CCNet 129/2002 - 11 November 2002
"American scientists want world bodies such as the United Nations to
start a campaign to rally countries to contribute funds for improving
Earth's defence against one of mankind's deadliest threats -
asteroids. The call came after scientists at the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (Nasa) held a workshop discussing a recent study which
found there is a one-in-five chance that an asteroid big enough to wipe
out an entire city will hit Earth in the next 100 years."
--The Straits Times (Singapore), 11 November 2002
"The asteroid threat is an international problem. But so far, Nasa
and the US Air Force seem to be the only organisations willing to devote
real resources to the issue."
--David Morrison, The Straits Times, 11 November 2002
"I can't take responsibility for [protecting the Earth from NEO
impacts] unless I have hydrogen bombs in my desk."
--Ed Weiler, The Straits Times, 11 November 2002
(1) 'TIME FOR A GLOBAL DEFENSE PLAN'
>From The Straits Times (Singapore), 11 November 2002
Warning of a threat from space, US scientists call for more funds to improve
Earth's defence against asteroids
By Tan Ooi Boon
AMERICAN scientists want world bodies such as the United Nations to start a
campaign to rally countries to contribute funds for improving Earth's
defence against one of mankind's deadliest threats - asteroids.
The call came after scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (Nasa) held a workshop discussing a recent study which found
there is a one-in-five chance that an asteroid big enough to wipe out an
entire city will hit Earth in the next 100 years.
This is one of the most serious threats that has been issued by Nasa to
Although Nasa has come a long way since it put a man on the moon in 1969,
what worries the scientists is that there is little the United States or any
other country can do to prevent or warn against an imminent asteroid strike
The call for an asteroid-defence strategy has become more urgent for Nasa in
recent months after scientists spotted a 2-km-wide asteroid heading towards
Earth's orbit in 2019.
Although this giant rock is likely to miss Earth, it is still viewed as a
In August, an asteroid about the size of 10 football fields flew past 'very
close' and it was even visible through binoculars and small telescopes.
If such rocks were to hit Earth, they could destroy cities and spur tsunamis
which could cause thousands of people to perish.
Nasa's asteroid expert David Morrison told The Straits Times that even with
today's technology, hundreds of asteroids which could pose a threat to
mankind remain undiscovered. 'If one of these rocks were to hit, the most
likely warning today would be zero. The first indication of a collision
would be the flash of light and the shaking of the ground as it hit,' he
When contacted in Washington by The Straits Times, Mr Morrison, who heads
the Nasa working group on asteroids, said the asteroid threat 'is an
'But so far, Nasa and the US Air Force seem to be the only organisations
willing to devote real resources to the issue,' he said.
The US government now allocates US$4 million (S$7 million) yearly for
asteroid studies but this is definitely not enough, he said.
Scientists estimate that US$3 billion would be required to work out a
25-year strategy to deflect space rocks.
In fact, the scientists say the responsibility of protecting Earth should
not just rest with the US or Nasa.
Mr Morrison's colleague, scientist Ed Weiler, said: 'I can't take
responsibility unless I have hydrogen bombs in my desk.'
They noted that one of the first measures that must be taken immediately is
to improve the technology to spot and locate all space rocks that will loom
close to Earth.
Said Mr Morrison: 'We can't protect against something we don't know exists.
If and when we find an asteroid that will collide with Earth in the future,
then I think we will be sufficiently motivated to find the funds to deal
with the problem.'
Dr Erik Asphaug, another scientist who took part in the Nasa workshop, said
he had an idea how to raise fund for the project. 'If you find someone with
tens of millions of dollars and name the mission after them, maybe that's
one way to go,' he said.
Copyright 2002, The Straits Times
(2) MOON HOAX IN THE NEWS AGAIN
>From The Bad Astronomy Newsletter Issue #27 (November 8, 2002)
November 8, 2002
When will this thing finally go away? Never, I guess. Once again, the Moon
hoax is in the news. First, NASA announced that it would be sponsoring
author and space historian James Oberg to write a book detailing the
problems with the hoax theory. A reporter for Knight Ridder (a syndicated
news agency) wrote about it and the story was widely picked up by the press.
