Charles Q. Choi
Tue, 01 Jan 2008 15:07 EST
The farthest reaches of our solar system remain the most mysterious
areas around the sun. Solving the mysteries of the outer solar system
could shed light on how the whole thing emerged - as well as how life
on Earth was born.
Why the rainbow of colors in the Kuiper belt?
For instance, the Kuiper belt past Neptune is currently the suspected home of comets
that only take a few decades or at most centuries to complete their
solar orbits - so-called "short-period comets." Surprisingly, Kuiper
belt objects "show a wide range of colors - neutral or even slightly
blue all the way to very red," said University of Hawaii astrophysicist
The color of an object helps reveal details about its surface
composition. It remains a mystery why Kuiper belt objects show a much
wider range of color - and thus surface composition - than other
planetoids, such as the asteroids.
Some researchers had suggested volcanic activity could have led to
all these colors - "absurd in the context of 100-kilometer-sized
(60-mile) bodies," Jewitt said, as volcanism needs something bigger.
Jewitt and his colleagues had suggested that cosmic rays could have
made Kuiper belt objects redder, while impacts with rocks could have
dug up more pristine matter that made them less red. Nowadays Jewitt
thinks there must be another explanation for this rainbow, but it
What is ultra-red matter?
There appears to be a material dubbed "ultra-red matter" that exists
only on about half of all Kuiper belt objects and their immediate
progeny, known as centaurs - icy planetoids orbiting between Jupiter
and Neptune that very recently escaped from the Kuiper belt.
This ultra-red matter does not exist in the inner solar system, "not
even on the comets which come from the Kuiper belt. This suggests that
the ultra-red matter is somehow unstable at the higher temperatures
close to the sun," Jewitt explained.
The red colors suggest this substance might contain organic
molecules. Comets and other planetoids are often thought to have helped
bring organic molecules to Earth.
"In the Kuiper belt objects, organics might have been 'cooked' by
cosmic ray radiation, giving them dark red surfaces, but there is no
proof," Jewitt said. Ideally spacecraft could go out there and find
out, he added.
Has the Kuiper belt shrunk?
Theoretical calculations suggest the Kuiper belt was once hundreds
or maybe even thousands of times more populated than it is now. "How
was 99 percent or 99.9 percent of the mass lost, and when?" Jewitt
One conjecture suggests when Saturn and Jupiter shifted their orbits
roughly 4 billion years ago, their gravitational pulls slung Kuiper
belt objects out of the solar system. Another says the Kuiper belt
objects pulverized themselves to dust, which then was swept away by the
sun's radiation. Yet another possibility "is that we are missing
something crucial and the conclusion that the belt is heavily depleted
is wrong," Jewitt said. "All these possibilities are comparably hard to
swallow, but would each be amazing, if true."
Secrets in the Oort cloud?
A distant reservoir of trillions of comets known as the Oort cloud
theoretically lies up to 100,000 astronomical units from the sun - an
astronomical unit or AU being about 93 million miles (150 million
kilometers). This means the Oort cloud is a fifth of the way to the
nearest star, so far away that objects within it have never been seen
directly, only inferred - but it must exist, given all the comets seen
over the years.
The Oort cloud is the conjectured source of comets that require
centuries or millennia to complete their long journeys around the sun.
Since these "long-period comets" come from all directions, the Oort
cloud is often thought to be spherical. However, while comets such as
Halley's do not come from the Kuiper belt, their orbits also do not
jibe with a spherical Oort cloud, Jewitt explained. This suggests there
may be an "inner Oort cloud" shaped kind of like a doughnut.
Astrophysicists think the Oort cloud is a remnant of the
protoplanetary disk that formed around the sun roughly 4.6 billion
years ago. Learning more about the Oort cloud could shed light on how
our solar system - and Earth - were born, Jewitt said.
Are there more dwarf planets?
So far, three dwarf planets are recognized - Ceres, Pluto and Eris.
The Kuiper belt, which lies about 50 AU from the sun, could hold some
200 more. Beyond that there could be scores of dwarf-planet-sized
bodies beyond roughly 100 AU from the sun "that nobody had seen before
due to their faintness and slow motion," said astronomer Chad Trujillo
at Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. "Even a body as big as Mars could be
missed in our current surveys if it were moved beyond a couple hundred
Trujillo noted projects such as Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey
Telescope And Rapid Response System) and the LSST (Large Synoptic
Survey Telescope) "should fill this gap in our knowledge in the coming
Where do the dwarf planets come from?
There are theories that the dwarf planets of the outer solar system
may have dwelt in the inner solar system billions of years ago, based
on their current orbital trajectories. If so, "why are there so many
ices on their surfaces?" Trujillo asked. Bodies in the inner solar
system are generally expected to lose their ice due to sunlight.
Trujillo and his colleagues suspect the ice now seen on these dwarf
planets is relatively new, with such replacement ice coming perhaps
from within these worlds, erupting out during "cryovolcanism." Of
course, further research is needed to see if such ice renewal would be
enough to cover the dwarf planet after they voyaged from the inner to
the outer solar system, he added.
Do cosmic rays come from a bubble around the solar system?
