CCNet 105/2000 - 17 October 2000

      "Concerned that NASA may have dropped the ball, a blue-ribbon scientific
      panel here has recommended that Britain take the lead in defending the
      people of our planet from an overhead threat of literally cosmic dimensions:
      killer asteroids.

      A recent report from the Task Force on Potentially Hazardous
      Near Earth Objects calls for spending as much as $100 million on a defense
      system against space objects, with a blueprint similar to the military's missile
      defense systems--an early detection network coupled with some means to stop an
      incoming threat."
        -- The Washington Post, 15 October 2000

    Michael Paine <>

    The Washington Post, 15 October 2000

    The New York Times, 17 October 2000

    The Globe and Mail, 14 October 2000

    Konrad Ebisch <>

    Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

    BBC Online News, 15 October 2000


From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny,

One month late, but The Washington Post has a story on the UK NEO

Some of the reporting is a little odd but at least the White House
should now know about the report.

Michael Paine


From The Washington Post, 15 October 2000

LONDON, 15 October; Concerned that NASA may have dropped the ball, a
blue-ribbon scientific panel here has recommended that Britain take the lead
in defending the people of our planet from an overhead threat of literally
cosmic dimensions: killer asteroids.

A recent report from the Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth
Objects calls for spending as much as $100 million on a defense system
against space objects, with a blueprint similar to the military's missile
defense systems--an early detection network coupled with some means to stop
an incoming threat.

With thousands of objects flying near enough to our planet to be considered
risky, panel members said the possibility of global destruction posed even
by a relatively small asteroid should be enough to justify the expenditure.
"I would think the prospect of imminent death would concentrate the mind
remarkably," said Harry Atkinson, the task force chairman.

"This is not science fiction," said Britain's science minister, Lord
Sainsbury, as he endorsed the report and promised swift government action to
implement it. "The risk is extremely remote . . . but it is real. We put a
lot of money into astronomy. It's sensible to put just a little bit into
making certain we know if there is any danger of an object hitting our very
fragile planet."

Asteroids and their smaller cousins, comets, are chunks of flying debris
left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years
ago. Some are huge; the potato-shaped asteroid Eros is bigger than the whole
of the District. When they hit the Earth, the results can be cataclysmic. A
single asteroid that hit what is now Mexico about 65 million years ago wiped
out most animal life around the world and is believed to have ended the age
of dinosaurs.

The British panel warned that "the Earth is hemmed in by a sea of
asteroids." One problem is that astronomers don't know how big that sea
might be. The report says there may be as many as 2,000
space objects crossing Earth's orbit that are bigger than 1 kilometer (about
half a mile) wide. Impact by a single object that size could kill up to a
quarter of our planet's population, the panel warned.

But while the damage can be massive, the actual risk is minimal. Asteroids
don't hit us all that often; "we are talking about once every 100,000 years
for a very serious incident," Sainsbury said. Still, the report concludes
that the potential harm is so great that preventive measures should be
taken--particularly because mankind now has the technological skill to
protect itself.

"Near Earth Objects"--the term "near" is a relative one here, referring to
space debris within a third of the distance to the sun--pose a threat to all
nations. Why, then, is it the British who are pushing the cause of asteroid
defense? One reason is that the homeland of Isaac Newton has a long
astronomical tradition. The other is that island nations face a particular
risk; a large asteroid landing in the Atlantic could launch a tsunami that
would sink the British Isles (not to mention the East Coast of the United
States) within minutes.

The British panel's warnings echo several studies issued by NASA in recent
years about asteroid dangers. Under pressure from Congress, NASA promised in
1995 to identify all potentially dangerous space objects by 2005. NASA
currently spends about $2 million annually on that task, but has fallen far
behind the original schedule. That's a key reason the British have decided
to push ahead.

