CCNet DIGEST, 13 May 1998

    Brian G. Marsden (

    The Planetary Society

    Trond Erik Hillestad <>


    G. Beskin et al.

    From THE TIMES, 12 May 1998


From Brian G. Marsden (

  Given their rather extreme criticism of my calculations on March 11,
some of them made under pressure and on a low budget, I was quite
surprised that Chapman, and particularly Morrison, were so forgiving of
the scientific bloopers in "Deep Impact", constructed over the course
of more than three years with seemingly endless resources.

    Since Chapman mentions me in his review, let me remark that I don't
think that the "simplification" of the circumstances of the discovery
and orbit computation of the "Deep Impact" comet is at all forgivable. 
As Morrison says, there is a "great deal left unsaid" in the movie, but
there is really no way one can "fill in the details" in the early part
of the movie that makes either scientific or logical sense.

    The problem was that the near-naked-eye detection of the comet near
Mizar by Biederman at the Richmond star party apparently preceded the
professional observation by Wolf at "Adrian Peak".  The position Wolf
used to set his telescope on the comet was very close to that of Mizar
(1323+54--I think I remembered this correctly from the few moments the
piece of paper with Biederman's observation was displayed), so little
time could have elapsed between these sightings. Of course, one could
suppose--attempting to fill in details--that Wolf had in fact already
been observing the comet himself on preceding nights (which could
account for the apparently sudden orbit computation) and that he
realized that Biederman had then seen the same comet. This would also
of course account for Wolf's placing his own name ahead of Biederman's
in what he then wrote down for the comet's name before pocketing the

   But Wolf knew of Biederman's detection, not because that information
had been forwarded to him from the Central Bureau for Astronomical
Telegrams, but because Biederman's teacher had told him about it (and
not also told the CBAT)--or such was his intention in the first scene. 
So, given the then very unlikely event that Wolf (and not also hundreds
of other folk around the world) had independently just discovered the
comet, there is not only the problem of the instant orbit, but in
adding his own name (indeed, placing it first!) to that of Biederman in
his christening the comet, Wolf was so lacking in honesty and integrity
that one feels that his subsequent altercation with the truck rather
served him right.  Anyway, why didn't this piece of paper burn up in
the fire, together with--at least in the view of President Freeman--the
mysterious Biederman, who in reality seemed to have given up on the
whole thing?  And nobody else reported any observations of this bright
comet to the CBAT or the newspapers until Freeman's announcement a
whole year after Wolf's death? It was already so bright two years
before it was due to impact the earth? 

   Of course, we know that the two components of the comet were bright
enough to be seen in daylight one month before impact. On its
essentially parabolic orbit, the comet could not then have been very
bright because of proximity to the earth--but it might instead have
been near the sun. In that case, however, the angular distance between
components following each other by three hours would have been too
small to separate them with the naked eye. Anyway, did that initial
orbit diagram have its perihelion point close to the sun?--I think not.
So, some time after discovery, the comet had to have been captured into
orbit about the earth. This would have required an earlier near
encounter with the earth--and THAT must be the one that Wolf

   I had a telephone call from writer Bruce Joel Rubin on Monday, and
he was just as upset about this as I was. He and I had in fact
discussed the whole circumstances of the discovery, announcement and
orbit computation of the comet (he thought that I should be played by
Peter Ustinov!) when he came to see me in November 1994. In a scenario
that macabrely involved people who were very much like Gene and Carolyn
Shoemaker, there was indeed to be a fatal car crash on the road down
from the mountain-top observatory. The films on which they had found
the faint comet were safe in their metal canister--but lost in the
desert terrain, as the comet, its existence unknown to anyone alive,
was drawing inexorably closer. Two years later, the comet had
brightened enough to warrant a visual discovery, and the canister with
the earlier films was found around the same time.  Together with the
new observations, the measurements from the old films allowed an
excellent orbit solution with no doubt about the subsequent impact on
the earth. And there was logic to the order of the names on the comet. 
And much as though NASA might have liked the secrecy, it had to go... 
I don't now remember the details of how we maneuvered the impact, but
it involved three cometary components, not two, and there was an
earlier passage near the earth and some clever resonant motions.

