CCNet 106/2002 - 12 September 2002

"Did the dinosaurs die out because of an asteroid impact or because
they made too much noise when they were mating? Working on the
assumption that "100 tonnes, thrusting every 6.7 seconds would create
2200 kilowatts of energy" and that about 50 per cent of that energy would
become noise, this week's Feedback column [New Scientist] has become a
devotee of the decibel theory."
--New Scientist, 12 September 2002

"Scientists say mankind will be replaced by giant land squid, flying
killer fish and intelligent baboons. Scientists based their
predictions on the kind of climate and geographical changes expected to
take place in the distant future. All 16 scientists [making love] in the
series, to be shown on Discovery International's Animal Planet channel,
agree mankind will have been wiped out within the next few million years."
--Ananova, 10 September 2002

"New research shows love makes people so stupid they forget facts
and lose their concentration. It has the same effect as drugs, according to
psychologists. Brain scans on volunteers showed the areas responsible for
memory and concentration became less active when they were shown
pictures of their partners. The study was carried out at the University
of London, reports the Daily Record."
--Ananova, 21 April 2001

    Andrew Yee <>

    Edmonton Sun, 11 September 2002

    BBC News Online, 10 September 2002

    PA NEWS 11th September 2002

    Ron Baalke <>


    Sky & Telescope, 11 September 2002

    The Guardian, 11 September 2002

    CBS News, 10 September 2002

     Ron Baalke <>

     PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE, 9 September 2002                        

     Sandia National Laboratories, 11 September 2002

     Peter Jenniskens <>

     Jocelyn Boily <

     Ananova, 11 September 2002


>From Andrew Yee <>

[Extracted from inScight, Academic Press,]

Tuesday, 10 September 2002, 5 pm PST

A Little Respect for the Asteroid Threat

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA -- A decent-sized-asteroid could end civilization on
Earth. At a workshop here last week, researchers heard mixed tidings about
this threat. The good news is that the
search for civilization-ending asteroids seems to be on schedule. On the
other hand, astronomers haven't found many of the tens of thousands of
smaller bodies that could still wreak havoc.

Asteroids whose paths could cross ours are called near-Earth asteroids
(NEAs). Anything 1 kilometer in diameter or larger could disrupt the
environment badly enough to deal civilization
a death blow. At the Workshop on Scientific Requirements for Mitigation of
Hazardous Comets and Asteroids, astronomer Alan Harris of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, reported that the current
discovery rate of about nine NEAs per month now indicates a range of 1000 to
1200 NEAs that size. So far, 635 have been discovered and tracked. Only one
looks to have any chance of ever hitting Earth (Science, 5 April, p. 27),
and the odds are 1-in-300 at most in 2880. Harris says the project has a
good chance of finding 90% of the big NEAs by 2008.

Many researchers, however, think more needs to be done. Monster 1-kilometer
asteroids jolt Earth only every few hundred thousand years, but a
still-formidable 300-meter body strikes every
60,000 years or so, they point out. If such an impactor hit within hundreds
of kilometers of the U.S. Atlantic coast, it could send a 100-meter tsunami
into Boston and New York City. As telescopic imaging technology has
improved, surveying such 200- or 300-meter "subkilometer" objects might soon
be practicable.

But it wouldn't be cheap. A subkilometer survey would cost considerably more
than the $4 million per year NASA is spending on its current search. In the
past 2 years, the National Research Council has twice recommended that NASA
and the National Science Foundation (NSF) jointly fund a survey facility
such as the ground-based Large-Aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)
currently under study by NSF (Science, 19 July, p. 317). With something like
a $95 million start-up cost, LSST could find 90% of 300-meter NEAs in 10
years, Harris says.

2002 The American Association for the Advancement of Science


>From Edmonton Sun, 11 September 2002


City scientists want the public's help in their search for a star - a
shooting star that is.

They have reports of a bright fireball shooting through the northern sky
around 9:15 p.m. Sunday.

What they want now is some reports from people who were looking south when
it hurtled down to earth.

"We have people in Edmonton, Devon and Slave Lake who saw it when they
looked north," explained sky watcher Frank Florian of Edmonton's Odyssium

"What we need are some people who saw it looking south so we can do some
triangulation calculations and work out where it may have come down."


