CCNet 84/2003 - 9 October 2003

It is quite funny really. A 15-year-old schoolboy has baffled scientists
around the world with this picture. We have had hundreds of emails from
people across the world. We never thought that a photograph could stir up
this much interest. But we are all keeping an open mind until someone can
tell us firmly what it is. And that is all that Jon wants to know too -
he wants someone to tell us for once and for all, what it is.
     --Jonathan Burnett's father, BBC News Online, 7 October 2003

Kudos definitely go to Mike Stradling for suggesting the Concorde
as a possible explanation for the contrail.  All I did was take it
a step further and research the actual departure time of the
London --> New York daily flight and compute an expected
time of the pass over southern Wales. It all comes together
nicely -- the tracks in the two photos (one from Porthcawl, one
from Pencoed) when input to my triangulation software result in
an aircraft-like trajectory, and the Concorde was in the right
place at the right time going in the right direction to produce
just such a track.
     --Robert Matson, CCNet, 9 October 2003

    Robert Matson <>

    BBC News Online, 7 October 2003

    Pragativadi, 3 October 2003

    Asteroid/Comet Connection, 8 October 2003 

    Ron Baalke <>

(6) EDWARD TELLER (1908-2003)
    David Morrison <>

    Jan Smit <>

    Daniel Fischer <>

    Andrew Glikson <>

     E.L.G. Bowell <>


Robert Matson <>

Hi Benny,

Kudos definitely go to Mike Stradling for suggesting the Concorde
as a possible explanation for the contrail.  All I did was take it
a step further and research the actual departure time of the
London --> New York daily flight and compute an expected
time of the pass over southern Wales. It all comes together
nicely -- the tracks in the two photos (one from Porthcawl, one
from Pencoed) when input to my triangulation software result in
an aircraft-like trajectory, and the Concorde was in the right
place at the right time going in the right direction to produce
just such a track.


Robert Matson <>
posted on

Hi again,

I downloaded the latest British Airways Worldwide Timetable, good for
dates from July 1st, 2003 to October 25th, 2003, and have confirmed
that the Concorde is scheduled to leave nightly at 6:30pm out of
Heathrow for JFK at 18:30 out of terminal 4 -- flight BA001.  (At least
for the next 17 days). The arrival time is 17:25 at JFK, which is
3 hours 55 minutes later. The website reports that the flight time
is actually only 3 1/2 hours, so there's 25 minutes of fluff in the
schedule.  Splitting the fluff equally between Heathrow and JFK means
an ~18:42:30 take off.

Concorde's takeoff speed in 250 mph, and Heathrow is ~180 miles east
of southern Wales. If they flew a straight line and averaged 450 mph
over that distance, they'd be over Porthcawl in 24 minutes.  (Given
that they have to fly subsonic over land, I doubt they can average
much more than 450 mph over the first 24 minutes of flight).

So:  18:30 + 00:12:30 + 00:24 = 19:06:30

The Pencoed picture was supposedly taken around 19:13, when the object
producing the contrail is already well out over the water. I don't
know about you, but I'd say the circumstantial evidence is pretty
strong. (One might well ask, "If that's NOT the Concorde's contrail,
where ~is~ the Concorde's contrail, since it ought to be in the same
field of view?!")

Isn't it nice when all the facts come together to form a coherent,
logical, simple explanation?  --Rob


BBC News Online, 7 October 2003
A schoolboy whose dramatic picture of a fireball has baffled scientists across the world is appealing for a firm explanation of his remarkable snapshot.

The American space agency Nasa now thinks that Jonathan Burnett's photo could be an unusual trail left by an aeroplane which has reflected the setting sun.

The picture captured global attention when Jonathan emailed it to Nasa, which published it with the theory that he had snapped a rare shot of a meteor burning up.

Now Jonathan, 15, from Pencoed, near Bridgend, south Wales, has been inundated with people suggesting different ideas.

His father Paul said: "We have lost count of the number of people who have emailed us with various explanations of what the picture could be of.

"Some have said it is a jet stream, others say it is light reflecting off the clouds and some say it is a meteor.

"But no-one can offer us a firm explanation to what it really is.

"Nobody seems to know," he added.

Sofa-sized rock

Jonathan was thrust into the spotlight after a bright light in the sky caught his attention when he was taking snaps of his friends.

He managed to take two pictures and emailed them to Nasa, which later published one on its Astronomy Picture Of The Day web page, with the suggestion that it was a sofa-sized rock which exploded into a fireball.
Jonathan Burnett is looking for a firm explanation

Scientists in the UK are are also trying to find an explanation with research being undertaken by the Spaceguard Centre in Knighton, Powys.

