CCNet 59/2002 - 14 May 2002

"A mere 10,000 years ago, scientists deduced in the original theory,
a sizable meteorite came hurtling through the atmosphere at a bizarrely
low angle, smacked the ground with a glancing blow, and broke into
numerous pieces that gouged separate, miles-long scars in the Argentine
earth. But now a fresh analysis has turned that theory on its head. The
mysterious craters in Argentina may not have been caused by meteorites at
all, but rather by the wind, sculpting the ground over a long time."

--Ben Harder, National Geographic News, 9 May 2002

"FORGET dangers from giant meteors: Earth is facing another threat
from outer space. Scientists have come to the conclusion that two
mysterious explosions in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic
--Robert Matthews, The Sunday Telegraph, 12 May 2002

    National Geographic News, 9 May 2002

    Halifax News, 14 May 2002

    Rudy Veit (

    The Sunday Telegraph, 12 May 2002



    Andrea Milani <>

    Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

    Andy Smith <>

     Göran Johansson <>

     E.P. Grondine <>

     Space Daily, 7 May 2002


>From National Geographic News, 9 May 2002


By Ben Harder

For more than a decade, planetary scientists have been puzzling over a mixed
bag of meteorite evidence scarring Argentina's plains. They gradually pieced
together clues to reconstruct what seemed to be a rough-hewn but generally
accurate account of a prehistoric meteorite impact.

A mere 10,000 years ago, scientists deduced in the original theory, a
sizable meteorite came hurtling through the atmosphere at a bizarrely low
angle, smacked the ground with a glancing blow, and broke into numerous
pieces that gouged separate, miles-long scars in the Argentine earth.

But now a fresh analysis has turned that theory on its head. The mysterious
craters in Argentina may not have been caused by meteorites at all, but
rather by the wind, sculpting the ground over a long time. Discovered in
some of these crater-like trenches, ironically, were the remains of real
meteorites that crashed into Earth over widely separated time periods. They
struck at different angles and produced spectacularly different
results-including, in the case of one, a widespread shower of molten glass.

The evolving interpretation of Argentina's mysterious craters, University of
Arizona planetary scientist Jay Melosh writes in the May 10 issue of the
journal Science, "is both less and much more than [its] discoverers
originally believed."

Citing evidence presented by Philip A. Bland in the same issue of the
journal, Melosh describes a newly emerging picture, in which a much older
meteorite collision blasted tons of sandy, local soil into the air-melting
it instantly and peppering a vast swath of country with glowing, glassy

Bland's discovery of so many glass fragments over such a wide area adds a
startling twist to a young but already storied saga in planetary science.
One implication, the researcher from England's Open University says, is the
possibility that a "well-preserved complex crater remains to be discovered
beneath the Pampean Plain of Argentina."

Recent Impact

The buzz about the nature of Argentina's extraplanetary legacy began in
1991, when Brown University geologist Peter Schultz and his Argentine pilot,
Ruben Lianza, took a flight over Rio Cuarto, a small city in a region of
Argentina known as the Pampas or the Pampean Plains.

From the air, Schultz and Lianza observed ten elongated depressions in the
ground that resembled the craters that might form if many different objects
had impacted the ground at oblique, almost level angles. What's more, it
seemed, the craters all ran parallel to each other, as though a low-flying
herd of Dumbos had dragged their feet along the ground beneath them. The
parallel orientations suggested that they were carved by multiple meteorite
fragments coming from the same direction.

Back on terra firma, Schultz and Lianza explored some of the craters on
foot. In one, they found a pair of meteorite fragments and pieces of glass
that had been forged by the high temperatures of an impact.

Putting those and other clues together, they hypothesized that a large
meteorite, perhaps 500 to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 meters) across and
traveling at about 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers) per hour grazed the
ground at an angle of less than 7 degrees, falling like horizontal rain.

The powerful impact, they believed, occurred as recently as 10,000 years
ago, when early Native Americans were already living in the region.

That original story, published in 1992, faced immediate challenges from
skeptical scientists. The low angle and large size of the meteorite were
improbable, they argued. On the moon, which preserves a thorough record of
its past meteorite impacts, only one example of such an oblique impact is
known to exist.

But, comments Melosh, "mere improbability is not proof that such an event
did not occur."

A Shower of Glass

That's where Bland enters the picture. He and his team of ten researchers
from six different countries analyzed satellite images of thousands of
square miles of Argentine Pampas, including the region that Schultz and
Lianza studied. What the scientists found was a more complex picture than
they had imagined.

Elongated depressions like those previously described around Rio Cuarto
exist across the entire region. In any given locale, all depressions run
parallel to one another. But from the perspective of the satellite it became
clear that the "craters" weren't craters at all-like sand dunes, they had
been produced by the action of wind on soil and vary in their orientation
according to the direction of local prevailing winds.

The meteorites that Schultz found inside the bogus craters, Bland's team
further concludes, are once-buried remnants of ancient impacts that became
exposed when the wind carved out the depressions. That notion was bolstered
by their discovery of two additional meteorites-of different types and ages,
and therefore not from the same impact-in nearby depressions.

