SETI bioastro: CCNet, 52/2000 - 26 April 2000

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Wed Apr 26 2000 - 14:14:25 PDT

From: Benny J Peiser <>
Subject: CCNet, 26 April 2000
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2000 11:14:22 -0400 (EDT)
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CCNet, 52/2000 - 26 April 2000

     "The so called Torino Scale aims to give a simple rating system
     measuring the threat posed to the earth by any asteroid or comet
     approaching our planet in the near future. The rate of an
     encounter, an integer number from 0 (harmless) to 10 (certain
     global catastrophe), is derived from the estimated probability of
     impact and the estimated kinetic energy of the object. Since
     probabilities (specially the very small ones) are known to be very
     difficult to deal with by the general public, it is widely
     believed that the scale will be very useful for scientists working
     on the Impact Hazard problem to communicate to the public a
     non-distorted idea of the importance of the hazard associated to
     any encounter. Unfortunately, the scale has some important
     technical flaws, of which the more intuitive is that a very likely
     (80%-95%) collision with an energy of a hundred million megatons
     is rated as less threatening than a certain one megaton collision.
     Here I analyse these shortcomings and propose a change in the
     rating procedure, using the von Neumann-Morgenstern expected
     utility model, to overcome the flaws.”
         -- Joaquín Pérez, Universidad de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain

    Joaquin Perez <>

    Andrew Yee <>


(4) LYRIDS 2000
    Rainer Arlt <>

    Daniel Fischer <>

    Alison Garritya <>

(7) KILLER CRATER FOUND News, 19 April 2000
    Larry Klaes <>
     Bob Kobres <>

     National Post, 22 April 2000


>From Joaquin Perez <>
Dear Benny:
On my web page at, CCNet readers
can find a critical analysis of the Torino Scale for the asteroid or
comet impact hazard.

Best regards.

Joaquín Pérez
Universidad de Alcalá.
Alcalá de Henares
Madrid, Spain


>From Andrew Yee <>

New Scientist

UK Contact:
Claire Bowles,, 44-207-331-2751

US Contact:
New Scientist Washington office,, 202-452-1178

Hummingbird space probe

A hummingbird could soon be visiting the heavens -- in a manner of
speaking. NASA engineers want to build a space probe that behaves like
a hummingbird approaching a flower. In other words it will use a
touch-and-go landing technique to capture and analyse samples from a
comet's central core for the first time.

The team, led by Glenn Carle of the NASA Ames Research Center in
Moffett Field, California, is hoping to convince NASA chiefs to press
ahead with its Hummingbird Comet Nucleus Analysis Mission this summer.
The Ames team hopes to launch the probe sometime around 2005, to
complement three other NASA comet missions.

Comets are at about 100 kelvin, and scientists believe they contain
deep- frozen material from after the big bang but they would like to be
certain. "What I think is the most interesting question to answer is
the relationships of comets to material that ended up on the early
Earth and took part in the origin of life," says Carle. "We just don't
know what we started with."

The space probe would be powered by an ion engine. Once it reached the
comet, it would orbit for up to a year taking samples of the dust, ice
and gases in the comet's atmosphere and analysing their composition and
isotope ratios. During that period, the craft would take detailed
images to help the ground team choose a safe touchdown spot.

In the next phase of the mission, the craft would advance slowly toward
the comet's solid core, or nucleus, stopping frequently for safety
checks. But the craft would not land in the conventional sense: only
two dangling tethers would make contact with the comet. One tether,
equipped with temperature, hardness and contact sensors, would use
electronics to sense certain conditions and trigger a new type of
sampling mechanism attached to the second tether.

The sampler has two counter-rotating carbide wheels with sharpened
blades that would grind up the surface of the comets and kick chunks of
the material into collection funnels on the spacecraft. A prototype
sampler is being built at Honeybee Robotics in New York, and will
probably be finished by June.

The hummingbird sampling cycle takes less than two seconds, then gas
thrusters would fire and send the craft back to analyse its samples as
it orbits the comet. Ideally, the craft would repeat this hummingbird
manoeuvre up to six times.

As well as taking samples at many points on a comet nucleus, the
concept has several advantages. Comets have a tiny gravitational field
because their nuclei are only tens of kilometres across, so a normal
probe would have to latch onto the comet. The hummingbird probe's "bump
sampling" gets round this problem. Cutting down the time at the surface
is also safer, since it means the probe spends less time without
sunlight and channels of communication.

