CCNet, 35/2000 - 20 March 2000


     Here is Sherlock Holmes's view of the (un)importance of the dynamics
     of the Solar System, as recorded by his patient scribe John
     Watson, M. D., late of the Army Medical Department.
     [from Rolf Sinclair <>]

     “His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary
     literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to
     nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the
     naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise
     reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was
     ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the
     Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth
     century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun
     appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could
     hardly realize it. "You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling
     at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my
     best to forget it."
     "To forget it!"
     "You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally
     is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such
     furniture as you choose. ...  It is of the highest importance,
     therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful
     "But the Solar System!" I protested.
     "What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently: "you say
     that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not
     make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."
         -- Arthur Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet, Chapter 2,
            The Science of Deduction

    Ron Baalke <>

    Peter FitzGerald-Morris <>

    Michael Paine <>

    Joan and David Dunham <>

    Andrew Yee <>


    ABC News, 16 March 2000

    Jeremy Tatum <UNIVERSE@uvvm.UVic.CA>

    Ed Grondine <>

     BBC, Online News, 20 March 2000


From Ron Baalke <>

Forwarded from Peter Brown (

Fireball Detection

On 5 December 1999, infrared sensors aboard DOD satellites detected
the impact of a meteoroid at 10:17:58 UTC about midway between
Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama. The object was first detected  at
about 33.1 North Latitude, 85.9 West Longitude, at an altitude of
approximately 74 km. It was traveling on a path from just east of
north to just west of south, at an angle of about 55 from the
horizontal. It was last tracked at an altitude of approximately 23km
at 33.0 North Latitude, 86.1 West Longitude.


Dr. Peter Brown
Meteor Physics Lab
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario
N6A 3K7

Voice:1-519-661-2111 x86458


From Peter FitzGerald-Morris <>

I expect you've seen this from today's Sunday Times.


From THE SUNDAY TIMES, 19 March 2000

Sun's hidden twin stalks planet Earth

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

WHEN the end of the world comes, we'll know what to blame. Scientists
have found compelling evidence that the Sun has a baby brother, a dark
star whose eccentric orbit is responsible for periodically showering
the Earth with comets and meteorites.

The dark star - named Nemesis by astronomers - is thought to be a
"brown dwarf" that spins round the Sun in an orbit so large it is
measured in light years, the distance light travels in a year,
equivalent to about 6,000 billion miles.

The research suggests that, every 26m years, the star's eccentric orbit
brings it within one light year of the solar system. There it causes
havoc in the Oort Cloud, a huge region surrounding the solar system
that contains billions of bits of cosmic rubble left over from the
formation of planets.

Of the millions of rocks it throws out of orbit at each visit, some
hurtle Earthwards - and have several times nearly wiped out life on

Astronomers have long wondered if the Sun has a smaller partner.
Recently, two independent groups of researchers have found evidence of

One group, led by John Matese, professor of physics at the University
of Louisiana at Lafayette, confirms the notion that it is most likely
to be a brown dwarf, a star that never accumulated enough mass to
ignite and which has simply sat in space smouldering for billions of

Matese studied 82 comets from the Oort Cloud and found common elements
in the shape of their orbits that could only be explained if they had
been influenced by the gravitational pull of an object several times
the size of Jupiter and existing about 25,000 times farther from the
Sun than the Earth.

Matese said: "A companion to the Sun orbiting at these distances would
have little effect on the planets. But it would play a big role in the
way comets 'made their way' from their birth places in the planetary
disc out to the Oort Cloud and on how they can return to the inner
solar system."

Further research was published last week by Richard Muller, professor
of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, following
analyses of moon rock samples brought back to Earth by Apollo 14.

The absence of a protective atmosphere means the moon has been
subjected to intense bombardment in its 4.5 billion- year existence.

