PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 138/2002 - 26 November 2002
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"The day will arrive when an asteroid is discovered on a collision
course with Earth. The more we know about their orbit and structure, the
more effective we can be in attempting to deflect it from harm's way."

--Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry


"All right so how soon is there a likelihood of a crashing asteroid?
The question reminds me of the American scientist who first discovered
that our human eyes were beginning to grow closer together, which provoked
the response from the late Robert Benchley: "My eyes are so close
together as it is, I bet I make it - I bet I'm the first one-eyed man in the
world." Happily the answer from NASA is the same as the answer from the eye
specialist. "Soon", they say, could mean possibly this century, more
likely through the next millennium or even beyond."
--Alistair Cooke, BBC Online, 25 November 2002



(1) ASTRONOMERS HUNT FOR KILLER ASTEROIDS
    The Detroit News, 26 November 2002

(2) A CALL FOR PLANETARY DEFENSE
    Space.com, 25 November 2002

(3) ALISTAIR COOKE'S LETTER FROM AMERICA: "ARMAGEDDON CAN WAIT"
    BBC Online, 25 November 2002

(4) SCIENTISTS HURL ROCKS TO STUDY SPACE BACTERIA
    The Daily Camera, 25 November, 2002

(5) WHY  IS EVERYONE FORGETTING THE IMPACT OF COMETS?, OR, REALLY BIG NEWS:
    COMET SHOEMAKER-LEVY 9 HITS JUPITER
    E.P. Grondine <epgrondine@hotmail.com>

(6) AND FINALLY: "ASTEROID DANGER DISCOUNTED"
    The Washington Post, 25 November 2002

=============
(1) ASTRONOMERS HUNT FOR KILLER ASTEROIDS

>From The Detroit News, 26 November 2002
http://www.detnews.com/2002/technology/0211/26/a02-20707.htm

About 600 have been identified so far, report says

By Robert Cooke / Newsday

WASHINGTON -- Like prisoners trying to identify snipers taking aim,
astronomers are spotting more and more chunks of rock in the sky that may
yet whack us.

As of last year, according to a report in Sky & Telescope magazine,
observers had already found about 600 asteroids that are half a mile in
diameter, or bigger, capable of causing enormous damage on impact with
Earth. Many have a chance of hitting the Earth -- sometime.

More recently, an estimate of how often smaller objects -- asteroids only 50
yards in diameter -- hit Earth's atmosphere was revised downward by
astronomers in Canada and the United States.

Objects of that size probably arrive, on average, once every 1,000 years,
not every 200 to 300 years, in light of eight years of observations.

Such asteroids are small enough so they tend to explode at high altitude,
but their shock waves sometimes reach the ground, as in the Tunguska event
in Siberia in 1908. That shock flattened a forest for miles around, even
though the asteroid never hit the ground.

As for the really big objects, those half a mile or more in diameter, the
latest estimates, by J. Scott Stuart at the Lincoln Laboratory in Bedford,
Mass., suggest 1,250 such asteroids exist. And some of them are in orbits
that may yet send them smashing into the Earth.

The 600 or so already identified near Earth asteroids have actually been
seen and catalogued, unlike many of the smaller asteroids, which are harder
to see.

Although impacts by the very large objects are rare, occurring roughly once
every 100,000 years, they are extreme events indeed, and one would be
capable now of erasing much of what civilization has created.

Scientists think an explosive impact would touch off massive fires,
windstorms, seismic sea waves and dust clouds that might last for weeks or
months. The disruption could be global and long-lasting.

A search of the skies has since turned up about 600 of the big ones, and
some astronomers think there may be twice as many, with half yet unseen.

Copyright 2002, The Detroit News

=============
(2) A CALL FOR PLANETARY DEFENSE

>From Space.com, 25 November 2002
http://space.com/news/astronotes-1.html

The final report of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace
Industry, released last week, calls for the Department of Defense (DoD) to
take on the role of planetary defense.

The Commission noted that the U.S. Air Force is looking into use of
satellites for detecting and tracking human-made satellites in Earth orbit.
That effort should be broadened, the study group advised, to include
detection of asteroids.

Given Air Force study and other military space reviews underway, "planetary
defense should be assigned to the DoD in cooperation with NASA," the report
states.

"The day will arrive when an asteroid is discovered on a collision course
with Earth. The more we know about their orbit and structure, the more
effective we can be in attempting to deflect it from harm's way," the
Commission report concludes.

