PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 43/2001 - 19 March 2001
-----------------------------


"Some of the [Task Force] recommendations could be accommodated in
the existing budget. Being able to identify new money is less important
than identifying what to do with existing money."
--Paul Murdin, head of astronomy at the PPARC and director
of science at the British   National Space Centre, 16 March
2001


"The British debate is noteworthy because it has moved the subject
outside of the narrow realm of special interest participants. It had led
to useful recommendations - new telescopes, use of existing
telescopes, recognition of the need for a data center, etc., but (another
dichotomy) does not seem to be leading to any new funding or program. This
dichotomy is not an accident - NEO observations are important, interesting
and justified but not sufficiently so to displace priorities in astronomy,
environment or defense or to constitute a crisis that warrants economic
policy changes. If the participants in the field recognize and accept
this they can move beyond hand wringing to constructive action."
-- Louis Friedman, The Planetary Society, 17 March 2001
 

"Opposing research into the NEO threat because such programmes might
divert funding from one's particular project may be quite understandable
from a very narrow perspective, but it is an abrogation of the
responsibility of science to safeguard humankind. On the other hand, to
support a multi disciplinary programme with such potential public interest
can only thrust astronomy into the public eye as a useful and
responsible profession. Perhaps the time has come for astronomers to
consider their position in society with care."
-- Jay Tate, Spaceguard UK, 17 March 2001


(1) ASTEROID HAZARD PROMPTS CASH CALL
    The Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 March 2001

(2) COMMENT: VALUABLE LESSONS TO BE LEARNT FROM LOOKING UP
    The Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 March 2001

(3) AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT "RESPONSE" TO UK NEO TASK FORCE
    Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

(4) THE UK PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE AND CONSIDERATION OF NEAR EARTH OBJECTS
    Louis Friedman, The Planetary Society <tps.ldf@planetary.org>

(5) MODERN ASTRONOMY: EYES WIDE SHUT?
    Jonathan Tate <fr77@dial.pipex.com>
 
(6) AN ASTEROID LED TO THE "GREAT DYING"
    Astronomy.com, 17 March 2001

(7) GERVACE OF CANTERBURY
    David Morrison <dmorrison@arc.nasa.gov>

(8) AN EYEWITNESS IMPACT DEBUNKED
    SKY & TELESCOPE'S NEWS BULLETIN - MARCH 16, 2001

(9) JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS ON 1178 LUNAR EYEWITNESS REPORT
    Ed Vega <vegasky@mindspring.com>

(10) HOW BIENVENUTO CELLINI SURVIVED ATMOSPHERIC ANOMALY
     Barbara Szabo <barbara@accesswest.com>

(11) IT'S FLYING ICE BALLS AGAIN
     Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

(12) ON A COLLISION COURSE
     Astronomy.com, 16 March 2001

(13) TWO ASTEROIDS BECOME IRISH ROCK LEGENDS
     CNN, 17 March 2001  

(14) GOLDILOCKS AND THE EXTRATERRESTRIALS
     Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(15) IMPACT HAZARD TALKS & LECTURES

(16) METEOR SHOWER OVER THE CHANNEL?
     Jiri Borovicka <borovic@asu.cas.cz>

(17) A NUTTY EFFECT ON EROS
     Michael Oates <mike@ph.u-net.com>

===========
(1) ASTEROID HAZARD PROMPTS CASH CALL

From The Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 March 2001

By Caroline Davis

Peers have called on the government to provide funds to avert the potential
threat of asteroids and other space debris colliding with the Earth.

Earlier this month, the government announced a package of measures in
response to a report from the Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near-Earth
Objects (NEOs).

Lord Sainsbury said that the threat required international action. In a
House of Lords debate last week, he said that the nature of the risk made it
"difficult to make a case for large extra funds to be made available."

He added that private funds were unlikely to be forthcoming and that the
money would have to come form the existing astronomy and space budgets.
These include a review of how UK telescope facilities can identify and
monitor NEOs, to be carried out by the Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council.

The PPARC is considering how to exploit its telescopes to identify new NEOs,
in particular the Vista telescope in Chile, due for completion in 2004. The
La Palma telescopes in the Canary Islands could then be used to track known
asteroids.

The UK will have greater access to telescopes when it becomes a member of
the European Southern Observatory and the PPARC is looking at refurbishing
older telescopes to devote them to NEOs.

The next step would be to characterise the objects by taking spectra to
assess their threat and plan aversion tactics. The review, due within a
year, will also look at the costs and politics involved.

Paul Murdin, head of astronomy at the PPARC and director of science at the
British National Space Centre, said: "Some of the [Task Force]
recommendations could be accommodated in the existing budget. Being able to
identify new money is less important than identifying what to do with
existing money."

The government said it would also set up a public information facility, a
forum of decision-makers convened by the European Space Agency and an
international discussion and action forum set up by the Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development.

Copyright 2001, TSL Education Ltd.

========
(2) COMMENT: VALUABLE LESSONS TO BE LEARNT FROM LOOKING UP

From The Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 March 2001

Anyone with the cinema habit knows that outer space is jammed with objects
that threaten to collide with the Earth and extinguish human life. But
whether it is worth doing anything about the threat is not so simple, as a
government report has just [sic] analysed (page 52).

Near-Earth objects come in all shapes and sizes, from the sort that saw off
the dinosaurs all way down to the fine dust responsible for meteor showers.
One problem is a vast population of objects that would not wipe out
humankind on impact, but are capable of devastating a city and are too small
for practical detection [sic]. One hit remote Siberia in the 20th century.
There are some near-Earth object orbits that could mean there is little or
no notice of even a major impact.

But the department of Trade and Industry team is right to say that more
resources should be devoted to mapping near-Earth objects, not least because
their study is of scientific merit as well as having possible survival
value. The objects are, after all, leftovers from the earliest days of the
solar system.