When the supersonic wind of charged particles that flows from our
sun collides with the thin gas found between the stars, the solar wind
essentially blows a bubble in this interstellar medium - a ball known
as the heliosphere.
Scientists have thought unusually weak cosmic rays - energetic
particles that zip from space at Earth - come from the heliosphere.
Specifically, these rays are thought to come from the "termination
shock" - a shock wave of compressed, hot particles that results when
the solar wind abruptly brakes against interstellar gas. (The
termination shock appears to be about 75 to 85 AU from the sun.)
However, Voyager 1 saw no sign these anomalous cosmic rays were
produced at the termination shock. "Perhaps it crossed the shock at the
wrong time or place," said MIT astrophysicist John Richardson, or
perhaps the standard view on how these anomalous cosmic rays are
generated is wrong. Voyager 2 crossed the termination shock in 2007
about 10 billion miles away from where Voyager 1 crossed it in 2004,
and its data, which is still being analyzed, "may help us understand
where these particle are produced," he explained.
"Cosmic rays have been reported to affect Earth's weather so
understanding their source is important," Richardson added. Moreover,
high-energy particles from shock waves triggered by huge eruptions from
the sun known as coronal mass ejections can damage spacecraft and
astronauts, and better understanding the termination shock could help
understand these other, potentially dangerous particles.
Leonard David and Tariq Malik
Thu, 03 Jan 2008 16:17 EST
The possibility of an asteroid walloping the planet Mars this month
is whetting the appetites of Earth-bound scientists, even as they
further refine the space rock's trajectory.
The space rock in question - Asteroid 2007 WD5 - is similar
in size to the object that carved Meteor Crater into northern Arizona
some 50,000 years ago and is approaching Mars at about 30,000 miles per
hour (48,280 kph).
Whether the asteroid will actually hit Mars or not is still uncertain.
Such an impact, researchers said, would prove an awesome blow for
planetary science since NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and a
flotilla of other spacecraft are already in position to follow up any
impact from orbit.
"An impact that we could witness/follow-up with MRO would be truly
spectacular, and could tell us much about the hidden subsurface that
could help direct a search for life or life-related molecules," said
John Rummel, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology at the agency's
Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Observations of the asteroid between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 allowed astronomers to slightly lower the space rock's odds of striking Mars to about 3.6 percent
(down from 3.9), giving the object a 1 in 28 chance of hitting the
planet, according to Tuesday report from NASA's Near Earth-Object
program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
More observations may further reduce the asteroid's impact chances
to nil, NEO officials said. The space rock's refined course stems from
observations by astronomers at New Mexico Tech's Magdalena Ridge
But if WD5 does smack into Mars, some astronomers have a fair idea
of what havoc it may spawn. The likely strike zone would be near the
equator, but to the north of the current position of NASA's Opportunity
rover at Victoria Crater, NASA officials have said.
Mark Boslough, a collision dynamics expert at New Mexico's Sandia
National Laboratory, said the atmosphere at Mars' surface is similar to
that of Earth at an altitude of 12 miles (20 km). Some space rocks that
target Earth explode under the pressure created as they stream into our
atmosphere. But they tend not to explode until much below the 12-mile
"So this won't be an airburst," Boslough said. "It will either hit
the ground intact and make a single crater, or break up and generate a
cluster of craters."
The collision, were it to occur, could also create a visible dust
plume as ejecta is lofted high into the martian atmosphere, he said.
The resulting crater could reach more than a half-mile (0.8-km) in
diameter, or about the size of the Opportunity rover's Victoria home,
Boslough's break-up scenario is reminiscent of Comet
P/Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke into more than 20 fragments as it
neared Jupiter in 1994, then repeatedly pummeled the gas giant over the
course of six days. The resulting impact scars were visible to
telescopes on Earth, in orbit and NASA's Galileo probe, which was
circling Jupiter at the time of the collision.
Like Galileo at Jupiter, NASA's MRO probe and its High-Resolution
Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera would be in prime position for a
martian collision. With its ability to resolve objects three feet (one
meter) across, HiRISE as been billed as the most powerful camera ever
sent to study Mars.
"If the asteroid hits Mars, we'll get a great look at the crater
within a few days of impact," said HiRISE principal investigator Alfred
McEwen of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in
Ary Hermawan and Yuli Tri Suwarni
The Jakarta Post
Thu, 03 Jan 2008 09:33 EST
Gianyar, Bandung - Residents in Sukawati village in Gianyar regency,
around 20 kilometers north of Denpasar, reported the appearance of a
mysterious crater in the middle of a paddy field Wednesday.
The hole was allegedly caused by a falling meteorite fragment.
One meter wide and around 30 centimeters deep, the cavity has turned
into a large puddle in the heavy rains that have showered the area
since New Year's Eve.
Disregarding slippery paths leading to the site, hundreds of people
came to see the crater with their own eyes, and take photographs of it
with cameras and mobile phones.
"Residents heard an extremely loud gun-like explosion Tuesday
evening around 1 a.m. At the same time, a number of residents saw a
bright object falling from the sky," Made Tekek Arimbawa, a
neighborhood leader, told reporters.
