PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 120/2001 - 15 November 2001
=================================


At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; and at my birth,
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward.
...
These signs have marked me extraordinary,
And all the courses of my life do show,
I am not in the roll of common men.
--William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Act iii, Scene 1,



"Dozens of families fled from their homes fearing they had been
struck by an earthquake when a meteor sped over their neighbourhood.
Terrified residents of Eyemouth and nearby Ayton, in the Borders,
alerted police after a massive bang shook their houses. Burglar
alarms and car alarms were set off, sparking fears the area had been hit by
an earthquake. But yesterday seismology experts revealed the normally quiet
towns had been rocked by a sonic boom from a passing meteorite. They
claimed a meteor entering the Earth's atmosphere at several times the
speed of sound had caused a shockwave which shook houses in the
area."
--Edinburgh News, 14 November 2001


(1) 'DIVINE INTERVENTION': ATMOSPHERIC IMPACT OVER SCOTLAND RATTLES IGNORANT
EU SCIENCE MINISTERS
    Ananova, 15 November 2001

(2) BOOMING SCARY: VILLAGERS TERRIFIED BY THE NOISE OF FALLING METEOR
    Daily Record, 15 November 2001

(3) BOOM TOWNS ROCKED BY QUAKE SCARE
    Edinburgh News, 14 November 2001

(4) SPACE POLICY NOT SERVING CITIZENS AS EU SCIENCE MINISTERS CONTINUE TO
IGNORE IMPACT HAZARD
    European Space Agency, 13 November 2001

(5) COMET DUST SHOWERS WORLD WITH LIGHT
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(6) FIRE IN THE SKY: STORMY PAST OF THE LEONID METEOR SHOWER
    Space.com, 14 November 2001

(7) NASA ENGINEERS TO TRACK AND SHARE LEONIDS DATA
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(8) NASA LEONIDS ACTIVITIES: SLEEPYHEADS MAY MISS SPECTACULAR CELESTIAL
DISPLAY
    NASA News <NASANews@hq.nasa.gov>

(9) METEORITE IS LINKED TO CULTURE DECLINES
    Los Angeles Times, 15 November 2001

(10) CHESAPEAKE BAY CRATER OFFERS CLUES TO ANCIENT CATACLYSM
     National Geographic News, 13 November 2001

(11) LIGHTS IN THE SKY & APOCALYPTIC MOVEMENTS
     John Michael <jm@morien-institute.org >

(12) PLANETARY PROTECTION ACTIVITY AND PLEA FOR HELP FOR THE MPC
     Andy Smith <astrosafe@yahoo.com>

(13) KHIMA = PLEIADES?
     Leroy Ellenberger <cleroy1@yahoo.com>

(14) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: MASS EXTINCTIONS MAY BE A MYTH, CLAIM SCIENTISTS
- OH, YES, AND ROCKS CAN'T FALL FROM THE SKY EITHER ...
     Space Daily, 13 November 2001

(15) AND FINALLY, THE CYNICS ARE BACK: OH, HAPPY DAY - WE'RE DREAMING UP
PROBLEMS
     Pioneer Planet, 14 November 2001

================
(1) 'DIVINE INTERVENTION': ATMOSPHERIC IMPACT OVER SCOTLAND RATTLES IGNORANT
EU SCIENCE MINISTERS

>From Ananova, 15 November 2001
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_449682.html?menu=news.scienceanddiscovery

Villagers have fled from their homes as a falling meteor produced a sonic
boom as it broke the sound barrier.

Residents in Eyemouth, Scotland, thought it was an earthquake.

The shockwave set off burglar and car alarms. Locals called police but
no-one was hurt.

Experts say the meteor caused a sonic boom entering the Earth's atmosphere
at several times the speed of sound.

Bennett Simpson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey Centre,
in Edinburgh, said such incidents were often mistaken for earthquakes.

He said: "We have had reports of a number of unusual effects felt in the
area. But this was not an earthquake. It is consistent with a meteor
entering the Earth's atmosphere. It can be quite frightening."

John Sinclair, from Ayton near to Eyemouth, said he had been watching
television when his house was rocked by the boom, reports the Daily Record.

"There was a loud thud and then everything began to shake," he said. "I
could hear car alarms going off as well. It was quite frightening. We didn't
know what had happened."

The Earth will begin to cut across the orbit of Comet Temple-Tuttle and into
a blizzard of meteors later this week.

The shower known as the Leonids, is an annual event but this year Earth will
cut across an especially dense part of it. The most spectacular views will
be over the Pacific Ocean.

Copyright 2001, Ananova

============
(2) BOOMING SCARY: VILLAGERS TERRIFIED BY THE NOISE OF FALLING METEOR

>From Daily Record, 15 November 2001
http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/shtml/NEWS/P11S4.shtml

DOZENS of families fled their homes - fearing they had been struck by an
earthquake.

But the massive bang that shook their houses turned out to be the sound of a
falling meteor.

The space rock's shockwave set off burglar and car alarms.

Terrified villagers in Eyemouth and nearby Ayton, Berwickshire, alerted
police.

But yesterday, experts claimed the sonic boom had been caused by a meteor
entering the Earth's atmosphere at several times the speed of sound.

Bennett Simpson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey Centre,
in Edinburgh, said such incidents were often mistaken for earthquakes.

He said: "We have had reports of a number of unusual effects felt in the
area. But this was not an earthquake. It is consistent with a meteor
entering the Earth's atmosphere.

"Something similar happened in Scotland a number of years ago and the
reports were similar. It can be quite frightening."

John Sinclair, from Ayton, said he had been watching television when his
house was rocked by the boom at about 9pm on Tuesday. He said: "There was a
loud thud and then everything began to shake.

"I could hear car alarms going off as well - it was quite frightening
really. We didn't know what had happened."

The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh said they had no knowledge of a meteor
passing over Scotland.

But speculation that the boom may have been caused by an aircraft going
supersonic was ruled out yesterday.

The RAF said there was a ban on any jets going faster than the speed of
sound over the UK

Copyright 2001, Daily Record, 15 November 2001

============
(3) BOOM TOWNS ROCKED BY QUAKE SCARE

>From Edinburgh News, 14 November 2001
http://www.edinburghnews.com/searchresults.cfm?id=EN01191708

DOZENS of families fled from their homes fearing they had been struck by an
earthquake when a meteor sped over their neighbourhood.

