12 April 2007

January - February 2005

Doorstep Astronomy: New Comet Looking Bright

Joe Rao

SPACE.com Night Sky Columnist


Fri Dec 31, 9:17 PM ET

As 2004 draws to a close, skywatchers have yet another opportunity to view a naked-eye comet. Comet Machholz has been brightening steadily and conditions are now prime.

So far this year, there have been four comets that have managed to attain naked-eye visibility. Last spring, comets Bradfield (C/2004 F4), NEAT (C/2001 Q4), and LINEAR (C/2002 T7) all reached third magnitude, while in July another comet discovered by the automated LINEAR project (C/2003 K4) briefly peaked at sixth magnitude.

On the astronomers' magnitude scale, smaller numbers denote brighter objects. The dimmest objects visible under perfectly dark skies are about magnitude 6.5.

Discovered on Aug. 27 by veteran comet hunter Donald E. Machholz of Colfax, California, comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) has been brightening steadily during the past several months while approaching both the Sun and Earth.

Getting brighter

This comet currently is glowing at around magnitude 3.5 and is

visible to the naked eye in dark, non-light polluted skies, though much better seen in binoculars or telescopes. This kind of brightness makes Machholz a very fine comet from the viewpoint of a serious amateur astronomer, but it doesn't appear that this comet will become the kind of spectacle that Comet Hale-Bopp was in grabbing the broader public's attention.

Yet this is an auspicious circumstance, as Machholz is now the fifth naked eye comet in 2004. Twice before, in 1911 and again in 1970, four comets managed to reach naked-eye brightness within a single calendar year.

But when Andrew Pearce of Noble Falls, Western Australia saw the comet without any optical aid on Nov. 19, it put 2004 into the books as a record year for naked-eye comets.

Nasa rocket to be launched on a collision course with comet

By David Usborne in New York

03 January 2005

Nasa scientists are preparing for what they hope will be a carefully controlled and entirely spectacular crash in outer space. If all goes according to plan, the resulting pyrotechnics of the 23,000mph collision involving a comet and a spaceship should occur on 4 July, Independence Day in America.

Officials at the space agency confirmed this weekend that they expect to launch a rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida later this month with its navigation system set to intercept a comet called Tempel 1 as it travels just beyond the orbit of Mars at a distance from Earth of about 80 million miles.

The rocket will carry a special module that will be released just in time to make a direct hit on the surface of the comet. The module is called Deep Impact, a name familiar to fans of the 1998 Hollywood blockbuster about a comet that strikes the surface of Earth.

Researchers are gambling that by deliberately smashing the module into Tempel 1, they will open a crater perhaps as large as the Coliseum in Rome to reveal what lies within. The explosion, equivalent to igniting 4.5 tonnes of TNT in space, will send a shower of material into space that will be analysed.

"We'll understand how the comet is put together, its density, its porosity, whether it has a surface crust and underlying ices, whether it's layered ice, whether it's a wimpy comet or whether it's a rock-hard ice ball," explained Donald Yeomans, a researcher at JPL in California that advised on the making of the film. "All of these things will become apparent after we smack it."

The project offers the best way of mining the surface of a comet short of actually landing a spacecraft on the surface of one. That is the aim of the European Space Agency's Rosetta programme. However, delays mean that the agency only expects to achieve such a landing some time in 2012.

By deliberately crashing Deep Impact, Nasa is hoping for more instant scientific gratification. It will be akin to driving a lorry at full speed into an inert object, said Richard Grammier, the manager of the project. "It would be like it's standing in the middle of the road and this huge semi coming down at it at 23,000mph, you know, just bam!" he remarked.

He and his colleagues play down concerns that the collision could break up the nine-mile-long comet or alter its trajectory. He insisted there is no risk of sending it on a new course that could send it hurtling towards Earth. Nasa calculates that to change the comet's course, the impact would have to be 6,000 times greater.

Lift-off is scheduled for 12 January, two weeks later than expected following delays caused by problems with computers and the rocket system. It is vital to send Deep Impact on its way by 28 January - any later and the mother ship will no longer have the chance to catch up with Tempel 1. The chances of the spaceship missing its target altogether are put at less than 1 per cent.

The project's aim is to help find out how to deflect a comet should one fly towards Earth. Nasa also harbours hopes that comets might prove useful space refuelling platforms, with the possibility of robots breaking down water contained in them into hydrogen and oxygen, the ingredients for rocket fuel.

Comment: Nothing to see here, just a routine "rocket into comet" maneuver for the purpose of blowing pieces off the comet and then trying to chase after them in space. It is an extremely practical experiment, even if it sounds like a ridiculous concept. Please note, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that our government knows very well that there are numerous space rocks on a collision course with earth. So just ignore the last paragraph above and go back to painting your toenails...that goes for our male readers too.

Lincoln County says meteor probably caused lights, explosions

Posted on Tue, Jan. 04, 2005

Associated Press

MERRILL, Wis. - Authorities in north central Wisconsin received dozens of reports Tuesday evening of bright flashes of light in the sky, as from an explosion, and they said it likely came from meteor activity.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Department said the first call was at 6:12 p.m. and told of a large bright flash in the town of Harrison.

More reports soon came from all over the county about lights and strange noises. In all, the sheriff's department got about 50 calls, and similar calls were received in Oneida, Taylor, Price and Langlade counties.

The Lincoln County officials said that at 6:34 p.m. people logging near the Lincoln-Taylor county line reported seeing a glow as from a fire after they saw a flash of light and heard an explosion, but deputies went into the woods with the others and couldn't find the source of the glow.

The Federal Aviation Administration tower at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport advised that the lights and explosions mostly likely were from a meteor, the sheriff's department said.

Meteor burns over northeast counties - Residents, officer report hearing sonic boom



Posted: Jan. 4, 2005

An apparent meteor and accompanying sonic boom Tuesday evening over northeast Wisconsin prompted scores of telephone calls to law enforcement authorities, a Shawano County sheriff's sergeant said.


Sgt. Dennis Kleman said reports of the meteor sighting were made in Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Langlade and Shawano counties between 6 and 6:15 p.m.

Kleman himself spotted the meteor while patrolling in the westbound lane of county Highway A about four miles west of Gresham, he said.

"It had a really bright tail," said Kleman, who noticed a bright flash in his windshield coming from the northeast.

"It came over the top of my squad. It didn't appear to be coming down. It went across," Kleman said. "It went toward the southwest and looked like it extinguished."

There were no reports of the object landing, but it is suspected of causing the sonic boom Kleman and others heard shortly after it flashed.

"It was well up in the sky," the deputy said. "It was just a matter of a second, then it went out."

Boom and flash startles residents

Wed, Jan 5, 2005

A loud boom and flash of light heard by many residents Tuesday evening might have been caused by a meteorite.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Department took about 50 calls after its first report at 6:15 p.m. from someone in the Harrison Hills area who heard what sounded like an explosion and saw a flash of light. Dispatchers then took calls from residents all over the county. Other area counties, including Marathon, also received similar reports. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said it could have caused by a meteor shower.

There was an expected meteor shower on or around Jan. 3, said Theo Koupelis, an astronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County. The loud noise and light might have been caused by a meteoroid hitting the ground, he said.

Fiery Object Shoots Across Wisconsin Sky




January 5, 2005

Many people called Action 2 News to let us know about a strange sight in the sky Tuesday night.

Calls came from all over -- especially Brown, Oconto, and Shawano counties.

Callers described what they saw around 6:15 p.m. as a large, red- and green-colored glowing ball with a tail, shooting through the sky.

Lincoln County authorities report it may have crashed into a wooded area there in northcentral Wisconsin. Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion then saw a fire in the woods. Deputies were out there late Tuesday night trying to find where the object might have struck.

The FAA reports the object was likely a meteorite.

US scientists detect biggest explosion ever

WASHINGTON (AFP) Jan 07, 2005

US scientists have detected the largest explosion ever in the universe, which saw a mass equivalent to about 300 suns sucked into a black hole, NASA said Thursday.

"The eruption, which has lasted for more than 100 million years, has generated energy equivalent to hundreds of millions of gamma-ray bursts," said the US space agency in a statement.

The discovery was made by NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory which is controlled from a base in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The huge eruption was seen in a Chandra image of the hot, X- ray emitting gas of a galaxy cluster called MS 0735.6+7421, the agency said. The galaxy is about 2.6 billion light years away.

Scientists believe that this black hole is a relatively recent phenomena.

This event was caused by gravitational energy release, as enormous amounts of matter fell toward a black hole. Most of the matter was swallowed, but some of it was violently ejected before being captured by the black hole.

"I was stunned to find that a mass of about 300 million suns was swallowed," said Brian McNamara of Ohio University, lead author of a study on the discovery published in the latest issue of Nature.

The energy released shows the black hole in MS 0735 has grown dramatically during this eruption. Previous studies suggest other large black holes have grown very little in the recent past, and that only smaller black holes are still growing quickly.

"This new result is as surprising as it is exciting," said co-author Paul Nulsen of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge. "This black hole is feasting, when it should be fasting."

Gas is being pushed away from the black hole at supersonic speeds over a distance of about a million light-years, said the scientists. The mass of the displaced gas equals about a trillion suns, more than the mass of all the stars in the Milky Way.

"Until now we had no idea this black hole was gorging itself," said Michael Wise of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "The discovery of this eruption shows X-ray telescopes are necessary to understand some of the most violent events in the universe."

Residents Startled As UFO Falls On Chino

POSTED: 12:45 pm PST January 7, 2005

CHINO, Calif. -- An unidentified object fell from the sky and spooked Roswell residents.

Roswell Avenue residents aren't sure what the unidentified falling object was, but it streaked across the sky about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and apparently hit the ground, touching off a fire that destroyed a neighbor's shed.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said they got calls from Chino residents and motorists on the 210 and 71 freeways reporting that an unidentified object was landing or crashing in town.

"Somebody told one of the fire officials that they saw a plane crash," said fire Capt. Kim Johnson, who responded to the shed fire on Cozzens Street, close to Roswell.

A helicopter search determined there wasn't a plane crash.

"There are a lot of people who are convinced that something came out of the sky -- that there was something unexplainable, a light falling from the sky," Johnson said.

Somebody called in saying they saw fire in the sky, sheriff's spokeswoman Debra Holman said. "At first we thought it was a transformer but it's still undetermined."

Fire investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.

"There may be a simple explanation," Johnson said. "But who knows?"

Comment: Sounds like another one of those pesky "once in a lifetime" falling meteorites...

Indianapolis rocked by underground blast

January 8, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS -- An underground explosion injured three people Saturday and forced authorities to evacuate dozens of residents from a downtown condominium.

The blast shortly before noon was similar to one that cut power Wednesday to about 400 downtown businesses and homes, including the federal courthouse. Officials said both explosions likely were caused by heavy rains and later freezing and thawing that triggered a series of short circuits in underground utility lines.

Saturday's explosion buckled a bookstore's 3-inch concrete floor into jagged 4-foot mounds and blew a steel door off its hinges. Two workers and a customer were injured.

Tony Bayt had just opened the front door of the store when he was blown off his feet.

"I was flying through the air," he said while medics checked his injuries before putting him into an ambulance.

Residents of nearby condominiums were evacuated.

Comment: The "official explanation" that melting water caused an underground short circuit resulting in an explosion big enough to buckle concrete and blow a steel door off it's hinges sounds a tad implausible to us. The second one in two days, no less. If it proves not to be a short circuit, we can only wonder what's really going on beneath the streets of Indianapolis?

Experts bust the boom mystery - again



Jan 8, 2005

Scientist sleuths say noises were caused by 'micro-earthquakes'

It now appears that it wasn't boys with "bottle bombs" that caused the big booms that mystified North Richmond during the past two months.

More likely, it was their mother.

Mother Earth, that is.

A series of "micro-earthquakes" probably produced the booms, said Martin C. Chapman, a seismologist and professor of geophysics at Virginia Tech.

"There are hundreds of them happening all the time in Virginia," Chapman told 60 North Side residents during a public hearing last night at Linwood Holton Elementary School. "The ground is always moving."

Now the city is buying is own earthquake-detecting equipment to avoid another long-troubling mystery. That equipment should be up and running in 90 days, said Ben Johnson, Richmond's emergency services coordinator.

Virginia Tech was called in last month to help unravel the mystery that began in earnest on election night and continued, off and on, through Christmas.

Compounding and - as it now appears - confusing the BOOM mystery were the arrests over the Thanksgiving holiday of two teenage boys who admitted to making a couple of small booming devices in late September and early October by mixing household chemicals in 20-ounce plastic bottles. That fueled speculation that the continuing booms were the work of young pranksters who became known as the "Bellevue Bombers."

Three seismographs installed in North Side last month by Virginia Tech's earthmoving experts detected a minus-1 magnitude tremor during the boom heard on Christmas Day. (Previous booms, many of them more pronounced, couldn't be measured because the nearest detecting equipment was in Fredericksburg and Charlottesville.)

That evidence, along with anecdotal information gathered from residents and some key comparative data from a 1986 quake in the same area, led Virginia Tech's sleuths to blame tiny shifts in the earth's crust less than a mile beneath the surface. While not conclusive, Chapman said, the quake theory is the most logical explanation.

During the past couple of months, Chapman told the crowd, it appears there has been a "series of these events happening in Richmond."

Why does that cause a boom? asked one resident.

Seismic waves created from rock sliding past rock radiate from the point of friction and convert to sound waves as they reach the earth's surface, Chapman said.

It typically makes a booming sound and sensation, he added, very similar to a truck rumbling by just outside your house.

That description caused roughly half of those present to nod in complete understanding.

Chapman explained that these micro-quakes tend to "flare up and die off," although they can sometimes precede a stronger tremor.

