PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 74/2003 - 15 September 2003
---------------------------------


"Oops, we've done it again! What critics have warned would happen again, has
happened again. Another idiotic asteroid scare set off as a result of misconstrued
information released by the NEO community. You read that right: another false alarm
buttressed by lurid quotes from scientists and politicians who seem helpless in the face
of confusing hazard scales and bewildering impact risk values."
    --Benny Peiser, 15 Sept. 2003


"AN asteroid hurtling towards the Earth could wipe out all human life within 30 years,
The People can reveal. The 1.5 mile-wide lump of space rock is travelling at 21,000 mph -
six miles a second. And it is set to cross Earth's orbit at 10pm on May 19, 2031.
Science minister David Sainsbury stunned the House of Lords with news of the devastating
discovery by astronomers. Asteroid expert Kevin Yates warned: "If it hit us it would vaporise
at least a continent. The climate change would cause a nuclear winter which would potentially mean the extinction of the human race."
    --The People, 13 Sept. 2003


(1) NEW WEEK, NEW ASTEROID SCARE AS NEO COMMUNITY DRAG THEIR FEET

(2) "WORLD SET TO END AT 10PM ON MAY 19, 2031"

(3) IN THE MEANTIME: 2003 QQ47 REMOVED FROM RISK PAGE

(4) SONIC BOOM LIKELY CAUSED BY METEOR

(5) ROCK STAR! MEET ULSTER BOFFIN WHOSE JOB IS TO WATCH THE SKIES FOR THAT ASTEROID WITH
    EARTH'S NAME ON IT

(6) 2003 QQ47, ANOTHER UNUSEFUL FALSE ALARM

(7) ASTEROID IMPACTS

(8) SHOCKED INTO LIFE

(9) AND FINALLY: ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES BELIEVE THIS STORY.....

(10) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: ASTEROID INSPIRES U.S. CAMPAIGN STRATEGY


================
(1) SURPRISE, SURPRISE: NEW WEEK, NEW ASTEROID SCARE

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

Oops, we've done it again! What critics have warned would happen again, has
happened again. Another idiotic asteroid scare set off as a result of misconstrued
information released by the NEO community.

You read that right: another false alarm buttressed by lurid quotes from scientists
and politicians who seem helpless in the face of confusing hazard scales and
bewildering impact risk values.

While 2003 QQ47 was removed last week without fanfare (much like a ghost) from the
"virtual" risk pages (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/removed.html), a new asteroid,
2003 QQ104, has raised its ugly profile in the media.

"WORLD SET TO END AT 10PM ON MAY 19, 2031", screemed the headline in Saturday's
"The People." The tabloid, a member of the Mirror group, claims that asteroid
2003 QQ104 is "set to cross Earth's orbit" on May 19, 2031 and that it "could wipe
out all human life within 30 years."

Once again, an innocuous asteroid has become a big media story merely because it was
given a Torino Scale value of "1" and flagged up in bright green on JPL's impact risk
page (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/2003qo104.html).

That this mode of publishing virtual "impact risk" information is imprudent was stressed
only last week by David Whitehouse, science editor of BBC News Online: "The Torino Scale is
great for journalists as it gives them opportunities to do stories they would not have had
without it. The TS, unwittingly, has institutionalised sensationalism."

So let us examine how this latest scare came about:

The article maintains that the asteroid alarm was raised by the British Science
Minister last week in the House of Lords. "Science minister David Sainsbury stunned
the House of Lords with news of the devastating discovery by astronomers.... Lord Sainsbury
set out to allay fears, saying there is no danger of another recently-discovered asteroid
hitting Earth in 2014. But he confirmed that a SECOND and more threatening rock is on
the way. Scientists calculated its 2031 arrival date in the past 48 hours."

Yet the brief NEO debate last Thursday didn't mention 2003 QQ104 at all! As a matter of
fact, Lord Sainsbury only mentioned "impact risk" calculations for asteroid 2003 QQ47 related
to the year 2058, odds estimated at of one in 8,333,000 (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199697/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds03/text/30911-12.htm#30911-12_star1).

While the reference to the House of Lords debate is evidently false, the scare attains
its authority and credibility due to the conspicuous credentials and quotes provided by
a Government agency, a respected Members of Parliament and the chairman of the Parliamentary
Astronomy and Space Environment Group, Lord Tanlaw.

