CCNet DIGEST, 21 July 1998

    From ABCNews

    Andrew Yee <>

    E.P. Grondine <>

    Casper ter Kuile <>

    Peter Abrahams <>


From ABCNews
July 15 — Just when you finally thought you knew what wiped out the
dinosaurs, three scientists have a new explanation that offers a whole
new twist.

Dinosaurs rank at the top of billions of species that thrived and then
vanished forever. The mass extinction has perplexed scientists ever
since they began digging up fossils of creatures no longer on Earth.
David M. Raup, a statistical paleontologist at the University of
Chicago, estimates that between 5 billion and 50 billion species
existed at one time or another on this planet, compared to about 40
million today.

“Only about one in a thousand species is still alive—a truly lousy
survival record: 99.9 percent failure,” Raup noted in his 1991 book,
Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?

What caused critters that survived for millions of years to suddenly

The latest, and one of the most intriguing, forays into the debate
comes from three scientists at the Israel Institute of Technology.
Astrophysicists Arnon Dar, Ari Laor and Nir Shaviv speculate that
radiation from the collision of distant stars caused some mass
Mutants on Earth

At the same time, they argue in a report published in the June 29
issue of Physical Review Letters, the radiation would cause
mutations, leading to the emergence of entirely new species on Earth.
They call it their “doom and creation theory.”

According to the scientists, it begins with the collision of two
neutron stars—remnants of supernova explosions in which the mass of
several suns is packed into a ball about 12 miles in diameter. Such a
violent collision blasts out jets of high-energy particles called
cosmic rays.

If Earth passed through one of these jets within about 3,000 years of
the collision, the scientists theorize, the cosmic rays would be 
intense enough to destroy the ozone layer that protects Earth from
harmful solar radiation, and make much of the planet highly

Radioactive particles can destroy an organism’s central nervous
system and cause death within days. Scientists have documented at
least five major extinctions, in which many forms of life were
eliminated, over the past 570 million years, as well as many lesser
events in which only a few species died out.
Out with the Old …

Past mass extinctions, and there have been many, have frequently been
followed by the sudden rise of new species as though whatever killed
off the old brought in the new.

Cosmic rays could do that, the scientists argue, and much evidence
should be awaiting discovery in the rocks and fossils of ancient
Earth. A high-energy particle smashing through a rock leaves a track.
Sensitive instruments should be able to find those tracks.

The scientists are calling on their colleagues around the world to
search for evidence of high energy particles in fossils and rocks
that correspond in age to known periods of mass extinctions. No one
will know if the scientists are on the right path unless that
evidence can be found.

It may all sound a bit bizarre, but no more so than the most popular
theory about mass extinctions. The scientific community generally
accepts that an asteroid or comet smashed into Earth 65 million years
ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. That wasn’t always the case. As luck
would have it, I was present when the father-and-son team of Luis and
Walter Alvarez went public with their theory at a science meeting in

A Sun-Starved Planet

Luis, a Nobel prize-winning physicist and the father of Walter, a
geologist, postulated that an asteroid smashing into Earth would kick
enough debris in the atmosphere to cool the planet. That would have
killed most of the plants on which the dinos dined.

The Alvarez team had some evidence to back up their claim. While
excavating fossils near the town of Gubbio, Italy, they found a layer
of red clay that formed just as the dinosaurs were dying out.

The clay turned out to be rich in iridium, a heavy metal usually
found only deep within Earth, and in meteorites. That led to the
speculation that the iridium came from the impact of a large asteroid
or comet, which could have precipitated changes in global weather
that killed the dinosaurs.

Had it not been for the scientific credibility of the two men, and
that dab of evidence, they would have been hooted out of the hall.
Instead, scientists around the world began looking for more evidence.
Surprisingly, they found a layer of iridium that literally circled
Earth, deposited at precisely the time that the dinos were going

A few paleontologists still argue that the dinosaurs died out over a
period of several million years, and thus were not likely to have
been the victims of a cataclysmic collision.
Still a Mystery

The two theories—asteroid or cosmic rays—don’t necessarily conflict.
There could be many reasons for different extinctions. Raup, for
example, has argued that extinctions seem to occur at 26-million-year
intervals. That suggests to some that once every 26 million years
something beyond Earth dramatically impacts our planet.

That, in part, gave rise to the search for a “Death Star,” a
companion to our sun that sweeps through the neighborhood once every
26 million years, causing all sorts of havoc. Nobody has found a
trace of it yet.

But we do know that neutron stars collide, sending out cosmic rays.
Five pairs of neutron stars are expected to collide within our
galaxy. But in each case, the collision is several hundred million
years away. There are probably many more, as yet undiscovered. So
are we in immediate danger?