Muller's breakthrough was to find a way to date how long ago any
particle was melted - meaning he could build up a picture of whether
the moon gets a constant barrage or suffers spells of intense

He said: "The evidence clearly shows that the moon has gone through
spells of relatively frequent impacts and others of reduced intensity.
I believe it is likely that this is because the Oort Cloud is being
disturbed by a massive body that is throwing comets out of stable
orbits, a small fraction of which could reach the Earth."

Muller and others believe that the dark star probably takes about 26m
years to complete an orbit around the sun.

Other scientists have already noted that mass extinctions of life on
Earth seem to occur in a pattern with gaps equivalent to multiples of
26m, suggesting some regular event is causing the comets to come
Earth's way.

The best-known such event was the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65m
years ago, but that was not the worst; the planet has suffered several
such large mass extinctions.

Copyright 2000, The Times Newspapers Ltd.


From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny,

Richard Muller writes:
"The Rampino theory is not viable, since the oscillations of the sun in
the Galaxy are quite small, and the variations in density experienced
by the solar system are too small to affect impacts..."

I have links on this issue at
in particular:
American Scientist article “Perturbing the Oort Cloud” by Michael Szpir,
Jan/Feb 1997 issue.

Quote: And so the matter stood until 1995, when John Matese and Patrick
Whitman of the University of Southwestern Louisiana and their
colleagues Mauri Valtonen of Finland and Kimmo Innanen of Canada
attempted to assess the quantitative effects of the disk tides. Their
numerical models of Oort-cloud dynamics suggested that as the solar
system oscillates through the galactic plane, the disk tides modulate
the comet flux from the Oort cloud by a ratio of about 4 to 1, with the
greatest effect in the midplane of the galaxy (Icarus 1995, 116:255).
The results brought new life to the theory by providing a mechanism for
the 30-million-year galactic clock. Gravitational tides of the Milky
Way may pull comets free of the Oort cloud as the solar system
oscillates in the galactic plane. It was enough to convince some
scientists that there might be something to the theory after all.
Notable among these is Gene Shoemaker of the U.S. Geological Survey,
who at one time believed that the periodicity was a "statistical
fluke." The work of Matese and his colleagues convinced him that the
"impact surges are real... and that [the comet flux is] controlled by
the fluctuating galactic tidal forces." The Matese study, he said, "is
a landmark contribution in understanding the history of bombardment of
the earth."

Michael Paine


From Joan and David Dunham <>

So far, I haven't seen a schedule for the Iridium satellite re-entries,
but I assume that it will be publicized when the re-entry schedule
has been established.


Return-Path: <>
From: "Charles J. Bonner" <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: Electroacoustics and Iridium
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2000 15:26:37 -0500

Dear Mr. Dunham:

The upcoming decommissioning of the Iridium satellite constellation 
provides a tremendous opportunity for the study of meteor astronomy. 
Here we have about seventy "fireballs" about to enter the Earth's
atmosphere, and we will know exactly when and where they will occur.

In particular, I believe that the "electroacoustic" phenomenon requires
more study, and these satellites provide an opportunity to do just

Probably, these "fireballs" will not produce sounds detectable to the
human ear, as they are not extremely large and they will be moving very
slowly, compared to natural fireballs. Nevertheless, I believe they are
worth studying.

With the proper equipment, observers can record any acoustic signals
that might be too quiet for human hearing. More importantly, electronic
recording equipment can detect any VLF radio waves emanating from the
"fireball" or its "train," and all relevant properties.  Are these
signals modulated? Directional? Polarized? What is their exact
frequency range?  Exactly what mechanism can convert similar electronic
signals into audible sound in larger fireballs?

I have read very little about this electroacoustic effect (apparently,
little information is available), but I have heard a fireball myself
once. The official scientific explanation of the phenomenon does not
seem to match my own experience, and therefore I am sure that there is
much more to be learned about electroacoustics.

