17 April 2007

January - February 2006

European craft snaps a 16-mile crater on Mars

London Times

6 Jan 2006

Images of a 16-mile (26km) crater on the southeastern surface of Mars, captured by an orbiting spacecraft, have been released by scientists.

The European Space Agency?s Mars Express orbiter took the photographs of the elliptical impact crater, right, as it passed over the Hesperia Planum region of the planet.

The image was captured in May 2004 using a high-resolution stereo camera, during the spacecraft ?s 368th orbit of the planet. The mission was launched in June 2003.

Scientists said that the crater had probably been caused by a collision with debris. Mars Express was the first European spacecraft to be sent to the planet. Data collected from it is transmitted to a station near Perth, Australia, and sent on to the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Posted on SOTT 7-8 Jan 06

Doom from the sky

Rutland Herald

January 4, 2006

People laugh about the story of Chicken Little who cries out that the sky is falling. But a group of astronomers has warned that something like that may very well happen before this half-century is out. They have discovered an asteroid nearly a quarter-mile wide that they think might slam into the earth 30 years from now and are urging immediate action by governments around the world to start planning programs to avert that happening.

The group is made up of people who are experts in near-Earth objects, for which they make the acronym NEO. They had a conference in London recently and compared notes on their findings.

The asteroid in question was identified in 2004 and studied in 2005 for its trajectory. At first they were scared enough to believe that it could hit the earth in 2029. Then they did some more fine-tuning of their computer data and decided that it would come close to the earth in 2029, but wouldn't be on a possible collision course until 2036.

They're worried. As one of the conferees said: "It's question of when ? not if ? a near-Earth object collides with Earth."

The conference pointed out that the geologic record shows that an object a half-mile or more in width has collided with the earth every few hundred thousand years. An object three miles wide, which could cause mass extinction, has hit the earth every hundred million years.

Given the geologic record of the last time something like that happened, one scientist at the conference said: "We are overdue for a big one." [...]

Crystal ball for 2006 sees giant asteroid crash (or not)

Sat Dec 31, 3:11 AM ET

PARIS - In 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback -- and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup.

If Earth doesn't get wiped out by a giant comet first, that is.

Maybe it will all come true and maybe not, but a legion of soothsayers -- from business gurus to Bible decoders -- is full of predictions for the year to come.

Some use elaborate computer programs like "Torah4U" to ferret out remarkably precise predictions allegedly hidden within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah.

One Website complete with diagrammed excerpts from Holy scripture, exodus2006.com, foresees the November re-election of Schwarzenegger along with the re-establishment of a military draft in the United States.

It also predicts that August 3, 2006 will be a blood-drenched day -- yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010.

Annie Stanton, one of countless psychics plying her trade on the Internet, predicts that catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet. [...]

Comment: Anyone can make predictions. Not everyone collects data to demonstrate that the incidences of meteorites and other NEOs visiting the planet have been increasing recently. In any case, it is clear that the idea of a disaster involving a cosmic body slamming into Earth is being subtly brought to the attention of the masses.

Flashback: More Conditioning?

QFG Member,CM

27 Dec 2005

Being home due to the holidays, I've seen a lot more tv than usual. Has anyone else noticed the increasing references to meteors and asteroids in weird places?

The most blatent one is a commercial for a new variety of garbage bag (Glad) which is more stretchy. It's got a lady emptying her kitchen trash while listening to a tv report of a meteor shower impacting the earth. The next scene is '50s style sci-fi kitsch with the meteors coming down on the earth and being caught in this super-stretchy strong new garbage bag. It then shows this gal taking her trash out to be collected and pulling a chuck of rock off the windshield of a car and putting in the bag. (Nothing to worry about here . . .)

The second weird reference was in a Discovery channel show, which was a "teen science challange". They got these teams of whiz kids together for a sort of science-under-pressure contest. The teams were presented with five types of natural disaster and had to come up with ways of accurately modeling them for study and ways to collect the data. Among the things they had to figure out was how to make a device to cause a wave tank to consistently model a tsunami. The talking head host mentions that tsunamis can be caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, **asteroid strikes**, and volcanic eruptions.

These were both today. It just seems like there's a general uptick in the mentions of asteroids/meteors lately.

Odd Powder Descends On Cars

NBC5 News

12:14 pm CST January 6, 2006

CHICAGO -- It's not your imagination if you've walked outside and noticed a rusty colored dust sprinkled all over your car.

The strange rusty powder appeared on cars in the Chicago area this week.

Angelo Mavaraganes, who runs a car repair shop on the Northwest Side, said he has seen it on at least 30 cars the last few days.

"One came from Crystal Lake, and one was from Mount Prospect, and another one from Homewood/Flossmor," Mavaraganes said.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sent a field agent to collect evidence of the powder.

"He and myself together, we collected a sample," Mavaraganes said. "We scraped together some, I was able to amass maybe a teaspoon full in a cup, and he took it with him."

Cars at the police parking lot at Belmont and Western have the rusty powder all over them, too.

NBC5's Mary Ann Ahern said a lot of people in Chicago want to know what the stuff is that has fallen all over their cars.

"Where is this coming from? What effects is it going to have on us?" Mavaraganes asked.

Some suggested the rusty powder came with the recent rain, dirt from the southwest part of the U.S. Lab tests will tell more.

A spokesman for the Illinois EPA said the lab results on the mysterious powder should be in early next week.

Posted on SOTT 9 Jan 06

Mystery bang causes alarm in coastal communities



07 January 2006

A Mystery noise, suspected to have been a sonic boom, sent shock waves through communities along a stretch of Aberdeenshire coastline yesterday.

The sound, described as a loud, two-part bang above ground level, shook windows and tiles and prompted several calls to the police.

People in Cove, Portlethen and Stonehaven heard the noise at about 11.25am, variously describing it as like a quarry blast, gas explosion or firework.

But other people, who in some cases were only in the next room, heard nothing. Police are still unsure what caused the sound.

It is thought it may have been a sonic boom, which is the sound made by the shock wave created when an aircraft or missile passes through the sound barrier.

Sonic booms are often heard as a double-bang, which was reported by some people yesterday.

They also tend to cause windows to shatter. But that did not happen yesterday - and the RAF said there were no military aircraft active nearby.

Harry Roulston, 63, of Stonehaven, was on Portlethen golf course when he heard two very loud noises in quick succession.

Comment: Note the persistent claim that it was a sonic boom, even after the RAF said there were no aircraft in the area. Of course, they could be lying and were in fact testing some super-secret military craft, but chances are that this mystery boom, like so many others in recent years, was an overhead meteorite explosion.

Posted on SOTT 10 Jan 06

Astronomers discover the North Star has another companion

Last Updated Mon, 09 Jan 2006 16:28:21 EST

CBC News

Astronomers have discovered that the North Star has a second smaller star next to it. Researchers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore found the star, which they called Polaris Ab, by using the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

"With Hubble, we've pulled the North Star's companion out of the shadows and into the spotlight," said Howard Bond, a member of the research team.

The scientists described Polaris Ab and how they detected it on Monday at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

While the North Star, also known as Polaris, is a super-giant more than 2,000 times brighter than the sun, its newly discovered second close companion is a dwarf star 3.2 billion kilometres away from it.

The first known companion can be seen with a small telescope. The three-star system is 430 light years away from Earth. A light-year is about 9.5 trillion kilometres, the distance light travels in a year.

By observing the movements of the new companion star, researchers hope to determine the mass of the North Star more accurately.

Knowing the mass is important for astronomers and cosmologists, who rely on measuring differences in the brightness of the North Star to determine the distance of galaxies and the expansion rate of the universe.

Posted on SOTT 11 Jan 06

NTSB Solves Riddle of Small Plane Crash in '02

By Sara Kehaulani Goo

Washington Post

January 11, 2006

The federal government said yesterday that it has solved the three-year-old mystery of a small plane crash in Alabama that, at least initially, appeared to have been the result of an in-flight collision with an unexplained object.

The nighttime crash in October 2002 of the single-engine Cessna cargo plane killed the pilot, the plane's only occupant, and launched UFO and government-conspiracy theories on Web sites, pondering what it might have collided with. Red scuff marks were found on pieces of the wreckage after it was pulled from a swamp.

Some pilots theorized that the Cessna was struck by a stray unmanned drone, many of which are painted red or orange, that are flown by the military at a nearby Air Force base. The investigation so frustrated the dead pilot's sister that she spent weeks combing Big Bateau Bay for clues.

After taking the unusual step of moving the aircraft to Washington and sending the red paint marks to four laboratories for testing, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the pilot became disoriented while flying through cloud layers and crashed the plane probably after seeing a large plane coming near him.

Tests from the labs, one at the FBI, found that most of the red-marked pieces were similar to materials inside the cargo plane, including baseball caps, audiotape packaging, a fire extinguisher, a tow bar and a Priority Mail envelope. The Wright Patterson Air Force Laboratory said that red color on the wreckage did not match the polyurethane coating on the exterior of the drone it used from Eglin Air Force Base.

"Wreckage examinations . . . revealed no evidence of an in-flight collision or breakup, or of external contact by a foreign object," the NTSB's report said. The red scuff marks on the wreckage did not appear in a pattern that suggested a collision, the report said.

The safety board's simulation of the accident revealed that the pilot, Thomas J. Preziose, was flying between cloud layers when he was notified of a FedEx DC-10 flying in the area. Even though the DC-10 was 2,400 feet higher and more than a mile away, it probably appeared much closer to the pilot, the report indicated. The pilot's "view of the DC-10 moved diagonally across the windscreen from his left to straight in front of the Cessna while [appearing to triple] in size" in just seconds, the report said.

If a pilot is distracted and does not have a view of the horizon, as in this case, it is easy to become disoriented, said John Clark, head of NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety. "It's quite insidious if you're between layers of clouds; you can get screwed up," he said. "If you start moving your head or moving up and down, you can screw up your inner balance."

Still, a lawyer who said he represents two sons of the pilot, said he does not believe the safety board's conclusion and that he plans to press ahead in federal court with a lawsuit that blames the weather, air traffic control and other factors.

"I don't think the board's got it straight," Tony B. Jobe said. "The plot is thickening."

Posted on SOTT 12 Jan 06

Disaster Planning: Norway builds a 'doomsday vault'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

12 January 2006

Norway has revealed a plan to build a "doomsday vault" hewn out of an Arctic mountain to store two million crop seeds in the event of a global disaster.

The store is designed to hold all the seeds representing the world's crops and is being built to safeguard future food supplies in the event of widespread environmental collapse.

"If the worst came to the worst, this would allow the world to reconstruct agriculture on this planet," Cary Fowler, the director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, told New Scientist magazine. The Norwegian government is planning to start work on the seed vault next year when construction engineers will drill into a sandstone mountain on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago, about 600 miles from the North Pole.

Permafrost will keep the vault below freezing point and the seeds will be further protected by metre-thick walls of reinforced concrete, two airlocks and high-security, blast-proof doors. To survive, the seeds need to be frozen. The plan is to replace the air inside the vault each winter, when temperatures on Spitsbergen fall to minus 18C.

"This will be the world's most secure gene bank by some orders of magnitude," said Dr Fowler. "But its seeds will only be used when all other samples have gone for some reason. It is a fail-safe depository, rather than a conventional seed bank." The ?1.67m facility will not be permanently manned but "the mountains are patrolled by polar bears".

The proposal is backed by Norway, which outlined a similar project in the 1980s that was thwarted at the time by the Soviet Union's access to Spitsbergen.

Wera Helstroem, a spokeswoman for Norway's foreign ministry said: "Norway is seen as a good place, because it has a stable society and democracy."

The number of seeds and types of plants would be determined by the countries wishing to use the seed bank, which would be operated as if it were a bank vault, she added. "It is like a bank box. We own the vault, but other countries own what is in it. They can put things in and take them out whenever they want to."

Posted on SOTT 13 Jan 06

(Yet another) Meteor lights up the morning skies

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mike Vogel/KTVB

BOISEE -- It happened early Thursday morning around 7:15 a.m.

Jacqueline Correnti describes what she the bright meteor she saw in the morning sky.

A very bright meteor lit up the skies and streaked across the horizon.

NewsChannel 7 spoke with several of the people who witnessed it.

We had numerous calls here at the station from people who saw it.

Police dispatch also took several calls, and even one person in the Boise Airport tower saw it.

And though the eyewitness accounts vary slightly, they are all consistent with it being a meteor.

Comment: A post from our Forum:
I?m currently living in a town in Essex, UK

Last night on 11th January 2006 at roughly 19:10hours I witnessed a descending meteoric phenomena which, if I were to hazard a guess, was a small meteor breaking up to the NE of my position.

I?d guess [it was]no more than 3-6miles from my position as the view I had was clear enough to see a glittering trail of sparks and colour descending with it, although there was no impact sound, I didn't really expect any. It was in my view for around 1.5-3 seconds, so I hadn't seen it descend from a great distance and my view was obscured quickly by other houses.

To date in the last - maybe - year or more of watching the skies, this is the sixth or so time I've seen this same type of meteoric phenomena. I think we've been lucky so far as I have yet to have heard any impact. To be quite honest the first 2-3 times I have witnessed this, it really sent a chill down my spine as one of these phenomena occurred in a horizontal position across a small valley on which I live on the high side, and I knew that whatever it was could have been no more than 200-300feet above my head as it was travelling between the land and the thick cloud cover overhead.