Usually, though, they're "just a nuisance," he said, which produced a ripple of sardonic laughter in the crowd.

Virginia Tech research assistant Jake Beale showed a mapping of a 1986 quake in North Side, which he said is almost identical to recent activity.

North Side resident Bill Britton recalled that'86 quake. "I was in bed . . . BOOM! My first thought was the furnace had exploded. Second thought, the Yankees were back."

He said the biggest of the recent booms reminded him of that quake.

Some residents clearly weren't ready to give up on the serial prankster theory.

But Capt. William "Mike" Martin with the Richmond Fire Department said the nature of the mystery booms and the type of bangs from bottle bombs didn't seem to match from the start of the investigation.

But once the two boys were arrested, the prankster theory "unfortunately took on a life of its own," Martin said.

"The slant in the media all along is the kids did [the booms]," complained one resident.

In that regard, Martin said, the boys "probably caught a bum rap. . . . The timing was horrible."

The two boys were convicted Thursday. They made and detonated bottle bombs well before the booms became an issue.

The boys and their parents cooperated fully from the start, Martin said.

"I have to praise the families involved and the juveniles involved," Martin said. "They stepped up to the plate."

Nearby resident Hampton Carver drew applause when he said the community now has to realize that the two boys had nothing to do with the booms. "We've got to be fair to these kids," he said.

Comment: "Sigh", and so the explanations continue. Do these people have no shame? For sure the most recent explanation is more believable, but the fact that it is still being passed off as an every day occurrence begs the questions as to whythese boomsare not being heard every day? While small earthquakes may well be the cause, we have to ask the question just what is causing these small earthquakes?

Congress passes 'doomsday' plan

By Noelle Straub

Boston Herald

Sunday, January 9, 2005

WASHINGTON- With no fanfare, the U.S. House has passed a controversial doomsday provision that would allow a handful of lawmakers to run Congress if a terrorist attack or major disaster killed or incapacitated large numbers of congressmen.

"I think (the new rule) is terrible in a whole host of ways - first, I think it's unconstitutional,'' said Norm Ornstein, a counselor to the independent Continuity of Government Commission, a bipartisan panel created to study the issue. "It's a very foolish thing to do, I believe, and the way in which it was done was more foolish.''

But supporters say the rule provides a stopgap measure to allow the government to continue functioning at a time of national crisis.

GOP House leaders pushed the provision as part of a larger rules package that drew attention instead for its proposed ethics changes, most of which were dropped.

Usually, 218 lawmakers - a majority of the 435 members of Congress - are required to conduct House business, such as passing laws or declaring war.

But under the new rule, a majority of living congressmen no longer will be needed to do business under "catastrophic circumstances.''

Instead, a majority of the congressmen able to show up at the House would be enough to conduct business, conceivably a dozen lawmakers or less.

The House speaker would announce the number after a report by the House Sergeant at Arms. Any lawmaker unable to make it to the chamber would effectively not be counted as a congressman.

The circumstances include "natural disaster, attack, contagion or similar calamity rendering Representatives incapable of attending the proceedings of the House.''

The House could be run by a small number of lawmakers for months, because House vacancies must be filled by special elections. Governors can make temporary appointments to the Senate.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), one of few lawmakers active on the issue, argued the rule change contradicts the U.S. Constitution, which states that "a majority of each (House) shall constitute a quorum to do business. "

"Changing what constitutes a quorum in this way would allow less than a dozen lawmakers to declare war on another nation,'' Baird said.

Lab: Meteor could case big tsunami

By Sue Vorenberg

Tribune Reporter

January 10, 2005

Los Alamos National Laboratory is watching the sky for tsunamis.

While most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes or landslides, the potential for an asteroid-caused tsunami remains a threat the world should watch out for, said Galen Gisler, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist.

"Every 10,000 years or so, we should get a tsunami from an asteroid, and we haven't had one in about that amount of time," Gisler said. "It's a hard thing to calculate, because we don't know how many asteroids are out there, but some international groups are starting to do surveys to quantify that."

On lab computers, Gisler is modeling the potential impacts of such a strike. The hope is that the modeling will help give warning of where tsunamis would go and how they would propagate if a large asteroid struck one of the world's oceans, he said.

That warning could become part of a larger series of monitoring systems that would prevent another disaster like the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean, he said.

It would cost a few million dollars to set up those systems for asteroids, earthquakes and landslides in each of the world's seas and oceans, but the warning systems could save thousands of lives, Gisler said.

"If we had a monitoring system in the Indian Ocean, maybe 75,000 lives could have been saved in this recent disaster," Gisler said. "It's just ridiculous when you look back that the money wasn't spent."

Asteroids are one of several under-monitored events that could cause a disaster, Gisler said.

An asteroid the width of a half-mile or bigger could cause tsunami waves to propagate across an entire ocean. If something like that happened in the Pacific, the world would get warning because of the monitoring system there. Not so in the Atlantic, where there is no system, Gisler said.

"There's a danger of tsunamis in all oceans," Gisler said. "Earthquakes are a danger in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, but landslides, volcanoes and asteroids can also cause them."

The Caribbean and Indian Ocean also don't have systems, he said.

Gisler's model grew out of his work at the lab analyzing how bomb blasts will travel through water. After the tragedy in the Indian Ocean, it has taken on new meaning, he said.

"My personal feeling is that all the world's oceans should be monitored against these types of things," Gisler said.

Other factors than earthquakes could cause significant damage in areas where people might think they're safe, said Sue Bilek, a New Mexico Tech scientist who studies earthquake related tsunamis.

"There's not much danger in the Atlantic Ocean of a tsunami from an earthquake, but many scientists have theorized you could get a significant tsunami from a landslide or volcanic eruption," Bilek said.

And a strike by a half-mile wide asteroid in the Atlantic near Florida could cause a 10-foot-tall tsunami that could kill thousands and create massive property destruction, Gisler added.

Even the Gulf of Mexico isn't completely safe, he said.

"The Caribbean has active volcanoes and faults where the Caribbean plate is sliding into the Atlantic plate," Gisler said. "Tsunamis could easily propagate from that area into the Gulf."

Scientists are doing what they can to learn from the disaster, by modeling it to understand the devastating waves more clearly, Gisler said. The international community is also finally talking about setting up tsunami warning systems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, he added.

"All you can hope for when something like this happens is that some good can come out of it," Gisler said.

Boom in sky: Plane crash, say Raigad residents


Posted online: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 0146 hours IST

MUMBAI, JANUARY 11: Panic tonight gripped the Uran-Khopoli belt of Raigad with villagers reporting a huge ball of fire coming down from the sky accompanied by a big bang.

Aviation sources said it could have been a sonic boom from IAF sorties. Presumably, a Sukhoi is said to have flown back to Pune from Mumbai between 8.30 and 8.45 pm.

Guardian Minister for Raigad district Sunil Tatkare said police have despatched teams to the area to find out if there was a crash. Khalapur police said the team had left for Vawashi village from where there were complaints of a deafening sound.

Meanwhile, till late night, confusion reigned over the possible crash of an aircraft in Raigad district. Air Traffic Control, however, confirmed that all aircraft were in contact and there were no reports of anyone missing.

Update: Mystery ball of fire falls in Khopoli

By: The Mid Day Team

January 12, 2005

Khopoli/Mumbai: I saw a huge ball of fire in the air. It raced down to the earth so fast that before I could do anything, my house shook and all my utensils came crashing down, said Gangaram Waghmare, caretaker of a farmhouse in Apata village near Khopoli, nearly 100 kms from Mumbai.

Like 6,000 other villagers, Waghmare is in a state of shock after the mysterious fireball explosions that shook Horale, Wavoshi, Chriner, Apta, Kharapada and other villages in the vicinity of Khopoli, Uran and Panvel at around 8.30 pm yesterday.

An almost twister-like effect was also detected in the jungle areas of Bazruddin, Wavochi and Karoshi, which saw trees swaying.

A series of explosions was heard simultaneously in these villages, and locals ran out of their houses fearing they would come crashing down.

Most villagers remained out side their homes all through last night. The noise was so loud, for a moment I thought I had turned deaf. It was almost like a huge bomb blast, said R Chaitanya, a resident of Pen. Chaitanya in fact left his home and rushed to his friends home in Panvel to stay there for a while.

What the ball of fire and explosion was, and what caused it, was however unclear till late last night.

While Air Traffic Control officials ruled out an aircraft crash, the Mumbai Meteorological Department ruled out any asteroid or meteorite fall, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials in Mumbai dismissed the possibility of any part of a satellite falling.

Police and government officials too could not figure out what the fireball was. Ashok Mhatre, tehsildar of Khalapur, said he rushed out of his house on hearing the loud noise.

When I came out to inquire, people told me they had seen something like an aeroplane, Mhatre said.

A patrolling cop D D Bharsat in Bharapada village told Mid Day he saw fire with smoke and that its impact sent leaves and other articles from the ground circling into the air.

Bhaskar Wankhede, collector, Raigad, said, We have sent teams across Raigad, but they havent found anything untoward. I have spoken to Navy officials at the Nhava Sheva base. They have radar facilities but even they havent detected any plane or any flying object.

Officials from the Khopoli fire brigade were also not able to shed any light. Some are saying its a plane crash, while according to others it was an earthquake, said a fire official.

Superintendent Dnyaneshwar Phadtare of Raigad police said, The villagers here have heard the sound but it is still not clear if it was an explosion, a quake or a fireball, he said.

Police have also not found the exact place where the explosion occurred.

Our men are travelling from village to village to find out the exact spot of the unidentified explosion. Many have heard the explosion but nobody has yet been able to pinpoint the spot, Phadtare noted.

Geologists, astronomers rush to locate meteor debris:


Jan 12/05

Mumbai: Geologists and amateur astronomers rushed to Vavoshi near Pen in Raigad district this morning where pieces of a meteor-like object were reported to have fallen last night.

A meteor-like object allegedly hit Vavoshi village near here in Raigad district last night around 2030 hrs.

Bright light was seen and deafening noise was heard at places including Vavoshi, Rasaini, Khalapur, Khopoli, Pen, Panvel, Chirner.

The Astronomical Study and Research Centre, Pen chairman and director Sandeep Jhadav said it appears to be an explosion caused due to collision of an asteroid with earth's surface and the impact was felt over a radius of 50 km.

"We are trying to follow up the matter," he said.

Meanwhile, Indian Meterological Department here denied any earthquake struck the region last night.

Panic gripped the village with residents reporting a huge ball of fire coming down from the sky accompanied by a big bang.

Sukhoi caused celestial fireball!

By: Vinod Kumar Menon and Kashif Khusro

January 13, 2005

Twelve hours after the news of the mysterious ‘celestial fireball explosion’ that shook villages in the Panvel-Khopoli belt in Raigad district on Tuesday night.

Officials from the Indian Air Force say the noise was caused due to a sonic boom from a fighter jet of the IAF.

Wing Commander Tarun Kumar Singha, PRO–Ahmedabad of Indian Air Force (IAF), said the fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30 MKI had crossed the sound barrier at a low altitude in the Panvel-Khopoli belt while on a routine flying exercise.

“We monitored the news on the electronic media. Gradually, when more coverage started coming in, we felt it was necessary to inform the masses about the incident,” he said.

According to Wing Commander Singha, a Sukhoi-30 MKI took off from the Lohegaon Air Force station, Pune, a little past 8 pm on a routine flying exercise in the area around Mumbai.

Though not included in the profile of the exercise, the pilot had inadvertently gone into supersonic speed (more than the speed of sound) and because of the change in the pressure pattern in the atmosphere, a big explosive sound was heard. It is commonly referred to as sonic boom.

“A departmental inquiry will be conducted to know what led the pilot to increase the speed by going supersonic. Even the pilot does not know the impact felt on the ground,” Singha said.

Light and sound

Fighter aircraft like the Sukhoi-30 MKI travel at speeds higher than sound. For this they have to break the sound barrier.

When the aircraft wants to cross this barrier, it requires more thrust. So, 150 per cent more fuel is injected to give an added 75 per cent thrust to propel it past the sound barrier.

When the aircraft breaks the barrier, a deafening sound is created.

Usually during training, the jets go supersonic at a height of above 10 kms, 12 kms and 16 kms. It is not easy to go supersonic at a low altitude.

Subsequently, the aircraft emits a trail of fire, which is actually the extra burnt fuel. But it gives the impression of fire behind the exhaust. For people on the ground, the sudden appearance of the aircraft in a night sky may look like a fireball or any other unidentified bright flying object.

Today’s airplanes, especially military, fly in many different conditions: subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic (rockets).

Was it the Navy?

Another theory doing the rounds is that the deafening sound heard by the villagers could actually be of a misfired round from a naval anti-aircraft gun placed strategically at the Karanja Naval base, near Uran.

“Normally the anti-aircraft guns are practiced by firing with a trajectory in the Arabian Sea, but in this case the gun could have misfired.

And since the impact of the shell is huge, it can actually pierce the ground,” said a naval official. That explains the absence of debris around the villages, he added.

However, a defence spokesperson debunked the theory, saying that in case of a firing exercise, notices are given to authorities 15 days in advance. “Also, the firing is done seawards and not on land,” he said.

Comment: Don't worry about it, folks. It wasn't anything more than a sonic boom!

Power failure hits Malaysian capital, several southern states

13 January 2005 1312 hrs

KUALA LUMPUR: A power blackout hit the Malaysia capital of Kuala Lumpur and several southern states on Thursday, sending several cities into semi-darkness.

The country's most widespread power failure since August 1996, when peninsular Malaysia was blacked out for 14 hours, turned out the lights in Kuala Lumpur at lunch time.

Also affected were Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Johor and the Klang Valley.