"It is quite funny really," said Jonathan's father.

"A 15-year-old schoolboy has baffled scientists around the world with this picture.

"We have had hundreds of emails from people across the world.

"We never thought that a photograph could stir up this much interest.

"But we are all keeping an open mind until someone can tell us firmly what it is.

"And that is all that Jon wants to know too - he wants someone to tell us for once and for all, what it is," he added.

Copyright 2003, BBC


Pragativadi, 3 October 2003

Bhubaneswar: The Orissa Remote Sensing Application Centre (ORSAC) has revealed some new facts about the remnants of the meteor that was watched on Orissa sky on September 27 last.
A meteor fragment (a meteorite) could either be a stone, stony iron or even iron. The one that crashed onto the Earth's surface last week was a 'stone,' the ORSAC says.

The 'stone' has round balls of milli-meter size which are called 'chondrules' and scientists call the meteorite 'Chondrite.'

According to the remote sensing application centre, 'chondrules' are not seen on Earth since those were the first grains to be formed in solar system about 4,560 million years ago.
The stone-type meteorites are divided into 'Chondrites' and 'Achondrites,' the latter doesn't have chondrules and they tell a lot about planets as well as asteroids.

ORSAC, which has three stones in its custody, will hand them over to Indian Space Research Organisations (ISRO)'s Physical Research Laboratory located at Ahmedabad for analysis and study.
Later, these 'stones' will be housed at Geological Survey of India's National Museum, Kolkata.
Of the three stones now in ORSAC's custody, the heaviest one weighed 1.7 kg which was found from Suniti in Kendrapara.

Two others, weighing 900 gm and 250 gm, were found from Bolagarh in Khurda district.
According to ORSAC, the meteorite that fell in Orissa had a very bright trail and as per scientific observation, small stones fall at the beginning of the trail while the biggest piece is found at the end of it.

The biggest stone found this time weighs about 5.7 kg and is at Kendrapara collectorate.
The centre has called for a combined study of the extraordinary event that Orissa was witness to. It has also asked people, who have collected any debris of the meteor, to make them available with ORSAC for further study.


Asteroid/Comet Connection, 8 October 2003

After more than three weeks of news about bolides seen around the globe and about tiny globe-buzzing asteroids, the big question is, Has Earth encountered some kind of minor object stream? It has even been suggested that all this activity could be associated with fireballs seen last September and October, as if Earth is on its second pass through a field of space boulders. In regard to just two events separated by a few hours, one over California and another over Europe, a San Jose Mercury article of September 30th ( quoted Peter Jenniskens, who studies such streams for NASA, as saying "maybe we have a bit of a shower of bright fireballs going on at the moment.", in its October 6th article ( about tiny 2003 SQ222, quotes Clark Chapman as saying it is hard to see how there could be a connection between events separated by hours, "let alone things that are happening over the course of a week or two. But . . . there have been a lot of these reports. . .  So who knows?" And he told incidentally that "about a week ago, my wife and I saw a gigantic bolide." (If that was seen over Colorado, it hasn't yet been reported on Chris Peterson's Fireballs page as of last check.)

One reason for so many recent tiny asteroid discoveries is that observatory hardware and techniques are becoming ever better at discovering small fast-moving objects, and there are a lot to discover. The article reports from Alan Harris that an estimated 3,000 asteroids pass between the Earth and Moon every year, and "Perhaps 100 of them come closer than 2003 SQ222."

It is very human for people to try to find a pattern in poorly understood natural events. But, thanks to the Web and an increased public awareness and interest, it could be that witnesses and the news media are just doing a better job of telling the world about local experiences of a randomly scattered but overall constant phenomenon.

There is, however, also this: A report last November about large atmospheric events, "The flux of small near-Earth objects colliding with the Earth," was widely hailed as lowering estimated impact risks (see A/CC news links But lead author Peter Brown also issued some big caveats, such as: "a key uncertainty remains, says Brown: whether large and dangerous meteors are concentrated in streams" (New Scientist), and "Based on past observations, it seems likely there is also a non-random component to the impact flux at these smaller sizes which would suggest our estimates are lower bounds to the true impact risk" (UWO news release).


