PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 115/2002 - 4 October 2002
-------------------------------


"I believe there is considerable synergy between national security
requirements related to man-made satellites and global security
requirements related to NEO impacts."
--Brigadier General Simon P. Worden, 3 October 2002


"Residents of the town of Bodaibo in the Irkutsk region witnessed
the fall of a large celestial body. Scientists suggest that it might
have been a meteorite. Scientists said that Bodaibo residents could see the
fall of a very large luminous body, which looked like a huge stone. The
unidentified object fell in the woods. The site of the fall is situated
very far from any settlements, but locals felt a strong shock, which could
be comparable to an earthquake. In addition to that, the people also
heard a thunder-like sound. Flashes of bright light could be seen above the
site of the meteorite's fall."
--Pravda, 3 October 2002


(1) EARTH PLAYING COSMIC ROULETTE WITH ASTEROIDS
Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca <mailto:ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>>

(2) LARGE METEORITE FALLS ON THE IRKUTSK REGION
Pravda, 3 October 2002

(3) A NEW RUSSIAN METEORITE?
NEO Information Centre, 4 October 2002

(4) ASTEROIDS MAY BE MISTAKEN AS NUCLEAR ATTACK OFFICALS SAY
The Associated Press, 4 October 2002

(5) SMALL ASTEROID COULD BE MISTAKEN FOR NUCLEAR BLAST
Reuters, 3 October 2002

(6) TRACKING EARTH-BOUND ASTEROIDS COULD NEED AMATEUR HELP
Scripps Howard News Service, 3 October 2002

(7) WE NEED MORE TELESCOPES NEO HUNTER TELLS CONGRESS
Space Daily, 4 October 2002

(8) AND FINALLY: ASTEROID PROBE KIT TO FIGHT TERRESTRIAL CRIME
New Scientist, 3 October 2002

============
(1) EARTH PLAYING COSMIC ROULETTE WITH ASTEROIDS

>From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca <mailto:ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>>

Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives
SHERWOOD BOEHLERT, CHAIRMAN
Ralph M. Hall, Texas, Ranking Democrat

Press Contacts:
Heidi Mohlman Tringe, Heidi.Tringe@mail.house.gov <mailto:Heidi.Tringe@mail.house.gov>
Jeff Donald, Jeffrey.Donald@mail.house.gov <mailto:Jeffrey.Donald@mail.house.gov>
(202) 225-4275

October 3, 2002

107-295

EARTH PLAYING COSMIC ROULETTE WITH ASTEROIDS

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Scientists are making progress in cataloguing and
tracking large near-earth objects (NEOs), but a serious threat still remains
from smaller objects, an expert panel told the Space and Aeronautics
Subcommittee today.

These smaller asteroids (200-500 meters wide) could potentially demolish a
city with a direct hit or cause a tsunami capable of wiping out entire
coastal areas if they land in the ocean. NASA has catalogued nearly 50
percent of asteroids 1 kilometer wide and larger. Astronomers estimate that
between 900 and 1300 of the larger asteroids exist while there could be as
many as 50,000 in the smaller range.

Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated, "The threat posed by
incoming asteroids and comets is a serious, potentially life-threatening
topic. Given the number of near-earth objects in space, it is a matter of
time before we are faced with an event unparalleled in human history.
I hope that my legislation, H.R. 5303
[ http://www.house.gov/science/press/107/107-286.htm ], passed by the House on
Tuesday will strengthen existing government capabilities for tracking
natural space objects by encouraging private citizens to observe asteroids
and comets."

Subcommittee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) added, "NASA's Mission
Statement says that part of its mission is '... to protect our home planet.'
I hope NASA will heed the message of today's hearing and work with other
agencies of the U.S. government to craft a timely, cost-effective plan to
detect and catalog as many as possible of the Near-Earth asteroids and
comets that could potentially threaten our population. We cannot afford to
be complacent."

Dr. David Morrison, senior scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center,
discussed NASA's goals and accomplishments in monitoring NEOs through the
"Spaceguard" program. Morrison noted that Spaceguard was halfway to its goal
and he expected that by 2008 NASA will have 90 percent of large,
kilometer-sized threatening asteroids catalogued. Morrison added, "Our
objective should be to find a large impactor far in advance, and thus
provide decision-makers with options for dealing with the threat and
defending our planet from cosmic catastrophe."