It would appear that some of them have been trapped by a keen reporter who must have
been tipped off about QQ104's Torino Scale "1" rating for the year 2031 listed on
JPL's impact risk website.

I don't know whether or not the NEOIC, Lembit Opik and Lord Tanlaw were contacted by and
actually spoke to the The People. Either way, it is evident that we cannot blame the media
for utterly misunderstanding the Torino Scale and its intricate lingo. As long as it is
used by the NEO community as a PR tool, some enthusiastic news reporters will *always*
be tempted to use and highlight its inherent, but misleading information about *virtual*
that us UNREAL risks of disaster.

After the QQ47 debacle, a number of researchers have suggested radical changes to risk communication
that seem effective and easy to implement. Perhaps the most promising proposal
was presented last Friday by Brian Marsden on this network (CCNet 12 Sept. 2003). I share
his view that the only way out of the "impact risk" swamp is to highlight the uncertainty
in the observations rather than misleading impact probabilities. By using the "Marsden ratio"
(as some have called it) we could stress that an impact calculation only becomes somewhat
interesting if it is greater than 1:100 (or maybe even 1:50). 

The NEO community, however, seems reluctant to change a system that is manifestly flawed.
A few colleagues just continue bickering, blaming all and sundry instead of trying to solve
the underlying problem of risk communication. Yet, critics have been demanding for years
(as Alain Maury does so again today) to "consider changing the manner in which this type
of information is made public... It is not a responsible attitude to publish unreliable data
(and a one week orbit is for _any_ purpose unreliable), and then blame it on either "some
press" or "some information center" (Alain Maury, in today's CCNet).

Why, then, is the community dragging their feet?

After the latest fiasco, some colleagues have resigned themselves to crossing their fingers
in the hope that quietness and prudence will prevent any future scares. Given our experiences
in the last 5 years, however, this stationary attitude looks decidedly naÔve. As I see it,
it is time to be pro-active and change our ways rather than "wait and see" until the next debacle.

Another time-honoured method of attempting to avoid tackling our difficulties is to
simply ignore them. A number of colleagues have suggested that we should hide our heads
in the sand and deliberately avoid seeing, recognising or understanding asteroid
scares when they occur. They believe that the real problem of false asteroid alarms resides
fully and squarely with the media (or CCNet for that matter), pointing the finger at
journalists, science writers and others, while praising themselves for handling NEO
information appropriately. 

Not surprisingly, it is colleagues unable to see, unwilling to look and averse the change
who are the biggest impediment to effective improvements. By shutting their eyes from the
fiasco of asteroid scares and accusing one and all, they obstruct progress in the
enhancement of impact risk communication.

As long as these brakemen block effective change and instead insist on the public use of
the Torino Scale, they make themselves liable for any future scare that could be easily
avoided without the employment of misleading "asteroid risk" scales and "impact threat"
terminology.

Benny Peiser

==================
(2) "WORLD SET TO END AT 10PM ON MAY 19, 2031"

The People, 13 Sept. 2003
http://www.people.co.uk/homepage/news/page.cfm?objectid=13405208&method=thepeople_full&siteid=79490

AN asteroid hurtling towards the Earth could wipe out all human life within 30 years, The
People can reveal.

The 1.5 mile-wide lump of space rock is travelling at 21,000 mph - six miles a second.

And it is set to cross Earth's orbit at 10pm on May 19, 2031. Science minister David
Sainsbury stunned the House of Lords with news of the devastating discovery by astronomers.

Asteroid expert Kevin Yates warned: "If it hit us it would vaporise at least a continent.
The climate change would cause a nuclear winter which would potentially mean the extinction
of the human race."

Lord Sainsbury set out to allay fears, saying there is no danger of another
recently-discovered asteroid hitting Earth in 2014. But he confirmed that a SECOND and
more threatening rock is on the way. Scientists calculated its 2031 arrival date in the past
48 hours.

Lib Dem space spokesman Lembit Opik said:"If it landed on Moscow it would incinerate
everything from Bognor to the Bosphorous.

"And if it came down in the sea it would set up a tidal wave 17 miles high."

Mr Yates, of the asteroid monitoring system at Britain's National Space Centre, believes
the risk of impact is slight. But even if it misses us it will only do so by ten hours,
a blink in cosmic terms.

The new asteroid, dubbed 2003/Q0104, was first spotted (sic) on August 31 by the Minor
Planets Centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is being tracked (sic) by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Lord Tanlaw, chairman of the Parliamentary Astronomy and Space Environment Group, said:
"It is one of nature's missiles of mass destruction."