A spokesman for power utility Tenaga Nasional said the blackout was caused by a faulty switch in the Kapar power station in Selangor state, to the west of the capital. [...]



Two coronal mass ejections (movies: #1, #2) are heading toward Earth and they could spark strong auroras when they arrive on January 16th and 17th. These clouds were blasted into space by M8- and X2-class explosions above giant sunspot 720 on Jan. 15th.


Evening Leader


A BEWILDERED man claims he saw a meteorite with a bright blue tail racing across the sky over Wrexham.

Paul Davies, of Rhosddu, was enjoying a break with four colleagues at Kellogg’s, Wrexham Industrial Estate, at 4am on Friday when two of them spotted a ball with a flaming tail shooting across the night sky.

Mr Davies said it was the strangest thing he had ever seen and watched in awe before it disappeared in a flash.

He said: “The only way I can describe it was a ball moving across the sky, obviously under the cloud cover because it was so plain. It was moving so fast it was unbelievable and it was gone in half a second.

“It went across the sky with this fabulous bright blue trail behind it. It was a very short trail and looked intensely hot. I would love to find out what it was.”

Met Office spokesman Wayne Elliott confirmed it was a meteorite, known more commonly as a shooting star.

He said the brightness creates an illusion that it is close to the earth, but in reality it is much further away.

Comment: Sure. The only problem is the fact that many meteorites have actually been hitting home, so to speak. Everything from human beings to cars and houses have been having very close encounters with these extra-terrestrial bodies.

Mystery of lights in the sky

Jan 19, 2005 (UK)

Residents across Shropshire today revealed how they were left stunned by a "massive beam of light" which lit up the sky.

The light was first reported at Nedgehill, Telford, at 6.40am yesterday morning by Sue Oliver, 37, of Briarwood, Brookside - but now others have also reported seeing the same beam.

Geoff Hall, who lives near Church Stretton, was walking his dog, Meg, at Woolston also at 6.40am yesterday when he saw the UFO-like light.

He said he looked up into the sky but the beam disappeared almost immediately.

Mysterious Object Seen Over East Texas



EAST TEXAS - This weekend, we got calls into the newsroom from viewers saying they saw something that looked like a comet shooting though the sky. It turns out they weren't just seeing things. We were able to catch it on video.

Just after 6:00 p.m. Sunday evening, KLTV 7 photographer Jason Hewes captured a comet-like object that appeared for a few seconds, then just went away. We took the video to Tyler Aviation Training, where it attracted a crowd.

Mario McGee owns the school and spent 23 years in the Air Force.

"It could be several things," he said. "I've seen rockets making these kinds of maneuvers, but if it's just something up there burning up in space, than that could be it. Otherwise, I have no idea."

He said the speed of the object leads him to believe it's not an aircraft. After seeing the video, retired Air Force pilot Bill Halbert, has a different thought.

"My first impression is that that would be a contrail," Halbert said. "As it goes by us, then it gets out of the range of the sun reflecting back to us and it's reflecting back to the left, I believe that's what that is."

A contrail or a stream of condensation left by jet air crafts is typical at certain altitudes. Randy Ball has been flying commercial airplanes for the last 15 years, he also flys jets in air shows. He likes the contrail theory, but just isn't sure.

"It could be a cold spot in the air. You've had some pretty dramatic drops in temperature over the last few days. I've also seen some space debris come through like that," he said. "Very interesting video, interesting video."

For a final word, we showed the video to Chuck Schrecongost. He's the tower manager at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport.

"That's nothing like a jet liner would do with the contrails and so forth, with the light reflecting off of it," he said. Chuck said it's not a meteor either.

"It's my 45th year of air traffic control, 'Have you ever seen anything like that?,' No."

There were no military planes scheduled to fly over East Texas on Sunday. We also checked with groups that keep up with meteorites and space debris. They weren't aware of any of those either.

Comment: And now, an important message from the Powers That Be:

Ladies and gentleman, what you have just seen was the light of the planet Venus reflected off some swamp gas. There is no cause for alarm. Now, please return to your homes and turn on your televisions because Seinfeld is about to air and we will be sending subliminal messages through your televisions to make you more credulous.

Thank you.

Mass Remote Control Malfunction in Aosta



Translated by SOTT from Google groups

(ANSA) - AOSTA, 20 Jan - Beginning this morning garage door, car and gate remote controls began to manfunction in the Aosta area of Northwestern Italy.

ARPA (Regional Enviornmental Protection Agency), carried out tests in the area but then levels of electromagnetism were within the normal range.

The black out remains as much a mystery as other simlar bizzare occurances of recent times, like the case of the 2000 exploding thermometers in a Pharmacy in Rome or the inexplicable fires in Canneto in Sicily last year.

Comment: Similar anomalous jamming of electronic door openers was reported last year in Colorado. One possibility is that these events are caused by electromagnetic pulses from satellites. Several countries, (in this case most likely Russia) may be testing such devices to see how precise they can be and what kind of damage they can cause to electronic systems. See our Signs Anomalous Phenomena Supplement for more.

Sunspot cluster ejects huge radiation storm

17:43 21 January 2005

NewScientist.com news service

Kelly Young

The Sun spewed forth a massive amount of radiation this week, causing brilliant auroras and a radio blackout.

Since 14 January alone, it has unleashed at least 17 medium and five large solar flares from a single sunspot cluster. Forecasters at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect medium to high solar activity to continue until 23 January.

"Having so many big flares from one particular region of the Sun is quite something," says Bernhard Fleck, project scientist for the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite.

The X-rays produced by the flares did not rise to the level of the notorious solar storms of October and November 2003, but in terms of high-energy protons, this is the largest radiation storm since October 1989. [...]


Jan 22 2005

By Michael Christie

RESIDENTS of a small town were left terrified after it was struck by the area's most powerful earthquake in 15 years.

Some feared that a plane had crashed or a bomb had gone off in Killin, on the banks of Loch Tay, after hearing a loud bang which caused windows to rattle.

But scientists yesterday confirmed it was an earthquake measuring 2.7 on the Richter scale.

Householders called police at around 10pm following the 30second tremor on Thursday night.

Once an emergency was ruled out, officers contacted the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, who confirmed the epicentre was in the middle of the Perthshire hills, three miles north-west of the village.

There are few towns nearby and there did not appear to be any structural damage to buildings in the area.

Killin is about 40 miles north of Stirling and 45 miles west of Perth and sits on a minor fault in the earth's surface.

Maureen Gauld, who owns The Antique Shop on the main street with husband James, said: 'We thought it sounded like a plane crashing outside our house.

'It was like an explosion. It was a bit of a shock. One minute we were watching television, the next the house seemed to rise off its founda-tions and settle back down again. Ours is a Victorian house and it rattled all the windows, but neither a picture nor an ornament was out of place.'

Shelagh McPartland, 57, owner of Craigard Hotel, Killin, described the tremor as terrifying. She said: 'The whole building just shook, like a bomb had gone off. It was extremely loud.

'I was sitting in our lounge and everything was moving. I looked out the window to see if someone had crashed into the hotel.

'We ran outside and everyone in the village was there but no one knew what had happened.'

Fiona Farquharson, 41, who owns Dochart Craft Centre, said: 'It felt just like an explosion. It only lasted seconds but it seemed like longer.

'It was only as time went on that we started to realise it was an earthquake. We have had them before in this area but never anything like this. Everything's talking about it.'

A spokesman for Central Scotland Police said: 'Many people across the region felt their houses shake and their windows rattle.

'We had a few calls from people who thought there had been an explosion or sonic boom.

'It's not a particularly populated area but those who felt the quake got a bit of a shock.'

Comment: What is unusual about this reported earthquake in the U.K. a few days ago are the eyewitness accounts of people hearing a loud bang, explosion or sonic boom type noise along with it. This comment came into the Signs forum on Friday regarding a cluster of tiny quakes in Georgia...

Being a native Californian, I have been in several large earthquakes including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake magnitude 7.1.

Funny thing though, I have never "heard" an earthquake. I wonder what it was that the resident heard that sounded like "thunder". Maybe it was not a natural quake???

Which leads us to the impression that perhaps it was not an actual earthquake that was experienced by the people of Perth, but was reported by the government as such in order to disguise the real cause to the explosion, which unfortunately still remains a mystery.

Fukuoka residents mistake vapor trail for UFO

(Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Jan. 24, 2005)

FUKUOKA -- A vapor trial left by an airplane caused a commotion in Fukuoka, after residents thought it was a meteor or UFO and flooded a local meteorological office with calls.

Residents saw the unusual orange object in the sky on Sunday evening, and began phoning the Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory to ask what it was.

As the calls continued, officials checked it and found that it was actually an aircraft vapor trail that had been lit up by the late afternoon sun.

Observatory officials said vapor trails can suddenly be cut off due to the amount of moisture in the air, creating the appearance of a comet tail.

"It's actually something that happens a lot. There's no need to worry," a worker at the observatory said.

Meteor narrowly misses village

26/01/2005 13:25 - (SA)


Phnom Penh - A 4.5kg suspected meteorite has landed in rice fields in northwestern Cambodia, narrowly avoiding a nearby village, police said on Wednesday.

"The rock fell on a harvested rice field from the sky on Monday morning," said Sok Sareth, police chief of Banteay Meanchey province, which borders Thailand.

"According to the villagers who live nearby, it came very quickly from the sky and made a noise like a bomb exploding. It dug about 40 centimetres into the ground," he said.

"The rock is a little bit black and was hot, and looks strange compared to other rocks... It was lucky that it did not land in the village or people could have been killed," he said, adding experts would examine the rock.

Pictures of the lump were splashed across the front pages of local newspapers on Wednesday.

Sok Sareth said some villagers reportedly wanted to turn it into a shrine.

"Nobody has asked for it yet, but I have been told some villagers said that they want to put it on a shrine to pray to it, but we won't allow them to do that. It's useless," he said.

Cambodians, particularly in rural areas, are typically superstitious.

Ghost light not unique to Hawai'i

Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2005

By Jan TenBruggencate

Advertiser Science Writer

Q. My sister and I saw strange lights moving along a ridge, too low for a plane and darting from one place to another. What could that have been? — L.D., Niumalu, Kaua'i

A: There's a sturdy tradition in Hawaiian folklore about ghostly lights seen drifting over the land.

They drift along fence lines, across pastures, float in the woods, and so on. One Hawaiian term for them is "akua lele," which can translate to "flying god."

Some bounce. Some drift. Some dart around. Some sit offshore when viewed from land. They are occasionally described as luminous spheres, like aerial jellyfish.

But there is nothing uniquely Hawaiian about mysterious lights in the atmosphere, even leaving aside discussions of flying saucers and luminous, big-eyed space beings.

Science stretches to understand the sightings, but generally doesn't deny them. They take on terms like ball lightning, lightning sprites, ghost lights, fairy lights, will-o'-the-wisp. A Latin term, ignis fatuus, or "foolish fire," refers to a glow sometimes associated with swampy ground, believed to be associated with the combustion of marsh gas.

One recent report is that the space shuttle Columbia, before it was destroyed on re-entry in early 2003, detected in the atmosphere south of Madagascar what scientists in the Journal of the American Geophysical Union have now named a "transient ionospheric glow emission in red," or TIGER.

That event doesn't appear to fall into any previously known category of such things, and scientists simply call it a possibly new kind of "transient luminous event."

Some floating lights appear to be associated with rain, some with lightning. Some seem to be linked to extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and thunderstorms. Some show up near railroad tracks and metal fence lines, some close to power lines, some around swamps. Some follow trails.

New Zealand scientists recently suggested they appear after lightning strikes the ground, but often the globes are seen without lightning.

The drifting ghostly lights seen in the Islands and elsewhere are distinct from the phenomenon known as St. Elmo's Fire. Authorities say these lights are associated with an electrical discharge and always remain attached to an object, like a ship's mast, steeple or flagpole. St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors, and his fireworks are considered a sign of good luck for folks in boats.

NASA Tracks Three Space Bursts, Says Stellar Explosions Imminent

By Robert Roy Britt

Senior Science Writer

Three powerful bursts of energy from different regions of space could presage spectacular explosions of huge stars, astronomers just announced.

The eruptions are likely imminent.

Scientists around the world are scrambling to track the blasts, NASA officials said last night. There is no danger to Earth from the expected stellar explosions, called supernovas.

Yet never before have astronomers had such advance warning of the faraway explosions. In fact, they don't even know if their forecasts are right.

What is clear is that as the flashes develop into explosions -- or not -- knowledge of how stars die is likely to grow.

'Beautiful' bursts

A blast of X-rays was spotted Sept. 12, and another on Sept. 16. Each came from a different location in the sky and from galaxies far beyond our own. A more powerful eruption was detected Sept. 24 from yet another spot in the sky. This third flash, importantly, was on the verge between an X-ray eruption and a more energetic gamma-ray burst, which involves a more powerful form of radiation.

X-rays and gamma rays are types of light, just like less powerful visible light and lowly radio waves. All are part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The three high-energy flashes were each discovered by NASA's orbiting High-Energy Transient Explorer (HETE- 2) observatory. There is no reason to suspect there's any connection between the three blasts.

"We think it's just a strange coincidence," George Ricker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a telephone interview today.

Telescopes around the world have since raced to track each event.

"Each burst has been beautiful," Ricker said. "Depending on how these evolve, they could support important theories about supernova[s] and gamma-ray bursts."

Ricker told SPACE.com the stars will likely go supernova 10 to 20 days after the initial bursts that were spotted.

The initial events have faded beyond the visibility of small professional telescopes and are now being monitored by some of the world's largest ground-based observatories. Backyard astronomers likely could not find the bursts, Ricker said.