Nevertheless, one piece of evidence suggests a highly unusual impact. Bland
and his researchers found numerous pieces of glassy rock that could only
have been formed under the intense natural heat and pressure produced at the
instant of a meteorite impact.

These bits of glass, called tektites, appear to be scattered across the
entire region that the researchers examined, suggesting that much of the
Pampean Plain is a vast tektite field.

Tektite fields are few and far between. Only four such fields are known to
exist on Earth, one each in North America, Africa, and Europe, and
one-gouged from a crater that has not yet been identified-that stretches for
more than 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) across Australia and Southeast
Asia. The Argentine tektite field, if that's what it is, would be the fifth
ever discovered.

The age of the tektites is greater than that of the formerly proposed
oblique impact. Whatever cataclysmic collision forged the glassy rocks
occurred about half a million years ago, Bland says. But Bland and his
researchers have yet to identify a crater produced by that impact, and they
don't even know the full scale of the tektite field, since they haven't yet
found its edge.

Nevertheless, the researchers now know enough to imagine the fallout from a
stunning event, which must have melted and ejected silty material from the
ground, showering molten glass for hundreds of miles around.

"As terrifying as the original picture of an oblique impact that scarred the
Pampas...was, the present view of a shower of hot glass over a region as
large as Texas suggests a far more lethal event," says Melosh.

Copyright 2002, National Geographic

>From Halifax News, 14 May 2002{9E3C189E-9295-448B-8F9B-A41188307FB6}
By CHRIS LAMBIE - The Daily News  
A giant meteor hurtled from the sky 50 million years ago, punching a huge
crater in the ocean floor off Nova Scotia. The impact created a tidal wave
five times as high as Fenwick Tower that rolled over the entire province.

The meteor was moving at 20,000 kilometres per hour when it splashed into
the sea. About two kilometres in diameter, the space rock steamed through
the seawater and slammed into the Earth's crust 250 kilometres south of
Shelburne, creating a hole 40 kilometres across.

"If you took all the nuclear weapons on the planet, put them in one pile and
detonated them simultaneously, you wouldn't have made a hole this big," said
Gordon Oakey, a marine geophysicist at the Bedford Institute of

The resulting shock wave was "horrendous," Oakey said.

It created a tidal wave, or tsunami, that engulfed the province.

"We're looking at a wall of water that would have been hundreds of metres
high," he said.

"It would have just washed over all of Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and into New

Dinosaurs died off about 65 million years ago.

"So this was long after the extinction of the dinosaurs," Oakey said, adding
an earlier meteor strike on the Yucatan Peninsula probably caused their

But when the meteor splashed down near Nova Scotia, small mammals were
beginning to evolve, and the province would have been forested much as it is

"Certainly, the trees would have been fairly similar at that time," he said.
"Flowering plants and grasses would have been around."

The tidal wave would have changed all that, Oakey said.

"It would have wiped down all the forests and drowned all the animal life.
It would have had a very devastating impact on biology."

Humans weren't around at the time. But if they were, they wouldn't have had
much time to see the meteor coming. "It would have been a flash in the sky."

Such a meteor may come again. But don't start building an ark in your
backyard just yet.

"Probably in the next 50 million years, we might have one or two more,"
Oakey said.

That's why space agencies around the world use telescopes to keep tabs on
asteroid bodies in our solar system, to see if any may be on track to hit
planet Earth, he said.

"Blowing it up is probably not the way to go," Oakey said. "It's probably
(more a case of) just trying to nudge it out of the way."

The hole in the Earth's crust off Shelburne is buried by as much as 1,000
metres of modern sediment.

"It's underneath a fishing bank," Oakey said. "It's no longer visible."

Scientists discovered it in the 1970s while drilling for oil. Oakey has
since studied the crater - named the Montagnais Structure, after a Quebec
First Nations band - using seismic testing and other marine survey

Researchers have identified fewer than 100 similar large craters on Earth.

"Because of oil exploration around the world, in the last 25 years they've
been finding more and more," Oakey said.

Copyright © 2002 CanWest Interactive

>From Rudy Veit (

>From "Space Surveillance Network: Appropriate Controls Needed Over Data
Access," GAO, 22APR02

Government agencies and commercial firms rely almost exclusively on data
generated by the US space surveillance network to ensure safe and effective
operations (footnote: The space surveillance network is composed of over 40
optical, radar, and passive radio frequency sensors,
located worldwide, and connected through 4 command and control facilities.)
when launching and operating a defense surveillance or comsat, the space
shuttle, or a commercial weather or communication satellite. Space
surveillance involves the continuous detection, tracking, identification,
cataloging, and monitoring of man-made objects orbiting the earth, including
active and inactive satellites and space debris from spent rocket bodies and
fragmentation. Space surveillance data can also be useful to the US
government and others for strategic and military purposes. The USSPACECOM
within the DoD maintains and operates the network and provides surveillance
data to NASA, which makes the data available via its Web site to commercial
and foreign entities and other US government agencies.