Ron Baalke <>

Committee on Science                      Press Contacts:
SHERWOOD BOEHLERT, CHAIRMAN               Heidi Mohlman Tringe
Ralph M. Hall, Texas, Ranking Democrat    Jeff Donald
                                          (202) 225-4275


WASHINGTON, D.C., October 8, 2003 - The House Science Subcommittee on
Space and Aeronautics today approved four bills by voice vote, listed


H.R. 912, "Charles `Pete' Conrad Astronomy Awards Act," sponsored by Rep.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

The Charles "Pete" Conrad Astronomy Awards Act, named for the third man to
walk on the moon, establishes awards to encourage amateur astronomers to
discover and track asteroids crossing in a near-Earth orbit. Earth has
experienced several near-misses with asteroids that would have proven
catastrophic, and the scientific community relies heavily on amateur
astronomers to discover and track these objects. The bill authorizes
$10,000 for each of fiscal years 2004 and 2005 for NASA to administer the
program. The House approved the bill by voice vote last year.

"Pete Conrad was a pilot, explorer, and entrepreneur of the highest
caliber. I think it is fitting that we honor Pete Conrad by establishing
this award to encourage amateur astronomers and private citizens to keep
looking up and out into the future," said Rohrabacher.


(6) EDWARD TELLER (1908-2003)

David Morrison <>

NEO News (10/08/03):  EDWARD TELLER (1908-2003)

Edward Teller, arguably the world's most influential scientist in the second half of the twentieth century, died a month ago. Late in his life Teller became a powerful advocate for defending the Earth against asteroids, although few of those writing about his death take note of this final chapter in his life. This edition of NEO News is devoted to remembering Teller's role in advocating for the development of defenses against asteroids. Most of what follows deals with my own interactions with Teller between 1992 and 1995. I begin with the opening comments from the New York Times obituary.

David Morrison

NEW  YORK  TIMES OBITUARY (opening paragraphs)
September 11, 2003
By William J. Broad and Walter Sullivan

Edward Teller, a towering figure of science who had a singular impact on the development of the nuclear age, died late Tuesday at his home in Stanford, Calif. He was 95.

Widely seen as a troubled genius, Dr. Teller generated hot debate for more than a half century, even as he engendered many features of the modern world.

A creator of quantum physics who loved to play Bach and Beethoven as an amateur pianist, the Hungarian-born physicist helped found the nuclear era with his work on the atom bomb, played a dominant role in inventing the hydrogen bomb (though he often protested being called its father), battled for decades on behalf of nuclear power and lobbied fervently for the building of antimissile defenses, which the nation is now erecting.

His antimissile efforts, obsessive by most accounts and dismissed by critics as doomed to failure, were his way of trying to protect his adopted country from the horrors he helped bring into the world.

Dr. Teller's actions split scientists into warring camps and created huge, lingering controversies over his legacy, including whether his work in the cold war had fostered a dangerous nuclear arms race or an uneasy peace that helped crush Soviet Communism.


Notes from David Morrison with Clark Chapman
(adapted from an unpublished book manuscript)

In 1991 Congress had charged NASA to develop a specific plan for an asteroid survey, through its Spaceguard Working Group, which I chaired. The second part of the Congressional request to NASA asked for an analysis of the technology that might be used for asteroid protection, if a threatening object were actually discovered. To address the technology issues, John Rather of NASA Headquarters convened a single brainstorming meeting in January 1992 where ideas on defense technologies could be brought forward. Rather invited many of his former colleagues from the nuclear weapons laboratories (Los Alamos and Livermore), and he held his workshop at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. A few of us astronomers also were invited to this defense technology workshop at the last minute.
From the perspective of the astronomers, the meeting got off to a bad start by featuring a 1990 report by Teller's protégé Lowell Wood and colleagues, which asserted that any asteroidal projectile larger than 4 m in diameter would penetrate through the atmosphere and impact explosively, with a potential for widespread damage and many fatalities. Wood estimated that the Earth was struck by projectiles of 4 m or larger diameter about annually, producing property damage of about $60 million and hundreds of deaths per year, on average. In his words, "it's the stuff between a truck and a house in scale which rains down on our fair planet at rates of dozens to hundreds of strikes per century." These assumptions were so obviously inconsistent with the real world that we were perplexed. Some of us wondered if it was coincidental that the 4-m asteroidal adversaries that dominated Wood's paper were about the same size as an ICBM.
Wood's interest in shooting down small asteroids was initially supported by Teller, whose presence dominated the Los Alamos workshop. This was our first contact with Teller, who had only recently become interested in defenses against asteroids. Leaning on his staff -- a thick wooden pole with a leather grip at shoulder height -- Teller immediately commanded attention. His gravelly voice was clear and authoritative, and his cadence was exceptionally slow, with each word enunciated precisely in a Hungarian accent. We saw that he was treated with extraordinary deference. Once, when Rather, as chair of a session, began to comment after a speaker had finished, Teller's rumble became audible.  Rather instantly interrupted himself in mid-sentence to give his mentor the floor:  "Oh, Dr. Teller, I am so sorry...I believe you want to speak?"  He was always formally addressed as "Dr. Teller", and at Los Alamos he had the final word on any issue.
Gene Shoemaker and I spoke in the first session at Los Alamos, describing the results from the Spaceguard Working Group. In particular, we noted that small asteroids did not penetrate the Earth's atmosphere, in contradiction to Lowell Wood's paper. No questions were asked from the audience, and we assumed that we had made our points. When the weapons scientists began their presentations, however, we found that most of them dealt with ways to locate, track, intercept, and destroy 4-m asteroids shortly before they would plunge down to Earth. Following Wood's lead, each speaker assumed that the greatest danger was from these 4-m "bomblets," which could be located only at the last moment, hence requiring a virtually instantaneous response -- interceptors on the launch-pad -- to shoot them down.