Lord Sainsbury promised a scientific probe and admitted: "There is clearly a risk."

nigel.nelson@people.co.uk

Copyright 2003, The People

===========
(3) IN THE MEANTIME: 2003 QQ47 REMOVED FROM RISK PAGE

Ron Baalke <baalke@zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

Asteroid 2003 QQ47 has been removed from our NEO risk page today:
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/removed.html

That means all potential Earth impacts have been ruled out for
this object for the next 100 years.

Ron Baalke

=============
(4) SONIC BOOM LIKELY CAUSED BY METEOR

CBS News, 12 Sept. 2003
http://vancouver.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?filename=bc_meteor20020912
 
NANAIMO, B.C. - The boom heard over Nanaimo earlier this week was likely a small meteor, says
an astronomy professor at Malaspina University College.

Prof. Bill Weller says his analysis of the seismic data from Wednesday afternoon shows a
meteor about the size of a toaster could have been responsible for the blast.

"It would have come in at quite a high rate of speed, much faster than the speed of sound,
and of course it leaves a shockwave.

"It's the same thing that you hear behind an aircraft, the sonic boom, after the aircraft
breaks the sound barrier," says Weller.

A Vancouver astronomer agrees. David Dodge of Vancouver's H.R. MacMillan Space Centre says
the sonic boom is consistent with a fireball entering the atmosphere and exploding.

Dodge says cloudy skies would have prevented anyone from spotting the small space rock before
it burned up. 

=============
(5) ROCK STAR! MEET ULSTER BOFFIN WHOSE JOB IS TO WATCH THE SKIES FOR THAT ASTEROID WITH
EARTH'S NAME ON IT

Sunday Life, 14 Sept. 2003
http://www.sundaylife.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=443316

By Bill Smyth

THE news that a half-a-mile wide asteroid is hurtling Earthwards, at 75,000mph, sent a collective shiver down our spines.

Even if the odds of it hitting us, in 2014, are a lengthy 900,000-1, it's comforting that Ulster should be the first to know.

For it is the job of Queen's University astrophysicist, Dr Alan Fitzsimmons, to keep an eye on any flying objects, which threaten to come too close for comfort.

He is a member of the expert team that advises the Leicester-based British Near-Earth Objects Information Centre, set up by the Government, to keep tabs on anything out there on a possible collision course.

"No, I don't spend my nights peering at the sky through a telescope, in the back garden," Dr Fitzsimmons laughed.

"At Queen's, we have a constant stream of data, coming from a range of telescopes around the world, permanently pointing into the furthest corners of space, and when they spot something unusual, we don't immediately panic, but we become a little bit more vigilant, let's say!"

The giant rock, codenamed QQ47, which caused alarm bells to ring last week, first came to the boffins' attention on August 24, in the US.

In the restrained language of science, it was described as "an event meriting careful attention".

"If you were actually to see it through a giant optical telescope, it wouldn't look anything special, just like a pretty faint star," said Dr Fitzsimmons.

But huge banks of computers have already started doing the awesome calculations, to predict QQ47's probable path - and although it could come as near as a million miles, that, even in astronomical terms, is hardly a close shave.

According to Dr Fitzsimmons, if one were definitely coming straight for us, we might be still able to survive, by nudging it out of our way.

"Don't forget, if we spot an asteroid heading our way, it'll not impact for at least a decade or more, so we have time to act," he added.

"And although various methods are being considered, the most likely ploy will be to bombard the surface of the asteroid with high-intensity light or radiation, over a period of months, to burn a layer off its surface, which would change its course enough to pass us safely by."

Copyright 2003, Sunday Life

=============== LETTERS ============


(6) 2003 QQ47, ANOTHER UNUSEFUL FALSE ALARM

Alain Maury <amaury@123.cl>

To the general secretary of the IAU and to members of the organizing
committee of the IAU NEO working group.

This email to tell you my reaction to the latest false asteroid scare.

This time the culprit was an object named 2003QQ47, but if you have been
following this type of events, you will know as I do, than since
1997XF11, there has been about one such unuseful crisis almost every year.

