CCNet 15/2003 -  13 February 2003 2003

"What is the probability that a civilization will not destroy itself
once its very intelligence grants it the means of self-destruction? This
planet has been around for 4 billion years, intelligent life for perhaps
200,000, weapons of mass destruction for less than 100. A hundred--in the
eye of the universe, less than a blink. And yet we already find
ourselves on the brink. What are the odds that our species will manage to
contain this awful knowledge without self-destruction--not for a billion
years or a million or even a thousand, but just through the lifetime of
our children? Those are the stakes today. Before our eyes, in a
flash, politics has gone cosmic. The question before us is very large and
very simple: Can--and will--the civilized part of humanity disarm the
barbarians who would use the ultimate knowledge for the ultimate
destruction? Within months, we will have a good idea whether the
answer is yes or no."
--Charles Krauthammer, 13 February 2003

    BBC News Online, 12 February 2003

    Ron Baalke <>

    Harvey Leifert <>

    ESA, 12 February 2003

    The Sunday Telegraph, 9 February 2003

    Peter Bond <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Hermann Burchard <>


>From BBC News Online, 12 February 2003
The UK missile station earmarked for the "Son of Star Wars" defence shield
should also be used to protect against asteroids, a peer has suggested.

The idea could bring new work for RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, which
is to be used for America's controversial missile defence plans.

Crossbencher Lord Tanlaw wants to know whether the base, as well as the
Menwith Hill station, could be used to warn against "nature's missiles of
mass destruction".

He pointed to the threat posed by "hazardous near-Earth objects or asteroids
that endanger the population".

Spending difference

Lord Tanlaw continued: "It seems to me that vast sums of money are being
spent on proper defence of the country."

But very little money appeared to be spent on guarding against an asteroid
impact, something which would need exactly the same system, he argued.

Junior Defence Minister Lord Bach said the question was important and
promised to find out the answer.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon this month agree to the US request for
Fylingdales to be upgraded for use in its National Missile Defence scheme.

The decision has already been attacked by some Labour backbenchers, who fear
the scheme could spark a new arms race and prove expensive.

Lord Bach said America would pay for the upgrade.

But the UK would foot the bill for the predicted "minimal" rise in the
station's 18m annual running costs, he added.

Copyright 2003, BBC


>From Ron Baalke <>

                 Planetary Defense Conference:
                Protecting Earth from Asteroids

                    February 23-26 (M-Th), 2004
                        Hyatt Orange County
                     Garden Grove, California

The Planetary Defense Conference, sponsored by the American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics and The Aerospace Corporation, will address key
technical issues associated with defending Earth from approaching near Earth
objects (comets and asteroids). The threat will be approached from three
warning levels: short-term (less than ten years warning); medium-term (ten
to 30 years warning); and long-term (more than 30 years warning). The
conference intends to define several possible threat scenarios and develop
potential responses to each. Focused conference topics include:

    o examining current and future detection capabilities and options
    o considering current and future techniques, hardware and systems that
      are available to mitigate threats
    o discussing national and international policy implications of mounting a
      planetary defense effort
    o developing recommendations for future work, strategies, and policies
    o developing recommendations for demonstrations, experiments, and
      near-term activities
    o discussing public safety and disaster preparedness implications of
      possible asteroid or comet impacts.

Technical paper abstracts are currently being accepted electronically
through AIAA's Web site at


>From Harvey Leifert <>

Meteorites crashing into Jupiter's icy moon Europa at hypersonic speeds have
likely triggered electrical impulses that could change the chemistry of that
frigid world. Borucki et al. report for the first time that electrical
discharges result from the impact of a projectile striking a block of ice at
high speed. The authors speculate that Europa's colored ice, seen by the
Galileo spacecraft, may result from yellow-brown organic molecules created
by impact-induced electrical impulses passing through the icy surface. The
researchers propose that meteor impacts could also generate organic matter
in the outer Solar System, but that Europa, with its widely conjectured
underground ocean, might contain organic material under its craters where
complex living matter can seep onto the surface from cracks in the ice.