The recent landing of Nasa's Near probe on the asteroid Eros reminds us that
we still have much to learn from such objects. A thorough mapping of their
distribution is part of this process. It would also inform a future decision
about developing the technology to fight the threat.
 
Copyright 2001, TSL Education Ltd.

================
(3) AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT "RESPONSE" TO UK NEO TASK FORCE

From Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

Dear Benny,

I have received the attached response from the Australian Government. I have
also prepared an "adulterated" copy with a tongue-in-cheek translation (aka
Ed Grondine).

regards
Michael Paine
---------------------------------------------------------
(Letter from) The Hon Nick Minchin, Minister for Industry, Science and
Resources

5 Mar 2001

Dear Mr Paine

Thank you for your email of 21 December 2000 to the Hon Peter Reith MP,
Minster for Defence concerning Australia's contribution to Spaceguard. Your
letter has been referred to Senator the Hon Nick Minchin, Minister for
Industry Science and Resources, who has responsibility for Near Earth Object
(NEO) observation and research. The Minister has asked me to respond on his
behalf.

The Government recognises the importance of Australian involvement in
collaborative efforts with international partners in NEO observation and
research. As you may be aware, the Australian National University, the
University of Arizona and NASA are working together to detect and track
asteroids from the Southern Hemisphere. I understand that the upgrade and
modification of the Uppsala Schmidt telescope, to be completed by early to
mid-2001 will provide a significant boost to our efforts.

The Government is also aware of the Report of the United Kingdom Task Force
on Potentially Hazardous NEO's, initiated last year by the Minister for
Science, Lord Sainsbury. We shall consider the British Government's response
to this report, when released, for any possible
implications for our position on NEO observation.

Your sincerely
(signed)
for Anna McPhee
Advisor (Science)
Parliament House, Canberra, Fax 02 62734104
-------------------------------------------------------------

[Translation to plain English by M Paine]

Dear Mr Paine

Thank you for your email of 21 December 2000 to the Hon Peter Reith MP,
Minster for Defence concerning Australia's [lack of] contribution to
Spaceguard. Your letter has been referred [it had nothing whatever to do
with defence - there is no enemy to shoot at] to Senator the Hon Nick
Minchin, Minister for Industry Science and Resources, who has responsibility
for Near Earth Object (NEO) observation and research [we are very very
serious about this - a minister is actually responsible for it!]. The
Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf [except that he has not
actually seen this letter so he does not KNOW he is responsible].

The Government recognises the importance of Australian involvement in
collaborative efforts with international partners in NEO observation and
research [we are just not prepared to spend any money on it]. As you may be
aware, the Australian National University [which we fund and
therefore indirectly fund their astronomical work], the University of
Arizona and NASA are working together to detect and track asteroids from the
Southern Hemisphere [luckily NASA is putting up most of the cash but we can
still claim some credit]. I understand that the upgrade and modification of
the Uppsala Schmidt telescope, to be completed by early to mid-2001 will
provide a significant boost to our efforts [well, going from nothing to
something is an infinite increase isn't it?].

The Government is also aware of the Report of the United Kingdom Task Force
on Potentially Hazardous NEO's, initiated last year by the Minister for
Science, Lord Sainsbury [those pesky Brits have put out a report that has
the nerve to suggest that other countries share in the cost of Spaceguard].
We shall consider the British Government's response to this report, when
released, for any possible implications for our position on NEO observation.
[Oh no - there is a very slight risk that we might actually have to spend
something on Spaceguard, just when we have made a commitment to spend
billions on defence force upgrades and so don't have any money to spare.
Especially since spending money on Spaceguard won't actually win us any
votes in the federal election later this year. Or then again...].

Your sincerely

(signed)
for [!] Anna McPhee Advisor (Science)
[sorry Anna :)]

==============
(4) THE UK PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE AND CONSIDERATION OF NEAR EARTH OBJECTS

From Louis Friedman, The Planetary Society <tps.ldf@planetary.org>

The Planetary Society welcomed the high-level consideration in the United
Kingdom concerning Near Earth Objects. We have been privately funding and
advocating increased observation programs of NEOs since the mid 1980s,
citing the extraordinary importance these objects have had and will have in
the evolution of Earth and other bodies of the solar system, and of life
itself on Earth.  Our funding and support is global. 

The recent debate in the House of Lords, and other follow-up reaction to the
Ad Hoc Task Force Study for the British parliament emphasizes the need for
international cooperation and coordination on this subject. NEO policy is
full of dichotomies. National budgets vs. international requirements;
apocalyptic warnings vs. environmental dismissiveness or even the "giggle
factor," a few million dollars for increasing observations vs. billions to
"protect the Earth," benign astronomical interest vs. new challenges for
nuclear weapons. Actors with very different viewpoints and motivations must
play all of these on a public stage. It is no wonder that public policy
formulation has been difficult. 

The British debate is noteworthy because it has moved the subject outside of
the narrow realm of special interest participants. It had led to useful
recommendations - new telescopes, use of existing telescopes, recognition of
the need for a data center, etc., but (another dichotomy) does not seem to
be leading to any new funding or program. This dichotomy is not an accident
- NEO observations are important, interesting and justified but not
sufficiently so to displace priorities in astronomy, environment or defense
or to constitute a crisis that warrants economic policy changes. If the
participants in the field recognize and accept this they can move beyond
hand wringing to constructive action. 

The seeds of constructive action are there. There are telescopes around the
world where a little bit of program attention could substantively increase
NEO observations and information. There is some U.S. sentiment and
possibility for building a dedicated observatory; but money, as noted, is an
issue. Perhaps a multi-national observatory or even an international one can
be proposed. The Shoemaker-NEAR mission has whetted our appetites for NEO
exploration. Perhaps the UK, or ESA, could lead development of an
international multi-asteroid exploration program. Russia has some
extraordinary capabilities in this regard that could be employed at low
cost; the recent new US Administration decision to come back once again to a
reliance on Russia in the space station development ought to break apart any
inhibitions about that subject. And non-governmental organizations like The
Planetary Society and the Spaceguard Foundation have nascent programs that
could be developed into international communication and information centers.