NEOs also pose a serious concern for the military, Brigadier General Simon
P. Worden testified. Worden told of an asteroid that entered the atmosphere
and exploded above the Mediterranean during last year's India-Pakistan
conflict. U.S. satellites detected an energy release and shockwave
comparable to the Hiroshima bomb, and Worden explained that had the event
taken place at the same latitude two hours earlier and mistaken for a
nuclear detonation it could have had devastating consequences. Worden added,
"I believe there is considerable synergy between national security
requirements related to man-made satellites and global security requirements
related to NEO impacts."

Witnesses also debated the merits of continuing the cataloging effort on
smaller NEO's once the Spaceguard program is completed. Dr. Brian Marsden,
Director of the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory, testified that handling the large amount of data from surveys
of smaller NEOs would be a challenging, but feasible, task. Dr. Joseph
Burns, a member of the Solar System Exploration Survey Committee of the
National Research Council, testified that NASA should partner with the
National Science Foundation to build and operate a large ground-based survey
telescope because of NSF's expertise in ground based astronomy and NASA's
traditional support of ground-based solar system observations that support
space missions.

Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, disagreed
saying, "I feel that it is premature to consider an extension of our current
national program to include a complete search for smaller-sized NEOs." He
also noted that NASA did not feel the agency "should play a role in any
follow-on search and cataloging effort unless that effort needs to be
specifically space-based in nature."

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said, "For too long we've assumed that the worst
asteroid risk would come from Hollywood -- in the form of a sequel to flops
like Deep Impact or Armageddon. But the threat posed by Near Earth Objects
is real, and if we can plow $100 million into a summer flick, we can
certainly give NASA the means to make us safer from real life blockbusters."

Witness testimony and an archived web cast of the proceedings can be found
at <http://www.house.gov/science/>

==========
(2) LARGE METEORITE FALLS ON THE IRKUTSK REGION

>From Pravda, 3 October 2002
<http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/10/03/37698.html>

Locals say that it was huge

Residents of the town of Bodaibo in the Irkutsk region witnessed the fall of
a large celestial body. Scientists suggest that it might have been a
meteorite.

This was reported by the regional department of the Russian EMERCOM. They
added that they received the information from the Institute of Solar and
Earth Physics of the Siberian division of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Scientists said that Bodaibo residents could see the fall of a very large
luminous body, which looked like a huge stone. The unidentified object fell
in the woods. The site of the fall is situated very far from any
settlements, but locals felt a strong shock, which could be comparable to an
earthquake. In addition to that, the people also heard a thunder-like sound.
Flashes of bright light could be seen above the site of the meteorite's
fall.

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

Copyright 2002, Pravda

===========
(3) A NEW RUSSIAN METEORITE?

>From NEO Information centre, 4 October 2002
<http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk/news_display.cfm?code=news_intro>

On Thursday 3 October, residents of the village of Bodaibo in the Irkutsk
region of Siberia witnessed the fall of a large glowing object from space.
Witnesses saw a large fireball in the sky, followed by a thunder-like sound,
a flash of light, and a small earth tremor.

Scientists from the Institute of Solar and Earth Physics of the Russian
Academy of Science suspect the object is a large meteorite. It landed in the
hills between the villages of Bodaibo and Balakhninsky. Early reports
suggest there were no casualties or damage to property.

Siberia is no stranger to visiting rocks from space. Back in 1908, a near
earth object detonated in the atmosphere above the Tunguska region,
flattening 2000 square kilometres of forest. More recently, in February
1947, a large iron meteorite, estimated to weight 1000 tons, landed in the
Sikhote-Alin mountain range.

Around 30,000 meteorites of varying sizes fall to Earth each year, but the
vast majority fall in the oceans and deserts that make up the majority of
the Earth's surface. If pieces of this new fall can be recovered, it may
give scientists valuable insights into the nature of these rocks, which are
remnants from the formation of our Solar System.

A group of scientists from the Institute of Solar and Earth Physics is to
head for the new fall-site as soon as possible.