The scientists speculate that any such pending collision would be
detected hundreds of thousands of years in advance. That leaves us
plenty of time to build cosmic ray shelters.
Copyright 1998, ABCNews


From Andrew Yee <>

[Extracted from U.S. National Academy of Sciences webpage.]

July 15, 1998

NASA is planning several missions in the next decade to collect samples
from a variety of small solar system bodies and planetary satellites.
According to a new National Research Council report, a few cases may
pose enough risk of contamination to require special handling
procedures when they are brought back to Earth.

The Executive Summary of the report "Evaluating the Biological
Potential in Samples Returned from Planetary Satellites and Small Solar
System Bodies: Framework for Decision Making" can be found at


From E.P. Grondine <>

Well, Benny, as Dr. Pilcher informed us several weeks back, he has now
completed the selection process for the NEO detection office. Now that
the decision has been made, I'm sure that a number of the other
candidates for the post who are readers of CC Digest are wondering
exactly how Don won it.

Since the decision has already been made, I don't think it would be
betraying anything to reveal Don's secret. His secret, in short, is
that while the other candidates were relying on their mastery of the
Scientific Method to bolster their candidacies, Don was relying on his
mastery of the Dale Carnegie Method.

For those of you who may not know about him, Dale Carnegie was an
American author who wrote the wildly successful book, "How to Win
Friends and Influence People". He then used that book's success and
that of the follow-up volumes to build an empire, finally using the
books as texts in his "Dale Carnegie Institute".

How does the Dale Carnegie Method work in action? Let's compare the
Scientific Method and the Dale Carnegie Method, as applied to some of
the problems presented in a field with which the CC members are
intimately familiar with: that of NEOs.



Either a) present hypothesis, and then verify by data, or b) assemble
data, infer hypothesis. 

So we b) scour the geological, planetary, astronomical, and historical
record to gather evidence on impact events, infer a cosmic environment
and describe mechanisms, and then a) compare this model with existing
and new data.  We arrive at a rate for Tunguska type impacts of 1 per
100 years, larger events someplace between 1 per 1500 to 15,000 years,
dinosaur killers at a semi-periodic 26 million year rate.


"Never begin by announcing, "I am going to prove so-and-so to you." 
That's bad. That's tantamount to saying, "I'm smarter than you are. 
I'm going to tell you a thing or two and make you change your mind."

"That's a challenge. It arouses opposition and makes the listener want
to battle with you before you even start.

"If you are going to prove anything, don't let anybody know it. Do it
so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel you're doing it."

"In talking with people, don't begin by discussing the things on which
you disagree.

"Get the other person to saying "Yes, yes", at the outset.

So when Don made his presentation at the Congressional luncheon
briefing, he claimed that the dinosaurs were killed by an impact event,
and everyone said, "Yes!". Then he talked about how this big hole in
the ground in Arizona was created by an impact, and showed some
fragments of the impactor that did it, and everyone said, "Yes!". Then
he tells them that Tunguska type events occur at a rate of 1 per 300
years, 1-2 kilometer impactors at a rate of 1 per 100,000- 1,000,000
years, and dinosaur killers at a rate of 1 per 100 million years. And
everyone says, "Yes! Yes!".


Using Newtonian mechanics and modern material science, examine
different methods of planetary defense. Arrive at gross conclusion that
the use of nuclear charges will be necessary for the time being; use
super-computers to refine estimates and to calculate exact charge and
effects; run  space dynamics programs to determine launch vehicle


"Don't you have more faith in ideas that you discover for yourself
rather than in ideas you have handed to yo on a silver platter? If so,
isn't it bad judgement to try to ram your opinions down other peoples

Watch Don in action in an interview with Alan Boyle from MSNBC:
"Yeomans said some in the military have talked about setting aside some
nuclear weapons to shoot at asteroids that may pose a threat, but he
said most scientists don't approve of that approach."

Here Don carefully conceals the facts that it is not only people in the
military who are talking about this, and that that part of the
scientific community which has actually studied the problem has almost
to a person arrived at the conclusion that nuclear charges will be
necessary.  Instead, Don leads the horse to water:

"Let's find at least 90 percent of the near-Earth objects larger than 1
kilometer and track them into the future and see if there's a problem,"
he said. "Then and only then would you mount a nuclear mitigation
campaign. I think that the scientific community (Note that Don once
again refers to the scientific community as a whole, and not to that
part of it which actually has some familiarity with the NEO problem)
"is of the opinion that a stockpile of nuclear weapons (Don avoids
talking about a small cache under international control) is a far more
dangerous prospect than an asteroid... the potential for mischief is

Note that Don does not lie, he is just extremely circumspect with his
words. This, of course, leaves him plenty of wiggle room for later on,
when he will finally have to break the news to people that nukes are
about the only technology we have that will stop these things.