The seeds are there, but a farmer is needed. This is where Britain might
really take a leadership role. (I am not commenting on Britain's agrarian
role, or making even a slight aside at the current agricultural difficulties
in that country - merely a figure of speech). As the only government to
really broaden the discussion of NEOs into larger societal and political
considerations, let them follow it up internationally, and globally. I.e. in
international government and non-governmental forums, and help organize
international policy considerations and programs. The problem isn't as big
as global warming (and the enthusiasts in the field should not pretend it
is), but some small global attention to it can lead to very useful
international programs of observations and information exchange, not to
mention education for the public. 

The Planetary Society is the largest space interest group on Earth; and we
are the largest in Europe as well. We have a challenge before us, as well,
to be come more truly international and effectively work with national
policies all over the world to advance international undertakings in space
exploration. The British study can be a motivator; we now must look, as must
the entire community, for ways to set up international programs that can be
more effective. 

=============
(5) MODERN ASTRONOMY: EYES WIDE SHUT?

An open letter to the Astronomical community

by Jonathan Tate <fr77@dial.pipex.com>
 
Some modern astronomers, glued to their computer screens or grappling with
the baffling mysteries of the cosmos, would prefer to ignore the fact that
the roots of their profession lie in "superstition". Ancient man was quite
convinced that cosmic influences had a significant part to play in his way
of life and continued well-being. This conviction is clear in the stories
and myths from around the world concerning conflict and disaster meted out
from the skies, usually by omnipotent "gods". This catastrophist view of the
cosmos dominated until the Age of Reason when Newtonian principles turned
the unknown and unpredictable universe into a benign, mechanical system and
Darwinism spawned the concept of gradual evolution over extended periods of
time. In the resulting predictable, gradualist cosmos there was no place for
catastrophism or major, sudden changes in the global environment. In the
third quarter of the twentieth century the realisation dawned that Darwinian
evolution has been punctuated by massive catastrophic events, causing major
redirection in biological and geographic evolution. Past prejudice against
catastrophist notions is ebbing away as the evidence builds, and the reality
of major impacts is no longer in doubt. Perhaps it wasn't entirely
superstition after all.
 
The widening appreciation of the hazard posed by asteroids and comets should
be causing many researchers, especially astronomers to pause for thought.
Astronomy developed as a utilitarian science with practical, measurable
outputs mainly concerned with navigation and the measurement of time. Once
these problems had been licked, astronomers were free to engage in more
esoteric, and arguably less "useful" pursuits. But now there is a genuine
call for the astronomical profession to demonstrate its usefulness to the
public who, in the final analysis, pay the bills.
 
No one can dispute that Planetary Defence is a multi-disciplinary
undertaking. Astronomers have been at the forefront of the search for, and
detection of NEOs, but planetary scientists, geologists, palaeontologists,
biologists, physicists and many others have been deeply involved in piecing
together the jigsaw that has resulted in our current state of knowledge. But
is the problem strictly scientific? Scientists like to think that they are
concerned with the acquisition and interpretation of new data. To study
asteroids and comets the researcher needs to study only a representative
sample; there is no need to find them all; a planetary defence programme
would have to strive to do just that. The funding and resources required to
detect and track all NEOs cannot therefore be justified on research grounds.
Defence is usually the prerogative of the military, but there is resistance
from the defence establishment to becoming involved in planetary defence; it
is classed as a problem for the scientists.  So therein lies a problem. 
 
There is a small core of professional astronomers that have had the courage
to speak out about the impact hazard, and to point out the opportunity for
the profession to engage in a subject that the public can understand and
appreciate. However, within the wider astronomical community there is still
some apparent disagreement, some acrimonious, over the nature and extent of
the threat. It is natural for scientists to disagree, indeed that is the
nature of the scientific method, but even the most ardent disbeliever cannot
dispute at least the possibility of a significant threat. After all, who
could be better placed to be aware of the facts than astronomers? Ignorance
is not an option for professionals. Given the consequences of major impact
events it is plainly not right to oppose programmes aimed at preventing
them; that would be playing dice with the survival of the human species.
Opposing research into the NEO threat because such programmes might divert
funding from one's particular project may be quite understandable from a
very narrow perspective, but it is an abrogation of the responsibility of
science to safeguard humankind. On the other hand, to support a multi
disciplinary programme with such potential public interest can only thrust
astronomy into the public eye as a useful and responsible profession.
Perhaps the time has come for astronomers to consider their position in
society with care. Precisely what is astronomy for? In years gone by the
answer was clear, but it is considerably less so now. No one would dispute
the value of pure research, but is the expenditure required justified in the
face of a real, practical threat to our way of life? Few would be impressed
with a fire service that spent its time conducting detailed studies into
major disaster scenarios while its own fire station burned to the ground.
 
In five years the Spaceguard programme in the UK has moved from the realm of
sci-fi - a bit of a joke - to a credible subject that has been debated in
both Houses of Parliament and been the subject of a government Task Force
who verified the hazard and recommended substantive action to prevent
impacts in the future. Convincing the politicians of the need for action
would have been easier with more support from the scientific community, but,
with a few notable exceptions (I won't embarrass them by listing names - or
myself when I forget one) the overwhelming response from the astronomical
community, both professional and amateur, has largely been one of
indifference. Given the validated scale of the impact hazard, and the
opportunities for public education in astronomy and science in general, I
have difficulty in understanding the apparent reluctance of the astronomical
community to grasp this opportunity to protect and educate their fellow man.