Those of us from the Spaceguard team were not sure what was happening. It seemed to us that the weapons scientists did not conduct their business through the open questioning and dialog that astronomers were used to. Outwardly, everyone seemed polite and deferential toward each other, never questioning the presentations publicly, no matter how outlandish some of them seemed. We wondered if Teller's dominating presence and support for Wood contributed to suppressing open debate. Only in private discussions with the weapons lab scientists were we able to penetrate below this apparent unanimity and begin to explore alternative ideas.

Several schemes were suggested for exploding asteroids into billions of small fragments. In one approach, it was necessary to get a large nuclear bomb into the center of the asteroid. This would be accomplished by launching a series of closely spaced nuclear warheads, like firecrackers on a string. The first one would be detonated at the surface, excavating a hole. The second warhead, following a fraction of a second behind, would explode within the hole, deepening it. After a dozen or more such explosions, the hole would be deep enough for a large bomb to penetrate and provide the coup de grace. An alternative was suggested by Teller himself, who noted that a sufficiently large bomb detonated at the surface could disintegrate any comet or asteroid. The challenge was to make the bomb big enough. He noted that for the larger asteroids, a bomb would be required that was a million times more powerful than any that had yet been developed. Such a multi-million-megaton weapon would have no use in terrestrial warfare, of course, but Teller suggested it might be appropriate to develop such a bomb as part of a cosmic defense system.

After the meeting, the astronomers compared notes. One thing that struck us was the contrast between Teller and Shoemaker, as the senior scientists from the two groups. Both were widely honored scientists, with Shoemaker often called the "father of planetary geology" just as Teller was the "father of the H-Bomb". Shoemaker, however, was a pleasant and unassuming man who dressed informally and readily smiled and laughed. To all of us he was plain "Gene", a friend and colleague, and very American in style. In contrast, Teller projected the image of a European professor, always formally dressed, treated with something akin to awe (or perhaps fear), who gave speeches rather than engaging in dialog. It is hard to imagine more different personalities or scientific styles.


One of the highlights of the Los Alamos Meeting was an after-dinner speech in which Teller outlined his thoughts on asteroid defense in more detail. Following is a transcript of that talk as recorded by Clark Chapman.

[posted on CCNet, 11 Sept. 2003;]


Notes from David Morrison and Clark Chapman
(adapted from their unpublished book manuscript)

In the months following the Los Alamos meeting, the astronomers and the weapons builders continued their dialogue. At Los Alamos, Teller had focused on the problem of defending against small asteroids, which could not be detected more than a few days in advance of their collision with the Earth. Later in the spring of 1992, however, when he and I gave back-to-back keynote lectures at a meeting of the National Space Society in Colorado Springs, Teller had accepted the argument that small projectiles were not a problem and that some sort of comprehensive asteroid survey (the Spaceguard Survey) should be carried out to find the larger ones. At that time he advocated conducting a space-based search for NEOs using Star Wars technology.  A series of small satellites would be placed in Earth orbit to scan the sky for asteroids, transmitting their observations to the ground for analysis. By the time of the next hazard meeting, held in Tucson in January 1993 (see below), Teller was apparently reconciled to the cost-effectiveness of a ground-based asteroid survey like Spaceguard.
Looking ahead to the problems of deflection, however, Teller expressed concern about our lack of knowledge of the physical properties of comets and asteroids. He advocated a major program of spacecraft visits to explore the comets and asteroids, using small and relatively inexpensive probes based on the "brilliant eyes" surveillance system being proposed by Lowell Wood at Livermore. He also suggested that initial spacecraft visits should be followed by active testing, including the experimental deflection of asteroids and comets to develop the technology that might someday be needed for defense against a real impact threat.

