CCNet 40/2002 - 25 March 2002
"To review then, it only takes one big NEO to ruin everything, it
could happen at any time, and we have five different kinds of blind
spots for Dave Barry: 1) the Seasonal and Random Bad Weather Blind
Spots, 2) The Huge Southern Hemisphere Blind Spot, 3) The Really Enormous
Daytime Blind Spot, 4) The Unbelievable Comet Zones of Blindness, and 5) The
Even More Unbelievable Super-Duper Computerized-Telescopes
Software-Glitch Mode of Blindness. And yes, I am still willing to write
text and software in uniform as long as someone feeds me java beans."
--Drake A. Mitchell, 25 March 2002
"In fact, survivalism is not the benign movement that Mitchell would
have us believe. Doomsday predictions and apocalyptic prophecies are
far more than acts of "creative ingenuity." Fear mongering has the
potential for causing grave economic and psychological harm to the society
from which survivalists have isolated themselves."
--Elaine Cassel, The Christian Science Monitor, 14 March
(1) WE DODGED THE ASTEROID, BUT WHY DIDN'T WE SEE IT?
Palm Beach Post, 24 March 2002
(2) HOW TO SEE COMET IKEYA-ZHANG
Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(3) BOOK REVIEW: "DANCING AT ARMAGEDDON" - MISJUDGING RADICAL SURVIVALISTS
The Christian Science Monitor, 14 March 2002
(4) DAVE RODDY
Mary G Chapman <email@example.com>
(5) TOURING THE BLIND ZONES: BLIND SPOTS, BLIND SIDES, BLIND MODES &
Drake A. Mitchell, PlanetaryDefence@Netscape.Net
(6) NOT JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT
E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(7) COSMIC GARDENERS
Michael Martin-Smith <email@example.com>
(8) AND FINALLY: ISLAMIC REPUBLIC NEWS AGENCY ISSUES NEO ALERT
Islamic Republic News Agency, 22 March 2002
(1) WE DODGED THE ASTEROID, BUT WHY DIDN'T WE SEE IT?
>From Palm Beach Post, 24 March 2002
By Michael Alicea, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
On March 8, a building-sized hunk of space junk slid past the Earth just a
sliver farther away than the moon. Cosmically speaking, the asteroid grazed
us -- but that's not the bad part. The bad part? We didn't see this intruder
until four days later.
The Earth is visited (and hit) by space rocks all the time. Most are
dust-sized pieces of debris blown off planets and the moon long ago in
catastrophic collisions with bigger hunks of junk. Comets also leave trails
of debris, and Earth dips in and out of these trails throughout the year.
A quick glance at the moon will reveal that it was the subject of major
bombardment in its early life. Gazing at Mercury reveals that it has been
the victim of cruel circumstance, as it is constantly bombarded by objects
pulled in by the sun's awesome gravitational forces.
The Earth, too, has been host to a few blows, but few of the impact scars
(the meteor crater near Flagstaff, Ariz., for example) remain immune from
the effects of wind and water. Satellite photos reveal most meteor craters
are mere flattened shadows of their former selves.
On June 30, 1908, an object exploded over the forests of Siberia in Russia.
This blast flattened the forest for hundreds of square miles. The object
that caused this devastation was probably a stony meteor that was, perhaps,
the size of a [VERY BIG] bus, but since it disintegrated above the surface,
no visible crater was formed.
Many other craters have filled with water over the millennia and been
classified as natural lakes. Others still lie "buried" and are not visible
by any means except through the electronic eyes of ground-penetrating radar.
This is the case with the Chicxulub crater discovered under the tip of the
Yucatan peninsula in Mexico
This 125-mile diameter crater may be the point of impact for an asteroid
many believe dispatched the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The object
itself is thought to have been the size of a small city and it hit with such
force that it made the surface undulate like Jell-O and actually dented the
earth's crust as deep as 22 miles underground.
As common as space debris is, real big rocks like the alleged dino-killer
are rare. But they're still out there, and pass us just as close as 2002 EM7
did -- and even closer (sic).
According to the University of Arizona, rocks bigger (sic) than 2002 EM7
pass within about the same distance up to 25 times a year. That's twice a
month! Smaller rocks cruise by about 100 times a year. Among the scariest
was an encounter on May 19, 1996, when a 720-foot wide rock dubbed 1996 JA1
edged by even closer than our recent near miss.
We saw that one coming, though.
So why didn't we see 2002 EM7 until after it was four days gone? The answer
hinges on the angle of approach 2002 EM7 took when it was coming toward us.