==================
(6) AN ASTEROID LED TO THE "GREAT DYING"

From Astronomy.com, 17 March 2001
http://www2.astronomy.com/Content/Dynamic/Articles/000/000/000/324uqmlf.asp

Scientists have found evidence that an asteroid or comet slammed Earth and
caused the greatest mass extinction of all.

by Paul Morledge

About 185 million years before the demise of the dinosaurs, an even greater
mass extinction wiped out 90 percent of all sea creatures and 70 percent of
land animals.  Scientists have puzzled over the cause of this
Permian-Triassic (P-T) boundary event,  also known as the "Great Dying." Now
a research team has literally unearthed evidence that an asteroid or comet
was to blame.

Nearly 250 million years ago a three- to six-mile-wide bolide (asteroid or
comet) slammed into and shook Earth, releasing energy comparable to a
million times that generated by the largest earthquake in recorded history.
"It was like a 12.0 earthquake on the Richter scale," says Robert Poreda,
associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of
Rochester and one of the authors of a report that details this P-T boundary
event in the February 23 issue of Science.
 
The exact site of the impact is unknown. At the time, all of Earth's land
was clumped together as one super-continent called Pangea. But scientists,
such as Luann Becker, a University of Washington Earth and space scientist
and lead author of the report, were able to infer its occurrence by a series
of chemical fingerprints left deep inside Earth.

Becker and her team found these prints within sedimentary layers at
excavation sites in Japan, China, and Hungary. The telltale evidence came in
the form of complex carbon molecules known as buckminsterfullerenes - or
more affectionately, buckyballs - whose 60 carbon-atom structures resemble
the geodesic domes designed by 20th century futurist Buckminster Fuller.
Helium was discovered trapped inside the buckyballs, which would soon reveal
their origin.

"These gas-laden fullerenes [buckyballs] were formed outside the solar
system, and their concentration at the Permian-Triassic boundary means they
were delivered by a comet or asteroid," says Becker.

Becker discovered that the sediment containing these extraterrestrial
buckyballs lay as a thin boundary layer between sediment from the Permian
and Triassic periods. Buckyballs were found at very low concentrations above
and below the P-T boundary layer, but in unusually high concentrations
within it  - pinpointing the time of this extraterrestrial deposit.

Becker realized that these particular buckyballs were once imported from
outer space. How? By looking at the isotopic ratio of the helium found
inside. The caged helium showed a  relatively large abundance of its isotope
helium-3, which is rare on this planet but quite common in the interstellar
medium. Most helium found on Earth is helium-4, with only a smattering of
helium-3.

Scientists don't think this crashing bolide acted alone in the Great Dying.
The impact may have triggered a chain of events, such as massive volcanism
and subsequent changes in vital atmospheric gases, which then led to this
wholesale extinction.

"If species cannot adjust, they perish. It's a survival-of-the-fittest sort
of thing," Becker says. "To knock out 90 percent of organisms, you've got to
attack them on more than one front."

At the time of impact, Poreda's group estimates the Earth was already
bubbling with more than 1.6 million cubic kilometers of lava - enough to
cover the entire planet with a blanket of lava 10 feet deep.

"It was the proverbial blast from the double-barreled shotgun," Poreda says.
"We're not sure of all the environmental consequences, but with both the
impact and the volcanic activity, we do know that Earth was not a happy
place. It may be that the combined effects of impact and volcanism are
necessary to cause such a tremendous extinction."

Interestingly, most scientists believe the dual attack of a massive bolide
impact and widespread volcanic activity set the stage for dinosaur
extinction - known as at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary event - as
well.

"These two extinctions are like bookends for the age of the dinosaurs,"
Poreda says. "The P-T boundary helped to usher in the age of the dinosaurs,
and the K-T boundary snuffed it out."

Copyright 1996-2001 Kalmbach Publishing Co. 

================
(7) GERVACE OF CANTERBURY

From David Morrison <dmorrison@arc.nasa.gov>

NEO News (03/16/01) Gervase of Canterbury

Dear Friends and Students of NEOs:

Many writers dealing with the impact phenomenon have noted the apparent
eyewitness impact on the Moon recorded by the monk Gervase of Canterbury in
1178. Because this event occurred close to the
intersection of the Earth's orbit with the Taurid meteor stream, this event
has sometimes been quoted as supporting the suggestion that large objects in
the Taurid stream pose a special threat to the Earth. For example, Clube and
Napier devote several pages to this hypothesis in their book "The Cosmic
Winter". Specifically, the impact has been identified with he bright ray
crater Giordano Bruno.

In his book "Rain of Iron and Ice", John Lewis provides the following
translation of the report:

"In this year, on the Sunday before the feast of St John the
Baptist, after sunset when the Moon had just become visible, a marvelous
phenomenon was witnessed by some five or more men who were siting
facing the Moon. Now there was a bright new Moon, and as usual in that
phase its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn
split in two. From the midpoint in the division a flaming torch sprang
up, spewing out, over considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and
sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were,
in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me, and
saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake.
Afterwards it assumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a
dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisted shapes and then
returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn
to horn, along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance. The
present writer was given this report by men who saw it with their own eyes,
and are prepared to stake their honor on an oath that they have made no
additions or falsifications in the above narrative."

Following is a story just posted by Sky and Telescope that disputes the
identification of this event with the crater Giordano Bruno, and thus
undercuts the reality of the medieval report, or at least its relevance to
NEO impacts and the Taurid meteor stream.