Gamma-ray bursts are the most energetic events in the universe other than the Big Bang. They briefly outshine entire galaxies. Astronomers think each burst is related to the explosion of a very massive star that has used up its main fuel. Much material is blasted into space, and some falls back rapidly and collapses into a tiny sphere more dense than most folks can imagine, resulting in the formation of a black hole.

In some cases, however, the energy might be unleashed when two black holes collide.

But experts are not sure why some supernovas are accompanied by gamma-ray bursts and others seem to shoot out only X-rays (the latter assumption has not even been convincingly determined). The leading theory is that when a star collapses after exploding, it sends out two incredibly swift jets of material, one along each of its poles. If a jet is pointed toward Earth, the thinking goes, we see a gamma-ray burst. Otherwise we note only the X rays.

Other theorists argue that gamma-ray bursts and X-ray flashes are different animals altogether.

All this could become much clearer in coming days as the three new eruptions are monitored by a global telescope network designed to detect each of the different wavelengths of energy involved.

Nature on a rampage

The eruptions are all probably a billion or so light-year away, Ricker said. That's relatively close in comparison to most gamma-ray bursts, which may explain why the X-ray flashes have been seen at all.

"These past two weeks have been like 'cock, fire, reload,'" Ricker said. "Nature keeps on delivering."

Until recently, the events leading up to gamma-ray bursts and black hole formation had not been seen.

The bursts are known to come routinely from every direction in the sky. But they last just seconds, sometimes less than a second, so in most cases only the aftermath is witnessed. Astronomers hope this time they've seen the prelude and can witness the entire process.

Observations of other events in recent years linked gamma-ray bursts to supernovas. Now, follow-up observations of the Sept. 24 blast, named GRB040924, suggests X-rays and gamma rays do indeed emanate from the same event.

The recent bursts "may be the first time we see an X-ray flash lead to a supernova," said theorist Stanford Woosley of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Comment: Our research suggests that Rigel is set to go supernova.

Unidentified falling object remains a mystery


Staff Writer

CHINO - The ashes of a charred shed hold a mystery.

What happened the night of Jan. 5, when dozens claimed a fiery object fell from the sky and hit the building, setting it ablaze?

Answers -- from fire investigators, astronomers, even professional UFO investigators -- are in short supply about what happened to the structure on Cozzens Street near Roswell. Not Roswell, N.M., but Roswell Street in Chino.

"It could have been caused by an electrical malfunction or flammable liquids that were stored in the garage," said Anthony Landin, spokesman for the Chino Fire Department. "At this point, the cause of the fire is undetermined."

The department was inundated with calls Jan. 5 and 6, Landin said, as people from all over the Inland Valley, and even farther, called to ask if others had seen the falling object.

"One gentleman from Mission Viejo called in," Landin said. "He was really excited. He was laying in bed when he looked out his window and saw the light."

However, fire officials believe the shed fire and whatever was in the sky are linked by only one thing: coincidence.

Others believe it was something more.

"There were numerous reports that came in from all across California from that area," said Brian Vike, founder of the HBCC UFO Research Center in British Columbia, Canada. "From San Francisco to Paramount, I received numerous e-mails and calls.

"We've only gotten to the tip of the iceberg on this. The more details we get, the closer we'll get to an answer."

Jan. 5 was not the only recent incident of an object spotted in the sky. In late December, residents all across Southern California saw what they described as a light show.

David Steuben, an Ontario resident, said he saw an object like the Jan. 5 sighting on Dec. 31. He, his family and friends were mesmerized by a red light high in air that seemed to dance in an S shape across the night sky.

"At first I thought it might be some kind of helicopter, but it started moving around all over the sky," Steuben said. "It was a reddish color, not real bright. Everybody was just staring at it. Then it disappeared. Then it reappeared again in a slightly different area of the sky before it disappeared again. My brother described it as a ball of fire in the sky."

Patrick So, an astronomer at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, said the answer could be as simple as a fireball meteor.

"If it left a trail, it's usually a meteor," So said. "If it's very bright, it's called a fireball meteor, but they usually burn out 40 miles from earth impact."

The observatory spotted meteors Jan. 3, during what is known as a quadrantid meteor shower, when several meteors light up the night sky. Astronomers spotted about 40 that day, So said.

Whether a meteor hit the shed or lit up the sky Jan. 5 is still unknown, So said. Astronomers did not log any meteor activity that night or on Dec. 31.

"Most meteors that land on the ground don't really cause any fire because they are cold by the time they enter our atmosphere," he said. "We have even seen frost on the outside of some meteors that do make it. But it is very rare that one would hit. Some are only the size of your hand ... others are bigger and they cause more damage."

So for now, the "ball(s) of fire in the sky" remain a mystery. Vike, who has spent the past 30 years studying UFO phenomena, said questions about these mysterious sightings can only be answered if people who witness them speak up.

"The first thing (people) have to remember is to contact authorities and the media so more people may report on the sightings," Vike said. "All the details are important: color, altitude, a rough idea of how long it (took) to get off across the sky. (Are) there any flashing lights?

"It's nice to figure out a mystery, eh?"

Man is zapped by power line under sidewalk



January 27, 2005

A man was walking along the West Park Avenue sidewalk in Long Beach Tuesday when he was hit with a charge of electricity coming up from the pavement, officials said.

Long Beach Fire Chief Scott Kemins said the man was not injured and left without giving his name after first notifying authorities. Fortunately, Kemins said, "It was only about 50 volts, half of what you plug into your home - just about what powers your electric can-opener."

Kemins said that apparently a line that runs under pavement to a street light near National Boulevard became eroded and released the charge of electricity. A 40-foot area was taped off and restricted for about about two hours while a private electrical contractor corrected the problem, he said. [...]

Meteor seen falling in Madrid suburb


28/01/2005 - 10:39:59

MADRID, Spain (AP) - A spectacular fireball meteor was seen falling in the neighbourhood of two Madrid airports, emergency services said today.

We had three calls and are aware of other calls reporting a huge fireball before midnight, said Luis Serrano of the emergency telephone service in Madrid.

Spanish press agency EFE also received calls reporting the falling object which was seen descending nearly vertically near the airports.

Barajas International Airport that services the Spanish capital is about 4.3 miles from Torrejon military air base.

An enormous, incandescent and very red ball gave a tremendous flash and then went out in a few seconds, witness Jose Antonio Lopez told EFE. He said he believed it was a meteor by the way it fell and the brevity of the objects flash.

Officers at Torrejon, which was once a United States air base, would not comment. Barajas Airport press department also had nothing to report.

Flashback: Emergency Broadcast Test Mistakenly Calls For Evacuation

Associated Press

3:49 pm EST February 1, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Despite what residents may have seen on television, the state of Connecticut was not ordered evacuated on Tuesday.

State emergency management officials believe someone pressed the wrong button, and instead of running a test of the emergency alert system, midday television viewers and radio listeners were told that the state was being evacuated.

"There is absolutely no evacuation or state emergency," said Kerry Flaherty, of the Office of Emergency Management. "It was an erroneous message."

The department is investigating how the alert was sent. Officials said it is manually released to broadcasters.

NASA Searches for a Snowball in Hell - Why Velikovsky Matters...Today More Than Ever


On January 12, 2005 NASA launched its latest space probe, Deep Impact, named after the recent Hollywood science fiction film. Recall, in the cliffhanger a team of courageous astronauts (led by tough guy, Robert Duvall) sacrifice their lives to deflect a speeding comet from its collision course with earth, thus saving human civilization from catastrophe. NASA's newest mission is also a last-ditch gambit, of sorts: an attempt to save the current comet model.

Open any astronomy book and you will read that comets are dirty snowballs - conglomerates of ancient rock and ice left over from the creation of the solar system. And it must be true, right? After all, it says so in the textbooks, and surely the university professors can't be wrong. The problem is that over the five decades since Fred Whipple first proposed the snowball model in 1950, neither NASA nor anyone has proved that comets are actually made of ice. Every time NASA scientists focus their instruments on the surface of comets, they see only rocky stuff. Comets look like asteroids. So, where's the ice? After failing repeatedly to find it, NASA has concluded that the ice must be hidden by surface dust, or is buried out of sight. Deep Impact will attempt to resolve this question by looking below the surface.

Next July, if all goes well, the unmanned Deep Impact spacecraft will rendezvous with a small comet named Tempel 1, not to avert a collision, but for the purpose of causing one. Once in position, the craft will send a 300+ pound "impactor" - essentially a 3 foot diameter copper projectile - directly into the speeding comet's path. No nuke or explosive charge will be needed to blast a hole in the comet's surface. The comet's tremendous kinetic energy will do that. Tempel 1 is clipping along at an estimated 12 miles a second.

The plan is to study the 100-300-foot crater excavated by the collision. During its fly-by, the spacecraft will also gather spectroscopic data from the ejected gas, dust and debris. Much planning has gone into the selection of the impact site, to (hopefully) assure that the crater will be in full sunlight, instead of shadow. Comet Tempel 1 has an irregular shape - it is only about 5 miles in diameter. With a bit of luck, NASA's cameras will obtain a good look at the comet's freshly excavated surface. It will be the first time that NASA has actually probed the interior of a comet. NASA expects to confirm the presence of ice.

Will they find it?

For the answer we will have to wait until next summer. When the rendezvous happens - assuming things go according to plan - earth bound folks with binoculars will be treated to a show of celestial fireworks; although exactly how bright and visible the collision will be is open to question. The event will take place - believe it or not - on the fourth of July, independence day. One wonders if the neocons in Washington had something to do with this. At very least, the date shows the extent to which science has been politicized.

Snowball in Hell

But, somewhere, God must be laughing at us silly humans, because NASA has about as much chance of finding ice in Tempel 1 as the proverbial snowball in hell. It just ain't going to happen. There's too much contrarian evidence. It's been accumulating for years, and should have melted the ice model, long ago. Yet, NASA stolidly presses onward. The agency greets every new anomaly with ad hoc improvisations, and has gone to increasingly outlandish lengths to preserve its ice theory. Why? Answer: because so much hangs in the balance. The stakes are very high. More is involved than simply comets. At issue is the Red Shift, the expanding universe, the theory of black holes, and yes, even the big bang - all at risk if NASA's cometary house of cards comes crashing down.

To see why the ice model is wrong, let us look at several anomalies:

In 1991 Halley's Comet caused a stir by announcing itself from so far away - it was then between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. Halley's is one of the smaller comets, yet it became visible at fourteen times the distance of the earth from the sun, a fact that solar heating cannot explain. The standard explanation is that the sun's warmth is responsible for the cometary coma and tail. But at that enormous distance the sun was simply too faint.

Evidence of an even more remarkable phenomenon, the sunward spike - previously unknown - was first documented in a 1957 photograph of the Comet Arend-Roland. This stunning feature must be seen to be believed.

Over the years since the first sunward spike was photographed, dozens of other comets have been shown, at times, to display this amazing phenomenon. The spikes always point toward the sun. Yet, NASA has dismissed the photographic evidence - however compelling - as nothing but an optical illusion, an artifact, a play of light, etc. Obviously, NASA is in robust denial. Why? Sunward spikes are incompatible with the current ice model.

On May 1, 1996 the Ulysses spacecraft documented another previously unknown feature of comets, when it crossed the tail of Comet Hyakutake at a point more than 350 million miles from the comet's nucleus. The ephemeral tail, in other words, stretched across the equivalent of three and a half times Earth's distance from the sun - a number that is astonishing. The discovery was accidental - and wholly unexpected. Scientists had never guessed that comet tails were so long. Ulysses had been studying the solar wind, and so, had the necessary equipment on board to detect the ions typically associated with comets. The satellite also recorded the magnetic field directional changes that are associated with comet tails. Detailed analysis showed that both kinds of data were in agreement. For most scientists, this was enough to confirm the discovery. Notice, the remarkable tail length means that when Comet Hyakutake moved around the sun toward its minimum point (perihelion), the invisible portion of its tail arced across a vast reach of the solar system. The fact that the tail maintained its integrity at such extreme distance is incompatible with the standard view that the tail is composed of materials blown away from the nucleus. Something more is going on, here. The question is: What?

But the big event, also in 1996, was the discovery of X-rays coming from the head of Hyakutake. This discovery set the scientific world on its ear, because naturally occurring X-rays are associated with extreme temperatures: in the range of millions of degrees Kelvin. Yet, here they were coming from a supposed ball of ice. There was no immediate word from NASA about how or why an icy cold comet could produce X-rays. The discovery was the work of the German ROSAT satellite, and no mistake about it. During the next few years X-radiation was detected in half a dozen other cases, including the Comet Hale-Bopp.

Four years passed before NASA finally announced a solution to the puzzling anomaly. In April 2000, NASA conceded that extreme conditions are necessary for X-ray emission to occur. But, rather than call into question its own theory that comets are cold, NASA attempted to square the circle. The agency explained that the X-rays had been produced by the solar wind, which - it asserted - was merely an extension of the extremely hot solar corona. NASA's explanation explained nothing, and amounted to a contradiction, as any intelligent high school science student should have been able to judge. The official word showed that NASA was fumbling with a mystery it did not understand, grasping at air like a blind man trying to steady himself. (For NASA's official word go to http://spacescience.com/)

Next summer, when NASA fails to confirm the presence of ice in the nucleus of Tempel 1, the question that the space agency should have been asking in 1996 will become paramount. (Of course, this does not mean that NASA will come clean. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how far NASA is prepared to go to defend its ice model. Probably the contortions will continue. Not for no reason the agency acronym has been subject to redux: NASA - Never A Straight Answer.)