2002 EM7 approached at an angle that hid it in the glare of the sun
throughout its approach. An automated sky survey then spotted it four days
after it passed and calculated the path it had traveled, which revealed the
Near-misses by rocks of all shapes and sizes have happened in the past, and
they will continue to happen as long as debris floats out in space. One of
the keys to keeping the Earth safe from harm is developing ways to deflect
or destroy anything that may cause catastrophic damage. But, as seen with
the case with 2002 EM7, it is much more important to support financing of
programs and projects designed to seek out these renegade hunks of offal
before they find us first.
Copyright © 2002, The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.
(2) HOW TO SEE COMET IKEYA-ZHANG
>From Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Release No.: 02-09
For Immediate Release: March 22, 2002
See a Comet Tonight
Cambridge, MA - The brightest comet since 1997's Hale-Bopp is currently
gracing the western skies of North America. Comet Ikeya-Zhang (pronounced
"ee-KAY-uh JONG") was discovered on February 1st by two amateur astronomers
in Japan and China, respectively. Calculations of the comet's orbit by Brian
Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics show that it was
last seen in 1661. This makes Ikeya-Zhang the first long-period comet (a
comet with a period longer than 200 years) to be identified on its return to
the inner solar system.
No telescope is necessary to look at this beautiful visitor as it swings
around the Sun and heads back to deep space. The comet has brightened to
naked-eye visibility, but is easiest to see through binoculars. A casual
glance will show the bright, starlike nucleus surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of
dust and gas called the coma. The comet's tail streaks away from the Sun,
pointing nearly straight up from the horizon.
To find Comet Ikeya-Zhang, look in the western sky shortly after sunset. A
red point of light about 18 degrees up in the sky is the planet Mars. (An
outspread hand at arm's length covers about 15 degrees, so Mars is a bit
higher than one hand-span.) To the right of Mars are two bright stars in a
nearly vertical line. The comet is at the same height as Mars, to the right
of the two bright stars about as far again as the distance from Mars to the
Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center
for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA
scientists organized into seven research divisions study the origin,
evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe.
Note to editors: An image of Comet Ikeya-Zhang on the evening of Thursday,
March 22, 2002, taken by the MicroObservatory telescope in Cambridge, is
available online at http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/press/comet_image.html. The
MicroObservatory project, created by the Science Education group at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, allows students and teachers
across the nation to use telescopes over the Internet to take pictures of
objects in the night sky.
For more information, contact:
David A. Aguilar, Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7462 Fax: 617-495-7468
(3) BOOK REVIEW: "DANCING AT ARMAGEDDON" - MISJUDGING RADICAL SURVIVALISTS
>From The Christian Science Monitor, 14 March 2002
Just a perfectly ordinary doomsday fanatic
Survivalists are reacting rationally to a crazy world
By Elaine Cassel
Sociology professor Richard Mitchell has written a book purporting to
explain American "survivalists," whom he defines as people preparing for a
myriad of anticipated "troubles."
His premise is that survivalists, the archetype of whom is a white male in
his late 30s with two years of college and two children, are neither crazy
nor dangerous, at least no more so than the general population from which
they are drawn. Rather, they are rational members of an irrational society,
a premise that reprises revisionist psychologist Thomas Szasz's theory that
there is no mental illness, only a sick society.
The author's efforts to remake the stereotypical image of the backwoods
eccentric backfire, however, for three reasons: He paints his subject with
too broad a brush, fails to account for the delusional quality of most
survivalists' beliefs, and posits a premise unsupported by sufficient
His central claim is that survivalists are more diverse than media reports
have led us to believe. Yet he maintains that all survivalists, made up of
groups as disparate as citizens' militias, tax and antigovernment
protesters, former Y2K fearmongers, racial separatists, and extreme
religionists (be they Muslim or Christian), share a common purpose:
Possessing a surfeit of what they need to survive (money and all that it can
buy), they are victims of modernity who are trying to create meaning out of
Through their survivalism ideology, we're told, they "deconstruct,"
"reinvent," and "transform" accepted bodies of knowledge like science,
politics, economics, and history into their own dramatic narratives and plan
for an apocalypse that they wish would come. This, Mitchell suggests, is a
proactive response to an existential dilemma.
But the author fails to differentiate between the "creative" narratives of
white supremacists and citizens' militias, on the one hand, and the more
prosaic prognostications of less dramatic and apocalyptic scenarios (such as
Y2K), on the other. In his effort to portray all survivalists as harmless
eccentrics, he ignores the fact that many of them could be diagnosed as
suffering from delusional disorders.
Arguing that survivalists are dangerous only when they get bored with
planning and talking, Mitchell cites as examples James Oliver Huberty, who,
in 1984, walked into a MacDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., and
shot 40 people, killing 21, before turning a gun on himself, and Oklahoma
City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
He reasons that Huberty and McVeigh tired of talk and wanted action and
therefore created their own chaos. But he fails to make the connection
between survivalism's promotion of paranoia and the bizarre behavior and
horrific crimes that flow from such thinking.