Title: A new energy source for organic synthesis in Europa's surface ice

Jerome G. Borucki, Dale P. Cruikshank, NASA Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, California;
Bishun Khare, SETI Institute, NASA Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, California.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets (JE) paper
10.1029/2002JE001841, 2002


>From ESA, 12 February 2003

12-Feb-2003 Only the most dedicated of sky watchers will have seen the
latest comet, called C/2002 V1 (NEAT). It has hovered near the limits of
naked-eye visibility in the evening sky since January 2003. However, you
would need a pair of binoculars, pointed in exactly the right direction, to
see anything. Log onto the Internet instead, and let the ESA/NASA space
probe SOHO show you more about this comet than you would usually see.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is an ESA/NASA space probe to
study the Sun. One of its instruments is the Large Angle and Spectrometric
Coronagraph (LASCO) that blots out the disc of the Sun, creating an
artificial total eclipse. LASCO is a spectacular comet-observing tool
because of its combination of high sensitivity and large field of view.

The Sun's large gravitational field provides the central force for comet
orbits. Comets themselves are icy messengers, often from the outer Solar
System that fall through the inner solar system, before heading back into
the celestial reaches. On the way, they provide observers on Earth and in
space with fleeting opportunities to catch a glimpse. Astronomers discover
comets all the time. If first seen by individual observers, they are named
after the discoverer. Nowadays, more and more comets are first seen by
automated telescope patrols, designed to scan the skies looking for objects
that could pass close to Earth. These discoveries are given catalogue
references, as is the case for Comet C/2002 V1.

The last comet to pass through the SOHO field of view made its journey
during the last week of January 2003. Now, armchair observers all around the
world have a chance to view another comet, C/2002 V1. This time, the show
may be more spectacular because C/2002 V1 (NEAT) will pass very closely by
the Sun.

The comet was discovered by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking programme
(NEAT). At that time, it was 25 000 times fainter than the human eye can
perceive. Initially, the comet became so bright that astronomers wondered
whether they would be able to see it during the day, as it rounded the Sun.

During January 2003, the comet failed to brighten as hoped. Now, it is
expected to disappear from view to Earth-bound observers about 11 February
2003, as it heads towards the Sun for its closest approach on 18 February
2003. It will not be lost from all sight, however, as in space, SOHO will be
watching. Astronomers expect C/2002 V1 (NEAT) to pass into LASCO
instrument's field of view, early on 16 February and stay there until 20

It will pass by the Sun at less than a tenth of the distance between the
Earth and the Sun. There is a small chance that the Sun's gravitational
field could pull it to pieces. "Even if that doesn't happen, the fly-by
itself should be impressive enough," says Bernhard Fleck, SOHO Project

Watch the comet's journey live on the Internet: or


>From The Sunday Telegraph, 9 February 2003

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

Professor Hawking, we have a problem. Nasa, the American space agency, is
expected to announce this week that it has proved the existence of "dark
energy", a cosmic force that counteracts gravity and will keep the universe
expanding forever.

The announcement will effectively demolish the theory that life will be
wiped out in a "Big Crunch" when the universe collapses, and should end
decades of academic dispute over the forces at work on the universe.

In the past, scientists ranging from Prof Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge
University physicist, to Albert Einstein, have argued that the universe
eventually will stop expanding and then implode under the force of gravity,
destroying all life.

Nasa's research indicates, however, that this analysis is wrong. Using a
satellite - the Microwave Anistropy Probe (Map) - which has spent the past
year peering into deep space, Nasa has discovered a pattern of "hot spots"
which, it says, proves that the universe is accelerating.

This means that "dark energy" - the only force that could cause this
acceleration - does exist, and that the universe is expanding too quickly to
collapse under gravity, ruling out the possibility of a "Big Crunch".

Prof Anthony Lasenby, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University, told The
Telegraph that the announcement would transform our view of the universe.
"It will be an epoch-making event," he said.