The hole first noticed Tuesday morning by I Wayan Miasa, 60, the owner of the field.
Made said he ordered the owner to wait for an explanation from the authorities before using the field again.
"We don't know for sure what it is," he said.
Sukawati police chief Comr. Ida Bagus Bedanajati said pieces of rock were found in the alleged meteorite crater.
"The rocks we found resembled pumice but didn't float -- it sank in water," he said.
He said the impact had not altered the structure of the soil or killed any plants or animals in the surrounding area.
"There were no casualties or material losses. What we do next is wait for the experts," he said.
The police had secured the area with a police line.
Bali is home to many mystic beliefs where odd and supernatural occurrences like flying fire balls are not unheard of.
The Balinese describe the occurrences as niskala which refers to the world of "unseen" phenomena.
Bandung Flight and Space Institute sun and space researcher Thomas
Djamaludin said Wednesday he believed the unidentified object was a
He said he suspected a larger fragment had created the hole as it
was impossible for small fragments to create the loud noise heard by
The fragment would not cause radiation effects dangerous to humans, Djamaludin said.
Fragments were "only dangerous at the time of their explosive
impact, with a fallout of hot debris ... After that they are harmless,"
he said in Bandung.
Fri, 04 Jan 2008 08:34 EST
Mammoth fossils around the Yukon are offering
evidence that ancient meteor explosions may have wiped out entire
species there thousands of years ago, a California-based researcher
A team led by Richard Firestone, a nuclear scientist at the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., made the discovery
while testing thousands of samples of fossilized Alaskan mammoth ivory
from a suspected meteor impact that occurred about 13,000 years ago.
"You would see round circles with little holes in them," Firestone
told CBC News in an interview Thursday, referring to hundreds of
circular burn marks he saw on some mastadon tusks.
X-ray analysis showed tiny rock fragments deep inside those holes,
and metallurgical tests confirmed the fragments did come from meteors.
Firestone said he believes meteorites exploded over parts of
Beringia - the Ice Age-era region that includes parts of modern-day
Alaska, Yukon and Siberia - creating showers of fragments, or
"micrometeorites," that struck and killed many of the prehistoric
creatures that roamed the area.
Furthermore, Firestone's team uncovered a surprise: The sample tusks
dated back to about 35,000 years ago, meaning they were older than the
blast from 13,000 years ago that they were initially studying.
"It turns out that there was an impact event, probably a meteor,
that exploded over Alaska and probably over Siberia ... around that
time and embedded these particles into the tusks," he said.
"They probably came in under very high velocities, hundreds of
kilometres a second almost. It must have exploded and just embedded
these things in the tusks in large quantities, as many as 100 or more
in one tusk."
The small holes with meteorite fragments were found in about one out
of every 1,000 pieces of mastodon ivory pieces Firestone's team has
tested. They also found similar fragments in one Siberian bison skull
that appeared to have survived the blast, he said.
"In the bison skull, since that was bone, we could see renewed
growth around these particles after they had been impacted. So
presumably the bison - that particular individual, at least - survived
Now, Firestone is asking Yukoners for any mammoth fossil samples
they may have. He is asking anyone who has found fossilized bone or
ivory with circular discolorations to try and collect soil samples in
the area where they found the fossil, then contact him at the
"We think they came from your area around the Yukon somewhere," he
said. "So presumably [Yukoners] are going to be finding these things if
they look for them."
Firestone's findings were presented last month at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Times of India
Fri, 04 Jan 2008 14:35 EST
Washington: An asteroid that has a one in
20 chance of striking Mars on January 30, might just fly past, which
would probably make it target Earth at some point in future.
Designated 2007 WD5, the 160-foot wide asteroid was originally
identified as a possible risk to Earth, though later analysis showed
that it actually might be on a collision course with Mars.
According to a report in Discovery News, Donald Yeomans, a
planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
California, has said that the odds are that the asteroid is going to
fly right past Mars.
In the long run, that may not be good news for Earth, which could
find itself in the asteroid's path at some point in the future.
"Something of this size could take out a fairly large metropolitan
area," said Yeomans.
But unlike the 1908 Tunguska event, when a large asteroid exploded over central Siberia with the force of a large nuclear bomb, now there would be advance warning of a possible strike, as well as the tools and knowledge to divert the threat.
the information available, it is evident that we are not prepared nor
have the knowledge on how to divert such a thread. It was only this
last year that the mainstream media began even talking about the
possibility of a strike. Nope, no matter how reassuring the last
sentence of the article, it just ain't true folks!
Thu, 03 Jan 2008 16:17 EST
The most intense meteor shower of the year hits Earth tonight. If
the skies are clear and you live at high northern latitudes, then you
could see dozens of Quadrantid meteors streaking over the pole.
Or you might spot a plane full of astronomers racing northward,
trying to find out how this unusual meteor shower was created, and
whether it is the shrapnel of a celestial explosion witnessed in the
Like other meteor showers, the Quadrantids appear when Earth moves
through an interplanetary stream of debris, which hits the upper
atmosphere at more than 40 kilometres a second, vaporising to become
the brilliant trails we see as shooting stars.