Terrified residents of Eyemouth and nearby Ayton, in the Borders, alerted
police after a massive bang shook their houses.

Burglar alarms and car alarms were set off, sparking fears the area had been
hit by an earthquake.

But yesterday seismology experts revealed the normally quiet towns had been
rocked by a sonic boom from a passing meteorite.

They claimed a meteor entering the Earth's atmosphere at several times the
speed of sound had caused a shockwave which shook houses in the area.

Bennett Simpson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey centre in
Edinburgh, said : "We have had reports of a number of unusual effects felt
in the Berwickshire area.

"People reported windows rattling, houses shaking and car alarms going off.

"This was not an earthquake, though, and is consistent with a sonic event,
either from an aircraft going supersonic or a meteor entering the Earth's
atmosphere.

"Something similar happened in Scotland a number of years ago . It can be
quite frightening. "

Lothian and Borders Police today confirmed reports of the sonic boom. A
spokesman said: "We received a number of calls from concerned residents in
the Eyemouth area reporting a loud bang and shaking.

"The British Geological Survey were contacted and they confirmed it had been
a sonic event, possibly caused by a meteor."

Copyright 2001 The Scotsman Publications Ltd

=============
(4) SPACE POLICY NOT SERVING CITIZENS AS EU SCIENCE MINISTERS CONTINUE TO
IGNORE IMPACT HAZARD

>From the European Space Agency, 13 November 2001
http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/ESARDZZK0TC_index_0.html

ESA Info 10-2001. On 14 and 15 November, the ministers responsible for space
activities in the fifteen ESA member states and Canada gather in Edinburgh
to set the course for Europe's space programmes over the period ahead. They
will be invited to endorse the next stages of a series of ongoing programmes
and to commit to the start of new programmes that will keep Europe at the
forefront of space activities.
 
With Europe's evolving geopolitical role and the increasing recognition of
space as a strategic instrument for carrying out its policies and improving
the overall quality of life for European citizens, ESA is seeking to pursue
its goals in closer cooperation with the European Union.
This ESA Council meeting at ministerial level will be instrumental in
implementing policies that will lend direction to and consolidate the
evolution of the public space sector and in confirming the mandate given to
ESA to develop further towards becoming the space agency for the European
Union. The meeting will also be taking decisions on specific activities that
will create knowledge, provide services for the benefit of the people, and
secure Europe's position in space so that it can make the fullest possible
use of its potential over the long term.

Political objectives and plans for the future of the European space sector
will be set out in a resolution entitled "Space serving European citizens".

Full programme at http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/ESARDZZK0TC_index_0.html

---
MODERATOR'S NOTE: Regrettably, the meeting's programme does not include any
discussion of Europe's notorious indifference towards international NEO
search efforts or the UK Task Force Report on NEOs. As long as this
ignorance continues, the EU's resolution entitled "Space serving European
citizens" will remain little more than spin on an abysmal failure of
political leadership. But then what else should one expect of Europe's lack
of vision and paralysing bureaucracy? BJP
 
===============
(5) COMET DUST SHOWERS WORLD WITH LIGHT

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

Department of Communications and Public Affairs
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario

Media Contact:
Carmen Kinniburgh
Communications and Public Affairs
(519) 661-2111, ext. 85165

November 12, 2001

Comet Dust Showers World with Light

Thousands of falling stars will brighten the night sky this month as Earth
passes through debris from a comet that crossed our solar system more than
three years ago.

The Leonid meteor shower, named for the constellation Leo from which they
appear to radiate, happens every year on or about November 17. Researchers
at The University of Western Ontario will watch the annual display from all
corners of the globe as part of their continuing studies on meteor
phenomena.

Since 1997, the Meteor Physics Group at Western has studied the Leonids to
develop accurate forecasts of meteor shower severity and timing. Using
real-time reporting, the team has provided forecasts of the shower's
activities to satellite operators around the world during the peak night,
including NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Department of
National Defense, and the United States Space Command.

This year, the Western researchers are hoping to identify which of the
various forecasting models are best at predicting the intensity of the
Leonid storms.

"The models get better every year," says Peter Brown, a professor in the
Department of Physics and Astronomy at Western, and manager of the Leonids
project. "When we first began our work, we had no idea when the showers
would happen or how severe they would be. Now we have established the
timing, but we still want to be able to predict the number of meteors that
will fall each hour."

The shower occurs because Earth is hurtling through a path of dust particles
left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which last passed through the inner solar
system in 1998. The particles, or meteoroids, move so quickly they can
puncture solar panels, smash mirrors and short-out electronics on any of the
more than 500 satellites in orbit around the planet.

The Western team, as part of a contract with NASA, will observe this year's
shower from sites in Mongolia, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico, Florida and
Alabama. The shower will be recorded from each location with high
sensitivity video cameras the team developed. A meteor radar system unique
to Western will also record the event from campus.

"The cameras are much like security cameras, but just very sensitive to
light," says Margaret Campbell, a PhD student in the Department of Physics
and Astronomy and an expert in application of video technology to meteor
observations. "The information we get from them is critical to agencies like
NASA because of the significant risk to spacecraft and satellites during the
meteor shower. We'll capture the event, improve our models with the new data
and that will give satellite operators a better idea of what could happen
next year."

In addition to Western's model, other predictions have been made for the
shower by research teams in the United Kingdom and Finland. Many of the
models predict a severe shower this year, with up to 10,000 meteors falling
per hour, says Brown.

"Unlike some academic models, the meteor forecasts have a truth test
attached to it. We actually made a public statement of our predictions this
year by publishing them in a peer reviewed journal, so now we'll have some
fun with our colleagues finding out who is right."

The Leonids meteor shower should be visible from Southern Ontario this year
under dark, clear skies on the night of Saturday, November 17 and the
morning of Sunday, November 18.

                           - 30 -

Peter Brown and Margaret Campbell can be reached at the Los Alamos National
Laboratory in New Mexico at (505) 665-7134 until Friday, November 16. On
November 17 and 18, they can be reached at the Apache Point Observatory at
(505) 437-6822. Peter Jedicke, spokesperson for the Western Leonid project
and Honorary President of the London Centre of the Royal Astronomical
Society of Canada, can be reached at (519) 474-5899.