The task force report urges construction of new telescopes--particularly in
the Southern Hemisphere, which has fewer astronomical installations than the
northern. The panel recommended spending about $24 million immediately on a
new 10-foot telescope somewhere south of the equator. The team also
suggested launching "Spaceguard" satellites to watch for incoming

With improved vigilance, the study says, an asteroid racing toward Earth
might be spotted a year, a decade, or even a century before impact. Rather
than just sit around awaiting destruction, the team suggests that humans
might be able to destroy or turn away the unwelcome visitor. The report
doesn't provide specifics, but U.S. nuclear scientist Edward Teller has
suggested using nuclear bombs in space to nudge an asteroid off a collision
course with Earth.

"I think the British are certainly right that we should track these objects
and see what's out there," says Lucy McFadden, a specialist on near-Earth
objects at the University of Maryland. "This stuff is real. But on the other
hand, if you work out the numbers, the probability of impact with the Earth
is so small."

If a major new campaign is undertaken to identify more asteroids,
astronomers could face a problem coming up with names for all their finds.
Under the nomenclature guidelines of the International Astronomical Union,
comets tend to be named for the earthling who discovered them. Asteroids can
be named after almost anybody, except that political, religious and military
leaders are taboo.

Many asteroids take their names from mythology, such as "Eros" and "Ceres."
Others are named for scientists; there's an asteroid called "Einstein."
Fittingly, these giant rocks also can be named for rock giants. One of the
"Near Earth Objects" potentially threatening life on Earth is a large,
irregularly shaped asteroid called "Jerry Garcia."

Copyright 2000, The Washington Post


From The New York Times, 17 October 2000

Join a Discussion on Archaeology

In a winter night in 373 B.C., the one-two punch of an earthquake followed
by a surging tidal wave destroyed the grand old Greek city of Helike, near
the Gulf of Corinth. The city was, coincidentally, a venerated center for
worship of Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the sea.

The land and the city ruins sank beneath the sea, and all the people were
said to have perished. Ancient Greece had not known a natural disaster as
devastating in more than 1,000 years, when an exploding volcano destroyed
much of the island of Thera, modern Santorini. The Helike catastrophe, some
scholars speculate, may have inspired Plato's story of Atlantis, a land that
supposedly sank to the bottom of the sea.

For several centuries after the disaster, writers like Pliny, Strabo and
Ovid reported that the ruins could still be seen on the sea floor, just
offshore. Then all traces of Helike disappeared. Here was another "lost"
city to challenge the sleuthing instincts of archaeologists.

In excavations this summer, Greek and American researchers uncovered what
they think is the first evidence pointing to the location of Helike
(pronounced ha-LEE-key). After 12 years of searching, mostly offshore and
invariably in vain, they began digging on a coastal plain near the town of
Aigion, 45 miles northwest of Corinth. Some of their first trenches yielded
stones of a paved road and building walls, classical ceramics and a bronze
coin, which was minted in the late 5th century B.C.

"It's just a glimpse," one of the researchers, Dr. Steven Soter of the
American Museum of Natural History, said in an interview. "But it's the
first strong evidence for Helike that is consistent with descriptions in
ancient accounts."

Dr. Soter and Dr. Dora Katsonopoulou, an archaeologist and president of the
Ancient Helike Society in Aigion, reported the discovery at a recent
conference of archaeologists in Greece. Though Dr. Soter is a planetary
scientist, his research on earthquakes drew him into the search for Helike
in collaboration with Dr. Katsonopoulou.

Dr. Soter directed the use of remote-sensing technology like magnetometry
and ground-penetrating radar in surveying buried terrain where the city was
thought to be. These surveys, followed by the sinking of scores of bore
holes, located ancient ceramic fragments and other evidence of human
occupation over an area of about one square mile. Digging among the orchards
and vineyards of modern villages, archaeologists reached layers of sediment
10 feet deep bearing classical pottery along with seashells and other marine

In their reports, the researchers said these findings suggested that the
pavement and wall stones were from the time of Helike's destruction and
supported stories that the city ruins were for a long time submerged in the
sea or a lagoon. The ruins were buried by silt, which, combined with a
general uplifting of the land, had left the once-submerged site about half a
mile inland from the present shore. A house built on the shore between the
Selinous and Kerynites Rivers in the 1890's is now about 1,000 feet from the

"It's a very important find in classical studies," said Dr. Robert
Stieglitz, an archaeologist and classics professor at Rutgers University at
Newark. "These are definitely signs of a settlement. Now they need to expand
the excavations to look for the temple and theater and other public
buildings that should be at the core of a city like Helike."