David Morrison

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Not so fast, my friend. While I agree that the Giordano
Bruno crater appears to be too large indeed to be convincingly associated
with a hypothesised lunar impact in 1178, neither Gervase's report nor the
possibility of an observed impact on the Moon - and not even the speculation
about a link with the Taurid meteor stream have been "debunked." As Ed Vega
rightly stresses, it's Carl Sagan's (and others') association of the
eyewitness report with the Giordano Bruno crater that has been "debunked",
not the report and its impact-interpretation itself. BJP

============
(8) AN EYEWITNESS IMPACT DEBUNKED

From SKY & TELESCOPE'S NEWS BULLETIN - MARCH 16, 2001

Were a small asteroid to hit the Moon, could we see the impact with the
naked eye? In his chronicles of medieval life, Gervase of Canterbury
described a dramatic event witnessed on the evening of June 18, 1178:

"Now there was a bright new Moon . . . and suddenly the upper horn split in
two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing
out . . . fire, hot coals, and sparks . . . The body of the Moon which was
below writhed . . . throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its
proper state. The phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more. [Finally]
the Moon . . . along its whole length took on a blackish appearance."

In 1976 geologist Jack B. Hartung (State University of New York) proposed
that this passage describes the creation of Giordano Bruno, a relatively
young, 22-kilometer-wide crater near the Moon's northeast limb. Hartung
reasoned that, seen from Earth, this brightly rayed crater appears near the
midpoint of the young crescent Moon. Astronomers were quick to counter that
on the date in question the Moon was only 1.3 days past new and thus too
near the Sun to be easily visible at all. Also, Gervase's witnesses claimed
to have seen the "flaming torch" many times, which sounds a lot more like
the ordinary atmospheric distortions often seen near the horizon. Still,
Hartung's hypothesis has made its way into many astronomy books and
articles. It proved difficult to confirm or refute because data on Giordano
Bruno and its surroundings were limited.

Now a new analysis demonstrates that a cratering event could not have
happened in 1178. Paul Withers (University of Arizona) finds that an impact
large enough to create a 22-km crater would likely have showered Earth with
10 million tons of ejected fragments -- perhaps a trillion bright meteors in
all -- during the days that followed. "A meteor storm as impressive as this
and lasting for a week would have been considered apocalyptic by all
medieval observers," Withers comments. Yet no mention of such displays
appears in English, European, Arabic, or Asian chronicles of the era.

Laser-ranging experiments during the 1970s revealed that the Moon nods back
and forth by a tiny amount ("free libration"), suggesting to Hartung's
supporters that the globe was still reverberating from the impact. But
Withers notes that a reanalysis of the laser-ranging data later showed that
the slight oscillation arises instead from fluid motions deep in the lunar
interior. Furthermore, while Giordano Bruno is indeed the youngest crater of
its size anywhere on the Moon, multispectral images from the Clementine
spacecraft show that this impact site has to be much older than 800 years.
Details of Withers's analysis will appear in the April issue of Meteoritics.

Copyright 2001 Sky Publishing Corporation.

For images and Web links for these items, visit http://www.skypub.com

============
(9) JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS ON 1178 LUNAR EYEWITNESS REPORT

From Ed Vega <vegasky@mindspring.com>

I AGREE THAT IF GERVASE'S ACCOUNT OF A LUNAR IMPACT IN 1178 WERE RELATED TO
A HUGE CRATER SUCH AS  GIORDANO BRUNO, THE EFFECTS ON THE ENTIRE EARTH WOULD
HAVE BEEN SPECTACULAR AND MAYBE EVEN DISASTROUS [...].

ON THE OTHER HAND HE MAY HAVE DOCUMENTED A MUCH SMALLER IMPACT THAT COULD
STILL HAVE BEEN WITNESS BY ANYONE THAT AT THAT MOMENT WAS PERCHANCE LOOKING
UP TOWARDS THE MOON.

AN IMPACT ON THE MOON SURFACE OF A PLANETESIMAL, LETS SAY SIMILAR TO THE ONE
THAT HIT NEAR PRESENT DAY FLAGSTAFF (ARIZONA) A FEW THOUSAND YEARS AGO,
COULD CONCEIVABLY BE SEEN FROM THE EARTH AND YET PRODUCE NO REALLY
SPECTACULAR EFFECTS ON OUR PLANET.

SO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DEBUNKED IS THE THEORY THAT THE EYEWITNESS REPORT IS
ASSOCIATED WITH THE GIORDANO BRUNO; NOT THE EYEWITNESS REPORT ITSELF.

WE ALSO NEED TO REMEMBER THAT IN THOSE CENTURIES VERY FEW PEOPLE KNEW HOW TO
WRITE, AND NEWS SPREAD MOSTLY BY WORD OF MOUTH. SO IT IS NOT UNUSUAL THAT
EVEN SIGNIFICANT EVENTS FROM THOSE TIMES WERE POORLY OR NOT DOCUMENTED AT
ALL. ALSO, ONLY A MINUTE PERCENTAGE OF WHAT WAS WRITTEN THEN HAS SURVIVED TO
THIS DATE.

GERVASE WAS A MONK AND THUS ONE OF THE FEW EDUCATED AT THAT TIME. HE MAY
HAVE BEEN THE ONLY ONE TO DOCUMENT A PHENOMENON THAT WAS WITNESSED BY MANY,
OR MAYBE HIS REPORT IS THE ONLY ONE TO SURVIVE TO THIS DAY. HE ALSO MAY HAVE
SIGNIFICANTLY EXAGGERATED THE ACCOUNT AND THE WOBBLING OF THE MOON MAY HAVE
BEEN THE WOBBLING OF HIS OWN HEAD AS IN EXCITEMENT HE CALLED FOR OTHER TO
WATCH.

ON THE OTHER HAND HE MAY HAVE MADE THE WHOLE THING UP. BUT IT IS DIFFICULT
TO IMAGINE THAT HE WOULD HAVE COME UP AT THAT TIME WITH THE IDEAL THAT AFTER
THE EVENT, THE ENTIRE MOON TOOK A BLACKISH APPEARANCE.