"Dancing at Armageddon" also suffers from lack of research, relying instead
on Mitchell and his former wife's personal involvement in various
survivalist organizations and a survey of 248 self-pronounced survivalists.
They taught survivalists cold-weather survival skills, edited a publication
of a group known as the Mount Rainier Rangers, and participated in retreats
of various types of survivalist groups. Such intimate exposure provides
material for telling narratives, but generalization, rationalization, and
justification are no substitute for hard data, rigorous analysis, and
In fact, survivalism is not the benign movement that Mitchell would have us
believe. Doomsday predictions and apocalyptic prophecies are far more than
acts of "creative ingenuity." Fear mongering has the potential for causing
grave economic and psychological harm to the society from which survivalists
have isolated themselves.
By dancing around the deleterious effect that survivalist thinking and
behavior may have on those within and without their ranks, "Dancing at
Armageddon" is disturbing and disingenuous. Mitchell deserves credit,
however, for fashioning a theory about a phenomenon that deserves the
serious research and analysis lacking in this work.
* Elaine Cassel practices law and teaches psychology and law in Virginia.
She is the author, with Douglas Bernstein, of Criminal Behavior (Allyn &
Copyright 2002, The Christian Science Monitor
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(4) DAVE RODDY
>From Mary G Chapman <email@example.com>
Sad news. USGS Astrogeology Team Emeritus Dave Roddy, a great scientist,
longtime meteor impact specialist, and a kind, loyal friend, passed at 9:40
yesterday morning (3/21/02) in St. Louis hospital while on a short trip. He
had gone in complaining of chest pains and ruptured an aorta while in the
hospital undergoing a scan. He died immediately. The family indicates the
funeral services will be in Flagstaff, AZ on a as yet undetermined date.
(Contact: A. Wesley Ward, Jr, Chief Scientist, Astrogeology USGS,
Mary G. Chapman
U.S. Geological Survey
2255 N. Gemini Drive
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 556-7182; fax: (928) 556-7014
(5) TOURING THE BLIND ZONES: BLIND SPOTS, BLIND SIDES, BLIND MODES &
>From Drake A. Mitchell, PlanetaryDefence@Netscape.Net
It is not alarmist to educate people about the facts: we live in a dangerous
universe. We also live with suicide-terrorists: a hearing before the
chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph R.
Biden Jr. of Delaware, recently examined the long-term ruinous effects of a
potential radiological bomb, a "dirty nuke", on over one trillion, yes
trillion, dollars worth of prime New York City real-estate. The squeamish
are directed to review recent Darwin Awards for outstanding individual
achievement in the self-cleansing of the gene pool , sparing us of those
who would foolishly persist in avoiding the urgent cultivation of rational
threat perception . Threats must be faced down and fully dissected, a
challenging enough endeavor without astronomical complications or the
obstructions of the willfully ignorant. One disaster at a time, please.
As has been shown previously, when compared to the Titanic's emergency, our
world today appears to be worse off on 11 out of 13 points when exogeneous
threats like the NEO hazard are taken into account. Of these 11 aspects, the
one that currently seems the most offensive to the public concerns the
relative freedom of visibility, or rather our lack of it. Recent media
attention towards NEOs has shifted from the "near-miss asteroid" 2001 Yankee
Bravo 5 to the more buzzworthy near-miss "blind-spot asteroid" 2002 Echo
Mary 7. If near misses are insulting to human sensibilities of security,
then near misses from blind spots are deservedly more so.
The New Scientist broke the story on 15Mar02  with the headline "Asteroid
Buzzes Earth from 'Blind Spot'". This was followed three days later by the
Western Daily Press ("...blindspot.") , and then the next day on 19Mar02
by Space.Com ("... Cosmic Blind Spot"), CNN ("Stealth
Asteroid Nearly Blindsides Earth", "...astronomical blind spot..."), and
MSNBC ("...the big blind spot on Earth's sunward side.") . According to
MSNBC's related informal poll of 23,832 respondents, a majority of the
influential "wired" public, 51%, is either substantially concerned or wants
immediate action, "Now!" Thus MSNBC gets our quarterly "NEOs in the Media"
Prize, Category: U.S. Cable Television.
Not surprisingly though, with the media's problematic attention span, and
NEO hazard management continuing to struggle without full-time spokespersons
or dedicated public-relations expertise, some important additional points
about NEOs and blind spots have been overlooked. As the Earth's enormous
daytime blind spot inexorably came into public focus, it eclipsed recent
notice of the Southern hemisphere blind spot of roughly one third of the sky
(weather allowing) that suffers a deficit of dedicated telescopes. The de
facto Southern blind spot was suddenly shrouded in media
darkness, even with the virtually simultaneous broadcast reporting of a
public science official in an anglophile industrialized nation doing his
very best to deny its relevance  after being directly petitioned by more
than 90 international experts .