===============
(4) ASTEROIDS MAY BE MISTAKEN AS NUCLEAR ATTACK OFFICALS SAY

>From The Associated Press, 4 October 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - At least 30 times a year, asteroids smash into the Earth's
atmosphere and explode with the violence of a nuclear bomb. Now some
officials are worried the natural explosions could trigger an atomic war.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden told members of a House Science
subcommittee that the United States has instruments that determine within
one minute if an atmospheric explosion is natural or manmade.

But none of the other nations with nuclear weapons have that detection
technology, and Worden said there is concern that some of those countries
could mistake a natural explosion for an attack and immediately launch an
atomic retaliation.

Worden, deputy director for operations of the U.S. Strategic Command, said
there was the risk of such a mistaken atomic exchange last August when
Pakistan and India, both with atomic bombs, were at full alert and poised
for war.

Not far away, a few weeks before, Worden said, U.S. satellites detected over
the Mediterranean an atmospheric flash that indicated ``an energy release
comparable to the Hiroshima burst.'' Air Force instruments quickly
determined it was caused by an asteroid 15 feet to 30 feet wide.

``Had you been situated on a vessel directly underneath, the intensely
bright flash would have been followed by a shock wave that would have
rattled the entire ship, and possibly caused minor damage,'' Worden said in
his testimony.

Although the explosion received little or no notice, the general said it
could have caused a major human conflict if it had occurred over India or
Pakistan while those countries were on high alert.

``The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing
forces could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have
avoided for over a half-century,'' he said.

Worden said the Air Force's early warning satellites in 1996 detected an
asteroid burst over Greenland that released energy equal to about 100,000
tons of explosives. He said similar events are thought to have occurred in
1908 over Siberia, in the 1940s over Central Asia and over the Amazon basin
in the 1930s.

``Had any of these struck over a populated area, thousands and perhaps
hundreds of thousands might have perished,'' he said.

Worden said early warning satellites do a good job of detecting asteroid
bursts in the atmosphere and that new equipment will be even better. He said
the Air Force is working on an asteroid alert program that would quickly
send information from the satellites to interested nations.

He said the Air Force is studying the establishment of what he called a
Natural Impact Warning Clearinghouse that would be part of the North
American Aerospace Defense Command communications center in Cheyenne
Mountain near Colorado Springs, Colo.

NASA is in the midst of a 10-year program to find and assess every asteroid
six-tenths of a mile or more in size that could pass close to the Earth and
might pose a danger to the planet.

Such asteroids or comets are called ``near earth objects'' and if one struck
the planet it could wipe out whole countries. An asteroid 1 mile across
could snuff out civilizations, while one that is 3 miles across could cause
human extinction, experts say.

Edward Weiler, head of NASA's office of space science, told the House
committee that his agency has detected 619 near earth objects and is finding
about 100 new ones each year. None poses a danger to the Earth.

Worden and others said that smaller asteroids also can be destructive. For
instance, if an asteroid the size of a cruise ship smashed into the ocean it
could cause huge waves, called tsunamis, capable of drowning coastal cities
on two continents.

Worden called for a system of instruments and telescopes on land and in
space that could scan the sky to find asteroids down to the size of 300
feet. He said telescopes and instruments weighing less than 150 pounds could
easily be launched to establish an observing network.

Copyright 2002, AP

===========
(5) SMALL ASTEROID COULD BE MISTAKEN FOR NUCLEAR BLAST

>From Reuters, 3 October 2002
< http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=U30IR321ZQRLKCRBAELCFFA?type=scienceNews&storyID=1531650

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even small asteroids that never hit Earth could have
deadly consequences, because they might be mistaken for nuclear blasts by
nations that lack the equipment to tell the difference, scientists said on
Thursday.

One such asteroid event occurred June 6, when U.S. early warning satellites
detected a flash over the Mediterranean that indicated an energy release
comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, U.S. Brig. Gen. Simon
Worden told a congressional hearing.

The flash occurred when an asteroid perhaps 10 yards in diameter slammed
into Earth's atmosphere, producing a shock wave that would have rattled any
vessels in the area and might have caused minor damage, Worden said.

Little notice was taken of the event at the time, but Worden suggested that
if it had occurred a few hours earlier and taken place over India and
Pakistan, the outcome might have been horrifying.

