PLEASE NOTE:


*

2002 NT7: DON'T BE SURPRISED ABOUT FLUCTUATING IMPACT PROBABILITIES SHOULD
THEY ARRIVE

>From Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

While researchers, the global media and the interested public in
countries around the world are eagerly awaiting the next set of
observations of asteroid 2002 NT7 (and new impact probability
calculations based upon this data), some reports are already sounding
the all-clear. Under the headline, "DOOMSDAY IS POSTPONED", The Daily
Telegraph yesterday claimed that the latest impact risk calculations
essential rule out any remaining concerns:

"The future was looking a little rosier last night after astronomers
disclosed that the chances of an asteroid crashing into the Earth in
February 2019, obliterating an entire continent, had lengthened to one
in 250,000. The latest observations of the massive rock, named 2002 NT7,
now suggest that it will almost certainly miss the Earth"
( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/07/27/nbul27.xml#5 ).

Already on Wednesday, my colleague Steve Chesley of NASA's NEO program
office at JPL tried to re-assure concerned citizens in similar mode. In
an interview with The Planetary Society, he said:

"We are still monitoring 2002 NT7, but it appears that the impact
probability might have already started the typical, inexorable decline
that we normally see in these cases. We picked up more observations
yesterday and ran them through the impact probability and risk scales and
all have declined"
( http://www.planetary.org/html/news/articlearchive/headlines/2002/Asteroid2002NT7-UnderWatch.html ).

In the same article, Dan Durda of the Southwest Research Institute in
Boulder, Colorado was even hopeful that "we could get strong enough
observations to eliminate any potential threat to the Earth within three
to four days."

I'm afraid here are public expectations raised that may easily miscarry
unless they are clarified early on:

First of all, it looks unlikely that NT7 will be eliminated from the
list of virtual impactors within days. Instead, we should expect a much
longer period of observations before NT7 will be eventually dropped from
both the Torino and the Palermo Scales.

Secondly, and more importantly, the recent decrease in the impact
probabilities of NT7 tells us absolutely nothing about any further
decline of the impact risk! This is a dangerous misconception in urgent
need of clarification.

Of course, NT7 will almost certainly miss the Earth in 2019! That
statement is true regardless whether the odds are 1:60,000 or 1:250,000!
However, The Daily Telegraph and Steve Chesley give the impression
that increasing odds somehow guarantee the "inexorable decline" of the
impact probability. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, there
is a good chance that the next set of observations may lead to a
prolonged period of fluctuating impact probabilities, perhaps even
raising NT7 temporarily back to a positive Palermo Scale NEA.

I believe it is absolutely crucial for the NEO community in particular
and science writers in general to understand that this scenario can
easily happen with additional observational data coming in. After all,
that is what has actually happened with a number of "virtual impactors"
in the past. It is thus essential not only to understand that such
short-lived fluctuations in the impact probability may occur again - but
also to prepare ourselves and the interested public for such a latent
incident.

It is out of this concern that I have attached a lengthy paper which I
presented at a recent NEO workshop. Although it mainly deals with
the disaster management of a hypothetical, future impact, it focuses
also on the challenging problems we may face with positive Palermo
Scale NEAs such as NT7. I hope that some of the deliberations and
explanations in my paper will help clarify the potential uncertainties
we may one day be confronted with.

Benny Peiser
28 July 2002


==============
"PREPARING THE PUBLIC FOR AN IMPENDING IMPACT"
http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/ce072802.html

1. The low probability phase - takes effect with any object detected
that has an impact probability below 0 on the Palermo Scale. Most
objects listed on the "impact risk pages" managed by NEODyS and JPL fall
into this category. No specific public information is required for such
an event.

2. The moderate probability phase - gets underway with the detection of
an object that has an impact probability above 0 on the Palermo Scale.
It would be sensible to post clarifying information on the various
internet "risk pages." However, at this stage it would be important to
emphasise that the impact risk will be removed, in all likelihood, as a
result of additional observational data. Accordingly, there is no need
for any official press release during this phase.