Meanwhile, one of the world's leading astronomers in "blind-spot asteroids",
Aten-class NEO expert Robert Whitely  now at the University of Arizona,
remains in the media's blind spot. But he needn't feel too bad, for even
newcomer 2002 Charlie's Uncle 11, one of those rare
NEAs that has actually earned a rank on the Torino Hazard Scale , has
also apparently been eclipsed.
The Huge Southern Hemisphere Blind Spot was addressed in the recommendations
of the UK's NEO Task Force Report in 2000, along with such needs as
spacecraft . However, one minister of an OECD country who claims to be
responsible for science apparently finds the UK Task Force Report unworthy
of his dedicated personal attention. So then when it comes instead to the
Earth's larger daytime "blind side" for ground-based optical telescopes, is
"blind spot" really the appropriate term?
We are not quite as bad off as being entirely blind in the dayside
direction, because as MIT's Richard Binzel likes to point out, the short
periods of twilight allow us to peek over into the region of the inner
planets, even occasionally to snatch a view of Mercury. Twilight
observations allow for suboptimal follow-up of closer, brighter, larger
NEOs, but such observations are even more problematic for the general
initial detection of NEOs in this region between the Earth's orbit and the
Sun. Thus the twilight bonus notwithstanding, the daytime remains useless
except for eclipses, solar-coronal telescopes, radio telescopes, and radar
. However, if we call it The Great Daytime Hemisphere Blind Side then we
lose the opportunity of calling it The Really Enormous Daytime Blind Spot.
Maybe world-famous comedian-turned-astronomer Dave Barry can help us here.
Unfortunately, there are additional "spots" of blindness that blow the mind
(we recall that "'Tis an ill wind that bloweth no minds"). The next category
is discussed in the eighth contribution in the classic 1,300 page 1994 tome
"Hazards Due to Comets & Asteroids", University of Arizona Press, edited by
Tom Gehrels, a copy of which should be at every news editor's desk and God
knows how many others. In "Warning Times and Impact Probabilities for
Long-Period Comets", Brian Marsden and Duncan Steel  compute parameters
for two "unobservable zones" for potentially hazardous long-period comets
(LPCs), depending on whether or not these first get closer to the Sun before
impacting Earth, i.e. pre- or post-perihelion impactors. Unfortunately, they
did not indicate at the time the impressive three-dimensional structure of
these blind zones.
Nevertheless, their results indicate that more than 25% of potential
pre-perihelion LPC impactors would fail entirely to be detected by the
originally proposed Spaceguard Search Region (SSR), which was optimized for
the detection of short-period NEAs and apparently stands as the status of
existing search efforts . Partial remedies for the Marsden-Steel LPC
zones of blindness include extending the SSR at the expense of spreading NEA
detection too thin, or else ~tripling the number of ground-based telescopes;
yet even then the only way to completely neutralize these
vicious blind spots is by using, as in the case of Aten "blind-spot" NEAs,
space-based assets. However, the problematic uncertainty in the NEO
threat-fraction represented by LPCs has so far been used as a reason to do
less, not more.
Finally , perhaps most shocking of all, there are methodological zones
of blindness, affecting the very core of our existing telescopic survey
efforts which depend on optical detection near brightly-illuminated solar
oppositions, our "bright spots." This blindness was clearly discussed in the
1995 NEO Survey Workgroup Report: "Thus there is a 'blind spot' of slow sky
motion where an NEO can mimic a MB (N.B.: Main Belt, not Monstrously Big)
object and thus not be discriminated. As we go to surveys reaching to
fainter magnitude, discoveries will be made at greater distances, thus at
slower average motion, and the 'blind spot' becomes a more significant loss
How serious is this "blind mode" of CCD-image algorithmic processing? This
algorithmic blind spot means that for some of the most dangerous NEOs that
we routinely try to detect, either significant warning time could be lost,
or in the worst case useful warning lost altogether. This "bug" is routinely
passed off as a design "feature", since the existing survey efforts
explicitly do not have as a goal the detection of NEOs on potential final
approach; just ask David Morrison of NASA/Ames.
To review then, it only takes one big NEO to ruin everything, it could
happen at any time, and we have five different kinds of blind spots for Dave
Barry: 1) the Seasonal and Random Bad Weather Blind Spots, 2) The Huge
Southern Hemisphere Blind Spot, 3) The Really Enormous Daytime Blind Spot,
4) The Unbelievable Comet Zones of Blindness, and 5) The Even More
Unbelievable Super-Duper Computerized-Telescopes Software-Glitch Mode of
Blindness. And yes, I am still willing to write text and software in uniform
as long as someone feeds me java beans.