"It is our strongest annual shower, but one that is frustratingly
difficult to observe," says Peter Jenniskens of NASA's Ames Research
Center in Moffett Field, California, US. That's partly because of bad
weather in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. And unless you
live in the far north, the shower's radiant - the point in the sky from
which the meteors appear to radiate - is below the horizon.
This year Jenniskens will be joining other astronomers on a plane
festooned with cameras, which will get above the clouds and fly from
Ames to the North Pole, keeping the Quadrantids in clear sight for 9
hours. By tracking the arrival rate of meteors over that time, they are
hoping to discover when this stream of meteoroids was born.
Some meteoroid streams are created and maintained by active comets,
which throw off bits of rock and soot as the Sun gradually evaporates
their ices. But there is no active comet to supply fresh material to
In fact, no parent body was known at all until 2003, when Jenniskens
discovered that there is an asteroid following the same orbit as the
stream. Jenniskens thinks that this object, 2003 EH1, is the remnant of
comet that spawned the Quadrantids in a single violent event - perhaps
an internal convulsion or an impact with another object.
Observers in China, Korea and Japan saw a comet in 1490 moving in
roughly the same path as the Quadrantids. Could it have been a cloud of
dust surrounding the newly shattered 2003 EH1?
If the meteoroid stream was created so recently, it will have had
little time to disperse, and indeed observations suggest that the
stream is narrow.
Jenniskens realised that Jupiter's gravity should deflect such a
narrow stream, and he calculates that this year it would push the
stream towards Earth. So if it really is narrow, we should hit it a few
hours earlier than if it is old, broad and undeflected.
If the shower was created in 1490, Jenniskens calculates it should
peak around 0200 GMT on Friday, making it ideal for European observers.
If it is much older and more spread out, it should remain relatively
unaffected by Jupiter's gravity, and the peak should occur around 0700
GMT - a good time for observers in North America.
For those of us stuck on the ground, viewing prospects are mixed.
The rate of visible meteors could be as high as 120 per hour - if you
happen to be standing on a mountaintop in Norway. If you're in southern
California, however, it drops to only 2 per hour. To see Jenniskens'
predictions for your location, visit the "Fluxtimator".
Comets and Asteroids - Learn more in our special report.
Mon, 07 Jan 2008 11:15 EST
Having recently written a review of New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection
by dendrochronologist Mike Baillie of Queen's University, Belfast,
Ireland, I decided to go deeper into the subject. Over the past few
weeks a whole case of books I ordered have been arriving and getting
piled on my desk after a quick thumb-through... so much to do, so
In the meantime, a friend of mine (who is a climate scientist at a
major U.S. research facility) turned me on to an interesting find, a
paper addressed to the European Office of Aerospace Research and
development, dated June 4, 1996, entitled: The Hazard to Civilization
from Fireballs and Comets by S.V.M. Clube. (For the uninitiated, Clube
is an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford).
In this short (4 pages) letter and summary statement, Clube writes (emphases in the original, make of them what you will):
Asteroids which pass close to the Earth have been fully recognized by mankind for only about 20 years. Previously, the idea that substantial unobserved objects might be close enough to be a potential hazard to the Earth was treated with as much derision as the unobserved aether.
Scientists of course are in business to establish broad principles (eg
relativity) and the Earth's supposedly uneventful, uniformitarian
environment was already very much in place. The result was that
scientists who paid more than lip service to objects close enough to
encounter the Earth did so in an atmosphere of barely disguised
contempt. Even now, it is difficult for laymen to appreciate the
enormity of the intellectual blow with which most of the Body
Scientific has recently been struck and from which it is now seeking to
I stopped right there and asked myself: Hmmm... just what
intellectual blow is he talking about here? After a bit of thought, it
occurred to me that he must be talking about the Comet Shoemaker-Levy
fragment impacts on Jupiter which produced a huge amount of excitement
at the time which was just two years before the date of this letter. To
return to Clube's report, he continues:
The present report, then, is concerned with those other celestial
bodies recorded by mankind since the dawn of civilization which either
miss or impinge upon the Earth and which have also been despised. Now
known respectively as comets (>1 kilometre in size) and meteoroids
That he immediately switched from asteroids to comets seems to
confirm my speculation that he was talking about Shoemaker-Levy. But it
gets more interesting:
Confronted on many occasions in the past by the prospect of
world-end, national elites have often found themselves having to
suppress public panic - only to discover, too late, that the usual
means of control commonly fail. Thus an institutionalized science is
expected to withhold knowledge of the threat; a self-regulated press is
expected to make light of any disaster; while an institutionalized
religion is expected to oppose predestination and to secure such
general belief in a fundamentally benevolent deity as can be mustered.
(B) The present report based on the above grant addresses a variety
of issues within the broad context of the hazard to civilization due to
fireballs and comets. It consists of:
(1) A brief statement of conclusions arising from a narrative report (3 copies);
(2) A narrative report (with appendix) linking the results of three
scientific studies described in papers submitted to mainstream journals
(3) The relevant papers detailing the results which arise through
the granted funds due to (a) Clube; (b) Clube & Napier; and (c)
Clube, Holye, Napier & Wickramasinghe (3 copies; and
(4) A co-authored foundation paper by Asher & Clube detailing the results from which items (3) and (2) progressed.