WAS IT AN IMPACT, VULCANISM OF A DREAM?  WE WILL PROBABLY NEVER KNOW UNTIL
WE EXPLORE IN MUCH DETAIL THAT PORTION OF THE MOON.

DR. ED VEGA
TUCSON, ARIZONA

===========
(10) HOW BIENVENUTO CELLINI SURVIVED ATMOSPHERIC ANOMALY

From: Barbara Szabo <barbara@accesswest.com>
To:   Gerrit Verschuur <GVERSCHR@LATTE.MEMPHIS.EDU>

Dear Dr. Verschuur,

My husband and I have just read your book "Impact!" with delight. We both
worked for a time at the Clark Lake Radio Observatory for the University of
Maryland, and so have some background in and appreciation of astronomy, and
we find your treatment of the subject compelling.

We'd like to share a reference to what might have been an encounter with a
small comet or comet tail in historic times. In the unlikely source--the
autobiography of the artist and sculptor Bienvenuto Cellini--there is an
event he describes, almost nonchalantly, that is quite intriguing. The date,
placing it between other dated events in his chronicle, would have been
between January and September 1545. In Book Second, Chapter 50 he records
(translated by John Addington Symonds):

"We were one day distant from Lyons, and it was close upon the hour
of twenty-two (the hour is reckoned according to an old Italian
fashion, from sunset of one day to sunset of the next, so if this
were March it would be around four p.m.) when the heavens began to thunder
with sharp rattling claps, although the sky was quite clear at the time.
[Translator's footnote: "'E l'aria era bianchissima.' Perhaps this ought
to be: 'and the air blazed with lightnings.' Goethe takes it as I do
above."] I was riding a cross-bow shot before my comrades. After the
thunder the heavens made a noise so great and horrible that I thought the
last day had come; so I reined in for a moment, while a shower of hail began
to fall without a drop of water. At first the hail was somewhat
larger than pellets from a popgun, and when these struck me, they hurt
considerably. Little by little it increased in size, until the stones
might be compared to balls from a crossbow. My horse became restive with
fright; so I wheeled round, and returned at a gallop to where I found my
comrades taking refuge in a fir-wood. The hail now grew to the size
of big lemons. I began to sing a Miserere; and while I was devoutly
uttering this psalm to God, there fell a stone so huge that it smashed the
thick branches of the pine under which I had retired for safety.
Another of the hailstones hit my horse upon the head, and almost stunned
him; one struck me also, but not directly, else it would have killed
me. In like manner, poor old Lionardo Tedaldi, who like me was kneeling on
the ground, received so shrewd a blow that he fell grovelling upon all
fours. When I saw that the fir bough offered no protection, and that I
ought to act as well as to intone my Misereres, I began at once to wrap my
mantle round my head. At the same time I cried to Lionardo, who was
shrieking for succour, "Jesus! Jesus!" that Jesus would help him if he
helped himself. I had more trouble in looking after this man's safety
than my own. The storm raged for some while, but at last it stopped; and we,
who were pounded black and blue, scrambled as well as we could upon our
horses. Pursuing the way to our lodging for the night, we showed our
scratches and bruises to each other; but about a mile farther on we came
upon a scene of devastation which surpassed what we had suffered,
and defies description. All the trees were stripped of their leaves and
shattered; the beasts in the field lay dead; many of the herdsmen had also
been killed; we observed large quantities of hailstones which could
not have been grasped with two hands. Feeling then that we had come well
out of a great peril, we acknowledged that our prayers to God and Misereres
had helped us more than we could have helped ourselves..."

Whatever the source of the hail, this passage might be of interest to
someone collecting references to events in historic times of "atmospheric
anomalies" if not outright comet impacts. Please feel free to pass it along,
and thank you again for your efforts in bringing greater awareness to the
public of the danger and likelihood of impacts by comets and asteroids.

Sincerely,

Barbara (& Alex) Szabo

===========
(11) IT'S FLYING ICE BALLS AGAIN

From Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

Dear Benny,

I am skeptical about the following story (it is difficult to explain how a
chunk of ice travelling at 50km/s could survive a collision with the Earth)
but it is interesting to me since it occurred just 3km from where I live!

regards
Michael Paine

FLYING ICE BLOCK MAY HAVE ALIEN ORIGIN

From The Daily Telegraph, 17 Mar 2001
http://news.com.au:80/common/story_page/0,4057,1765066%255E421,00.html

Flying ice block may have alien origin.

A NEW theory has emerged in the mystery surrounding a lumpof ice that fell
through the roof of a Harbord home   -- it could have come from a comet.

NASA has become involved in the investigation and yesterday sent a special
container to Australia to transport the ice to the space agency's
headquarters in California.

The ice, which was 30cm long and 15cm thick, crashed through the roof of a
house in Coles Rd, Harbord, on March 6. The lump pierced the gyprock
ceiling, before hitting the bathroom floor and shattering.

Experts were not able to explain its origin. Dr Roger Buick, lecturer in
geo-sciences at Sydney University, was contacted by Manly police after the
story ran in The Daily Telegraph.

He contacted some former colleagues from NASA, who offered to collect a
sample of the ice for testing. "I've worked for NASA over the years, and
thought that they might be interested in it. They're taking it to their
testing laboratory in California," he said. "They're going to send out a
specialised container to put it in, so it doesn't get contaminated. It's
currently in the freezer of the owners of the house."

Dr Buick said because the origin of the ice could not be explained, there
was a remote possibility it was part ofa comet.

"There's an outside possibility that it could be extra-terrestrial," he
said. "As far as I know, no one's been able to get a decent sample of a
comet before. "NASA spends billions trying to get comet tails, so they'd be
interested to see what we've got."

He agreed the mystery could not be sufficiently explained by weather
conditions or an object dropping from an aircraft. CSIRO atmospheric
researcher Paul Holper said there was no meteorological explanation for such
a large chunk of ice, which was too large to be a hailstone.