"To our knowledge, neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors
that can determine the difference between a natural NEO (Near Earth Object,
such as an asteroid) and a nuclear detonation," Worden said.

"The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing forces
could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have avoided for
over half a century," he told a committee investigating the risk posed by
asteroids and other objects that might collide with Earth.

SHOCK WAVES AND TSUNAMIS

Astronomers have long been concerned about damage from asteroids, meteors
and comets, and since 1998 NASA has worked to identify 90 percent of all
large near-Earth objects -- those with a diameter of .6 miles or more -- by
2008.

NASA's head of space science, Ed Weiler, told the committee that scientists
have identified 619 of the suspected big, dangerous asteroids, which is
about half the number astronomers believe are out there.

This kind of large asteroid hits Earth a few times every million years, and
when it does, causes regional calamity. By contrast, a so-called doomsday
asteroid 3 miles across -- like the one believed to have wiped out the
dinosaurs -- hits once every 10 million years or so.

The one that caused the flash over the Mediterranean in June was probably
about the size of a car, and was harmless to Earth. Such asteroids hit the
atmosphere twice a month.

However, asteroids ranging from about 100 feet to hundreds of yards can
cause serious damage, including spawning a powerful shock wave or a tsunami
if it lands in an ocean, causing widespread catastrophe if the tsunami
occurs near a populated shore.

These smaller bodies are not part of NASA's survey, and Worden suggested
there might be an Air Force role in tracking these smaller objects, and also
the potential for sharing early warning of incoming celestial objects with
other countries that lack the technology.

Worden said the United States is unique in the world in being able to
determine whether an incoming object is an asteroid or a bomb in less than a
minute.

The United States spends about $4 million a year to track asteroids and
comets, but very little on strategies to get them out of Earth's way,
scientists said last month.

Copyright 2002, Reuters

============
(6) TRACKING EARTH-BOUND ASTEROIDS COULD NEED AMATEUR HELP

>From Scripps Howard News Service, 3 October 2002
<http://www.knoxstudio.com/shns/story.cfm?pk=ASTEROIDS-10-03-02&cat=AS>

By LEE BOWMAN

WASHINGTON - NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the Smithsonian all are searching
for "planet-killer" asteroids that might be on a path to hit Earth.

But some in Congress are concerned that the pace of the search isn't brisk
enough, and are promoting a plan that would reward amateur astronomers for
their efforts in finding doomsday rocks.

NASA officials told the House Science Committee on Thursday that they're
actually ahead of schedule with a 10-year search that aims to find 90
percent of near-Earth asteroids - those on an orbit that could put them in
our planet's path - larger than about a half-mile in diameter.

David Morrison, a senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute and
founder of the search effort, said the Spaceguard Survey has so far
catalogued about 600 of the large asteroids. Scientists believe such huge
objects hit Earth on average about every 100 million years - the last time
being an impact of a 10-mile-wide asteroid off the Yucatan Peninsula 65
million years ago that scientists believe helped drive dinosaurs to
extinction.

"We can already state with assurance that there are no asteroids this large
with orbits that could pose a threat to us," Morrison said. "But there is
still a risk from objects down to 1 mile in diameter that could perturb the
climate on a global scale and possibly collapse civilization."

Still more likely to cause trouble are space rocks the size of a city block
or football field. An asteroid of that size exploded more than a mile above
a remote section of Siberia in 1908, devastating a 40-square-mile zone on
the ground but causing few deaths.

So far, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and several
international partners aren't even deliberately looking for objects that
small, although they'll note them as they're found. The Minor Planet Center
at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., has
records of about 1,800 near-Earth objects as small as 600 feet or so across.

An asteroid roughly that size passed within 75,000 miles from Earth just
last summer, but wasn't detected until it was already moving away. Morrison
and others said that such objects are capable of regional devastation and
even wider damage if they fall into the ocean and generate tsunamis that
could swamp cities on distant shores.

"Something that size could wipe out Southern California. I don't take a lot
of comfort that an object like that missed us by an astronomical hair, and
we didn't see it coming," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who heads
the House space subcommittee.