Only the perceptually challenged can assume that any criticism should be
directed towards the valiant few across the globe who are perservering in
current NEO efforts in spite of far too many hardships. Rather, criticism is
overdue not just of the timid members of the world's leadership, but of the
mass of the astronomical and scientific community that chooses the most
stunningly absurd justifications for their preference to remain comfortably,
blindly ignorant. If "fiddling while Rome burns" seems unfair, try instead
the University of Hawaii's David Jewitt in the May/June 2000 Planetary
Report: "Astronomy: Eyes Wide Shut" .
 "The UH Aten Survey: Hunting for Near-Earth Asteroids in Earth's Blind
Spot" by Robert Whiteley - 29 September 1998
 This author has previously investigated the potential for hybrid
ground-based+space-based radar applications, which have merit for
final-approach detection of small and large NEOs; such an application is
made more feasible with dual-use of proposed NMD radars, and NASA's reborn
Nuclear Systems Initiative.
 There is also demonstrable interdisciplinary blindness, particularly at
the intersections with management science and practicing economists. For
example, almost no attention has been paid to simple capital investment
models that justify large civil works projects like the Three Gorges Dam,
where the front-loading of initial costs is justified by the extended period
of following benefits. Given the reinsurance industry's use of probable
maxima computed over 450-year return periods, and the uniquely high-stakes
of the NEO hazard in spite of its low relative probability, such economic
models are not only compelling, but very generous.
(6) NOT JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT
>From E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello Benny -
I suppose that nearly everyone who participates in the Conference has been
begging to take a shot at Australian Science Minister Peter McGauran's
recent comments, as well as reporter Simon Grose's defense of them (NEO
Searchers Should Seek Private Funding, Canberra Times, 20 March 2002).
Let's start at the start, with the Grose's flawed premise in his lead:
"BEING an astronomer mostly involves studying interesting cosmic stuff that
has no bearing on the lives of people today or every tomorrow that will ever
come." While this is "mostly" true, it is most definitely not true in the
particular case of trying to find the next Earth impacting object before it
hits. In this case the bearing of astronomy on peoples' lives is quite
immediate. After all, it is entirely unlikely that Australia would have been
settled as it was, had not most of its coastal indigenous people been washed
away by a mega-tsunami generated by an asteroid hitting in the Pacific
shortly before the Europeans first arrived. Very few of those people
remained alive after that particular asteroid hit, and little is known about
their own particular habits, but given what is known about the peoples of
coastal Papua New Guinea, it is quite likely that the early European
visitors to Australia would simply have met their fate by being served up a
la Rockefeller, had not the Sky Gods intervened.
Off to a great start with this false premise, Grose now provided us with a
false inference: "Perhaps this is why the small cluster of astronomers who
hassle about scanning the heavens for incoming comets and asteroids are so
obsessed their cause has some relevance to worldy life in the foreseeable
future." On the other hand, perhaps what is being seen is not the asteroid
hunters' "obsession" with the great danger that these things present to
everyone, but simply their "absolute frustration" when confronted with
mounds of rationalizing tripe spouted by know-nothing idiots who present
themselves as being knowledgable.
Grose next expressed astonishment that the people of Australia are actually
concerned about their own well-being, "This is also one of the few aspects
of astronomy to offer the media a popular angle." Clearly Grose needs to
have it pointed out to him that asteroid astronomy involves studying
interesting cosmic stuff that does indeed have an immediate bearing on the
lives of all people living today and every tomorrow that will ever come, and
that the public is quite aware of this, and that this awareness is why they
are interested in it.
The topic of motivation lies immediately at hand, and we can now move on to
Grose's own immediate motivation for his story: "60 Minutes took it up on
Sunday, finding not only a "Deep Impact"-style yarn to target their viewers
but a Science Minister willing to face up to a conflict." One does not have
to look too far below the surface here to see a skilled columnist in the
print media taking his best shot at a story by his deadly rivals in
Having identified the motivations for Grose's rather specious
rationalizations, we can now move on to those behind Australia's Science
Minister Peter McGauran's "willingness to face up to a conflict".
"I'm not going to be spooked or panicked into spending scarce research
dollars on a fruitless attempt to predict the next asteroid. We spend about
$18 million a year on astronomy and that's a significant investment by
Australia, particularly by world-wide standards. I wouldn't like to divert
up to five or more per cent of that budget towards a fruitless, unnecessary,
Obviously for Mr. McGauran the way to deal with a letter from 90 of the
world's top experts informing him that he has made a serious mistake and
needlessly endangered the people of his country is simply to dismiss it all
as nonsense, and to try to label the method they propose for dealing with
that hazard as a "fruitless, unnecessary, self-indulgent exercise."