Although he remained in the background during the early interactions between astronomers and weapons scientists, one of the most influential figures in the impact hazard debates was Col. Pete Worden of the U.S. Air Force. With Teller's support, Worden decided to organize another conference on asteroid defenses for the spring of 1993. This meeting would focus on near-term issues, rather than "new technology" schemes. Worden's meeting would be international, with the participation of leaders from the Russian defense establishment. And far from banning the press as Rather had done at Los Alamos, Worden invited not only science reporters but also leading critics of the Star Wars program from a number of Washington space and peace advocacy groups. For a location, he chose the picturesque town of Erice, perched atop a mountain on the west coast of Sicily. In this environment, Teller was much more wiling to join in discussion and exchange of ideas, although he still retained his aloof professorial persona. The discussions were constructive, and gradually agreement emerged among the participants, in spite of their different backgrounds. The Russians seemed especially anxious to share their decades of experience with nuclear weapons in the service of a new, international cause.
On the final day of the Erice conference, we all gathered in the main monastery building to agree upon a statement that summarized the conclusions we had reached. The first four points of the statement were relatively straightforward. The group agreed that "cosmic impact is an environmentally significant phenomenon which has played a major role in the evolution of life on Earth", and that "the threat is real and requires further internationally coordinated public education efforts."  We also agreed that "gathering of additional physical knowledge of NEOs and their effect on the Earth is a scientifically and socially important endeavor," and that "dedicated international astronomical facilities similar to the proposed Spaceguard System should be developed."

On a final question, however, consensus broke down. Teller insisted that defense issues also be addressed. He was convinced that nuclear experiments on deflecting real asteroids and comets were necessary.  He had two reasons. One was technical: the need to learn how to accomplish such a task in advance of any actual emergency. His second reason was political. He argued that it would be extremely difficult to obtain international agreement for any use of nuclear devices in space, and that we had better start now to work out ways to deal with this problem. Teller considered the social experiment of forging international consensus in support of experimental deflections to be even more challenging than the technical problems of accomplishing the deflection once it was approved.  
In the Erice environment, Teller did not automatically get his way. Opposed by Worden, Shoemaker, and all of the Spaceguard astronomers attending the conference, Teller found himself engaged in a real debate.  Most of us wanted to say explicitly that we did not favor experimentation at this time, but Teller stood his ground. He would not agree to any statement that called for deferring experiments, while the majority would not sign any statement that endorsed such experiments. After heated arguments, the stalemate was resolved in the waning minutes of the conference and compromise wording was approved:  "The study of potential mitigation systems should be continued. Many of us believe that unless a specific and imminent threat becomes obvious, actual construction and testing of systems that might have the potential to deflect or mitigate a threat may be deferred because technology systems will improve." The "many" referred to in the statement was nearly everyone at the meeting except Teller.


Teller participated in what was undoubtedly the most important scientific conference on the impact hazard, organized by Tom Gehrels in January 1993, one year after the Los Alamos meeting. One product was the 1200-page book Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids (University of Arizona Press, 1994), which contains 46 technical papers covering many aspects of impacts, ranging from the population of asteroids and comets to defense approaches. The presence of the two old adversaries, Teller and Carl Sagan, added to the interest of this meeting.

Tom Gehrels hoped that Teller and Sagan would collaborate on a short policy chapter for his book, but this proved impossible. Teller would consider the possibility of such a collaboration, but not with Sagan. Accordingly, Greg Canavan of Los Alamos served as facilitator to bring me together with Teller to discuss writing a joint chapter, focusing on the areas in which we agreed. It was exciting for me to face the opportunity to try to find common ground with Teller. I took notes from my discussions with Teller and made use of the consensus resolotion from Erice described above. In this basis I wrote a first draft, subsequently refining the chapter with him at his office at Stanford University.

The primary areas in which we had difficulty agreeing where those that dealt with experiments to develop defense technologies. I recall discussions, for example, concerning where such experiments should be carried out. Teller advocated working with an asteroid that came very close to the Earth in order to see the effects from the ground. I pointed out that the debris from any asteroid that was disrupted near the Earth would return to menace the planet later, and that we should experiment on as asteroid with an orbit that brought it nowhere near our planet. I won the argument here, although in his autobiography (see below) Teller returned to advocating that experiments be done using asteroids that come between the earth and the moon.