Rohrabacher has concerns that NASA's $1 million-a-year search effort isn't
enough, and wants to encourage amateur astronomers to get more involved. The
House this week approved his plan for a set of three $2,000 awards, named
after the late Apollo 12 commander Charles "Pete" Conrad, that would
recognize amateur stargazers who "discover new and track previously
identified large asteroids, particularly those that threaten close approach
to the Earth."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a space advocate and one-time space shuttle
passenger while in the House, has told Rohrabacher he'll introduce a
companion bill in the Senate.

Brian Marsden, director of the Minor Planet Center, said amateur astronomers
"occasionally" are the first to report a new near-Earth object, "but where
they really contribute is with the necessary follow-on observations that
must be done and reported to the database to establish the path the object
is taking," he said. "Certainly encouraging them in these contributions is
worthwhile."

But even with dedicated backyard astronomers, experts worry that there's no
national plan for tracking down the other mid-sized asteroids, let alone
even smaller chunks that could still be dangerous.

"There's no coordinated national policy, no one agency responsible for
addressing this issue," Rohrabacher said, nor any planning for how to divert
or otherwise protect Earth from impact if an asteroid on a collision course
is found.

On the Net: <http://cfa-www.harvard.edu>

Copyright 2002, Scripps Howard News Service

=============
(7) WE NEED MORE TELESCOPES NEO HUNTER TELLS CONGRESS

>From Space Daily, 4 October 2002
<http://www.spacedaily.com/news/asteroid-02g.html>

Washington - Oct 04, 2002
A Cornell University astronomer told a House of Representatives space
subcommittee today that Washington should spend $125 million for a new type
of ground-based telescope that could detect hundreds of asteroids and
numerous comets that pose a potential threat to the Earth from space over
the next century.

Reporting on a government-commissioned review of solar system exploration by
some of the nation's leading scientists, he said that the new wide-field
telescope is needed to produce a weekly digital map of the visible sky in
order to track space rocks called near-Earth objects (NEOs), the great
majority of which have yet to be discovered.

There is, he said, a 1 percent probability of an impact with Earth by a
300-meter-diameter (350 yards) body in the next 100 years, resulting in many
deaths and widespread devastation.

The astronomer, Joseph Burns, the Irving Porter Church Professor of
Engineering and professor of astronomy at Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., is a
member of the Solar System Exploration Decadal Survey's steering group.

His comments to the House Science Committee panel came during his
presentation of a small portion of the findings of the survey, which had
been commissioned by the National Research Council (NRC) at the behest of
NASA.

The impact of an object of this size, he said, would deliver a thousand
megatons of energy and (assuming an average population density of 10 people
per square kilometer) result in a million fatalities. The damage caused by
an impact near a city or into coastal water would be "orders of magnitude
higher."

As of November 2001, he said, 340 objects larger than a kilometer had been
cataloged as "potentially hazardous asteroids," and the number of new comets
with impact potential "is large and unknown."

Burns quoted a section of the survey report (titled New Frontiers in the
Solar System): "Important scientific goals are associated with the NEO
populations, including their origin, fragmentation and dynamical histories,
and compositions and differentiation.

"These and other scientific issues are also vital to the mitigation of the
impact hazard, as methods of deflection of objects potentially on course for
an impact with Earth are explored.

"Information especially relevant to hazard mitigation includes knowledge of
the internal structures of near-Earth asteroids and comets, their degree of
fracture and the presence of large core pieces, the fractal dimensions of
their structures, and their degree of cohesion or friction."

However, Burns said, a survey for potentially threatening NEOs "demands an
exacting observational strategy," and to locate most of the objects with
diameters as small as 300 meters requires a capability a hundred times
better than that of existing survey telescopes.

Because NEOs spend only a fraction of each orbit in Earth's neighborhood,
"repeated observations over 10 years would be required to explore the full
volume of space occupied by these objects."

Such a survey, said Burns, would discover NEOs at the rate of about 100 per
night and obtain astrometric information on the much larger, and growing,
number of NEOs that it had already discovered.

(Astrometry is the technique used to calculate the orbits of NEOs and assess
the hazard that each poses to Earth.) "Astrometry at weekly intervals would
ensure against losing track of these fast-moving objects in the months and
years after discovery," said Burns.