Florian said one witness who saw the glowing white ball of flame shooting
across the night sky from east to west thought it broke into two pieces.

Other witnesses reported seeing a blue or orange glow, caused by gases in
the upper atmosphere being burned off as the meteor plunged earthwards.

"We're not talking about one of these asteroids that are going to smash into
earth and trigger another ice age or something," said Florian.

"This was just a piece of rock, maybe about one metre in size or even

Scientists at the University of Alberta had a camera monitoring the sky on
Sunday night. But the film still has to be examined to see if it can give
any clues to where the remains of the meteor may have fallen.

"There are tonnes of this stuff coming down to earth every day but most of
it is very small particles," said the university's Dr. Doug Hube.


"It is very rare to find anything of any size. I think only 60 meteorites
have ever been found in Canada."

But Hube said if traces of the fireball which streaked across the sky Sunday
can be found, it would be very valuable research material.

"A meteor is part of the first solid matter formed in the universe about
four-and-a-half billion years ago," he said. "They come in different forms
and anything we can find out about them is valuable."

Anyone who thinks they can help find where the meteor fell to earth Sunday
can contact the Odyssium at 452-9100.

Copyright 2002, Edmonton Sun

>From BBC News Online, 10 September 2002
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor 
The first private Moon landing has finally been given the green light by the
US Government.

TransOrbital of California has become the first private company in the
history of spaceflight to gain approval from the US authorities to explore,
photograph and land on the moon.

The US State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration have granted it permission to send its TrailBlazer spacecraft
into lunar orbit.

The launch is set for June 2003 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Moon rush

The decision to let TransOrbital launch its lunar mission could spell the
beginning of the commercialisation of the Moon.

"The Moon is ripe for commercial development," said Dennis Laurie, of

"It's a lot closer than you think, at least in travel time, which is four

Winning permission took TransOrbital more than two years. To get federal
blessing it had to prove the Trailblazer satellite would not contaminate the
Moon with biological material, pollute the lunar surface or disturb previous
landing sites.

In the long term, TransOrbital wants to develop communications and
navigation systems for lunar exploration.

"The cost of Moon travel will be coming down and opportunities going up,"
says Mr Laurie.

Several other private companies are pursuing Moon missions. LunaCorp of
Virginia also wants to put a satellite into lunar orbit in 2003.

TransOrbital and LunaCorp hope to find the money for their missions by
selling pictures and video taken by their spacecraft. One use of their
images could be for immersive video games that give players the feel of
going to the Moon and back.

'Significant moment'

Trailblazer will provide high-definition video as well as maps of the lunar
surface (at 1 metre resolution), as well as new images of Earthrise over
lunar terrain.

After 90 days the mission will end with the delivery of a time capsule to
the lunar surface. It will contain messages, photographs and memorabilia.

The cost to the public to send something to the lunar surface is $2,500
(1,600) a gram.

In addition, the Trailblazer mission should provide the opportunity to
photograph the equipment left behind by past Apollo and Russian landings
putting an end to suspicions that the Moon landings were faked.

Beyond the orbital missions TransOrbital and Lunacorp have plans for lunar
landers and rovers.

TransOrbital says it has the technology, the desire and now the licensing.

"It's a significant moment for our company," says Dennis Laurie. "People
will soon get to experience the moon in ways they never imagined."

Copyright 2002, BBC


>From PA NEWS 11th September 2002

Martian colonies may resemble the Wild West if privately-funded expeditions
are the first to reach the planet, one of Britain's leading astronomers
predicted today.

Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said it was possible that
fortune-seeking adventurers may spearhead early high-risk expeditions to

They would be following the example of explorers who set out from Europe for
the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, mainly bankrolled by rich

What would happen when humans reached Mars depended on the nature of the
first expeditions, said Sir Martin.

If they were government-led, or international missions, then exploration and
exploitation of the planet would be carefully controlled, as it was in

But if the missions were privately run, the situation would be more akin to
early pioneers staking out new territories across America.

Sir Martin told the British Association Festival of Science at Leicester
University: "If the explorers were privately funded adventurers of a
free-enterprise, even `anarchic' disposition, the Wild West model would be
more likely to prevail."