Evidently the story made a bit of a splash; ABC TV news anchor Peter
Jennings commented on this on his nightly national news program, basically
making fun of the whole situation. Here is what he said:
"We didn't know that NASA had been so rattled by those people out there who
think the Apollo moon landings, all six of them, were faked. But yes, a
Gallup Poll in 1999 found six percent who thought they were. And yes, it's
only a few thousand dollars NASA wants to spend, doesn't begin to compare to
what a few politicians are spending just to get to Washington. But NASA has
actually hired a former aerospace engineer, who's now an author, to write a
book refuting the conspiracy theorists.
A professor of astronomy in California said he thought it was beneath NASA
's dignity to give these Twinkies the time of day. Now, that was his phrase,
by the way. We simply wonder about NASA."
I don't think NASA was all that "rattled"; they simply wanted to have a book
available to provide a tool to teachers to answer student questions about
the hoax. I talk to a *lot* of teachers, and many of them tell me that the
Fox TV show really got to a lot of students. They were happy to find info on
the web debunking the hoax theory, and in my opinion a book in school
libraries across the nation would be a great benefit to these educators. I
don't think Mr. Jennings' light-hearted comments helped much, though,
because I think it's a bit unfair about NASA's motivations.
Yes, the "professor of astronomy in California" is me (though I am not a
professor, but that's a different story). The "twinkies" comment was
referring to the promulgators of the hoax, not those who believe in it.
Also, the quotation is somewhat out of context; the full context is that
it's too bad that NASA has to do this *at all*, just as it's too bad I need
to debunk this theory in the first place on my own website. Believe me, I
really wish this nonsense didn't exist in the first place! I think it's
distracting people from the real vision of NASA, which is quite simply the
exploration of Earth and space.
Still, all this foofaraw was enough to spark the next circumstance: NASA
canceled the book project for fear of bad publicity. They felt that the
initial intent of the project -- to simply have an academic-style book about
the Moon landings and why they were real-- was lost in the media hype. They
feared that this was turning into a tabloid-like situation.
I know that NASA wants to make sure the truth gets out to people, and I
think it's great that they are interested in countering the Moon hoax. But
now I fear they may have done more damage than if they had simply ignored
the situation all along. "In for a penny, in for a pound" is an apt
expression here; once they decided to sponsor the book, they should have
stuck with it. Now it's too late. If they change their minds again they'll
What I do know for sure is that it will now be incrementally harder to
counter the kind of claptrap spewed by the hoax proponents.
The book would have been a very nice and much-needed volume that teachers
could have used in their classrooms. I know they use my site, as well as Jay
Windley's www.clavius.org site too. Students generally don't yet have (and
are usually never taught) the critical thinking skills necessary to see
through the hoax hokum, and teachers need all the ammo they can get.
James Oberg has said he will be pursuing funding to go ahead with the
project anyway. He has a lot of support from people, including me.
And if you think this issue is dying, think again: Reuters reporter Deb
Zabarenko wrote about the hoax a few days ago, and mentioned my website. In
three days my site had a quarter of a million hits. That's how many I
usually get in a month!
As long as this thing lasts, people like James, Jay and I will fight it.
Count on it.
You can read the original article by Mr. Borenstein in many places, but
Here is his follow-up article announcing the cancellation of the book:
More articles about this are all over the web. The BBC has one at
Ms. Zabarenko's article is everywhere, but here's one place:
A good place to read more info is the NASA Watch website:
And, as always, this topic and more are discussed with fervor on the
Bad Astronomy Bulletin Board:
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(3) RE: WHY MARS ROCK (DOESN'T) HIT EARTH EVERY MONTH (CCNet 128/2002 - 8
>From John Michael Williams <jwill@AstraGate.net>
The below is a totally confused approach. The problem may be reliance on a computer
program to do physics, but using inappropriate equations (apparently, fluid dynamics) for
The postulated shock (not "shock wave"; there is no wave in a hypervelocity
shock) cancellation can't persist longer than the shock, which would pass
any point too quickly to do anything but fluidize a rock hypothetically to
be accelerated to Martian escape speed.
Call the postulated cancellation layer the 0 layer.