It is emphasized here that the present report expresses a viewpoint
which is contrary to the mainstream scientific theme currently
reinforced through various US agencies in the wake of recent major
findings under US leadership...
Despite the importance of this mainstream theme, it is recognized
here that the cometary signatures in the terrestrial record are
generally stronger than the asteroidal signatures in the case of both
long term and short term effects i.e. those affecting biological and
geological evolution on the one hand and mankind and civilization on
There are fundamental paradoxes to be assimilated as a result of
this unexpected situation. Thus the perceived culture of enterprise and
enlightenment which underpins the two centuries culminating with the
Space Age and which led mankind to spurn comets and fireballs may now
be seen as the prelude to a profound paradigm shift: the restoration of
an environmental outlook more in keeping with that which preceded
American Independence and which paid serious heed to comets and
Clube then thanks the USAF for "its generous and timely injection of
funds" and we note that the letter was cc'd to, among others, Edward
Teller at the Hoover Institute, S. Fred Singer at Fairfax VA, and Jack
A. Goldstone, Davis, CA.
The summary of conclusions accompanying this letter is equally
interesting, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. If you can't
wait, you can read a pdf here: The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets.
I should add that, yes, I obtained the whole report and the papers
it refers to (and more besides). The report makes one startling remark
that I'm going to drop just to whet your appetite:
...the Christian, Islamic and Judaic cultures have all moved since
the European Renaissance to adopt an unreasoning anti-apocalyptic
stance, apparently unaware of the burgeoning science of catastrophes.
History, it now seems, is repeating itself: it has taken the Space Age
to revive the Platonist voice of reason but it emerges this time within
a modern anti-fundamentalist, anti-apocalyptic tradition over which
governments may, as before, be unable to exercise control. ... Cynics
(or modern sophists), in other words, would say that we do not need the
celestial threat to disguise Cold War intentions; rather we need the
Cold War to disguise celestial intentions! (emphasis in the original)
Just think about what this might mean, considering when it was
written and all that has happened since. One might think the War on
Terror was actually a planned cover-up...
With that happy thought, have a look at this: Majesterium and the Tipping Point
Makes one wonder where the REAL hazard to civilization is coming from...
Tue, 08 Jan 2008 12:39 EST
Last week's Quadrantid meteor shower was probably debris from a
deep-space explosion that went off in the late 15th century, new
The meteors, which return every January, were observed more closely
than ever before when a group of 14 astronomers tracked them for nine
hours on a flight from California, US, to the North Pole.
They found that the shower peaked at around 0200 GMT on Friday, matching a prediction made by Peter Jenniskens of NASA.
He based his prediction on the theory that the shower originated in
1490, when observers in China, Japan and Korea saw a comet following a
path similar to that of the Quadrantids. Apparently a sudden event
caused the dormant comet to flare up - like Comet Holmes in October
2007 - leaving behind a stream of debris.
Jenniskens calculated that such a young stream should be narrow, and
thus easily deflected by Jupiter's gravity. That would make it arrive a
few hours earlier than if it were an older, more diffuse stream.
Friday's observations confirm the story. A closer analysis of the
new data might also give astronomers some clues about what caused the
The 1490 event left behind at least one larger remnant, a near-Earth asteroid called 2003 EH1.
Tue, 08 Jan 2008 09:51 EST
Today we are going to look at the Summary of Conclusions about Fireballs and Meteorites
that Victor Clube attached to his cover letter to the Chief, Physics
and BMD Coordinator of the European Office of Aerospace Research and
Development back in 1996, 5 years before September 11, 2001; that, and
a few other things.
I often get accused of "fear mongering" because I keep bringing this
subject up again and again. I even think that it is fascinating that
the big breakthrough in my experiment in Superluminal Communication
came on the day that the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy began
striking Jupiter - even at the very moment of the first impact - and
that this communication with "myself in the future" has focused so much
attention on the subject of swarms of comets and comet fragments that
repeatedly barrel through the solar system, wreaking havoc and bringing
death and destruction to earth. As a result of the research prompted by
this communication, I wrote an entire 800 page book that is woven
around the issue of cometary explosion type catastrophes that obviously
have occurred repeatedly throughout history: The Secret History of The World.
In the early days of publishing the results of this experiment, I
was nonplussed by the many attacks I came under from all quarters. I
was accused of "channeling aliens" (not true); of wanting to "start a
cult" (what is cultic about doing research into scientific subjects and
exposing religion for the fraud it is?) and so on. That sort of thing
really hurt and puzzled me at first, but I have now seen it for the
blessing it was: it has helped me to learn about the kinds of people
who are in charge of our world, the kind of people who want to keep
secrets so that they can hang onto power: the kind of people who create
such things as "The War on Terror" to conceal from the masses of
humanity the future that may very well bring our civilization to an
end; the kind of people who know that survival of cometary bombardment
is possible and who want to be the only ones who do survive, and to
hell with everyone else.