Each time we deal with objects which have just been discovered, with a
very imprecise orbit based on only a few observations over a very short
period of time. I have asked the same thing last year, and am asking
again this time, to please consider changing the manner in which this
type of information is made public. Creating these false alarms is very
counterproductive. Eventhough there is some good reporting on it, a lot
end up a few days later by "the astronomers have goofed their
calculations again" in many parts of the world. It is not a responsible
attitude to publish unreliable data (and a one week orbit is for _any_
purpose unreliable), and then blame it on either "some press" or "some
information center".

I don't see anything evil with not releasing information on objects
which have a very poor orbit. In fact, the orbits of the latest
impactors were so poor that without other observations, they would not
have been recoverable after one month, let alone in one year, so why
publish impact solutions in ten or thirty years with such orbits ???
Statistically, we will have millions of these false alarms before
getting a real impactor, and most will simply go away when more
observations are needed. Can't we wait one more week before creating a
mass media phenomenon ? Moreover, we also know that the probability of
discovering a doomsday object with the current set of 0.5 to 1m
telescopes is in the order of ~10-5, so why panic ?, and what is a week
going to change, apart from bringing the vast majority of these objects
to the anonymity they deserve ?

The same very small probability (99.9999% that the current surveys will
not find any doomsday asteroid) tell me that it was useless to create an
impact scare scale (it too has a 99.9999% chance of being one day
useful), and the fact that it has been more useful to helped creating
these false alarms tells me it should be not used anymore. I always
found the idea only satisfying for scientists, but completely useless
for the media and the public and these yearly false alarms are the proof
that this scale fell short of its goals. In the very unlikely case where
we could derive the certainty of a coming impact, more information than
a number on a awkward scale will be useful.

If we could agree on either a delay before making the impact solution
public, or release information only when the orbital elements have
reached a given, computable quality, while informing the observers for
the necessity of follow up, I guess we would suppress the problem
completely. Informing the observer could be done simply by asking the
MPC to put the object again on the NEO confirmation page. All which
would be needed is a simple email from Pasadena or Pisa to Cambridge.
Not that difficult... An object on this page with a temporary
designation instead of some survey discovery code would be the signal
that this object is a possible impactor, and that more observations are
urgently needed. If indeed after the orbit has improved, there remains
some impact solutions, likely with higher impact probability that one in
a millionth, then it would be worthwhile to alert the rest of the world,
but this time with a slightly more reliable orbit.

Hoping that we will end crying wolf, and with due respects,

Alain

============
(7) ASTEROID IMPACTS

Andy Nimmo <andy.nimmo@virgin.net>
 
Dear Benny,

Duncan Lunan has asked me to send you the following re the Spaceguard-ASTRA Asteroid Mitigation Conference:

Asteroid Impacts
 
By Duncan Lunan
 
Duncan Lunan, Flat 65, Dalriada House, 56 Blythswood Court, Anderston, Glasgow  G2 7PE, e-mail astra@dlunan.freeserve.co.uk
 
The Scottish spaceflight society ASTRA, the Association in Scotland to Research into
Astronautics Ltd., has been running a discussion project on 'What would we do if we knew
there was going to be an impact in ten years' time?', intended for eventual book publication.
For the discussions to be realistic, a model had to be developed of an impact threat which
could be detected and countered, at least in theory. The imaginary impactor turns out to
be very like 2003 QQ47, so the recent alert makes the discussion highly topical.
 
On Saturday 11th October and the morning of Sunday 12th, ASTRA will hold a seminar at
the Spaceguard Public Observatory in Knighton, Powys  (ASTRA and Spaceguard UK are
affiliated.) The speakers will include Jay Tate of Spaceguard UK, who has been asked to speak
on how the threat might be discovered, assessed and announced; Lembit ÷pik, MP, whom we asked
to cover the likely national and international reaction;  and Dr. David Asher of Armagh
Observatory, on the use of nuclear explosives to divert such an object. Dr. Asher took part
in a controversial enquiry in 2001 which evaluated how an enemy might devastate the UK, using
a small asteroid as a weapon.
 
Science writer Duncan Lunan will discuss other possible ways to divert the asteroid, including
a solar sail 'comet-chaser' designed by Gordon Ross of the Industrial Design Unit at
Glasgow School of Art. Other aspects of the problem will be considered by Dr. Benny Peiser
of the Cambridge Conference Net, and Dr. Paul Roche of the University of Wales, Cardiff.  
Space artist Sydney Jordan has agreed to illustrate the project and hopes to attend.  
This is a free event and we still have two free spaces in the programme.  
Further contributions will be welcome and a lively discussion is expected.