I have had my attention drawn to the skies so many times now and seen so many unexplainable occurrences and strange celestial events, I thought I'd start sharing them as and when they occur in future. Ourselves in the future have helped me so much already in understanding what's going on, I felt its time to try and help share the high strangeness I see going on in the world around my locality.

Keep the hard hats handy.

Another reader writes:

After reading several sightings of meteror's on the signs page I thought I would mention what my husband saw last week.

He's been working in Cut Bank, MT and around 7:30, I believe it was Wednesday, he saw what he at first thought was a missile shooting across and down from the sky. If it was a "shooting star", he said he has never seen anything like it in his life. Gave him quite a jolt. He's spent a good deal of his life outdoors camping, hunting, hiking and racing, not to mention being an ex-army ranger.

Thank you for all you efforts.

Posted on SOTT 14-15 Jan 06

MYSTERY SOUND: Was big bang a sonic boom?

Peterborough Today


A MYSTERIOUS big bang which shook a town and villages could have been a sonic boom caused by an aircraft flying too fast, it has been claimed.

People across Spalding and as far as Eye, near Peterborough (Southern England), were left reeling after the boom, which was heard and felt at about 2pm on Thursday, January 12 2006.

Today, January 13, the cause of the noise is unclear, although many suspect it was a sonic boom, caused by a jet breaking through the sound barrier. But nobody can give a definite answer to the questions.

Stuart Green, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said: "There is a channel for military aircraft off the east of England, and, occasionally, pilots go through it too fast.

"RAF pilots go to a lot of trouble not to make sonic bangs, and they don't like it when aircraft from other countries go too fast."

David Galloway, assistant seismologist at the British Geological Survey, said: "We have national and regional monitors which would normally trace something like a sonic boom. But I checked for half an hour either side of the time the noise was reported and nothing came up."

Inspector Dick Holmes, of Lincolnshire police, said: "We received several telephone calls from concerned members of the public. However, we have no idea what was behind the noise."

Although the noise was thought to come from directly over Spalding, it was heard by people living in Thorney and Eye, near Peterborough, and Gedney, near Wisbech.

Liz Fowler, a receptionist at the Castle Manor Leisure Centre in Albion Street, Spalding, said: "It sounded like someone had dropped a weight or pushed a machine over. It was a very loud thud.

"We rushed upstairs to see what had happened, but of course nothing was wrong.

Everyone has been talking about it. Lots of people think it was a sonic boom."

Margaret Dark, of London Road, Spalding, said her house shook under the force. She said: "All the birds flew up in the air. I thought maybe a lorry had crashed."

But Tony Walsh, RAF Wittering spokesman, said: "I have no idea what might have caused it, but it was not us.

"It sounds like a sonic boom, but our harriers don't go fast enough. We have now launched an investigation."

And Miriam Adol, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence, added: "As far as I am aware, there was no military activity going on which could have been responsible."

Comment: Would anyone care to offer a theory as to what these booms, that have been regularly heard around the globe in recent years, are? In most cases, they are obviously not sonic booms. So what are they?

Posted on SOTT 16 Jan 06

'Mild' collision spawned Earth's moon

January 2006

NewScientist.com news service

Maggie McKee

The collision that spawned the Earth's moon was relatively mild, reveals the longest and most detailed computer simulation ever done of the impact. The research puts limits on the size and velocity of space rocks that can lead to the formation of satellites in cosmic smash-ups.

Computer models suggest the Moon formed after an object the size of Mars (just over half the diameter of Earth) crashed into Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. Debris from the impact formed a disc around Earth that eventually coalesced to become the Moon.

But modelling the process realistically is extremely difficult, and researchers have tried a variety of approaches. Most have used single particles in the models to represent some larger number of real particles, a method called Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH).

But the best of these models use just a few thousand particles in the debris disc, and therefore can not reveal detailed disc structures. As a result, the models can only recreate conditions for less than a day after the impact.

"Extreme" simulations

Now, researchers led by Keiichi Wada at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo have used another approach to model the disc for about four days. They divided the disc into a three-dimensional grid of boxes ? each with its own properties, such as temperature and density ? and evolved the boxes over time. They ran two "extreme" simulations ? one in which the disc was made mostly of hot gas, and another where it was mostly liquid and solid.

Both simulations behaved similarly for the first 10 hours after the initial impact, with the damaged impactor circling back and hitting Earth a second time, when it is destroyed. This accords with SPH models as well, suggesting gravity is the dominant force in the early formation of the disc.

But the two models begin to diverge after that. If the impactor vaporises when it is destroyed, spiral shock waves are created that slow down the disc's rotation. This allows the disc material to fall onto the Earth and prevents the formation of a moon.

Trouble with models

In contrast, if the impactor produces mostly liquid or solid debris, the shocks cannot slow the disc down enough to make it fall to Earth, and the Moon is formed. The researchers suggest that any impact powerful enough to vaporise the impactor would not form a satellite.

In the case of the Earth, they estimate the Mars-sized object must have been travelling at less than 15 kilometres per second. In more general terms, they conclude that if an impactor is more than a few times the mass of Earth, then "the giant impact never results in forming a large satellite".

Scott Kenyon, an astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, says the conclusion is reasonable. "The gaseous disc would most likely collapse faster than a solid or liquid disc," he told New Scientist.

But he points out that astronomers have long struggled with modelling the viscosity of gas in rotating discs. He says all models have this problem, but that the 3D grid approach may be more vulnerable to it because the viscosity must be chosen by the researchers, and the value selected could affect the timescale over which the disc falls to Earth.

Journal reference: Upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal

Posted on SOTT 18 Jan 06

Large Meteorite Found In Western Kansas Field

Kiowa County

Reporter: Deb Farris

January 11- A Kiowa County field again serves as the site of a large meteorite.

Steve Arnold has spent the past two months searching the Kiowa County farmland, and Tuesday his hard work paid off.

The first dig only unearthed a piece of scrap metal. After the second dig Arnold found what he was after-- A large palisite. A meteorite with precious gemstones inside. A collector's dream. "There are some that are more beautiful than others. this one has character that's a bonus, a plus," Arnold said.

Landowner Ron Ross flew back from vacation in Florida to watch Tuesday's dig.

This isn't Arnold's first find on the property. Last fall he found a 1500 pound rock worth more than a million dollars.

The latest find weighs in at 81 pounds. Arnold plans to sell it.

Meteorite Impact Reformulated Earth's Crust, Study Shows

John Roach for National Geographic News

January 12, 2006

About 1.8 billion years ago, a meteorite or comet the size of Mount Everest slammed into what is now Canada.

According to James Mungall, a University of Toronto geologist, the impact turned part of the Earth's crust inside out and dusted the surface with a rare metal.

Mungall and other experts studying impact craters, such as this one in Sudbury, Ontario, hope to understand how a period of continual bombardment about four billion years ago shaped the planet.

Until now researchers had found scant evidence that a meteorite could pierce through Earth's upper crust and alter its compositional makeup.

"Over a few hundred million years when this was going on, there must have been a lot of mixing going on in the upper crust," said Mungall, who studies the Sudbury impact site.

David Kring is a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and an authority on impact craters. He said the findings from Sudbury are similar to those he and his colleagues have reached from studying a crater in Chicxulub, Mexico.

"I don't think it is yet widely appreciated, but impact cratering has the capacity to redistribute the chemical elements in the Earth's crust," Kring said.

As well, Kring adds, an emerging theory in the field of impact crater research is that the largest of these impact events early in Earth's history may have created the conditions needed for the evolution of life.

The impacts, he explains, would have heated water in the Earth's crust and created vast hydrothermal vent systems. Many scientists believe these unusual underwater ecosystems helped give rise to early life.

Researchers assumed volcanic activity mostly created hydrothermal vent systems. "But four billion years ago a dominant source was impact-generated hydrothermal systems," Kling said.

Impact Evidence

The field of impact crater research is just coming into prominence in the scientific community. Mungall says that 15 years ago scientists couldn't even agree that the Sudbury crater resulted from a meteorite impact.

The signs of the impact are vague, because most of the crater has eroded. Geological processes, such as plate tectonics and volcanism, have almost completely eroded Earth's oldest impact craters.

But the Sudbury and Chicxulub craters, along with a third in Vredefort, South Africa, are still visible enough to provide clues to the planet's formative years.

Today the Sudbury impact basin is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) long and 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide. Mungall and his colleagues believe the crater was originally about 155 miles (250 kilometers) in diameter.

Scientists looking for signs of the impact must cover a large area of ground, and much of the evidence they look for is small.

According to Mungall, the most convincing pieces of evidence are shatter cones—coned-shaped fractures in the rock ranging in size from inches to tens of feet across.

"The only way you can get shatter cones is when extremely strong shock waves are passing through material. They don't form any other way," he said. "The only other places you see them on Earth are around nuclear test sites."

Other bits of evidence include microscopic, flaky diamonds formed by the passage of shock waves through carbon-rich rocks. The shock waves also transform tiny mineral crystals into glass.

Explosive Impact

To make the Sudbury impact crater, the meteorite would have to have been about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter traveling at 89,000 miles per hour (143,232 kilometers per hour), Mungall says.

Shock waves from the meteorite as it plunged into Earth likely caused up to 6,500 cubic miles (27,000 cubic kilometers) of crust to melt, he says.

A plume of superheated rock from the deepest part of the 19- to 25-mile-thick (30- to 40-kilometer-thick) crust then flew upward and landed on top of the impact site, essentially turning the crust there inside out, Mungall explains.

Mungall also suggests that the meteorite vaporized on impact. Its components then condensed and rained back down.

This, he says, would account for the increased concentrations of iridium—a rare metal found mainly in the Earth's mantle and in meteorites—he and his colleagues found in the upper layers of the crater's crust.

The Sudbury site also has relatively low concentrations of magnesium and nickel, two elements that are common in Earth's mantle. The researchers therefore concluded that the iridium originated from the meteorite.

According to Kring, of the University of Arizona, events like those at Sudbury 1.8 billion years ago and Chicxulub 65 million years ago were tiny compared to those during the period of heavy bombardment in Earth's formative years.

His calculations suggest there were perhaps as many 40 impact events that produced craters at least 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter during that time.

"That would have redistributed the chemical elements in Earth's crust to a great extent," he said.

Comment: The question is, could such an even have happened more recently? Say... 12,000 years ago or so?

Posted on SOTT 20-22 Jan 06

Mystery boom rocks local area


19 Jan 06

MOBILE, Ala. - It wasn't an earthquake, but it felt like it to many of you.

What sounded and felt like an intense explosion rocked much of the local area around 2:30 Thursday afternoon, shaking homes and businesses and shaking up a lot of residents.

"I heard a shaking and a rattling,” said Lana Cook, who experienced the boom in her home off Moffet Road. "It was like someone pounding with their fists."

The boom created some scary moments for residents throughout much of the local area, who experienced what sounded and felt like an explosion.

"This was hard, loud and continuous,” Cook added.

Mobile County's Emergency Management Agency says crews were dispatched to check for any type of explosion or industrial accident.

They say they're looking at the incident as most likely a sonic boom whose intensity was amplified by local weather conditions. Chris Norton was at work at a warehouse off Moffett Road when he felt the boom.

“I kind of felt like the walls had expanded,” Norton said. “You could feel the walls and doors sort of blow open. Iit was pretty intense."

For the time being, the exact cause remains unknown. The National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado registered no unusual activity, and officials at Eglin Air Force Base say they had no high-speed flights that would have caused a sonic boom.

No injuries or structural damage was reported after this afternoon's boom.

Posted on SOTT 1 Feb 06

'Meteor' falls on the ground

Unb, Thakurgaon

A 'meteor' from outer space fell with a big bang on a field in Singpara village of sadar upazila yesterday afternoon creating panic and curiosity among people.

No one was reported hurt.

On information Superintendent of Police Khandker Golam Farooq rushed to the spot and asked his companions and villagers to dig the earth near the house of one Fazlur Rahman from where smoke was still emitting.

To their amazement they found a lead-like black material three feet below the earth. Hot and weighing 2.5kg, the triangular material looked like a mortar shell, witnesses said.

The meteor was kept in custody of the Thakurgaon Police Station.

Posted on SOTT 2 Feb 06

Fireball streaks across Calgary sky


February 01, 2006

People looking to the sky Wednesday morning got a special treat. A fireball appeared in the sky south of Calgary just before seven o'clock. It moved quickly from east to west before it burned out. Witnesses say it broke into pieces when it flared out.

Several people have reported the fireball to University of Calgary professor Alan Hildebrand. He's hoping that someone close to where the fireball exploded, saw it, or heard the sonic boom, will call in. That will help locate pieces of the meteorite.

If you saw the fireball, you can report it to the North American Meteor Network.

Mystery over bang which shook district

Published Date: 17 January 2006

Location: Spalding

MYSTERY still surrounds a bang that shook Spalding and the surrounding area.

The noise was heard at 2.19pm on Wednesday. It caused buildings to shake and the ground to vibrate.

But Lincolnshire Police, Lincolnshire Ambulance Service and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue received no reports of any incidents in the area.

Many people now believe it was a sonic boom, caused when a jet breaks through the sound barrier, but no-one can give a definitive answer and experts say that theory is unlikely.

David Galloway, assistant seismologist at the British Geographical Survey, said their national and regional monitors would normally trace things such as a sonic boom.