Mike Baillie, in his book about the Black Death, writes:
It is increasingly evident that intellectually the world is divided
into two. There are those who study the past, in the fields of history
and archaeology, and see no evidence for any human populations ever
having been affected by impacts from space. In diametric opposition to
this stance there are those who study the objects that come close to,
and sometimes collide with, this planet. Some serious members of this
latter group have no doubt whatsoever that there must have been
numerous devastating impacts in the last five millennia; the period of
human civilization. In a paper published in 2005, David Asher and
colleagues have looked at the objects that are known to have come close
to the earth in recent times. They conclude, based on various strands
of evidence (for example, the number of meteorites discovered on earth
that originated on the moon) that the average time between impacts on
earth is no more than 300 years, probably less. [Earth in the Cosmic Shooting Gallery]
Checking the authors Baillie is referring to, we find Bill Napier
listed. Napier is a colleague of Victor Clube. This brings us to
another division. There is a debate going on about this issue as was
mentioned by Clube in the first parts of the letter in question that I
quoted yesterday. He wrote:
It is emphasised here that the present report expresses a viewpoint which is contrary to the
mainstream scientific theme currently reinforced through various US
agencies in the wake of recent major findings under US leadership (eg
those of Luis Alvarez, Eugene Shoemaker, David Morrison etc. Despite
the importance of this mainstream theme, it is recognized here that the
cometary signatures in the terrestrial record are generally stronger
than the asteroidal signatures in the case of both long term and short
term effects ie those affecting biological and geological evolution on
the one hand and mankind and civilization on the other. The raison d'etre
behind this situation is a cometary input dominated in the long term by
objects > 100 kilometres in size which substantially break up in the
short term into objects < 1 kilometre in size, the "window" of
significance so far as the average interval between random impacts by
comets and asteroids in the intervening size range are concerned being
approximately 1- 10 million years. To concentrate, for planetary
defence purposes, on catastrophes which occur only within this
particularly narrow range of frequencies is patently absurd.
Clube's reference to the "mainstream scientific" ideas about comets
and asteroids and so on is only the tip of the iceberg in reference to
The debate is about asteroids vs. comets. Asteroids are solid bodies
of rock and there are about 1000 of them with diameters of 1 km or more
that cross the orbit of the earth. They are called "Apollo" or "earth
crossing" asteroids. The "American School" of astronomers believe that
these objects are the main threat to earth and humanity and they are
concerned with finding them, tracking them, and working out their
orbits. This school believes that if all these asteroids can be mapped,
and any "bad ones" dealt with, Earth will be safe for the foreseeable
future. Their estimates are that we only get hit with one of these
babies about every 100,000 years or so.
At this point in time, the American school of astronomers has
already found and tracked about 700 of the estimated 1000 such
asteroids and, so far, none of them are likely to hit the earth anytime
soon. By the end of 2008, they expect to have located 90% of these
Of course, they aren't talking about objects smaller than 1 km
because they are believed to pose much less risk even if they do smack
into the earth.
So it is that the "American School" believes that they can, over
time and with superior American technology, survey everything around us
and keep our space in space "under control."
What they are saying, as Baillie astutely points out is this: There
are objects that cross the path of the earth but they hardly ever hit
us (only about every 100,000 years), but they are going to make us safe
by finding any and all of them and devising methods to take out the
ones that MIGHT pose a threat at any point in the future. They assume,
of course, that if they figure out that any of them might be a threat
by mapping their orbits, they will have time to do this.
In "Asteroid Astronomer World" there have not been any serious
impacts in the last few thousand years, for sure, and they are going to
see to it that it stays that way!
How typically American! Don't you worry, little Lady, John Wayne and
his gang will circle the wagons and shoot up those redskins/outlaws!
It's obvious that Victor Clube is not a member of the American School.
The "Comet Hazard" school is British based and they think very differently from the American "mainstream" asteroid school.
Comets are said to be different from asteroids because they are made
up of water ice, frozen gas, organic materials, and odd bits of rock
and metal. The standard theory (which may need revision according to
those who advocate the electric universe theory) says that comets are
heated as they pass through the solar system and this causes
outgassing. It is then that we see them as bright objects with long
After a few circuits through the solar system, some comets "outgas"
completely and all that is left is a "very black lump" of any size,
typically at least a few kilometers in diameter. The reason a worn out
comet is so black is possibly due to the poly-aromatic-hydrocarbons
that are concentrated onto the comet's surface like a coating of tar.
Such objects, unlike asteroids, are very difficult to spot because they
do not reflect light.
Comets also leave trails of dust and debris in the inner solar
system and the Earth passes through such periodically. When this
happens, there are generally meteor showers which are really particles
of comets burning up in the atmosphere.
Comets can also break up in to smaller - but still sizable - chunks.
Now, imagine that in a trail of comet dust, there are also some
fairly large chunks of black, un-seeable, comet fragments. If you can't
see them, you can't do anything about them. And when they do "hit,"
they tend to burn up and/or explode violently in the atmosphere (eg
Tunguska event), so they don't leave long-lasting traces such as
craters for archaeologists to find and say "Yes, the fall of this
civilization was due to an assault from outer space." No, there is only
fire, death and destruction; sometimes total.
What all this means is that the comet problem does not submit itself to an efficient solution.