    Rubin is listed in the credits as the lead writer, but in the harsh
world of Hollywood he was retired from this responsibility a couple of
years ago.  Some of his ideas, such as the car crash, remained in the
mixed-up way we have seen.  Incidentally, they were completely
independent of those in Sir Arthur Clarke's "Hammer of God", which
neither he nor I had read at that time.  (O.K.: the actual movie makes
sense if we had been expecting a dangerous comet with a 130-year period
to return but were not sure where in its orbit it was until it was
found, and then...) "Deep Impact" is not in the class of Rubin's
"Ghost" and "Jacob's Ladder"--and it is a pity, because he so very much
wanted the science in "Deep Impact" (yes, that was its title already in
1994) to be absolutely right.  But despite this setback, he can move on
to other projects in the knowledge he did some things right.
Astronomers also nowadays function in a harsh world (well, maybe not
quite as harsh as Hollywood), and I rather understand the feeling...

   Rubin still cares deeply about the NEO cause and is emphatic that
the appearance of "Deep Impact" provides an ideal opportunity to garner
support for NEO search programs worldwide.  He is happy to have these
thoughts made known.

   As for me, I thought the best part of the movie was the landing and
activities on the comet's nucleus--despite the sudden onset of
outgassing right at local sunrise.  How did we know the comet's size
and rotation rate so precisely anyway?


From The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society Addresses the Science of Deep Impact

By Charlene M. Anderson

We do meteoroids, not movies. In the Planetary Society's memebeship
publication, The Planetary Report, we report on humanity's efforts to
explore other worlds and understand our place in the solar
neighborhood. In our magazine, as well in our special-interest
near-Earth object, (NEO) newsletter, the NEO News, we cover comets and
their close relatives, asteroids -- objects that have the potential to
affect life on this planet.

Through the Planetary Society's various asteroid projects, we have
advanced scientific investigation of these objects. Through public
education and advocacy, we have tried to teach people about the role of
comets and asteroids in Earth and solar system history and to raise
awareness among those who control funding for scientific research.

Meanwhile, on May 8, Dreamworks and Paramount Studios released Deep
Impact, a film about the reaction of Earth's inhabitants to a comet on
a collision course with the planet. The film's producers, Joan Bradshaw
and Steven Spielberg, who is a member of the Planetary Society's Board
of Directors, granted the Planetary Society a preview of the

Our preview occurred after shooting had begun, so we had no influence
on the movie's scientific and technical accuracy. However, our reading
touched off some lively "what if?" and "could it happen?" discussions,
which we present to you here.

Our three internal reviewers included James D. Burke, an engineer and
technical editor of The Planetary Report; Andre Bormanis, a physicist,
science consultant to the Star Trek television series and films, and
consultant to the Planetary Society; and myself, editor of The
Planetary Report.

After reading the script, I asked the filmmakers and their consultants
questions about the making of Deep Impact and checked some of their
statements with leading scientists in comet and asteroid research and
hazard analysis. Click on the following questions
[at] to read the
in-depth answers about the science and story-telling of Deep Impact:

* Why try to portray the science correctly?
* What role did scientific consultants play?
* How was the film's comet discovered and named?
* How is humanity's impending doom described?
* Why was the Orion propulsion system chosen for the spacecraft?
* What greets the astronauts as they approach the comet?
* How is an object of very little gravity portrayed?
* What will the comet look like close up?
* Could nuclear energy save life on Earth?
* Were the consultants satisfied with the science in the film?


From Trond Erik Hillestad <>

I recently heard some (unconfirmed) information that a bright meteor
fragmented and exploded above northern Norway on May 5th. A loud boom
was heard over a large area. The boom got some houses to shake and
triggered avalanches in nearby mountains - again, this is unconfirmed.

Has anyone got USAF information that can be related to such an event? I
believe the coordinates are about 70 N, 15 E. No, I don't have the time
of day yet.

All the best,


A.V. Arkhipov: Extraterrestrial technogenic component of the meteoroid
flux. ASTROPHYSICS AND SPACE SCIENCE, 1997, Vol.252, No.1-2, pp.67-71


It is shown that the Earth is a natural collector of extraterrestrial
nonsterile artefacts that could impact our planet. Artefacts from 1.2 x
10(6) nearby stars could have reached the Earth over its history, and
could be agents for spontaneous interstellar panspermia, even if alien
civilizations pollute space only at the current terrestrial rate.
Copyright 1998, Institute for Scientific Information Inc.