"PREPARING THE PUBLIC FOR AN IMPENDING IMPACT"

Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, Faculty of Science,
Liverpool L3 2ET, United Kingdom, b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk

Paper presented at the International Workshop On Managing Global-Scale
Disasters, 12 April 2002, Irvine, California
(http://www.westernpsych.org/wp/index.cfm?id=6)


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*

CCNet 92/2002 - 28 July  2002
-----------------------------
 

(1) NEW OBSERVATIONS BY AUSTRIAN AMATEURS ELIMINATE 2019 IMPACT RISK
    Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

(2) MORE ON THE EARLY EVOLUTION OF THE 2002 NT7 STORY

(3) "FIRST EVER POSITIVE PALERMO SCALE 'VIRTUAL IMPACTOR' ANNOUNCED -
    WITHOUT IAU REVIEW
    CCNet, 23 July 2002

(4) "FURTHER OBSERVATIONS WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY ELIMINATE ANY IMPACT
    RISK": MODERATOR'S NOTE PUTS 2002 NT7 INTO PROPER CONTEXT
    CCNet, 23 July 2002

(5) TUMBLING STONE'S BREAKING NEWS: "FIRST POSITIVE PALERMO SCALE NEA"
    TUMBLING STONE BREAKING NEWS, 24 July 2002

(6) MEDIA SUMMER: A WORM IN MANHATTEN OR THE END OF THE WORLD?
    Tumbling Stone, 25(?) July 2002

(7) EXPERTS: 'LOW-PROBABILITY' OF ASTEROID IMPACT IN 2019  
    JPL/NASA, 25 July 2002

(8) ASTEROID 2002 NT7 UNDER WATCH, BUT PROBABLY NOT COMING OUR WAY
    The Planetary Society, 25 July 2002

(9) "IT'S ALL CCNET'S FAULT"
    Richard A Kowalski <bitnik@bitnik.com>


============
(1) NEW OBSERVATIONS BY AUTRIAN AMATEURS ELIMINATE 2019 IMPACT RISK

>From Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

As all NEO experts generally expected, new observations today of asteroid
2002 NT7 by amateurs from Austria have all but eliminated the much
reported small impact risk for Feb 1 2019. Three new observations of the
asteroid reported by the "Private Observatory Meyer/Obermair" in
Davidschlag near Linz, Austria
(http://newton.dm.unipi.it/cgi-bin/neodys/neoibo?objects:2002NT7;obs;1;200)
have now removed the 2019 "virtual impact" from NEODyS' "Risk Page'.

While the now world-famous virtual "Doomsday" impactor has been removed for
2019, NT7 has not been entirely dropped from the list of virtual
impactors.

Six other "virtual impacts", all with largely negative Palermo Scale
values remain on NEODyS' Impact Risk Page
(http://newton.dm.unipi.it/cgi-bin/neodys/neoibo?objects:2002NT7;risk)

2044/02/01.700
2053/01/31.952
2060/02/01.690
2060/02/01.689
2067/02/01.423
2067/02/01.420

As NEODyS's Risk Page makes clear, only the virtual impactors in
2060/02/01.690 and 2060/02/01.689 in the table above are rated as Torino
Scale 1 (which merit careful professional monitoring, but warrant no
public concern whatever).

Yet before celebrating too quickly, it would be pruded to caution
interested observers that further observations in the near future may
result in new virtual impact dates, perhaps even ones with a positive
Palermo rating. As the wise saying goes: It isn't over until the fat lady
sings!

Benny Peiser
28 July 2002
20.30 GMT

=================================================
(2) MORE ON THE EARLY EVOLUTION OF THE 2002 NT7 STORY
=================================================

(3) "FIRST EVER POSITIVE PALERMO SCALE 'VIRTUAL IMPACTOR' ANNOUNCED -
    WITHOUT IAU REVIEW

>From CCNet, 23 July 2002
http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/cc072302.html

>From Asteroid/Comet Connection, 23 July 2002
http://www.hohmanntransfer.com/news.htm

It took until early evening Monday at NEODyS in Italy to update their
impactor table for 2002 NT7
(http://newton.dm.unipi.it/cgi-bin/neodys/neoibo?objects:2002NT7;risk)
with 13 new observations from Sunday night. And no wonder. With this
they have placed NT7's February 1st, 2019 "virtual impactor" at a
first-ever positive Palermo Scale
(http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/doc/palermo.html) rating of 0.18, up from
yesterday's -0.11, which had been an easing from Saturday's -0.04. They
and JPL, however, still have the 2019 impactor Torino Scale rating at
1.0.