To do this, he said, requires construction of an entirely new type of
telescope, the large-aperture synoptic survey telescope (LSST) "to survey
the entire sky relatively quickly, so that periodic maps can be constructed
that will reveal not only the positions of target sources, but their time
variability as well," the Cornell astronomer said.

The LSST would be a 6.5-metre-class, very-wide-field (3 degrees) telescope
that would produce a digital map of the visible sky every week, and carry
out an optical survey of the sky far deeper than any previous survey.

Such a telescope, he said, "could locate 90 percent of all near-Earth
objects down to 300 meters in size, enable computations of their orbits and
permit assessment of their threat to Earth. It would discover and track
objects in the Kuiper Belt, a largely unexplored, primordial component of
our solar system."

A previous NRC astronomy and astrophysics survey also had recommended the
building of an LSST. The new survey, however, recommends that NASA and NSF
pay equally for the telescope's construction and operations, said Burns.

The new survey, he said, projects the costs of the LSST at $83 million for
capital construction and $42 million for data processing and distribution
over five years of operation, for a total cost of $125 million. Routine
operating costs, including a technical and support staff of 20 people, are
estimated at approximately $3 million per year, he said.

The construction of the LSST, Burns told the legislators, "would provide a
central, federal-sponsored location" for tracking the potentially
threatening objects.

Copyright 2002, Space Daily

=============
(8) AND FINALLY: ASTEROID PROBE KIT TO FIGHT TERRESTRIAL CRIME

>From New Scientist, 3 October 2002
<http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992869>

Technology inspired by a NASA space probe will soon be helping detectives
solve gun crimes and murder cases far faster. A simple handheld device that
instantly confirms whether a suspect has recently fired a gun means lab
delays will not allow suspects time to get away.

The idea for the device was hatched under a new collaboration between NASA
and the US National Institute of Justice. The plan is to adapt
taxpayer-funded space research to fight terrestrial crime.

Jacob Trombka, a physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Maryland, set the ball rolling. He believes X-ray fluorescence
(XRF) could be a key crime-fighting technology. It was used by NASA's Near
Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) probe, which touched down on the asteroid
Eros in February 2001.

X-ray fluorescence spectrometry can identify the chemical elements in a
substance by measuring the wavelengths it emits when exposed to X-rays.
NEAR's sensors simply recorded cosmic X-rays bouncing off the asteroid and
beamed the details of the emissions back to Earth.

Trombka believes a handheld forensic tool could work along similar lines,
taking X-ray fluorescence readings at the scene of a crime and beaming them
to a computer for instant analysis. This way, forensics experts could
quickly detect traces of blood, semen or gunshot primer on suspects' hands.
Gunshot primer is a chemical that converts kinetic energy from the gun's
hammer into heat to ignite the gunpowder.

Non-destructive

One benefit of this approach is that measuring X-ray emissions would not
destroy the physical evidence, as analysing a swab can often do.

"Right now we have no method of doing this," says Carl Selavka, from
Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, who has been working with
Trombka on this research. "It could also be quite helpful in investigating
suicides," he says, because roughly half of all murder investigations turn
out to have been suicides. If there is gun residue on the victim's hand,
it's likely they fired the fatal shot.

Unlike NEAR's XRF system, the portable unit has to have its own diminutive
X-ray source.

The device will compare its spectral readings with an onboard database, or
failing that beam the information back to a forensics computer for more
detailed analysis. Either way it should only take a few minutes and give
crime teams reliable enough feedback to arrest a suspect - or not.

Gunshot primer or solder?

Trombka found XRF particularly useful for identifying residue from gunshot
primer, which can be difficult to detect, even in the lab. Traces of
antimony and barium can come from gunshot primer, but may also be found on
the hands of people working in jobs where they come into contact with brake
fluid or solder.

However, Trombka found that these elements bind together with the rapid
temperature changes they undergo when a gun is fired. So he can identify the
residues as gunshot primer by checking if the barium and antimony are bound
together. "It's a fingerprint of the high-temperature process," he says.

But the real triumph could be XRF's ability to detect substances without
destroying the samples. It might even spot blood or semen on walls that have
since been painted over. However, the device still needs to be made smaller,
he says. "But by 2003 we should be testing it in real situations."

Duncan Graham-Rowe

Copyright 2002, New Scientist

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