CCNet 13/2003 -  8 February 2003

"Despite the significant technical capability of national security
systems to observe asteroids, they are currently hamstrung in their
ability to be marshaled in support of an emergency warning or crisis
reaction response."
--Randall Correll, George C. Marshall Institute, 5 February 2003

"It's a lottery that no one wants to win, since everyone will lose -
it's also the one that the earth plays each day, as it rolls like a
roulette ball around the sun. Someday zero, a devastating hit by a near
earth object (NEO) - an asteroid or comet - will come up."
--The Washington Times, 8 February 2003

    George C. Marshall Institute, 5 February 2003

    The Washington Times, 8 February 2003

    Robert Juhl <>

    The Guardian, 6 February 2003

    Nature, 6 February 2003

    Jonathan Tate <>

    Michael Paine <>

    Daniel Fischer <>

    Space Daily, 6 February 2003

    LA Weekly, 7 February 2003


>From George C. Marshall Institute, 5 February 2003

Press Release, 5 February 2003
Contact: Mark Herlong (202.296.9655)

Speaking at the George Marshall Institute's Washington Roundtable on
Science and Public Policy on February 4, 2003, Dr. Randall Correll
called for greater awareness of the risks associated with small asteroid
detonation in Earth's atmosphere and urged a high-level dialogue to
discuss the potential to relax limits presently placed on the release of
data from classified defense satellites.

Every year about 30 asteroids enter Earth's atmosphere and explode,
releasing as much energy as the Hiroshima A-bomb. Such an event occurred
in June 2002 when an asteroid entered the atmosphere and detonated over
the Mediterranean.

"While it is important not to overly sensationalize the issue, an
asteroid impact, when combined with the potential for miscalculation and
misperception by nations lacking sophisticated observation systems,
could be mistaken for a missile strike and precipitate a nuclear
conflict," said Jeff Kueter, the Marshall Institute's Executive

The United States has technology to differentiate between missile
attacks, nuclear detonations and asteroid explosions, but many less
advanced nations do not.

While the U.S. has the capacity to distinguish between nuclear
explosions and asteroid impacts, it lacks the systems, procedures, and
resources to disseminate this information in a timely manner.

"The United States has operational systems capable of distinguishing
between nuclear detonations and asteroid impacts, but at the present
time, there is no procedure for processing the data from these systems
in a routine manner," Dr. Correll said.

"Despite the significant technical capability of national security
systems to observe asteroids, they are currently hamstrung in their
ability to be marshaled in support of an emergency warning or crisis
reaction response," Correll continued.

Correll argued that it is "technically feasible to extract data on
natural phenomena from the classified mission data, essentially
processing both streams in parallel," at reasonable cost and preserving
national security interests. Civilian leaders at the Defense Department,
the Administration, and the Congress need only to make the policy
decision to allow it to happen and commit the resources necessary to
accomplish the task.

Dr. Randall R. Correll is a currently a national security consultant
with Science Applications International Company in Mclean, Virginia. He
served in the United States Air Force in a wide variety of research,
development and space assignments. This included a tour of duty engaged
in nuclear treaty monitoring operations. He earned his PhD in physics
from the University of Texas and has published scientific and technical
papers in gravitational physics, meteor sciences and remote sensing

The George Marshall Institute (GMI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit
organization founded in 1984 to encourage the use of sound science in
making public policy.

Decisions and conclusions about many public policy matters are shaped by
advances in science and technology. For that reason, unbiased and
scientifically accurate assessments of the significance of these
advances for policy are critical.


>From The Washington Times, 8 February 2003

It's a lottery that no one wants to win, since everyone will lose - it's
also the one that the earth plays each day, as it rolls like a roulette
ball around the sun. Someday zero, a devastating hit by a near earth
object (NEO) - an asteroid or comet - will come up.

There are basically three types of threats from such objects, based on
their size. Large objects (greater than 1 kilometer in size - 1
kilometer is roughly 1/2 mile) have the potential to wipe out
civilization. Thanks to its Spaceguard Survey, NASA has been cataloguing
those objects (it's estimated that there are between 900 and 1,230 of
them), and should have more than 90 percent of them identified by 2008.

Midsized NEOs, about 150 meters in size, are large enough to penetrate
the atmosphere, and so could wipe out cities or states. There are
thought to be about 25,000 such objects, about 250 of which are thought
to be potentially hazardous.