In APR01, you requested that we review several DoD space surveillance
network issues. In the course of our effort, we discovered a specific data
security issue that we are bringing to your attention in this report. In a
separate report to you, we will provide the results of our broader review.

In summary, DoD officials told us that users who have access to certain
space surveillance data could have enough information to attempt to damage
or jam satellites or move military and other assets at appropriate times to
avoid detection. Potential security risks from unauthorized
access exist because NASA does not verify the identity of Web site users of
space surveillance data, and individuals from countries that are not
authorized access can still obtain the data. Although NASA manually checks
the Internet address to determine the locality given when a user
registers for space surveillance information, the actual origination of that
Internet address cannot be verified because a user can access the NASA Web
site through intermediary Web sites or an Internet service provider in a
country that has not been proscribed. Therefore, we are
recommending that the secretary of defense and the NASA administrator
conduct a risk-based assessment of the sensitivity of the space surveillance
information available on the NASA Web site and establish a process to
appropriately control access to such information.

In its written response to a draft of this letter, DoD stated that in 1999
it assessed the NASA Web site data and found no threat to national security.
Nevertheless, in light of the heightened security risks, both DoD and NASA
concurred with our recommendation to conduct an assessment
of the data.

The USSPACECOM in DoD has responsibility for maintaining and operating the
space surveillance network, supported by three component commands: the AFSC,
the Navy Space Command, and the Army Space Command. The USSPACECOM collects
space surveillance data through its worldwide sensors, processes the data,
and sends the unclassified portion of the data to the NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center. NASA then combines this data with a small amount of its own
data and makes the data available for free to users on its Web site.

The space surveillance information that is available on the Web site
consists of general space surveillance data and more specific data in sets,
called two-line elements. Each two-line element provides six items of
information: three related to an object's position and three related
to its velocity. Two-line elements provide users which have the appropriate
software with sufficient data to determine an object's location and track
the path of its orbit.

Until recently, NASA provided Web site information at four different levels
of access: unregistered users, trial users, registered users, and super
users. Unregistered users are from the general public and could access the
Web site without identifying themselves. While they do not have access to
two-line elements, they could access general space surveillance data, such
as the USSPACECOM's catalog of man-made objects in space and launch dates.
Unregistered users conducted over 100,000 "hits" monthly on the NASA Web
site during 2001. Trial users who provided
some information on their identities, including their names, email
addresses, and countries, gained access to up to 20 two-line elements per
day for 14 days. If trial users did not elect to become registered users
within 14 days, their accounts expired. Registered users who provided
additional information about their identities such as street addresses,
phone numbers, and organizations, gained access to up to 500 two-line
elements per day. As of 21FEB02, there were 1100 registered users. Super
users <who were required to identify themselves and justify their needs for
the information < could access all two-line element data on the Web
site without restrictions. Only super users have had to be evaluated by NASA
before obtaining their status, and users from certain countries were not
allowed that status. On 21FEB02, there were 21 super users, 11 foreign, of
which 6 represented commercial firms and 5 represented governments.

Access by unauthorized users to space surveillance data could pose a
potential security risk. AFSC officials told us that registered users who
can access up to 500 two-line elements per day could have enough information
available to them to permit them to attempt to damage or jam the satellites
or to move military or other assets at appropriate times to avoid detection.
In combination with other information from widely available sources such as
magazines, information from the space surveillance network could permit a
determined adversary to put civilian and military satellites at risk of
denial or deception.

Access to this data by unauthorized users could compromise DoD's effort to
gather information on adversaries engaged in military operations, drug
smuggling, or other illegal activities, by providing them with a means to
avoid detection. For example, movement of assets may be timed to coincide
when there is no satellite coverage.

NASA officials disagreed with DoD's position, saying that they did not
believe that there was reason for concern since the data provided to users
was not very accurate. While AFSC officials also noted that classified
information on satellites is not available on the NASA Web site, and the
data available is of low quality and non-real time, they still believe a
potential risk exists. In fact, the AFSC is working on an assessment of the
sensitivity of the space surveillance data that is on the NASA Web site.

During our review, we brought to NASA's attention a potential security
concern that it attempted to address. NASA instituted a manual review of
applicant information on 20SEP01, after we pointed out examples of
questionable registered users, such as one with the name of "newboy," from
Afghanistan, who registered on 12SEP < the day after the World Trade Center
attacks < as well as two others from China, both also named "newboy," who
registered on 12SEP and 18SEP. In the past, only super users have had to go
through an evaluation process to obtain access to the data and individuals
from 43 countries were never given super user status. These countries
included those that NASA identified as having no diplomatic relations with
the US, are supporting terrorism, being under US sanction or embargo, or
being denied access to US missile technology. Subsequent to conversations
with us, NASA decided to manually block access to all data for individuals
who had identified themselves as coming from any of the 43 proscribed

While NASA checks the Internet addresses to determine the locality given
when users register, the actual origination of those addresses cannot be
verified because users can mask their Internet protocol addresses by
registering through an intermediary Web site or using an Internet service
provider in a country that has not been proscribed. Once a user has
successfully registered, NASA does not have any technical controls in place
to prevent access from anywhere, including those countries that are
proscribed. As a result, users that NASA intends to block from obtaining
space surveillance data could still obtain access to it.