JPL's NEO Program site this morning posted a new risk assessment for NT7
(http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/2002nt7.html), giving it a Palermo Scale
rating of -0.05 cumulatively, while specifically rating the 2019 event
at -0.10. Later in the day these ratings were revised to -0.15 for the
2019 event (better), although the cumulative rating that incorporates
other later possible events, especially one in 2035, is now -0.02 (worse).

Sunday night's work includes nine observations from Siding Spring in
Australia, which figured prominently in NEO searches until the
government there cut funding.

Since 18 July, NEODyS and JPL have had NT7 at Torino Scale 1 ("merits
special monitoring"). This is a large object with a diameter estimated
at more than 2 km. (1.4 miles). It has a 42-inclined orbit that crosses
the orbit of Mars and barely crosses the orbit of Earth. It approaches
Earth most closely from south of the ecliptic, where there is little PHO
surveillance, and that, along with NT7's inclination, may be part of why
it hasn't been spotted until now.

============
(4) "FURTHER OBSERVATIONS WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY ELIMINATE ANY IMPACT
    RISK": MODERATOR'S NOTE PUTS 2002 NT7 INTO PROPER CONTEXT

>From CCNet, 23 July 2002
http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/cc072302.html

MODERATOR'S NOTE: It is interesting to note that NEODyS appear to have
announced this first-ever positive Palermo Scale 'virtual impactor'
without any formal IAU technical review. The IAU encourages such a
review for any impact prediction that is at a level equal to or greater
than zero on the Palermo Technical Scale
(http://web.mit.edu/rpb/wgneo/TechComm.html). According to the IAU
guidelines,

"information leading to an impact prediction, consisting of an
evaluation of the case and all data and computational details necessary
to understand and reproduce the studies carried out by the authors,
should be transmitted for confidential review to the chair of the IAU
Working Group for Near Earth Objects (WGNEO), the President of IAU
Division III, the General Secretary of the IAU, and the members of the
NEO Technical Review Team, before any announcement and/or written
document on the subject be made public via any potentially nonprivate
communication medium, including the World Wide Web. The individual
members of the NEO Technical Review Committee shall review the work for
technical accuracy and shall communicate under most circumstances within
72 hours the results of their reviews to the chair of the WGNEO and
directly to the authors of the report or manuscript."

It seems obvious to me and other critics that it is far too impractical
to submit every positive Palermo Scale object for review. After all,
neither the computers at NEODyS nor those used by JPL have ever
experienced a problem with the calculation of impact probabilities. The
pragmatic approach of turning a blind eye to the IAU procedures (if
that's what happened over the weekend) seems sensible in the case of
2002 NT7 given that it is almost certain that further observations of
this 2km asteroid will eliminate any remaining impact threats currently
listed. Benny Peiser

=============
(5) TUMBLING STONE'S BREAKING NEWS: "FIRST POSITIVE PALERMO SCALE NEA"

>From TUMBLING STONE BREAKING NEWS, 24 July 2002
http://spaceguard.ias.rm.cnr.it/tumblingstone/issues/current/eng/main.htm

Asteroid 2002 NT7, a relatively large (H=16) Apollo with a still rather
poorly determined orbit, has been on the Risk Pages of both NEODyS and
JPL since July 15, as it is associated to a number of Virtual Impactors.
With the shrinking of the uncertainty region due to the accumulation of
astrometric observations, many of the VIs found associated with the
initial, very uncertain, orbit have disappeared, as is normal in such
cases. Of those that have survived until today, the one related to an
Earth collision on 1 February 2019 has gone up in the Palermo Technical
Scale, reaching the value of +0.23, according to the computations made
by NEODyS in Pisa. This means that, for the first time, the probability
of a specific impact of a Near-Earth Asteroid turns out to be larger
than that of the "background". It is still low though, just one chance
in 100.000.

Copyright 2002, Tumbling Stone
==============
(6) MEDIA SUMMER: A WORM IN MANHATTEN OR THE END OF THE WORLD?