Specifically, I do not think that the "official" explanation accounts
for the strongly directional nature of the sound.  It seemed to be
coming from the fireball itself (though that was obviously too far
away), and not from the surrounding large objects (houses), nor from
the hairs inside my ears. In my one experience with electroacoustics, I
heard the fireball several seconds before I saw it, and the directional
nature of the sound enabled me to pinpoint the fireball. Along with
perhaps a dozen other "observers" (kids playing stickball, that is), I
ran around a house expecting to see an aircraft in distress, and saw a
moon-sized green fireball crossing the sky from northwest to

Please e-mail me at if you would like more
information on my experience or my idea.  You can also read my on-line 
article on the subject at

I am hopeful that your readers, members, and other visitors to your Web
site might be able to get this idea into the right people's minds and
that research into electroacoustic fireballs will actually be done on
these satellite re-entries.  Please spread the word!


Chuck Bonner, Head Lunatic


From Andrew Yee <>

State University of New York-Buffalo
Buffalo, New York

Contact: Ellen Goldbaum,
Phone: 716-645-5000 ext 1415
Fax: 716-645-3765

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

UB Geologist's Study Of Volcanoes On Earth May Help Determine If There
Ever Was Life On Mars

HOUSTON -- Was there ever life on Mars? That question may one day be
answered in part by research now being conducted by a University at
Buffalo geologist who studies volcanoes on earth.

In a presentation here on March 17 at the 31st Annual Lunar and
Planetary Science Conference, Tracy Gregg, Ph.D., assistant professor
of geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, will discuss how her
studies of volcanoes in specific locations on Earth may be able to help
researchers learn about Martian volcanoes, and in turn, reveal the
answers to mysteries surrounding the Martian climate of the past.

In particular, researchers will be looking for evidence of the past
presence on Mars of water, the solitary ingredient that is most vital
for proving the existence of past life on the planet.

"The underlying drive for this research is certainly to one day find out
enough about what the Martian environment was like in the past in
order to discern if it could have, in fact, sustained life," said Gregg.

According to the UB geologist, that issue is controversial: Some
scientists believe that the clues available now support evidence of Mars
having been able to sustain life of some sort in the past, while others
say that the available data refute that.

For her part, Gregg believes that much more work needs to be done.

"Our research is one way of attacking the question of what Mars was
like in the past," said Gregg, who did the work with colleague Michael
F. Sheridan, Ph.D., UB professor of geology.

In her presentation, "Volcanoes as Meteorologists: Using Volcanic
Morphology to Constrain Paleoenvironments on Earth and Mars,"
Gregg will report on what she and Sheridan have learned from studying
the lava flow that filled Iceland's Skaelinger valley in 1783, the 1801
Kualelea Flow from Mauna Loa in Hawaii and explosion craters of the
Pinacate volcanic field in Mexico.

On earth, Gregg explained, features of volcanoes whose last-known
eruptions occurred hundreds, even thousands of years ago, have been
used to pinpoint the locations of bodies of water, such as glaciers,
rivers and lakes, which were displaced or destroyed by dramatic
changes in climate, such as the advance and retreat of ice ages. These
studies, which usually involve extensive fieldwork, laboratory analysis
of samples and analysis of satellite data, also can tell researchers
about the direction and distinguishing characteristics of these lava

For example, at Iceland's Askja Caldera volcano, which has been active
during the past 5,000 years, there is a small crater lake that was
created by a 1834 lava flow. That lava flow, which still is visible,
dramatically changes character from rough and spiny to smooth,
several meters above the lake's present shoreline.

"That change tells us that the lake had much more water in it when the
lava flowed into it," said Gregg, a piece of evidence that may point to a
warmer climate.

She noted that this is exactly the kind of data that could be observed
on Mars using a lander or rover equipped with cameras that can "see"
these kinds of changes in lava flows and recognize key features of
volcanic craters.

That kind of information helps scientists reconstruct past environments,
a process that Gregg and Sheridan hope can be easily translated to

"We are using volcanic features to tell us what the environment was
like when these volcanoes erupted," she said.

