruction may ensure our preservation. A British call for a
global early-warning system has been backed by the United Nations and OECD.
The biggest gap now is in the southern hemisphere. Since 1996, when the
Howard Government withdrew funding from what was a world-leading tracking
project, no facility has been dedicated to keeping watch from the south.
Australia is, as physicist Paul Davies observes, letting down the world for
the sake of a few million dollars. An Australian, David Steel, a leader in
the field who moved to Britain after 1996, says he would "challenge anyone
to find a project with a better cost-benefit ratio".

NASA has subsidised some Australian programs to further its goal for the
decade of identifying most of the 1000 or so asteroids thought to pose a
threat. But our political leaders have been slow to recognise the risk, or
the damage done to Australian science, which had a global reputation in
asteroid research. The asteroid that went past on Monday was not detected
until last month. US experts estimate we need at least 10 years' warning to
have a realistic chance of diverting an asteroid. At least we have some idea
of what's out there. When a giant asteroid hit what is now the Gulf of
Mexico 65 million years ago, the soon-to-be-extinct dinosaurs never saw it
coming. Arthur C. Clarke quotes a colleague's observation: "The dinosaurs
became extinct because they didn't have a space program." Humans do, and can
use it to avoid the dinosaurs' fate.

Copyright 2002, The Age


>From The Age, 13 January 2002


After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity
that no earlier age could have shown. Such a disaster, it was realised,
might not occur again for a thousand years - but it might occur tomorrow ...
So began Project Spaceguard.

Thus wrote the famous futurist Arthur C. Clarke in his 1973 science fiction
novel Rendezvous With Rama. Clarke was describing the aftermath of the worst
foreseeable ecological catastrophe - impact by an asteroid packing enough
punch to wipe out an entire country.

A few days ago, our planet narrowly escaped just such a fate when a
300-metre-wide chunk of rock hurtled past us on its way around the sun. It
was but one among thousands of rogue asteroids that constantly menace life
on Earth as they flash by. Alarmingly, scientists have very little idea
where most of these objects are, and sooner or later one of them will slam
directly into us, causing massive destruction.

Computer simulations suggest that a one-kilometre rock hitting Earth at 30
kilometres per second would explode with the power of a million-megaton
bomb, blasting a crater 20 kilometres across. Billions of tonnes of rock
would spew forth, some of it crashing down in molten lumps around the globe,
igniting widespread fires.

The blast and seismic shock might devastate millions of square kilometres.
If the object plunged into the ocean, tsunamis looming higher than
skyscrapers would pulverise coastal cities. Vast quantities of dust would
blanket the planet, blotting out the sun for weeks, causing crops to fail on
a huge scale.

Worldwide starvation and economic collapse would follow. The final death
toll from the resulting mayhem is estimated to be upward of one billion.

Admittedly, a cosmic impact of this severity is extremely rare; there is
roughly one chance in a million it will happen in the next month or two. But
a one-in-a-million chance of a billion deaths implies an expectation of
death of a thousand people per month, greater than many familiar disasters
like plane crashes.

Translated into personal terms, you are more likely to be killed by an
asteroid than, say, a bolt of lightning.

When it comes to risk assessment, humans are remarkably irrational. Many
people shrug aside a million-to-one risk. At the same time, the uncontrolled
descent of the Mir space station, in which the threat to human life was
minuscule, was greeted by near hysteria in some quarters.

That asteroids, comets and large meteorites do collide with Earth from time
to time is evident from even a casual survey. At Wolfe Creek in Western
Australia you can see a one kilometre-wide 300,000-year-old impact crater. A
much larger feature, Lake Acraman in South Australia, is the remnant of a
600 million-year-old crater 100 kilometres across.

A collection of 100-metre holes at Henbury, near Alice Springs, has become a
well-known tourist attraction. In all, a couple of dozen impact sites have
been identified in Australia, and many more in other parts of the world.

The solar system is swarming with rocks, most of them rubble remaining from
the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. In the far past,
the bombardment of the planets by this debris was intense. A glance at the
moon reveals a surface pockmarked with ancient impact craters, some of them
enormous. On Earth, these surface scars have been mostly obliterated by
geological processes, but our planet will certainly have taken its share of
punishment over the aeons.

Although the fierce early bombardment abated about 3.8 billion years ago, it
never entirely ceased. Throughout geological history there have been several
episodes of sudden, massive species extinctions, which many scientists now
attribute to colossal impacts. The most severe occurred 250 million years
ago, when 90 per cent of species, including the famous trilobites (extinct
animals), suddenly disappeared, probably from the combined effects of the
impact and the extensive volcanic eruptions it triggered. It also seems
likely that the dinosaurs met their end 65 million years ago in similar
fashion, when a 16-kilometre-wide object struck what is now the Yucatan
Peninsula in Mexico, excavating a crater over 200 kilometres across.

Today, almost all the large asteroids are safely confined to a belt between
Mars and Jupiter. However, smaller bodies cross our orbit all the time,
threatening catastrophe. Part of the problem in quantifying that threat is
that we have only a rough idea how many near-Earth objects are out there. In
astronomical terms a one-kilometre rock is pretty small and inconspicuous.
Most of them could hit us with only a few seconds warning.

Even much smaller rocks still have awesome destructive power, and they are
far more numerous. In 1908, 2000 square kilometres of forest were flattened
when an object the size of an office block came out of the blue and exploded
over the remote Tunguska River area of Siberia. This sort of event can be
expected every few decades. Indeed, a similar explosion is believed to have
taken place in the South American jungle in the 1930s.