>From Tumbling Stone, 25(?) July 2002
http://spaceguard.ias.rm.cnr.it/tumblingstone/issues/current/eng/main.ht
m

Media summer. A worm in Manhattan or the end of the world?
By Nanni Riccobono -copyright Tumbling Stone

It is summer. Not only regular people get to go on vacation but also
politicians, businessmen, chief of state, secretaries of the many
departments all over the world. There is very little worthwhile to be
published front page in these days. Still there is hope that something
really weird, true or false, could happen. It can be a worm, an entire
new species, found in Central Park in Manhattan (La Repubblica). Or it
can be an asteroid bound to the Earth in less than 20 years (La Stampa).
Well, we deal with asteroids. And of course this particular NEA, 2002
NT7 is not unknown to us. NEODyS - together with Sentry- computed the
orbits and the VI (virtual impactors) that hit the Media all over the
world yesterday. But we didn't panic. Strange. It must be because there
is very little to panic about: it's early to cry an hazard, even if this
particular object is a Palermo Scale 0,23, the first over the
background, chances it really smash us are 1/100000 and observations are
still on a short period of time: which means things could change in a
few weeks. This is reality. But Media don't go with reality, they go
with fiction, especially in the summer. So much they like dramatic
situations that a very important in Italy, quoted on Andrea Milani that
eventually, we must shoot nuclear weapons to 2002 NT7! Better do not
list all the nonsense that have been published. Do we say so in name of
an impossible purity of the information published by papers or TV
channels? No. It is because all false alarms have harmed somehow the
search in the field of NEOs and the try to understand the best
mitigation techniques in case a crash would really happen.

=============
(7) EXPERTS: 'LOW-PROBABILITY' OF ASTEROID IMPACT IN 2019  

>From JPL/NASA, 25 July 2002
http://sse.jpl.nasa.gov/whatsnew/pr/020725A.html
 
July 25, 2002

Asteroid 2002 NT7

Asteroid 2002 NT7 currently heads the list on our IMPACT RISKS Page
because of a low-probability Earth impact prediction for February 1,
2019. While this prediction is of scientific interest, the probability
of impact is not large enough to warrant public concern.

Discovered on July 9, 2002 by the LINEAR team, asteroid 2002 NT7 is in
an orbit, which is highly inclined with respect to the Earth's orbit
about the sun and in fact nearly intersects the orbit of the Earth.
While the orbits of Earth and 2002 NT7 are close to one another at one
point in their respective orbits, that does not mean that the asteroid
and Earth themselves will get close to one another. Just after an
asteroid like 2002 NT7 is discovered, the limited number of observations
available do not allow its trajectory to be tightly constrained and the
object's very uncertain future motion often allows a very low
probability of an Earth impact at some future date. Just such a low
probability impact has been identified for February 1, 2019 and a few
subsequent dates. As additional observations of the asteroid are made in
the coming months, and perhaps pre-discovery archival observations of
this object are identified, the asteroid's orbit will become more
tightly constrained and the future motion of the asteroid will become
better defined. By far the most likely scenario is that, with additional
data, the possibility of an Earth impact will be eliminated.

This is an example of the type of scenario that we can expect as some
types of near-Earth objects are discovered. For some objects, their
uncertain initial orbits cannot be used to immediately rule out future
very low-probability Earth impacts, but when additional observations are
used to refine the initial orbit, these low-probability Earth impact
possibilities will go away. Other recently discovered near-Earth
asteroids will be added to the Risk page until their orbits are refined
and they are then dropped off the list of closely watched objects. This
is how the system is expected to work and any initial indication of a
low-probability Earth impact followed by a removal of that event from
our IMPACT RISKS tables should not be considered a mistake. It is a
natural result of the on-going process of monitoring the motions of
near-Earth objects.

For more information on asteroids, visit NASA's Near Earth Object
Program homepage.

NASA Headquarters
NASA Office of Space Science

=============
(8) ASTEROID 2002 NT7 UNDER WATCH, BUT PROBABLY NOT COMING OUR WAY

>From The Planetary Society, 25 July 2002
http://www.planetary.org/html/news/articlearchive/headlines/2002/Asteroid2002NT7-UnderWatch.html

By A.J.S. Rayl

Asteroid experts are continuing to observe asteroid 2002 NT7, which was
under watch because preliminary calculations indicated it could be on a
collision course with Earth. But today the experts are reporting that
the probability that it will impact Earth on February 1, 2019 is even
lower today than it was yesterday, despite some sensational news
headlines to the contrary.

"We are still monitoring 2002 NT7, but it appears that the impact
probability might have already started the typical, inexorable decline
that we normally see in these cases," says senior engineer, Steve
Chesley, of NASA's NEO program office at JPL. "We picked up more
observations yesterday and ran them through the impact probability and
risk scales and all have declined."