-- Leonard David

===========
(3) ALISTAIR COOKE'S LETTER FROM AMERICA: "ARMAGEDDON CAN WAIT"

>From BBC Online, 25 November 2002
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/letter_from_america/2510595.stm
 
In a recent letter I remarked on the striking - to me - resemblance of the
events of the past year or so to the chronicles of the Bible, or I should
say of the prophetic books that warn us what's in store for wicked people
everywhere.

I'm thinking of the apocalyptic sequence of worldwide floods and fires,
earthquakes, terrorist eruptions and the one doomsday hour 14 months ago -
that plume of brimstone, which we learned in childhood is the fuel of
hellfire.

Well two or three things have happened recently, two of which stress the
warnings but a third which suggests that we may yet be saved.

Last week a couple arrived in New York city from New Mexico and within 24
hours were in a hospital being treated for - wait for it - bubonic plague.

If we had, which happily we don't, a national daily tabloid what a feast day
they'd have had of it - "Bubonic Plague Strikes New York!"

Two days later there was a dispatch from out west - from Los Angeles.

I quote: "A plague has descended from the sky, a rare and frightening thing.
People are dying on the highways, planes are falling out of the sky, the
hills are sliding into the city, cell phones have gone to static.

"Traffic is a coiled serpent. A pest or plague has fallen on Los Angeles -
it is called rain."

It seems that after a 10-month drought, the longest since 1877, and the
correspondent reporter goes on as pitilessly as Job - "Poisonous filth is
bleeding into the ocean - oil, gasoline, antifreeze, brake pads, plastic
bags, industrial waste, lawn fertiliser, animal dung.

"People," he ends, "are nervous about the rain. Very many stayed home."

In the city of the angels no angel was heard from but the burden of the
story is the old one in Revelation: Babylon - I mean Los Angeles - is
fallen, is fallen, that great city.

Well on the heels or in the wake of this mock melodramatic piece came news
from the south which did not lend itself to humour.

In a normal week through the spring and summer the south, the Deep South -
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia - tornadoes whirl through two or
three small towns and destroy them.

This is so common as barely to make the end piece of the evening news.

But two weeks ago the dreaded black cone on the horizon appeared between the
Gulf of Mexico and northern Pennsylvania - a 1200-mile path.

Seventy tornadoes whirled through and turned 70 small communities into trash
heaps.

This unprecedented reach of disaster added another deep sigh to our daily
anxiety.

But courage, men, the devil is dead.

On Tuesday last came wonderful great news, in a headline, an immense
headline - one inch high, which is a massive headline for the New York Times
- "Armageddon can wait."

The piece joyfully announced the discovery, a way of avoiding a planetary
catastrophe that scientists now say is sooner or later bound to happen and
that is the crashing on to our Earth of an asteroid.

Though they're always described as small, in comparison with wonderful us,
they can run as wide, in diameter, as 490 miles.

For many years now scientists, in particular astronomers, physicists,
engineers, have after careful calculations said that the chance of an
asteroid colliding with our Earth is exceedingly remote.

However, the head of a scientific group at the national space administration
says that new and more precise calculations suggest that there is a very
good possibility of an Earth-crossing asteroid not crossing but hitting us
with mortal consequences beyond the most satanic dreams of al-Qaeda.

"Time," says the NASA spokesman, "to begin work on a new method of dealing
with this prospect."

Until now the agreed technique for destroying an asteroid headed our way has
been a nuclear weapon, destroying it on its Earthbound path.

But now they've decided that such a weapon would smash the asteroid into
smaller pieces and spread its lethal damage.

So what the NASA group and other scientists are working on are ways of
deflecting the asteroid out of its threatening orbit.

There are several new techniques of doing this. But you're saved from
hearing about them because they're not only too complicated to explain,
they're too complicated for me to understand.

The simplest and at the moment the most beguiling new principle is to change
the heat radiating from the asteroid which would change its orbit and force
it to miss us.

And this can be done either by painting the asteroid black - I'll leave it
to you to figure out how many teams of astronauts could do this across a
200-mile rock - or reducing the heat absorbed from the sun by the Yarkowski
effect.

And if you don't know that Yarkowski invented this effect a century ago - a
development of Newton's opposite motion theory - then frankly we have no
business discussing this in front of the children.

All right so how soon is there a likelihood of a crashing asteroid?

The question reminds me of the American scientist who first discovered that
our human eyes were beginning to grow closer together, which provoked the
response from the late Robert Benchley: "My eyes are so close together as it
is, I bet I make it - I bet I'm the first one-eyed man in the world."

Happily the answer from NASA is the same as the answer from the eye
specialist.

"Soon", they say, could mean possibly this century, more likely through the
next millennium or even beyond.