McGuaran clearly feels no need to give either his constituents or their
descendents a few days warning so that they could save their lives by taking
a short trip inland if need be. After all, by "diverting" 5% of the funding
of the cosmologists of the astronomy community, who do indeed spend most of
their lives "studying interesting cosmic stuff that has no bearing on the
lives of people today or every tomorrow that will ever come", he would upset
them. Fortunately for us all, while such a stance will currently get you
invited to all the better cocktail parties, tea and sherries, and
international conferences which the cosmologists hold, if McGauran continues
to hold that position it is likely to do little to insure his continuence in
office, as trying to find the next one these things before it hits enjoys
popular support and is "one of the few aspects of astronomy to offer the
media a popular angle".
Now we look at the way Grose packaged McGauran's comments. "That blunt
response indicates that the spacewatch lobby has upset the minister
something fierce." Well, being angry is one possible response to being told
by 90 of the world's top experts that you have made a very very serious
mistake. The other response is to actually to admit your mistake and to
correct it, but Grose seems intent upon making that decision for McGauran
and closing that door to him: "On the basis of these comments and in a
tight-fisted post-election budget year, they need not bother scanning their
firmaments for incoming public funding." As McGauran pointed out, this is
not a question of raising taxes for new spending, it is simply a question of
him changing the way he spends 5% of Australia's current astronomy budget,
and while I don't know if anyone here will agree with me on this, to me it
seems that given popular sentiment, it is not too much to expect him to do
so, or for the Prime Minister to replace him if he does not.
"Taxpayers should welcome McGauran's obduracy." Ah, but this begs the
question as to why the hell'o the taxpayers of Australia should welcome
"obduracy" from a man who spends some $18 million of their money every year
studying "interesting cosmic stuff that has no bearing on the lives of
people today or every tomorrow that will ever come", and fails entirely to
spend only $1 million of it to deal with a very real hazard which is of
very real concern to them.
Grose's next fired off a series of unsupported assertions, rapidly and in a
group, in the vain hope that no one would slow him down and take them on one
at a time. By doing so he attempted to use a technique which will work only
on television, but not in print. "The threat of an impact with a significant
incoming body is remote,...". "...an adequate effort is being undertaken to
identify the possible threats,...". No it isn't, and you've just had 90 of
the world's top experts tell you so: they can't see anything in a good part
of the Southern skies.
And then Grose went even better: "...and this kind of astronomy is most
suited to private support precisely because it generates the widest popular
interest." No it isn't: private firms do not donate $1 million per year for
astronomy, as it fails to reach their target markets. It is easily
demonstrated that Grose has clearly drifted into a delusional state, as he
later wrote in support of this assertion that "Toyota would spend much more
than $1 million a year to be that program's lead sponsor." I think that Mr.
Grose may wish to speak with the officials from Toyata before making annual
$1 million donations on their behalf. Those corporate officers are far more
likely to be interested in rally car racing than in astronomy as a vehicle
for advancing their corporate goals.
As for the private individuals who Grose next refered to, why should they
pay more money out of their own pockets to deal with this hazard, when the
government can handle it simply by changing the way it spends $1 million per
year of the tax dollars which they are already currently paying to them? In
support of his assertion that private individuals can pay for dealing with
this hazard, Grose stated that "Private funding is available for this kind
of work. Applicants for the Planetary Society's next round of Shoemaker Near
Earth Object grants have until March 31 to apply. Last year over $60,000 was
distributed under this program to amateur and professional astronomers in
the US." Hmmm, let's see: $1,000,000 less $60,000 leaves only a $940,000 per
year to go. Perhaps Mr. Grose himself is in a position to make up the
Grose is also apparently ignorant of the fact that a large part of the
Planetary Society's $60,000 did not remain in the US, but went to
astronomers working in Eastern European countries, countries whose Science
Ministers simply do not have some $1 million per year of the taxpayers money
Grose next displayed his absolute lack of undertanding of the simple
requirements of telescopes able to detect the next impactor: "This may be
smallbeer compared to the $1 million or so per year that the Australian
spacewatch lobby wants, but there is no reason why this has to be a
high-cost, fast-forward exercise." Now while 90 of the world's top experts,
who are intimately familiar with developments in telescope technology, have
stated that dealing with the hazard is going to mean those govnerment
officials who are in charge making a small change in the way they spend some
$1 million per year, Grose himself drifts off into Never Never Land, trying
to wish away the problem away with mythical improvements in asteroid
telescope technology which have never existed and never will: "Improving
technology is providing astronomers with more powerful gear at affordable
prices. This trend will continue, enabling amateurs and small commercial
astronomy operations to contribute to the effort led by NASA."
It is amazing. "The level of risk can be judged from a new website posted by
the US National Aeronoautics and Space Administration's Near Earth Object program."