Teller was anxious to argue in this forum for an open international approach to defending our planet. The final two paragraphs of our paper (Morrison & Teller 1994) stated:

"In the present situation, there can be little doubt that the important decisions connected with the danger of asteroid impact should be made by open democratic means. Under these circumstances, scientists and engineers should limit themselves to the finding and publication of relevant facts. Of course, interpretations and value judgments are useful and important as well. But the resolution of points of disagreement and the formation of policies to deal with the impact issue must reside with the population at large through their legitimate representativesS.

"Our actions should be widely publicized and explained, with secrecy restrictions abolished as completely and rapidly as possible. This principle holds particularly for issues associated with the use of nuclear energyS. All parts of the world are equally at risk from impacts, and we all share a common interest in our self-protection from such cosmic catastrophes. One of us (E.T.) urges that experimentation should not be delayed except for strong reasons, since procedures for protection need to be decided on the basis of data on comets and asteroids, part of which can be obtained only through experimentation."

The fact that Teller's iniaials were E.T. led to some humorous comments. Teller noted that in fact extraterrestrials were among us, but that we called them Hungarians!
TELLER IN RUSSIA, September 1994

Notes from David Morrison with Clark Chapman
(adapted from an unpublished book manuscript)

Two groups of Russian scientists were interested in asteroid defense issues. The Russian astronomers (centered in St Petersburg) had been dealing with asteroids and asteroid orbital dynamics for many decades. Now, however, some of the Russian weapons scientists also began to explore the possibility of testing nuclear explosives against asteroids, the same "experimental" approach that Teller advocated. For many years the defense strategists and weapons builders from the U.S. and Russia had worked together, first as cold-war rivals and more recently in a spirit of international cooperation. Within Russia the astronomers and the weapons scientists initially pursued their interests independently (as they had in the United States), but by 1994 they had begun to talk to each other, largely at the initiative of nuclear physicist Vadim Simonenko.

Simonenko worked at the Institute of Technical Physics of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center -- the Russian equivalent of Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. For decades the existence of this Federal Nuclear Center had been a military secret, and the city in the southern Urals where it was located did not even have a name -- just a postal code, Chelyabinsk-70.  It was a milestone in the emergence of this secret city when Simonenko obtained permission to host an international conference on asteroid defense there. The conference was named "Space Protection of the Earth 1994", and both Teller and Wood accepted invitations to attend, as did five other Americans, myself included.
The American party arrived at the Ekaterinburg Airport in the small hours of September 25, having crossed 12 time zones in the flight from California. Soon we were in a bus, following the blinking blue light of a police escort through endless miles of white birch trees to our destination: a closed city that appears on no map of Russia. Only during the preceding year had it obtained a name: Snezhinsk, which means "snowy" in Russian. When we finally arrived, we entered Snezhinsk through barbed wire fences guarded by soldiers with automatic weapons and unsheathed bayonets. Here, isolated from the rest of the world, lived the 15,000 workers at the nuclear institute and their families. A huge bronze statue of Lenin still dominated the central square, and several of us spoke with students in the schools who had never before seen an American. These talented people, who have spent two generations building nuclear bombs in this closed society, were looking for alternatives. Shooting down asteroids seemed like a possibility.
The Space Protection meeting was attended by about 150 Russians, the majority of whom had not previously worked with foreigners. For a week we met to discuss asteroids, with particular emphasis on schemes for interception and nuclear deflection or destruction of NEOs. Teller, as "father of the H-bomb", was idolized by the Russian nuclear community, and he and Wood had come to Russia with a message that this audience was happy to hear. The Teller-Wood thesis was simple: we must build an international defense system against cosmic impacts, and an urgent part of that effort is to conduct nuclear tests to learn how to deflect or destroy NEOs. Teller emphasized that such an experimental program was the only way to obtain the required data, and that nuking asteroids represented the most cost-effective kind of experimentation. In case anyone missed the message, Wood also told the audience that there were no international prohibitions against nuclear explosions in space, since the existing treaties dealt only with "weapons of mass destruction", not peaceful uses of nuclear explosives intended to develop a capability to protect the Earth. Teller added that "only fear-mongers oppose the peaceful use of nuclear explosives."