Everyone agrees that comets have an atmosphere. It is known as the coma, and has been shown to include significant amounts of water vapor, along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, gaseous hydrocarbons, and various other compounds. The proportions vary from comet to comet. The present model holds that the water comes from the cometary nucleus. The thinking is that the sun's warmth causes the icy head to sublimate, or out gas, and the solar wind pushes the vapors away in the amazing tail that has always been a source of wonderment and inspiration here on earth. No question, comets are beautiful to behold on a starry night. But neither NASA nor anyone has shown that the water actually comes from the nucleus. Such a deduction is understandable, but it remains unsupported by evidence, and it is almost certainly wrong. I have already cited the puzzling case of Halley's Comet, whose visibility at extreme distance was incompatible with solar warming. Here's the key question: If the head is NOT made of ice, how then to account for the known presence of water in the coma and tail? It's a safe bet that, next summer, NASA will have no answer to this simple question. After all, they couldn't explain the X-rays.

Not everyone was surprised by the discovery of X-rays. One astronomer named Jim McCanney actually predicted them. He did so as early as 1981 in a scientific paper first published in the journal Kronos. McCanney even urged NASA officials to look for X-rays when the agency was preparing a fly-by of Comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985. At the time, NASA's ISEE-3 satellite had already completed its original mission, and was being reprogrammed for comet study. The spacecraft had X-ray equipment on board, and McCanney urged NASA to use it. Instead, NASA shut down the equipment to conserve power. NASA's experts concluded that there was no point in leaving the X-ray detector on, since there couldn't possibly be X-rays coming from a cube of ice.

Fortunately, German scientists do not labor under NASA's ideological thumb. The Germans took McCanney's recommendation seriously. In 1990 they launched a satellite of their own, the Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT), which was equipped with an X-ray telescope. ROSAT continues to search the heavens for high frequency X-rays. Earth-based X-ray telescopes are not feasible, because earth's protective atmosphere absorbs X-radiation. This was the satellite that independently made the big discovery in 1996.

The Plasma Discharge Comet Model

McCanney is the originator of an alternative comet theory, what he calls the Plasma Discharge Comet Model. His model challenges several key assumptions current in today's science, which, he says, must be overturned to correctly understand the nature of comets and the workings of the solar system. One of these assumptions is that space is electrically neutral. "Not so," says McCanney. His comet model is, in fact, but a subset of a grander theory that describes the electrical nature of the sun. McCanney refers to it as the Solar Capacitor Model. He argues that most of the energy released by the sun - by far - is electrical, rather than in the visible spectrum. According to this view, the sunward spikes are titanic bolts of solar electricity, and comets are anything but cold. On the contrary, they are incredibly hot and fiery crucibles in which chemical and nuclear transmutations are occurring constantly.

McCanney thinks our earth and the other planets were originally comets that were drawn from their more elliptical orbits into more circular orbits. He is also quick to credit another maverick thinker who preceded him: Immanuel Velikovsky. In 1950 Velikovsky authored a controversial book, Worlds in Collision, in which he argued, among other things, that science had failed to account for the electromagnetic nature of comets. Even as the book topped the bestseller charts, several prominent figures in science, among them Carl Sagan, ridiculed Velikovsky and eventually succeeded in destroying his reputation. Velikovsky's name became almost synonymous with wacko nonsense. How ironic this is - because the 1996 discovery of cometary X-rays has made Velikovsky look like a prophet. If the Plasma Discharge Comet Model turns out to be correct, McCanney will earn his rightful place alongside Kepler, Galileo, and Newton; and the names Velikovsky and McCanney will be remembered long after NASA and Sagan have been forgotten.

Next time: Why it matters. How the Solar Capacitor Model could save our civilization from self-destruction - now imminent.

To be continued...

Comment: We do not know if the Solar Capacitor Model is a better model than the current model or not. However, it is clear that the current model doesn't work.

It might be inaccurate to propose a model where comets are all made of the same material. What if some are giant snow balls and others are not? In such a case, NASA might very well send Deep Impact towards a comet that was known to be made of ice in order to disappoint people such as Mr. Gaffney and make them look ridiculous. We agree with Gaffney that the work of Velikovsky on comets and catastrophes has been marginalised. We don't think that this was done for no reason.

Captured: an exploding star, 20,000 light years away

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

04 February 2005

The Hubble space telescope has captured this dramatic moment when a searing pulse of light from an exploding star races across the vast interstellar void of deep space.

Hubble's latest image, released yesterday, shows the "echoing" of light as it continues its journey from the exploding red supergiant star at the centre of the picture.

Just as sound produces an echo, the same happens for light as it propagates out from the explosion to illuminate huge swirls of dust clouds that are thought to have emanated from a previous outburst.

Astronomers first detected the exploding red supergiant star back in 2002 and, since then, have captured a series of dramatic images as the light pulse explosion expands at a speed of 186,000 miles per second.

The exploding star is known as V838 Mon and is some 20,000 light years away from the Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros, on the very edge of the Milky Way.

Major Impact Soon


Phenomena News Editor

Monday, January 31, 2005

British MP says, ”We’re living in a bowling alley.”

I hope you will excuse my cynicism but there is something quite remarkable about this interview with Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire. You will not find one single trace of political gobbledegook or point scoring.

What you will find are the thoughts and feelings of an individual who passionately believes in what he is trying to achieve. This is a brave man carrying a message that no one wants to hear and he is prepared to take the brickbats and mocking that inevitably accompany such a message.

What other tribute could I possibly offer, aside from accusing him of also being a very warm, approachable human being, other than to say that I only wish he was my Lembit Opik MP...

Lembit is the leading voice in the UK on asteroids and the little matter of one of them smacking into us, probably sooner rather than later. And one of those bits of rock doesn’t have to be particularly large in order to cause immense devastation and loss of life. Or rather, let me put it this way. If on Christmas day last year I had told you that a giant wave would sweep across south East Asia, hit land and cause the loss of 220,000 lives (so far), you would not have believed me. There’s no argument – you wouldn’t have believed me. The next day it happened.

We need to wake up rapidly and do something.

SM: You are very well known for your interest in near earth objects. How long has it been a subject of interest to you?

LO: 33 years.

SM: Is this as a result of your grandfather?

LO: I would say that I started taking a very significant interest in meteors, comets and so forth when I was about 6 because, as you said, directly as a result of the influence of my grandfather. So I was reading astronomy books when most people were reading “Janet and John”. That was probably the very early 1970s and I actually converted that into a practical interest in the sense of doing something about it in 1998 when I first raised it in the Houses of Parliament.

SM: Was it that Horizon programme that triggered your interest?

LO: The practical trigger to action was a chance meeting with a man called J. Tate who is Director of Spacegaurd UK, at a meeting of the Shropshire astronomical Society. He was making a presentation about Spacegaurd’s work and was explaining that the odds were stacked in favour of an impact and he went on to describe the colossal damage that these objects would do.

He explained furthermore that there was something we could do to prevent them by tracking them and finding ways to divert or to prevent an impact from occurring if we had enough notice.

That was in 1998 and at that point I spoke with J and since the science was absolutely cast iron, we had the evidence to turn this into a political matter of investment by the Government and I got my adjournment debate in March 1999. But it was the meeting with J. Tate that finally kicked me into political action.

Then I really decided to carry on in the political sphere, as my grandfather had done in the astronomical sphere. He spoke about the threat and danger of impact long before it was fashionable to do so, even in the astronomical world in the 1950s for example.

The Horizon programme was about the Chicxulub impact which wiped out the dinosaurs, probably, and it was fortuitous timing because it came out at just about the time I was trying to get this issue on to the political map. I like to think there are some other programmes that have been prompted by the campaign that we have run because everyone now knows about asteroid impacts and I’m not so sure that would have happened had we not turned it into a political issue.

SM: I would imagine that you find the whole process of dealing with the UK government on this subject incredibly frustrating.

LO: It is, it’s very difficult to get the British Government to act on it and I can understand why. On the face of it, this sounds like cranky science fiction. It sounds like a case of an Ed Wood 1950s B movie. That’s because the idea of a catastrophic impact by a celestial body has not got any bearing on recent Human experience. There are maybe echoes of previous impacts in the cultural legends of the Human race but there hasn’t been a catastrophic impact leading to a major loss of life in recent times.

So, since politics lives in the present and the future more than in the past, it’s not surprising that politicians have said, “Well, this seems too small of a risk for us to take seriously.”

SM: Do you think that one of the positive benefits, if one can use such a phrase in relation to the tsunami in south East Asia is that Mankind is vulnerable to major natural disasters and do you think there is a chance that this might actually wake some people up?

LO: Yes, I agree. I’m pretty sure that the tsunami has been something of a geological wake up call to World governments and until last Christmas, December 26th 2004, the word “tsunami” sounded like a foreign phrase. Now it sounds like a catastrophe. It’s just reminded a lot of people about the power of nature and crucially, it’s caused people to make the calculation about prevention versus cure. It’s perfectly obvious that the benefit of prevention of loss of life would have far exceeded the cost of having an early warning system. Exactly the same applies to asteroids. What I worry about is this; do we have to have a significant impact before people think, “Oh, we need to have an early warning system after all” which is exactly what has happened with the tsunami.

To the British Government’s credit, they did take my advice and commissioned a Near Earth Object task group to look into the danger and to report back. The task group, not surprisingly, confirmed everything I’d been claiming. For example, the statistic which has chilled many people is that you are 750 times more likely to die as a result of an asteroid impact than you are to win the National Lottery. Suddenly the statistics have come into the grasp of the general public. Some people do win the National Lottery! To use the National Lottery phrase, “It could happen to you”.

So we’re winning the public debate but the government, having commissioned a report and having received a list of 14 recommendations for action, have only actually acted on a tiny number of them. I think there’s maybe one that’s been completed, a couple are work in progress and some haven’t been touched at all.

SM: Obviously the 14 recommendations involve expenditure. Is there this feeling that the government aren’t bothered because NASA has supposedly got it covered?

LO: To an extent I think the British would like to leave it to the Americans but I think there’s a bigger problem here, and it’s this. The government subconsciously make their calculation that even if their own task group recommends 14 action steps, they themselves don’t need to carry them out because somehow, psychologically, they still feel far away from the danger and the problem.

But I also think there’s a political fear here in that if they invest money on a tracking programme they will get criticised by opposition parties for wasting tax payer’s money on a Mickey Mouse - Flash Gordon project.

SM: So there’s still a problem about being taken seriously?

LO: I think there is because there are contradictions in how the government approaches risk. They’re willing to impose all kinds of incredibly strict regulations on farming to try and eliminate miniscule health dangers but they stand by doing very little about a potentially Armageddon type impact which in actuarial terms stands to kill far more people than CJD, BSE, food poisoning and phosphates put together. Therefore it’s not joined up thinking about risk management, which is causing the problem.

SM: Do you attach any responsibility or blame if I can use that word to Lord Sainsbury for this?

LO: I don’t actually in the sense that Lord Sainsbury has been more pro-active than just about anybody else in government. He took the risk of commissioning the report, admittedly on my advice but he was the guy in the front line. He also has met on a number of occasions with me and others to consider the issue. And in fairness, he has caused the release of significant amounts of money to the British National Space Centre to provide an information service to the general public about this issue.

So, while I would like Lord Sainsbury to pro-actively lobby the Prime Minister to raise this as part of the next G8 agenda, I don’t hold him responsible for inaction because had it not been for his willingness to take a risk personally, we wouldn’t have got this far.

So actually I think he’s one of the heroes of the piece. I think a fear of falling is the greatest culprit. There’s a mixed up risk management strategy by this government. They are willing to commit us to a questionable war in Iraq but they’re resistant to making a small investment with the other G8 countries on a dead certified Earth threatening risk.

SM: It’s weird logic.

LO: It is. We’re off to fight a war in Iraq on the basis of imaginary weapons of mass destruction. They’re willing to do nothing in the face of a guaranteed weapon of mass destruction which already has Earth’s name written all over it and which we haven’t yet identified.

SM: Is there any consensus at the moment about the best way of dealing with an asteroid that’s hurtling towards us?

LO: No. There are various options from a nuclear detonation to using a rocket as a tug, to encasing the object in a big cosmic bin bag and towing it out of harms way. There are two problems. We don’t know for sure what these things are made of and Deep Impact will help us a lot in our understanding of what comets are like and whether they are one single, solid object or whether they are like an ashtray held together by very week gravity. We need to know the answer to that before we can be sure what to do.

Secondly, there hasn’t been enough work done on deflection processes but ironically, one of the best lines of approach of investigation is the American Star Wars programme, from which Deep Impact itself was spawned.

SM: That’s a very weird programme. There are all sorts of theories that have been spawned about that.

LO: The principle is the same because in both cases one is trying to intercept a small very fast moving object from a great distance and one needs a very high degree of reliability in achieving that kind of contact. Interestingly, although there are many flaws in the “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” films, at the very, very most basic level the general idea was right. You have to intercept and divert these objects.

SM: How deeply involved are you with Spaceguard?

LO: You’re probably best to ask Spaceguard that but I feel closely connected to the key players and I feel they have helped me in this campaign more than I can say in words. Had it not been for J. Tate, I would probably not have raised it in Parliament and furthermore, had it not been for J. Tate’s continuing, ceaseless efforts to keep this on the political map, together with the likes of Mark Bailey from Armagh Observatory, Bill Napier from there and a number of other people from around the country, then this subject would go off the radar. It’s thanks to them it’s on the radar and in many ways I regard myself as their political servant to raise it in those circles when I can, when they feel it’s appropriate for me to do so or when the opportunities arise.

In terms of my own commitment, I want to see this to a conclusion. I define success as whenever I get the British Government to agree an accord with the other seven G8 countries to invest perhaps a million pounds a year each in a tracking programme, which should track nine tenths of the objects that could potentially threaten the Earth.