One scenario for the second half of the century would involve a permanently
manned lunar base, a band of pioneers on Mars, and possibly small
"artificial habitats" cruising the Solar System attached to asteroids or

However before any of this became feasible manned spaceflight would first
have to become affordable and routine.

One way of greatly reducing the cost of getting into space would be to build
a "space elevator" which could hoist payloads and passengers into orbit
using power supplied from the ground.

Once in space, trips to the planets could be achieved using a low-thrust
rocket propulsion system.

"If there were plenty of power, space travel would be an almost unskilled
exercise," said Sir Martin. "The target (the moon, Mars or an asteroid) is
always in view. One just has to steer towards it, and use retrojets to brake
by the right amount at the journey's end."

Copyright 2002, PA


>From Ron Baalke <>

Newly Discovered Object Could be a Leftover Apollo Rocket Stage
Paul Chodas
Near-Earth Object Program Office
September 11, 2002

An analysis of the orbital motion of the newly discovered object J002E3
indicates that it could be a leftover Saturn V third stage from one of the
Apollo missions, most likely the Apollo 12 mission, launched on November 14,

The new object was discovered on September 3 by Bill Yeung, who noted that
it was moving quite rapidly. Initial orbit computations by the Minor Planet
Center indicated that the object was only about twice as far away as the
Moon, and was actually in orbit about our planet.  This fact, combined with
the rather faint intrinsic magnitude, immediately led astronomers to suspect
that the object is actually a spacecraft or rocket body, not an asteroid.
But the object could not be associated with any recent launch. 

J002E3 is currently observable at magnitude 16.5; it is easily detectable in
asteroid surveys, and even bright enough to be seen by many amateur
astronomers. If it is a leftover piece from an old launch, why was it not
discovered until last week? A backwards analysis of the orbital motion
provides the answer: the object was apparently captured by the Earth from
heliocentric orbit in April of this year. The capture occurred when the
object passed near the Earth's L1 Lagrange point, a location where the
gravity of the Earth and Sun approximately cancel.  This point serves as
"portal" between the regions of space controlled by the Earth and Sun.
J002E3 is the first known case of an object being captured by the Earth,
although Jupiter has been known to capture comets via the same mechanism.
(For example, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with Jupiter in 1994,
had been captured by Jupiter decades earlier.)

Analysis of J002E3's pre-capture orbit about the Sun shows that the object
was always inside the Earth's orbit, and that it may have come within the
Earth's vicinity in the early 1970s or late 1960s. Many of the test cases in
our analysis in fact passed through the L1 portal, back into Earth orbit
(going backwards in time) during the early 1970s.  In other words, this
object was very likely orbiting the Earth during this period before escaping
into the heliocentric orbit from which it was captured in 2002.  It seems
quite likely that this object is one of the Apollo Saturn S-IVB third stages
which flew by the Moon during this era (Apollos 8 through 12).  The
brightness of J002E3 seems to match the expected brightness of an S-IVB
stage.  Further circumstantial evidence suggests that this object is in fact
the Apollo 12 stage, which was left in a very distant Earth orbit after it
passed by the Moon on November 18, 1969.  This spent rocket body was last
seen in an Earth orbit with a period of 43 days, not much different from
J002E3's current orbit.

The future motion of J002E3 is also very interesting. A similar orbital
analysis which takes into account the current orbit uncertainties shows that
the object has a surprisingly large 20 percent chance of impacting the Moon
in 2003.  Such a lunar impact would not be unprecedented: NASA intentionally
impacted five Apollo S-IVB stages on the Moon from 1970 through 1972
(Apollos 13 through 17), as an experiment to study the interior structure of
the Moon.  Looking further into the future is problematic, due to the
chaotic nature of J002E3's orbit, but our current analysis shows the object
to have about a 3 percent chance of impacting the Earth within the next 10
years. This should not be of concern to the public. Apollo stages have
impacted the Earth before, in the 1960s, and the larger Skylab re-entered in
the 1970s.  (The even larger Mir Space Station was intentionally impacted
into the Pacific Ocean in March 2001.)

Additional positional observations of this object are being received daily,
and our knowledge and modeling of its orbit continues to improve. The
collision probabilities mentioned above will change as we are able to make
more precise predictions.