G. Beskin, N. Borisov, V. Komarova, S. Mitronova, S. Neizvestny, V.
Plokhotnichenko, M. Popova: Methods and results of an optical search
for extraterrestrial civilizations. ASTROPHYSICS AND SPACE SCIENCE,
1997, Vol.252, No.1-2, pp.51-57

The prospects for searches for optical signals arriving from
extraterrestrial civilizations are discussed. Two criteria for an
artificial origin for optical emission are analyzed - intensity
variations with a a semiotic time structure and the presence of narrow
laser lines. We propose to attempt to detect and study these signals by
investigating 'suspicious' astronomical objects with extremely high
time resolution, 10(-7)s. We will use the special hardware/software
photometric complex MANIA (Multichannel Analysis of Nanosecond
Intensity Alterations), which consists of a photometer, a 'time-code'
converter that is the recording system, a PC/AT 486 computer, and a
tape recorder. Special statistical methods and programs for the search
and analysis of any type of brightness variability of astronomical
objects on time scales from 10(-7) - 10(2)s are described. The criteria
for choosing objects to be included in the search for extraterrestrial
civilizations signals are discussed. We propose to search for Type I
civilizations by investigating 161 stars of spectral types F9V-G5V
within 25 pc of the Sun. As possible beacons (transmitters) of Type II
extraterrestrial civilizations, we propose to consider objects that
have unusual characteristics, in particular, hueless optical spectra.
The results of observations of 60 objects and the limits for the power
of possible signals are reported. Copyright 1998, Institute for
Scientific Information Inc.


From THE TIMES, 12 May 1998

HAPPINESS is a warm planet. In a polemical new book published in the US
this week, an American economist has argued that global warming is "a
broadly positive phenomenon", saying that "most people in most places
would be better off in a warmer world".

Written by Thomas Gale Moore, a senior fellow at the conservative
Hoover Institution, the book is called Climate of Fear: Why We
Shouldn't Worry About Global Warming. Its thesis, which should provoke
an angry reaction from many ecologists, is that global warming, if it
were to occur at the rates that have been predicted, would not be a
disaster. Instead, most people would benefit from the higher

Dr Moore bases his assertion on two arguments. Firstly, he points out
that the two periods in human history that were warmer than today were
not characterised by economic and social stagnation. On the contrary,
mankind flourished. Secondly, he contends that higher carbon-dioxide
emissions, coupled with warmer autumns and winters, would boost
agricultural production, reduce burdensome heating costs, improve
transportation and cut fatalities.

Making a rhetorical point, he also asks: why should we complain about a
four-or five-degree increase in temperature when most people prefer to
live in warmer climates, and millions have moved in order to do so?
Does a Saturday-afternoon barbecue in London in March really mean the
end of civilisation and spell doom for our grandchildren?

Wearing the hat of an economist, he calculates that, even if the
benefits of global warming fail to materialise, the costs of curbing
greenhouse emissions would "far exceed even the most pessimistic
estimates of losses from climatic change". Adopting policies that would
slow economic growth in an attempt to prevent global warming "would be

The author has a political agenda, which is to scupper any global
treaty that would curb the "CO2-rich" industries of the developed
world, especially when "climatologists do not agree on the effect of
greenhouse gases on climate". He blames a cast of villains for
spreading "scare stories" about global warming: "If global climate
change is viewed as a threat, environmental organisations can raise
more support from the public; and politicians can posture as protectors
of mankind."

The most intriguing sections of Dr Moore's book deal with the
historical evidence linking a warm climate and human well-being. The
two periods he elects for examination are those which meteorologists
call the First Climatic Optimum and the Little Climatic Optimum
respectively. The first was from 9000BC to 2000BC, and the second from
about AD900 to AD1300. Both periods teach us that "warmer is better,
colder is worse".

The first period followed the end of an Ice Age, and saw man
domesticate plants and animals, consolidate the first ideas of trade,
invent writing, and begin to form cities. Homo sapiens originated about
40,000 years ago, yet it took him nearly 30,000 years to grow his first
crops. Dr Moore attributes the change to a global warming, which sowed
the first, irreversible seeds of human civilisation.

The second period - the High Middle Ages in Europe - saw a flourishing
of the imagination in the "medieval warmth". The period was one of the
most prosperous and progressive periods in European history,
characterised by an unparalleled building spree that gave rise to St
Mark's in Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the cathedrals at Santiago
de Compostela, Notre Dame, Canterbury and Chartres. This surge ended
with the onset of a prolonged "cooling", beginning in about 1300 and
marked first by the Black Death, that did not end till about 1800.

But what of the Third World? Dr Moore argues that since the effects of
global warming are most marked in the higher latitudes, those living in
tropical or sub-tropical areas will be largely unaffected.

Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn't Worry About Global Warming, by Thomas
Gale Moore; Cato Institute, Washington DC; $18.95.

(C) 1998 The Times Ltd.

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