==============
(6) FIRE IN THE SKY: STORMY PAST OF THE LEONID METEOR SHOWER

>From Space.com, 14 November 2001
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/leonids_1833_011114.html

By Wil Milan
Special to SPACE.com

The Leonid meteor shower of 1833 is an event of lore. People woke to a sky
that seemed ablaze with streaks of light that were inexplicable to the
average person of the time. Some astronomers predict 2001 will be bring a
another storm of meteors. But history shows that the Leonids are fickle.
Where do they come from? And what happened in 1833? The following article
has been adapted slightly from one that first appeared in 1999.

Zoom!

Imagine that you are driving at 60 miles per hour down a rural highway.
Unbeknownst to you, a swarm of bees is crossing the highway just ahead of
you. In the blink of an eye your vehicle plows right through the middle of
the swarm, and in that instant dozens of bees are splattered over the front
of your car.

Had you arrived at that point on the highway only seconds later, you would
have encountered only the trailing portion of the swarm and struck only a
few bees. Had you been even later than that you might only have hit one or
two stragglers and missed the main swarm altogether.

Striking a few bees with your car is not a big deal, and we wouldn't give it
much thought. But much the same thing happens on much larger scale, not with
your car, but with the entire Earth. The Earth travels around the Sun at a
tremendous speed, over 100,000 kilometers per hour (about 67,000 miles per
hour or about 18 miles per second).

The space through which the Earth travels is largely empty, so there is not
much for the Earth to hit as it speeds along. But it is not totally empty;
there are scattered bits of dust and the occasional little rock, and when
the Earth collides with one the dust grain or small rock plows into the
atmosphere at a combined speed sometimes reaching hundreds of kilometers per
second.

At that speed the friction of the object passing through the atmosphere is
so intense that the tiny object is instantly heated to many thousands of
degrees. The heat is so intense that the tiny grains of dust are completely
burned up in a fraction of a second, leaving only a momentary bright streak
and a bit of vaporized ash floating in the air. If it were night and had you
been looking in the sky at that moment you would have seen what is sometimes
called a "shooting star," the flash of a meteor burning itself out in the
upper atmosphere. On any given night under dark skies you can see a dozen or
more bright meteors, heaven's reward for having your eyes on the sky.

Bigger swarms

But sometimes the Earth encounters not just random bits of dust, but a more
concentrated swarm. In those cases many more than a dozen meteors will be
seen, and the rate at which meteors are seen may rise to 30, 50, even over
100 per hour. These are called meteor showers, and they are recurring events
that take place at the same time each year. Thus the Lyrids meteor shower
occurs in April 21-22 of each year, the Perseids on August 11-12, the
Leonids take place the night of Nov. 17-18 each year, the Geminids on
December 13-14, and so on.

(The names "Lyrids," "Perseids," etc. refer to the constellation from which
the meteors appear to originate. The Lyrids appear to come from the
constellation Lyra, the Perseids from Perseus, etc. They don't really come
from the constellation, of course; it's only an optical illusion due to the
combined directions of travel of the meteors and the Earth.)

The reason that the dates of meteor showers remain the same from year to
year is that on those dates the Earth reaches points in its orbit where
there are known concentrations of space dust and debris. These bits of dust
and debris are not stationary -- nothing in space is truly stationary -- but
they are in orbit about the Sun in a racetrack pattern, just as the Earth
follows its own "racetrack" around the Sun. But because the two "racetracks"
cross each other, each year when the Earth reaches the point where the
orbits of the Earth and the dust swarm cross each other, the Earth plows
through the thin trail of dust and for a few hours we see more meteors in
the sky.

The source of the swarms

What causes these "racetrack" trails of dust is comets. Comets are clumps of
dust and ice a few miles across and they are very loosely held together. As
they travel in their orbits about the Sun they are continually scattering
dust and debris in their wake, and over time the path of their orbits become
one continuous trail of thin dust and debris. The orbits of most comets
don't cross the Earth's orbit, but when one does then the Earth, in
subsequent years, will cross the dust trail of the comet and a meteor shower
will occur at that point each year.

Thus it is that every meteor shower is believed to be associated with a
comet. In some cases the parent comet of a meteor shower can be clearly
identified: The Perseids appear to be associated with comet Swift-Tuttle,
the Leonids with comet Tempel-Tuttle, and both the Orionids and Eta Aquarids
meteor showers appear to be associated with Comet Halley (because the Earth
crosses Halley's orbit in two places). In some cases the parent comet is
unknown and believed to be long extinct, but the dust trail remains to mark
its former orbit.

A near miss

So what would happen if the Earth did not cross the comet's trail far back
from the comet, but rather very close behind the comet? In other words, what
if we crossed the comet's orbit right after the comet had just passed?
Obviously we would be passing fairly close to the comet, and there would be
more comet dust and debris to encounter.

What happens in those cases is that the meteor shower that would normally
take place becomes much more intense. The meteor rate may increase from one
or two a minute to tens or hundreds of meteors per minute, and there have
been instances when hundreds of meteors per second have been seen for short
periods of time.

Those very rare cases where the rate reaches dozens or hundreds per minute
are known as "meteor storms," and the meteor storm that is credited with
launching the modern study of meteors occurred during the Leonids meteor
shower on the night of Nov. 12-13, 1833. Meteor storms had been observed
before, and just the year before the Leonids had put on a spectacular show,
with one observer in Boston counting over 8,000 meteors in only 15 minutes.

But what occurred when the Leonids returned in 1833 was far beyond what
anyone had ever seen or even imagined possible. For several hours over the
United States there was a continual blaze of thousands and thousands of
meteors at a time. One estimate was that over 240,000 meteors fell during
that period, so many meteors in the sky at a time that many people were
woken from their beds and stared at the sky in panic, believing the sky to
be on fire. Many feared that it was the end of the world and dreaded what
they would see at daybreak.

At daybreak, of course, everything was back to normal. Hollywood movies
notwithstanding, meteors typically vaporize in the atmosphere, a few drop
harmlessly to the ground, and there is only one known incident in history
when a meteor struck someone (and she only got a bruise from it). The only
living thing ever known to have been killed by a meteor was a very unlucky
dog in Egypt many years ago. You are more likely to be struck by lightning
seven times in a row than to be hit by a meteor.

The show returns

When the Leonids returned in 1834 it was again a good meteor show, but
nothing like the sky-on-fire spectacle of 1833. The great meteor storm was
back 33 years later in 1866. Astronomers predicted that the meteor storm
would return every 33 years, but it failed to materialize in 1899 or 1933.