He added: "I have checked the system for half an hour either side of the time the noise was reported and absolutely nothing came up."

The "big bang" caused the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian building to shake, while staff at South Holland District Council thought the noise had come from within their building because it was so loud. Press officer Sharon Dabell said: "There is an attic above my head and I thought the noise had come from something heavy being dropped in there."

Pedestrians in Spalding town centre stopped dead on hearing the noise while several cars in the Sheep Market pulled over.

The noise was heard by residents in Gedney, Bourne, Baston and even as far away as Eye, although most believe the source of the noise was directly above Spalding.

The Lincolnshire Free Press received several calls from concerned residents on Wednesday afternoon as people tried to establish what has happened.

Noel Pullford heard the bang and saw the ground shake while walking dogs in Deeping High Bank.

He said: "There was a huge crack of noise and I could see the vibrations come through the trees, which all moved, and then go right across the field.

"I would say it actually began in one spot and spread because there were a lot of sheep in a field that ran away from where they were standing as soon as it happened.

"It is really strange. I did not realise that it had been heard by so many people."

Margaret Dark, of London Road, Spalding, said: "I thought there had been an explosion or crash outside. It is very strange that no-one knows what it was.
"It shook my windows and everyone outside stopped when it happened."
The force of the bang was so great that it turned off the fridges at Sheep Market newsagent Classic News.

A local radio station claimed the noise had been caused by RAF Harrier jets but that theory has been dismissed as the aircraft is incapable of travelling faster than the speed of sound.

While there is a channel for military aircraft to use off the East of England, RAF pilots make every effort not to travel above the speed of sound and try to encourage pilots from other countries to avoid doing so.

Tony Walsh, of RAF Wittering, said: "I have no idea what might have caused it but it was not us."

And a Ministry of Defence spokesman said there was no military activity going on in the area which could have been responsible.

If you believe you know what was responsible for the noise then e-mail rob.jerram@jpress.co.uk

Posted on SOTT 3 Feb 06

Asteroids near Jupiter are really comets Observations indicate two orbiting bodies are mostly water ice

By Ker Than MSNBC Feb. 1, 2006

Two objects lurking near Jupiter and once considered rocky asteroids have turned out to be comets made up mostly of ice and dirt.

Using the Keck II Laser Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers found that the two objects, 617 Patroclus and its companion, Menoetius, had a density of only 0.8 grams per cubic centimeters ? only a third that of rock.

Most likely, the researchers say, Patroclus and Menoetius are comets, which are typically composed mainly of water ice and therefore much less dense than asteroids.

The findings could mean that many or most of asteroidlike objects hovering around Jupiter and known as Trojans are actually comets that originated much farther from the sun and were captured by the giant gas planet when the solar system was still young.

The findings are detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Patroclus and Menoetius are the only known binary objects around Jupiter. The two bodies orbit around each other while floating 465 million miles (750 million kilometers) from Jupiter in one of gas planet?s two so-called Lagrange points. At these points, the gravitational field of Jupiter and the sun are perfectly balanced, and objects can be captured and brought to relative rest. Jupiter has two Lagrange points, one in front and the other behind as the planet orbits the sun.

Patroclus and Menoetius are estimated to be about 76 miles (122 kilometers) and 70 miles (112 kilometers) wide, respectively. The two objects are not the first to be mistaken for asteroids: in 1999, astronomers determined that C/199 J3 was also a comet.

Because most comets are thought to form in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region of the solar system outside the orbit of Neptune, the researchers think Patroclus and Menoetius formed about 650 million years after the formation of the solar system.

?It?s our suspicion that the Trojans are small Kuiper Belt Objects,? said study leader Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley.

According to one hypothesis proposed by the researchers, Jupiter captured the comets at a time when the large gas planets were orbiting much closer to the sun.

During this early period in the solar system, the gas planets were enveloped by billions of large asteroids called planetesimals. It?s thought that interactions with planetesimals caused the large gas planets to migrate outwards to their present positions. As the planets migrated, the swarming planetesimals were tossed around like confetti.

The majority of them would have been hurled into the outer reaches of the solar system to form the Kuiper Belt, while a smaller number would have been captured in the Lagrange points of Jupiter and the other gas planets.

Comment: A couple of things worth considering:

a) acknowledgement that comets are being 'captured' by the giants in our solar system, within the (generally speaking) MSM.

b) what caught my eye was that no mention of *when* these objects were first identified. A quick search led me to this site: List of Jupiter Trojans

Speaking strictly for myself, I had *no idea* that there were so many trojans captured by Jupiter. A quick extract of this table into Excel and some pivotable use leads to the following:

1) there are 1,889 Jupiter trojans listed on the Harvard University site.

2) of these 1,889 trojans, over 72 PERCENT have been identified since 1999.

Now, that doesn't mean that these items weren't there decades ago and were just recently found with some of the new, high powered telescopes being utilized. However, I would suggest that almost 1,400 trojans found since 1999 to be orbiting Jupiter -- some of which are now acknowledged to be captured comets -- is an awfully large number. [John, Signs Forum Member]

Water ice detected on comet's surface

By Ker Than SPACE.com Thursday, February 2, 2006

Scientists have long known that a major ingredient in comets is water ice, but they were unsure whether the ice was contained mainly inside or if it could be found on the surface as well.

A new analysis of data from NASA's Deep Impact mission last year provides the first evidence that water ice can indeed exist on a comet's exterior.

In a new study released Thursday in an online edition of the journal Science, researchers report that the surface of Tempel 1, the comet targeted by Deep Impact, has three small pockets of water ice.

Tempel 1 has a surface area of roughly 45 square miles, or 1.2 billion square feet. The area taken up by the water ice, however, is only 300,000 square feet. The rest of the comet surface is dust.

"It's like a seven-acre skating rink of snowy dirt," said study co-author Peter Schultz of Brown University.

On July 4, 2005, NASA slammed a heavy copper probe called "impactor" into Tempel 1's surface while it was 83 million miles from Earth.

The resulting collision created a stadium-sized crater and flung tons of debris into space. Impactor was one of two Deep Impact spacecrafts; the mothership, responsible for recording and analyzing the blast, was called "flyby".

The researchers believe Tempel 1's surface ice used to reside inside the comet and became exposed over time. It's also thought that occasional geyser-like blasts of dust and vapor, called jets, send the ice outward.

Once ejected, the ice crystals can become incorporated into the luminous coma, a cloud of material surrounding the main body of the comet, or the ice can become part of its tail.

The same team previously reported that Tempel 1's interior also contained an abundance of organic material and suggested the comet may have originated in a region of the solar system now occupied by Uranus and Neptune.



Gazette-Times reporter

Cruttenden argues that the precession is not caused by a wobble in the Earth's rotation, as is commonly taught, but may actually be caused by a companion star to our sun, one which currently is far away from the Earth but which would eventually rotate closer to the sun.

This binary companion would cause the sun's orbit to curve, and would explain the Precession of the Equinox by the way in which the Earth's rotation was affected by not one, but two stars.
We have certain assumptions about the world, ones that are so concrete, so obvious, that we never question them. For instance, the Earth revolves around the sun.

That was established as scientific fact centuries ago. Any kindergartner?s depiction of the world clearly indicates one bright sun hovering over the landscape.

But author Walter Cruttenden would argue that not so long ago, most people assumed that the world was flat, and that at some point we could sail right off the edge, into a land of terrible monsters. And according to Cruttenden, the idea that not one, but two suns, exist in our solar system, actually makes scientific sense.

His research is nothing if not controversial, but in his book "Lost Star of Myth and Time" Cruttenden looks at something called the Precession of the Equinox, which is the gradual backward movement of the constellations in the sky over the centuries.

Ancient astronomers were particularly aware of this phenomenon and calculated that it would take about 24,000 years for the constellations to return to their original point.

Cruttenden argues that the precession is not caused by a wobble in the Earth's rotation, as is commonly taught, but may actually be caused by a companion star to our sun, one which currently is far away from the Earth but which would eventually rotate closer to the sun.

This binary companion would cause the sun's orbit to curve, and would explain the Precession of the Equinox by the way in which the Earth's rotation was affected by not one, but two stars.

In addition to this hypothesis, Cruttenden also compares the 24,000-year cycle of precession with ancient beliefs from many cultures regarding the cyclical pattern of existence, which begins and ends with a Golden Age.

According to the author, civilization is much older than is currently believed, and that the myth of a Golden Age of advancement, both spiritually and technologically, is not a myth at all, but stories of a real time period, and one that the world will eventually achieve again. Currently, he says, we're living in a Bronze Age, and gradually heading toward a period of greater enlightenment.

Cruttenden?s book has been turned into a documentary called "The Great Year," narrated by actor James Earl Jones. The film explores ancient beliefs regarding astronomy, and looks at the idea of civilization moving in cyclical patterns, as well as discussing the mathematics behind the binary star theory. The film will be aired during Cruttenden?s presentation Monday in Corvallis.

Comment: As Laura Knight-Jadczyk writes in The Secret History of the World:

Now, did you notice what these two authors have done here? ...they have resorted to Uniformitarianism to explain the great mystery of this worldwide myth of the ?unhinging? of the Pole star. They, and many, many others, have followed this path, believing that all the clues from ancient monuments and myths have to do simply with measuring time, ?World Ages,? in more or less ?cultural? and historical terms. ... These more recent descriptions of ?ages? directly contradict the ancient ideas of the Yugas and the decline of human morality. ...

I should also point out right here that if the Precession of the Zodiac was such a great way to measure time and world ages, there wouldn?t be so many opinions about when one began and another ended. As a measure of time that is so ?vastly elegant,? it ought to at least work, right? Well, it doesn?t. What is more, the zodiac has been created and altered within recorded history, having at various times ten signs, eleven, twelve and thirteen. So, what?s the point? From this perspective, there isn?t one except for an attempt to deny the possibility that the ancients meant exactly what they said even if later interpreters have assured us that the tales were meant as allegories.

But still, using this Precession as a giant clock, with some fantastic perambulations through archaic lore, a dozen or more authors have produced as many different versions of what a ?world age? is, and ?when? they begin and end, and how. They then try to link these ages to all sorts of weird theories from the opening of ?stargates? to galactic core explosions to ?monuments to the end of time.?

The answer is a lot simpler than that. I think those things that point us to the idea that the pole comes ?unhinged? do, indeed, point to the Precession. But the important thing about this Precession is that it points us to the fact that the Earth WOBBLES. And I think that the thing the ancients are trying most desperately to point out to us in these stories is that the Earth wobbles for a REASON, and we ought to notice this wobble and ask some questions about the ?nine grim goddesses? who ?turn the handle? and where and what that ?handle? might be that increases friction to the point that fire is produced!

In Snorri?s Gylfaginning, there is a prediction for the future given in the Song of the Sybyl, followed by a dialogue between King Gylfi and the Aesir , disguised as men. King Gylfi asks: ?What happens when the whole world has burned up, the gods are dead, and all of mankind is gone? You have said earlier that each human being would go on living in this or that world.? The answer is that there are several worlds for the good and the bad. Then Gylfi asks: ?Shall any gods be alive, and shall there be something of earth and heaven?? And the answer is:

The earth rises up from the sea again, and is green and beautiful and things grow without sowing. Vidar and Vali are alive, for neither the sea nor the flames of Surt have hurt them and they dwell on the Eddyfield, where once stood Asgard. There come also the sons of Thor, Modi, and Magni, and bring along his hammer. There come also Balder and Hoder from the other world. All sit down and converse together. They rehearse their runes and talk of events of old days. Then they find in the grass the golden tablets that the Aesir once played with. Two children of men will also be found safe from the great flames of Surt. Their names, Lif and Lifthrasir, and they feed on the morning dew and from this human pair will come a great population which will fill the earth. And strange to say, the sun, before being devoured by Fenrir, will have borne a daughter, no less beautiful and going the same ways as her mother.

Again, the authors of Hamlet?s Mill take a prosaic view of these matters, pronouncing sagely that it is ?just a metaphor.? And again, I have to disagree. I do not think that the point is to ?measure time,? in the sense of ?world ages? of culture, civilizations, or even ?psychic? or occult influences, except in that they relate to something far more important: WHAT IS CAUSING THE WOBBLE AND WHAT CAN BE THE RESULT? And we have a clear answer in Snorri?s tale: The sun will have borne a daughter - which can only occur via a ?mating? or Hieros Gamos.

In this sense, the ancients might have supposed, and quite rightly, that if we ever noticed this fact, if we were pointed in this direction, if we were plainly told that there is a handle that turns the axis, that this handle gets hot, that the axis of the planet comes unhinged, that it started out spinning upright and then gradually wobbled out of place and finally FALLS OVER INTO THE SEA, that we would be clever enough to get it. The clue they are pointing out to us is that there is something OUT THERE that is the HANDLE and we ought to be able to figure out, by applying principles of physics to celestial mechanics, exactly what it is and what it does. The repeated references to the ?dying and rebirth of the Sun,? in some sort of cosmic hierogamy, and the Sun giving birth to a daughter, or having a Celestial Twin, ought to be pretty plain clues to anybody who is paying attention to these things.

Posted on SOTT 4 Feb 06

Meteor lights Alberta sky

Fri, February 3, 2006


Calgarians woke to a fire in the sky early Wednesday morning.