Animations showing how J002E3 was captured into its current chaotic orbit
around the Earth are available on the Near-Earth Object Program website:


>From, 11 September 2002

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

An object found Sept. 3 to be orbiting Earth every 50 days is most likely a
rocket booster leftover from the Apollo era, a NASA scientist said today.

Speculation had begun in various publications that the object might be a
small, second natural moon of Earth.

"It's most likely a spacecraft," said Donald Yeomans, a scientist at NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's not likely to be a natural object, not in
that kind of orbit."

In a telephone interview this morning, Yeomans said his colleague Paul
Chodas was running computer calculations to determine if the object is in
fact a rocket booster, as they suspect. The results are expected to be
released in the next day or two. 
The object stumps astronomers who routinely hunt the night skies for
asteroids. Bill Yeung detected it with an 18-inch (0.45-meter) telescope in
Arizona. If the object were a satellite or some piece of space junk, it
should have been detected before, some scientists said.

The object, designated J002E3, was first listed as a minor planet (typically
meaning an asteroid) by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
which serves as a clearinghouse for such objects. It was later removed from
that list when it was found to be in Earth orbit.

In the unlikely event the satellite turns out to be a tiny natural moon of
Earth, it would not be the first such candidate. However, other possible
small moons of Earth are on strange orbits that are gravitationally balanced
-- for a time -- by the Sun. The objects tend to be captured only for a few
thousand years. The object is not visible from Earth without a powerful

Yeomans said the brightness of this object and the estimated distance to it
suggest it's about the size of a rocket booster, given that scientists
estimate such a hunk of metal would reflect about 50 percent of the sunlight
hitting it.

"The trouble is they [rocket boosters] get out there and ... their orbits
are largely chaotic," Yeomans said. "It's almost impossible to say what
belongs to what."


>From Sky & Telescope, 11 September 2002

By David Tytell and Roger W. Sinnott

September 11, 2002 | On September 3rd in Benson, Arizona, Bill Yeung
discovered a 16th-magnitude object on CCD images taken with a 0.45-meter
telescope. It was moving rapidly northeastward across Pisces. He e-mailed
the positions to the Minor Planet Center (MPC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
which quickly posted the object on its Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page
under the temporary designation J002E3.

But within a few days of the report, the MPC removed the object from its
Confirmation Page; preliminary orbit calculations suggested it was traveling
in a large, 50-day orbit around the Earth, not the Sun. It had all the
earmarks of being a spent rocket casing or other piece of "space junk"
instead of a true minor planet.

But what exactly is it? Efforts by Tony Beresford in Australia and other
satellite experts have failed to match this object with any known artificial
satellite. Photometric measurements by Peter Kusnirak in the Czech Republic
failed to show much variation in brightness, as would be expected of a small
metallic object, especially if cylindrical. But the big question is, if it
is really in Earth orbit, why has it not been detected before? In Yeung's
words, 16th magnitude should have made it "a piece of cake" for survey
telescopes or for CCD-equipped amateur instruments to locate long ago.

Still, Brian G. Marsden (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Minor
Planet Center) remains skeptical that the mystery object is a rocky
asteroid. "There is a very remote chance it's natural," he believes. "Just
because it hasn't been identified doesn't mean it's not artificial."

"I will be awfully surprised if this is a natural thing captured by Earth,"
says Marsden.

According to Marsden, the object's geocentric orbit was his first indication
that the body was most likely space junk. But to be certain, he suggests
that astrometric stations continue monitoring its motion and that radio
telescopes observe the mysterious body. A detailed ephemeris is available
from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's HORIZONS System.

"Radar ought to be able to tell us pretty quickly if we are seeing a
polished metallic surface or a natural surface," says Marsden. "Radar would
settle it once and for all."

Copyright 2002, Sky & Telescope


>From The Guardian, 11 September 2002,2763,789827,00.html

Lunar knowledge may be eclipsed by latest discovery

Tim Radfor, science editor

Throughout history stargazers, skywatchers, astrologers and priests have
consoled themselves with just one moon. That is, until September 3, when
Bill Yeung, a Canadian amateur asteroid hunter with a string of asteroids
and comets to his name, discovered Earth's second moon.