One of the interesting experiences of this week was a visit to the nuclear museum at Snezhinsk, which included several exhibits dealing with peaceful applications of nuclear explosives. The centerpiece was the mock-up of a 100-megaton bomb, the largest ever built and tested. Teller posed next to this bomb, and pictures of him with this monster have been widely published, including in Teller's autobiography.


Teller published his autobiography in 2001 (Edward Teller, Memoirs: A twentieth century journey in science and politics, Peseus Publishing). The last two pages of this 600-page book deal with the impact hazard. Teller does not mention the meetings in Los Alamos or Tucson or Erice, but begins by describing his 1994 visit to Russia, concluding that "everyone I met [at Chelybinsk-70] was extremely kind, and I thoroughly enjoyed my two-week stayS.

"The scientists attending the conference at Chelyabinsk agreed that the more frequent medium-sized impacts [like Tunguska] and the infrequent large impacts are both important. When the probability-weighted damage of all these impacts is considered, meteorite strikes appear to be about as damaging as earthquakes or hurricanes. The practical point is to prevent the great damage caused by large or massive meteoritesS..

"It would be valuable to have a system that could intercept a sizable meteor on collision course with the earth. An explosive, detonated an appropriate distance below the meteor's surface, could expel material from the meteor and either alter its course or break it up. In most cases, conventional explosives would provide a sufficient blast. The only practical way to assure that we could deflect a meteor is to conduct experiments on them by interacting with meteors that pass between the earth and the moon. The experiments should be carried out, of course, when the meteors are beyond their closest approach to earthS"

Teller's book concludes with the words: "I think that learning cooperatively with other nations how to prevent damage from meteor impact -- becoming knowledgeable enough to prevent a globally catastrophic natural disaster -- would be a worthwhile way to begin the new millennium."

NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact For additional information, please see the website If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.

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


Jan Smit <>

"Chicxulub crater not related to the K/T mass-extinction??"
(CCNet, 26 September 2003;

That would be a major claim indeed, if it were true. Familiar terms
are used like "mounting evidence", "growing number of scientists",
where the "evidence" and "scientists" are overwhelmingly from her
own (Gerta Kellers) research group itself.

However, the "evidence" that purports to show that the
Chicxulub crater is 300.000 years older than the K/T boundary, is
exclusively based on resedimented coarse grained deposits in the
vicinity of the crater, i.e. the Gulf of Mexico, that have been
influenced by tsunami waves, mass-wasting and slumping and
earthquakes triggered by the impact itself. Therefore, in all these
places there is a sedimentological explanation for the doubling,
tripling of layers with ejecta and iridium, creating the illusion of
multiple impacts. The mechanisms mentioned above make the deposits
very complicated indeed, including the sediments inside the crater.
Among the cited evidence for a Chicxulub crater about 300kyr older
than the KT boundary, is the occurrence of a so-called normal
sedimentary layer with Cretaceous foraminifers above the ejecta of
the Chicxulub crater. If that were correct, there would be indeed
strong evidence that the crater is older than K/T. However, these
"normal" sediments contain either already Tertiary fossils, and are
therefore Tertiary in age, or are not "normal" sediments but part of
the coarse grained deposits related to the impact itself, because
they display grainsize grading.

A new element in the discussion are the results of the new
Yaxcopoil-1 drilling inside the Chicxulub crater, where Gerta Keller
claims that also there is evidence that the Cretaceous period
persisted for  300kyr after the Chicxulub impact.

In this core the Chicxulub ejecta occur from 894-794.70m. The ejecta
are overlain by a succession of 51cm of crossbedded dolomitic sands
(794.70-794.19m), an 8cm thick hardground (794.19-794.12m), 2cm of
clay (794.12-794.10m), and finally, the post impact infill of
fine-grained sediments, that contain undisputed Tertiary foraminifers

The cited evidence comes from the core segment just above the
ejecta, that consists of cross-bedded and parallel-bedded sands
(794.70-794.19m). Samples of the same interval were split in two. One
part was distributed to Gerta Keller, and the other part to Jose Arz
and colleages from Zaragoza, Spain. I myself obtained samples
adjacent to these samples that were analysed in Amsterdam. Neither
the Zaragoza group, experienced micropaleontologists, nor I were able
to find any determinable foraminiferal remains in any of these
samples. Instead, we found in thin sections exclusively rhomb-like
idiomorphic dolomite overgrowths of the sand grains. The rhombs
resemble in size and thickness somewhat the testwalls of
foraminifers. The "Bombshell results" presented by Gerta Keller at
the EGS-AGU meeting in Nice are based on such dolomite overgrowths.
The results of the three groups working on these samples will be
published in the MAPS special volume on the Yaxcopoil-1 drilling.
Discussions to be continued.