As the campaign began, Spaceguard, by coincidence, moved to a location about 12 miles from my constituency. They’re based at the observatory at Knighton.

SM: Have you ever been laughed at or mocked for your views?

LO: Oh yes. When I first started, an unusually large number of people turned up for the original debate because they thought I was writing a cosmic suicide note on my political career. And there was sniggering and laughing, and I made it worse by starting with the phrase, “Mr. Deputy Speaker, I’ve got a problem with asteroids”. Of course, every Smart Alec in Britain decided to send me some kind of ointment.

By the end of the speech, when I’d explained that the dinosaurs were probably wiped out by an asteroid and that the earth had suffered cataclysmic events many times in its past, that the Earth had indeed been created by a series of bombardments from space in the early days of the solar system and that the moon itself was the result of an earth sterilising and melting event about 3,900 million years ago, when I told them about the fact that the Earth is continually hit by fifty thousand tons of space debris every year and that the most recent time an object large enough to incinerate London hit the Earth on 30th June 1908, they weren’t laughing at the end of it.

I went into this knowing that it would be a hard sell and that people would laugh, but so sure have I been of the science that I knew that the facts would run out in the end, and that is exactly what has come to pass.

SM: Given that the British government is dragging its feet on this at the moment, what advice would you give to members of the public who are concerned about this subject in terms of what they can do?

LO: My request is always the same, and it’s this; please, please, please write to your member of parliament and ask them in your own words to get the government to take action on this, and request a reply to your letter. Sometimes they will ask me about it, MPs from all parties come and ask me about it and that’s fine because I can provide them with the kind of information they need to see that this is science fact, not science fiction.

But more than anything, if MPs are getting letters from their constituents, then they’ll understand this is an issue on the political radar. And the more letters they get, the more likely it is that they will act. That’s all I ask. It would just help me so much, that people who are concerned about this put pen to paper and send their letters of concern to their MPs. I can do the rest then.

I’m absolutely sure there is going to be a significant impact at some point in the next few years. There just is.

SM: One frustrating thing is that NASA scientists are constantly being criticised for crying wolf.

LO: That’s true but I must be honest and say that it’s in our interests to have these claims that objects are coming close because it raises the ante. Sometimes these objects are leaving the Earth’s environment before we even spot them. There was one 300 metre object that actually travelled between the moon and the Earth. Now had that hit us that would have incinerated Asia or Europe. And that’s the problem. We’re living in a ten pin bowling alley where these things are the balls and we’re one of the pins.

So I don’t mind a little bit of sensationalism because frankly, no measure of media sensationalism would really prepare people for the calamity of an impact. J. Tate isn’t so keen on that, he thinks the sensationalism isn’t so good but, from a political point of view, it helps because it keeps the subject in front of the public. The politics of fear sent men to the moon. It’s a sad thing. I’d love there to be a positive dynamic here but frankly if it’s fear we have too use, so be it.

Asteroid Encounter

NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office

Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley, Jon Giorgini and Don Yeomans

February 3, 2005

Radar Observations Refine the Future Motion of Asteroid 2004 MN4

Radar observations taken at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on January 27, 29, and 30 have significantly improved our estimate for the orbit of asteroid 2004 MN4 and changed the circumstances of the Earth close approach in 2029. On April 13, 2029, the predicted trajectory now passes within 5.7 Earth radii (36,350 km or 22,600 miles) of the Earth's center - just below the altitude of geosynchronous Earth satellites.

However, an Earth collision in 2029 is still ruled out. The asteroid's motion subsequent to the 2029 Earth close approach is very sensitive to the circumstances of the close approach itself and a number of future Earth close approaches will be monitored as additional observations are received. However, our current risk analysis for 2004 MN4 indicates that no subsequent Earth encounters in the 21st century are of concern.

Radar Observations Refine the Future Motion of Asteroid 2004 MN4

Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley, Jon Giorgini and Don Yeomans

NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office

February 3, 2005

Radar observations taken at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on January 27, 29, and 30 have significantly improved our estimate for the orbit of asteroid 2004 MN4 and changed the circumstances of the Earth close approach in 2029. On April 13, 2029, the predicted trajectory now passes within 5.7 Earth radii (36,350 km or 22,600 miles) of the Earth's center - just below the altitude of geosynchronous Earth satellites. However, an Earth collision in 2029 is still ruled out. The asteroid's motion subsequent to the 2029 Earth close approach is very sensitive to the circumstances of the close approach itself and a number of future Earth close approaches will be monitored as additional observations are received. However, our current risk analysis for 2004 MN4 indicates that no subsequent Earth encounters in the 21st century are of concern.

In the accompanying diagrams, the most likely trajectory of asteroid 2004 MN4 is shown as a blue line that passes near the Earth on 13 April 2029. The second of the two figures is an enlarged view of the Earth close approach circumstances. Since the asteroid's position in space is not perfectly known at that time, the white dots at right angles to the blue line are possible alternate positions of the asteroid. Neither the nominal position of the asteroid, nor any of its possible alternative positions, touches the Earth, effectively ruling out an Earth impact in 2029. Based on albedo contraints by Andrew Rivkin and Richard Binzel (MIT), the diameter of the object is about 320 meters. At the time of the closest approach, the asteroid will be a naked eye object (3.3 mag.) traveling rapidly (42 degrees per hour!) through the constellation of Cancer. On average, one would expect a similarly close Earth approach by an asteroid of this size only every 1300 years or so.

Comment: Well, that is certainly reassuring. What is less reassuring is that there are many more of these space rocks out there, and sometimes they manage to fly right by the earth before we become aware of them.

What is also not discussed is the high probability that rocks and other matter from space arrive in periodic waves not taken into account with the statistic given in the last sentence of the article.

Another case of mystery muck, this time in the Waikato; CAA says it cannot be from aircract


4 February 2005

A Waikato resident is puzzled by a mystery dumping on her house.

Margaret Porter says the roof and windows of her Scotsman Valley home are covered in a substance which appears to be faeces

She has no idea where it has come from, but called in a Civil Aviation Authority inspector as her home is below a flight path.

Ms Porter says he told her the mess could not have been dumped from an aircraft, as it would have been reported.

Similar mystery muck has appeared on rooves around the country in the past two years, but no-one has found the official cause yet.

Mrs Porter says the substance is definitely some type of faeces which is splattered all over the place.

She says recent rain is helping her wash the muck off, and now she just wants to know where it came from.

Power blackout prompts Bangkok subway evacuation, two-hour closure

05 February 2005 1541 hrs

BANGKOK : The Thai capital's subway was evacuated and shut down for two hours on Saturday when a power failure halted all trains just five days after the system was reopened following a major accident, officials said.

"There was a power blackout at all subway stations, but we managed to safely evacuate all commuters from the trains and the platforms," head of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA), Prapat Chongsanguan, told AFP.

An MRTA spokeswoman said the incident occurred at around noon and the subway came back online two hours later. [...]

Breaking News - NO TORNADO

State Journal-Register

Feb 8/05

Illinois - No, a tornado wasn't bearing down on Springfield today. But an unannounced test of the city's emergency warning sirens about 1:45 p.m. left some residents looking for a funnel cloud -- or worse. In the future, city officials said, sirens won't be tested without prior notice.

UFO over Hawaii puzzles astronomers

Posted: February 8, 2005

3:30 p.m. Eastern


Mysterious streak captured by camera positioned on active volcano

An unidentified streak moving through the night sky above Hawaii has sky watchers puzzled.

The streak, which can be viewed in motion on a NASA website page, was captured on film by a camera positioned on an active volcano in Haleakala, Hawaii. It moves from southeast to northwest.

According to the NASA site, the streak was spotted on the night of Dec. 17. Another camera trained on the night sky in Hawaii, in Mauna Kea, also captured the image.

While the streak may have been disregarded as a satellite, NASA says no record of a satellite in that position exists on a website that documents bright satellite events.

NASA includes an online discussion board for people to speculate about what the streak might have been.

One poster wrote: "What is truly bizarre is that this object is visible for a good 55 minutes at Haleakala and close to 30 minutes at Mauna Kea. Usually, satellites take a few dozen seconds or, at the most, a couple of minutes to cross the entire sky.

"If this object is a satellite, it is either very slow moving or at a very high altitude. I checked all the possibilities at Heavens-Above and no satellite passes seem to fit this observation. It is also impossible to be a meteorite."

HOW COME? - Tree rings unlock history


February 7, 2005

How come trees have rings? asks Jonathan Tam, a student in Manhasset.

What if there were a record of what had happened to our planet, before human beings wrote down what they were seeing? What if there were a way to know when a volcano erupted a continent away, a comet crashed into an open plain, or a rash of sunspots erupted on the Sun's fiery face?

There is such a silent diary; it is locked in the heart of trees.

The rings revealed when a tree trunk is cut horizontally or sampled with a corer are a kind of natural hieroglyphics, in which scientists can read some of the history of Earth. There is even a branch of science dedicated to translating the riddle of the rings: dendrochronology.

Deciduous and cone-bearing trees (conifers) in temperate climates usually have distinct growth rings. Trees expand outward by growing a new layer of wood cells just under the bark. In the spring, the growth layer makes large, thin-walled cells called "early wood." As the season becomes drier, the cells produced become smaller and thicker-walled "late wood." By fall the tree has stopped making new cells. You can tell one yearly ring from the next because the darker, late-wood cells from one year lie beside the next year's lighter, early-wood cells. By counting rings, we can get a good idea of the tree's age in years.

Rings are thinner when rainfall is scant or temperatures plunge in the growth season. Sunlight, soil fertility, and diseases and pests all affect rings, too. Because rings vary, sometimes dramatically, from year to year, they provide clues as to what happened in those years - droughts, floods, erupting volcanoes, forest fires, global cooling and warming. By counting the rings backward in time, we can often figure out when such events occurred.

To read the record hidden in the wood, scientists can drill into trees and pull out slim cores. By matching up rings from living trees, dead trees, and ancient wood, scientists can cross-date rings and make a timeline extending far into the past. (For more on tree-ring mapping, visit www.nps.gov/ seki/fire/pdf/firehistory.pdf.)

One of the best ring histories hides in bristlecone pines, slow-growers that take 3,000 years to reach their full height (40 to 60 feet). By matching up the overlapping rings of living and long-dead bristlecone wood, scientists have dated events back to about 7,000 BC.

Tree rings help scientists track climate changes. When volcanoes erupt, spewing soot and sulfur droplets, the atmosphere darkens, making for frosty summers and thin rings. The widespread thinning of tree rings about 1,500 years ago points to a bigger catastrophe - possibly pieces of a giant comet hitting Earth.

Tree rings even help us glimpse events elsewhere in the solar system. When cosmic rays strike nitrogen molecules in the Earth's atmosphere, radioactive carbon-14 forms. High sunspot and solar wind activity means fewer cosmic rays reach the atmosphere, and carbon-14 creation falls. By comparing the carbon-14 content of tree rings with other natural objects, scientists have traced sunspot activity back thousands of years.

Power(lessness) to the People! National Malaise Comes From the Sun.

Polina Moroz


Created: 09.02.2005 14:14 MSK (GMT +3)

There is one natural phenomenon that affects the daily life of Russians in a profound way. Millions of people keep track of its changes every morning, experts offer suggestions on minimizing its detrimental effects: rest, eat lots of bananas, don't make sudden movements. It's a national peril-national, because outside of Russia the phenomenon is virtually unknown. Maybe it's yet another challenge fortune throws Russia's way, maybe it's a crafty invention of Soviet scientists and maybe, just maybe, the importance and danger of this phenomenon is that one thing which people need to add meaning to their lives. To spice up the conversation on their commute. To excuse their sudden fatigue, restlessness, and inability to carry on. I speak, of course, of the great threat of geomagnetic storms.

Just like the weather, geomagnetic activity is often a suitable topic for chit-chat on the shuttle bus, or for a conversation between two babushkas on a park bench. Yet it's an issue of vital importance, with daily prognoses, recommendations, and warnings. Every now and then all the media outlets start screaming about giant explosions on the sun, about dangerous solar particles approaching Earth at fantastic speeds that cause "aching joints, migraines, plane crashes, epidemics, and grasshopper infestations," as Lenta.Ru recently reported in sensationalist fear.

Huh? That's what all non-Russians are wondering. Have you ever seen any of these solar prognoses anywhere outside Russia? Maybe the Dow, the latest side-effects of consuming too much soy, and perhaps the ubiquitous ten weight loss tips, but nowhere among the front pages of Anglophone news sources will you find anything about solar spots, winds and explosions that are supposed to influence your daily grind.

Outside Russia, these phenomena are reserved for space nerds in the "science" section at best, and for astrology fringe theorists at worst. If in Russia geomagnetic storms are a serious health hazard, elsewhere they are about as hazardous as the full moon that may or may not turn a stock broker into a werewolf.

While non-Russian sources modestly link geomagnetic activity only with possible satellite troubles, Russians make it responsible for all of their pain and suffering. The end of January was particularly rich in geomagnetic storm warnings. Colleagues whined about not being able to concentrate — solar storms made them limp and incompetent. Women especially are known to sometimes stay in bed all day, moaning with a sack of ice over their heads. Oh that darn storm last night, I didn't sleep at all, did you feel it? —they would ask their girlfriends the next morning.

If you google "geomagnetic storms", you will not get many sources dealing with people's health. Experts both in Europe and America admit that sometimes the sun's actions can harm communication with space missions, and one particularly strong storm caused a major power shortage in Montreal. But in Russian search engines, thousands of links and news pieces deal with "magnitnye buri," and their ill-effects (sometimes mortal) on the human body. Something that happens on the Sun is supposed to affect people from Helsinki to Buenos Aires, not Russians exclusively. Right?