A suggestion the ice may have come from a plane flying over the northern
beaches was discounted by Airservices Australia, a spokesman saying it is
`virtually impossible'.

Last week, physics expert Greg Skeoch said the ice may have been travelling
in excess of 200km/h before it hit the house.

NASA operates a program to examine asteroids, meteors and comets in space,
in an attempt to find out their composition and origin. Deep Space One,
launched from Cape Canaveral in October 1998, employs the latest technology
to examine dust and vapours in asteroids and comets as they travel through
the solar system.

It will next come into contact with a comet in September. Once the sample
reaches NASA, the test will be straightforward. Scientists can eliminate the
possibility that the ice came from an extra-terrestrial source if they find
earthly content within it. These could be materials such as sodium chloride,
table salt, or gypsum, chalk.

A similar ice chunk that fell in Meliana, Spain, last January was discounted
as a comet fragment after scientists detected these substances in a sample.

Copyright 2001, Daily Telegraph

==========
(12) ON A COLLISION COURSE

From Astronomy.com, 16 March 2001
http://www2.astronomy.com/Content/Dynamic/Articles/000/000/000/349cqpid.asp

Are we prepared to confront a large near-Earth object (NEO) heading for our
planet.

by Paul Morledge

If a reasonable sized asteroid or comet was guaranteed to slam into our
planet in the near future, would we be prepared for it? Not according to
some researchers who have just completed a study of the issue entitled: "The
Comet/Asteroid Impact Hazard -- A Systems Approach."  

"The impact hazard from near-Earth asteroids and comets has evolved from a
science fiction scenario to a serious societal issue during the past
twenty-five years," says report authors Clark Chapman and Daniel Durda of
the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Robert Gold of
Johns Hopkins University.

It was in 1980 when Nobel Laureate Luis Alvarez first proposed the "asteroid
theory" behind global mass extinctions, or at least the extinction of the
dinosaurs, known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary event. Since
then, scientists have blamed near-Earth objects (NEOs) for other major
extinctions, even the greatest of all - known as the Permian-Triassic (P-T)
boundary event, in which over 90 percent of Earth's animal and plant species
vanished

"The dinosaurs could not evaluate and mitigate the natural forces that
exterminated them, but human beings have the intelligence to do so," say the
authors, who call for a much more pro-active and concerted international
effort to deal with this very serious, albeit low probability, threat of a
NEO impact.

Despite recent efforts by NASA and the U.S. Air Force to track NEOs, we
still don't have nearly enough land-based eyes and lens-power devoted to NEO
detection, the authors claim. They also contend that we need a host of
space-based and interplanetary observational instruments to detect the most
elusive NEOs, such as those with low-albedo, odd orbital paths, and the
so-called Atens: a population of asteroids known to exist inside of Earth's
orbit.

According to the report, we still need more basic science about NEOs - such
as their physical characteristics. There are many types of NEOs, which
differ in mineralogy, surface geology and tension, internal structure and
cohesion, shape, spin state, and the like. These properties are crucial for
scientists and engineers to know if they are to design and build instruments
for the potential deflection or destruction of Earthbound NEOs. Much of this
information can only be attained from fly-by spacecraft equipped with proper
instrumentation.

Lack of political awareness and governmental procrastination in dealing with
the issue is also cited by the report. "I have no idea who in the U.S.
government would be receptive to serious information we might have one day
about an impending impact," said Brian Marsden, director of the
International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, which catalogues all
NEO reportings."

"Already a dozen years have passed since major public discussion began about
the NEO impact hazard, and some think that the failure of politicians to act
has to do with the fact that an impact - or the need to mitigate one - is
extremely unlikely to happen on a current politician's 'watch,'" the authors
contest. Politicians are not going to force an issue that the public is
unaware of or deems unlikely.

Another issue is the potential for finger pointing if an impact does indeed
occur. How should we assign relative state, national, and international
responsibilities for mitigation efforts in case of a NEO impact?
Theoretically, until an Earthbound NEO is discovered, everybody - from the
smallest states and nations to the largest countries - is at risk. A large
enough impact would likely have global effects, and even a smaller impact in
the ocean could affect many nations.  But, the report claims, the most
likely NEO impact, at least in the near future, will be one of modest size
and only disrupt things locally - probably within a single nation.

What's the good news?  There is none. The authors conclude we Earthlings are
woefully unprepared for just about every facet of a NEO impact.

"Finally, we believe that international human society (and elements of it,
like the U.S. government) needs to make an informed, formal judgment about
the seriousness of the impact hazard and the degree to which resources
should be spent toward taking steps to address, and plan for mitigation of,
potential cosmic impacts," the authors admonish.

Copyright 2001, Copyright 1996-2001 Kalmbach Publishing Co.

=========
(13) TWO ASTEROIDS BECOME IRISH ROCK LEGENDS

From CNN, 17 March 2001  
http://www.cnn.com/2001/TECH/space/03/17/irish.asteroids/index.html
 
(CNN) -- No word on whether they are green or not, but two asteroids have
been given Irish names just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Ardmacha and Armaghobs, discovered by leading asteroid hunter Eleanor Helin,
received their new designated titles from the International Astronomical
Union to recognize Irish contributions to space research.

The first asteroid was given the original name of the town of Armagh in
Northern Ireland, which has hosted the Armagh Observatory since 1790.
Ardmacha is the ancient Gaelic name for the city, which tradition holds St.
Patrick founded.
 
"The City of Armagh is steeped in history. It is the ecclesiastical capital
of Ireland and home of the venerable Armagh Observatory," announced an
International Astronomical Union citation.

According to legend, St. Patrick chose Ardmacha as the center of his mission
in Ireland, building his main church on one of its seven hills in 445.

Ardmacha is a main-belt asteroid that revolves around the sun between the
orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is estimated to be about 6.2 miles (10 km)
across.