The Comet Hazard school scientists propose that the Tunguska event was due to a fragment of Comet Encke.
These scientists also now have the FACT of the fragments of Comet
Shoemaker-Levy hitting Jupiter in July of 1994 to illustrate the
problem we face. The Comet Hazard scientists also think, as mentioned
above, that impacts are a lot more frequent than many people suppose.
So, to sum it up: there are two very different schools that study
hazards from space. The Asteroid school says that there have been very
few impacts and the problem is solvable, and the Comet school says
there is evidence that there have been numerous impacts by comet debris
that have had profound effects on human civilizations, and will again,
probably very soon.
Okay, now let's take a look at Victor Clube's summary of the problem. He writes:
Asteroid strikes, though important, are not the most serious short-term risk to mankind or civilization
Every 5-10 generations or so, for about a generation, mankind is
subject to an increased risk of global insult through another kind of
This cosmic agency is a "Shoemaker-Levy type" train of cometary
debris resulting in sequences of terrestrial encounters with sub-km
While the resulting risk is ~ 10%, the global insults take the form
of (a) multiple multi-megaton bombardment, (b) climatic deterioration
through stratospheric dust-loading, not excluding ice-age, and (c)
consequent uncontrolled disease/plague.
The sequence of events affecting involved generations is potentially
debilitating because, whether or not the risk is realised, civilization
commonly undergoes violent transitions eg revolution, migration and
Subsequently perceived as pointless, such transitions are commonly
an embarrassment to national elites even to the extent that historical
and astronomical evidence of the risk are abominated and suppressed.
Upon revival of the risk, however, such "enlightenment" becomes an
inducement to violent transition since historical and astronomical
evidence are then in demand.
Such change and change about in addition to the insult is evidently
self-defeating and calls for a procedure to eliminate the risk.
Our technological ability to counter (a) multiple multi-megaton
bombardment and (b) stratospheric dust-loading should therefore be
The very short lead-time commonly associated with the detection of
sum-km meteoroids approaching the Earth implies countering procedures
which differ from those associated with catalogued km-plus asteroids
So, the question is: if there is even a 10 % chance that we are
facing a Shoemaker-Levy type event, why isn't anybody doing anything
Well... maybe they are. Maybe all this War on Terror business and
getting control of resources is, at its root, the psychopath's way of
handling a threat to their survival. Maybe it isn't the "Twilight of the Psychopaths" as Kevin Barrett might like to think... but the Twilight of Humanity; if we don't wake up.
Space rock risk underreported, researchers argue
Tue, 21 Mar 2006 10:29 EST
A small but growing number of astronomers are arguing that the risks
of comets or meteors hitting Earth are much higher than past estimates
Some of these objects may be going unnoticed in space, the
researchers say, and scientists may need to begin new studies tailored
to finding them.
But advocates of the earlier estimates are shooting back that the evidence doesn't warrant revising the figures drastically.
The traditional estimates, based on sky surveys and other techniques, vary.
But in general, they conflict with the number of objects actually
found to have visited Earth's neighborhood, according to David J. Asher
of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland and three colleagues.
These numbers may provide better estimates, they wrote in the
October issue of the research journal Observatory, because they
"represent observational 'ground truth' so far as impact statistics are
To re-estimate risks from these limited data, the team made a simple - but to some critics, questionable - assumption.
Basically, if a given type of object struck once in the past two
centuries, they assumed it hits once every two centuries on average. A
somewhat longer, but essentially similar calculation translated known
near-misses into impact probabilities.
They analyzed in this way three well-studied types of object either
seen to have passed near Earth or believed to have hit recently. They
also took into account other flybys whose occurrence they deduced from
Their revised estimates in the Observatory paper were as follows:
* Impacts greater than 10 megatons (about 500 Hiroshima bombs),
like a 1908 explosion in remote Siberia widely attributed to a space
object, would occur at least every 300 years. That's almost tenfold the
rate generally accepted estimates suggest. The blast in Tunguska,
Siberia, felled an estimated 60 million trees.
* Strikes of a hundredfold greater destructive energy or more would
happen every 3,000 years or so, more than 10 times as often as
* Objects known as active comets packing a 100-million-megaton
punch - an event like what may have killed off the dinosaurs along with
more than half the Earth's other species - would strike once every few
tens of millions of years. That's about 100 times more often than a
conventional figure of every 3 billion years. The team didn't present
revised estimates for another class of comets, inactive comets, thought
to hit every 150 million years or so.
"We're not trying to make a precise estimate," Asher said. "We're
trying to point out that if you accept all the current estimates, then
the three or four single objects we've mentioned," these together don't
fit prevailing views.
The work was in part a follow-up on earlier findings by researchers
at Cardiff University in Cardiff, U.K., one of whom also co-authored
the Observatory paper.
The earlier study, which appeared in the Nov. 2004 issue of the
research journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,
proposed that most potentially dangerous comets are unseen because
they're too dark.
But some astronomers are skeptical of all this.
Donald K. Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif., wrote in an email that Asher's team employed what he called
"the statistics of one," the unreliable practice of drawing statistical
conclusions from one object.