Prompted by Clarke's apocalyptic scenario, scientists have proposed Project
Spaceguard to deal with the near-Earth objects threat. It consists of two
distinct stages. First is a systematic search program designed to find as
many near-Earth objects as possible, and compute their orbits. The
observations, to be carried out over many years, should determine when the
next impact will occur. The second stage is to develop the technology needed
to deflect the approaching object from its threatening path.

What can be done about an asteroid coming our way? Blasting it with nuclear
warheads is not a sensible option, for it would serve only to turn a bullet
into buckshot. A better strategy is to alter the orbit. Moving a
billion-tonne rock isn't easy, and nobody is quite sure how to do it, but
one idea is to detonate nuclear bombs in a controlled manner near the
surface, vaporising a layer of material to propel the rock slightly to one
side. Another proposal is to attach a giant sail and let the solar wind blow
the asteroid off course.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the make-up of asteroids. A year ago
the US space agency NASA landed a space probe on Eros, an irregular-shaped
rock 35 kilometres long. Mission scientists concluded that Eros is indeed a
solid object likely to hold together if nudged. But the same probe had
earlier visited a bigger asteroid named Mathilde, which looked more like a
collection of boulders held together only by its own feeble gravity.

Whatever deflection strategy is adopted, the sooner it is done the better. A
tiny change in orbit decades ahead of projected impact will be more
effective than a big push when time is running out. Hence the need for
efficient early warning, which only a comprehensive search program can

Last year, the British Government pledged 35 million ($A96 million) to
planetary defence. Now the United Nations is establishing a taskforce to
review the danger.

Most of the bigger objects could be found and tracked using a global network
of cheap telescopes equipped with some fancy electronics and data analysis.
Already the United States has several research groups dedicated to finding
near-Earth objects this way. Expanding the search over 10 or 20 years and
involving countries such as Australia would deal with the major threat, at
relatively modest cost.

But what to do about the smaller, more frequent, yet still potentially
deadly impacts?

A rock the size of the one that just missed us last week could devastate an
area as large as Tasmania. American scientists have called for a more
ambitious detection system known as the Large-Aperture Synoptic Survey
Telescope, a 6.5-metre instrument costing about $US150 million ($A287
million) and capable of finding 90 per cent of rocks down to 300 metres
across. With such an early warning system, evacuation measures could be
taken in the impact zone. Even deploying all this technology, there will
remain a class of hazardous objects that we can do very little about. These
are comets - loose aggregations of rock and ice that mostly inhabit a realm
far beyond the planets. From time to time one gets diverted into the inner
solar system on an elongated trajectory, whence it sprouts the distinctive

As long ago as the seventeenth century, Edmund Halley warned of the peril of
a comet striking a planet. The awesome consequences were dramatically
evident in July 1994, when the core of comet Shoemaker-Levy 6 broke into
fragments and ploughed into Jupiter, creating a series of titanic fireballs
so big they could be seen through backyard telescopes.

Typically a new comet is spotted only months before it sweeps by. If one
were to have our number on it, there would be far too little time to get out
there and deflect it, even if a way could be found to move such a fragile
object without breaking it into pieces.

Some critics of near-Earth objects research argue that it is a waste of
money tracking down dangerous asteroids when killer comets will still go
undetected, but that's rather like refusing to check the steering on your
car because the brakes might fail. Though we are certainly in the firing
line from comets, our astronomical location is actually rather favourable.
In fact, we have Jupiter to thank for keeping Earth relatively free of
impacts. Its immense gravitational field deflects many incoming comets and
can even fling them right out of the solar system. In effect, this giant
planet acts as a cosmic vacuum cleaner, sucking up or tossing out dangerous
debris before it can penetrate the habitable zone.

In the last few years, dozens of planets have been discovered around other
stars, but so far the configuration of the solar system looks to be unusual,
even unique. If there are other Earths out there, chances are they will be
pounded mercilessly for billions of years, preventing life from establishing
more than a toe-hold.

It would be the supreme irony if on the rare planet that permitted life to
evolve as far as intelligence, the resulting beings were still too stupid to
protect their species from cosmic catastrophe.

Paul Davies is a physicist in the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at
Macquarie University. His latest book is How to Build a Time Machine

Copyright 2002, The Age


>From Irish Independent, 12 January 2002

This week, an asteroid narrowly missed crashing into us. But could it really
happen? JAMES CHAPMAN reports

It appeared without warning, a massive chunk of rock hurtling towards us at
20 miles a second, and missed by an astro-whisker.

The human race, meanwhile, went about its business, oblivious to the danger.

Earth survived a brush with catastrophe this week when a 1,000-foot wide
asteroid capable of wiping out Leinster and plunging a large section of the
globe into a nuclear winter flashed by us, just 370,000 miles away.

To the layman, that may seem like a comfortable enough distance. The moon is
238,857 miles away. But in space terms, be assured it is too close for

Astronomers, who spotted the asteroid less than a month ago, breathed a sigh
of relief as it passed us by without incident.

But they said it served as a dramatic reminder of just how many potentially
devastating fragments there are out in space and how ill-prepared we are to
counter their threat.

If the rock, codenamed 2001 YB5, had been on a direct collision course with
Earth, we would have had only about 25 days to initiate a defence. And so
far no country has developed any form of asteroid shield.

Scientists have calculated that if 2001 YB5 had struck Dublin, everything
within 100 miles would have been devastated and everything within a further
500 miles would have been severely damaged.