Astronomers began to think that perhaps the great meteor storms would not be
repeated, but right on time in 1966 the great meteor storm was back,
particularly over the western United States. During a peak period which
lasted less than an hour there were hundreds of meteors in the sky at once,
and rates as high as 40 per second were observed.

Orbital observations by then had pinpointed the source of the meteor storm
as Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which has a 33-year orbit. Those occasions when the
meteor storm occurred were linked with times when the Earth had passed close
behind the comet in its orbit. But the theory is not fully worked out;
though there clearly is a link with the comet's position, there is no good
explanation why there was no meteor shower when we passed close to the comet
in 1899 and 1933.

No one can say exactly what will happen in 2001, with some experts
predicting a strong shower and possibly a full meteor storm in some
locations. Other experts are not so sure.

Wil Milan is an astrophotographer who has contributed other astronomy
articles to SPACE.com.

Copyright 2001, Space.com

==============
(7) NASA ENGINEERS TO TRACK AND SHARE LEONIDS DATA

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

Steve Roy
Media Relations Department
Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville, AL
(256) 544-0034
steve.roy@msfc.nasa.gov

For Release: Nov. 13, 2001

Release: 01-350
                          
Across the globe and around the clock, NASA engineers to track and
share Leonids data

>From Mongolia to Maui, researchers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville, Ala., will use special cameras to scan the skies and report
meteor activity around the clock during the Nov. 17-18 Leonids shower.

>From six key points on the globe, they will record and transmit their
observations to the Marshall Center's Leonid Environment Operations Center
-- a data clearinghouse that will provide meteor updates in near real-time
intervals through the NASA Web site: http://SpaceWeather.com
a website sponsored by science@nasa.gov.

Led by the Engineering Directorate at the Marshall Center, the effort is
part of a long-term goal to protect spacecraft such as NASA's Chandra X-ray
Observatory from dazzling -- but potentially damaging -- meteoroids.

"We're collecting this data to analyze and refine our meteor forecasting
techniques," said Dr. Rob Suggs, the Leonid Environment Operations Center
team leader. "If we can better determine where, when and how the meteors
will strike, we can take protective measures to prevent or minimize damage
to our spacecraft."

Those protective measures can range from turning a satellite so its most
sensitive surface faces the direction of minimal exposure, to shutting down
a spacecraft's electronic operations until the storm has passed.

"Good planning is essential, because in many cases, your only opportunity to
protect the spacecraft is before the first meteor strikes," Suggs said. "For
example, Chandra's orbit takes it one third of the way to the Moon, and its
flight plans are uploaded days ahead of time. Once a meteor storm has
begun, it's often too late to do anything about it."

Even though today's satellites are engineered to withstand daily meteoroid
strikes, the risk of damage is a bit different for high-speed meteoroid
streams, according to Dr. Jeff Anderson of Marshall's Engineering
Directorate.

"The 'plasma effect' is more important," he said. "When a meteoroid hits a
satellite, it can heat the impact site to thousands of degrees Kelvin --
rivaling the surface temperature of the Sun. The entire meteoroid is
vaporized along with a tiny bit of the spacecraft."

Considering that meteors are only about the size of a grain of sand, their
potential for damage can be surprising. Their speed must also be considered.
"They're small, but they move very fast -- about 45 miles per second (71
kilometers per second)," said Dr. Bill Cooke of the Marshall Center, who --
along with researchers at the University of Western Ontario in London,
Ontario -- generated one of the primary meteor forecast models NASA is
evaluating.

According to Cooke's forecast, sky-gazers could see up to 1,400 meteors per
hour if they are away from city lights, where the sky is dark enough to see
the faint, as well as more brilliant, meteors. In the Eastern United
States, the shower is predicted to peak near dawn, while in the Western
United States, it is expected to peak around 2 a.m. PST.

A Leonid shower happens every year when Earth passes close to the orbit of
the Comet Tempel-Tuttle and the debris left in the comet's path. This year
it is expected to be exceptionally strong because of the timing and position
of the comet tails.

The material crossing Earth's path this year was ejected from the comet at
least 100 years ago. Meteor viewers in the United States, for example, will
see material ejected from the comet in 1766 -- a decade before the country
was founded.

The NASA researchers, along with colleagues from the University of Western
Ontario and the U.S. Air Force, will monitor the storm from six locations,
each selected based on meteor forecasts and the area's climate. Sites
include Huntsville, Ala.; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Maui, Hawaii; Sunspot,
N.M.; the U.S. Territory of Guam, and the Gobi Dessert in Mongolia.

Thanks to special equipment, the monitoring team has the capability to
detect meteors the visual observer may miss. Using special image-
intensified cameras that can detect faint objects even in low-light
conditions, the researchers will monitor the shower, using the video screens
as windows to the skies. Every hour, the teams will relay their observations
to the Marshall control center, helping to paint a comprehensive picture of
the meteor storm.

Another tool at Marshall's disposal is "forward-scatter radar" -- a system
built by Suggs, Cooke and Anderson to monitor near-Earth meteoroid activity
around the clock.

"Our system is pretty simple," said Suggs. "We use an antenna and
computer-controlled shortwave receiver to listen for 67 MHz signals from
distant TV stations."

The transmitters are over the horizon and normally out of range. But when a
meteor streaks overhead the system records a brief ping -- the echo of a TV
signal bouncing off the meteor's trail. Like the cameras, this system is
capable of detecting meteors too dim to see with the
unaided eye.

The Marshall Center has provided Leonid forecast information to dozens of
spacecraft operators to help prepare for this year's meteor shower. "More
importantly, by comparing the meteor shower predictions to the actual meteor
counts, we are laying the groundwork to improve forecasts in the future,"
said Suggs.

IMAGE CAPTION:
[http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/news/photos/2001/photos01-350.htm]
>From left, NASA engineers Dr. Bill Cooke, Dr. Jeff Anderson and Dr. Rob
Suggs discuss the meteoroid approach angles at the Leonid Environment
Operations Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
During the Nov. 17-18 Leonid shower, sky-gazers could see up to 1,400
meteors per hour if they are away from city lights, where the sky is dark
enough to see the faint, as well as more brilliant, meteors. In the Eastern
United States, the shower is predicted to peak near dawn, while in the
Western United States, it is expected to peak around 2 a.m. PST. A Leonid
shower happens every year when Earth passes close to the orbit of the Comet
Tempel-Tuttle and the debris left in the comet's path. Credit: NASA/Marshall
Space Flight Center/Emmett Given

==============
(8) NASA LEONIDS ACTIVITIES: SLEEPYHEADS MAY MISS SPECTACULAR CELESTIAL
DISPLAY

>From NASA News <NASANews@hq.nasa.gov>

Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington, DC              Nov. 14, 2001
Phone: 202/358-1753

RELEASE: 01-222

NASA LEONIDS ACTIVITIES: SLEEPYHEADS MAY MISS SPECTACULAR CELESTIAL DISPLAY

Early birds may catch more than their proverbial worms this week. In the
predawn hours of Sunday, Nov.18, the annual Leonid meteor shower may put on
one of its best shows in decades, according to various scientists modeling
the expected Leonid activity this year.