As Conference Secretary, I'd be most grateful should you publish this on the Cambridge
Conference Network, if you'd be kind enough to mention my e-mail address so I can keep track
of who is coming etc. Also, I'll be pleased to send anyone who is interested a copy of
the programme so far and/or info on where to obtain accommodation details etc.
 
Best wishes,

                      Andy.

=============
(8) SHOCKED INTO LIFE

Michael Paine <mpaine@tpg.com.au>

Dear Benny

Gordon Osinski has written an excellent article on the unusual habitats
that can be created in the aftermath of an impact - see New Scientist,
11 September 2003. By co-incidence, on that day, I gave a short talk on
this subject, and transpermia, at the Australian Centre for
Astrobiology. I was joined by Mark Sonter who spoke about mining asteroids.
A copy of my powerpoint presentation is online at
http://members.optusnet.com.au/mpaineau/paine_aca_sep03.htm
In my last slide I included an extract from Rendezvous with Rama, and
its 11 Sept coincidence, that Arthur C Clarke referred to in yesterday's
posting on CCNet.

Also in that CCNet, Brian Marsden suggested that the ratio of the days
to impact and the  days of observations be included in a revamped Torino
Scale. This would then be a rough measure of confidence in the impact
prediction. One concern is that, for a short period of observations this
would be highly sensitive to the number of days and could make the
somewhat chaotic current situation (where prediction calculations can
fluctuate dramatically) even more "unstable".

I would also like to make some comments about the NASA report on
Spaceguard Mark 2 (not their name for it). Firstly it is in the form of
a discussion paper and is not necessarily NASA policy - we all need to
debate the issues raised and work out ways to get governments (note
plural) to take action. Secondly I am concerned that it might
underestimate the danger from small NEOs over populated regions. This is
because "average" NEO parameters are used but John Lewis's work (monte
carlo simulations) shows that there is a disproportionate danger from
outliers - irons or slow-moving/shallow angle stony asteroids that
penetrate deeper into the atmosphere. On the other hand, the danger from
tsunami may be overstated since there is still debate about the
dispersion of impact tsunami over long distances. Overall the effects
might cancel (more land fatalities but fewer tsunami casualties) .
Thirdly, as raised by Jens Kieffer-Olsen, I am not sure that the threat
from comets has been given sufficient emphasis. Fourthly (and this is a
general criticism of the NEO community) I consider there is too much
emphasis on deflection, with its extraordinary costs and questionable
technology, and not enough on other forms of mitigation such as
evacuation and stock-piling of essential supplies (a lesson from the
squirrels). In road safety (my profession) we not only work on crash
avoidance but also on crashworthiness - minimising the injury if a crash
does occur. If we ignored the latter there would be no seat belts and
airbags.

regards
Michael Paine

--------------------------
SHOCKED INTO LIFE

by Gordon Osinski
New Scientist, 11 Sept 2003
http://www.newscientist.com/

STANDING at ground zero in the centre of Haughton crater, it is
difficult to grasp the enormity of what occurred here 23 million years ago.
Today, Devon Island in the Canadian High Arctic is a polar desert with
hardly any plant or animal life. But 23 million years ago, it was a very
different place. Lush forests grew,  giant rabbits hopped around, and
small rhinoceros grazed.All this changed when a comet or asteroid more
than a kilometre wide slammed into the forest. The impact excavated
between 70 and 100 billion tons of rock, forming a crater 24 kilometres
wide. In the blink of an eye, all life in an area only a little smaller
than Scotland ended. Plants, animals, rock and soil at the point of
impact were vaporised. Further away from the crater, the shock wave, air
blast and heat produced finished off most other living things. But not
for good. A few millennia after  the impact, Haughton was teeming with
life again.

FULL ARTICLE at http://www.newscientist.com/

c2003 New Scientist

=========
(9) AND FINALLY: ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES BELIEVE THIS STORY.....

The Guardian, 13 September 2003
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1041303,00.html

How Del Boy's old motor could save the world

Tim Radford

Forget Bruce Willis, the space shuttle and the nuclear warhead that saved the world
in Armageddon. All it would take to stop an asteroid the size of Ben Nevis from
destroying civilisation would be a nudge from a Robin Reliant.

This information could be handy, because a one-kilometre-wide asteroid called 1950DA
could all but destroy the world 877 years from now, Matt Genge of Imperial College told
the British Association festival of science, which ended in Salford yesterday.