If it had landed in the sea, it would have generated a tidal wave strong
enough to swamp coastal cities and submerge much of Ireland.

Clouds of dust and debris hurled into the atmosphere could have caused a
drastic [but short-term, BJP] drop in temperature in the region of the

But while planet Earth got away with it this time, Irish astrophysicist
Professor David Fegan believes we have much to fear from a collision between
our planet and a comet, an asteroid or a smaller meteor at some unknown
point in the future.

"The 1908 impact in Siberia, which is thought to have been an asteroid
exploding several miles overhead, caused phenomenal devastation over an area
of hundreds of kilometres. It was similar to a nuclear attack," said the UCD

That is not surprising given the breathtaking scale of these
space-travelling monsters.

"The Barringer Meteorite Crater at Winslow, California, is 1.2 kilometres
wide and 0.2 kilometres in depth. It is thought that was caused 25,000 years
ago by a meteorite 50 metres wide, which weighed 200,000 tons."

The last important collision in the Earth's solar system was recorded in
1994 by two astronomers Shoemaker and Levy who spotted a comet as it
fragmented in the atmosphere of Jupiter, battering the planet with numerous
huge fragments.

"It was incredibly spectacular. The comet got pulled into Jupiter's massive
gravity," said David Fegan.

Scientists like Fegan and his UCD colleagues realise that like Jupiter, the
Earth will literally drag debris of potential doom down on itself.
Unfortunately, there is no defence for humankind should a large asteroid be
attracted by the Earth's gravitational pull.

"It is very difficult to spot these things. They are not self-luminous. So
you wouldn't really see them until they get really close.

"You can't get rid of them once they meet the Earth's gravity. If the
trajectory is right, we're in real trouble. It would be very difficult for a
nuclear bomb to move off course something of this size."

The asteroid 2001 YB5 was picked up by the NEAT (Near Earth Asteroid
Tracking) survey telescope on Mount Palomar in California on December 12. It
is following an 1,321-day elliptical orbit of the Sun, crossing the orbits
of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. And though it missed us this time, it has
been deemed potentially hazardous and could crash into our planet at some
point in the future.

The only known object that will come nearer to Earth is an asteroid called
1999 AN10, which will pass a few tens of thousands of miles closer to us on
August 7, 2027. However, minor space debris is reaching Earth all the time
and at least some is reckoned to have landed on Ireland. On any clear night,
a "shooting star", the common misnomer for a meteorite, can be seen
streaking across the Irish skies, incinerating in a trail of flame as the
Earth's atmosphere provides a natural defence.

But Professor Fegan said that while "nothing major" is known to have landed
here, pieces of asteroid ranging from the size of a marble to a tennis ball
or bigger have probably got through the atmosphere shield, crashing on
Ireland, but without inflicting any known damage.

Last year, a task force of scientists set up by the British government
concluded that an asteroid strike on Earth, presented in chilling style by
Hollywood in films like Armageddon and Deep Impact, is a possibility.

A 15 million super telescope to monitor the thousands of rocks hurtling
through space would be just a first step towards protecting the future of
mankind, they said.

On New Year's Day, British Science Minister Lord Sainsbury announced the
setting up of a new nerve centre to mastermind the operation.

The centre will work with the Natural History Museum in London and a
consortium involving the University of Leicester; Queens University in
Belfast; Queen Mary College, London; and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

There are believed to be more than 900 asteroids even larger than 2001 YB5
two-thirds of a mile or wider in diameter with orbits that bring them
dangerously close to Earth.

All are large enough to wreak worldwide devastation in the event of impact.
Scientists say there is a real chance that one of them could arrive with the
power of millions of Hiroshima atomic bombs, which would be the most
destructive since an asteroid measuring seven miles across wiped out the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Copyright Unison

>From Andrew Yee <>

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
PO Box 25046, MS 150
Denver, CO 80225

Heidi Koehler Koontz, 303-236-5446

Release: January 4, 2002

Normal Seismic Activity During 2001, But Heavy Toll in Human Losses

The year 2001 was a typical year based on historical seismic activity,
producing 65 significant earthquakes worldwide and causing 21,436 fatalities
according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Significant earthquakes are those of magnitude 6.5 or greater or those that
cause fatalities, injuries or substantial damage. During a typical year, 18
major temblors (magnitude 7.0 to 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or
higher) occur worldwide.

"Dense urban populations coupled with weak building structures near the
epicenters are responsible for most of the fatalities, in any year," said
Waverly Person, Director of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center
in Golden, Colo.

The largest earthquake in 2001 was a magnitude 8.4 event off the coast of
Peru on June 23. It caused more than 100 deaths, but the impact of such a
large earthquake was reduced because of its offshore location.

The most memorable event for the contiguous United States occurred in the
Seattle-Tacoma area on February 28, when a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck
the northwest population center. No deaths were directly attributed to the
earthquake, but over 400 people were injured. Damages were estimated to be
about $1.5 billion and 24 counties were declared eligible for federal
disaster assistance. The damage, though considerable, was far less than it
would have been in many cities of the world, in part because of aggressive
earthquake damage mitigation programs carried out at the State, county, and
local levels in the Pacific Northwest.

Last year's deadliest earthquake, a magnitude 7.7 event in northwestern
India, caused the majority of the world's fatalities. 20,103 people were
killed when the quake hit on January 26. This earthquake occurred in a
region where strong earthquakes are rare, so buildings were not
designed to withstand earthquakes. Most of the fatalities resulted from
people caught in collapsing buildings.