"Almost all the questions we have from 20 years ago still exist," says
William Boynton, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
"We've flown by comets and taken a peek at them, but we really have not
even scratched the surface. It sounds like this mission would scratch
the surface literally as well as figuratively."

Author: Mark Schrope, Washington DC

New Scientist issue: 22nd April 2000



PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Contact: Jane Platt (818) 354-0880


Like an excited kid hoping to snag a fly ball at a professional
baseball game, NASA's Stardust spacecraft has extended its high-tech
"catcher's mitt" to collect a valuable space souvenir -- a batch of
interstellar dust particles.

The dust is contained in a stream of particles that flows through our
solar system, and scientists are anxious to study it so they can learn
more about the formation of Earth, other planets and life.

"We can see this material with the naked eye as a black zone running
along the center of the Milky Way," said Dr. Donald Brownlee of the
University of Washington in Seattle, principal investigator for
Stardust. "These particles contain the heavy chemical elements that
originated in the stars. Since every atom in our bodies came from the
inside of stars, by studying these interstellar dust particles we can
learn about our cosmic roots."

Stardust is equipped with a special collector containing aerogel, a
unique substance that can trap the particles and store the precious
cargo safely until it's returned to Earth. The aerogel collector has
two sides, one designed to gather the interstellar dust and one for
comet dust collection, which will take place later in the mission.
Engineers orient the spacecraft to control which side of the collector
is exposed to a dust stream.

Right now, Stardust is oriented so that the interstellar dust particles
are hitting the backside of the collector. This collection began on
February 22, when the spacecraft's sample return capsule opened and the
aerogel collector was moved out of the capsule. It will remain in this
configuration until May 1, when the collector will return to its stowed
position for safe storage until mid-2002, when another period of
interstellar dust collection is scheduled.
"The project's name, 'Stardust,' reflects the importance of this
event," said Stardust Project Manager Dr. Kenneth Atkins of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "It's the first time
anyone has attempted to catch anything like this and bring it home.
After all the design, building, testing, and now the flying of this
spacecraft over the past four years, the moment of truth for the
collector is here. These tiny particles zip by at 20 to 25 kilometers
per second (about 45,000 to 56,000 miles per hour) relative to the
spacecraft. The aerogel must slow them to a stop in fractions of an

In late December 2003, the collector will be deployed again in
preparation for the gathering of comet dust samples when Stardust flies
by Comet Wild-2 on January 2, 2004. Once the samples of both
interstellar dust and comet dust are tucked safely inside the aerogel
collector, it will be retracted into the sample return capsule.
Stardust will begin the return trip to Earth and make a soft landing at
the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in 2006. The sample
canister will be taken to the planetary material curatorial facility at
NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. The samples will be
carefully extracted and then examined by scientists.

"I'm thrilled at the thought of being able to look at and study these
particles firsthand," Brownlee said.

More information on the Stardust mission is available at .

Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999. The mission is managed by
JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Lockheed
Martin Astronautics, Denver, Co, built and operates the spacecraft.
Science instruments were provided by JPL, the University of Chicago and
the Max Planck Institute, Garching, Germany. JPL is a division of the
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

(4) LYRIDS 2000

>From Rainer Arlt <>

I M O S h o w e r C i r c u l a r


Observations of the 2000 Lyrids were hampered by a gibbous waning Moon,
which rose before midnight shortly after the radiant of the Lyrids had
reached altitudes above 30 degrees. Typically, the annual maximum of
the Lyrids falls between solar longitudes 32.1 deg and 32.5 deg,
corresponding to April 21, 22:10 UT to April 22, 05:40 UT this year.

The return of the Lyrid meteor shower in 2000 was normal, according to
the present information. The amount of data available is far from
conclusive. High ZHRs of roughly 15 to 20 were recorded all through the
(UT) evening of April 21 and the whole morning of April 22. We would
like to thank the following observers for their quick reports after the

ARLRA Rainer Arlt (Germany)
ATAJU Jure Atanackov (Slovenia)
BUCAN Andreas Buchmann (Switzerland)
DIAAS Asdai Diaz Rodriguez (Cuba)
DUBAU Audrius Dubietis (Lithuania)
ENZFR Frank Enzlein (Germany)
HANIS Isabel Handel (Germany)
KACJA Javor Kac (Slovenia)
LINMI Mike Linnolt (USA)
OSAKA Kazuhiro Osada (Japan)
PETNA Natasa Petelin (Slovenia)
RENJU Jurgen Rendtel (Germany)
TRIJO Josep M. Trigo (Spain)
WUSOL Oliver Wusk (Germany)
YOUKI Kim Youmans (USA)
YRJIL Ilkka Yrjola (Finland)