So the good word is don't panic but don't get too cocky either.

Back to Earth and more pressing problems.

Last Tuesday the Senate of the United States witnessed certainly an historic
event: the creation of a government department bigger than any other except
defence 50 years ago.

It's the new Department of Homeland Security and it was voted into being by
the Senate, by a vote of 90 to 9.

It is, need I say, a massive response to the events of 11 September.

It will have 170,000 employees. It's a huge amalgam of 22 departments that
had, until now, a separate existence.

It includes the entire Customs Service, the Immigration And Naturalisation
Service, the Federal Emergency Service - which goes to work after natural
disasters - the Border Patrol, the Coastguard, six or seven specialist
science departments and - of all proud and until now independent groups -
the Secret Service, founded during the Civil War to detect and prosecute
counterfeiting but since the assassination of Lincoln has been solely
responsible for the protection of the person of the president and his family
and by extension, since the dreadful 11th, other members of the cabinet.

There was fierce and inconclusive congressional debate for weeks about the
feasibility of this new corporation or incorporation but what swiftly
concluded all useful debate and dealt the death blow to this lame duck
Congress was simply the totally unexpected landslide of the president's
party in the congressional elections.

Any possible nucleus of opposition shrank and collapsed. And this may turn
out to be true of much domestic legislation in the new Congress which starts
work in January, in the sense that most domestic issues cringe and shrink
before the looming presence of another terrorist strike.

So the business of government is now enormously devoted to the physical
safety of 280 million people, on the land, the sea, the ports, the air, the
lakes, the dams, the centres of business, of diplomacy, of sports, any
building or institution of the United States at home or abroad whose
paralysis or poisoning could badly hurt the American economy.

The Twin Towers and the Pentagon were monstrous and from al-Qaeda's point of
view very effective wounding strikes.

And how does this produce the impotence of the Democrats? Because if they
were in power they'd have to have the same preoccupation, they'd be doing
the same things.

The other day the government reported the new system of protecting every
reservoir in the United States - which may well be an impossible task - with
24-hour patrols by men on foot, by helicopters and small special planes
equipped with radar and sonar.

And what would the Democratic policy be? To use radar but not sonar?

There is, in the present preoccupation of the government, hardly any place
for party politics. Al-Qaeda has, for the time being anyway, put it on hold.


In the general anxiety it's hard to get worked up about free prescription
drugs for grandma, lower interest rates on mortgages and most of all for
keeping untouched the personal freedom to come and go - the civil liberties
that always have to go in wartime.

And if you want to know what that general anxiety is - it is waiting for the
other shoe to drop.

Copyright 2002, BBC

============
(4) SCIENTISTS HURL ROCKS TO STUDY SPACE BACTERIA

>From The Daily Camera, 25 November, 2002
http://www2.dailycamera.com/bdc/science/article/0,1713,BDC_2432_1569238,00.html

By SUE VORENBERG

New Mexico Tech wants to see what happens when bacteria fly.

Scientists at the university are testing bacteria-filled rocks to see if the
organisms can survive the extreme pressures and temperatures involved in a
meteor impact on another planet that might send them to Earth. If the
bacteria prove hardy, it might mean that life could be widespread across the
universe.

"People kind of thought of this as crazy science fiction in the past, until
we found this meteorite from Mars and discovered evidence of life in it in
the 1990s," said Eileen Ryan, a research scientist at Tech's Magdalena Ridge
Observatory Project. "Studying these rocks has implications for how we view
ourselves and our place in the universe. It's an exciting idea that we're
not alone."

Meteor impacts, which can create large explosions, often send rocks from a
planet's surface hurtling through the atmosphere into space. If there were
bacteria or other micro-organisms in those rocks, they would be carried
along for the ride, Ryan said.

If the tiny critters can easily withstand the trip - which is what Ryan's
research shows so far - then it's possible that bacteria have hitched rides
on rocks to planets all over the galaxy. And if that's true, there's a good
chance they have evolved into myriad other life forms on some of those
planets, Ryan said.

"It would be much cooler if we found little green men instead of bacteria in
these rocks, but the presence of bacteria has far-reaching implications,"
Ryan said.

Scientists have already learned through experiments that bacteria can
survive quite well in a frozen vacuum, which bodes well for Ryan's theory.
Until recently nobody had tested how well they could survive the initial
impact conditions that would have sent them into space.

To test that, Ryan and students from Tech, New Mexico State University and
Highlands University have been blasting bacteria-filled sandstone rocks from
Arizona - which are similar to rocks that might be on Mars - with a really
big gun.