The small country of El Salvador suffered two devastating earthquakes in one
month. On January 13, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake caused more than 5,000
deaths and injuries and destroyed more than 250,000 homes. One month later,
on February 13, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake killed or injured more than 3,500
people and damaged or destroyed an additional 55,000 homes.

The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each
year, but many go undetected because they occur remote areas or have very
small magnitudes. The USGS now locates about 50 earthquakes each day; 20,000
a year. Real-time earthquake information can be found
at . In addition, people who experience an earthquake
can go online at and report an earthquake at Did
You Feel It? to share information about its effects and help create a map of
shaking intensities and damage.

The USGS is working to improve its earthquake monitoring and reporting
capabilities through the Advanced National Seismic System. In 2001 a total
of 110 new earthquake monitoring instruments were installed in the San
Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Anchorage, Reno, and Memphis areas. This
system will provide emergency response personnel with real-time (within 3-5
minutes of an event) "shaking" information and provide engineers with
information about how buildings "reacted."

The USGS serves the nation by providing impartial scientific information to
describe and understand the Earth, its resources and processes; minimize
loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological,
energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.


>From Reiner M. Stoss <>

Dear minor planet and comet observers!

Our community of observers, orbit computers and all the other people
involved, are working close together by using today's communication
technology, like email and WWW. Nevertheless, meetings and conferences,
where one can put faces to the names known for many years, did play an
important role in the past and will do so hopefully in the future too.

Discussions face to face, exchange of ideas and of course the social aspect
are best experienced at such an event. For this purpose the "Meeting on Asteroids and Comets in
Europe", MACE 2002, has been planned.

MACE 2002 will be held at the Visnjan Observatory in Croatia on the weekend
of May 17-19, 2002.

Situated on the Istra peninsula at the Adriatic Sea, this location will
provide also a good opportunity for "non-scientific" activities, which are
planned in addition to the scientific programme. Meeting language will be

Thank you very much for your attention and see you in Visnjan.

Yours sincerely,
Korado Korlevic
on behalf of the SOC and LOC

Please send your answer to this address:

First name:
Last name:
Comments and suggestions:
I will participate (yes/maybe/no):


>From Juergen Rendtel <>
as posted on

Hello everybody,

First of all, I wish you all the best for 2002.

Right at the beginning of the year, I would like to let you know that the
IMO Council has decided that the IMC 2002 will be organized by the Polish
Comets and Meteors Workshop (CMW). Further information will be given in the
next WGN issue as well as on the IMO's web pages soon. Attached find a text
prepared by Mariusz Wisniewski, Arkadiusz Olech, Marcin Gajos, Kamil
Zloczewski and Aleksander Trofimowicz of the CMW.


Juergen Rendtel
IMO President

The 2002 International Meteor Conference
Frombork, September 26-29, 2002

We have a great pleasure to invite you to Frombork - the city of Nicolaus
Copernicus. The place for the IMC 2002 was not chosen accidentally. Frombork
is the beautiful small town placed near the Vistula Bay with a nice view on
the Vistula Sand-bar. The most important part of the town is the Cathedral
Hill with many historical monuments including the Gothic cathedral, the
Copernicus tower, where the great astronomer was making his observations,
the Radziejowski tower with astronomical planetarium and 28-meter Foucault
pendulum inside.

Other interesting places are Saint Ann Chapel with natural medicine
exhibition, XIV century Water Tower, nice main city square and couple of
historical canonry buildings.

Frombork is a typical touristic place with many small coffee bars and
romantic restaurants. There is also the fishing port and the pier where,
each morning, you can buy a fresh fish. During the touristic season there is
a possibility to sail to Krynica Morska a town placed at the
Vistula Sand-bar just near the open sea and spend free time at the nice
sandy beach.

Frombork is surrounded by village landscape with small areas of wild forests
and full of natural beauty estuary of Ba{\l}da river. There is an amateur
astronomical observatory at \.Zurawia Hill about 1.5 kilometer on the south
of Frombork.

However we will provide the bus transport from Gda'nsk to Frombork we
encourage all participants to have a train trip from Frombork to Elblag. It
allows you to admire the great landscapes of the Vistula Bay coast which are
sometimes within few meters from the railroad. Other
very interesting trip for people who plan to stay longer is an excursion to
Malbork - the biggest mid age castle in the world or visiting Gda'nsk and
its famous old town.

The 2002 IMC will take place in days September 26-29 and it will be
organized by the Polish {\sl Comets and Meteors Workshop (CMW)}. The {CMW}
is an astronomical organization founded in 1987. Its main goal is to
coordinate the comet and meteor observations in Poland. Since 1994
the {CMW} is one of the most active group of visual observers in the world.

The detailed information about getting to Frombork, the IMC hotel, the
reduced fees and other important things are available at our Web Pages:

If you have any problems, questions, suggestions or requirements do not
hesitate to contact Mariusz Wi\'sniewski, ul. Afrykanska 10, 03-966
Warszawa, Poland, e-mail:, phone: +48-22-672-38-81,
mobile phone: +48-607-49-13-09

Mariusz Wi\'sniewski, Arkadiusz Olech, Marcin Gajos,
Kamil Z{\l}oczewski and Aleksander Trofimowicz

Juergen Rendtel                          Astrophysical Institute Potsdam                                      Telegrafenberg A 27
Phone: (+49) 331 - 288 2327 (office)              14473 Potsdam, Germany
       (+49) 331 - 7499 356 (office)
Fax:   (+49) 331 - 288 2310

       International Meteor Organization
Phone: (+49) 33208 - 50753  (priv.)   Seestr.6, 14476 Marquardt, Germany


>From Anna McGuire <anna.mcguire@UCL.AC.UK >

Conference: Risk and Disaster: Aviation Security,Safety and Terrorism
At: University College London (UCL)
On: Saturday 23rd February 2002
Hosted by:The Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre (BGHRC) and The
Institute of Civil Defence and Disaster Studies (ICDDS)

Rising trends in aviation fatalities. Year 1999 recorded 730 fatalities.
Year 2000 recorded 1,126 fatalities. What do you expect from 2001 and
beyond?How should Airlines and Airports respond?  Who is responsible?  Is
terrorist risk manageable?