My theory is that geomagnetic storms are sort of a cultural fable--maybe every country has a national malaise, a media-propagated inanimate adversary that just keeps everyone on guard. Or, as some Russophobes argue, it's just another excuse for Russians to stop working and lounge on a sofa, Oblomov-style.

Finding an entirely corresponding example of an American national malaise is difficult, but realistic. I have always been curious, for example, about why PMS is such a big deal in the United States. Having PMS has almost become a part of being American — if you don't think you have it, the media will help you find its symptoms anyway. Even if you are a guy. After all, they did discover something called "male PMS" recently. Having PMS is okay, you're told in a comforting tone, don't be scared, it's not your fault.

In Russia no one knows what PMS is. Searching PMS on Russian internet I find an article titled "post modernity today," and lots of alphabet soup-type administrative acronyms. Younger generation may have heard of it, but we can write that off as sneaky western influence on innocent girls, acting through half-baked translations from "Cosmopolitan." Maybe that's because the role of PMS is already taken in the Russia's public mind by geomagnetic storms. It's also a mysterious sickness of unknown exact causes. The difference is that Russia's malaise comes from the Sun and the American one from people's own hormones.

Anyway, back to geomagnetic storms. One notable Russian scientist, Alexander Chizhevsky, went so far as to propose that human history is shaped by what's happening on the Sun. According to him, geomagnetic storms affect the concentration of adrenalin and stress people's mental health. People who are motivated by charismatic leaders like Lenin are in fact victims of a "mass psychosis" triggered every eleven years by peaks in the sun's activity. Chizhevsky even came up with a set of tongue-in-cheek recommendations for political reformists who fancy a bloodbath: just make sure to sow your propaganda while the explosions on the Sun's surface make the masses more susceptible to persuasion.**

Meanwhile, the turn of 2004-05 is another one of geomagnetic peaks. January 2005 is highest in the Sun's activity since 1938. Anyone who is still surprised at the mass pensioners' protests across the country should ponder the geomagnetic theory. Experts say that old people are more susceptible to the Sun's activity: with their weaker hearts they don't tolerate stress as well as others. My grandma sighs, promising not to listen to geomagnetic prognoses any more, saying that knowing the date makes her symptoms worse. Maybe she too suspects a conspiracy.

** "sun activity peaks" of the 20th century:

- revolutions of 1905 and 1917

- beginning of repressions (1928)

- peak of political persecutions (1937)

- beginning of the Cold War (1947)

- Hungarian revolt (1956)

- Soviet troops enter Czechoslovakia (1968)

- Soviet troops enter Afghanistan (1979)

- Mass demonstrations and perestroika (1989)


Western Daily Press

04 February 2005

The great bright light first appeared above the village of Iwerne Minster in Dorset, scorching a trail through the night skies. Just eight days later, an uncannily similar object was seen above Devizes, Wiltshire, and that same evening above Swindon.

This spate of UFO sightings last September was yesterday revealed in previously secret documents disclosed to the Western Daily Press.

The files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, sparked frenzied speculation among UFO experts that the West may have been visited by extra-terrestrials. "We should not discount the possibility," said James Bazil, a ufologist from Withywood, Bristol. "We've got three different accounts painting a similar picture.

"The West has been a hot spot for UFOs for many years. The longest ley line in the country runs from Dundry, near Bristol, down to Salisbury, and we think this may have something to do with it."

Ley lines are supposedly prehistoric routes across the landscape.

The classified files revealed that last year there were a total of 88 UFO sightings reported to the Ministry of Defence's UFO unit, five of which were spotted in the West Country.

The spree of West sightings began on September 24, when an object was reported in at 3.50am above Iwerne Minster. The observer said: "It looked like a great bright light and was really intense, like a big ball of fire moving rapidly to the ground."

A report from Devizes recorded an object that "looked like a big ball of fire coming down from the sky with a tail and sparks coming off the end of it".

That same day an orange object was spotted above Swindon.

Denis Plunkett, head of Bristol branch of the British Flying Saucers Bureau, said: "I think it's important we don't dismiss sightings like this out of hand. There is a pattern here, which suggests there could be UFO activity."

Although such reports might be discounted as meteor showers or astronomical phenomena, other sightings are harder to dismiss.

A report from Surrey on May 20 last year, describes a UFO as having "grooves and windows" but no room for humans. Even the MoD inspector notes that the "witnesses have seen it so clearly".

Det Con Gary Heseltine, of British Transport Police in Leeds, runs the database of police-reported UFO sightings, and he is convinced there is something out there.

He said: "After 28 years of investigating the subject I would have to say yes, and the public don't really get told what's going on.

"To my logical, police-trained mind, the officers provide excellent witness testimony, promoting the 'nuts and bolts' evidence that supports the extra-terrestrial hypothesis."

These latest files to be declassified by the MoD are not as complete as reports from 1976-77, which were released last month.

Hundreds of documents kept secret by the Ministry's special UFO department, known as S4F, detail many reports of a possible visit by extra-terrestrial life forms.

In July 1997, Flt-Lt A M Wood reported "bright objects hanging over the sea". The MoD document adds that the RAF officer said the closest object was "luminous, round and four to five times larger than a Whirlwind helicopter". The UFOs were reported to be three miles out to sea at a height of 5,000

Outcast Star Zooms Out of Milky Way Galaxy

By Deborah Zabarenko


Tue Feb 8, 4:51 PM ET

WASHINGTON - An outcast star is zooming out of the Milky Way, the first ever seen escaping the galaxy, astronomers reported on Tuesday.

The star is heading for the emptiness of intergalactic space after being ejected from the heart of the Milky Way following a close encounter with a black hole, said Warren Brown, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The outcast is going so fast -- over 1.5 million mph -- that astronomers believe it was lobbed out of the galaxy by the tremendous force of a black hole thought to sit at the Milky Way's center. That speed is about twice the velocity needed to escape the galaxy's grip, Brown said by telephone.

"We have never before seen a star moving fast enough to completely escape the confines of our galaxy," he said. "We're tempted to call it the outcast star because it was forcefully tossed from its home."

The star used to be part of a binary pair, waltzing with its companion star close to the rim of the black hole. In this case, "close" is a relative term; the actual distance was probably about 50 times the 93 million-mile distance between Earth and the sun.

As the two stars twirled around each other, they were pulled faster and faster toward the edge of the black hole, one of those monster drains in space whose gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape once it is consumed.

While the companion star was captured by the black hole, the outcast continued on its whirling path around its edge.

Objects go faster the closer they get to black holes and this star was probably moving at extraordinary speed, perhaps as high as 20 million mph. That very speed, coupled with the speed of its twirling, sent the outcast zooming toward the edge of the Milky Way and beyond.

At this point, the outcast is about 180,000 light-years from Earth, in an outer region of the galaxy known as the halo. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

Red Nova

Friday, 11 February 2005, 00:00 CST

DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.

At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.

But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.

Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers.

'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.

'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising.

And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of predicting the future.

Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities in Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The project is also the most rigorous and longest-running investigation ever into the potential powers of the paranormal.

'Very often paranormal phenomena evaporate if you study them for long enough,' says physicist Dick Bierman of the University of Amsterdam. 'But this is not happening with the Global Consciousness Project. The effect is real. The only dispute is about what it means.' The project has its roots in the extraordinary work of Professor Robert Jahn of Princeton University during the late 1970s. He was one of the first modern scientists to take paranormal phenomena seriously. Intrigued by such things as telepathy, telekinesis - the supposed psychic power to move objects without the use of physical force - and extrasensory perception, he was determined to study the phenomena using the most up-to-date technology available.

One of these new technologies was a humble-looking black box known was a Random Event Generator (REG). This used computer technology to generate two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence, rather like an electronic coin-flipper.

The pattern of ones and noughts - 'heads' and 'tails' as it were - could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Any deviation from this equal number shows up as a gently rising curve.

During the late 1970s, Prof Jahn decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings. He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails.

It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.

Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.

According to all of the known laws of science, this should not have happened - but it did. And it kept on happening.

Dr Nelson, also working at Princeton University, then extended Prof Jahn's work by taking random number machines to group meditations, which were very popular in America at the time. Again, the results were eyepopping. The groups were collectively able to cause dramatic shifts in the patterns of numbers.

From then on, Dr Nelson was hooked.

Using the internet, he connected up 40 random event generators from all over the world to his laboratory computer in Princeton. These ran constantly, day in day out, generating millions of different pieces of data. Most of the time, the resulting graph on his computer looked more or less like a flat line.

But then on September 6, 1997, something quite extraordinary happened: the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm. The day was of historic importance for another reason, too.

For it was the same day that an estimated one billion people around the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey.

Dr Nelson was convinced that the two events must be related in some way.

Could he have detected a totally new phenomena? Could the concentrated emotional outpouring of millions of people be able to influence the output of his REGs. If so, how?

Dr Nelson was at a loss to explain it.

So, in 1998, he gathered together scientists from all over the world to analyse his findings. They, too, were stumped and resolved to extend and deepen the work of Prof Jahn and Dr Nelson. The Global Consciousness Project was born.

Since then, the project has expanded massively. A total of 65 Eggs (as the generators have been named) in 41 countries have now been recruited to act as the 'eyes' of the project.

And the results have been startling and inexplicable in equal measure.

For during the course of the experiment, the Eggs have 'sensed' a whole series of major world events as they were happening, from the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia to the Kursk submarine tragedy to America's hung election of 2000.

The Eggs also regularly detect huge global celebrations, such as New Year's Eve.

But the project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11, 2001.

As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs.

Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers.

They had, it appeared, detected that an event of historic importance was about to take place before the terrorists had even boarded their fateful flights. The implications, not least for the West's security services who constantly monitor electronic 'chatter', are clearly enormous.

'I knew then that we had a great deal of work ahead of us,' says Dr Nelson.

What could be happening? Was it a freak occurrence, perhaps?

Apparently not. For in the closing weeks of December last year, the machines went wild once more.

Twenty-four hours later, an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami which devastated South-East Asia, and claimed the lives of an estimated quarter of a million people.

Comment: The following are some comments that we think give some context to the article above


Q: (A) I understand that the main disaster is going to come from this comet cluster...

A: Disasters involve cycles in the human experiential cycle which corresponds to the passage of comet cluster. [...]

Q: (A) Do we know what is the distance to this body at present?

A: Suggest you keep your eyes open!... Did you catch the significance of the answer regarding time table of cluster and brown star? Human cycle mirrors cycle of catastrophe. Earth benefits in form of periodic cleansing. Time to start paying attention to the signs. They are escalating. They can even be "felt" by you and others, if you pay attention.


Q: (A) I want to know what kind of mechanism is behind this 911 number coming up in the NY lottery.

A: Warning. It ain't over!!!

Q: (A) Who was warning?

A: Mass consciousness signals to self about clear and present danger.

Q: (L)[C]lear and present danger of what?

A: Wait and see.


Q: (L) Regarding the recent earthquake and tsunami, there is a huge buzz on the net that this was not a natural phenomenon. Some say it could have been a meteor; others say it was a US nuke; others say it was India and Israel playing around in deep sea trenches. Then there is the speculation on an EM weapon of some description. The New agers are saying it was the start of the final 'Earth Changes". So what really caused this earthquake that happened one year minus one hour after the earthquake in Iran?

A: Pressure in earth. Not any of the proferred suggestions. But remember that the human cycle mirrors the cycle of catastrophe and human mass consciousness plays a part.

Q: In what way does mass consciousness play a part?

A: When those with higher centers are blocked from full manifestation of creative energy, that energy must go somewhere. If you cannot create "without" you create "within".

Q: (L) In other words the acts of the STS consortium in trying to suppress steal and control the creative energy from those with higher centers may be the cause of their own destruction because that energy is uncontrollable.

The three major events discussed in this article fall into three different categories. Diana's death was that of an individual. Diana's funeral, however, was an event where the consciousness of the public was afffected as the funeral unfolded, live, on international TV. The press had propgated the image of the Princess during the years of her marriage, troubles, and divorce, and she had become a symbol for millions.

9/11 was an event involving many people -- and we aren't talking Arab terrorists -- who had been planning the attacks for years. After the go-ahead had been given, these people would have been sharing a common mental state, and this state may well have been communicated to others as a generalise state of fear. Whatever it was, it was clearly different than Diana's funeral.

The third event, December's earthquake and tsunami, would have been preceeded by changes in the energy of the earth itself as the massive forces invloved reached their breaking point.

Further testing may well give a better reading of what the network of random signal generators are picking up. Might it be a way of sensing the 'signs', of reading the relationship between experience and the cycle of catastropehe?

We are quite confident that human relations being what they are in our mechanical world, there will be numerous other catastrophes which can be used to test the network.

Did stardust trigger snowball Earth?

Philip Ball


Clouds of interstellar molecules may have plunged our planet into a deep freeze.

Researchers think interstellar dust could cause a reverse greenhouse effect on Earth.

Our planet may have frozen over in the past as it drifted though giant dust clouds in space. The result of the dust-bath would have been an almost complete overcoat of ice for the world, according to a new theory.

A group of US and Russian researchers argue that interstellar dust might have accumulated in Earth's atmosphere and cooled the planet, tipping the climate towards a 'snowball Earth' event in which ice sheets keep growing until they cover almost the entire globe.

But the idea does not persuade some geologists. "It conflicts with the geological record," says Daniel Schrag, a geochemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He points out that there seem to have been dramatic changes in the Earth's carbon cycle up to a million years before known snowball Earth events, which the dust-cloud hypothesis is at a loss to explain.