So why was there so much ado about in the media about this hurtling hunk
of rock? The news about 2002 NT7 was everywhere yesterday and from some
of the accounts it seemed almost as if 'the sky might falling' - rather
that the asteroid was on its way, edges ablazing.

"It was picked up from our pages (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov) and
disseminated and some of the news organizations apparently decided to
get a little sensational headline out of the deal," suggests Chesley,
"which is really quite inappropriate in this case."

Asteroid 2002 NT7 still tops the list of NASA/JPL NEO Impact Risks
because of the low-probability Earth impact prediction for 2019. But
Chesley and other asteroid experts assure that the sky is not falling,
and the rock will, in all probability, at this stage, orbit safely on by
come 2019. "While this prediction is of scientific interest, the
probability of impact is just not large enough to warrant public
concern," reassures Chesley. "It is unusual, but it's not anything that
would deserve as much attention as it's gotten."

In fact, Chesley adds: "We've seen much higher probabilities, but since
this asteroid is quite large, its moderately high probability combined
with its great size raises it to a higher level on our risk scales. In
other words, this one went over the threshold on one of the risk scales
we use, someone noticed and said, 'Hey that's never happened before.'
There's your story."
 
NASA's Near Earth Object program gives the asteroid a rating of "1" on
the Torino impact hazard scale one of two such scales for determining
the potential risk of asteroids and other objects. That ranking means it
is within the range of "events meriting careful monitoring" but not of
great concern.

Indeed, 2002 NT7's crossing the "threshold" was probably the cause of
the media alarm yesterday, says another asteroid expert, Dan Durda of
the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "This is the
first time an asteroid has ranked at something above the 'don't even
think about it' level on the Torino or Palermo scale, the two
measurements that calibrate these objects," points out Durda. "It means
simply that 2002 NT7 has hit the green level (Level 1 on the Torino
scale} where it warrants close attention."

Asteroid 2002 NT7, which was first detected earlier this month by the
Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project in New Mexico, orbits the
Sun every 837 days, traveling in a tilted orbit from about the distance
of Mars to just within the Earth's orbit. The recent detailed
calculations of 2002 NT7's orbit suggest numerous potentialities for its
projected path through space to intersect the Earth's orbit.

More observations in coming weeks will help scientists to more precisely
plot the course of the 1.2-mile-wide asteroid and determine the true
risk. "With every new observation you help tie down the orbit a little
better," Durda explains. "There's an error ellipse - a 'line' that
passes through somewhere in space which is our projection of where the
orbit goes for this particular asteroid. More often than not, that
'line,' which represents our best guess as to where the asteroid is
going to go, is outside the actual sphere of the Earth itself." That
error-ellipse is what astronomers will be watching.

Although the latest observations indicate the asteroid is becoming less
and less of a threat, if that error ellipse shifts to include the Earth,
"then the bells and whistles go off and we would need to look at this
object even more carefully," says Durda. "We would then need to get more
position observations of the asteroid, not only through optical
telescopes, but radar if possible, which is a good way to very tightly
constrain the orbit. More than likely," he reiterates, "we're going to
find out that with more observations this object is going to make a
clean miss and it won't be a problem."

Even so, there is always at this stage some uncertainty, Durda admits.
While the Torino scale placed 2002 NT7 within the range of "events
meriting careful monitoring" but not of great concern, there is always a
remote possibility it could be determined later to be on track and
heading toward Earth. "More than likely it's not going to be problem,
but we can't say that yet with absolute certainty," he says. "There's an
error cloud around the 'line,' if you will, which represents where
there's a certain probability it may go. The point is, yes, the Earth is
in that error ellipse and it could potentially hit us."

Still, by all accounts, observations and appearances now, it is highly
unlikely that asteroid 2002 NT7 will ruin our day come February 1, 2019.
"Imagine a chart, and think about a tiny fraction of area where a tiny
dot that represents the Earth lies and then compare it to a much larger
area of the error ellipse," Durda expounds. "With more observations, the
odds are in our favor that the error ellipse will shrink to the point
where it doesn't include the Earth and this object is not going to hit.
That's where we're at. In terms of odds, colloquially, this is a
one-in-a-million kind of odds, that's speaking figuratively, not
statistically. But at this point, people should just not worry about
it."