Top Risk and Disaster specialists discuss fundamental issues of aviation
security,safety and terrorism.

Target audience:
Those wanting to learn more and contribute to the serious discussion between
leading experts on risk and disaster management in the face of growing
threat and fear of terrorism:
Risk Managers * Disaster Managers * Crisis Managers * Emergency Managers and
Responders * Security Managers,* Safety Managers,,* Insurers * Engineers *
Psychologists * Sociologists * Political Scientists * Economists * Hazard

Speakers include:
Keynote Presentations: John Adams,UCL -"Understanding Risk ";
Dr Jim Broderick,Scarman Centre,University of Leicester -Building
Resilience:Problems in countering terrorist threat
Security: Capt.Peter Griffiths,Security Manager,Go Fly Limited -9-11 - The
warfare of business; Chris Needham-Bennett,Consultant -Airport Crisis Management
Safety: Dr Simon Bennett,Scarman Centre,University of Leicester -Aviation
Safety:Through the Looking Glass of Distortion -risk perceptions post 9-11
Terrorism: Mark Harris,Control Risks Group -Crisis Management Plan is not
enough -post 9-11; Allan Wood (Managing Director)and Jean Williams (Deputy Managing
Director),Kenyons International -Crisis Management

Delegate fee: 200 Business Representatives /85 Academics,NGO workers and
Members of BGHRC & ICDDS.(Early registration deadline 1st February
-15%surcharge payable on all registrations &fees received after 1st
February).Registrations by cheque to "University College
London ".  Fee includes conference pack,tea and coffee,buffet lunch.
Cancellations after 10th February are non-refundable.

For all queries contact: Anna McGuire at BGHRC - email:



>From Jon Giorgini <>

Hermann Burchard wrote:
>Incidentally, was any radar observation done to refine the orbit of 2001

No radar observations of 2001 YB5 were conducted due to scheduling and
staffing issues.   <>

Jon Giorgini                       |  Navigation & Mission Design Section
Senior Engineer                    |  Solar System Dynamics Group          |  Jet Propulsion Laboratory


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

Nigel Holloway points out that my website and paper refer to a range of
estimates of tsunami heights from ocean impacts. There is uncertainty about
tsunami from asteroid impacts but I would not agree that the worst case
should be used in assessing the risk. This could diminish the
credibility of the risk assessment.

Since writing the paper for the Science of Tsunami Hazards, I have been
involved in an informal (but very informative) email debate between Charles
Mader, David Crawford, Erik Asphaug and Steve Ward. The main reason for the
order of magnitude difference in tsunami height seems to be the
manner in which the transient water cavity collapses. This has a crucial
effect on whether the resulting waves are coherent or disperse when
travelling across an ocean. The debate was not fully resolved, partly
because (fortunately) there are no recent examples of mega-tsunami from
asteroid impacts. However, as an amateur observer, I lean towards the work
of Crawford and Mader.

Supporting this is a recent STH paper by Hills and Goda where they note
"dispersion may greatly reduce the effectiveness of the smaller [sub
kilometre] impactors at large distances from the impact point". The authors
appear to be backing away from their initial claims, made in the
early 1990s such as "an impact anywhere in the Atlantic by an asteroid 400m
in diameter would devastate the coasts on both sides of the ocean by tsunami
over 40 metres high".

I have included an extract from the recent (2001) Hills and Goda paper
below. Note they do not attempt to quantify the effects of dispersion (but
consider it "may significantly reduce the tsunami height at a large
distance"). Crawford and Mader's work indicates that, at 1000km and
beyond, dispersion would reduce the wave size to less than one fifth of the
non-dispersive model. Applying this to Hills and Goda's latest
(non-dispersive) estimate of a 3m deepwater wave at the US and European
coasts then the dispersed deepwater wave height would be no more than 0.6m
at these coasts. Applying a run-up factor of 5, the predicted tsunami run-up
height at the shore is 3m. This would be a nuisance (except perhaps for The
Netherlands and London!), but is a lot less devastating than a 40m monster.

It will be interesting to see the results of further Los Alamos work on this
subject, as foreshadowed in the Hills and Goda paper.

Michael Paine


Jack G. Hills and M. Patrick Goda
Science of Tsunami Hazards, Vol 19, NO. 1 (2001) page 55

Tsunami may produce most of the economic damage in large asteroid impacts.
The dust from large asteroid impacts would produce worldwide darkness
lasting several months that may kill more people by mass starvation,
especially in developing countries, than will tsunami, but the dust
should not severely affect economic infrastructure. The tsunami may even
kill more people in developed countries with large coastal populations, such
as the United States, than the starvation resulting from the darkness. At
Los Alamos we are in the middle of a systematic study of asteroid tsunami.
The study is divided into three parts: A determination of those regions of
Earth that are most susceptible to asteroid tsunami by simulating the effect
of an asteroid impact into mid-ocean, the simulation of the formation of the
initial crater and the waves generated by it by use of a SPH code, and a
Monte Carlo study of the accumulative effect of many small impactors on some
of the more strategically valuable regions that we find to be particularly
vulnerable in the first part of this study.