"This is bizarre - the universe really is stranger than we can imagine,"
said Duncan Steel, an astronomer and asteroid expert at the University of
Salford, last night. "I don't know of anyone having suggested an asteroid in
orbit around the Earth before."

The object so far is known only as J002E3. It is designated as an asteroid.
However, to astronomers asteroids are minor planets or lumps of rock. The
difference is that this minor planet or lump of rock is in orbit not around
the sun, but around the Earth. It circles the Earth every 49.5 days along an
elliptical path which sometimes has it 840,000 km (520,000 miles) from
Earth, sometimes a trifling 300,000 km, and tilted at 21 degrees from the
plane of the Earth's own orbit around the sun.

The distance of the more familiar moon - the one wooed by lovers and poets
and visited by astronauts - is about 380,000 km on average and it circles
the Earth every 27.32 days.

J002E3's size is uncertain: if it is a lump of space rock, then judging by
the light reflected from it is a mere 50 metres across. No astronaut will
ever land on it. But its composition is also uncertain: there is a chance
that J002E3 is an old rocket body, strayed improbably far from home. If so,
and if it is painted white to make it a good reflector, then it might be a
only 10 or 20 metres in length. But then if it is manmade, it hardly counts
as a moon. The planet is ringed with thousands of orbiting man made

If it is a moon it is, however, certainly a new moon. Any object bright
enough to have been picked up by an amateur telescope would be too bright to
have escaped discovery for long. Nasa researchers have already guessed that
at some point in its freewheeling adventures in orbit, it was "captured" by
the Earth's gravitational field. This is how Jupiter must have acquired at
least some of its treasury of moons.

One scientist has gone further: Paul Chodas of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena thinks that it was "likely captured from heliocentric orbit
during the April/May time period" when it strayed to a spot where the
Earth's and the sun's gravitational tug cancel each other.

If J002E3 is declared a moon, then its next name is likely to be no more
exciting: it will be designated S/2002E1. The S stands for satellite, the E1
for the first satellite of Earth discovered in 2002.

Dr Steel does not rule out the lost rocket theory. In 1991 two objects in
orbit around the sun were classified as asteroids but turned out to be
manmade satellites.

"We have seen returning spacecraft before, but this one is different. It has
recently arrived in orbit around our planet. Astronomers have made mistakes
with returned rocket bodies before," he said.

"If this really is a new moon - an asteroid captured into orbit around the
Earth - then it heralds a great new era of space exploitation. It will be
the easiest celestial object to get to, and so a wonderful source of raw
materials. When we start building space colonies, this could be where we get
the metals and oxygen."

Copyright 2002, The Guardian


>From CBS News, 10 September 2002

GLOUCESTER, Vt., Sept. 10, 2002

(AP) Scientists are in Gloucester and Mathews counties to conduct the latest
phase of a study of how a collision with a huge meteor 35 million years ago
affected the Chesapeake Bay region.

The impact left a crater about 56 miles wide and a mile deep. Chunks of
debris were blown into the air. Some of it settled back into the crater in a
jumble and the rest formed two concentric, uneven ridges.

The jumble of sediment and rocks displaced the aquifers, the underground
water supplies that now provide water for thousands of people and businesses
in southeastern Virginia. Much of the water near the crater is too salty to

The outer rim is a zone, not a clearly defined circle, said Scott Bruce, a
groundwater geologist with the state Department of Environmental Quality. He
said that if scientists can locate the outer rim more precisely, it should
be easier to go outside the rim to where the geologic formations and
aquifers have not been disturbed and find fresh water underground.

Gloucester and Mathews are prime study areas because they lie near the outer
rim. The inner rim is in the bay, several miles off the shoreline.

Last year, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the DEQ bored two
deep holes in Mathews and extracted core samples to analyze the materials
that form the rim.

The data that will be collected in the next few weeks, and analyzed over
coming months, will provide more information about the shape of the rim.
Rufus Catchings, a seismologist with the USGS, described the research as
"ultrasound of the underground."

Workers will put out flag markers along roads in five areas. The routes will
be one to two miles long. After the mapping, they will bore a 10-inch hole
every 15 feet or so along each route.