Alan Hildebrand, co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre, said 20 people reported seeing a fireball, an exceptionally bright meteor, streak across the sky just before 7 a.m., lasting for several seconds before breaking up into fragments.

Reports were made from the Calgary area, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Pincher Creek and other areas, he said.

"It had to be a bright one for everyone in the Calgary area to see," Hildebrand said.

He estimated remnants of the meteorite landed about 400 km south of Calgary somewhere in Montana about two minutes after it appeared as a ball of fire.

Posted on SOTT 17 Feb 06

Brightest Galactic Flash Ever Detected Hits Earth

By Robert Roy Britt Senior Science Writer

posted: 18 February, 2005

"We have observed an object only 20 kilometers across [12 miles], on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years."

A huge explosion halfway across the galaxy packed so much power it briefly altered Earth's upper atmosphere in December, astronomers said Friday.

No known eruption beyond our solar system has ever appeared as bright upon arrival.

But you could not have seen it, unless you can top the X-ray vision of Superman: In gamma rays, the event equaled the brightness of the full Moon's reflected visible light.

The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away and was detected Dec. 27. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

The commotion was caused by a special variety of neutron star known as a magnetar. These fast-spinning, compact stellar corpses -- no larger than a big city -- create intense magnetic fields that trigger explosions. The blast was 100 times more powerful than any other similar eruption witnessed, said David Palmer of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of several researchers around the world who monitored the event with various telescopes.

"Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction," said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

There are no magnetars close enough to worry about, however, Gaensler and two other astronomers told SPACE.com. But the strength of the tempest has them marveling over the dying star's capabilities while also wondering if major species die-offs in the past might have been triggered by stellar explosions.


The Sun is a middle-aged star about 8 light-minutes from us. Its tantrums, though cosmically pitiful compared to the magnetar explosion, routinely squish Earth's protective magnetic field and alter our atmosphere, lighting up the night sky with colorful lights called aurora.

Solar storms also alter the shape of Earth's ionosphere, a region of the atmosphere 50 miles (80 kilometers) up where gas is so thin that electrons can be stripped from atoms and molecules -- they are ionized -- and roam free for short periods. Fluctuations in solar radiation cause the ionosphere to expand and contract.

"The gamma rays hit the ionosphere and created more ionization, briefly expanding the ionosphere," said Neil Gehrels, lead scientist for NASA's gamma-ray watching Swift observatory.

Gehrels said in an email interview that the effect was similar to a solar-induced disruption but that the effect was "much smaller than a big solar flare."

Still, scientists were surprised that a magnetar so far away could alter the ionosphere.

"That it can reach out and tap us on the shoulder like this, reminds us that we really are linked to the cosmos," said Phil Wilkinson of IPS Australia, that country's space weather service.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Rob Fender of Southampton University in the UK. "We have observed an object only 20 kilometers across [12 miles], on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years."

Some researchers have speculated that one or more known mass extinctions hundreds of millions of years ago might have been the result of a similar blast altering Earth's atmosphere. There is no firm data to support the idea, however. But astronomers say the Sun might have been closer to other stars in the past.

A similar blast within 10 light-years of Earth "would destroy the ozone layer," according to a CfA statement, "causing abrupt climate change and mass extinctions due to increased radiation."

The all-clear has been sounded, however.

"None of the known sample [of magnetars] are closer than about 4,000-5,000 light years from us," Gaensler said. "This is a very safe distance."

Cause a mystery

Researchers don't know exactly why the burst was so incredible. The star, named SGR 1806-20, spins once on its axis every 7.5 seconds, and it is surrounded by a magnetic field more powerful than any other object in the universe.

"We may be seeing a massive release of magnetic energy during a 'starquake' on the surface of the object," said Maura McLaughlin of the University of Manchester in the UK.

Another possibility is that the magnetic field more or less snapped in a process scientists call magnetic reconnection.

Gamma rays are the highest form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes X-rays, visible light and radio waves too.

The eruption was also recorded by the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array of radio telescopes, along with other European satellites and telescopes in Australia.

Explosive details

A neutron star is the remnant of a star that was once several times more massive than the Sun. When their nuclear fuel is depleted, they explode as a supernova. The remaining dense core is slightly more massive than the Sun but has a diameter typically no more than 12 miles (20 kilometers).

Millions of neutron stars fill the Milky Way galaxy. A dozen or so are ultra-magnetic neutron stars -- magnetars. The magnetic field around one is about 1,000 trillion gauss, strong enough to strip information from a credit card at a distance halfway to the Moon, scientists say.

Of the known magnetars, four are called soft gamma repeaters, or SGRs, because they flare up randomly and release gamma rays. The flare on SGR 1806-20 unleashed about 10,000 trillion trillion trillion watts of power.

"The next biggest flare ever seen from any soft gamma repeater was peanuts compared to this incredible Dec. 27 event," said Gaensler of the CfA.

Posted on SOTT 24 Feb 06

New kind of space blast seen not far from Earth

By Reuters

February 24, 2006, 5:16 AM PST

A new kind of cosmic explosion has been spotted in Earth's celestial neighborhood, and amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere might be able to see it next week, scientists reported Thursday.

The blast seemed a lot like a gamma ray burst, the most distant and powerful type of explosion known to astronomers.

But when scientists first detected it with NASA's Swift satellite on Feb. 18, the explosion was about 25 times closer and lasted 100 times longer than a typical gamma ray burst.

"This is totally new, totally unexpected," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator. "This is the type of unscripted event in our nearby universe that we hoped Swift could catch."

The explosion originated in a star-forming galaxy about 440 million light-years away toward the constellation Aries (the Ram). A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

This would be the second-closest gamma ray burst ever detected, if indeed it is one.

The burst lasted for nearly 2,000 seconds, or about 33 minutes, astronomers said in a statement. Most bursts last a few milliseconds to tens of seconds. It also was surprisingly dim.

Scientists at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics found hints of a budding supernova, or exploding star, when they saw the afterglow from the original explosion grow brighter in optical light.

If it is a supernova, scientists will have an unprecedented view of one from start to finish.

Scientists will attempt observations with the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory. Amateur astronomers in dark skies might be able to see the explosion with a 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope.

More information and images are available on NASA's Web site.

Comment: This, along with today's story about the new comet that was spotted in January, deserve some discussion. The possible supernova was remarkable for its closeness and duration - lasting 33 seconds. It is located right under the foot of Perseus in the constellation Aries. See here for map.
Fulcanelli, writing in Mystery of the Cathedrals, mentions Aries in this way:

Alchemy is obscure only because it is hidden. The philosophers who wanted to transmit the exposition of their doctrine and the fruit of their labors to posterity took great care not to divulge the art by presenting it under a common form so that the layman could not misuse it. Thus because of the difficulty one has of understanding it, because of the mystery of its enigmas and of the opacity of its parables, the science has come to be shut up among reveries, illusions and chimeras. [ ]
With their confused texts, sprinkled with cabalistic expressions, the books remain the efficient and genuine cause of the gross mistake that we indicate. For, in spite of the warnings... students persisted in reading them according to the meanings that they hold in ordinary language. They do not know that these texts are reserved for initiates, and that it is essential, in order to understand them, to be in possession of their secret key. One must first work at discovering this key.

Most certainly these old treatises contain, if not the entire science, at least its philosophy, its principles, and the art of applying them in conformity with natural laws. But if we are unaware of the hidden meaning of the terms - for example, the meaning of Ares, which is different from Aries - strange qualifications purposely used in the composition of such works, we will understand nothing of them or we will be infallibly led into error.

See it Now: New Comet Brightens Rapidly

By Joe Rao

SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist

posted: 24 February 2006

During the next couple of weeks skywatchers will be turning their attention to a newly discovered comet that has just swept past the Sun and will soon cruise past Earth on its way back out toward the depths of the outer solar system.

Astronomers, who attempt to forecast the future characteristics and behavior of these cosmic vagabonds, have found this new object to be a better-than-average performer.

The comet is now visible with a simple pair of binoculars, and it's also dimly visible to the naked eye if you know precisely where to look.
The discovery

The first word about this new comet (catalogued as C/2006 A1) came from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, which serves as the clearinghouse in the United States for astronomical discoveries. The SAO also serves in that capacity as an agency of the International Astronomical Union.

On Jan. 2, Grzegorz Pojmanski at the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory discovered a faint comet on a photograph that was taken on New Year's Day from the Las Campanas Observatory in La Serena, Chile, as part of the All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS). A confirmation photograph was taken on Jan. 4. Later a prediscovery image of the comet dating back to Dec. 29, 2005 was also found.

Interestingly, about seven hours after Pojmanski detected the comet, another astronomer, Dr. Kazimieras Cernis at the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy at Vilnius, Lithuania, spotted it on ultraviolet images taken a few days earlier from the SOHO satellite. Despite this, however, the comet bears only Pojmanski's name.

Getting closer

A preliminary orbit for the new comet was quickly calculated. At the time of its discovery, the comet was about 113 million miles (181 million kilometers) from the Sun. But orbital elements indicated that on Feb. 22 it would be passing closest to the Sun (called "perihelion") at a distance of 51.6 million miles-not quite half the Earth's average distance from the Sun.

At the time of its discovery, the comet shone at a feeble magnitude of roughly 11 to 12, which is about 100 times dimmer than the faintest stars that can be perceived with the unaided eye. In addition, Comet Pojmanski was buried in the deep southern part of the sky, among the stars of the constellation of Indus (the Indian), and accessible only to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

But since its discovery, the comet has steadily been progressing on a northward path.

Finally, the comet is becoming poised for visibility for Northern Hemisphere skywatchers, and it is expected to put on its best showing during the last days of February and the first week of March in the dawn morning sky.

What to expect

Preliminary predictions indicated that the comet would dutifully brighten as it approached the Sun. At perihelion, the most optimistic forecasts had Comet Pojmanski attaining a magnitude of +6.5 (generally considered the threshold of naked-eye visibility).

The comet had other plans, however, and has been increasing in brightness at a much faster pace.

On Feb. 7, Andrew Pearce, observing from Nedlands in Western Australia, caught the comet already shining at magnitude +6.4. "This comet appears to be brightening rapidly," noted Mr. Pearce, adding that a faint tail was also becoming visible. Twelve days later, the comet had brightened nearly a full magnitude, according to Mr. Pearce, reaching +5.4. On February 20, Luis Mansilla at the Canopus Observatory in Rosario, Argentina was able to see the comet in 7x50 binoculars despite interference from the Moon and haze near the horizon. He estimated its brightness at +5.3.

Currently, Comet Pojmanski is shining at around magnitude 5, which is roughly about the same brightness as the faintest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper. Sharp-eyed observers in a dark, clear sky can actually glimpse it without any optical aid.

The comet is located in the zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Beginning Feb. 27, skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can try locating it, very low above the horizon, somewhat south of due east about 90 minutes before sunrise. You can use Venus as a guide on this morning: the comet will be situated roughly 7 degrees to the left and slightly below the brilliant planet (the width of your fist held at arm's length and projected against the sky is roughly equal to 10 degrees).

As viewed from midnorthern latitudes, Comet Pojmanski will be positioned a little higher above the horizon each morning at the start of morning twilight. While it's only 5 degrees high on Feb. 27, this quickly improves to 10 degrees by March 2; 16 degrees by March 5 and 22 degrees (more than "two fists" up from the horizon) by March 9.

What you can see

In the early morning sky it can be readily picked up in binoculars looking like a small, circular patch of light with a bluish-white hue and an almost star-like center.

The comet will passing closest to Earth on March 5, when it be 71.7 million miles (115.4 million kilometers) away.

In small telescopes the comet's gaseous head or "coma" should appear roughly 1/6 of the Moon's apparent diameter as seen from Earth (an actual linear diameter of 209,000 miles or 335,000 kilometers). It will also likely display a short, faint narrow tail composed chiefly of ionized gases.

Well-known comet expert, John E. Bortle of Stormville, New York compares the view of Comet Pojmanski to that of an "apple on a stick; typical of dust-poor comets."

After March 5, the comet will be receding from both the Sun and Earth and rapidly fade as it heads back out into space, beyond the limits of the outer solar system.

Posted on SOTT 27 Feb 06

Somerset County boom a mystery


Staff Writer

Blethen Maine Newspapers

SKOWHEGAN -- The earth shook and buildings rumbled Thursday morning, according to at least a dozen residents who reported tremors in Anson, Madison, Skowhegan and Norridgewock.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the Somerset County Communications Center was inundated with calls from people who said they had experienced earthquake-type movement.
Despite numerous reports within the 15-mile radius, local and state authorities could find no documented account that any type of earthquake or tremor had occurred.

State geologist Bob Marvinney of the Maine Geological Service said that if an earthquake had occurred, it was not recorded by any of the instruments in Maine or New England.

Marvinney said he had contacted the New England Seismic Network, and authorities there said nothing was apparent: "I'm surprised we didn't pick up anything. There are other kinds of explanations like quarrywork and roadwork," he said.

An official at the National Weather Service said he also had heard no reports.

However, Emergency Management Director Robert Higgins Sr. said he is going to ask them to look again.

"I'd like them to relook at what they may have; this is the second occurrence in less than a week of such magnitude," he said.

Higgins said residents of Solon and South Solon last Friday reported what sounded like a loud explosion, during which houses and mobile homes in the area shook: "That would indicate a tremor, he said."

Residents who reported the shaking this Thursday said the tremors were strong.