The first part of the study is well underway. Progress has been made on the
other two. The critical factor in the third part of the study is to
accurately determine the dispersion in the waves produced by the smaller
impactors. Dispersion may greatly reduce the effectiveness of the smaller
impactors at large distances from the impact point. We wish to understand
this effect thoroughly before performing the Monte Carlo study. We have
modeled the effect of mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific impacts with craters 300
and 150 km in diameter. The larger of these craters would be produced by a
KT-size impactor. The code has been progressively improved to eliminate
problems at the domain boundaries, so it now runs until the tsunami
inundation is finished. We find that tsunami generated by a large
mid-Atlantic impactor will travel to the Appalachian mountains in the
Eastern USA. We find that the larger of these two mid-Atlantic impacts would
engulf the entire Florida Peninsula. The smaller one would inundate the
eastern third of the peninsula while a tsunami passing through the Gulf of
Cuba would inundate the west coast of Florida. Impacts at three different
sites in the Pacific show the great vulnerability of Tokyo and its
surroundings to asteroid tsunami.


Asteroid and comet impacts cause a variety of damage: blastwaves, fires,
craters and earthquakes on land and tsunami at sea (Hills and Goda 1993,
hereafter referred to as HG, and Hills and Goda 1998a). If the impactor is
more than 1 km in diameter, it ejects enough dust above the atmosphere to
produce global darkening. Global darkening over a period of months could
cause mass starvation in developing countries. The work of HG showed that
tsunami is the most significant form of damage for objects smaller than this
threshold for global darkening. HG studied the fragmentation and energy
dispersal of asteroids in the atmosphere and found the fraction of their
kinetic energy that remained when they hit ground. They found that common
stony asteroids 200 meters in diameter and larger impact ground with most of
their pre-atmospheric entry energy, which makes them very effective in
producing tsunami. Asteroids of this size hit Earth about every 3000 to 5000
years, so the probability of one impacting in a given human lifetime is
about 2-3%. HG used this data on asteroid impact energies and the data on
tsunami generated by nuclear explosives (Glasstone and Dolan 1977) to
estimate the tsunami height from asteroid impacts. Fig. 1 (from HG) shows
the resulting full height of tsunami in deepwater (before they hit land) at
1000 miles from the impact point as a function of asteroid radius and impact
velocity. (Heights above sea level are half these values.) We note that
asteroid tsunami are not important unless the impactor has a radius of about
100 meters (diameter 200 meters).

In the absence of wave dispersion, even an asteroid 200 meters in diameter
impacting in mid Atlantic would produce tsunami several meters high on
either side of the ocean. We see that an asteroid 400 meters in diameter
produces waves more than 10 meters above sea level at 1000 km
from the impact point. In the absence of wave dispersion an object this size
falling in the mid-Atlantic would produce tsunami more than 3 meters high
before they come ashore in North America and Europe as the heights drop off
inversely with distance from the impact point. This height would rise
several fold as it comes ashore. Dispersion would reduce the heights of
these waves, but Fig. 1 shows the potential seriousness of these waves. The
smaller the asteroid, the smaller the crater it produces, and the shorter
the wave-length of the tsunami. At short enough wavelengths, wave dispersion
may significantly reduce the tsunami height at a large distance (many
wavelengths) from the impact point. To calculate the effect of wave
dispersion on tsunami height will require solution of the Navier-Stokes
equation in modeling the propagation from the impact point to the shore.
Dispersion is expected to be important if the wave propagation distance is
several thousand kilometers.

At Los Alamos we are in the middle of a systematic study of tsunami
generated by asteroid impacts. In the first part of this study we are
finding the shorelines around the Earth that are most vulnerable to asteroid
tsunami by using models in which a large crater is put in the middle of the
ocean. These craters are large enough that the wavelength of the disturbance
produced by the crater refill and its subsequent rebound is comparable to
that of long-period tsunami generated by earthquakes, so we are confident
that they can travel across an ocean basin without significant dispersion.
In the second part of the study we are using a smooth-particle hydrodynamics
(SPH) code to study the initial formation of the crater to find the size of
the asteroid required to produce a given crater size. Thirdly, we are
studying wave dispersion to better model how it reduces the wave heights in
the shorter wavelength disturbances produced by smaller impactors. This is
needed to allow us to study the accumulated effect of the numerous smaller
impactors on strategic shorelines.


>From S. Fred Singer <>

Dear Benny

Charles Cockell (CCNet 11 Jan 2002) makes an interesting point in comparing
possible extinction effects of supernovae with the Antarctic Ozone Hole

It's true that there is, say, 60% ozone depletion, but its duration is short
(as he points out).  Also, the Sun angle is low so that the increase in
surface UV-B may not be all that important.

A few years ago, I published a paper at a NASA/GSFC conference suggesting we
look at the human and ecological consequences of high UV levels during the
Maunder minimum when solar ozone production was low.  This matter should
probably be revisited in light of more recent knowledge.

Best wishes to all for 2002!