Somebody needs to tap Grose on the shoulder and tell him that the table he
refered to and then went on to discuss in detail shows only those asteroids
which have been found to date, and that it is well known that the next one
which will hit the Earth has simply not been found yet. Further, someone
might also take the time ot point out to Grose that there is a good chance
that this object may only be detected in the southern skies.
One could expect that at some point the stupidity would run out, but Grose
topped even himself with his next mistake, as he tried to confuse in his
readers' minds the risk which asteroid 2002 CU11 represents with the risk of
impact in its entirety "Under "Current Impact Risks", an asteroid about 800m
in diameter named 2002 CU11 tops the list of potentially dangerous space
rocks... But 2002 CU11, discovered by a telescope in New Mexico last month,
has just a 1-in-100,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2049. This estimate
will change as more detailed observations are made, but if that is the most
threatening known asteroid, most people would prefer to live that long and
take their chance." Actually, unlike Grose, most people do not make the
mistake of confusing the risk presented by asteroid 2002 CU11, which will
mostly likely turn out to be nil, with the risk presented by the next
impactor, which simply hasn't been found yet. It is also likely that they
will continue to remain clear about this despite Grose's best efforts to
confuse them. And further, what "most people" would "prefer" is that their
government officials spend their taxes on something that is a little more
than remotely useful to them, rather than spending that money on something that
will get them invited to cocktail parties, tea and sherries, and conferences abroad.
Having tried to wish away the need to change how the government of Australia
spends its astronomy funding by completely mistating the hazard, appealing
to non-existent technology, non-existent corporate donors, and non-existant
private benfactors, Grose turned to that mythical and wonderous
organization, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space
Admininstration: "NASA is on their elliptical trails. By 2020 its goal is to
identify at least 90 per cent of the estimated 1000 asteroids and comets
that could come within about 200 million km of Earth and are larger than 1km
in diameter. At least six NEO discovery teams are on watch already, with
Given NASA's public relations hand outs, here at least Grose has some kind
of cover, though he does display himself as a person easily taken in, a
trait not particularly desirable in a journalist upon whom the public
depends for its information. Actually, the current head of NASA's Office of
Space Sciences is another cosmologist who spends the bulk of NASA's
astronomy money "studying interesting cosmic stuff that has no bearing on
the lives of people today or every tomorrow that will ever come". As for
that official's goal, it is not finding "at least 90 per cent of the
estimated 1000 asteroids and comets that could come within about 200 million
km of Earth and are larger than 1km in diameter", it is trying to get the
US's National Science Foundation to take over paying of the little money
that NASA does spend on dealing with the problem. As for the "six NEO
discovery teams", the bulk of Earth approaching asteroids are detected with
telescopes provided to NASA by the US military, who are concerned about the
next small asteroid impact accidentally setting off a nuclear war. And none
of those six telescopes provide the coverage of the southern skies that the
90 top asteroid experts mentioned in their letter to the government of
Grose then mistated the hazard once again: "There is no denying that, on
average, every hundred years or so an asteroid larger than 50 metres across
will reach the Earth's surface. At average intervals of hundreds of thousand
of years much larger objects will hit the Earth." While this is literally
true, any of those 50 meter objects Grose dismisses so lightly are large
enough to completely erase Sydney or Canberra from the map. And while it is
also literally true that larger objects will hit less frequently, our best
current evidence, such as it is, is that objects large enough to do very
serious damage to countries, objects as large as the one whose impact washed
away Australia's indigenous coastal people, have been hitting the Earth
about once every 1,000-2,000 years or so in the recent past.
Grose first conclusion is that "...on the evidence so far, there is no
urgency to identify asteroids on a collision path with Earth and when they
will hit. We have time." Actually, as most people know, no one has any idea
of the amount of time we have left before the next one of these things hits,
and thus no one knows the amount of time we have left to deal with it. I
suppose that most us who participate in the Conference just hope that the
next one that hits is small, and that enough people are left around
afterwards to clean up the mess.
Grose then advised anyone seeking a change in the way the govnerment of
Australia spends its astronomy money to give up: "Those avid skywatchers
impatient to push the project along with a burst of major funding will never
agree," (and there's certainly an understatement), "but after McGauran's
straight talk they should discount their hopes for a shot of $1 million a
year from the public purse. A change of tactic is called for. Instead of
going to 60 Minutes for a bit of air time, they should go to the kind of
company that advertises on that kind of program. Toyota would spend much
more than $1 million a year to be that program's lead sponsor..."
I don't know about how any one else here feels about this, but I could not
agree with Grose any less. A change of tactic may be called for, but I think
that that tactic should include warning people in no uncertain terms when
they are served tripe by severely deluded fools. It also strikes me that a
"bit of air time" on 60 Minutes would be an excellent way to do this.