Norridgewock's town manager, John Doucette, said the shaking and noise was so significant, it sounded like a Dumpster had fallen off a truck or a truck had hit the building: "We went outside to see if there was an accident."

More than a mile away, Jeffrey McGown, district manager of Waste Management on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock, said he was sitting in his office when the noise and shaking occurred.

"It felt like somebody with a delivery type of vehicle had backed into our building," McGown said. "I was on a conference call and I got up to see what had struck. We went out on the site and looked around, we thought maybe the town airport (nearby) had an experience. It was so localized, we thought a delivery truck had hit the front porch."

In Anson, about six miles away, the shaking was so strong, even off-duty dispatcher William Crawford called the Communications Center.

"I heard a loud boom that shook the house," Crawford said. "At first I thought it was the furnace. I asked my son 'Did you feel that?' It shook the couch. I thought maybe something fell upstairs, or maybe the chimney collapsed or something. I went outside to look around. You can see the town garage from the house; I thought maybe it was the back of the bucket banging. Nobody was at the town garage."

Late Thursday, Higgins said he checked with Guilford Industries to see if they were working the quarry in the Embden-Solon area: "They said they hadn't done any blasting since last fall. And it was no sonic boom-- not that loud and shaking that many buildings. It's just unexplainable, I guess."

Storm drops dark brown snow in Colorado


2/24/2006 5:19 PM

FRISCO, Colo. - Snow that some residents described as dark as chocolate brown was reported across parts of Colorado Thursday, a result of a wind storm in northern Arizona that kicked up dust that fell with the snow overnight, officials said.

"It's pretty much statewide," said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "We've had reports from the San Juans, Winter Park ... all over."

Greene said it's not unusual to see plumes of reddish dust from the desert Southwest drop on the Rocky Mountains in the spring.

Exceptionally dry conditions in northern Arizona contributed to the dust, Greene said.

16 April 2007

November - December 2005

Fireballs seen over Germany spark UFO speculation

Fri Nov 4, 7:48 AM ET

BERLIN (Reuters) - Numerous sightings of massive fireballs in the skies over Germany this week have led to an upsurge in reports of UFOs, but scientists believe the cause could be a bizarre annual meteor blitz.

According to the Web site of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), such fireballs have been reported elsewhere in the world and may also be due to the fact that the Earth is now orbiting through a swarm of space debris.

Many people in Germany have noticed the fireballs, said Werner Walter, an amateur astronomer in Mannheim who runs a Web site on unexplained astronomical phenomena and a hotline for reports on unidentified flying objects (UFO).

"The last reported sighting was yesterday at 7:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) in a corridor near the border of the Netherlands," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"This week we have had at least 15 emails and phone calls from people reporting these fireballs," he said. "Some people said it looks like something out of a science fiction horror film."

In addition to a possible meteor streak, Walter said amateur and professional astronomers were considering the possibility that the blitz was the result of a "falling satellite or UFOs."

"It is possible that they are UFOs, which are after all things which we cannot explain," he said.

NASA's science Web site (http://science.nasa.gov) mentions reports of recent fireball sightings in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, North Ireland and Japan. It includes images of the fireballs, which one man likened to a spotlight.

Walter described them as "super-large, colored fireballs that shoot with the speed of lightning through the sky."

However, the NASA Web site quotes meteor expert David Asher from the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland as saying that people "are probably seeing the Taurid meteor shower."

Taurids are meteors that shoot out of the constellation Taurus, which peaks at the end of October and early November.

Fireball Sightings on the Rise

By Tony Phillips
November 3, 2005

"I thought some wise guy was shining a spotlight at me," says Josh Bowers of New Germany, Pennsylvania. "Then I realized what it was: a fireball in the southern sky. I was doing some backyard astronomy around 9 p.m. on Halloween (Oct. 31, 2005), and this meteor was so bright it made me lose my night vision.

Bowers wasn't the only one who saw the fireball. Lots of people were outdoors Trick or Treating. They saw what Bowers saw ... and more. Before the night was over, reports of meteors "brighter than a full moon" were streaming in from coast to coast.

Astronomers have taken to calling these the "Halloween fireballs." But there's more to it than Halloween. The display has been going on for days.

Fireball sighted in Japan Oct 28th 2005

On Oct. 30th, for example, Bill Plaskon of Jonesport, Maine, was "observing Mars through a 10-inch telescope at 10:04 p.m. EST when a brilliant fireball lit up the sky and left a short corkscrew-like smoke trail that lasted about 1 minute."

On Oct 28th, Lance Taylor of Edmonton, Alberta, woke up early to go fishing with five friends. At about 6 a.m. they "noticed a nice fireball. Then 20 minutes later there was another," he says

On Nov. 2nd in the Netherlands, "The sky lit up very bright," reports Koen Miskotte. "In the corner of my eye I saw a fireball about as bright [as a crescent moon]."

And so on.

Big Meteor Shower Puts on Show in Alaska

Sun Nov 6, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alisha Klingenmeyer of Anchorage recalled spotting an orange-red fireball streaking across the sky as she drove north at about 8 p.m. Thursday. Paul Vos was watching a movie with his wife and son at their home in Hope at about 8:30 p.m. the same night when all three saw an arc of light over the mountains in the southern sky. [...]

A spectacular sky show is playing over Alaska this month as Earth passes through the fiery remnants of a comet.

Fireballs and bright streaks of light seen in the sky around Anchorage Thursday were part of the Taurid meteor shower, the annual spray of comet dust over the Earth's upper atmosphere, according to a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist. [...]

The better viewing is generally after midnight, and the best time is in the vicinity of 3 a.m., said Don Martins, chair of the UAA Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Meteor shower startles Riverina residents

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Thursday, November 10, 2005. 12:08pm (AEDT)

Some Riverina residents, in southern New South Wales, feared they had witnessed a plane crash early last night when they saw an apparent meteor shower.

The fire brigade received a number of calls from people in inland New South Wales who thought a plane was coming down.

One listener to ABC Riverina this morning, Allan, described the incident.

"Oh, there was a big ball of flame falling out of the sky ... it would have been about 6.30pm [AEDT] and would've been north, north-east of where we were. It didn't last very long, you had to be quick to see it," he said.

Griffith resident Susan says the meteor was so bright she and her family were sure a plane was falling out of the sky.

"It really frightened us because the direction it was in and the place that it was directly over our neighbour's property and he has an ultralight and we thought, 'my god, he's fallen out of the sky'," she said.

Vince Ford from the Mount Stromlo Observatory says the current meteor activity is creating a lot of talk around the world.

"At the moment we've got a meteor shower running and it's the one that produces the brightest meteors through the year usually," he said.

"In fact, when it started running a week ago, Germany went UFO mad, everyone was ringing up saying spaceships were crashing. Well, they were partly right, it is rubbish from space, in this case it's little chunks left over from the passage of ... a comet ... back in the 1800s."

Skywatchers treated with fiery meteors

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Richard L. Hill

Fireballs -- large meteors that are a rare treat in fall's typically cloudy weather -- have been spotted streaking across the Oregon sky in the past two weeks.

Dick Pugh, a meteor expert with with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory at Portland State University, said he received reports from surprised eyewitnesses of fireballs Oct. 30 and Monday evening.

A Beaverton man reported seeing Monday's fireball at 7:16 p.m. It lasted about four seconds and was nearly the diameter of a full moon.

"He said it moved from the northwest to the southwest and ended up looking like a dumbbell," which indicates it probably was breaking up, Pugh said.

The fireballs are part of the annual Taurid meteor shower, which is caused by the Earth passing through debris shed by comet Encke. The tiny dust grains make white-hot streaks of light as they slam into the atmosphere at 65,000 mph.

The normally unremarkable Taurid shower is putting on a good show this year, with Earth apparently going through a debris area with unusually large particles.

Comment: So if the many fireballs that have been seen across the globle over the past two weeks are just the Taurids with "unusually large particles", then how do we explain the many fireballs sightings and impacts that have been reported over the past several years? When the Taurids and Leonids pass, yet the fireballs keep coming, we wonder what colorful explanation they will come up with to explain away the screamingly obvious.

1,400-Pound Meteorite Found in Kansas
Fri Nov 11, 4:46 PM ET
GREENSBURG, Kan. - In an area of southwest Kansas long known for its meteorite finds, Steve Arnold came up with what may be the biggest of its kind ever found in the United States.

Arnold, a professional meteorite hunter from Kingston, Ark., found the 1,400-pound space rock two weeks ago in Kiowa County's Brenham Township. Using a metal detector mounted on a three-wheel vehicle, he discovered it more than 7 feet underground and dug it up.

It was in the same area that in 1949 produced a 1,000-pound meteorite now on display at the Celestial Museum in Greensburg, part of the World's Largest Hand Dug Well that is the community's biggest claim to fame.

"It is aesthetically the type of meteorite that makes collectors drool," Arnold, a former Wichita resident who has hunted for meteorites around the world, said of his find. "It's what a meteorite ought to look like. It's going to make first-graders go 'Wow!'"

Arnold estimates the value of the big rock "in the seven figures" and says he wants to sell it, preferably to a museum or someone who will keep it intact.

"It won't be cut to reveal its inner beauty," he said. "It's awesome enough from the outside."

Geoffrey Notkin, a science writer and meteorite collector who was with Arnold when the meteorite was found, said its size alone makes it extraordinary.

"By sheer mass, it has to be one of the largest finds in decades," he said.

According to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Brenham meteorite exploded centuries ago over what is now Kansas, scattering more than three tons of fragments.

"We get regular reports of meteorites," said Rex Buchanan, associate director of the Kansas Geological Survey. "People see them and they bring them in. A normal size is anywhere from the size of your fist to a grapefruit."

The meteorite Arnold discovered is classified as an oriented pallasite, so it has a conical shape and has olivine crystals embedded in iron-nickel alloy. Only two larger ones of that type are known to have been found: a 3,100-pounder in Australia and a 1,500-pounder in Argentina.

Meteorites change shape as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. An oriented meteorite, which is rare, maintains a stable flight rather than tumbling.

Richard Stephenson, manager of the Big Well, said the majority of meteorites found in Kiowa County are from a two-square mile area in Brenham Township. The Kiowa County meteorites are known throughout the world for gemlike olivine crystals, and they look almost like stained glass when cut.

Sheriff's office investigating night sky phenomenon
Paola Farer
11/10/2005 10:30 PM MST

DOUGLAS COUNTY - 9News received numerous calls Thursday night about a bright light dropping across the southern sky.

The calls came in from the north and south Denver Metro area. One person from Fort Lupton wrote, "I saw a green glowing light in the southern sky. It looked like it was falling through layers of clouds. I did not see it hit the ground. The whole event took maybe one or two seconds to happen."

The reports started coming in around 8:30 p.m. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said it planned on investigating the reports received from residents there.

UFOs Like 'Inverted Meteors' Caught On Film
From Bill Brooks

Backwards Meteors
Photo copyright-2005 Bill Brooks

Bill Brooks
Date: Sat, November 12, 2005 7:15 am
To: webmaster@rense.com

Rense.com --

Don't know quite what to make of this....was out with the wife in La'ie Observation Point . I didn't notice this at first until I started working with the review of all of the pictures we took that day. The pictures are digital and un-tampered with. At first I thought it was just a single peculiarity but as you can see there are 3 of them all on the same trajectory coming from an earthly direction at a 45 degree angle. I know you get hundreds of these but just thought I would send this up. Perhaps there is a very logical explanation but it struck me as odd that all three seem to have telemetry in the angle of ascent. As you may know, Oahu is chock full of military bases, although none in the immediate area.

Place: La'ie Lookout Point, NorthShore Oahu Hawaii
Date: November 11, 2005
Time: Appx 3:30 PM
Weather: Slightly overcast but clear

Camera: Olympus Digital Camedia 2.1 MegaPixel Auto-Focus Auto-Exposure
Orientation: South to North (guestimate..could be wrong)




Thanks for this terrific submission. At first glance, we thought perhaps it was sunlight piercing through holes the clouds, but close inspection reveals the sun is clearly to the far right, not behind the clouds dead ahead in your shot. We found one additional, faint anomalous object also at the same angle, apparently one considerably more distant from the others on the right side of the photo. This almost certainly tells us these are really there, in various levels of depth of field. If this is a digital defect, its one we've never come across before. The "tracers" seem to indicate these objects were moving at tremendous speed, which might explain why you didn't even see them when taking the photograph.

Space rock puts Arkansan on cloud 9
Man hopes 1,430-pound meteorite will land him seven-figure payout

Bunch said he had spotted a meteor himself the other evening. It streaked across the sky while he was smoking a cigarette on his porch. Bunch, the breed of smalltown banker who wears overalls and rides a Harley-Davidson, has come to view such phenomena with new appreciation.