"What we hope to do is look at impacts and try our best to replicate the
environment, including the stress, pressure and temperatures of a
collisional event," Ryan said.

To see just how hardy the tiny critters are, Ryan and her students tested
how much bacteria was inside the rock before the experiment. Then they
placed the rock in a 9-foot-by-5-foot chamber that looks a bit like a small
submarine and fired a hunk of metal at it.

The projectile was shot from a 6-foot-long gun at about 60 miles a second.
At that speed, one could travel from Albuquerque to Santa Fe in less than a
minute.

"Even using the gun is pretty dangerous - we all have to clear the area and
go to a concrete bunker when it's fired," she said. "When the projectile
hits the rock it creates dramatic pressure and temperature inside, similar
to that of an impact."

After the rock explodes, Ryan and her students take samples of the fragments
and test how much bacteria has survived.

"The happy end to the story is that in our tests so far they all survived,"
Ryan said. "They're alive and doing fine."

Ryan's work is sponsored through a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the
National Air and Space Administration's Johnson Space Center. Her studies
will build on work done by David McKay, director of astrobiology at the
center, who made the initial discovery in the late 1990s of evidence of life
inside a Martian meteorite.

Ryan's work will also help scientists understand if bacteria can hitch rides
on comets and asteroids, another hot topic in the space science community.

Copyright 2002, The Daily Camera and the E.W. Scripps Company

============================
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
============================

(5) WHY  IS EVERYONE FORGETTING THE IMPACT OF COMETS?, OR, REALLY BIG NEWS:
    COMET SHOEMAKER-LEVY 9 HITS JUPITER

>From E.P. Grondine <epgrondine@hotmail.com>

Hello Benny -

It is quite remarkable to note that in the recent coverage of the
Brown/Worden/ReVelle/Tagliafero study nearly all science writers
conveniently forgot about the impact of comets as a part of the total impact
hazard. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that presumably
most of those science writers were around eight years ago when the fragments
of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 impacted Jupiter between July 16-22, 1994, and
thus witnessed cometary impact with their own eyes.

Why did this lapse in memory occur? Was it simply that the science writers
were lazy, and thus simply re-wrote the press release which was handed to
them?  I don't think so...

This failure to take into account the cometary impact hazard, even though it
has been personally observed, is also reflected in both Ed Weiler and David
Morrison's testimony before the Congress, as well as the Representatives
re-action to it. The cometary impact impact hazard was not
mentioned for over 2 hours, until Brian Marsden insisted on bringing it to
the Subcommittee's attention before the hearing closed. The Representatives
literally stopped in their tracks at Marden's comment; since the
Representatives had earlier requested NASA to report on both asteroids and
comets, apparently their own memories of Comet Shoemaker Levy hitting
Jupiter had failed them as well...

It is also interesting to note in this regard that some of the assumptions
made about comet impact hazard and reported as fact are simply nonsense. For
example, it is often reported that an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs, when the Pacific
seabed sample is now known to be a carbonaceous chondrite likely of cometary origin.  Also
peculiarly, while there have been many pieces written about a "Nemesis"
gravitational body which no one can find, Clube and Napier's hypothesis on
the 26 million year periodicity of extinctions and the tie to comet influx
is simply generally unknown and unreport. Simultaneously, the role of comet
impact in the bulk of recent small impact events ( for a summary of these
see
http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/ce091702.html) is also generally unknown.

Perhaps these two facts are related, and have some common cause.

Fallacies abound. It is asserted without any supporting evidence that any
long period comet will be massive enough to be detected quite early, while
by actually looking at the historic impact record such as it is (above) it
appears that comets may come in all sizes. It is also sometimes asserted,
again without evidence, that impacting comets would be impossible to
distinguish from the Oort Cloud, when in point of fact those on Earth
approach could be detected by a system such as Dr. Mazanek's COMET and
Asteroid Protection System (CAPS).

Since Earth impacting comets can both be detected and stopped from
impacting, if appropriate funds are spent, why is there this widespread
inability  to remember, this failure of
memory on so massive a scale?  Is it simply the scale of the event?  Is
Jupiter too remote? I open the floor for discussion.

For Conference participants, while the new study will be of great use in
getting a better grasp on the asteroid impact threat, it is well known to
all here that the flux of comets is not constant over time. It will be
interesting to see how the authors of the study factored out the impacts of
carbonaceous chondrites (presumably dead comets) from the impacts of comets
from the outer solar system.

Best wishes,
Ed

=================
(6) AND FINALLY: "ASTEROID DANGER DISCOUNTED"

>From The Washington Post, 25 November 2002
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28459-2002Nov22.html



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