Only about 300 of those NEOs have been catalogued. The smallest
threatening NEOs, less than 10 meters in size, pose a different threat.
Instead of penetrating through the atmosphere, they explode in it with
nuclear-weapon sized detonations.

That happens about 30 times a year, according to Randall R. Correll, who
addressed the national security implications posed by NEOs at a seminar
hosted this week by the George Marshall Institute. It's an area of
increasing concern, considering the growing number of nuclear powers.
Last June, for instance, a Hiroshima-sized NEO explosion over the
Mediterranean might have triggered a war had it hit over Kashmir.

Defense Department satellites detected that and other explosions. Mr.
Correll pointed out that, while the DOD can distinguish between natural
NEO explosions and nuclear war shots, it does not have procedures for
processing that information or presenting it in a timely manner to
interested parties, whether scientists or nuclear powers engaged in a
standoff. Mr. Correll suggested that the DOD, or at least its civilian
leaders, look into ways in which such information can be shared without
compromising classified mission data.

It is understandable that the DOD is reluctant to share any information
that could compromise its spy satellites. There's a constant tension
between scientific openness and national security. However, midpoints
can, and should, be sought, especially since preventing unnecessary
nuclear wars would seem to be in the best interests of the DOD.

Also, policymakers should seriously consider a program to catalogue
midsized NEOs. While the last thing that either the DOD or NASA needs is
another worry, the threat posed by NEOs will only grow greater with

Copyright 2003, Washington Times


>From Robert Juhl <>

Dear Dr. Peiser:

A large meteor was visible in western Japan (the Osaka-Kyoto region) the
night of Thursday, Feb. 6. The following article is from the English
version of the Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan's major dailies. The
article, which I've posted below, is available at

Best regards,

Robert Juhl, Ph.D., Fujisawa, Japan

Great balls of fire, is that a UFO? 

Observatories throughout western Japan [the Osaka-Kyoto region] were
swamped overnight with calls from people claiming to have spotted a UFO,
the Mainichi learned Friday. 

Dozens witnessed the phenomenon at around 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, and
though what they saw may have shook their nerves, there was little need
for them to rattle their brains as it appears to have been great balls
of fire caused by a falling meteor or comet. 

Moving from west to east across the sky, the initial fireball split into
three before disappearing. 

"It was white at first and then turned yellow. It was like watching the
headlights of a truck from a long distance. I thought it must have been
a meteor, but I was shocked as I'd never experienced anything like this
before," said Yoshitaka Hazenoki, a member of the board of education in
the Wakayama Prefecture city of Arita. 

Shinya Narusawa of the Nishi Harima Observatory in Hyogo Prefecture's
Sayo told of receiving many reports about the phenomenon. 

"We've received information of sightings in Tanegashima (Nagasaki
Prefecture)," he said. "For the moment, we think it was a meteor that
dropped into the Pacific Ocean." 

Observatories around Fukuoka also reported seeing the flaming balls of
fire streaming through the sky. Fukuoka Observatory officials said the
fireballs were either a meteor or comet. 

Reports from Kitakyushu of a bright red light with a tail traveling
across the sky in an easterly direction over Kitakyushu were also
forwarded to the Mainichi. (Mainichi Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2003) 


>From The Guardian, 6 February 2003,12450,889308,00.html

A metallic asteroid may have coincided with the fall of Rome,
says Duncan Steel

In the early fifth century, rampaging Goths swept through Italy.
Inviolate for 1,100 years, Rome was sacked by the hordes in 410 AD. St
Augustine's apologia, the City of God, set the tone for Christians for
the next 16 centuries.

But the Rome of that era came close to suffering a far worse calamity. A
small metallic asteroid descended from the sky, making a hypervelocity
impact in an Apennine valley just 60 miles east of the city. This
bus-sized lump of cosmic detritus vaporised as it hit the ground. In
doing so, it released energy equivalent to around 200 kilotonnes of TNT:
around 15 times the power of the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in

Pescara is on the Adriatic coast, located across the Italian peninsula
from Rome. Housed there is the International Research School of
Planetary Sciences, where staff and students study topics ranging from
planetary geology to astrobiology. In 1999, a young impact cratering
specialist from Sweden, Jens  Ormö, arrived to take up a three-year
position funded by the European Union. 

Ormö, it happens, is keen on hill walking, and just inland from Pescara
are some of the most spectacular mountains in the Apennines. He decided
that some hiking in the area of the Sirente Massif was in order, and so
he consulted a local guidebook. As he thumbed its pages, Ormö came across
a photograph of something that amazed him. What he saw, labelled as a
natural lake, was surely an impact crater. 