Next week, the scientists will begin dropping a "geophone," a device to
record energy waves, into the holes. Then they will fire a noisemaking
projectile into the ground. A computer will analyze the resulting energy
waves, which will reveal the density of surrounding soil - the jumbled
pieces of the outer rim.

Bruce said the noise will sound like a thump and won't be loud enough to
scare people or animals.

The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.


>From Ron Baalke <>

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) News

SwRI research reveals new Kuiper Belt satellite mystery

Boulder, Colorado -- September 10, 2002 -- The Kuiper Belt region of the
solar system, which stretches from just past Neptune to beyond the farthest
reaches of Pluto's orbit, was only discovered in 1992, but continues to
reveal new knowledge into the formation processes of the
planets. Now, in a paper to be published in the October issue of The
Astronomical Journal, a Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) scientist
reveals a new mystery about Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).

The study examined the formation of KBO satellites, which have been observed
only since 2001 and continue to be discovered around an unexpectedly large
number of the more than 500 known KBOs.

"In just over a year since the first satellite of a KBO was found,
scientists have discovered a total of seven KBO satellites. Surprisingly,
observations by both ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope
have indicated that, in many cases, the KBO satellites are as large or
nearly as large as the KBOs around which they orbit," says Dr. S. Alan
Stern, director of the SwRI Space Studies Department. "That so many binary
or quasi-binary KBOs exist came as a real surprise to the research

The focus of Stern's work was not observational in nature, but rather it
sought to understand how such large KBO-satellite pairs could form. The
standard model for large satellite formation is based on collisions between
an interloping body and the parent object around which the satellite orbits.
This model has successfully explained binary systems around asteroids and
the Pluto-Charon system, and also has direct relevance to the formation of
the Earth-moon system.

Stern's findings call into question the formation of KBO satellites by
standard collisional processes. Collisions of the magnitude required, Stern
found, appear to be energetically improbable, given the number and masses of
potential impactors in both the ancient (more massive) and modern day
(eroded) Kuiper Belts.

This likely implies one of two alternatives: Either KBO satellites were not
formed by collisions, as has been commonly assumed, or the surface
reflectivities (which help determine size) of KBOs with satellites, or the
reflectivity of the satellites themselves, have been significantly

"If the surfaces of KBOs with satellites, or the satellites themselves, are
more reflective than previously thought," says Stern, "These objects would
be smaller and less massive, and would therefore require smaller, less
energetic impacts to create the satellite systems we see."

NASA's new Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), set for launch early
next year, will help resolve these two alternatives, Stern says, by directly
measuring the reflectivities and sizes of numerous KBOs, including those
with satellites.

In addition to this work, Stern serves as principal investigator of the NASA
New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Expected to launch in
January 2006, this spacecraft will make the first ever flyby reconnaissance
of the Pluto-Charon system and then go on to explore KBOs as it leaves the
solar system. New Horizons is the only NASA mission planned to study Kuiper
Belt Objects at close range.

The NASA Origins of Solar Systems program provided funding for this

EDITORS: An image to accompany this story is available from, or download a preprint of "Implications
Regarding the Energetics of the Collisional Formation of Kuiper Belt
Satellites" from


The Astronomical Journal -
Kuiper Belt Objects -
Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) -
New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission -
SwRI Space Studies Department (Boulder) -

For more information, contact Maria Martinez, Communications, Phone (210)
522-3305, Fax (210) 522-3547, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas


PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE, 9 September 2002               

A new study of turbulence in the atmosphere around a rotating sphere is helping
to explain the dramatic stripes on Jupiter, Saturn, and the other giant planets. On Earth,
turbulence caused by solar heating and friction with the ground disrupts
atmospheric flows and dissipates the energy
provided by the sun that might otherwise lead to the formation of
circulating, global cloud bands. In the thin atmospheres of gas giants,
however, energy dissipation is small, and some of the sun's energy is
gradually collected in stable, global jets that trap clouds and form
planetary stripes.