Another scientist explained: "It is like throwing a ball in the air. If
gravity were the only force at work, the ball would eventually slow down and
then start to fall back. What this shows is that the ball is not slowing
down but is in fact accelerating away."

The Nasa discovery is understood to be one of the most significant in the
history of cosmology and, coming only days after the loss of the space
shuttle Columbia, will provide a timely reminder of the value of the
agency's scientific work.

The behaviour of the universe is a subject that has troubled some of the
greatest minds in science.

In 1917, in order to balance the equations in his General Theory of
Relativity, Einstein argued that an unknown force - which he labelled the
"cosmological constant" - was counteracting gravity and keeping the universe
a constant size. In the wake of subsequent astronomical evidence that the
universe was expanding, however, he abandoned this idea, calling it his
greatest mistake.

The new data will show that Einstein's attempt to fiddle his equations using
this "cosmological constant" may have been right, albeit for entirely the
wrong reasons.

In his 1998 bestseller A Brief History of Time, Prof Hawking claimed that
the universe would eventually implode.

This assessment was challenged in 1997 when, after observations from
ground-based telescopes, astronomers began to argue that gravity was
counteracted by a "dark energy" that was causing the universe to expand at
an ever-increasing rate.

Nasa's study, however, the most detailed of the whole sky, is poised to
settle the controversy. It uses measurements of the heat left over from the
Big Bang, in which the universe was born 14 billion years ago, to
demonstrate that the universe is expanding rapidly and is safe from

Last night Prof Hawking remained undaunted by the Nasa findings, saying that
he had continued working on his theories and had discovered that they were
"quite compatible with the universe expanding forever" and the existence of
dark energy.

Although Nasa's discovery means that the universe will go on forever, the
same is not true for human life. As the universe expands, all the energy
needed to keep the stars and galaxies alight will be used up.

What will remain is a universe full of black holes, which after trillions of
years, will explode to leave nothing but dark energy.

Copyright 2003, The Sunday Telegraph


>From Peter Bond < []

This release from the Open University is forwarded for your information by
Peter Bond, Royal Astronomical Society press officer (space science).
Forwarding does not imply endorsement by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Issued by:
Media Relations Office
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom
Direct Lines: +44 (0)1908-653343/ 653256 / 653248/652580
Fax: +44 (0)1908-652247
News site:


For immediate release

10 February 2003


A new Interdisciplinary Centre for Astrobiology (ICA), being launched at the
Open University (OU), is set to enhance the OU's position as a leading
national and international arena for OU and other scientists to collaborate
on research into where life is most capable of developing elsewhere in the
Universe, and on how to find it.

Astrobiology is a very broad, rapidly growing field of scientific research
dedicated to understanding the conditions necessary for the development of
life and how it might be found beyond the Earth.  It is an area where OU
researchers are at the forefront. 

The new centre will combine scientific expertise from the OU's Planetary and
Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI), the OU's Department of Physics
and Astronomy, and other departments.

OU Professor of Astronomy Barrie Jones, chair of the ICA steering group,
said: "We now have the technical ability to determine if there is life on
Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System. Take Europa, Jupiter's largest moon.
It probably has an ocean covered by ice.  Once there is liquid water there
is the possibility of life.

"New planets are constantly being discovered. Scientists have recently
mapped more than 90 planetary systems with more than 100 planets. Within a
few years we will be able to see if planets in other systems were or are

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Astrobiology will:
Study the formation of planets and investigate how the basic organic
materials needed to form life are produced in the Universe.
Investigate the origin and evolution of life on Earth, including the study
of extreme environments and the habitats of extremophiles i.e. life forms
that survive in extreme environments.
Explore through space missions, new telescopes, and computer modelling,
potential life- sustaining habitats elsewhere in the Solar System and in
planetary systems that exist outside our own.

Much of the work in the OU's Planetary Science and Space Research Institute
and a significant proportion of the research in the OU Department of Physics
and Astronomy are already in astrobiology. 