As a measure of his confidence that the site of Helike has been found, Dr.
Stieglitz said he would join the expanded excavations next summer.

Dr. Soter and Dr. Katsonopoulou said the discovery of paving stones from a
buried road might be especially rewarding. So far, only a short segment of
the road's cobbles and boundary boulders have been uncovered, but enough to
tantalize archaeologists.

"We think the road may be the best thing we could find," Dr. Soter said.
"This could lead us to the rest of the city. And it could provide a
relatively undisturbed `time capsule' from the classical period of Greece."

On the other hand, Dr. Soter acknowledged, the earthquake and tsunami, a
towering sea wave, might have left few recognizable ruins. Scientists
suspect that a strong earthquake set off a submarine landslide, which in
turn produced the tsunami. Aftershocks of the quake could have caused the
landscape to collapse, perhaps sinking below sea level. And a tsunami,
perhaps more than 35 feet high, could have swept away most of the remains.

But digging deeper and wider at the likely site of Helike will probably be
irresistible to archaeologists seeking to learn more about public and
private life during the golden age of Greece. At the time of Helike's
destruction, Plato was teaching and Aristotle was a boy of 12. Socrates and
Aristophanes had died at the beginning of the century.

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company 


From The Globe and Mail, 14 October 2000

Tropics once felt chill of Ice Age

Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2000

WASHINGTON -- While Europeans were shivering through the Little Ice Age,
natives of the Caribbean were also facing a cooler climate, researchers

Made famous by the winter-scene paintings of Pieter Brueghel, the Little Ice
Age stretched from the 14th century to the 19th, cooling the northern
hemisphere and bringing heavier than usual snow and ice.

The impact of this cooling on tropical areas, however, has been less clear.

Now a team of scientists led by Amos Winter of the University of Puerto Rico
at Mayaguez has found evidence that Caribbean temperatures were two to three
degrees cooler during the Little Ice Age than they are currently.

"That is a significant temperature change, especially in that part of the
world where natural variations are much less than they would be in colder
climates," commented John Christy of the University of Alabama at
Huntsville, one of the co-authors of the paper.

"We postulate there were more cold-air outbreaks that reached this area in
the wintertime," he said. "We suspect it would have been drier as well as

Their findings are reported in the Oct. 15 issue of Geophysical Research
Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.

The researchers analyzed the various isotopes of oxygen found in coral in
Puerto Rico.

Coral grows slowly over long periods of time and its shells include oxygen
from the time they were created. The ratio of one oxygen isotope to another
varies by temperature, allowing scientists to estimate the temperature at
the time the shell was made.

It's important to understand the role of the tropics during the Little Ice
Age, the researchers said, "because this region provides the primary source
of heat and water vapour to the atmosphere."

Cooler temperatures mean less evaporation and thus less vapour in the air
and fewer clouds.

Changes in climate worldwide over periods of years and centuries are
affected by how much heat and moisture are produced in the tropics. For
example, weather around the world has been disrupted over the last few years
by El Nino, as the warming phenomenon of the tropical Pacific Ocean is

In their paper, the scientists analyzed Caribbean temperatures at three
periods, 1700-1705, 1780-1785 and 1810-1815.

Copyright 2000, The Globe and Mail



From Konrad Ebisch <>

Dear Benny: 

Economics of space telescopes: 
I noted Pete Worden's statement that space-based observatories are not
expensive. But he did not emphasize one other point. There are about
720 hours in a month in which to use a telescope in space. The same
is true of a telescope on the ground. But the ground-based scope will
lose about half of these due to daylight, and half the rest will be
degraded due to moonlight, and some of the rest due to weather. So,
even at the best of sites, the earthly telescope will deliver about
80 percent less observing time than the one upstairs. 