An expedition to the site of the putative impact, on the Sirente plain,
was hastily organised. Colleagues confirmed Ormö's initial suspicion.
Here was an impact crater about 140 metres wide, previously unrecognised
despite lying only a short distance from a busy road, and visible from
miles away. It has appeared on maps for centuries, and in guidebooks for
decades - but no one had recognised its significance. 

Natural lakes are common in the area. But this one has a raised rim, now
about two metres high, but originally rather thicker. This was produced
by the asteroid throwing material out from the impact zone, as it
crashed at a speed of around 20km per second, producing a huge explosion.

Later filled with rainwater, the crater is now only a few metres deep, and
occasionally dries up during hot summers. But it was more than 30 metres
to the bottom when first formed. Centuries of weathering has eroded
its bank and gradually filled it in. 

Relatively modest craters like this are unusual, because small asteroids
can only reach the ground intact if they are metallic, and thus strong
enough to withstand the physical shock of slamming into the atmosphere
at such speeds. The best guess at present is that the asteroid was about
10 metres across, and had a composition similar to nickel-iron

If it had been stony in composition, as most asteroids are, it would
have shattered in flight and released all of its energy in a phenomenal
explosion. This is what happened when a 50-metre rock blew up over
Siberia in 1908, leaving no crater.The expectation of a metallic
impactor is backed up by the identification of rust grains in the
surrounding soil. 

Confirmation of the impact origin comes from 17 smaller craters,
typically 10 metres wide, scattered around the Sirente plain. These are
due to fragments of the asteroid that separated in flight through the
atmosphere. A magnetic survey shows that most are associated with
anomalously high fields, indicating sub-surface metallic lumps. 

Crater fields like this are not unusual. In central Australia, 120km
south of Alice Springs, the Henbury craters were formed in a similar
way. What is peculiar about the Sirente crater is where it occurred, and
its youth.

Dozens of ancient craters are known in northern Europe, geological
stability allowing their long-term preservation. Two examples are the
Ries and Steinheim basins in Germany. Many others are known in
Scandinavia. But these are all huge, and millions of years old. There is
a small, recently formed crater in Estonia, but the Sirente crater is of
far greater interest: it was excavated around the time of the fall of
the Roman Empire, and close to Rome itself. 

The crater has been dated through radiocarbon analysis of a drill core
cut down through the bank. The uppermost material, having been thrown
out of the cavity, contains organic matter older than the impact. At the
original ground level the radiocarbon ages minimise, and then deeper
down the material is older again. 

The data indicate that the crater was formed in about 412 AD, with an
uncertainty of 40 years in either direction. Additional sampling may
allow this spread to be reduced, but it is clear that the event occurred
close to the fall of Rome: some time between 370 AD and 450 AD, when the
city was again under attack, this time by the Vandals. 

No matter what the trajectory of the asteroid entry, it would have been
a phenomenal sight from Rome, and scarier still for those closer to
ground zero. The fireball produced would have only lasted 10 seconds or
so, but would have been brighter than the sun, and so visible even in
daytime. The smoke trail left in the atmosphere would have been visible
for some hours. 

Another remarkable aspect of the event is that the main crater sits
squarely in the middle of the Sirente plain, which is only about a mile
long, and half that wide, being surrounded by mountainous terrain. It
could be that this is just luck. Alternatively, the array of craters now
identified might represent only a tiny fraction of the havoc wreaked,
with many other impacts on the mountainsides having long since eroded or
been hidden by tree growth. 

Even considering simply the energy involved in forming the known crater,
it is sobering to ponder what might have happened should the impact zone
have been on the flat coastal plains nearer Rome, rather than in the
mountains. Scaling from nuclear bomb tests indicates that a 200
kilotonne surface explosion would devastate an area of 100 square

A frequently used aphorism says that Rome was not built in a day. That's
true. But it did come awfully close to being destroyed in seconds.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited


>From Nature, 6 February 2003
More than 20 asteroid families have been identified in the main asteroid
belt, each the result of collisional break-up of a much larger parent
body. The recently discovered Karin family of asteroids is relatively
young (from a collision that took place about 5 million years ago) and
unaffected by orbital evolution. This provides an opportunity to deduce
details of the internal structure of the parent bodies from
observational data. Numerical simulations of the Karin collision suggest
the parent body was itself internally fragmented and that the collision
produced thousands of fragments, perhaps including near-Earth asteroids
and meteorites.