But even if the foraminiferal fossils were missed by the
Zaragoza and Amsterdam groups, they would not permit any conclusion
about the age of the crater. Cross- and parallel beds tell any
sedimentologist that such sediments are deposited by currents or
waves, and that all grains in those beds, including foraminiferal
shells, are transported from another source. The grains could be
washed in from inside the crater, from the rim or the direct
surroundings of the crater, and may therefore be much older or
younger than the crater itself. In other words, it is impossible to
tell whether the foraminifera in that core-segments are
contemporaneous, older or considerably younger than the crater. What
we do know, however, is that the base of the Tertiary, including the
iridium rich clay, is missing in the drill core, because the part of
the magnetochron that represents this period, Chron 29R, is only
3-11cm thick in the Tertiary, where the same interval is 1.5m thick
in the Gubbio (Italy) and over 5.1m in the Caravaca (Spain) sections.

Where we should be looking for multiple impacts at or near
the K/T boundary, is far away from the impact and the resulting
energetic events that influence the sedimentary records there. It is
therefore laudable that Gerta Keller plans to test the record of the
latest Cretaceous for evidence of volcanism,  impacts and change of
biota in the Indian Ocean.  However, if we look critically at the
most complete records known today (i.e. El Kef in Tunisia, Agost,
Zumaya and Caravaca in Spain, and the Apennine sections in Italy),
there is not the slightest undisputed evidence for multiple impacts.

So what and where is the best evidence that ties the
Chicxulub impact to the K/T boundary extinctions? In my opinion those
are the impact layers laid down in quiet coalswamps in the US and
Canadian western interior. Those layers are found over a wide area
ranging from Alberta; Hell Creek, Montana; Dogie Creek, Wyoming; and
Raton Basin, Colorado-New Mexico. Glenn Izett, Bruce Bohor and
colleagues have shown that in those areas there is a single
claylayer, composed of two parts. The lower sublayer is filled with
spherules that are identical to the glassy spherules from around the
Gulf of Mexico. Ar/Ar age dating, chemical and isotopic composition
of the glass show that, barring a miracle, those spherules are
derived from the Chicxulub impact. The upper sublayer is invariably
enriched in iridium (according to Gerta Keller the fingerprint of the
"unknown" K/T boundary impact) and shocked minerals. Additionally,
the upper sublayer contains shocked zircon crystals that tie the
sublayer to the Chicxulub target (panafrican) rocks. If Gerta Keller
would be correct, than the lower and upper sublayers would be
separated in time by about 300kyr. In reality, the two sublayers are
not even separated by a single season of falling leaves, in all the
localities mentioned above, and both comtain evidence linking them to

I therefore still think the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the
K/T boundary impact and the Chicxulub impact are one and the same.

Dr. J. Smit
Department of Sedimentology
Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences
Vrije Universiteit
de Boelelaan 1085
1081HV Amsterdam
the Netherlands
tel: +3120-4447384
fax: +3120-6462457


Daniel Fischer <>

Dear Benny,

a recent Austrian TV documentary on the excavation of the ancient metropolis of Ephesos -'B97A4D6EF4040B60' -
connected its origin to a 'natural disaster' in the form of a cosmic impact: It claimed
that the original asylon, the sanctuary that later became the site of the Artemision, one
of the Wonders of the ancient World, was located on the site of the impact, the power and
consequences of which were not discussed. No evidence for an impact was presented other
than that there was an important deity named Diopetes agalma (sp.?) which means "the picture
that fell from the sky".

This was all news to me: when I visited both Ephesos and the Artemision's (few) ruins just
a few weeks ago (they are now in Western Turkey, near Izmir), no guide book and no
information sign made any reference to such an impact. What is the mainstream thinking about
this in the archaeological community? The documentary was very well done (with state-of-the-art
computer visualizations), and the Austrians played and play a key role in excavating Ephesos,
so it seems unlikely that the author, A. Vendl, simply made it up.

Insights and references would be most welcome!

Daniel Fischer


Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny,

An error occurred in re-typing the title of my essay - the term "MARINA" is
not correct, it should read "MARIA". I will appreciate it could you please
post a correction note on the next CCNet to this effect.

Andrew Glikson


E.L.G. Bowell <>

A friend put me on to this one:

It's a real hoot (though my attention span is too short to read much of it),
intimating that the death of Princess Diana was foreshadowed by the
positioning of asteroid 78 Diana.


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