Coincidentally, it also strikes me that it might be quite alright as well if
Toyota or any other company wished to buy advertisements at the start and
finish of that "bit of air time" to show its products to the large audiences
which that "bit of air time" should gain.
The other change of tactic, and this is one which I think needs to be
thoroughly discussed by Conference participants, is as to exactly what level
of incompetency needs to be demonstrated by a public official in his
handling of the NEO hazard before a letter is sent to his boss asking for
his removal from office and his replacement by someone with a modicum of
Best wishes -
(7) COSMIC GARDENERS
>From Michael Martin-Smith <email@example.com>
The issue of the threat to our civilization from Space impacts is now
becoming increasingly recognised. Three points emerge:
1. Space impacts have caused mass extinctions on this planet, and, in the
view of some scientists, significant climatic changes even in historical
2. Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 shows beyond doubt that these impacts can happen
in the future; furthermore, had it hit Earth, not Jupiter, there would be,
at this time, no functioning human civilization.
3. Some asteroids - e.g Atens, large objects >1.5 kilometres, and new comets
are very hard to detect, from Earth, in time for proposed deflection
strategies to work. As Stanley Baldwin once said "A Bomber will always get
What is not readily appreciated is that our civilization faces other threats
as well - most notably the phenomenon of supervolcanism, as for example
predicted by geologists at the National Yellowstone Park. This is considered
to be "due", geologically speaking, and would, essentially, inundate the
entire North American land mass with molten lava, with wide and prolonged
climatic changes. It is difficult to imagine precise prediction for this -
still less aversion methods!
Since we face massive global destruction of our civilization at an unknown
future date, how is Humanity to survive and develop? The lesson from Jewry
is salutary - the best insurance against annihilation is dispersal - in the
situation I outline, this means Space colonization into many and diverse
habitats over coming generations.
Put practically, the developmental role of NASA and other space research
organizations should be focussed into three R&D areas:
1. Cheap, reusable, and reliable space transportation systems
2. In situ resource development (use the NEOs themselves, moons and planets
as feedstock resources, not hazards)
3. Closed Loop long term life support systems ( CELSS)
The privately funded Space Studies Institute (ww.ssi.org) at Princeton
University, New Jersey, has been carrying out such work for 25 years since
its foundation by the late Professor Gerard K O'Neill; it is time to move
this work into higher gear. Contrary to popular reports, the failures at
Biosphrere 2 do NOT invalidate space habitats as a concept. They have merely
taught us what NOT to do. SSI has already identified the casuses of
Biosphere 2's failure and initiated promising alternatives lines of esearch
- at much lower cost that the Bio 2 project!
In the medium term, these would enable more economical space exploration,
solar power satellite development to avoid the postulated fossil fuel
effects on our climate, and space tourism.
In the longer run , we would gain the tools necessary to build future
off-planet daughter civilizations, thus ensuring our future, and begin our
true role as humans - that of Cosmic Gardeners. Adaptive radiation should in
time be as creatively productive beyond Earth as it has been in the Oceans,
Lands and Aerial regions of our own womb planet!
It has become obvious that Space science and technology is essential for the
future of our civilization as responsive stewards of Mother Earth; we must
now accept that Space IS the future of our Civilization - unless we prefer
collapse and decay.
We can surely become an inspirational voice for creative construction, as
well as prophets of doom, in the ideas markets of the world.
Dr Michael Martin-Smith, author of "Man Medicine and Space" at
(8) AND FINALLY: ISLAMIC REPUBLIC NEWS AGENCY ISSUES NEO ALERT
>From Islamic Republic News Agency, 22 March 2002
Fast moving cosmic objects posing threat to earth: Expert
New Delhi, March 22, IRNA -- Comets and asteroids whizzing past earth at
supersonic speed pose a potential threat to the existence of the blue
planet, eminent astrophysicist Jayant V Narlikar has said calling for
international cooperation to foresee or avert any catastrophic
"Calculations have [NOT] shown that comet Swift Turtle could strike the
earth on August 14, 2126. Though none of us would be alive then, the big
question remains 'how safe is the earth from such cosmic threats in the near
or far future," Narlikar said in Calcutta.
At present the director of the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and
Astrophysics, Narlikar said scientists across the world were aware of the
threat but averting any eventuality required more coordination between
national space programs.
"Though the trajectory of the comet might change due to various
gravitational and non-gravitational factors and technology might have
evolved manifold by then, the international skywatch program must be
strengthened for more vigilance against such dangers", he said.
Citing the example of comet Shoemaker Levy which hit Jupiter in 1994 causing
huge damages to planet, he said similar asteroid hits had also been recorded
in the past.
©2002 Islamic Republic News Agency ( IRNA). All rights reserved
MODERATOR'S NOTE: For distances of future close encounters of Swift-Tuttle
with the Earth see:
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