Given the potential effects of unauthorized access to space surveillance
data, we recommend that the secretary of defense and the administrator of
NASA conduct a risk-based sensitivity assessment of all space surveillance
information available on the NASA Web site. In conducting
this assessment, DoD and NASA should consult the appropriate intelligence
agencies. In order to make NASA's restrictions to its Web site effective, we
recommend that the administrator of NASA establish a process, commensurate
with the risk, to ensure that access to such information is


>From Sunday Telegraph, 12 May 2002

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent, Telegraph (London)

FORGET dangers from giant meteors: Earth is facing another threat from outer
space. Scientists have come to the conclusion that two mysterious explosions
in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic missiles.

The two objects were picked up by earthquake detectors as they tore through
Earth at up to 900,000 mph. According to scientists, the most plausible
explanation is that they were "strangelets", clumps of matter that have so
far defied detection but whose existence was posited 20 years ago.

Formed in the Big Bang and inside extremely dense stars, strangelets are
thought to be made from quarks - the subatomic particles found inside
protons and neutrons. Unlike ordinary matter, however, they also contain
"strange quarks", particles normally only seen in high-energy accelerators.

Strangelets - sometimes also called strange-quark nuggets - are predicted to
have many unusual properties, including a density about ten million million
times greater than lead. Just a single pollen-size fragment is believed to
weigh several tons.

They are thought to be extremely stable, travelling through the galaxy at
speeds of about a million miles per hour. Until now, all attempts to detect
them have failed. A team of American scientists believes, however, that it
may have found the first hard evidence for the existence of strangelets,
after scouring earthquake records for signs of their impact with Earth.

The team, from the Southern Methodist University in Texas, analysed more
than a million earthquake reports, looking for the tell-tale signal of
strangelets hitting Earth.

While their very high speed gives strangelets a huge amount of energy their
tiny size suggests that any effects might be extremely localised, and there
is unlikely to be a blast big enough to have widespread effects on the

The scientists looked for events producing two sharp signals, one as it
entered Earth, the other as it emerged again. They found two such events,
both in 1993. The first was on the morning of October 22. Seismometers in
Turkey and Bolivia recorded a violent event in Antarctica that packed the
punch of several thousand tons of TNT. The disturbance then ripped through
Earth on a route that ended with it exiting through the floor of the Indian
Ocean off Sri Lanka just 26 seconds later - implying a speed of 900,000 mph.

The second event took place on November 24, when sensors in Australia and
Bolivia picked up an explosion starting in the Pacific south of the Pitcairn
Islands and travelling through Earth to appear in Antarctica 19 seconds

According to the scientists, both events are consistent with an impact with
strangelets at cosmic speeds. In a report about to be submitted to the
Seismological Society of America, the team of geologists and physicists
concludes: "The only explanation for such events of which we are aware is
passage through the earth of ton-sized strange-quark nuggets."

Professor Eugene Herrin, a member of the team, said that two strangelets
just one-tenth the breadth of a hair would account for the observations.
"These things are extremely dense and travel at 40 times the speed of sound
straight through the Earth - they'd hardly slow down as they went through."

The good news is that, despite their force, the impact of strangelets on an
inhabited area would, probably, be less violent than that of a meteor. Prof
Herrin said: "It's very hard to determine what the effect would be. There
would probably be a tiny crater but it would be virtually impossible to find

Scientists say that the discovery of strangelets would be a significant
breakthrough, solving several long-standing mysteries. These include the
nature of "dark matter", which, astronomers say, makes up more than 90 per
cent of our galaxy. With their high density and stability, strangelets may
account for much of this invisible matter.

Prof Frank Close, a particle physicist at Oxford University, said that
confirmation of the events was crucial. "The first step is to see if one can
find more examples and eliminate all other interpretations," he said. "If
you're looking for very exotic and rare events, you need to be able to tell
if it's the real thing or just an artefact."

According to Prof Herrin, the two events agree with predictions for
strangelet impacts, which are expected to occur about once a year. He added,
however, that finding more would be difficult, as seismic databases now
automatically remove all signals not linked to earthquakes. He said: "To
find more events we need to get at the data before that happens."

Copyright 2002, Sunday Telegraph


>From <>

Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington             May 9, 2002
(Phone: 202/358-1753)

Bill Steigerwald
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/286-5017)



New observations from a NASA spacecraft reveal that a layer in the Earth's
outer atmosphere acts like a heat shield by absorbing energy from space
storms and reducing their ability to heat the lower atmosphere. However, it
imposes a heavy toll for its services by creating a billion-degree
cloud of electrified gas, or plasma, that surrounds the planet.

The plasma cloud is so ferociously hot, its particles act like radiation,
occasionally disrupting satellites in mid- to high-altitude orbits. This
discovery from NASA's Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration
(IMAGE) spacecraft confirms the Earth actively participates in space storms.