Researchers at the University of South Florida and Ben-Gurion University of
the Negev (Israel) have now developed a model that shows how planetary
rotation and nearly two-dimensional atmospheric turbulence may combine to
create large scale structures. Scientists have long suspected that the
interaction between planetary rotation and large-scale turbulence governs
the banded circulations on giant planets. The new research has quantified
the phenomenon, leading to an equation that characterizes the distribution
of energy among different scales of motion, and to simple formulae that
describe basic energetic features of giant planets' circulations. The model
helps explain the paradoxical observation that the outer planets have
stronger atmospheric flows, even though the energy provided by the sun to
maintain such flows decreases with increasing distance from the sun. The
researchers (B. Galperin,, 727-553-1101) have found
that the atmospheres of distant planets dissipate even less energy than
their warmer sisters. Although the outer planets receive less energy from
the sun, they keep more of the energy they receive. As a result, the model
shows why Neptune has the strongest atmospheric circulation of all the gas
giants even though it is the farthest of the bunch from the sun. (S.
Sukoriansky, B. Galperin, N. Dikovskaya, Physical Review Letters, 16
September 2002)    


>From Sandia National Laboratories, 11 September 2002

September 11, 2002
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Rings around the earth?

While most of us know about rings around Saturn and Jupiter, some scientists
believe there once were rings of rock debris around our own planet. Two
scientists - Peter J. Fawcett, of the University of New Mexico, and Mark
B.E. Boslough, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National
Laboratories - have suggested that a geologically "recent" collision (about
35 million years ago) may have caused such a temporary debris ring.

The two also suggest that such temporary rings - lasting from 100,000 to a
few millions of years - may explain some patterns of climate change observed
in the earth's geological record. These conclusions are spelled out in an
article in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres, August 16

Lore of the Rings

"One way to get a ring," says Sandia's Boslough, "is with an impact." There
is a growing body of evidence showing that the earth has been subjected to
numerous impacts by comets and asteroids throughout its history. Among these
impacts are the Meteor Crater, in Arizona, the buried Chixulub crater, in
the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a chain of at least five craters spread
across several continents.

Several studies, both theoretical and with laboratory data, suggest that
some large impacts are capable of ejecting material into space in the form
of debris rings, if the mechanics of the impact meet certain requirements.
The authors conclude that the mostly likely scenario for ring creation is a
low-angle impact by a large asteroid. Some earth materials and melted
meteoric debris, called "tektites" would form the ring materials.

Boslough describes an impact where the collision object ricochets back into
the atmosphere. The ricochet becomes part of an expanding vapor cloud,
setting up an interaction that allows some of the debris to attain orbit
velocity. The orbiting debris will collapse into a single plane by the same
mechanics that led to the rings of Saturn and other planets, Boslough
explains. Such a ring would most likely form near the equator, because of
the dynamics involved with the moon and the earth's equatorial bulge.

Speculation on climates past

The effects of the larger impact events on earth's environment and climate
have been the subjects of much speculation and research over the past two
decades. "Clearly, large impacts have affected the evolution of the earth,
life on it and its atmospheric environment," says Fawcett.

Much of the work has focused on the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary
event, which marked a mass extinction and the end of the age of the
dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. A number of these studies suggest an
impact resulting in the suspension of a layer of dust in the upper
atmosphere blocking sunlight and cooling the earth. The two researchers
asked could other impacts result in different atmosphere-altering phenomena?

An equatorial ring would cast a shadow primarily in the tropics, as it does
for Saturn. Depending on location, surface area, and darkness of the ring
shadow, the amount of incoming solar warmth, or insolation, could be
significantly altered, the two authors conclude. To test their theory, the
two assumed an opaque ring, like Saturn's B-ring, scaled to earth-size and
tested global climate affects using a climate model.

The model selected and modified for the simulation was developed by the
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR.) The Center's "Genesis"
climate model includes atmospheric circulation information and layers of
vegetation, soil, snow, sea temperature and land ice data. The goals of the
internally funded project were for Sandia to adapt a popular climate code to
run on distributed-memory parallel computers and to establish relationships
with the climate change research community, Boslough explained. The Labs
made use of its Sandia University Research Program to fund Fawcett's efforts
to analyze the data from the adapted code.

A Ring World

"The equatorial debris ring has a profound effect on climate, because it
reflects a significant fraction of tropical insolation back to space before
it can interact with the atmosphere," the authors conclude. Surface and
atmospheric temperatures, changes in temperature ranges from equator to
poles, circulation patterns and the rain and snow cycles were all impacted
by the ring, the model shows.