Date UT Sollong nLYR nObs ZHR +- Remarks
April 21 02:00 31.28 3 1 5.4 3.1
April 21 20:00 32.01 55 9 17 9
April 22 01:20 32.23 31 5 12 5
April 22 08:30 32.52 16 5 20 10 low LM for two indiv. values
April 22 21:00 33.02 29 11 7.0 5.0
April 22 22:50 33.10 17 6 8.3 3.7

Solar longitudes refer to equinox J2000. ZHRs are based on a population
index of r=2.9. Errors are standard deviations of the averages except
for the first value based on a single observation where we give

Rainer Arlt, 2000 Apr 25
Visual Commission, International Meteor Organization,


>From Daniel Fischer <>

Dear Benny,

you had asked me to further investigate a story about a major asteroid
impact in the 19th century in Syria that I had heard mentioned last
year at a conference in Jordan. As chance would have it, when I visited
Amman again on April 20th, after the big Leonids conference in Tel Aviv
(a report on that event will follow), I met the very researcher who had
started the idea in person! And it seems that he has found quite a
number of similar reports in the vast (and hardly evaluated) Arabic
literature that could be attributed to deadly NEO impacts in Islamic
times (i.e. *very* recently on geological timescales). Here is a brief
report on what I've learned so far:

During a recent visit to Amman, Jordan, I was introduced to an Iraqi
scientist who has temporarily taken residence there: Dr Wafiq S. Rada
had quit a teaching job in Libya to be able to pursue more freely his
research into astronomical events recorded in old Arabic chronicles.
Rada is actually a cosmic ray physicist who had worked in the 1970's at
the University of Durham, UK, where he had played a (key?) role in the
construction of the Extensive Air Shower Array (EAS)*), an instrument
he had then used for several astrophysical projects.

Later his interest had turned to the history of astronomy, though, and
he has been a collaborator with the famous British researcher F.R.
Stephenson, investigating old reports of solar eclipses that could be
used to measure the braking of Earth's rotation by the Moon. Other
papers by Rada in the 1980's dealt with Arabic chronicle reports that
he attributed to Halley's and other comets, supernovae, polar lights
and meteor showers, but with one exception**) all work was either never
published in the accessible literature or just presented at local
conferences. One paper (on aurorae) was even classified by the
Libyan government ...

Rada's current interest are possible records of devastating impacts by
Near Earth Objects during the last 1500 years that witnesses have
survived. Rada read to me extensive quotes from his huge collection of
transcripts that he translated from Arabic to English in realtime -
apparently in Yemen the best collections of Arabic chronicles can be
found. Several of these reports *sounded* like how a Hollywood script
would describe a 'deep impact' as seen from close-up, with (literally)
breath-taking heat and pressure waves, fire raining from the sky and
subsequent earthquakes.

His favorite "case" is a surprisingly recent one: Rada has dug up a
Chronicle of Aleppo (a major and very old city in Syria***) that was
written down in 1926 - and the author had talked to an eyewitness of
the great earthquake that had hit the city in August of 1822****).
(Rada actually said August 1, 1821, but all sources I tracked down on
the net say either August 13 or 23, 1822.) And what that witness has to
say was really weird. From Rada's 'live' translation I got something
like the following scenario:

 - The witness was sitting in front of his house during a cool night.
 - Suddenly the air got so hot that he couldn't breathe, and that
   extreme heat lasted for some 20 minutes.
 - Then he saw a bright light in the atmosphere that lit the whole
   ground like sunshine. He describes the light like as if a "chamber
   had opened in the sky."
 - Next he heard a sort of great noise like thunder, and
 - the air started to move left and right.
 - Four shocks lifted him and others out of their seats, and they
   were fearing for their lives, as if the sky would be falling.
 - And then buildings all around them started to collapse, less than
   30 seconds after the bright light had appeared, with the earthquake
   and its aftershocks lasting for 40 days.

I don't know what to make of this report, written down many decades
after the event. It is well possible that the witness had woven the
observation of a major fireball and other experiences into the report
about the devastating earthquake that had killed 10 000's, and major
earthquakes happen in the Aleppo area every 100 or 200 years - a quake
there in 1138 was actually the 3rd-most devastating in history*****).
Rada has recently started to look for an astrobleme in the Aleppo area,
but the candidates he has located with the restricted resources he has
had so far are not convincing at all. Other similar reports of fire in
the sky with resulting devastation or casualties he has found in much
earlier chronicles might actually be more substantial, and he's got a
notebook full of such references.