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Astrobiology will promote interaction
between these scientists and with people external to the OU.  Such
interaction will lead to the development of new projects.

Editor's Notes.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Astrobiology launch will take place at the
Open University, Milton Keynes campus, at 1.30pm on Monday February 17th. 

Two eminent scientists will present the latest research in astrobiology:
"The Microbiology of Impact Craters" by Dr Charles Cockell (British
Antarctic Survey), and "Self-organization, Emergence, Astrobiology and All
That" by Professor Juan Perez-Mercader (Centro de Astrobiologia, Spain). 

There will be an opportunity to tour the laboratory facilities. Throughout
the meeting there will be a display of posters on astrobiology research and
teaching at the OU.

For more information and reservation details contact Ms Tracey Moore at


Professor Barrie Jones
Tel: +44 (0)1908-653229

Dr. John Zarnecki
Tel: +44 (0)1908-659599

Professor Nigel Mason
Tel: +44 (0)1908-655132

Dr. Ian Gilmour
Tel: +44 (0)1908-655140


>From Andrew Yee <>

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Swindon, U.K.

Contact Details:

Dr Louise Harra
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL
Tel: 44 (0) 1483 204141
Fax: 44 (0) 1483 278312

Alexi Glover
Keplerlaan, 1
Postbus 299
2200 AG, Noordwijk

Julia Maddock
Press Officer, PPARC
Tel: 01793 442094

10 February 2003

Violent truth behind Suns Gentle Giants uncovered

By Julia Maddock

Solar Physicists at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College
London (MSSL-UCL) have discovered new clues to understanding explosions on
the Sun.

Coronal mass ejections are violent explosions that can fling electrified gas
[plasma] with a mass greater than Mount Everest towards the Earth with
destructive consequences for satellites. They can originate from active
regions on the Sun, long known to consist of forests of loops filled with
plasma. These active loops are roughly 50,000 km in size. However, active
on either side of the solar disk are frequently connected by giant loops,
which can bridge the Sun's equator. These loops have long been thought of as
the gentle giants of the Sun, but in a paper to be published early this year
in the journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the researchers describe the
explosive characteristics of these giants.

An example of a giant loop can clearly be seen in the figure where the width
of the arrow represents the size of the Earth. These giant loops of plasma
are 450,000 km long -- large enough to engulf 40 Earths. If Concorde could
fly along one of these loops, it would take nearly 9 days to complete the

Coronal mass ejections are violent explosions that cause all sorts of
effects from the destruction of satellites, to the creation of the aurora.
These effects are commonly referred to as 'space weather'. Using data taken
by the Yohkoh and SOHO satellites studying the Sun, the
scientists analysed the giant loops to see how frequently they erupt. In the
past only one eruption had been observed and so they have been considered
the gentle giants of the Sun that do not explode. The researchers found that
not only can these huge structures be thrown away from the Sun, but they can
also be heated up by a factor of 5, to temperatures of 14 thousand times the
temperature of boiling water. They investigated how the loops explode, and
it was found that the longer the loop, the more likely it is to erupt -- so
these are culprits to watch more carefully in the future!

Alexi Glover, part of the space weather team at the European Space Agency
[ESA], explains, "These huge loops have been observed for many years -- but
their connection with coronal mass ejections is only just being understood.
In the future we hope to be able to predict coronal mass ejections before
they take place, and step by step we are heading towards that goal."

Because of our increasing reliance on communication and navigation
satellites for TV, GPS and national and international security, it is vital
that we understand how the Sun can release these explosions.

Dr. Louise Harra of MSSL-UCL says, "Space weather is a rapidly developing
field, and a vital key to progress is by understanding in detail the physics
of Sun. The UK plays a leading role in solar physics and these new results
are helping us make substantial advancements in our understanding of these
beautiful, but potentially hazardous, coronal mass ejections."

Notes for editors:

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's
strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public
understanding in four areas of science -- particle physics, astronomy,
cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to
scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class
facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the
European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Space
Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La
Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at
the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility,
which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.

PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme funds
both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public
understanding of its areas of science.


[Figure 1: (278KB)]
Figure 1 shows the soft x-ray image of the loop. Image taken by Yohkoh, a
collaborative mission between Japan, the United Kingdom and the USA.
Copyright Yohkoh team.

[Figure 2: (423KB)]
Figure 2 shows the loop as it erupts into space as a coronal mass ejection.
Image taken by the SOHO satellite, a project of international collaboration
between ESA and NASA. Copyright ESA/NASA.

[Figure 3: (182KB)]
Figure 3 shows an artist's impression of the SOHO craft orbiting the Sun.
Copyright ESA.



>From Hermann Burchard <>

Dear Benny,

the 30 Years War lasted from 1618 - 1648, leaving a devastated Central
Europe. Presumably, the resulting decline of wealth and of civilized life in
Germany has had a detrimental influence on the subsequent history of the
region. The advent of the first year of this cataclysmic war was
heralded by a threatening comet in Novemver 1618, seen by many European and
Far Eastern observers. This ominous event is mentioned, along with other
astronomical portents that occurred throughout the war, on the web site:

The web site, that I stumbled on, quotes a contemporary author, Hans
Heberle, who wrote in his ZEYTREGISTER: "But what gave me cause and occasion
to write this booklet, it is as follows: Anno Domini 1618 a great comet
appeared in the fall in and about November. Its sight was terrible
and amazing and moved my soul, so that I began to write because I thought
this must mean and bring to pass something great as indeed has happened and
as the reader will find reported sufficiently herein."

Although three comets are mentioned for 1618, beginning in August, it is not
clear to me from Yeomans, COMETS, whether these are considered to be simply
three appearances of the same comet?  In view of Heberle's reaction to it,
it must have been very large in the sky:  Its tail measured 104 degrees. Was
it particularly close to Earth so that there might have been some influence
on terrestrial events?  Is there anything known concerning historical
fall-out (in more than one sense perhaps)?

Continuing with my translation from the above web site: "Again and again
Heberle [in his autobiographical account of the 30 Years War] notes
miraculous portents in the heavens, rains of blood, flames of fire, which
terrified people in those days.  Hardly a chronicle of the times would have
failed to describe the comet of 1618, and as a signal of the entry into the
war by [Swedish King] Gustav Adolf 1630 the sight in the sky of a war among
two celestial hosts."  (Was that a comet breaking up, as e.g. comet Biela
did in December of 1845 [Yeomans]?)

Indeed, Yeomans reports a Japanese account of a comet for 1630. Of course,
he lists a total of about 18 comets for the duration of the war, which
perhaps is not an excessive number. Still, the coincidence of the peak of
the Little Ice Age with this turbulent period of European History and with
threatening comets and "wars in the heavenlies" as in other ancient reports
does seem to suggest possible causal relationships. The next, 18th century
again yields similar correlations of climate breaks, wars, revolutions, and
comets (see my CCNet note of 26 Sep 2002).

Such causes and effects have been suggested for other periods of history, as
reported numerous times on CCNet and elsewhere (Bob Kobres on ancient as
well as recent events, Mike Baillie on the Justinian comet(s), and James and
Trevor Palmer on the Carolingian period: CCNet Essay 12 Dec 2000).

What is actually known of comets in close approach to Earth? Were any close
enough for atmospheric dust loading to happen? Did fragments hit the planet?
This requires precise observational data, which begin to be available in the
West by the late 16th century.

Is there evidence for non-random clustering of comets? This could explain
the growing body of evidence for comet impact clustering, as for example in
the K-T extinctions as per Gerta Keller's recent reports. Even when there
are observations of several comets in close temporal proximity,
there may have been a single Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt object coming in from out
of the cold and subsequently breaking up as it rounded Jupiter and the Sun.
This would be no more than a logical extension of the Clube-Napier giant
comet hypothesis.

Best regards,
 Hermann Burchard

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