Similarly, the UB researchers say that high-resolution images of
Martian volcanoes made by the Mars Observer Camera, which has been
returning useful data from the Mars Global Surveyor Mission since
1998, together with the ability of landers and rovers to identify certain
geologic features, will begin to address these issues for the red planet.
They also will be using data collected by the Mars Orbiter Laser
Altimeter to review the topography of Martian features to compare
with similar ones on earth.


From, 17 March 2000

By Frederic Castel

TOULOUSE, France - European scientists are gaining a better
understanding via Earth-observing satellites of last year's
devastating earthquake in Turkey, which killed more than 20,000

"Satellite images are essential for the study of earth tremors of
such magnitude because they enable the region to be observed at a
larger scale," said Bertrand Meyer, a researcher on the in
Paris-based Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) team.

Such big pictures can't save lives or bring back Turkey's quake
victims, but they are essential to understanding the physics of
this dangerous region and evaluating its seismic risk, he said.
For instance, what caused the ocean to submerge an entire section
of the coastal town of Golcuk within seconds of the quake?

Understanding answers to that and other questions could help
engineers design and build homes and offices that are less deadly
during temblors.



From ABC News, 16 March 2000

One Heretic Predicts More Oil to Be Drilled in the Ground

By Kevin Newman

March 16 — Vienna-born astrophysicist and cosmologist Dr. Thomas Gold
looks at things in new ways. His academic pedigree is stellar: Harvard,
Cambridge, Cornell. He founded, and for many years, directed the
Cornell Center for Radiophysics and Space Research. But Thomas Gold is
usually a little "out there" and is most known as a heretic.

In 1959, he predicted the moon was covered in dust when everyone else
said lava. The treads of Apollo astronauts proved his theory. In 1967,
Gold was the first to suggest that energy pulsating in the distant
universe was the signature of a collapsing star when others scoffed.
He also predicted in 1992 that Martian rock might contain fossilized
microbes. Four years later, NASA confirmed. 

Predicting Oil in the Ground

In time, Gold is usually proved right more than wrong — and it bugs
other scientists. "I don’t enjoy my role as heretic," says Gold.
"It’s annoying."

Gold’s latest theory challenges the belief that oil and gas come from
the fossilized remains of dinosaurs and plants. He doubts that because
as we’ve sent space probes to nearby planets and meteorites, we’ve
detected a lot of hydrocarbons and methane, which is the same
thing as oil and natural gas. We know there were never any dinosaurs on
Saturn’s moon Titan, so why is oil and gas there?

Gold believes they formed in planets after the Big Bang that created
the universe. And if it so plentiful out there, then why not here?
"I believe an enormous quantity of oil and gas exists within hundreds
and 200 miles in the earth," says Gold. "But the drilling we do is only
4 or 5 miles, but it seeps up."




From Jeremy Tatum <UNIVERSE@uvvm.UVic.CA>

The item on wobbly asteroids and comets came at a perfect time for my
Classical Mechanics course - we are covering that right now.  But I
think I am right in saying that the asteroid will also not dissipate
energy if it is rotating about its axis of minimum rotational inertia,
which is a stable state.  Of course, if the instantaneous axis of
rotation strays *appreciably* from a principal axis, then stresses are
set up, and, if the body is nonrigid, energy will be dissipated as heat
and the body will end up in its lowest kinetic energy state (for a
given constant angular momentum), namely it spins about its axis of
greatest rotational inertia.  However, I did admit to my class that I
didn't know how to calculate the relaxation time for this to happen,
so, if the authors of the paper happen to see this and would like to
send me a reprint, I would very much appreciate it (and I hope my class
will, too).

Jeremy Tatum


From Ed Grondine <>

Bob mentioned that my list of observations is a little too loose
for his standards, and in this I am in agreement: in fact, the
list is a little too loose for my own standards. What is it going
to take to firm the list up?  MONEY.

As Bob points out, it is very risky to associate handed down lore
or observation with an impact event in general, because the
traditions of various cultures can easily color their
interpretation of cause and effect. The only thing handed down
lore or observations can do is to provide pointers to areas where
detailed archaeological and geological surveys need to be made.
These surveys require MONEY.