"It's time to set your alarm clocks and get yourself out under a dark sky,"
said Dr. Donald Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object program office, at
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This could be the last
opportunity for watching an impressive meteor storm in a dark sky for
decades to come."

Meteors, also called shooting stars, are really streaks of light that flash
across the sky as bits of dust and rock in space collide with the Earth's
upper atmosphere and vaporize. The Leonid shower appears every year around
Nov. 17 or 18 as the Earth intersects the orbit of comet Tempel-Tuttle and
runs into streams of dust shed by the comet. Best viewing times this year
are predicted to be the early morning hours of November 18, with the peak
activity expected around 5 a.m. EST.

They are called Leonid meteors for the direction in the sky from which they
appear to originate -- the constellation Leo. Because the stream of comet
dust hits the Earth almost head-on, the Leonids are among the fastest
meteors around -- they zip silently across the sky at 44 miles per second.
Every so often, the Earth passes through an especially dense clump of dust
from Tempel-Tuttle, and a truly spectacular meteor storm occurs -- the great
Leonid storm of 1966 produced 150,000 meteors per hour.

Four NASA centers -- Marshall Space Flight Center,  Huntsville, Ala.;
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Ames Research Center, Moffett
Field, Calif.; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. -- have
activities scheduled around this year's meteor shower.

At Marshall, researchers will use special cameras to scan the skies and
report meteor activity around the clock Nov. 17 and 18. From six key points
on the globe, they will record and transmit their observations to Marshall's
Leonid Environment Operations Center, a data clearinghouse that will provide

meteor updates in near real-time through: http://www.SpaceWeather.com -- a
Web site sponsored by science@nasa.gov.

"We're collecting this data to analyze and refine our meteor-forecasting
techniques," said Dr. Rob Suggs, the Leonid Environment Operations Center
team leader. "If we can better determine where, when and how the meteors
will strike, we can take protective measures to prevent or minimize damage
to our spacecraft."

The researchers, along with colleagues from the University of Western
Ontario in Canada and the U.S. Air Force, will monitor the storm from six
locations, Huntsville, Ala.; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Maui, Hawaii;
Sunspot, N.M.; the U.S. Territory of Guam; and the Gobi Dessert in Mongolia.
Each location was selected based on meteor forecasts and the area's climate.

The monitoring team also has the capability to detect meteors the casual
observer may miss. Using special image-intensified cameras that can detect
faint objects even in low-light conditions, the researchers will monitor the
shower, using the video screens as windows to the skies.  Every hour, the
teams will relay their observations to the Marshall control center, helping
to paint a comprehensive picture of the meteor storm.

Most Leonid particles are the size of dust grains, and will vaporize very
high in the atmosphere, so they present no threat to people on the ground or
even in airplanes. However, there is a slight chance that a satellite could
be damaged if it were hit by a Leonid meteor. The meteors are too small to
simply blow up a satellite. However, the Leonids are moving so fast they
vaporize on impact, forming a cloud of electrified gas called plasma. Since
plasma can carry an electric current, there is a risk that a
Leonid-generated plasma cloud could cause a short circuit in a satellite,
damaging sensitive electronic components.

Goddard Space Flight Center is responsible for controlling many satellites
for NASA and other organizations and is taking precautions to mitigate the
risk posed by the Leonids. These include pointing instrument apertures away
from the direction of the Leonid stream, closing the doors on
instruments where possible, turning down high voltages on systems to prevent
the risk of a short circuit, and positioning satellites to minimize the
cross-section exposed to the Leonids.

Goddard controls or manages 21 satellites in the earth and space sciences.
It also manages NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System
constellation, which is controlled from White Sands, N.M.

At Ames, meteor experts Dr. David Morrison, chief scientist at NASA's
Astrobiology Institute, and Dr. Scott Sanford, a NASA planetary scientist,
will be available Friday, Nov. 16, at Ames for media interviews about the
Leonid meteor storm.

The scientists will discuss NASA's airborne mission to study the Leonids,
the danger the meteors could pose to satellites, recent Leonid prediction
models and the latest research, which suggests that meteors may have played
a role in the origin of life.
 
On Nov. 18, a team of 19 astrobiologists from five countries will depart
from southern California's Edwards Air Force Base on an NKC-135 research
aircraft to keep an eye on the sky for satellite operators and to study the
processes that may have jump-started life on Earth. The 418th Flight Test
Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base operates the research aircraft, which
flew previous Leonid Multi-instrument Airborne Campaign (MAC) missions in
1998 and 1999 over Japan and Europe.

Many scientists think meteors might have showered the Earth with the
molecules necessary for life's origin. "We are eager to get another chance
to find clues to the puzzling question of 'What happens to the organic
matter brought in by the meteoroids?'" said Dr. Michael Meyer, lead
scientist for astrobiology at NASA Headquarters, Washington, which is
sponsoring the airborne observing mission.

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future
of life in the universe. Ames is NASA's lead center for astrobiology and the
location of the central offices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, an
international research consortium.

Information about the Leonid Multi-instrument Airborne Campaign (MAC) and
live Leonid coverage are available at: http://leonid.arc.nasa.gov/ or
http://www-space.arc.nasa.gov/~leonid/

Observers can calculate local meteor rates using their home computers via:
http://www.space.arc.nasa.gov/~leonid/fluxestimator.html
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will host a webcast with Yeomans
explaining what the Leonids are and how to see them on the JPL Web site at:
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

NASA TV will broadcast live commentary and video of the Leonids from 12:30
a.m. to 6 a.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 18. The broadcast, originating from
Marshall, will feature live video of the Leonids meteor shower provided by a
video camera with enhanced images and animation. If weather and cloud cover
inhibit observation, the broadcast will be cancelled and regular programming
resumed.