KINGSTON - When Steve Arnold heard that grapefruitsized meteorites were pelting a Chicago suburb two years ago, he rushed to the scene and stayed 44 days, meticulously plotting strike points and sweeping streets curb to curb with a detector fashioned from a magnet and broomstick.
He got some funny looks, but he left with 113 meteorites.
In the deserts of Oman on a similar excursion, Arnold and wife, Qynne, bounced over the sands in a Jeep looking for cosmic treasures. 'We'd see a black spot on the horizon, and it would either be camel poop or a meteorite, Arnold said. They scooped up 151 of the rocks.
Of the 6.4 billion people who live on Earth, no more than two dozen are full-time meteorite hunters. Arnold, 39, of Kingston, has been one since 1990, earning enough to finance his adventures and to sustain a rustic lifestyle for his family.
He has sold some nice rocks. But the big scores such as six-figure chunks of the moon or Mars have always eluded him.
Until last month.
Arnold was dragging an 8-foot-wide custom metal detector over a Kansas wheat field when a sustained screech blared through his headphones. Seven feet down, there it was: the 1,400-pound mass of rock and metal that is the largest meteorite of its kind discovered in the world.
Arnold hauled it to the Ozarks last week in his 1973 Ford Ranger. The meteorite, shaped like a jellybean and roughly the size of an engine block, hunkered in the bed, a mottled chunk of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The discovery has already earned Arnold a degree of fame: appearances on the Today show and Discovery Channel Canada as well as wide circulation on the news wires. He also has new notoriety around Kingston, a Madison County town whose downtown includes the tiny bank made famous by Bill Clinton's Whitewater venture.
'Congratulations, Mr. Rich and Famous, the banker Gary Bunch greeted Arnold on the square Wednesday.
Bunch said he had spotted a meteor himself the other evening. It streaked across the sky while he was smoking a cigarette on his porch. Bunch, the breed of smalltown banker who wears overalls and rides a Harley-Davidson, has come to view such phenomena with new appreciation.
'I got interested in it since the rich and famous got involved, he said.
The meteorite business can have its rewards, but job security is not one. A risky enterprise, it is peopled by a band of fiercely competitive entrepreneurs willing to instantly fly someplace they have never been before with no more to go on than a news report or hot rumor.
'I've lost thousands of dollars chasing nothing, said Matt Morgan, a competitor based in Denver. 'When you get there, it turns out to be a piece of lava or something like that.
But the lure of money falling from the sky is so tantalizing that meteor hunters quickly converge when there is news of a fall. The 2003 Park Forest, Ill., meteor shower was the rare event in which a major metropolitan area was hit by hundreds of meteorites. About 100 professionals and hobbyists followed.
'It's about the only meteorite chase I've been on where there was a Red Lobster in the middle of the search area, said Mike Farmer, a professional from Tucson, Ariz. 'Usually, you're in Africa, and you're getting rotten goat meat.
The same year, a gaggle convened in New Orleans, where a 40-pound meteorite had crashed through a house near the Superdome. The rock smashed an antique desk, penetrated the upstairs floor and slammed into the bathroom below, narrowly missing the commode, according to Farmer, who eventually won the competition to acquire the rock.


In 1998, Arnold beat him and others to the spot where a meteor crashed down near a basketball court in Monahans, Texas, where seven boys were playing. The police confiscated the rock, which had fallen in two chunks.
Arnold, first on the scene, represented the boys as a broker. He 'kind of shamed the city into not taking this away, said Arthur Ehlmann, the Texas Christian University emeritus geology professor who followed the dispute from his perch as curator of the university's Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Gallery.
In the end, Ehlmann said, the city kept the chunk that landed on a city street. The boys got the other, and Arnold made a commission when he sold it for them for about $20,000.
Arnold also brokers exchanges for museums, including the one at Fort Worth's Texas Christian, which is home to about 1,200 meteorites, including a 100-pounder that Ehlmann keeps under his desk.
Demand for meteorites is fed not only by scientists, but collectors fascinated to own an extraterrestrial object that has rocketed through space at 50,000 miles an hour.
Dealers could not say how much the market is worth. In Denver, Morgan said his own sales hit about $500,000 last year.
Pallasites such as Arnold's 1,400-pounder are rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of known meteorites, dealers say. Prized for the nickel-iron and olivine crystals that form them, pallasites are often cut into slices, polished to a shine and sold as art objects or in jewelry.
Arnold's rock is 'oriented, meaning that it didn't tumble as it entered Earth's atmosphere, and thus has a rounded 'nose cone.
It is hard to say what the rock might be worth. Arnold is willing to speculate about 'seven figures, and fellow dealers, perhaps hoping for a spillover effect from such a sale, are quick to agree.
But the biggest sum that has been reported for a meteorite to date is about a quarter of a million dollars, Arnold said, and rocks from the moon or Mars have commanded the highest prices.


Slices of pallasite from the same Kansas meteorite fall have gone for about $4 a gram, dealers said. Assuming enough demand to sell the whole 1,400-pound monolith slice by slice, that would make the meteorite worth $2.5 million.
It's an other-worldly figure. But Arnold is loathe to even discuss slicing the stone. Because of its size and nose cone, he said its highest value is as is.
Arnold found his prize on a farm in Kiowa County, between Wichita and Dodge City, a site well-known among meteorite hunters. The Brenham meteorite that landed there, named for the township where it landed, exploded overhead centuries ago, scattering more than 3 tons of fragments, according to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum owns some of the Brenham specimens, as does the Field Museum in Chicago.
But most hunters left the Brenham zone for tapped-out decades ago.

In his research, however, Arnold discovered something - he won't say what that convinced him they were wrong.
He told it to Phil Mani, a San Antonio geologist and oil and gas attorney who collects meteorites. Mani was quickly persuaded. He agreed to bankroll a hunt.
'I suggested that he hurry run, not walk to Kansas,' Mani said. But first the treasure hunters needed the permission of the landowners. They also needed to somehow acquire legal rights for stones they might find.
'So we did what's probably never been done in the history of the world before, Arnold said. 'We made a meteorite lease.'
The pair currently hold the meteor rights to 2,000 acres of Kansas farmland. The leases give the landowner a percentage of any sales. Still, some of the locals thought it was all a little strange, Mani acknowledged.
'The notary was looking at us like, Hey, these boys from out of town are giving away free money.'


With planting time fast approaching, Arnold set to work immediately in a 320-acre wheat field with his ATV-powered metal detector, which rides over the ground on a plastic frame with wheels and is sensitive to about 15 feet.
'I got a lot of hits, Arnold said. 'On wagon wheels. Horse shoes. Pliers. Linchpins. A whole lot of linchpins a whole museum display. A coyote trap.
'I found a really neat ring for a bull's nose.
He stopped about every 100 feet to dig in the clay soil and see what his detector was registering.
The rock was 7 feet deep, nose down.
Arnold hoisted it with a backhoe and hauled it to a nearby grain-elevator scale: 1,430 pounds, plus or minus 20.
He has been in the aggressivemarketing phase ever since, hoping to build interest and attract a buyer.
On worldrecordmeteorite .com, the 'official website of the world's largest oriented pallasite, he describes it as 'one of the most valuable meteorite finds ever made in the United States and of 'historic and scientific importance.
'We're coining it the King of the Pallasites,' Arnold said Wednesday. The King of the Pallasites was bound for a friend's body shop in Tulsa on Thursday, for an unusual radio cross-promotion marrying the astral and the accidental.
Then it was headed for an undisclosed location in Texas, to be overseen by Mani, who said he has 'several tens of thousands of dollars invested in the venture.
Mani believes a museum will be the best destination in the end for the meteorite.
Meanwhile, Arnold has work to do on the farms in Kansas, where he has bought a second house as a base for his prospecting.
'Who knows? Mani said. 'Maybe we'll find something better. Something bigger.

Mysterious 'booms' rattle homes
Residents report hearing loud blasts in different parts of country, claim their homes shook as result; IDF says in response no unusual military activity that may have caused blasts detected, Seismology Institute says no earthquakes recorded; Rita from Herzliya: I don't buy it. They should just tell us what is causing these shockwaves and blasts
Raanan Ben-Zur

Just three weeks after dozens of readers from across Israel told Ynet about unusually loud 'booms and tremors throughout the night, residents again reported hearing loud boom-like sounds in different parts of the country Tuesday, mainly in coastal regions, claiming their homes shook as a result.

Police officials confirmed people reported they heard 'explosions, but added that the source remains unknown.

The IDF said in response that no unusual military activity that may have caused the 'explosions was detected, and the Seismology Institute said no earthquakes were recorded

Rita, a resident of Herzliya in central Israel, said, 'Suddenly the entire house began to shake; even our cat felt it and began to act in a peculiar manner. It lasted for a few seconds. It was as if someone was forcefully rattling the home's windows and doors.

'I don't buy it'

However, she said she did not hear any explosions.

'The rumbling was similar to last month's incident, but then it took place at nighttime and we were able to hear the blasts, which were strong, she said

'Last time they said it was ultra-sonic booms from planes that flew over the Gaza Strip. I don't buy it. They should just tell us what is causing these shockwaves and blasts. It is getting a bit scary because we do not know what the source is.

Most of those who reported of the blasts reside in the Sharon region, in central Israel; they said the shockwaves came from the direction of the sea.

Last month Ynet readers offered several explanations for the mysterious blasts - from an alien invasion to underground nuclear tests.

The IDF said at the time the blasts may have resulted from a rare combination of IAF activity over Gaza and a unique weather conditions.

An Israel Air Force officer said at the time, 'this is an unusual phenomenon in which cold and warm layers are alternately formed in the air, and the sound waves move like a ping pong ball between the ground and layers.

Meteorite lights up WA skies
December 04, 2005
The Weekend Australian
A spectacular meteorite fireball has lit up the sky over a wide area of Western Australia.

The spectacle is reported to have been in the north of the state, also as far east as Kalgoorlie, nearly 500km from Perth, and in the south at Albany, which is just over 400km from the capital.

Astronomers believe the meteorite, flashing brightly and sending out sonic booms, smashed into the earth's atmosphere about 300km southeast of Perth at 8.47pm yesterday.

It is thought to be the biggest celestial light show seen in WA in a decade.

UH astronomer finds new comet The Halloween discovery is a first from Mauna Kea
By Helen Altonn
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
University of Hawaii astronomer Fabrizio Bernardi came here from Italy to look for potentially dangerous asteroids.

"But, of course, we see other objects -- stars and comets. This time, the first time, I saw a new comet," the postdoctoral researcher said.

Bernardi was looking at images taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea when he noticed an object that was "a bit fuzzy," with a tail estimated at more than 13,000 miles long.

It was Halloween night, he said. "It was really weird.

"When I saw the comet images, it was a big surprise. The first thing I was doing was to check to see if it was new."

There were no known comets in the part of the sky where the comet was spotted, about 280 million miles away from Earth, almost three times the distance from Earth to the sun.

So it was a good candidate to be a new find, Bernardi said. "I was hoping it was a real comet. It was very exciting."

He was surprised to learn it was the first comet discovered from Mauna Kea.

Bernardi and colleagues David Tholen, Andrea Boattini and Jana Pittichova monitored the object for two or three nights and confirmed that it was a new comet.

It was reported to the International Astronomical Union and named for its discoverer: P/2005 VI Bernardi.

The comet orbits the sun about once every 10 years and does not come close enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Bernardi said he was working on a project in Italy "looking for asteroids with smaller telescopes. Not many astronomers are doing these jobs."

So he joined the UH Institute for Astronomy to work with Tholen, an astronomy professor who heads a NASA-funded program to find potential "killer asteroids" passing close to Earth.

It's called Apophis. It's 390m wide. And it could hit Earth in 31 years time
Alok Jha
The Guardian
Wednesday December 7, 2005
In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness.

A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.

Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.

And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."

Apophis had been intermittently tracked since its discovery in June last year but, in December, it started causing serious concern. Projecting the orbit of the asteroid into the future, astronomers had calculated that the odds of it hitting the Earth in 2029 were alarming. As more observations came in, the odds got higher.

Having more than 20 years warning of potential impact might seem plenty of time. But, at last week's meeting, Andrea Carusi, president of the Spaceguard Foundation, said that the time for governments to make decisions on what to do was now, to give scientists time to prepare mitigation missions. At the peak of concern, Apophis asteroid was placed at four out of 10 on the Torino scale - a measure of the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision which could cause a global catastrophe. This was the highest of any asteroid in recorded history and it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the Earth. The threat of a collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out at the end of last year. [...]

Fireball lights up Yukon morning
CBC News
8 Dec 2005
Commuters coming into Whitehorse were treated to some free fireworks Thursday morning, as a meteoroid streaked across the sky.

Witnesses saw a bright fireball streak west to east across the sky just north of the territorial capital at about 8:30 a.m.

"It was blue-white, neon-like and very bright, and lasted about four seconds," said CBC reporter Doris Bill, who saw the light streak across the sky as she drove in to work .

The meteoroid left a grey contrail across the sky that slowly broke up in the upper atmosphere. There were no reports of any sonic boom.

In January of 2000, a 150-tonne meteoroid lit the skies over Whitehorse, and exploded over a lake about 100 kilometres south of the city. The Tagish Lake meteor produced a treasure of information about a rare kind of meteorite.

Thursday's meteoroid likely burned up far above Earth's surface.

Police report 'dazzling' meteor: Australia
December 8, 2005
There were reports of a big meteorite crossing south-western New South Wales and central Victoria overnight.

Victorians from Geelong to Mildura called police after apparently watching the object.

Senior Victorian Constable Peter Bullock and his partner were patrolling the Calder Highway at Kyneton at about 11:20pm AEDT when they saw what they say was a huge light.

Senior Constable Bullock says they had a clear view of the meteorite dropping towards the ground in the eastern sky.

"My offsider with me had a look as well and we were just dazzled," he said.

"It was unbelievable, it was a huge light, much bigger than any star. It was sort of round and had a very long tail and seemed to be dropping fairly slowly, so we were able to see it for 15 to 20 seconds."