Not only to me does Dr. Wafiq S. Rada - who, after spending time in the
U.K. as well as in Canada, speaks fluent English - appear as a very
dedicated researcher with a unique blend of talents who might be onto
something important. What he now needs is a collaborator with similar
interests, anywhere in the (Western) world, and some moderate funding:
Then, he says, he would be able to complete several key papers within
about a year. Dr. Rada can be reached during the coming months c/o The
Jordanian Astronomical Society (JAS), P.O.Box 141568, Amman 11814,
Jordan, while copies of his CV (in Arabic), a complete list of
publications and various letters of recommendation could be obtained
directly from me. While Rada holds an Iraqi passport he has had no
trouble obtaining Western visa despite the continuing sanctions, so he
could join a research group basically everywhere.

Daniel Fischer (, April 22, 2000

*) Rada et al., Nuclear Instruments and Methods Vol. 145, 283 (1977)

**) Rada and Stephenson, Quarterly J. of the RAS Vol. 33, 5 (1992)


****) This important earthquake is either mentioned or listed in



>From Alison Garritya <>

Dear Dr. Peiser,
I am writing to you from Survival Anglia Television, where I am
currently researching a proposed television series on the future of the
planet earth. At survival we make natural history documentaries, and as
such our series would have an enviromental feel to it.
I have been researching the long term implications on earth of a comet
impact, and as such have come across your research on the Bronze Age. I
am writing to you now to ask you for some advice.
I am trying to find out if there are people who are currently
researching the implications of such an impact on today's planet, and
what those long term implications would be hundreds or even thousands
of years after such an event. I would be extremely grateful if you
were able to reccommend somebody that I should get in contact with, or
any papers that I should read.
I am trying to gather as much information as possible on future
pressures on the planet following an impact, and what the resultant
evolution might be. I realise that there will no doubt be differing
views, and I am keen to hear them all.
We plan to do a series of programmes that will follow the planet
through thousands of years in to the future. Looking at various
different scenarios in each programme. In some scenarios we will see an
end to the human race, and in others we will see it evolving. At the
moment this is pretty much a blank page for me, so I am interested in
what might make the most dramatic storyline.
I had thought that I would like to look at the future implications
following an impact with a large object, somewhere in the region of 2-4
kms across. This would allow me the opportunity to show how the
remaining human population would have to evolve to overcome the long
lasting effects of such a huge impact.
I would be extremely appreciative of any comments on the above
scenario, from both yourself, and anyone on your mailing list. I would
be delighted for you to post my email address for any return comments.

I thank you very much for your time.
Yours sincerely,
Alison Garrity


>From News, 19 April 2000

By Larry O'Hanlon,

April 19, 2000 -- Australian geologists have discovered the buried
remains of an 80-mile wide impact crater that could be the culprit
behind the worst extinction catastrophe in Earth's history.

Geologists detected the crater through smashed mineral grains and
magnetic and gravity measurements of the region around the town of
Woodleigh, near Shark Bay on Australia's west coast.

Although no precise age for the crater -- the fourth largest in the
world -- has been determined yet, it appears to be 250-360 million
years old, making it a possible source for the massive Permian-Triassic
extinction event that wiped out almost all life on the planet 250
million years ago.

The Permian-Triassic die-off destroyed 96 percent of all sea life and
nearly as much on land. It dwarfs the 65-million-year-old
Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions that eradicated 75 percent of species,
including the dinosaurs.

"The global environmental effects would have been catastrophic," said
Geological Survey of Western Australia geoscientist Robert Iasky, who,
with colleague Arthur Mory, hunted down the crater.



>From, 21 April 2000
SYDNEY, Australia – A new crater, the world’s fourth-largest at 75
miles (120 kilometers) across, has been found in western
Australia. Scientists believe the impact crater was caused by a
3-mile (5-kilometer) wide asteroid slamming into the area, causing
a wave of extinction 200 million to 360 million years ago. Upon
impact, massive earthquakes pulsated out hundreds of miles
(kilometers) from the site. Local animal life was vaporized by
intense heat or pulverized by massive sonic waves. The crash also
fostered regional volcanic activity and almost certainly sparked
tsunamis, or tidal waves, in the nearby ocean. Worst of all, the
violent crash must have shot huge amounts of dust into the sky
that blocked out the sun for months, killing plant and animal life
dependent upon stable atmospheric conditions.