"If you destroy an asteroid, there are still some pretty big pieces left, and those keep
on coming," he said.

So he started to think about how easy it would be to slow or divert an asteroid - and the
answer surprised even him. Del Boy's trusty three-wheeler from Only Fools and Horses could
apply sufficient force to deflect an asteroid and save the world in only 75 days. All it
took was school-level physics:

∑ A 1km asteroid would be travelling at 39,000kph and have a mass of about a billion tonnes.
The 1978 850cc Robin Reliant weighed about 650kg and could achieve 0 to 60mph (96kph)
in 16 seconds.

∑ Its average acceleration was 1.67 metres per second per second.

∑ The average thrust of a Reliant is 1,083 newtons. (One newton is roughly the force of
an apple on the palm of your hand.)

∑ A change of velocity of only 0.7 centimetres per second would be enough to make an
asteroid miss the Earth.

∑ A Reliant pushing into a billion-tonne asteroid would have an acceleration of one billionth
of a metre per second per second.

∑ This would take 75 days to deflect the asteroid.

"We expect to find these asteroids at least 10 years before they hit the Earth so we have
10 years to save the Earth. To make it miss, we know we only have to make it move very
slowly. One centimetre per second over 10 years will make it miss the earth," he said.
"So a Robin Reliant could save the Earth - but a Mini could probably do it faster."

Large asteroids hit the Earth every few hundred thousand years. Astronomers have identified
most of those that could seriously damage the planet's health, and are watching carefully for
the rest.

But last year, scientists calculated that the lump of space rock called 1950DA had a one in
300 chance of hitting the earth in AD2880. "There is a very good chance that in a mere
10 generations our world is almost wiped out and no one seems to care," he said.

Most asteroids could be diverted by steady pressure from a small engine or given a swift
push from a chemical explosion. A Star Trek-style ion drive engine - of the type European
scientists will launch on a moon voyage this month - could supply the thrust of a Robin Reliant.
Most asteroids are spinning, and a way of stopping the spin would have to be devised, but Dr
Genge added: "Engines are by far the best thing to use

Copyright 2003, The Guardian

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Why is it that Matt's back-of-the-envelope-calculations look so nutty
(that is, apart from the nutty idea that driving an old banger into an asteroid is an
option)? Not least because dividing 880 by 20 or 30 isn't 10! Regarding the 1:300 odds
for asteroid 1950DA hitting the earth in the year 2880, Matt solemny proclaims: "There is
a very good chance that in a mere 10 generations our world is almost wiped out and no one
seems to care." Good chance? 10 generations? World almost wiped out? How can anyone take
this seriously? Which reminds me: how many scientists does it take to develope an effective
NEO mitigation plan? Five: One to write the grant proposal, one to do the back-of-the-envelope-calculations, one to type the paper, one to present the paper at a conference, and one to
hire an expert to do the work. Benny Peiser

===========
(10) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: ASTEROID INSPIRES U.S. CAMPAIGN STRATEGY

The Sketician, 3 Sept. 2003
http://www.skeptician.com/

Russell Lutz

John Kerry, four-time Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, announced his candidacy for the 2004 Presidential election this week. Kerry made the usual claims against the Bush administration: tax cuts which are too deep and foreign policy which is too unilateral. In a field of nearly a dozen nationally known Democrats, Kerry decided to distance himself from the pack with a new issue.

"George Bush is not a friend of the environment," said Kerry to a crowd of thousands in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. "And his blithe attitude towards asteroid 2003 QQ47 is the most egregious example."

The recently discovered asteroid is on a trajectory to pass near the Earth in 2014. Experts put the odds of a collision at just greater than a million-to-one.

"But the odds will be one-to-one that Bush will ignore this dire threat!"

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan responded to the asteroid threat. "The President believes that the government has no place dealing with the so-called 'threat' of this alleged asteroid. Supply and demand are just as powerful as gravity. If the market wants a collision, there'll be a collision."

Kerry was quick to respond: "The last major space-body collision with the Earth was the Tunguska Blast of 1908, during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt... a Republican! Go ahead! Tell me that's a coincidence!"

2003 QQ47 was unavailable for comment. Halley's Comet has passed near the Earth during two Republican administrations: William Howard Taft's in 1910 and Ronald Reagan's in 1986. "Reagan was a great communicator, though a little weak on domestic issues," said the Comet. "Taft was just a big blowhard."

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