Disruption of fragmented parent bodies as the origin of asteroid
Nature 421, 608-611 (2003); doi:10.1038/nature01364
© 2003 Nature Publishing Group



>From Jonathan Tate <>


In response to Andy Lound's press release about his meeting in
Brimingham on Sunday, I sent the following:

"I received your press release with great interest. I will do my best
to attend, but it's surprisingly busy up here at The Spaceguard Centre
at the moment.

A couple of things in the release surprised me somewhat, and I wondered
whether you could clarify them.

You said that "I along with many colleagues with in The Planetary
Society are concerned that as soon as a new object is discovered that
crossed the Earth's orbit a variety of organizations immediately issues
warning notices without carrying out the correct scientific check
procedures to see if indeed there is a chance that the Earth will be

I wondered who these organisations are. Actually in the past two years
there has been considerable unanimity within the NEO community over the
question of announcement.  With the NASA NEO Project Office, the MPC,
SGF and IAU all in accord there is little room for error amongst the
professionals, and there have been no cases of erroneous announcement by
the key players.

You go on to say that "Britain is developing a world-wide reputation for
'crying wolf' either in an attempt to stimulate the British Government
to allocate financial resources into Near Earth Object research or to
gain publicity for their establishments."

I wondered about this one. Only on one occasion was a "scare" initiated
in the UK, when the BBC jumped the gun. I am totally unaware of any
other cases. Morrison et al had a bit of a dig after that one, but all is
now well! I think that you might be being a bit unfair to the old Beeb
here! Other than the BBC, to whom were you referring?

Couple of minor agenda points:

350pm - Defending The Planet A discussion on the worldwide projects to
detect Near Earth Objects.

What "worldwide project"? The only detection programmes are in the US
and Japan.

420pm - Destination Earth  Imagine the scenario, the Prime Minister has
been informed that an asteroid 1.5 km in diameter is heading straight
for the Earth and will impact in 4 weeks time - what do we do? Members
of The Planetary Society and the audience interact to make the decision.

Absolutely nothing at all, except hunker down! See notes on recent
Washington Mitigation Meeting. Make it 10 years and the possibilities
open up for discussion.

Looking forward to your comments, and hoping that I can make it to the

I have persued this with Andy who failed to respond, but he has recently
had a tragic berevement so it is inappropriate to take the matter
further at this time.

The Planetary Society in the UK has either picked up entirely the wrong
end of the stick, or has an agenda here. I fancy that the former is the
case, and I will be setting the record straight with Andy once the time
is right.

Jay Tate
The Spaceguard Centre


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

Below is an extract from my NEO news archive. The link to New Scientist
no longer works and they want payment to view their archive! Maybe one
of the CCNet subscribers has access to the full article?

Michael Paine
---------- (no longer
23 Dec 1999 New Scientist: The right stuff - the risk to astronauts
involved with the International Space Station: "...the chances of losing
the entire station in any 8-month period lie between 1 in 200 and 1 in
500--meaning there's a 5 to 10 per cent chance of disaster over 15
years. But its calculations suggest that, if this happens, there is a 93
per cent probability that a micrometeorite impact will be the cause.
Futron assumes just a 2 per cent chance that fires, explosions or
collisions between spacecraft would be to blame."


>From Daniel Fischer <>

Hi Benny,

since you're covering certain aspects of the Columbia story, I'd like to
'advertise' the current Cosmic Mirror at
where I'm summarizing the latest findings every few days. Sometimes
crucial insights just get lost in the mass media, e.g. the scientific
evidence presented on February 3rd in a NASA news conference on why the
impacting insulation foam was a very unlikely culprit. This aspect was
all but ignored until two days later when the before/after images of
Columbia's wing showed that no noticeable damage had been caused indeed.
This came as a surprise to almost all journalists, even veterans like
CNN's Miles O'Brien - all the more suprising as CNN had carried the Feb.
3 news conference live ...

Daniel Fischer


>From Space Daily, 6 February 2003

by Larry Klaes

When one contemplates the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and
its crew of seven astronauts, it is often hard for many of us to
separate our emotions from the reasons why we send human beings into
space and why those people willingly accept these daring and dangerous
missions into a realm that can quickly end life from only a few

The Space Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-107 was a case in point. Outside
of the fact that the first Israeli astronaut was on this flight, the
general public knew or cared little of what the mission objectives were.