Alexander Pavlov, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his colleagues counter that their climate-cooling mechanism is almost inevitable, however. They say that on at least two occasions in the past 2 billion years, the Solar System must have passed through clouds of dust thick enough to cause a snowball Earth1,2. They think it is possible that two such ultracold episodes, 600 million and 750 million years ago, might have been triggered in this way.

Dusty answer

Snowball Earth events are much more severe than normal ice ages. They occur through a runaway process in which growing ice sheets reflect ever more sunlight back into space, resulting in further cooling and more ice. Eventually, the ice advances from the Poles virtually all the way to the Equator, trapping the planet in a deep freeze.

There is strong evidence in the geological record that Earth may have iced over in this way several times during its history. Various causes have been proposed, but Pavlov and his colleagues say that none is fully convincing.

They argue that their dust trigger is more plausible. Our Galaxy contains many giant molecular clouds, which are huge clusters of molecules that can clump into dust grains. As the Solar System moves through the galaxy, it passes through such clouds roughly once every 100 million to 1 billion years.

Pavlov and colleagues have calculated how much of this dust might be captured by Earth's gravitational field, filling the atmosphere with dust. Dust particles reflect sunlight, but they let Earth's heat out into space. In other words, they act as the precise opposite of greenhouse gases, cooling the planet.

On reflection

Such a cooling effect was observed after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, which scattered volcanic dust into the atmosphere. The researchers calculate that the cooling effect of a passage through a dense molecular cloud could be at least two or three times greater.

That, they say, would be sufficient to trigger snowball cooling. If the planet were already on the verge of an ice age, even a molecular cloud of modest density could push it over the edge a larger freeze. The snowball Earth could then persist for about 10 million years, much longer than it would take the Solar System to cross a typical molecular cloud. The ice would thaw only when enough greenhouse gases from volcanoes had built up in the atmosphere.

International Human Genome enth International Human Genome

The researchers suggest that there could be a detectable geological signature of such an event. Interstellar dust is enriched in the isotope uranium-235, relative to its natural abundance on Earth. This dust would gradually settle out of the atmosphere and find its way into sedimentary rocks laid down at the time of the snowball freeze.

Schrag doubts that such evidence, if it were to be found, would be conclusive. And he does not see how an extraterrestrial trigger for the cooling can explain the apparent timing of such events. "Why would you get two of them close together [600 and 750 million years ago], and then nothing?" he asks.

Emergency Landing

February 16, 2005

By KVAL News Staff

Near Roseburg, Idaho - Steady nerves and good pilot skills helped three people survive a crash landing today near Roseburg.

The small plane had just taken off from Roseburg on the way to Lewiston, Idaho. The pilot told Douglas County deputies he experienced engine failure and started looking for a place for an emergency landing.

"When the pilot got down thru the fog, he noticed a grass strip on a ridgeback of a set of mountains west of I-5 and put the plane down, taking off a few trees, bringing it to a safe landing , as safe as could be possible," said Douglas County Deputy Ken Zarbano.

"Very very lucky, and from what I see here in the surrounding area, an extremely professional job of picking a spot to put this plane down," said Zarbano.

Because of the remoteness of the landing site, it took deputies about an hour to find the survivors after they called 9-1-1 on a cell phone. There appears to be quite a bit of damage to the plane.

The pilot, Albert Satterla of Umpqua, and two passengers, David Van Sickle of Roseburg and Chass Thuresson of Junction City, walked away with no injuries.

Brightest Galactic Flash Ever Detected Hits Earth

By Robert Roy Britt

Senior Science Writer

18 February, 2005

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.

Tsunami Connection?

Several readers wondered if the magnetar blast could be related to the December tsunami. Scientists have made no such connection. The blast affected Earth's ionosphere, which is routinely affected to a greater extent by changes in solar activity.

"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. [...]

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. [...]

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.

Military telescope enlists in doomsday asteroid patrol

Last Updated Feb 21 2005 12:06 PM MST

CBC News

CALGARY – Scientists in Calgary have enlisted a retrofitted 1950s military telescope to help them spot massive asteroids that could theoretically collide with Earth with catastrophic results.

The telescope, which was used to track satellites during the Cold War, required $500,000 worth of upgrades to prepare it for its new assignment.

"The electronics needed to be redone," Mike Mazur, a geophysicist at the University of Calgary, said. "The motors needed to be replaced, the mechanics of the mount were modified considerably, the optics as well."

The Calgary telescope has a large field of vision, making it one of fewer than 10 places in the world equipped to search for an asteroid.

By using information from the telescope nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the team hopes it will be better prepared to spot a doomsday rock hurtling towards Earth.

"If we had a big object impact the Earth, like a 10-kilometre diameter, it would cause a mass extinction," Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the U of C, said. "Our civilization would be almost entirely wiped out, along with thousands of other species."

In the 1990s, Hildebrand used rock samples to show that an asteroid or comet created a massive crater in Mexico millions of years ago. Many scientists believe the event led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In the meantime, space scientists aren't losing sleep over the potential threat.

If someone uses a telescope like the one in Calgary to spot a massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth, Hildebrand said it's conceivable that a spacecraft could be sent up with the goal of knocking the rock out of harm's way.

"Somehow, a rocket propulsion system would be put on the asteroid to change its orbit slightly so it would miss the Earth," he said.

The scientists believe asteroids are valuable, saying one day it may be possible for humans to travel there, mine them and bring back minerals to our planet.

Comment: Considering the numerous reports of meteorites and space rocks that have been reported in the media in recent days, along with a great deal of evidence to suggest that the PTB know full well that our planet is about to undergo an enormous barrage of celestial debris, the fact that there are less than 10 telescopes in the entire world designed to spot these rocks, should give the intelligent reader enough clues as to the real motives of our benevolent leaders.

A Dark Age Mystery Unravelled


Academics blame a comet for the 6th-century 'nuclear winter.'

Scientists at Cardiff University, UK, believe they have discovered the cause of crop failures and summer frosts some 1,500 years ago. The answer? A comet colliding with Earth.

The team has been studying evidence from tree rings, which suggests that the Earth underwent a series of very cold summers around 536-540 AD, indicating an effect rather like a nuclear winter.

The scientists in the School of Physics and Astronomy believe this was caused by a comet hitting the earth and exploding in the upper atmosphere. The debris from this giant explosion was such that it enveloped the earth in soot and ash, blocking out the sunlight and causing the very cold weather. This effect is known as a plume and is similar to that which was seen when comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 hit Jupiter in 1995.

Historical references from this period, known as the Dark Ages, are sparse, but what records there are, tell of crop failures and summer frosts.

The researchers study, published in the February issue of Astronomy and Geophysics, the in-house magazine of the Royal Astronomical Society, show how small a comet is needed to cause such dramatic effects. The scientists calculate that a comet not much more than half a kilometre across could cause a global nuclear winter effect. This is significantly smaller than was previously thought.

One of the researchers said, "One of the exciting aspects of this work is that we have re-classified the size of comet that represents a global threat. This work shows that even a comet of only half a kilometre in size could have global consequences. Previously nothing less than a kilometre across was counted as a global threat. If such an event happened again today, then once again a large fraction of the earth's population could face starvation."

The comet impact caused crop failures and wide-spread starvation among the sixth century population. The timing coincides with the Justinian Plague, widely believed to be the first appearance of the Black Death in Europe. It is possible that the plague was so rampant and took hold so quickly because the population was already weakened by starvation.

Comment: If they had read Mike Baillie's From Exodus to Arthur, they would have had this answer years ago. Better late than never.

Another sighting in UFO mystery

Feb 22, 2005

Mystery surrounds the origin of a bright light seen streaking through the Shropshire skies at the weekend after two late night cinema-goers claim to have spotted the phenomena 10 hours earlier.

Several county residents reported the light at about 10am on Sunday, with many believing they had seen a meteorite.

But Rachael Jones, of Harlescott, and Bryony Morgan, of Castlefields, cast further intrigue into the sighting after they saw the object as they left Cineworld, in Old Potts Way, at 12.30am on Sunday.

Miss Jones said: "It was a sort of yellowy-white colour and then tailed off to nowhere, it went across the sky and then disappeared. We didn't know what it was, but it was weird."

But motorist Richard Gorton today stuck with original reports, saying he had seen the blazing trail from Craven Arms at 10.15am on Sunday.

Cosmic blast brings talk of galactic perils

By Dick Stanley


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A monster cosmic explosion two days after Christmas -- but only recently announced -- that flung invisible radiation into Earth's atmosphere from halfway across the Milky Way showed we are in more potential peril from the real cosmos than from hypothetical aliens.

The burst from a neutron star wreaked no havoc only because the star was too far away. But the wake-up call to the dangers of our galactic back yard was another confirmation for University of Texas astrophysicist Robert Duncan and North Carolina astrophysicist Christopher Thompson, who first proposed in 1992 the existence of these highly magnetic, menacing stars called magnetars. [...]

Magnetars release energy in the same fashion as a solar flare but on a much larger scale because of their ultra-strong magnetic fields.

Radiation from the Dec. 27 blast from a magnetar 50,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius was 100 times stronger. The electrical energy rattled the detectors on 15 satellites and robot probes between Earth and Saturn, knocking their instruments off-scale. Then it bounced off the moon and lit up Earth's ionosphere for five minutes, probing farther down than even the biggest solar flares and disrupting some radio communications, according to UT's McDonald Observatory.

"Had this happened within 10 light-years of us," said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, "it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly triggered a mass extinction" by depleting the ozone layer, the atmosphere's shield against deadly radiation from the sun. [...]

"We only know of about 10 magnetars in the Milky Way," NASA scientist Peter Woods said. "If the antics of (this one) are typical, turning on and off but never getting exceptionally bright, then there very well could be hundreds more out there."

Newest Saturn moons given names


Saturday, 26 February, 2005, 08:39 GMT

Three new moons discovered around Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft have been given provisional names.

The discoveries were made last year, not long after Cassini had arrived in orbit around the ringed planet.

Two moons detected in August have been given the names Methone and Pallene, while another found in October has been provisionally named Polydeuces.

Three more candidate objects are still awaiting confirmation as moons.

Methone and Pallene circle Saturn between the orbits of two other Saturnian moons, Mimas and Enceladus. They were discovered by Sebastien Charnoz at the University of Paris, France.

Polydeuces was detected by Professor Carl Murray at Queen Mary, University of London, UK.

This latter object is an example of a so-called Trojan moon - it is twinned with a larger satellite in orbit around the planet.

Wandering moon

Saturn is the only planet known to have Trojan moons. They are found near stable "Lagrange points" - places where the gravitational pull of the planet and the larger satellite become balanced. [...]

Two objects seen in June called S/2004 S3 and S/2004 S4 are still awaiting confirmation as moons. Another candidate moon - S/2004 S6 - was seen in October.

Professor Murray explained that although S/2004 S4 has not been seen since, S3 was seen again in October.

"If it has survived for that long, chances are that it is a moon. But then again, there are pictures where we would have expected to see it and didn't," he said.

He added that the Cassini Imaging Science Team was hoping to see the object again to confirm that it was a moon. [...]

Comment: Perhaps S/2004 S4 isn't a moon? In any event, mainstream science's inability to predict the motion of heavenly bodies apparently shouldn't cause us to doubt their claims that the huge numbers of meteors and fireballs sighted in recent times are nothing to worry about.

Fuzzy TV screens, crackling telephones can signal quakes: Indian expert


Sunday February 27, 2005

[...] Arun Bapat also said a sudden rise in sea temperature should be treated as a serious warning of an earthquake that could trigger towering waves.

"A rise of five degrees Centigrade in sea temperature is another major indication of a possible earthquake looming," said Bapat, 56, from the western Indian city of Pune.

"Before a major earthquake, huge amounts of electro-magnetic waves are emitted because of friction between tectonic plates and these waves can disturb landline links, disrupt mobile networks, radio frequencies and TV signals," he said.

"Nature gives us all the hints and we just need to understand them," Bapat, a member of the Indian Society of Earthquake Technology, an independent body founded in 1962, said. [...]

The seismologist said he had studied 15,000 earthquake records from across the world before reaching the conclusion that quakes can be forecast, sometimes several months before actual disaster strikes.

"These changes have been observed in places like Bangladesh Bangladesh, (the Indian states of) Gujarat, China China and Japan before earthquakes actually happened," he said.

Even restlessness in cattle, rodents or insects are tell-tale indicators, he said.

"We should have the eye to understand what nature has to say to us."

Tribesmen on the Andaman Islands largely escaped the killer waves. Some of the survivors said they had known to take to high ground before the waves, some as high as 30 feet (10 meters), slammed into the islands.

Mystery light in the sky

Lewes Today

25 February 2005

A BODLE Street Green resident saw what he believes was a meteorite as he drove from his home on Sunday morning towards Ringmer.

Philip Hale had just passed the gates to the old Laughton Lodge Hospital at Laughton at 9.55am when the object flew in down in fields to his right.

'It was a white object with a blue tail flame travelling very fast on a trajectory of about 45 degrees down to the Earth,' he said.

'The object must have crashed in a field. [...]

'I didn't stop. Perhaps I should have,' he added. 'I'd never seen anything like it before in my life. There should be some evidence in the field of its impact.'

A spokesman for Sussex Police said nothing had been reported to them.

Another county meteor sighting

Feb 28, 2005

North Shropshire people were astounded when they saw a meteor streaking across the night sky.

The orange ball with a long, green tail was spotted by residents of Wem and Lyneal at 7.30pm on Saturday and took seconds to travel across the county towards Wales.

The sightings were the latest in a series across Shropshire after a mystery object was spotted in the skies above Shrewsbury last week.

Eric Brown, of Lyneal, said he was coming back from work on Saturday when he spotted the meteor at Welshampton.

He said: "It was very, very bright in the sky and was orange with a long, green tail.

"It was really fast and just kept going and going."

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