It is widely believed by the general public that archaeologists, 
anthropologists, classicists, and linguists all work for free. 
This is not true. For example, to establish a text for one of
Bob's most intriguing references, "The Syballine Oracles", would
take a skilled classicist on the order of 3 to 5 years. To basic
salary, add in travel costs, reproduction costs, data handling
costs, publication costs, etc...  You come up with a sizable
amount of MONEY.

Multiply this sum by a similar amount for each textual work.  Add
in costs for field expeditions by geologists, and excavations by
archaeologists. You then arrive at an even larger amount of MONEY.

I disagree with Bob's conclusion that, "The problem seems to be
that various perceived authorities are fixated on quantifying the
likelihood of such an event so politically powerful bean-counters
can derive some form of cost-benefit analysis." The problem is
raising enough MONEY to be able to use professionals to quantify
the threat.

Initial surveys punted together by gentleman scholars out of their
own pockets can only go so far. These surveys, done privately by
individuals, have provided a valuable service in indicating to the
different governments that they may be well advised to spend some
MONEY on the problem. If the costs of the literature searches and
field surveys are split among the govnernments, then each
government should be able to very easily manage the amount of
MONEY required of it.

Another problem is that to further quantify the hazard, exhaustive
crater counts for both the Moon and Mars are sorely needed, as is
the development of software capable of performing these counts. 
The problem here seems to be the disinclination of some entrenched
space reasearchers to give up part of their MONEY to do this work.
In this regard I mention in particular some of what I call "Mars
enthusiasts" here in the US, who somewhat immaturely wish the US
government to spend MONEY on their realizing their Mars fantasies
rather than on saving lives.

Like Bob, I favor more open discussion of the use of nuclear
charges as well as the different militaries' involvements in a
planetary defense system, and I concur with his call for a
monitoring AND defense system. But whatever their views on a
defense system, I think that everyone here will at least agree
that at a minimum, even a few hours or days of warning would be
enough to enable people to seek shelter or evacuate coastal areas,
and thus that even a simple warning system could save hundreds of
thousands to millions of lives. The cost per live saved, as
indicated by the historical record as it is known so far, would be
a very, very small amount of MONEY.

Trying not to be too grouchy,


PS - Having just had my investment in Iridium wiped out by some
overly anxious creditors, I doubt if I shall have MONEY to invest
in Jim Benson's Space Development corporation's asteroid
development schemes.

From BBC, News Online, 20 March 2000

Uganda cult suicide (sic!) toll rises
[...] Police officials say it is clear the number of victims could be higher
than previously thought. A tangle of charred bodies remained in the
makeshift church on Sunday, 48 hours after members of the Restoration
of the Ten Commandments of God cult church set themselves (sic!)

Initial reports said around 235 men, women and children died in the
small trading centre of Kanungu, about 320km (200 miles), southwest of
the Ugandan capital, Kampala. This figure was based on the number of
people who had registered as members of the movement.

But correspondents say police have discovered a full list of the cult's
members and, although they are not revealing the figure, say it could
be much more than previously thought. Some reports have put the death
toll at 470. [...]

One report said the group's leader, Joseph Kibweteere, told his
followers to sell their possessions and prepare to go to heaven. [...]
There have also been reports that other leaders of the cult included
two former Roman Catholic priests. Correspondents say evidence of its
Roman Catholic roots lay scattered around the cult's compound. Three
statues of Jesus stood in the leader's abandoned offices, while a large
crucifix had been laid carefully on green cloth draped across a chair.

End of the world

The community was involved in farming but villagers later destroyed its
food supply, fearing that it might be poisoned. It has been reported
the movement had been preparing for the end of the world this year.
Last year, one of cult's members, Emmanuel Twinomujuni, told the
state-owned New Vision newspaper that "there was no time to waste". 
"Some of our leaders talk directly to God," he said. "Any minute from
now, when the end comes, every believer who will be at an as yet
undisclosed spot will be saved."


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