Although past space missions gave provisional evidence for this behavior,
IMAGE provides the first global picture of the active role Earth's
ionosphere plays in space storms, which is very different from the earlier
view that the solar wind itself supplied the energetic particles responsible
for these storms.

The Earth's space-storm shield is a tenuous layer of the outer atmosphere
(outer ionosphere) between 180 and 620 miles (300-1,000 kilometers) high
that includes electrically charged atoms. "Just as a heat shield sacrifices
itself by allowing its outer layers to slough off during the fiery reentry
of a spacecraft, Earth's shield absorbs space-storm energy by throwing some
of its charged particles into space," said Stephen Fuselier of the
Lockheed-Martin Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif., lead author
of the first of two papers on this discovery to be published in the Journal
of Geophysical Research.

"But this protection comes with a high price, because the expelled particles
gain tremendous speed as they leave the atmosphere, become trapped by the
Earth's magnetic field and ultimately encircle the Earth, where they form a
hot plasma cloud around the planet," said Donald Mitchell of the Johns
Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., lead author of the second
paper. Approximately half the energy deposited by space storms in the
atmosphere is absorbed this way, according to the researchers.

The solar wind, a thin, high-velocity plasma, blows constantly from the Sun
at an average speed of 250 miles per second (400 kilometers/sec). If the
Earth had no global magnetic field, or magnetosphere, the solar wind would
impact the atmosphere directly and gradually erode it. Instead, the solar
wind slams into the Earth's magnetosphere and is diverted around the planet.
Buffeting of the magnetosphere is more intense during space storms, when
explosive events on the Sun give the solar wind an unusually high velocity
or density, or a particularly potent magnetic-field configuration.

Although the magnetosphere does a good job staving off the solar wind, Earth
is not home free. Since the solar-wind plasma is comprised of electrically
charged particles moving rapidly past the Earth's magnetic field, a
multimillion amp electric current is generated, which flows down the Earth's
invisible magnetic field lines and pumps up to a trillion watts of power
into the magnetosphere -- especially above the polar regions, where the
aurora (northern and southern lights) form. Without the space-storm shield, heat from
these enormous electric currents would cause Earth's lower atmosphere (lower ionosphere) to
expand and increase orbit-disrupting drag on spacecraft.

The first IMAGE result shows the Earth's shield in action as it absorbs a
space storm's electric current and is ejected into space. Fuselier used the
Low Energy Neutral Atom imager instrument on IMAGE to discover electrically
charged oxygen atoms are ejected into space immediately in response to the
bursts of ionosphere-heating by the massive electric currents. The amount of
ionosphere lost during a typical space storm is around a few hundred tons,
about equal to the mass of the air in the Louisiana Superdome, according to the team.

The second IMAGE observation shows the price paid for the shield's
protection. Because of their electric charge, the expelled oxygen ions feel
magnetic forces and are trapped within the Earth's vast magnetosphere, where
they follow magnetic field lines like cars on a highway. Scientists know the
magnetosphere distorts under the impact of the solar wind, like an umbrella
in a windstorm. In particular, the region of the magnetosphere facing away
from the Sun is stretched into a long, tail-like shape as the solar wind
blows by. Because magnetic fields have tension, they resist stretching and
behave like rubber bands. When the stretching becomes too great, the
night-side magnetosphere snaps back towards Earth, carrying the ejected ions
from the ionosphere with it like an enormous slingshot.

Mitchell used the High Energy Neutral Atom imager instrument on IMAGE to
observe that these ions, now accelerated to enormous velocities (about 2,500
miles per second or 4,000 km/sec), appear immediately in the aurora and in
the cloud of hot plasma that encircles the Earth during space storms. Earth
contributes material and the solar wind supplies the energy that transforms
this cool atmospheric material into a dangerously hot plasma cloud. If it
were not for the Earth's own ionosphere supplying material, the hot plasma cloud
would be very much diminished.

This new view is helping scientists to better understand the effects of
space storms which create moving plasma clouds that interfere with
navigation using Global Positioning System satellites. Images and more
information are available at:


A Central Library of Links to News Direct from Asteroid/Comet Explorers &
Reporters Everywhere

The Asteroid/Comet Connection (ACC) pages are posted by Bill Allen and Sally
Beach, owners of Columbine, Inc. and, during 1991-2002, co-publishers of 3D
Artist magazine, the first and longest-running peer-written how-to magazine
for the computer 3D graphics field. The ACC pages are creations of Bill
Allen (writer and links librarian), who has worked in commercial and
non-profit publishing for three decades, including a period as a freelance
science and aviation writer/photographer for several major popular magazines
(bylined as "W.A. Allen"), and, most recently, eleven years as editor of 3D
Artist magazine.


>From Andrea Milani <>

Dear OrbFitters and dear friends,

This message announces the new distribution 2.3 of the free software OrbFit.