As for the "pressure" below the postulated 0 layer, this pressure can not be
exerted by elements (atoms, molecules, or microcrystals) except by transfer of momentum
to the object being accelerated. Momentum can not be transferred except by elements
moving at speeds higher than that of the object, and the speed representing
the postulated "pressure" can not be developed greater than that of the
thermal motion at the temperature of the material below the postulated.
The pressure has to be thermal and not aerodynamic, because the aerodynamic
speed (of the shock) would destroy an object of any material known on Earth.
This last is proven in my paper
posted at http://publish.aps.org/eprint/gateway/eplist/aps1999jun25_002
But, thermal speeds exceeding Martian escape speed would represent
temperatures (for light gasses) around 100,000 K, which, if they occurred
near an object to be accelerated, would vaporize it as effectively as a
thermonuclear fireball. For heavier gasses of molecular mass m, the
temperature would have to be higher yet, according to kT = mv^2 => v =
K*sqrt(T/m), for K some secular constant.
In the paper above, I have shown that impact ejection from Mars can occur
for an intact rock only if the sound speed in the rock is uniformly above
about 7 km/s. There is no such rock, at least not one bigger than a tiny,
single, perfect crystal.
If the so-called Martian meteorites are of material from Mars, then their
structure must represent that of a material which cooled from a fluid state
in space, after ejection.
In my opinion, a more likely explanation is that some rock on the surface of
Mars, as well as the Martian meteorites, share a common origin OTHER THAN
the surface of the present planet Mars.
The rocks analyzed on the Martian surface by the Pathfinder mission bore no
resemblance to the so called "Martian Meteorites"; this suggests that the
Viking findings inspired a search for the wrong rock type in any case.
John Michael Williams
>From Space.com, 7 November 2002
Every month, on average, a rock from Mars lands on Earth. Most are never
found, but those that have been picked up suggest that the theory for how
they get here - having been booted from the Red Planet by very large
asteroid impacts - is not fully accurate.
(4) NEW WEB ADDRESSES FOR PLANETARY AUSTRALIAN VOLUNTEERS
>From Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The old WWW addresses for the Planetary Society Australian Volunteers are
giving problems. Here is a list of more reliable links regards
Home of Planetary Society Australian Volunteers
Australian Spaceguard Survey
SETI and Bioastronomy
Cosmic impacts and mass extinctions
Environmental consequences of asteroid impacts
Tsunami from asteroid impacts
Bibliography for 'Rocks in Space' series (Space.com)
Transpermia - exchange of life between planets via meteoroids
Many more links can be found on these pages.
(5) AND FINALLY: ERROR IN RISK ALERT TRIGGERS CONFUSION
>From The Daily Telegraph, 9 November 2002
'Clerical error' in terror alert confusion
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
A minor typographical error in a Whitehall document was being blamed for the
bungled "dirty bomb" terror alert from the Home Office, for which David
Blunkett apologised last night.
Officials apparently noticed the mistake in a statement about to be issued
by the Home Secretary, concerning the continuing threat posed by Islamic
Under pressure of time to deliver the document to the press gallery at the
House of Commons before Parliament rose for a brief recess, they substituted
an earlier version drawn up more than a week ago but not cleared by
About 15 of the unauthorised statements were sent out in error containing
dramatic warnings about the threat from radioactive "dirty bombs", poison
gas and exploding trains.
Government officials then recalled them and issued instead a more general
warning, prompting speculation that they were trying to cover up the alert
to avoid a panic.
Last night, Mr Blunkett said there had been a "simple clerical error",
though one for which he took responsibility.
"As the public would expect, anything that my department publishes -
intentionally - on a subject of such importance and sensitivity would be
carefully considered and cleared by me personally," he added.
"This was the case with the authentic final version. I wanted to use
language that people can understand but which is also an accurate reflection
of the information presented to me at any time. That and that alone is the
explanation for the difference between the two drafts."
Prof Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for Terrorism Studies at St Andrews
University said the threat from an attack using biological, chemical or
nuclear was real, if not imminent. "I suspect that really the reason for
[the document's] withdrawal was that they did not want to highlight specific
threats," he said. "They wanted to point out that the threat was from a
whole variety of tactics."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002.
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