"I said to my offsider, 'that's a meteorite, it's certainly too big to be a falling star' and he said the same thing."

Comment: With the increasing numbers of Fireballs being sighted, and increasing volcanic activity, we have to wonder if these events are in any way connected to the obvious climate changes we see all around the globe? Unfortunately, most people who do pay attention to the fact that all the ancient myths discuss heating of the earth, increasing Volcanic and Earthquake activity, "signs in the heavens," and wars and rumors of wars, can do little or nothing about it in the face of the massive control system that has been created to keep our attention off what really matters. The Global propaganda machine more and more resembles the system utilized against the citizens of Nazi German under Hitler and Soviet Russia under the Communists. Those who might be creative enough to figure a way out of this mess are marginalized and factionalized. It is oh, so true, that Pathocracy is like a disease:

...What happens if the network of ... psychopaths achieves power in leadership positions with international [control]? ... Goaded by their character, such people thirst for just that even though it would conflict with their own life interest? They do not understand that a catastrophe would ensue. Germs are not aware that they will be burned alive or buried deep in the ground along with the human body whose death they are causing.

Meteor brightens EUP skies (Michigan, USA)
By JACK STOREY/The Evening News
Dec 12, 2005
EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA - A smattering of early risers across a wide area of the Eastern Upper Peninsula were startled by the brilliant light from a falling meteor or some ?space junk? in the northern sky about 6:05 a.m. today.

The bright light traced a lightning-fast path over the northern horizon from west to east, briefly and silently illuminating the dark winter sky for a few seconds in the pre-dawn cold.

One witness, Dixie MacArthur, said the object's path appeared to skim the treeline from west to east, making no sound as it flashed through the sky. Other similar reports were made by the few other observers up and out of doors when the brightly-burning object crossed the sky.

A spokesman for the National Weather Service in Gaylord was not aware of the early morning sighting today. He said the object would not register on U.S. weather radar, since meteors usually burn up in earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 40 to 70 miles, far above the reach of weather radar.

He said it is difficult to tell from the ground if the object was a meteor or ?space junk? gradually working its way back to earth from some orbit.

Another spokesman for the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University confirmed that view, adding that the seemingly low trajectory of the object actually means it passed a significant distance away from observers. ?If you see it very low, it has to be very far away,? he said today.

The MSU official added that the silent passage of the object across the sky likely confirms the distance suspicion. He said a passage or landing within 50 miles would have brought a sharp sonic boom from the burning object, moving at speeds several times the speed of sound.

?If they're really close, you hear a kind of whistling sound,? he added.

MacArthur said no sound accompanied her early morning sighting suggesting whatever it was falling through the morning sky was up to several hundred miles distant.

The MSU official said incoming ?space junk? is tracked by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, Colo. NORAD's public affairs office was not available for comment on today's early morning anomaly by midmorning today.

Comment: That's right, just because meteors "usually burn up" high in the atmosphere, we should all therefore ignore the plethora of recent fireballs all around the globe that have been creating massive booms or actually impacting the ground. Nothig to see here.

Strange new object found at edge of Solar System
13 December 2005
Maggie McKee
A large object has been found beyond Pluto travelling in an orbit tilted by 47 degrees to most other bodies in the solar system. Astronomers are at a loss to explain why the object's orbit is so off-kilter while being almost circular.

Researchers led by Lynne Allen at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, first spotted the object in observations made with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in December 2004. Since October 2005, they have made follow-up observations that have revealed the object's perplexing path.

Tentatively named 2004 XR190, the object appears to have a diameter of between 500 and 1000 kilometres, making it somewhere between a fifth and nearly half as wide as Pluto. It lies in a vast ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt, most of which orbit in nearly the same plane as Earth.

But at 47 degrees, 2004 XR190's orbit is one of the most tilted, or inclined, Kuiper Belt Objects known. That suggests it was flung out of the solar system's main disc after a close encounter with another object - such as Neptune or perhaps a star that passed by the Sun billions of years ago. [...]

Hal Levison, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US, says he and others have produced objects like Buffy using models of such special resonances. "However, I do have some problems with the idea," he admits.

Hidden objects

He points out that this object was found when it happened to be passing through the plane of the solar system - where it spends just 2% of its orbit. That suggests many more such objects remain undiscovered, tilted at orbits where most surveys do not search for them. "I just don't think these mechanisms can deliver that much stuff," Levison told New Scientist.

He ventures another possible explanation - that the Sun had a twin and that both stars followed circular orbits around each other. "That could excite inclinations without exciting the eccentricities," he says. "However, this idea creates more problems than it solves, by far."

Scatter effect

Neptune has been blamed for scattering many other KBOs into tilted paths. But these tend to show other signs of a past interaction with the giant planet, such as moving in elliptical paths and having one part of their orbit pass near Neptune's at 30 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun).

2004 XR190, however, follows a nearly circular path. And it is too distant to have come into direct contact with Neptune, travelling between 52 and 62 AU from the Sun. Its orbit is also too circular - and too small - to have been tilted by a passing star, says Allen.

These traits make the object, nicknamed "Buffy" after the US television series about a vampire slayer, hard to explain. "Maybe Buffy is going to be a bit of a theory slayer," Allen told New Scientist.

But she suggests one theory that might account for the space rock's strange orbit. It involves a commonly held notion that early in the solar system, Neptune itself moved outward into its present orbit, from around Uranus's current location.

Gravitational kick

As it did so, its gravitational reach extended outwards, as well. This reach comes in the form of zones, or resonances, where an object's orbital period happens to be an integer multiple of Neptune's. So when one of these outward-expanding resonances swept past 2004 XR190, it could have kicked the object out of a fairly circular, flat orbit into a more elongated, tilted one.

Then, over time, the orbit might have grown more circular as the tilt increased. "These interactions can cause some Kuiper Belt Objects to circularise and tilt," says Allen. But she remains cautious: "We don't know if Buffy's orbit really was created in this manner - because it could be too far away from a resonance or the resonance could not be strong enough - but this seems like the best shot."

Renu Malhotra, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, says most resonances simply elongate an object's orbit. She says a few objects could "trade off" some of their elongation, or eccentricity, for a higher tilt, but the effect would be small. "I find it hard to see how you would get a large inclination out of a modest eccentricity," Malhotra told New Scientist. "There's a limit on how much inclination you can trade off."

Manitoba man finds record number of meteorites
Last Updated Thu, 15 Dec 2005 17:58:30 EST
CBC News
The discovery of a third meteorite by one man in Manitoba shows the province is a dumping ground for rocks from space.

Derek Erstelle of Winnipeg has become the first Canadian to discover three separate meteorites, planetary scientists at the University of Calgary have confirmed. Across the country, 68 meteorites have been found.

"The third was incredible," said Erstelle said of the discovery last October.

Erstelle's hunt for space rocks began five years ago when he was walking with a friend who tried to move an unusual looking rock that turned out to be a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite worth about $50,000.

The M?tis artist, who makes carvings out of antlers, rocks and driftwood, doesn't have any formal scientific training.

"This third find was made testing a theory, that a meteorite dumping zone lies in eastern Manitoba," said Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the University of Calgary and co-director of the Prairie Meteorite Search. "The obvious culprit to put those meteorites there is the Laurentide ice sheet."

Erstelle used binoculars, a metal detector and a map that showed how glaciers melted during the last Ice Age to focus his most recent search .

There could be thousands of meteorites in Manitoba's Whiteshell area, near the province's southeastern border with Ontario, said Scott Young, a planetarium manager at the Manitoba Museum.

"Hopefully,more people will go out and beat the bush and look around, or just bring in the rocks from that area that they've had on their mantlepiece," he said.
Meteorite hunters have found eight space rocks in Manitoba, but the museum is seeking one for its collection.

Hildebrand agreed, saying he hoped the most recent discovery will lead to a rush of meteorite seekers in Manitoba. The rocks are worth up to $10 a gram, but the scientific value and bragging rights are priceless.

Strange Shaking
Andrew Findley
News 5
Dec 16, 2005
A mysterious force shook buildings from Pascagoula, Mississippi to Chumuckla, Florida Friday morning, but no one News 5 talked to knows exactly what caused it. Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 am, a thunderous sound rumbled through the Gulf Coast. Not everyone felt it, but those who did all described it in much the same way. Ruthstein Woods in Eight Mile said, "I was laying in the bed watching TV and all of a sudden, it was like big boom, like the ceiling or something was like falling. I jumped up and ran and looked, and I looked outside, but I didn't see anything. It was like real, real shaking and stuff."

Donny George in Midtown felt it, too. "It was more like a sonic boom. I questioned whether or not the space shuttle had come back into the atmosphere, because I'm from Florida. And when the space shuttle comes in there, it makes a sonic boom, rattles the windows," said George. He added, "It rattled the building, rattled the windows. I thought somebody had hit our building."

It shook Harvey Smith as well. "I just heard a loud boom, I thought maybe some kind of sonic boom or something like an airplane breaking the sound barrier, or...but it shook my house. I still don't know what it was."

People from as far away as Pascagoula, Mississippi to Flomaton, Alabama to Chumuckla, Florida called News 5 to tell us they heard and felt something. But because not everyone felt it, speculation rose from the ground to the air. Some suspected military aircraft causing sonic booms by breaking the sound barrier. But News 5 was unable to confirm whether it was a jet. So, the mystery and the speculation continue.

Comment: Hmmm... we were talking about big booms just the other day and how they can be a type of earthquake... just what IS going on inside our planet?

Couple looks skyward following close encounter
CBC News
Dec 19 2005 08:44 AM NST

A couple in Central Newfoundland has had a close encounter with a mysterious object that appeared to fall from the sky at a high speed.

"I would say [it was] the size of a chicken, probably," says Joanne Knee, who says her experience on Friday afternoon reminded her of the story of Chicken Little.

Knee and her husband were driving from Gander to Carmanville when an object narrowly missed their truck.

She said the beige-coloured rock hit the ground so close to the truck that when it exploded, shards damaged the front grill and a signal light.

"It was such an explosion from it," she said.

"It was just [as] if someone had shot off a gun in the truck. It was just amazing."

Knee and her husband returned to the spot Saturday to find a pile of charcoal-like rock.

They picked up a sample, and after a little digging observed that a cylindrical piece of the material was lodged deep into the side of the road.

Knee said there was no sign of construction or of people working in the area.

Joe Hodych, who teaches earth sciences at Memorial University, said it is possible that the object came from space, and that he is anxious to see the sample.

"Meteorites are very rare. So most reports turn out not to be meteorites in the end," Hodych said.

"But they're extremely important to science."

Knee hopes someone like Hodych will analyze the rock.

However, Knee would like to keep at least a part of the rock as a souvenir.

Comment: Yup, meteorites are extremely rare these days... go back to sleep.

Mysterious booms lead to surge of speculation

By Sam Scott
Staff Writer
Wilmington Star

Tim McKinney knows for sure what caused the blasts ? the Seneca Guns, he said.

He?s heard the mysterious coastal rumblings a thousand times, but never with the intensity he did Tuesday while working on the set of One Tree Hill in downtown Wilmington.

?That?s the strongest I?ve ever felt it in my life,? he said.

Something certainly caused a series of thunderous booms about 4 p.m. that sent some hurrying to call 911 and others looking skyward for answers. Curtis Reeves, who lives near Belville, said he initially feared an explosion at the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point, near Southport.

?It felt like an earthquake,? he said. ?It shook every house in this neighborhood.?

Comment: Check the Signs pages over the past week to find other stories about these now frequent, strange, booming noises in the U.S. The experts don't have any answers, and the speculations among non-experts range from the imminent break-up of the North American plate to UFOs moving in and out of hyperdimensional space. Who knows? Any readers with better ideas?

But officials reported no problems at the ammunition depot or elsewhere. And with nary a cloud in the sky, the booms weren?t weather related, said Ron Steve, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Steve said he spoke to the U.S. Geological Survey, which said there had been no seismic activity in the area. The weather service radar did, however, pick up signs of ?chaff? off the coast of New Hanover and Brunswick counties, he said.

Chaff is like metal confetti that military fighters emit to trick radar-seeking missiles, he said. It?s possible that jets off the coast broke the sound barrier as part of a military exercise.

The public relations office at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock was unable to confirm by press time if Marines were on exercises nearby. Some people reported seeing military planes and helicopters flying in the area after the booms.

But McKinney said the sound came from the ground, blaming the mysterious booms that have been reported in the area for centuries. The name, ?Seneca Guns,? comes from a similar phenomenon in New York and Connecticut.

Legend has it that the Seneca Indians are getting their revenge with the guns that Europeans used to displace them.

More scientific explanations say the boom of the guns comes from earthquakes, material falling off the continental shelf, or pockets of hot air exploding like balloons.


23 Dec 2005

It's happening again: For the second time in less than a week, a sunspot is materializing before our very eyes. Just yesterday sunspot 838 was a barely-visible speck. Now it is wider than the planet Neptune.

Sometimes, the magnetic fields of fast-growing sunspots become unstable and explode. The magnetic field of sunspot 838, however, does not appear to harbor energy for strong flares. Stay tuned for updates.

TV Film Crew Records Big (Mystery) Boom

Dec 21, 2005


What's being described as a big boom shook houses along the coast late Tuesday afternoon. Phone calls started pouring into the newsroom shortly after 4:00, with people questioning what the noise was. Now WECT has obtained a tape with the boom recorded on it.