The purpose of the software system we are distributing, maintaining and
continously upgrading, is to make available to observers of asteroids an
easy to use but accurate and reliable software to compute preliminary
orbits, ephemerides, improved orbits (by differential corrections),
identifications, close approaches and virtual impactors, to allow the
processing of astrometric observations and the planning of observational
campaigns (for example to recover lost objects).
Orbfit is the computational engine of the online asteroid information
services NEODyS and AstDyS.

Although the version 2.3 incorporates many important improvements and bug
fixes, the main point for the distribution of this version is another one.
This is intended to be the last distribution with source code compatible
with the Fortran 77 standard. Successive versions will be consistent with
the Fortran 90/95 standards. We do undertand that this will result in some
problems for some of our UNIX users. In particular, the users of Orbfit
under LINUX will not be able anymore to compile the program by using the
free compiler g77. Some Fortran 90 compilers are available as free software,
but it cannot be guaranteed that this will always be the case. As a safety
for LINUX users, we will provide a compiled version for LINUX, as we are
already doing for WINDOWS.

The main changes in the structure of the source files is a preparation for
the Fortran 90 conversion. Thus the routines have been assembled in
pseudo-modules, to be later replaced by a true modular structure.
User-defined data types and object-oriented features will also be gradually
introduced in the next versions.

Please note the software is not anymore available by ftp. The reason is that
our ftp server has been attacked by a hacker, and as a result of this attack
it was destroyed (the hard disks having been wiped out of all data). As you
can understand, it is already hard work to maintain free software, if this
also implies to spend a lot of time to increase the security of our network
we simply cannot afford it. Thus, from now on, we will provide software only
through the Web interface, which is believed to be more secure (on Linux
machines running the Apache server).

The software can now be obtained at:

This software system is being maintained by a consortium including A. Milani
(Pisa University), M. Carpino (Astronomical Observatory Milano/Brera), Z.
Knezevic (Astronomical Observatory Belgrade) and G. B. Valsecchi (CNR Rome).

Copyright (C) 1997-2002 OrbFit Consortium

    This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
    it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
    the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
    (at your option) any later version.

To contact us:,


>From Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

Dear Benny Peiser,

While reading the Albert A. Harrison report from the workshop held in Irvine
California on Friday, April 11, 2002 to discuss human reaction to the
possibility that a large asteroid or comet will collide with Earth, it
struck me once again that the most relevant comparison has not yet been

I wish to draw your attention to the Lisboa earthquake in 1755, which killed
maybe 25,000 people out of the city's population of 300,000. What's more, it
affected the entire Western civilization in that it put a question mark to the
concept of ours 'being the best of all worlds'.

There is a parallel to-day to the situation 250 years ago in that we also
lean towards a happy-go-lucky attitude to life.  Didn't the baddies get a
severe licking during WW II, and didn't mankind subsequently conquer the
Moon?  But what would happen to our optimism if we temporarily ran out of

I fear that especially the atheist sections of to-day's community are
sensitive to reverses.  You may have noted that the widespread fatalism
encountered in the battle to raise awareness over the impact risk is often
voiced by people who hold entirely rational and scientific views.  Somehow
it seems too overwhelming for them to accept that the time has come when it
is OUR responsibility to protect planet Earth.  It seems as if it is easier
for individuals with a religious conviction to identify with this new
responsibility and role for mankind.

Should a severe impact  strike the developed world I gather that many more
people than we imagine would ascribe it to God's wrath  -  simply because it
is easier to deal with the disaster if it is seen to give 'meaning'. Reading
the holy scripts we find that all natural disasters happen for a reason -
typically because the people affected were not conducting themselves
properly.  This reaction is something we should fear indeed -  a wave of
religious fundamentalism and intolerance is bound to follow the impact of a
500m object in North America or Europe.

Yours sincerely
Jens Kieffer-Olsen, M.Sc.(Elec.Eng.)
Slagelse, Denmark


>From Andy Smith <>

Hello Benny and CCNet,

We really appreciate the excellent summary of the meeting on extinction
sociology. We also want to clarify something. A recent article compared the
risk of the next hit to the chance of getting a royal flush, in poker. The
royal flush chance is about 1 in 650,000  and the risk of the next hit
(Tunguska or larger) is on the order of  1 in 100 per year.....quite a
difference and not in our favor.



>From Göran Johansson <>

On April 30 Phillip Clapham wrote about Korean data, but also about two
ancient cases of bad weather. I have two comments.

1. Ammisaduga (variant spellings are known for this name, if somebody wants
to do a literature search) and the visibility of Venus. It was probably
suggested at least a decade ago by Leroy Ellenberger that the Venus Tablet
is related to the bad weather about 1628 BCE. A large amount of dust in the
atmosphere would explain why a number of statements related to the
visibility of Venus appears to be wrong. I have accepted this suggestion
long ago.

2. Evidence for impact at the end of the New Kingdom in Egypt. It would be
very nice if somebody could tell where this has been published, and who was
the author. And what is the evidence that this happened about 1159 BCE? It
is usually believed that Dynasty 19 ended a few decades earlier (I can't
tell more accurately because the chronological uncertainty is believed to be
about one decade). When it comes to the destruction at this time, the
standard explanation is the Sea Peoples.