>From Alastair McBeath <>

Dear Benny,

Goran Johansson's notes in CCNet 4/2002 (7 January 2002) caught my eye. My
knowledge of the Chinese sources is too rudimentary for me to sensibly
comment on those, but I rather thought we'd pretty much covered all the
necessary ground re Psalm 18/Samuel 2:22 before Goran's December 10 message.
To recap, neither biblical text can be properly dated (the surviving forms
perhaps to some time or times between c.600 to c.1100 BC), and indeed parts
of one are usually used modernly to reconstruct the other, because of the
fragmentary state of the surviving Hebrew and
Greek manuscripts (a particular problem for both Books of Samuel, some of
the worst-preserved Old Testament texts). The text uses poetic language and
imagery typical of praise hymns and other mythological descriptions of the
god Yahweh and his agents throughout the Old Testament. These descriptions
require considerable reinterpretation to fit them into a
cometary/meteoric/meteoritic template. Overall, they cannot be seen as
supporting any specific event, let alone a particular meteoritic, etc., one.

Regarding the Mesopotamian omina, Hermann Hunger's 1992 cited text
("Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings", Helsinki) covers only one
specific type of letter-like messages concerning the portents believed shown
by events chiefly in the sky, virtually all of which date from the
7th century BC. However, these draw on, and commonly directly copy from, the
vast corpus of pre-existing omen lore, the largest collection of which is
the "Enuma Anu Enlil" compendium compiled in the first millennium BC from
earlier texts which can be traced to Old Babylonian times (perhaps as early
as c.1900 BC). The origins of such omen-lore have been suggested as in the
mid third millennium BC (according to one interpretation of three lunar
eclipse omens, though this is disputed). For details and bibliography on the
translations and studies of Mesopotamian omina see part I of "Astral
Sciences in Mesopotamia" (Hermann Hunger and David Pingree, Brill, Leiden,
1999), though most unfortunately this omits the only reference dealing
exclusively with meteor/meteorite/possible comet omens: Judith K Bjorkman,
"Meteors and Meteorites in the Ancient Near East", Meteoritics vol. 8, 1973, pp. 89-130.

In examining any ancient Mesopotamian texts it is essential to understand
the problems there may be in translation. It is also vital to appreciate the
often fragmentary nature of the texts. It is best to try to quote entire
lines from the tablets, including the various conventions to show
interpolated words not found in the original, missing parts, uncertain terms
or phrasings and so forth, or at least to comment on where these potential
pitfalls occur, and to cite where on the tablet the quoted lines occur. With
omen texts, where most are of the form protasis-apodosis (i.e. "If event x
happens, then y will follow"), which effectively forms a two-column
structure on the tablet (which itself may contain more than one column of
omens), it often happens that most of one or other half will be missing due
to physical damage to one edge of the clay tablet.

Omens even on neighbouring lines of the same tablet may have no direct
connection with one another, though sometimes there may be a loose linking
theme. A list of related omens covering a variety of possibilities for
similar events may be given too, and some omens can be more elaborate,
detailing a series of possible events. It seems very plausible that some of
these omens at least may refer to once-witnessed events, which may have had
the described occurrence follow, or become associated with, them. The lists
of variant omens on the same theme, which may not always be physically
possible (such as eclipse omens set for times away from new or full Moon),
indicate that some of these were simply invented for completeness. The
ancient Mesopotamians had a long history of being great lexicographers, with
lists of just about every conceivable thing or concept forming an entire
area of modern Assyriological study, for instance.

Regrettably, I haven't a copy of the cited tablet 303 from Hunger's 1992
text to hand, though one of the two quoted protases, "If a star flares up
and sets like a torch from west to east...", is of a very typical form for
meteor omens generally (cf. Bjorkman), and cannot be regarded as unduly
notable. For the other ("If the moon wears a crown..."), it would be
essential to check the transliteration, since the word translated as "crown"
might refer to a corona (i.e. a small coloured disc) or a halo (i.e. a
larger coloured or white ring) around the Moon in thin clouds, but it is
more likely it simply refers to the crescent Moon's horns (which are
commonly referred to in omens), as Mesopotamian crowns, especially those of
deities, bore groups of cattle-like horns from at least Akkadian (c. mid 3rd
millennium BC) times onwards. It is implausible a comet is referred to in
this case, though the appearance of the horned crown worn by deities in
Mesopotamian art has been suggested as being comet-like. There is no
supporting textual evidence for such an interpretation however.

I'm not sure which long-reigning 10th century BC king Goran may refer to.
The Assyrian king Ashur-rabi II reigned for c.40 years between -1011/0 to
-971/0, while Tiglath-pileser II reigned for c.31 years from -965/4 to
-934/3 (dates according to Hunger and Pingree, though there are slight
discrepancies with other sources checked, and are based on the astronomical
dating of king Ammi-saduqa I to -1701/0), and Hunger's 1992 text is dealing
specifically with Reports to Assyrian (not Babylonian) kings. In Babylonia,
we have only Nabu-mukin-apli with a suitable reign-length, who was king for
c.35 years from 977-942 BC (strangely, Hunger and Pingree show a hiatus in
Babylonian kings from -1025/4 to -746/5; there is a genuine hiatus in known
king names only between c.942/1 to c.900 BC elsewhere). Even if the text
does refer to one of these 10th century rulers, that is no guarantee the 7th
century Report can be linked to him, except perhaps in the sense of a quote.
This gives no useful dating evidence certainly, and as regards the
significance of the two quoted partial omens, a greater familiarity with
Mesopotamian omen-lore generally will show them as being of quite
unremarkable nature.

Alastair McBeath


>From Duncan Steel <>

Dear Benny,

Please could I add my sentiments to those expressed by Tom Gehrels in CCNet
(11 January 2002), who suggests that interested parties might contact the
Prime Minister of Canada to ask for a reversal of the decision to halt the
extremely productive NEO observation programme of Dave Balam (and Jeremy
Tatum). They need our backing to remedy this oversight.