NOTE TO EDITORS: More information on Leonids activities at specific NASA
Centers is available from: Steve Roy, Marshall Space Flight Center, at:
256/544-6535; Bill Steigerwald, Goddard Space Flight Center, at:
301/286-5017; Kathleen Burton, Ames Research Center, at: 650/604-1731;
Martha Heil, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at: 818/354-0850.

=============
(9) METEORITE IS LINKED TO CULTURE DECLINES
 
>From Los Angeles Times, 15 November 2001
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-000090548nov12.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Dscience
     
A meteorite crashing into the Mideast may provide an explanation for why so
many early cultures went into a sudden decline about 2300 BC, according to
geologist Sharad Master of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
The Akkad culture of central Iraq and the 5th Dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom
are among the cultures that suffered at the time.

Satellite photographs reveal the presence of what appears to be a crater
about two miles in diameter in the Al'Amarah region, about 10 miles
northwest of the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Master
reported in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. The area would have
been a shallow sea about 4,000 years ago.

* Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

=================
(10) CHESAPEAKE BAY CRATER OFFERS CLUES TO ANCIENT CATACLYSM

>From National Geographic News, 13 November 2001
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/11/1113_chesapeakcrater.html

Hillary Mayell

About 35 million years ago-the dinosaurs are dead, but the Appalachian
Mountains are still covered in tropical rain forests-a rock from space that
was more than a mile wide and moving at supersonic speed crashed into the
Atlantic Ocean off North America.

Traveling at about 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) an hour, the asteroid
or comet (bolide) splashed through several hundred feet of water and several
thousand feet of mud and sediment.
  
Drilling for Knowledge

A trailer hauls drilling rods the U.S. Geological Survey used to obtain core
samples from a crater near Hampton, Virginia, that was created when a comet
or asteroid crashed 35 million years ago.

Billions of tons of ocean water were propelled into the air as high as 30
miles (48 kilometers) and vaporized. Millions of tons of debris and rocks
were ejected into the atmosphere. The incident incinerated everything along
the East Coast, triggered gigantic tsunamis, and decimated marine life in
the surrounding area.

For millions of years the crater lay buried in the southern part of the
Chesapeake Bay and surrounding peninsulas, more than a thousand feet (300
meters) beneath sand, silt, and clay. Scientists discovered it in 1983 and
have been studying it ever since.

For the past two summers, researchers have been extracting core samples from
deep inside the crater. The core material is beginning to provide the
answers to a lot of questions about the crater and its effects in the
region.

"We're finding things that are giving us an idea of the heat and power at
the time of impact-partially melted algae fossils, completely shattered
rocks, lots of basin fragments, fractured and tilted seabeds," said David
Powars, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Powars and C. Wylie Poag, a USGS colleague, presented some of the results of
their research earlier this month in Boston at the annual meeting of the
Geological Society of America.

"It's pretty exciting," Powars said. "In every direction there's new data.
Wylie and I are like two kids with candy."

Unusual Geologic Conditions

The new findings offer greater insight into geological and hydrological
conditions of the Chesapeake area and eastern Virginia that have puzzled
scientists for more than a century.

The land is sinking, erosion patterns are unusual, and earthquakes have
occurred in this region not known for earthquakes. The groundwater in some
areas of the region is salty, and three rivers in the area have abrupt-and
highly unusual-90-degree turns.

One thing the core samples show, according to Powars, is that the roughly
circular crater is much bigger and deeper than originally thought.

When it hit, the asteroid or comet "fractured the crystalline bedrock below
to at least a depth of 7 miles (11 kilometers) and a width of 85 miles (137
kilometers). This was a big hit," he said.

Earlier estimates had suggested the crater was about a mile deep (1.3
kilometers) and 53 miles (85 kilometers) wide.

The impact of the bolide disturbed the normal layering of sediment, rocks,
and aquifers, and water from many of the wells in the region is salty or
brackish.

Utility companies in eastern Virginia are funding some of Powars' work
because the findings have a direct bearing on the search for fresh ground
water needed to supply growing populations in the region.

Linked With Extinction?

Scientists have long suspected that the heat from the impact incinerated
every living thing within hundreds of miles. The core drilling has revealed
a zone of silt that is devoid of signs of indigenous life, lending credence
to that hypothesis, said Poag.

Poag believes the impact could have influenced an extinction that occurred
about 33 million years ago.

The early Oligocene extinction dramatically affected land mammals. Forest
dwellers declined as forested habitat became less abundant, while hoofed
animals flourished as a result of increasing temperate grasslands. A number
of predators also became extinct at this time, mainly because of changes in
vegetation.

The asteroid or comet that struck the area that later became the Chesapeake
Bay may be evidence of a 2 million-year-long comet shower that scientists
think may have occurred between 36 and 34 million years ago.

An even bigger crater in Popigai, northern Siberia, was created at about the
same time. Scientists also have found traces of helium 3, an isotope
associated with extraterrestrial objects, in sediment layers in Massignano,
Italy, and other places dating to 35 million years ago.

"Global paleo-temperatures during the early Eocene show the world was
getting cooler," said Poag. "Around 35 million years ago, at the end of the
Eocene, there was a warm pulse, and for a short period of time the Earth
warmed. Then beginning at around 34 million years ago the Earth cooled very
rapidly. At 33.4 million years ago there was a major extinction event."

The aftermath of the bolide collision, Poag said, would have been prolonged
darkness and acid rain caused by the fallout of rocks, dust, and particles
that were blasted into the atmosphere, along with the residual effects of
raging wildfires.

These conditions, he suggests, would cause the abrupt cooling of Earth,
leading to the extinction that eventually occurred.

The National Geographic Society provided funding for this research in the
past.

Copyright 2001, National Geographic
 
============================
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
============================

(11) LIGHTS IN THE SKY & APOCALYPTIC MOVEMENTS

>From John Michael <jm@morien-institute.org >

Dear Benny,

Having just got in from a spot of skywatching (02:29 UT), I read the latest
CCNet Special: "Comets, Meteors & Myth", and it brought to mind a recent
train of thought.

I'd been researching 'astronomical symbolism' in past Welsh affairs, and a
friend referred me to Shakespeare's "Henry IV".

He suggested I looked in this direction, claiming that Owain Glyndwr's
rebellion against English domination in the early 1400's was regarded as
having been 'foretold' by predictions of a comet that would herald the
uprising. He said you could find references in "Henry IV", so I decided to
take a look.