Analyze threat, examine counter-measures; examine current governmental
department roles; use modern management theory to re-define roles and
responsabilities, and modify structure where necessary.


"Doubtless Mr._____ had considered himself a holy crusader, defending
the public rights against callous exploitation.  But in reality, what
he had really wanted was a feeling of importance.  He got this feeling
of importance at first by kicking and complaining. But as soon as he
got his feeling of importance from a representative of the company, his
imagined grievances vanished into thin air...

"He raved on and I listened for nearly three hours...Then I went back
and I listened some more. I interviewed him four times, and before the
fourth visit was over I had become a charter member of an organization
he was starting.  He called it the "Telephone Subscribers'Protective
Association".  I am still a member of this organization, and as far as
I know, I'm the only member in the world besides Mr. _______

"....but upon the fourth inerview, I closed the case completely, he
paid all his bills in full, and for the first time in the history of
his difficulties with the telephone company he voluntarily withdrew
his complaints from the Public Servic Commission".

In the same interview with Alan, Don tells us that he is going to be a
member of an advisory committee which NASA is going to set up which
will provide guidance to NASA Headquarters on how future efforts
involving comets and asteroids - ground based as well as space based - 
will fit the space agency's strategic goals.  While prehaps Don thinks
that this advisory committee is going to be the kind of discreet
meeting where he can listen for that fourth time, in fact this is going
to be the place where the Dale Carnegie Method and the Scientific
Method will meet...

The unexpected part of the NASA announcement was that NASA is still a
scientific R&D outfit and has not yet become a campus of the Dale
Carnegie Institute.  In my review of the Congressional luncheon, I
argued that Don Yeomans and Clark Chapman together were about one half
of the candidate Dr. Pilcher needed; and Dr. Pilcher seems to have
reached a similar conclusion, as he only gave JPL one half of the job.
In the press release, Dr. Pilcher explicitly did not transfer to JPL
strategic planning for future missions, did not transfer to JPL
international co-ordination, and did not give JPL the authority to put
out science research solicitations and to conduct the resulting peer
reviews, all of which will remain at Headquarters.

In other words, if it turns out that the NEO threat is as bad as most
of us here on the CC list think it is, NASA will be able to do
something about it and will not have to get JPL's permission to do it.
So the scientific debate, far from being over, has just started up, and
it is up to those of us who think that NASA is using low numbers to
prove our case.  And while Mr. _____ was glad handed quite effectively
by the telephone company representative, in the end the court and later
the Congress brought the telephone company's monopoly to a final stop.

In closing, it should also be pointed out that the Dale Carnegie Method
does have some strong points.  Dale Carnegie advised that when you are
wrong, admit it fully, publicly, and quickly. In his MSNBC interview
Don put this advice to good use -  he abandoned NASA's attempt to
control impact warnings:

"It's going to take a few hours at least for the international (and Don
did mention international organizations several times) computers to do
the calculations.  Once there's a consensus, which shouldn't take more
than a few hours, the announcement would be made. There's no attempt to
sit on this thing."

Well, Benny, at the end I do have to admit to a certain jealousy. Our
Mr. Yeomans is as smooth as silk, while the few friends I have left
have compared me to gargling with ground glass. But, ah well, such is
the nature of the beast.

                                        Best wishes -


From Casper ter Kuile <>

Dear meteor-watchers,

In about 4 month from now we will be able to observe the famous
outburst of the Leonids. To study the Leonid outburst on november 18 in
every detail the Dutch Meteor Society (DMS) has setup an expedition to
China in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

If you are interested in the "Sino-Dutch Leonid Expedition 1998" and
it's results we invite you to have a look at our DMS-website:

If you have any comments on the presented information on our website
please send us a message!

Best wishes,

Casper ter Kuile.


From Peter Abrahams <>

The 61st Meteoritical Society Meeting in Dublin begins in a week.
Abstracts for the papers are at

A few highlights: John Wasson theorizes that Libyan desert glass might
have formed from a 'Tunguska-like aerial burst'.  This burst would have
been ten thousand times larger than Tunguska. 

Derek Sears is advocating missions to return samples from asteroids. A
team including Don Brownlee used the Infrared Space Observatory to
perform spectroscopy on comet Hale-Bopp.  HB contains forsterite and
enstatite.  This adds to evidence that a class of interplanetary
dust particles, the pyroxene-rich class of anhydrous chondritic IDPs,
are cometary in origin.

Monahans was discussed by E.K. Gibson & a team.  It contains grains 0.5
to 3 mm in size of dark blue to purple halite.  This is the first
report of halite in an ordinary chondrite, possibly because of the
quick recovery, though it has been previously found in smaller grains
in Murchison & a ureilite. The most likely origin for the halite is
brines, indicating that there might be fluid in the halite, and there
might be aqueous alteration of the stone. 

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