Göran Johansson


>From E.P. Grondine <>

Hello Benny -

What a difference a week makes.

A mere 11 years after Schultz's original Science article, we learn that the
features found at Rio Cuarto were not produced by oblique impact. In
addition, Bland, Filho, Jull, Kelley, Hough, Artimieva, Pierrazo, Conigilio,
Pinotti, Evers, and Kearsey now face the formidable task of locating the
site of the impact which created the Argentinian glasses, while at least
Masse and myself are left trying to find the remains of an impact which set
most of South America on fire sometime in the 3rd millenia BCE, an impact
event which the Rio Cuarto features were earlier believed to satisfy.

To point out the obvious, the anthropological data that a major impact did
in fact occur in South America in the mid-3rd millenia BCE remains untouched
by the Science article.

I suppose that it would not be out of place to remind everyone here that
while Shoemaker did his pioneering work on impact structures in the 1950's,
the search for them did not begin in earnest until the early 1980's,
following on the Alvarezs' observation that impact had led to the extinction
of the dinosaurs.  As this search for craters progresses, errors will occur
- for example, there were several candidates for the K/T impact structure
early on, before Chixulub was accepted, while there are still several other
additional possibly related structures which are currently under

With rigourous application of the scientific method errors will be caught -
but that application will require funding, and significant amounts of it.
Very few appreciate exactly how difficult it is to find signs of impact in
data, to try ot disentangle signs of separate impacts in the data, whether
that data is geological or anthropological. The difficulties in
disentanglement do not only apply to signs from separate impact events, but
to signs of other catastrophe as well. As Conference participants have seen
the difficulties of sorting out volcanic dust loading from impact dust
loading, I suppose it would not be out of place here to take a few lines to
discuss the particular case of the difficulties involved in disentangling
the Ninurta Impact from the nearby Ningirsu natural gas explosion.

In his book "The Rebel Lands", (Cambridge University Press, 1979), petroleum
geologist J. V. Kinnier Wilson shows in aerial photographs the remains of a
major natural gas explosion which occured in the area of the headwaters of
the rivers serving the city of Sammara.  As the ejecta from this natural gas
explosion buried bridges, it seems probable that it occured substantially
later than the Ninurta Impact.  While it is not likely that bridges were
being built at that early period, "probably" just won't do in this case -
any more than it did in the case of Rio Cuarto.

To accurately date the gas explosion structure will require excavations in
Iraq and Iran.  Oh boy - 10 to 40 man excavations conducted in politically
voilatile countries.  Consider then the examination of the text materials
Wilson gathered. Part of these refer to Nergal, the Sky God, and An, the
heavens, while part of these refer to Ningirsu and (d)girsu - fire gods.
Distentangling the text material will require access to the original
transliterations from cuneiform into latin characters, and close readings of
carefully nuanced translations into English, German, Italian, and French.
Add in all the texts recovered since Wilson's work from some 20 years ago,
basic changes in the understanding of the vocabulary, new restorations, new
joins in tablets... then add in the actual search for the Ninurta impact
site itself.

Where was I? Oh, yes, let us now return to the current problems in
identifying impacts in the Western Hemisphere of our planet home Earth. I
expect that the Science team will easily obtain funding to try and find the
source crater for the Argentinian glass, as people generally like their
impacts to be remote in time. As for the search for the impact which
devastated the Amazon, obtaining funding to find it is going to be far more
difficult. Make no mistake about it, an impact did occur there, and the Maya
were quite specific about it.

First, let's start with the date, which the Maya gave as 25 October, 2360
BCE. While this date seems pretty firm, one must note that one glyph scholar
spent some 5 years of his life working with the texts which gave this date,
and that there are at least 2 methods of establishing Mayan dates which are
in contention. My own first course of action, as it was the quickest and
cheapest, was to examine records from the ancient Naer East to try and track
the ecological catastrophe which must have resulted form the burning of
nearly all of South America east of the Andes. Conference participants
already have the results of that search in hand.

Going back to examine the glyph translations will require many months of
work, so next comes a search through ice core and tree ring data surrounding
25 October, 2360 BCE. As I could seek out experts help in this search, it is
under way. If that search fails, then a re-examination of the
inscriptions and written materials will be necessary to try and establish a
corrected date for the impact.

In the field, what is now required is detailed excavation of test pits over
a wide area of South America trying to find the burn levels. How many man
hours will that take?  How many pits?  Where to sink them?  Then you have
the lab costs for radio carbon dating of the burn samples... and then
there's the other soil analysis...

Since the heat of oblique impact has been ruled out as the igniter of the
fires, one must now look for another ignition source. The Maya described a
comet, and the possibility exists that the simultaneous entry of multiple
comet fragments resulted in multiple simultaneous Tunguska-type blasts. As
we all know, the only hard evidence of cometary impact recovered at Tunguska
have been micro-spherules - oh boy, it just keeps getting better all

Ah well, Benny, science marches onward, but only if someone pays for its
shoes. I would't mind lossing one "crater wrong" to two impact rights, if
only more money were available to really nail down both of them. My thinking
is that since an examination of one hypothesized impact has instead led to
evidence of 2 other impacts, money might be more productively be spent in
the search for impact structures than on the search for water on Mars, which
has led to very damn little for the last 35 years or so.