Not having Shakespeare to hand I resorted to the internet, and one or two
'Search Engine' results later I found a website that quoted the exact
reference:

 "[A]t my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; and at my birth,
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward."
...
"These signs have marked me extraordinary,
And all the courses of my life do show,
I am not in the roll of common men."
--Owain Glyndwr, in Henry IV, Act iii, Scene 1, by William Shakespeare

Published on June 15, 2001, was an article by Sarah Stevenson that
introduced the idea that the people of Wales during that period regarded the
comet as a 'sign' of the uprising against Edward I:

"In 1402 A.D., a comet appeared over Britain. At that time, the
popular hero Owain Glyndwr had been rallying the people of Wales to
reclaim lands occupied by the English. With the literary help of the
bard Iolo Goch, the comet was seen as a sign of Owain's uprising, and a
confirmation of prophecies that foretold the Welsh people's deliverance.
Owain Glyndwr's rebellion did not succeed, despite the omen. But it
is a quintessential example of how the Welsh, like others from
civilizations throughout the world, have traditionally looked to the
skies for guidance or inspiration. The majestic celestial realm has
influenced the traditions and language of nearly every culture."

The full article can be seen at:
http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/welsh_language/71964

I was intrigued, as this brought to mind some of the symbolism around in
1979 when the so-called 'Iranian Revolution' was in full swing, and intent
on toppling the Shah of Iran and his hated secret police.

The fundamentalist "Revolutionary Guards" (who attacked the US Embassy in
Tehran, capturing 53 hostages that were incarcerated until January 1981)
seemed to regard the comet Kahoutek as a 'sign' of their uprising, and I
remember vividly seeing depictions of the comet with the face of Ayatollah
Khomeini.

Though I kept a file on them I can't find these at present, but I believe
they were widespread in the Islamic world at the time.

As my train of thought continued, I began to wonder how Usama bid Laden's Al
Quaeda network would portray the "lights in the sky" this coming weekend,
when we are expecting what could be the strongest meteor storm in 35 years.

NASA and others have already issued warnings of possible disruption to
satellite communications due to charged particles trashing electronic
systems upon impact, and many articles have recently appeared about this.
The ABC News piece is at:
http://abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000science/leonids_satellites991117.html

Should any US military satellites get trashed the world will probably never
know too much, but US and other forces on the ground in Afghanistan could be
cut off from all satellite-dependent communications systems. Though if
pagers, cellphones and TV channels such CNN and SKY go offline everyone will
know about it. It will be very big news globally.

As the peak ZHR is reckoned to be best seen from S.E. Asia, especially in
the region of Indonesia, would the Al Quaeda network there and elsewhere try
to portray these destructive "lights in the sky" as evidence of "the will of
Allah" in their war against what perceive as the "alliance of infidels"?

You are right, Benny, to point out the parallels with the current world
predicament quoted in yesterday's CCNet Special:

"One has to take into consideration apocalyptic religions [of today]
to understand the far- reaching consequences of historical impacts,...
After all, the apocalyptic fear of the end of the world is still very
prevalent today and can often lead to fanaticism and extremism....Once
you believe that the end is imminent and that your direct action will
hasten the coming of end-times, every atrocity is sanctioned."

The 'clear skies' we all wish for this weekend could well provide more than
a dynamic light show if a spectacular and destructive storm fuels the
imaginations of the fanatics.
 
regards,
 
John Michael

=============
(12) PLANETARY PROTECTION ACTIVITY AND PLEA FOR HELP FOR THE MPC

>From Andy Smith <astrosafe@yahoo.com>

Hello Benny and CCNet,

October was another good month for the NEO hunters (NH). There were more
than 50 new discoveries. Linear, Neat and Spacewatch reported 65%, 23% and
12%, respectively.

It is clear that we can easiely exceed our goal of 1,000 NEO finds, per
year, in the next year, if all six of our NH facilities and teams are able
to join-in.

We will still have a long way to go, to approach the full-inventory-point of
about 100,000 NEO and we hope, with the addition of the 8 meter super
asteroid (DMT or LSST) telescope, we can increase this rate to 10,000 per
year...say within the next decade....and fill the inventory, within a decade
of that time.

Thanks to the Sloan Team

We also want to thank the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) team for the
things they are doing to help the cause. We are hoping they (and the other
large telescopes) will be willing to report all asteroid sightings to one of
our regular teams, for follow-up and MPC reporting, as appropriate, and we
encourage them to continue to help us study the important issues (like
impact risks, etc.). This is clearly the most important technical challenge
in history and we need all the help we can get, to find the next
killer-rock, in time.

The MPC Crisis

The Minor Planet Center (MPC)team is probably the most important single
element in the global planetary defense emergency prevention and
preparedness program. We all greatly appreciate what they are doing and we
recognize difficulties they are having, as the workload increases (with the
increased number and effectiveness of NH teams).

We noted, with interest and concern, the recent call-for-help, from Brian
Marsden and we want to encourage a dialogue, on  our list-serve, about what
we can do to help...including instructions for the routing of contributions.

We also want to thank the IAU and it's Divisions and Commissions, for the
support they have given to the MPC. The membership rosters of the Working
Group on Near-Earth Objects (http://web.mit.edu/rpb/wgneo/) and Divisions I
and III and Commissions 15 and 20 are very impressive. They truly represent the
best of the global astronomy community, as related to the NEO problem.

We ask this prestigeous community of experts to give this matter a very high
priority and to petition the United Nations, the AIAA, the NSS, the
Planetary Society, the Space Frontier and all other friendly private and
governmental institutions, around the World, for help.

The MPC needs are very modest....and they pale, in the light of its value.
MPC is now processing well over a million observations per year...and much
of this workload has been added in the last 5 years.

Perhaps a collective effort, to help the MPC, can be the unifying activity
we need, to begin a truly comprehensive global emergency readiness program.
Our generation stands in a truly unique place, not only in the history of
the human race but in the history of life on planet Earth....survival is in
our hands...and we must not fail.

Cheers
Andy Smith

==================
(13) KHIMA = PLEIADES?

>From Leroy Ellenberger <cleroy1@yahoo.com>

Benny,

With all the recent interest in the possible crater in delta region of
Fertile Crescent and the mention of the Flood caused by two stars plucked
from "Khima", it should not be lost on the CCNet audience that all the
traditional translations of "Khima" apply to asterisms associated with
Taurus, such as Hyades, with the most frequently used translation being
"Pleiades" -- close
to the radiant of the Taurid meteors. Might there be a kernal of truth in
this folk memory of the significance of Taurus?