In fact, the time is very opportune for some governmental lobbying on a
wider scale. The United Kingdom has prepared a document for the OECD Global
Science Forum meeting to be held later this month, proposing the
establishment of an international programme of NEO studies. What is needed
is that each member nation of the OECD be given a clear signal that there is
a widespread desire that this go ahead. That signal should come not only
from NEO experts, but  also the wider public who have become familiar with
the impact hazard through media reports and the like.

The international Spaceguard programme is an example of a global space
project to which even small countries could make a vital contribution. Many
such countries are not members of the OECD, but they are members of the
United Nations. For more than a decade the UN has sponsored annual meetings
under the heading "Basic Space Sciences for Developing Nations", with NEOs
on the agenda. For example, Tom Gehrels and myself attended the meeting held
in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 1996, and put forward a motion calling for
all participant nations to consider what they could do to assist the
tackling of the NEO impact hazard. These meetings have been expertly
organised by Hans Haubold (UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Vienna), who
spoke about UN activities pertaining to NEOs at the Royal Astronomical
Society meeting four weeks ago, as discussed in CCNet passim.

Often the question comes up on CCNet of what an interested person can
contribute to Spaceguard, given that they are not an astronomer or scientist
of any description, but "just" someone who feels that the aims of Spaceguard
are important. One answer is: lobby governments. Not only your own, but
others around the world. Despatch email messages to them, saying that you
think this is important. Don't just do it yourself, get all your friends and
relatives to do it too. Write long, write short, but be persistent, and
don't accept glib replies that try to fob you off: write again.

What would be very useful, if there is an enthusiast out there, is a list of
email address for as many prime ministers, presidents, science and defence
ministers as can possibly be compiled. That way we can really get some
powerful signals through to the people who make decisions.

Kind regards,

Duncan Steel


>From David Johnson <>
To: Prime Minister/Premier ministre <>

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

My note to you is in regards to the termination of your Spaceguard Program.
This program is one that we have been attempting to get going worldwide. Its
more than just about a bunch of  scientist looking to play with large toys
as they say here in the U.S. It's about the Survival of our Species, and the
future of Humanity, for without these eyes on the sky, looking for Asteroids
and Comets, on a scale originally proposed by the Spaceguard Workshop, 1992
(NASA), the fate of our civilization is already ordained. I would humbly
ask, that you reconsider this decision, as it costs little, yet means so
much. Sometimes the larger picture is lost, when other concerns are

Thank You, and Regards,  
Dr. David Johnson ---


>From Prime Minister/Premier ministre <>
To: <>
Cc: Brian Tobin <>
Date: 1/11/02 2:56:38 PM
Subject: Canada Spaceguard Program

Dear Dr. Johnson:
On behalf of the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, I would like to thank you
for your e-mail, in which you raised an issue which falls within the
portfolio of the Honourable Brian Tobin, Minister of Industry. The Prime
Minister always appreciates receiving correspondence on subjects of
importance to Canadians.
Please be assured that the statements you made have been carefully reviewed.
I have taken the liberty of forwarding your e-mail to Minister Tobin so that
he too may be made aware of your comments. I am certain that the Minister
will give your views every consideration.
T. Robbins
Executive Correspondence Officer


>From The Mirror, 12 January 2002

By Victor Lewis-Smith

AS a child, I developed many novel theories about the existence of God. At
first, I thought He might be the local paraplegic, because I'd heard that
God moves in a mysterious way.

Then I decided He was probably something nobody ever expected, like an
ashtray somewhere in Frinton-on-Sea, and that natural disasters occurred
whenever the unsuspecting owner stubbed out a cigarette on the Deity's
ceramic bonce, thereby provoking His ire.

But it was the onset of adolescence and sexual awareness which finally
convinced me that, if God exists, then He must have trained as a civil
engineer. Who else, after all, would design a recreational centre with a
sewer running through the middle of it?

Like most people, I also used to wonder if God was planning the End Of The
World during my lifetime. And this week, the papers were suggesting He well
might be, because the Earth almost underwent the natural disaster of all
time when it was very nearly hit by an asteroid.

On closer investigation, it seems the asteroid missed us by half a million
miles, but why spoil a good story? If only the Earth had been in a different
place, disaster would indeed have occurred. But it wasn't, so it didn't.

Why is it that we all love the thought that we narrowly missed "an
appointment with death"? Why does nothing makes us feel more alive than the
sensation that we oh-so-nearly died?

I suspect that, beneath the sympathetic cries of "there but for the grace of
God" that everyone utters when they see a wrecked train on the six o'clock
news, we're all feeling smug that we weren't on board and patting ourselves
on the back for outwitting the Grim Reaper. Except me. I'm always too busy
wondering why the "in case of emergency break glass" hammer on trains is
itself kept behind a piece of tough glass (which you'd need a hammer to

But I must confess that recent shots of the Selby train crash did send
shivers down my spine. Why? Because that could so easily have been me. You
see, I was on a train less than five minutes before the collision occurred
(though admittedly mine was going from Oxford to Paddington), and my life's
been full of such desperately close shaves.

I missed the Moorgate tube disaster by a mere 23 years, four months and six
days, and I would have been on the Titanic's fateful voyage, if only I'd
been alive 90 years ago and had bought a ticket. It certainly makes you
think about the fragility of existence doesn't it?
Copyright 2002, The Mirror 

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