Historical note: 
Recently I have read in your bulletin that the "venerable" 36 inch
telescope at the U. of Arizona is being pressed into use to find
asteroids. I have also read that tree-rings are being used to
chronicle such events as the disaster of 536 AD.  
The building of the 36 inch telescope, fifth largest in the world,
was principly the work of A. E. Douglass. 
The science of Dendrochronology was founded by A. E. Douglass. 
Reference:  Tree Rings and Telescopes: The Scientific Career of
A. E. Douglass (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1983).

Konrad Ebisch


From Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

Dear Benny Peiser,

The advice from Charles Mader quoted by Michael Paine below seems
to me in contradiction with the common belief that the collective impact
from a large fragmented asteroid is more harmful than a single blow
involving the undivided body. 
>From Michael Paine <>
>However, tsunami expert Charles Mader advises "Like asteroids smaller
>than 1 km, the La Palama landslide generated wave would have a short
>wavelength and a short period (less than 10 minutes) wave that would
>rapidly decay to a deep water wave before it got to US coasts.

If true indeed that objects smaller than 1km generate only limited damage
when smashing into a wide ocean, that certainly speaks in favour of using
nuclear force to break large impactors into smaller pieces (in lieu of more
refined methods aimed at deflection, of course).

Jens Kieffer-Olsen, M.Sc.(Elec.Eng.)
Slagelse, Denmark


From the BBC Online News, 15 October 2000

One in 10 would rather be dead, the survey says

Britons are more miserable and down-trodden than anyone previously dared
believe, a survey has said.

A large proportion are just plain exhausted by life
A quarter of the population fear a "hopeless future", one in three feels
"downright miserable", and one in 10 thinks he or she would be better off

The online survey by internet site involved 400 men and
women answering 80 questions to assess their emotional health.

A quarter said life was unfair, and more than one in 10 felt they had been
dealt a miserable lot which they were powerless to alter.

'One in four unhappy in job'

In the questions on work, one in four were unhappy in the job, while one in
three felt exhausted, unappreciated or underpaid.

In relationships, a quarter were unsatisfied with their sex lives. One in
six people in relationships felt unhappy sometimes or often.

Some 10% of men reported being emotionally, verbally or physically abused by
their partners - but for women the figure was only 6%.

Psychotherapist and agony aunt Christine Webber, who carried out the survey,
said: "It seems people's lives do not live up to their extremely high
expectations and it is particularly worrying to see so many people dwelling
on morbid thoughts, with a large proportion just plain exhausted by life."

Copyright 2000, BBC



400 self-selected respondents to an online survey and Britain is diagnosed
miserable? Hmm... what could be so depressing - the environment? Hardly. The
Thames has been transformed from the fetid, lifeless sewer it had been for
two centuries to a breeding haven for fish and wildlife over the last thirty
years - as have the majority of their water courses. Over the last 50 years
they have gone from killer fogs to more than acceptable city air quality.
Wildlife species are generally recovering and some are being reintroduced
after absences of centuries. Can't be the environment. Britain has gone from
post-war austerity to an era of plenty over the past 50 years, people have
sufficient disposable income and a wealth of toys and entertainment
available, they can choose from a bewildering array of foods from all parts
of the globe - enough to suit even the most jaded palate. Transport has
improved to the point where Britains can slip over to Paris for lunch if
they want to. The twentieth century has seen a shift from open sewers and
wood and coal cooking and heating to flick-of-the-switch convenience.
Healthy lifespans have increased literally by decades over the same period
and infectious disease reduced to a fraction of the threat it once posed.
There doesn't seem a lot here that should indicate cause for misery. So, 400
sad sacks fill out an online questionnaire and "it's official". Right...

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