Astronomers will be in a mode of observation, says Durda, for the next
several months. "But we could get strong enough observations to
eliminate any potential threat to the Earth within three to four days."

If by some bizarre chance, 2002 NT7 were found with further observations
to be on a collision course, what then?

"Asteroid 2002 NT7 would rise progressively from green to yellow to
orange to red priorities on the Torino scale," says Durda. "Then we're
in a position of where we have to actually start worrying and thinking
and planning as to what we do. We'd have to kick into high gear at that
point and figure it out technically. The first thing we'd probably have
to do is better characterize this object. How large is it? What is it
made out of - is it a rubble pile or big solid rock? What shape is it?
And so on. That characterization would determine what we might do." Some
of the conceived options include nuking it, or pushing it out of the way
with a rocket.

Currently, there is no master response plan for impending asteroid
impacts. "A lot of hypothetical plans and ideas and viewgraphs and
thoughts have been put out there, but nobody's put anything down into
hardware and actually prepared a real honest-to-gosh operational plan to
do anything," says Durda. That however, appears to be changing.

Chesley and Durda are members of an unofficial group that has taken it
upon itself to think about the asteroid issue, The group - which has
dubbed itself the B612 group after The Little Prince's asteroid, and
which includes astronauts Rusty Schwiekart and Ed Lu, and Princeton's
Piet Hutt, among others - met last October in Houston, Texas, to discuss
what could be done in the event an asteroid is coming Earth's way,
including the options, possible technical fixes, and how to develop a
master plan just in case of any worst case scenario.

It is always advisable, Chesley and Durda note, to be prepared. If 2002
NT7 did collide with Earth on February 1, 2019, it's impact velocity
would be an estimated 28 kilometers a second. That, according to many
scientists, is enough to wipe out a good part of a major continent and
cause global climate changes and/or giant, destructive tsunamis.

The closest known approach of a sizeable object occurred just last month
when an asteroid the size of a soccer field missed the Earth by 75,000
miles. That may sound like a solid margin, but in planetary distance
terms, it is fairly close, less than one-third of the distance to the
Moon. If that asteroid had hit terra firma, scientists projected that it
would have released as much energy as a large nuclear weapon.

The public is welcome to "put the sensational stories aside" and observe
as astonomers observe 2002 NT7 and other near Earth objects at NASA's
NEO website. "We in the community relish the opportunity for the public
to understand and see better exactly how this process works, to
understand that nobody is hiding anything and that we don't necessarily
know immediately whether or not something will hit with certitude,"
Durda says. "Everybody out there has a stake in understanding that this
is an issue and considering the options of how we deal with this issue.
It's a decision for everybody to make."

"It is important that we track and observe Near Earth Objects - not
enough is being done and that is why The Planetary Society has launched
the Gene Shoemaker NEO Grants for observing these objects," says
executive director of the Society Louis D. Friedman. The Planetary
Society NEO Shoemaker grants are awarded to amateur observers primarily
to track objects near the planet, especially those that may pose a
threat to Earth. The winner of this year's NEO Shoemaker Award will be
announced Tuesday, July 30.

To follow the tracking of 2002 NT7 and other asteroids go to:
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov
 
=========== 
(9) "IT'S ALL CCNET'S FAULT"

>From Richard A Kowalski <bitnik@bitnik.com>

Benny, you wrote:

  (13) YOU SAY TORINO - I SAY PALERMO: WHY BLAMING THE MEDIA WON'T WORK

  From Benny Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

  Is the media to blame for "an orgy of misinformation and confusion"
  regarding the latest asteroid scare? According to David Morrison's
  analysis (NEO News 25/07/02) it would appear that this is the case.
  After all, impact risk assessors keep mum this time and "no formal
  announcement was made concerning 2002 NT7, since new observations are
  accumulating and the whole situation is likely to resolve itself
  within a few days." So why has asteroid 2002 NT7 been attracting such
  phenomenal interest from news outlets around the globe - and why the
  often inaccurate reporting?