Cheers,
Leroy

MODERATOR'S NOTE: It should be noted that there is no consensus among
Talmudic scholars and researchers what 'Khima' actually represents. Despite
the fascinatingly early impact-tsunami theory, we should not forget that
this is a legendary tale that lacks any reliable scientific data.

====================
(14) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: MASS EXTINCTIONS MAY BE A MYTH, CLAIM SCIENTISTS
- OH, YES, AND ROCKS CAN'T FALL FROM THE SKY EITHER ...

>From Space Daily, 13 November 2001
http://www.spacedaily.com/news/life-01zp.html

MASS EXTINCTIONS MAY BE A MYTH, CLAIM SCIENTISTS

London - Nov 13, 2001

Catastrophic mass extinctions, such as the one that saw the demise of the
dinosaurs,could be a myth according to the findings of recent research into
100 million-year-old marine fossils.

It is widely believed that there has been about a dozen mass extinctions
during the history of life on Earth, the most devastating of which saw 84%
of the planet's species disappear.

But research by geologist Professor Andy Gale of the University of Greenwich
and palaeontologists from the Natural History Museum, published recently in
the American journal Paleobiology, is now casting doubt upon whether these
mass extinctions took place.

"Large gaps in the fossil record are often cited as evidence of mass
extinctions. But there are other explanations for this lack of fossil
evidence which do not point to a catastrophic annihilation of large numbers
of species, says Professor Gale.

"During the Cretaceous period (146 to 65 million years ago), dominated by
dinosaurs, there were periods of intense global warming which saw dramatic
rises in sea levels so severe that the oceans flooded Europe, turning it
into an archipelago of little islands. This forced shallow marine species
and land animals to migrate from their usual habitats.

"Once the sea level dropped again these species migrated back with it, and
the fossil record laid down in sedimentary rock during those periods of high
sea level was largely destroyed over time by wind, rain and glacial
erosion," continued Professor Gale.

"The interruption in the fossil record during these periods was caused by
species migration and the loss of the fossil record of that migration, and
not by a mass extinction."

Evidence of these "pseudoextinctions" can be seen in the fossil record of
the chalk cliffs at Dover in Kent and Beachy Head on the Sussex coast. Many
of the shallow water organisms which disappeared from the fossil record in
these cliffs, 100 to 95 milllion years ago, reappeared
millions of years later when sea levels fell.

"It initially appears from the fossil record contained within these cliffs
that marine species during this period suffered extinction rates of up to
70%," says Professor Gale.

"But the reality is that the reappearance of the majority of these species
indicates that they were simply displaced to other areas by rising sea
levels, and then returned, without suffering significant extinction. Taking
this into account, the extinction rate during this period falls to 17%, a
level that inevitably occurs at any time.

"Based on the fossil evidence we have analysed, we believe that there was no
mass extinction 100 million years ago, as previously thought," concludes
Professor Gale.

"It is also probable that many of the other mass extinctions that were
thought to have taken place during the history of life on Earth either did
not happen or have been greatly exaggerated."

Peer reveiwed publication and references: Paleobiology, 27 (2), 2001,
pp241-253

Copyright 2001, Space Daily

===========
(15) AND FINALLY, THE CYNICS ARE BACK: OH, HAPPY DAY - WE'RE DREAMING UP
PROBLEMS

>From Pioneer Planet, 14 November 2001
http://www.pioneerplanet.com/news/mtc_docs/183561.htm

JOE SOUCHERAY Pioneer Press Columnist

It is supposed to be good news that we are now less likely than previously
thought to get blown to smithereens by an asteroid.

Not that we need anything else to worry about, but there are reported to be
about 700,000 asteroids at least 6/10ths of a mile in diameter that are
zipping around the solar system.

I have been following asteroid news for about two years, ever since I
accidentally clicked onto a cable television documentary about scientists
studying what looked like radar screens. They were tracking asteroids. It
made the radar screens monitored by flight controllers look like a blank
sheet of paper.

If an asteroid should hit Earth, it would destroy civilization. Yes, I guess
one of these big rocks traveling at a couple of hundred thousand miles per
hour would result in a pretty big bang if it struck the old forest floor or
the hood of your car.

The good news is that 700,000 is a revised number, revised downward. The
astronomers who inventory the sky using something called the Sloan Digital
Sky Survey initially thought that about 2 million asteroids were that big,
meaning that the earth's chances of getting smacked were about 1 in 1,500 in
the next 100 years.

Now, the chances of a catastrophic collision are only about 1 in 5,000 in
the next 100 years. It is true, yes, that the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
inventories only one-quarter of the sky, but these guys can do wonders with
the math.

There is another reason to consider the asteroid news good news. It is a
sign of returning to what passes for normalcy when we resume essentially
having to dream up things to worry about.

Why, for years, we went through a period of worrying that California was
going to break off and fall into the ocean due to a large earthquake. Then
we went through a period where we worried that global cooling would result
in a new ice age. When global cooling failed toinspire the kinds of fears
and reforms its proponents desired, they switched to global-warming.

We have worried about killer bees and giant mosquitoes, radon gas and
secondhand smoke. We have managed to get an entire generation of American
children wearing helmets for exercise no more strenuous than skipping rope.
We have successfully frightened ourselves by every means possible.

You might even say it was a sign of how good we had it that we actually had
to make up the stuff we were frightened about.

Meanwhile, up in the heavens, a random asteroid could unloose its bonds and
slam into the earth, killing everybody except maybe the people who for some
reason live deep within a network of caves.

Oh, oh.

Far be it from me to put a damper on good news, but it seems that your odds
of getting conked on the head by an asteroid are better than getting conked
on the head by a terrorist. Terrorism we can do something about, what with
our high-alert status and our security networks and our aiding the Northern
Alliance to drive the Taliban out of Kabul.

We can't do anything about an asteroid smashing into us, so you might as
well keep on keeping on.

We can't build a shield to protect us from asteroids and they behave so
unpredictably that it is unlikely we can use a missile to blast one out of
the air. And if we move into caves we're no better than the dirt bag we keep
looking for in Afghanistan.

Go ahead and dig a shelter if you want. Yup, we went through that period,
too. I'd sooner go out for dinner. Most places you don't even need
reservations.

Copyright 2001, Pioneer Planet

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