That's it for now. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll just take an aspirin,
go back to bed, and pull the covers over my head.

Best Wishes -


>From Space Daily, 7 May 2002

by Virgiliu Pop
Los Angeles - May 06, 2002

They used to say - "only the Sun rises for free". Not anymore: in a move
intended to expose the phony "extraterrestrial real estate" industry, a
space lawyer "claimed" ownership of the Sun. "While it has become
increasingly popular to 'buy' properties on the Moon and other planets, the
claims of Mr. Dennis Hope of the Lunar Embassy and of other extraterrestrial
real estate 'owners' and 'sellers' are ridiculous and without legal
foundations" - declared Virgiliu Pop, a PhD Candidate at Glasgow University
specialising in extraterrestrial property rights. "If they believe they can
own a celestial body just because it has not been claimed before, and then
sell it to the public, so can I say I own the Sun and charge the
'extraterrestrial owners' for solar energy".

Mr. Hope's "Lunar Embassy" is the leader in the extraterrestrial real estate
business, having "sold" extraterrestrial parcels to hundreds of thousands of
people worldwide - but these claims are as valid as Monopoly money. "It is
indeed a celestial Monopoly game" - says Mr. Pop, whose scientific papers on
extraterrestrial property rights were published in the "Space Policy"
journal - "and now, I 'own' the 'electrical company' on the game board".

Mr. Pop registered his claim over the Sun on April 28th, 2001, with the
Archimedes Institute Claim Registration Office, registry that has been used
also by Mr. Gregory Nemitz in registering his claim over asteroid Eros. "In
February 2001, Mr. Nemitz sent NASA an invoice for the parking/storage fee
for the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, that landed on 'his' property. I can use
this example and start charging Mr. Hope and the other extraterrestrial
property 'owners' for the use of the sunlight - now that I 'own' the Sun.
"The main question is not the legality of owning real estate in outer space"
- says Virgiliu Pop; "in the case of Mr. Hope one should primarily questions
the means for gaining ownership. I do deal in my thesis with the question
whether one may own real estate on the moon; what I question is whether the
Moon belongs to Mr. Hope".

Ownership involves not only rights, but also responsibilities; however, Mr.
Pop declared himself not liable for any damage caused by "his" property in
the form of skin cancer, sunstroke, solar flares, etc.

"People should wear protective sun screen, sun glasses, sun hat and drink
plenty of water in order to avoid these inconveniences - but, if somebody
were to sue me for damage provoked by the Sun, I do not think any court
would be that unwise to consider their claims. By recognizing that I am
responsible for the damage from the Sun, the court would implicitly
recognize that I do indeed own the Sun - which is ridiculous".

In his claim over the Moon, Mr. Hope sees the silence from the authorities -
such as the United Nations - as maintaining his extraterrestrial claims.
What do the United Nations think of Mr. Pop's claim over the Sun?

Last year, while at a space congress, Mr. Pop had a laugh with one of the
officials from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, that jokingly
introduced him to another official as "The Man who Owns the Sun".

"Should I consider this as recognition from the UN of my property over the
Sun"? - asks Mr. Pop? "I don't think so - as I don't think that the silence
of the UN regarding Mr. Hope's claims over the Moon is to be interpreted as
acquiescence". "The United Nations are dealing with too important problems
for them to bother with such trivial claims. They do not send formal
protests to any individual claiming to own a celestial body, as France does
not send "cease and desist" letters to any individual claiming to be

"I want to assure the public that I do not actually believe I own the Sun" -
said Mr. Pop. "My concept of ownership over the Sun is relative. I mean, I
own it as much or as little as Mr. Hope owns the Moon. If he owns the Moon,
so do I own the Sun. If he does not own the Moon, neither do I own the Sun.
If the public believes that they can buy moon plots from Mr. Hope and his
subsidiaries - then they should regard me as the owner of the Sun. I, for
one, intended this move only to show how ridiculous a property rights system
in outer space would be if it were to be based solely on claim
unsubstantiated by any actual possession. I made this claim precisely in
order to be denied!"

Would Mr. Pop change his mind and start charging earthlings for the use of
his rays? "Unlikely" - he says - "as there are no means for me enforcing my
claims". "Unfortunately, the only sun-blocking instrument in existence is
owned by Mr. Burns, Homer Simpson's boss - and it is unlikely I can get it
from him."

Virgiliu Pop is a PhD Candidate at the University of Glasgow, his research
dealing with the question "Who owns the Moon? Extraterrestrial Aspects of
Land and Mineral Resources Ownership". He is a member of the International
Institute of Space Law and of the European Center for Space Law, as well as
a Representative in the Space Generation Advisory Council. The affiliation
of Mr. Pop with these organisations should in no case be interpreted as
endorsement or support for Mr. Pop's article and "claim".

Copyright 2002, Space Daily

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