I note that nowhere in your article here do you mention that the first
wide scale mention of NT7s rating as non-zero was on CCNET. Please
understand I am not inferring that NEODys or Sentry are blameless in
posting this information. I would argue that those of us involved in
this research directly checked these sources and found that they are of
some interest and should be priorities in our follow up target lists.
However, please note that this information was not "pointed out" to the
general public specifically. They generally do not visit these web
sites. I would suggest that it would be rather dubious to claim that
science journalists visit these sites with any regularity as there are
plenty of items of interest and press releases to keep them busy most of the
time.

The "story" of NT7 broke on CCNET. Both you and I know that CCNET and
MPML have large numbers of journalists and reporters lurking in their
ranks and by announcing that NT7 currently has a none zero rating, you
are in fact why there has once again been "an orgy of misinformation and
confusion" as Dr. Morrison states.

I do not blame the media for this latest outbreak but firmly place it in
your lap. I'm sure you will not agree with me, but once again you are
blaming JPL and Pisa for this instead of looking in the mirror for the
origin of this latest flap.

As a former firefighter who still has friends that are police officers
and firefighters as well as being a pilot, I often see and hear of many
news reports about fires, crime and aviation that just don't even come
close to what actually happened. These are all every day events that are
easily grasped by the least of our society and yet after decades of
practice, factual reporting of them continue to elude those in the
fourth estate. The NEO threat is much more esoteric than the everyday
events I mention and I have an even lower confidence in the people
writing the news in getting the facts correct and placing them in their
proper importance.

This isn't to excuse them in not getting the facts correct, but its
obvious that they have little interest in finding the facts out for
themselves. Instead they parrot the few sources they deem, correctly or
incorrectly as appropriate. CCNET being one of them. I'm sure that if
you are honest you will agree that by taking a few minutes to research
this "story" they would correctly conclude that yet another object has
popped up that requires additional study and isn't worth their time to
write a "story" or the ink to publish it. I ask you where are the
headlines that read "Over 800 NEOs Known - None of them Threaten
Earth!"? Or how about this one; "NEO 2002 NT7 discovered - Will probably
miss the Earth by Millions of miles in 2019!" They would be thrown out
of their editor's offices if they tried to write about the facts, now
wouldn't they?

--
Richard Kowalski

MODERATOR'S NOTE: The first mention of NT7's rating as a positive
Palermo NEA was announceed on NEODyS's impact risk page on Monday, 22
July. I should point out that the events and calculations leading up to
this NEODyS announcement were carefully monitored by the Asteroid/Comet
Connection (A/CC) website, as Bill Allen described in his essay "How A/CC
broke the 2002 NT7 story" (http://www.hohmanntransfer.com/sas/nt7/).

It was the matter-of-fact report by A/CC, published in New Mexico on
Monday evening (22 July), which announced the "first ever" positive
Palermo Scale value this century to a wider public. It was this web
announcement which I posted on CCNet in the morning of July 23.

Since CCNet is known for posting almost *anything* that may be of
interest to the wider NEO community and interested observers and
science writers, it was simply a matter of routine to post this "first
ever" rating.

Given past experiences with asteroid scares it seems naive to me to
protest that the impact risk websites and their impact risk ratings
are "not 'pointed out' to the general public specifically." It is
technically correct that the wider public do not visit these web sites.
At the same time it is patently obvious that a significant number of the
*interested* public, including a growing number of interested amteurs, do
visit (and indeed monitor) these websites regularly.

Richard is rather shocked by the global wave of media interest generated
by 2002 NT7. I guess everyone was utterly surprised just how fast and
universal this story was tacken up by science reporters around the globe
shortly after David Whitehouse had posted his initial report on BBC
Online late in the night of July 23/24. Richard, however, believes that
NT7 "wasn't worth their time to write a "story" or the ink to publish
it." Yet even within the NEO community the fact that "for the first time,
the probability of a specific impact of a Near-Earth Asteroid turns out
to be larger than that of the "background", was considered "Breaking
News", as the TUMBLING STONE BREAKING NEWS on 24 July demonstrates (see
item further below).

Reviewing the way NT7 was published on CCNet, I wish to stress that in my
note that accompanied the A/CC announcement, I took particular care to
emphasise the almost certain elimination of NT7's temporary impact risk
by further observations (a re-assurance that was lacking in Tumbling Stones'
"breaking news" story). It would appear that this "almost certain
eliminiation of NT7's temporary risk" has actual started with today's new
observations. So let's not engage in a unneccessary blame game.

Benny Peiser

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CCCMENU CCC for 2002

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