"Lack of sunlight, temporary changes in climate and associated
acidification of rain would have resulted in an environment similar to
a prolonged nuclear or volcanic ‘winter,’" said Western Australia
government geoscientist Robert Iasky. He and a colleague confirmed the
crater’s existence last year while researching the isolated region’s
mineral exploration potential. The new crater has been named Woodleigh
in honor of the sheep station north of Perth, where it was found.

The crater now enters the record books as smaller in size only to
Vredefort crater in South Africa (at 1,865 miles, or 300 kilometers
across), the Sudbury crater in Canada (at 155 miles, or 250 kilometers)
and the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico (at 110 miles, or 180
kilometers). It displaces the Manicougan crater in Quebec and Popigai
crater in Russia (both roughly 60 miles, or 100 kilometers across),
which now become Earth’s fifth-largest known craters.



>From Larry Klaes <>
General: U.S. Military Doesn't Need Separate Space Force

>From Spaceviews, 22 April 2000

An Air Force general said this week that the best way for the United
States to handle the growing importance of space operations in the 21st
century is not through the creation of a separate "Space Force".

Instead, said Lt. General Roger DeKok, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans
and Programs for the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force should evolve into
an "Aerospace Force" that can better integrate air and space vehicles
to meet the nation's defense needs.



>From Bob Kobres <>

Creation science is far from extinct. On the contrary, says Debora
MacKenzie, it's mutating and spreading
IN THE BEGINNING, there wasn't that much fuss. Charles Darwin published
On the Origin of Species in 1859. By 1900, mainstream Protestants had
adapted their theology to it. More conservative Christians had
misgivings. But nearly all agreed that the Earth is millions of years
old, and there was no organised opposition to the teaching of evolution.

Now, a century later, the US is the world's leading scientific nation.
Yet 47 per cent of Americans--and a quarter of college
graduates--believe humans did not evolve, but were created by God a few
thousand years ago. Nearly a third believe creationism should be taught
in science lessons (see below).
continued @:


>From National Post, 22 April 2000


Margaret Thatcher's biggest feat as a world politician was not
transforming Britain, says Richard S. Courtney. It was making the
global warming issue a widespread political cause -- but for all the
wrong reasons.

The hypothesis of man-made global warming has existed since the 1880s.
It was an obscure scientific hypothesis that burning fossil fuels would
increase CO2 in the air to enhance the greenhouse effect and thus cause
global warming. Before the 1980s, this hypothesis was usually regarded
as a curiosity because the 19th-century calculations indicated
that mean global temperature should have risen more than 1 degree
Celsius by 1940, and it had not.

Then, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of the U.K., and
she elevated the hypothesis to the status of a major international
policy issue. Many now consider Mrs. Thatcher to have been a great U.K.
politician: She gave her Conservative Party victory in three general
elections, presided over the U.K.'s conduct of the Falklands War,
replaced much of the U.K. welfare state with monetarist economics and
privatized most of the nationalized industries.

But she had yet to gain that reputation when she came to power in 1979.
Then, she was the first female leader of a major Western state, and she
desired to be taken seriously by political leaders of other major
countries. This seemed difficult, because her only experience in
government had been as education secretary -- a junior ministry -- in
the Heath administration that collapsed in 1974. She had achieved
nothing notable as education secretary, but was remembered by the
public for having removed the distribution of milk to schoolchildren
(she was popularly known as "Milk Snatcher Thatcher").

Sir Crispin Tickell, then U.K. ambassador to the UN, suggested a
solution. He pointed out that almost all international statesmen are
scientifically illiterate, so a scientifically literate politician
could win any summit debate on a matter requiring scientific
understanding. And Mrs. Thatcher had a BSc degree in chemistry. This is
probably the most important fact in the entire global warming issue:
Mrs. Thatcher had a BSc degree in chemistry.

Sir Crispin pointed out that if a scientific issue were to gain
international significance, the U.K.'s prime minister could easily take
a prominent role, and this could provide credibility for her views on
other world affairs. He suggested that Mrs. Thatcher campaign about
global warming at each summit meeting. She did, and the tactic worked.
Mrs. Thatcher rapidly gained the desired international respect, and the
U.K. became the prime promoter of the global warming issue.


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