Most media coverage was brief and often buried amidst unrelated news.
This Shuttle would not even be docking with the International Space
Station (ISS) Alpha. Instead it would "simply" circle our blue globe for
sixteen days. The astronauts would conduct over eighty different
experiments designed to compliment the work being done on the ISS.

The important fact is that this mission's experiments did relate
directly to our daily lives here on Earth. The researchers studied the
major functions of the human body in the purer microgravity environment
as it affects the brain, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and the nervous
and immune systems.

They watched how fire works in space. Earth's ozone layer and our
planet's climate were examined for clues to how different environments
interact with each other.

Is this the emotional equivalent of landing humans on Mars or
discovering extraterrestrial life? Not really, but it is good solid
research, the kind that has benefits way beyond some brief public



>From LA Weekly, 7 February 2003

by Dave Shulman 
A DIFFERENT TOM AND I TALKED FOR ALMOST an hour straight, almost without
moving, almost without topic, using telephones. At the 56-minute mark,
the shapeless discussion veered sharply toward asteroids and comets
after I said, "I just read this story in the current Harper's about how
life on Earth is destroyed by the occasional asteroid or comet. I found
it terribly comforting."

"Comforting?" said a different Tom, and I confirmed, "Yeah. Tom Bissell
wrote this great article called 'A Comet's Tale: On the Science of
Apocalypse.' It opens with a David St. Hubbins quote from This Is Spinal
Tap and takes off toward all manner of fascinating sh** - the serene
etymology of the term apocalypse, volcanic winter in the 16th century,
catastrophic implications of Earth's human population doubling between
1960 and 2000, Shoemaker-Levy 9's impact on Jupiter in 1994, that kind
of thing. Ten thousand words, at least. But what stuck with me most was
a section near the beginning describing the aftermath of a collision
with an asteroid upward of a kilometer in diameter, called a

"Do you have it in front of you?"
"Gimme a hundred words."

The typical civilization-ender would be traveling roughly 20 kilometers
a second, or 45,000 miles per hour - for visualization's sake, this is
more than 50 times faster than your average bullet - producing an impact
fireball several miles wide that, very briefly, would be as hot as the
surface of the sun. If the asteroid hit land, a haze of dust and
asteroidal sulfates would enshroud the entire stratosphere. This,
combined with the soot from the worldwide forest fire the impact's
thermal radiation would more or less instantaneously trigger, would
plunge Earth into a cosmic winter lasting anywhere from three months to
. . .

"That's a hundred. Should I go on?"

"That was a hundred? Gimme . . . another fifty."

. . . six years. Global agriculture would be terminated, and horrific
greenhousing of the climate and mass starvation would quickly ensue, to
say nothing of the likely event of world war - over the best caves, say.
In the event of a 10-kilometer impact, everything with the ocean's
photic zone, including food-chain-vital phytoplankton . . .

"That's fifty."

"And you said," asked Tom, "that you found this information . . .

"Terribly comforting."

WHEN GEORGE W. BUSH WAS A WEE LITTLE LAD, HE got caught doing something
that was real, real bad. Several times. Whatever it was that he did -
backhanding the chauffeur on the way home from church, say, or giving
his dog paper cuts with 100-dollar bills, burning off the head of a
Texas-size cockroach with a magnifying glass - whatever it was, he felt
a sincere regret at having been caught. And so did tears of frustration
flow from his eyes; and so did Barbara Bush clutch her son to her bosom
and blot the tears, whispering, "There, there. Don't torture yourself,
Georgie. It's not the end of the world."

If only young George hadn't listened to his mother.

Upon impact, the larger pieces of Shoemaker-Levy blew fireballs
thousands of kilometers high into Jupiter's atmosphere and were plainly
visible through telescopes on Earth. When Fragment G collided with the
King of Planets two days after the first impact, the flash was so bright
that infrared scopes all over Earth were momentarily fried. The scar
left by Fragment G was larger than Earth itself, and the explosive
energy released was the equivalent of a Hiroshima-size nuclear bomb
exploding every second for 13 years.

"The comforting part being . . .?"

"Being that I much prefer the idea of routine cosmic annihilation to
being murdered by petroleum- or faux-religion-based fascist cults,
whether it's Bush, Ashcroft, Saddam Hussein, Sharon, Arafat, bin Laden
(remember bin Laden?), Carrot-Top, Geraldo, AOL Time Warner or Charlton
Heston." ....
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