The two scientists looked at changes shown in the model to predict changes
that might be found in the earth's geologic record as a way to test their
work. In addition to the K-T boundary event, they looked at a more recent
impacts and a much older one.

The most recent event - about 35 million years ago - is identified by an
iridium layer (often associated with meteors) and two pronounced
mico-tektite fields, where these melted meteor-related materials have been
found and dated. Climatic records from sedimentary materials just above the
iridium/micro-tektite interval indicate a 100,000-year cooling interval.
Orbiting debris in a ring, casting its shadow in the subtropics could have
sustained such a cooling trend, the authors suggest.

The K-T boundary impact - about 65 million years ago - was much larger than
the more recent impact and had a much larger immediate effect on the
environment as measured by extinctions and atmospheric changes. But there
were no long-term effects on the climate, leading the authors to conclude
the event probably did not generate a debris ring.

Snowball Earth

Another interesting aspect of the modeling work is its implications for the
so-called "Snowball Earth" theory. This theory holds that the earth was
completely frozen over at the surface as many as four times in the
neoproterozoic period - 750 to 580 million years ago. While much remains to
be learned about the geologic evidence for this theory, "an opaque ring
could have acted as the trigger to at least one episode of global
glaciation," the two researchers say. This would address one difficult
question for the theorists: how did earth come to be frozen?

Sandia media contact: Will Keener,, (505) 844-1690

Sandia technical contacts: Mark Boslough,, (505)
845-8851; or Peter Fawcett,, (505) 277-3867

"IMPACT-PRODUCED RINGS", by Fred Singer and Tom Van Flandern,



>From Peter Jenniskens <>

Dear Benny,

Check out the "Explore the Universe" issue of Astronomy magazine. The 2001
Leonid storm was voted the number 1 news story in 2001.  The landing of Neat
on Eros was number 2. Number 5 was the Tagish lake meteorite and Number 6
Kuiper belt surprises. If you count the discovery of Saturnian moon's as
well, then half of the most significant news stories were minor-body in the
solar system stories!

Best regards,

Peter Jenniskens
 Peter Jenniskens      
   The SETI Institute                    e-mail:
   NASA Ames Research Center                tel: (650) 604-3086
   Mail Stop 239-4                          fax: (650) 604-1088
   Moffett Field, CA  94035-1000


>From Jocelyn Boily <

Dear Benny,
In response to Dr. Charles Cockell in relation to the "Predicted
Occurrences." I do agree that the 'prophecies' of Sir Arthur Clarke or
Nostradamus or whatever other prophet of doom has little to do with the
timing of asteroid impacts.
However, I would like to point out that the September 11 event of 2001 was
man made, and that (I am speculating here) this date was carefully chosen by
the terrorists. I do wonder why this particular date was chosen for this
terrorist act. I suspect that this date has some special meaning. I was
thinking the obvious 911 (call for emergency) as one possibility.
I would imagine that Sir Arthur also has chosen this date very carefully for
his novel. In some ways, I suppose, these types of prophecies are self
Mr. Jocelyn Boily  P. Eng.

>From Ananova, 11 September 2002

Scientists say mankind will be (sic) replaced by giant land squid, flying
killer fish and intelligent baboons.

Evolution experts have been asked to predict the kind of animals which will
be around in the next few million years.

The results will feature in a new TV series called The Future is Wild which
will get its debut at a film festival in Bristol next month.

Scientists based their predictions on the kind of climate and geographical
changes expected to take place in the distant future.

If areas such as the Mediterranean and the Amazon become deserts as expected
(sic) new lifeforms will evolve to take advantage.

The 120 million tonne Toraton could become the largest creature ever to walk
the Earth and a half-metre tall snail will bounce along the sandy

So called Ocean Fish will live in cliffs and will be able to fly as well as
swim, while tiger-sized Snowstalkers will be bear-like creatures living in a
future European ice-age.

All 16 scientists taking part in the series, to be shown on Discovery
International's Animal Planet channel, agree mankind will have been wiped
out within the next few million years.

The Daily Mail reports the scientists as saying a new kind of intelligent
ape will most likely evolve from baboons.

Copyright 2002, Ananova

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