The second asteroid honors the observatory itself, today a modern facility
that often scans the skies in search of celestial objects near Earth.

Armaghobs is a Mars-approaching object with a slightly more unstable orbit,
meaning that it could possibly collide with the Earth in the distant future.
It is about 3.1 miles (5 km) in size.

Helin, who tracks asteroids near Earth for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
has often collaborated with Armagh astronomers. In 1997 she discovered these
two particular space rocks, first known by the scientifically dry
designations of 1987 QF6 and 1987 OT.

"The asteroids were named to honor the rich heritage of the ancient city of
Armagh, and noteworthy contributions from the 200-year-old observatory," she
said in a statement.

The International Astronomical Union published the new asteroid names in the
January 2001 Minor Planet Circular.

Copyright 2001, CNN

==========
(14) GOLDILOCKS AND THE EXTRATERRESTRIALS

From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

University of New South Wales
Sydney, NSW, Australia

CONTACT DETAILS:
Dr Lineweaver, School of Physics, UNSW
tel. (02) 9385 5168, email: charley@bat.phys.unsw.edu.au

Rory McGuire, tel. (02) 9385 5751, mobile 0413 930 728

11 January 2001

GOLDILOCKS AND THE EXTRATERRESTRIALS

So far, searches for ET have come up empty-handed. No signals have been
detected.

But UNSW astronomer Dr Charles Lineweaver has come up with a new way to tell
us something about extra-terrestrials. By cleverly combining observations of
extra-solar planets and the rate of star formation in the Universe, he has
found that our Earth is much younger than other Earth-like planets in the
Universe.

In a paper recently submitted to Icarus, the leading journal of planetary
science, Dr Lineweaver reported that "three quarters of the Earth-like
planets in the Universe are older than the Earth and their average age is
1.8 (plus or minus 0.9) billion years older than the Earth".

Dr Lineweaver outlined his argument as follows:

"Immediately after the Big Bang, 13 billion years ago, the Universe was made
of hydrogen and helium. There was no carbon, oxygen, iron or silicon.
Therefore no Earth-like planets could form around the first stars. Then, in
a strong burst of star formation that lasted a few billion years, these
ingredients were produced in abundance by stars. This meant the formation of
Earth-like planets became possible.

"But there is a catch. Too much of these ingredients seems to be a bad thing
for Earth formation. The 50 or so huge extra-solar planets detected so far
are found preferentially around stars rich in these ingredients. And these
huge planets are in orbits that would destroy any Earth-like planets. You
can think of this as a 'Goldilocks effect': with a shortage of ingredients
Earths were unable to form, with too much, giant planets would destroy any
Earths trying to form. As Goldilocks insisted, the porridge had to be 'just
right' or there was no deal."

Although his analysis is about terrestrial planets, not life on them, Dr
Lineweaver concluded that if life formed as readily on other Earth-like
planets as it did on Earth -- as suggested by the rapid appearance of life
on Earth (about 3.5 billion years ago) -- this gives us an age distribution
for life on such planets and a rare clue about how we compare with other
life that might inhabit the Universe.

"The 'rare clue' is this: most of the life forms in the Universe have had
two billion years longer to evolve than we have. To put this time span in
perspective, two billion years ago our ancestors were microscopic
single-celled amoebas," he said.

Dr Lineweaver's article: "An Estimate of the Age Distribution of Terrestrial
Planets in the Universe: Quantifying Metallicity as a Selection Effect" is
available online at http://xxx.adelaide.edu.au/abs/astro-ph/0012399 .

The 13 January issue of New Scientist will include an article about Dr
Lineweaver's research. 

=========
(15) IMPACT HAZARD TALKS & LECTURES

NATIONAL PHYSICS CONGRESS 2001, Brighton
http://physics.iop.org/IOP/Congress/2001/lecture.html.

Monday, 19 March 2001

Benny Peiser, JMU: Preventing Armageddon: The Physics of Planetary Defence
Lembit Opik, MP: Making a Deep Impact on the Government's Space Policy

Tuesday, 20 Match

Lord Sainsbury (Minister for Science): Performance and Challenges of UK
Physics
Monica Grady (Natural History Museum): Moon Rocks and Meteorites

WITH FURTHER LECTURES IN LEEDS ....

More northern CCNet readers might like to know that Duncan Steel will give a
public talk at the University of Leeds tonight (19th) at 7:30 pm (about
Spaceguard, of course). Venue: Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, in the
Michael Sadler Building. Organised by the Institute of Physics. All welcome.

... AND IRELAND: CORK INSTITITE OF TECHNOLOGY

Jay Tate, Spaceguard - The untold Story, 23 March

===========================
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
===========================

(16) METEOR SHOWER OVER THE CHANNEL?

From Jiri Borovicka <borovic@asu.cas.cz>

Dear Benny,

this seems to be a local event rather than a meteor shower. No meteors were
reported here (Czech Republic) despite clear weather
and the photographic all-sky camera at the Ondrejov Observatory detected no
single meteor during that night. The camera is sensitive
to bright meteors (-4 mag and brighter).

Sincerely,

Jiri Borovicka

===========
(17) A NUTTY EFFECT ON EROS

From Michael Oates <mike@ph.u-net.com>

Dear Benny,

I don't know why the scientists expect to see craters near boulder
groupings, after an impact the debris could be thrown far from the surface
of the asteroid, only to come back to the surface quite some time later due
to the low gravity and the rotation of the asteroid the debris could be
spread over a large area well away from the impact point. Some of the debris
could even remain in orbit for a while before falling back to the surface.

This could explain why some of the boulders seen in the images are split in
too several pieces, these are the debris that has fallen back to the surface
at a relatively slow speed (compared to the initial impact), thereby not
creating a crater themselves, but getting damaged in the process.

Regards,

Michael Oates
Manchester, UK

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