Alex Markowski is a professor at UNC Wilmington and a sound engineer working at the Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington. Tuesday afternoon, during a recording session with a crew from the NBC series Surface, the low frequency waves from the boom picked up sound on Markowski's equipment.

The boom could be felt from Ogden to Carolina Beach and in some cases Brunswick County. Some people described it as a loud bang. Others say it was like several explosions. They say their windows rattled and homes shook under the force.

WECT called 911 centers around the area. There were no reports of any accidents or damage in relation to the bangs. Officials at the nuclear power plant didn't report any problems either. Right now, authorities are just not sure what caused the noise.

One theory is a natural phenomena called Seneca Guns. It's never been fully explained but people along the coast have talked about it for centuries. Some say the sound originates when chunks of the continental shelf drop into the Atlantic Ocean.

It doesn't just happen along the coast. In fact, the name comes from Seneca Lake in New York where the big booms have been heard for years.

NASA Astronomers Spot Rare Lunar Meteor Strike

Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)
News Release: 05-190

On Nov. 7, using a 10-inch-diameter telescope, astronomers recorded a tiny blip northwest of Mare Imbrium, the moon's "Sea of Showers." Such impacts are not uncommon, but it was only in 1999 that scientists first recorded a lunar strike as it happened.

"People just do not look at the moon anymore," said Dr. Robert Suggs, Space Environment team lead in the Natural Environments Branch of the Marshall Center's Engineering Directorate. "We tend to think of it as a known quantity. But there is knowledge still to be gained here."

As NASA plans to return to the moon, the agency has a need to understand what happens after lunar impacts in order to protect lunar explorers. On Earth, the atmosphere vaporizes most small meteoroids, leaving nothing behind but a brief streak of light. The vacuum environment on the moon, however, means there is nothing to slow incoming meteoroids before they strike.

"The likelihood of being struck by a meteoroid on the lunar surface is very, very small," said Bill Cooke, an astronomer in Marshall's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The challenge is learning what happens to high-velocity ejecta, the debris kicked up by a meteoroid strike, which is not hindered by atmospheric friction or Earth gravity. What threat does that debris pose to humans or equipment?"

Suggs, who heads the impact study, used commercial software tools to study the video frame by frame, and spotted a very bright flash. The burst of light diminished gradually over the course of five video frames, each 1/30th of a second in duration. Suggs called in Cooke, and both scientists agreed that the bright light was an impact flash, captured by video from some 248,000 miles away.

Immediately, the team began ruling out other possible causes. Two telling characteristics won out ? the gradual diminishment of the flash rather than an on-off "winking" effect, and its motionlessness. A flicker of light from a moving satellite, Cooke noted, would have appeared to shift perceptibly, even in five brief frames of video.

Suggs and Cooke next consulted star charts and lunar imaging software and determined the meteoroid was likely a Taurid, part of an annual meteor shower active at the time of the strike. Based on the amount of light produced the object was roughly five inches in diameter, traveling more than 60,000 mph, and may have gouged a crater nearly 10 feet in diameter out of the moon's surface.

The Taurids, which approach Earth from the direction of the Taurus constellation, are believed to be ancient remnants of comet Encke, which orbits the Sun every 3.3 years.

NASA scientists previously studied lunar meteor strikes during the Apollo moon program, but lacked the sophisticated video cameras and high-powered image processors to capture the tiny, telling flashes. Now, however, as NASA readies its next-generation spaceship to carry explorers back to the moon for potential long-term stays, Suggs and Cooke say lunar impact research is more vital than ever.

"Large-scale lunar facilities are sure to be well-protected, using impact-resistant technologies much like those developed to shield the space shuttle and the International Space Station," Suggs said. "We want to support additional measures that safeguard personnel working in the lunar field ? early-alert systems, emergency protective measures and new technologies that will mitigate risks from flying impact debris."


December 23, 2005

NASA scientists have observed an explosion on the moon. The blast, equal in energy to about 70 kg of TNT, occurred near the edge of Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Rains) on Nov. 7, 2005, when a 12-centimeter-wide meteoroid slammed into the ground traveling 27 km/s.

"What a surprise," says Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) researcher Rob Suggs, who recorded the impact's flash. He and colleague Wes Swift were testing a new telescope and video camera they assembled to monitor the moon for meteor strikes. On their first night out, "we caught one," says Suggs.

The object that hit the moon was "probably a Taurid," says MSFC meteor expert Bill Cooke. In other words, it was part of the same meteor shower that peppered Earth with fireballs in late October and early November 2005. (See "Fireball Sightings" from Science@NASA.)

The moon was peppered, too, but unlike Earth, the moon has no atmosphere to intercept meteoroids and turn them into harmless streaks of light. On the moon, meteoroids hit the ground--and explode.

"The flash we saw," says Suggs, "was about as bright as a 7th magnitude star." That's two and a half times dimmer than the faintest star a person can see with their unaided eye, but it was an easy catch for the group's 10-inch telescope.

Cooke estimates that the impact gouged a crater in the moon's surface "about 3 meters wide and 0.4 meters deep." As moon craters go, that's small. "Even the Hubble Space Telescope couldn't see it," notes Cooke. The moon is 384,400 km away. At that distance, the smallest things Hubble can distinguish are about 60 meters wide.

This isn't the first time meteoroids have been seen hitting the moon. During the Leonid meteor storms of 1999 and 2001, amateur and professional astronomers witnessed at least half-a-dozen flashes ranging in brightness from 7th to 3rd magnitude. Many of the explosions were photographed simultaneously by widely separated observers.

Since the Leonids of 2001, astronomers have not spent much time hunting for lunar meteors. "It's gone out of fashion," says Suggs. But with NASA planning to return to the moon by 2018, he says, it's time to start watching again.

There are many questions that need answering: "How often do big meteoroids strike the moon? Does this happen only during meteor showers like the Leonids and Taurids? Or can we expect strikes throughout the year from 'sporadic meteors?'" asks Suggs. Explorers on the moon are going to want to know.

"The chance of an astronaut being directly hit by a big meteoroid is miniscule," says Cooke. Although, he allows, the odds are not well known "because we haven't done enough observing to gather the data we need to calculate the odds." Furthermore, while the danger of a direct hit is almost nil for an individual astronaut, it might add up to something appreciable for an entire lunar outpost.

Of greater concern, believes Suggs, is the spray?"the secondary meteoroids produced by the blast." No one knows how far the spray reaches and exactly what form it takes.

Also, ground-shaking impacts could kick up moondust, possibly over a wide area. Moondust is electrostatically charged and notoriously clingy. (See "Mesmerized by Moondust" from Science@NASA.) Even a small amount of moondust can be a great nuisance: it gets into spacesuit joints and seals, clings to faceplates, and even makes the air smell when it is tramped indoors by moonwalkers. Could meteoroid impacts be a source of lunar "dust storms?" Another question for the future....

Suggs and his team plan to make more observations. "We're contemplating a long-term monitoring program active not only during major meteor showers, but also at times in between. We need to develop software to find these flashes automatically," he continues. "Staring at 4 hours of tape to find a split-second flash can get boring; this is a job for a computer."

With improvements, their system might catch lots of lunar meteors. Says Suggs, "I'm ready for more surprises."

17 planets? Astronomers' heads spinning

Washington Bureau

St Paul Pioneer Press

The discovery of new objects in the icy junkyard called the Kuiper Belt forces science to rethink the definition of a planet.

WASHINGTON ? The familiar solar system that you learned about in school ? nine well-behaved planets, from Mercury to Pluto, circling sedately in tidy paths around the sun ? isn't what it used to be.

Astronomers recently have discovered a flock of at least eight other planet-like objects in sometimes wildly eccentric orbits. Four new "ice dwarfs," plus two more probable moons around Pluto, were announced in the last six months.

The latest mini-world, temporarily nicknamed "Buffy" and more than 5 billion miles from the sun, was revealed Dec. 13. The object, about half the size of Pluto, was spotted roaming through the so-called Kuiper Belt, a vast junkyard of icy, rocky bodies stretching for billions of miles beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The first scientific mission to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, a nine-year voyage to the outer solar system, is set to be launched in January.

"Next month, we set sail for Pluto," said Alan Stern, chief scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Unlike the rest of the planetary family, Pluto resides in the Kuiper Belt. But it's not alone there. More than 1,000 frozen chunks of debris left over from the formation of the solar system have been found since 1992. Astronomers expect at least half a million more pieces are out there.

"The discovery of the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s has given Pluto a place to call home, with icy brethren to call its own," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an e-mail.

"The Kuiper Belt is the largest structure in the solar system," Stern said recently. "We used to think Pluto was a misfit," he added. Now Earth and the other inner planets are the oddballs.

Even the inner solar system looks different. Astronomers no long believe that the four biggest planets have always been in their present orbits.

Instead, they now say, Jupiter has moved toward the sun from its original home. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have slid outward from their birthplaces, according to Donald Yeomans, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,

"The field of planetary science is currently enjoying an intense period of readjustment and discovery," Yeomans wrote in the journal Science.

Scientists no longer are sure what a planet is and how many reside in our system. In addition, 160 extra-solar planets have been discovered around other stars, not the sun, in the last 10 years.

The International Astronomical Union, a worldwide alliance of astronomers, has been struggling for about two years to agree on a definition for planets. Three proposed definitions are being studied, but a decision isn't likely until spring, according to Robert Williams, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Depending on what definition is adopted, Pluto may be demoted from its status as the solar system's smallest planet to what astronomers call a "trans-Neptunian object." That's a fancy name for any world beyond Neptune, which is 2.8 billion miles from the sun or 30 times farther than Earth.

Teachers are scrambling to stay current.

"It's a very exciting and fast-changing area," said Richard Pogge, an astronomy professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. "It requires us to get out and do research on our own, since the textbooks are behind."

Pogge uses classroom computers to connect his students to NASA's Web site and other Internet pages to view the latest findings.

Science museums and planetariums have special problems since they can't afford to update expensive exhibits when a new object is found.

"It's hard to hit a moving target," said Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium, who's writing a book on the difficulty of defining Pluto.

Pluto would remain a planet if the International Astronomical Union accepts a definition that would declare a planet to be any round object larger than 1,000 kilometers ? 625 miles ? across that's orbiting the sun.

So far, nine such mini-worlds, including Pluto (diameter 1,430 miles), are known to dwell in the frigid Kuiper Belt.

They are "a completely different type of object that predominates in the outer solar system beyond Neptune," Pogge said.

The largest and most distant of the ice dwarfs is nicknamed Xena after the television warrior princess. Discovered in 2003, it's 1,600 miles across and 20 percent bigger than Pluto is. Xena has a moon of its own, named Gabrielle after the TV Xena's sidekick.

If Xena and Pluto are counted, our solar system has 10 planets; if they're not, it has eight. But if all the known objects larger than 625 miles across are included, there would be 17 planets with more expected soon.

A small Kuiper Belt mini-worlds is nicknamed Santa and has a moonlet named Rudolph. Until the International Astronomical Union assigns official names, the others are known as Easter Bunny, Orcus, Quaoar, Ixion and now Buffy. The most distant such object is called Sedna; its elliptical orbit carries it more than 9 billion miles beyond the sun.

As an added complication, new moons keep popping up around planets, and some old moons are found to be performing unusual tricks. Even some asteroids have tiny moons of their own. One asteroid has two moonlets.

In November, two possible new moons were sighted around Pluto. If confirmed, that would mean Pluto has three satellites, counting its previously known moon, Charon.

"The total number of natural satellites orbiting the major planets has grown to more than 150, with more than 50 percent of these discoveries occurring within the last six years," said Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Unlike our own moon, which is geologically dead, at least four moons show signs of activity.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has rainfall and rivers of liquid methane (natural gas), and renews its atmosphere by venting more methane from below the surface.

Enceladus, another of Saturn's moons, spews huge jets of icy particles, probably driven by subsurface radioactivity. Jupiter's moon Io is wracked by volcanic explosions and gigantic lava flows. Neptune's moon Triton has active geysers of dust and gas.

"For planetary explorers like us, there is little that can compare to the sighting of activity on another solar system body," said Carolyn Porco, an astronomer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder.

More Conditioning?

QFG Member,CM
27 Dec 2005

Being home due to the holidays, I've seen a lot more tv than usual. Has anyone else noticed the increasing references to meteors and asteroids in weird places?

The most blatent one is a commercial for a new variety of garbage bag (Glad) which is more stretchy. It's got a lady emptying her kitchen trash while listening to a tv report of a meteor shower impacting the earth. The next scene is '50s style sci-fi kitsch with the meteors coming down on the earth and being caught in this super-stretchy strong new garbage bag. It then shows this gal taking her trash out to be collected and pulling a chuck of rock off the windshield of a car and putting in the bag. (Nothing to worry about here . . .)

The second weird reference was in a Discovery channel show, which was a "teen science challange". They got these teams of whiz kids together for a sort of science-under-pressure contest. The teams were presented with five types of natural disaster and had to come up with ways of accurately modeling them for study and ways to collect the data. Among the things they had to figure out was how to make a device to cause a wave tank to consistently model a tsunami. The talking head host mentions that tsunamis can be caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, **asteroid strikes**, and volcanic eruptions.

These were both today. It just seems like there's a general uptick in the mentions of asteroids/meteors lately.