Asher countered that although he sometimes used one object to
represent a class of objects, he repeated this for several different
classes, with similar results. "It seems to be stretching the
imagination to say they're all just coincidences," he said.
Yeomans, lead author of a major 2003 NASA report on the impact
risks, also said any dark "stealth comets" would emit strong infrared
light, a type of light invisible to the eye. Past space surveys would
have detected this, he added. Asher said those surveys haven't been
extensive enough, and wider ones may be warranted.
In any case, Yeomans said, not all past assessments have been as
rosy as the ones Asher's team criticized. His own report, Yeomans
argued, contains numbers that aren't as far from those of Asher as
other papers are.
Asher conceded at least one point: his study doesn't explain just why all these objects would be going unseen.
Yeomans argued that all known comets have nearly the same
reflectivity, which largely determines their brightness, and that these
data contradict the dark comet proposal. Asher acknowledged the lack of
known dark comets is puzzling in the context of his study, but
suggested something else may explain why objects are going unseen.
One possibility is that they're breaking up into smaller,
less-noticeable pieces, he added. Either way, he wrote in an email,
"there remain unsettling discrepancies in our understanding of these
D.J. Asher, M. Bailey, V. Emel'yanenko, B. Napier, 2005. Earth in the Cosmic Shooting Gallery. Observatory, 125, 319-322.
Ray Newburn, Jr., Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Astronomical Society of the Pacific: 'Universe in the Classroom' Issue No. 27 - Spring 1994
Tue, 01 Mar 1994 12:49 EST
These clouds may provide the clearest indication of the impact locations after each event.
Large regular fluctuations of atmospheric temperature and pressure
will be created by the shock front of each entering fragment and travel
outward from the impact sites, somewhat analogous to the ripples
created when a pebble is tossed into a pond. These may be observable
near layers of existing clouds in the same way that regular cloud
patterns are seen on the leeward side of the mountains. Jupiter's
atmosphere will be sequentially raised and lowered. creating a pattern
of alternating cloudy areas where ammonia gas freezes into particles
(the same way that water condenses into cloud droplets in our own
atmosphere) and clear areas where the ice particles warm up and
evaporate back into the gas phase.
Whether or not these "wave'' clouds appear, the ripples spreading
from the impact sites will produce a wave structure in the temperature
at a given level that may be observable in infrared (or thermal) maps.
In addition there should be compression waves, alternate compression
and rarefaction in the atmospheric pressure, which could reflect and
refract within the deeper atmosphere, much as seismic waves reflect and
refract due to density changes inside Earth.
The phenomena directly associated with each impact from entry trail
to rising fireball will last perhaps three minutes. The fallback of
ejecta over a radius of a few thousand kilometers will last for about
three hours. Seismic waves from each impact might be detectable for a
day, and atmospheric waves for several days. Vortices and atmospheric
hazes could conceivably persist for weeks. New material injected into
the Jovian ring system might be detectable for years. Changes in the
magnetosphere (Jupiter's magnetic field is much stronger than that of
Earth and affects an area of space tens of millions of kilometers from
the planet) and/or the Io torus (particles ejected from Io's volcanoes
are ionized and trapped by Jupiter's magnetic field into a donut-shaped
torus completely circling the planet) caused by the sudden influx of
large amounts of cometary dust might also persist for some weeks or
months. There is the potential to keep planetary observers busy for a
What observations are astronomers planning?
Many large telescopes will be available on Earth with which to
observe the phenomena associated with the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts on
Jupiter in visible, infrared, and radio wavelengths. Apart from the
obvious difficulty that the impacts will occur on the back side of
Jupiter as seen from Earth, the biggest problem is that Jupiter in July
can only be observed usefully for about two hours per night from any
given northern hemisphere site. Earlier the sky is still too bright and
later the planet is too close to the horizon. Therefore, to keep
Jupiter under continuous surveillance would require a dozen
observatories equally spaced in longitude around the globe. A dozen
observatories is feasible, but equal spacing is not. There will be gaps
in the coverage, notably in the Pacific Ocean, where Mauna Kea, Hawaii,
is the only astronomical bastion. In the southern hemisphere Jupiter
can be observed for longer periods of time for example, at 30 degrees
south latitude it will be visible for five hours. but only Australia
and Chile offer major observing facilities and it will be mid-winter
There are at least four spacecraft -- Galileo, Ulysses, Voyager 2, and Clementine
-- with some potential to observe the Jovian impacts from different
vantage points than that of Earth. There is also the Hubble Space
Telescope (HST) in orbit around Earth, which will view the event with
essentially the same geometry as any Earth-based telescope. HST.
however, has the advantage of' no atmospheric turbulence, very low
scattered light, ultraviolet sensitivity, and the ability to observe
much more than two hours each day. HST is scheduled to devote
considerable time to the observation of Shoemaker-Levy 9 before as well
as during the impacts.
The Galileo spacecraft has the best vantage point from
which to observe the impacts. It is on its way to Jupiter and will be
only 246 million kilometers away from the planet, less than a third the
distance of Earth from Jupiter at the time. All of the impacts will
occur directly in the field of view of its high resolution camera. In
addition, instruments that study infrared and ultraviolet light will
most likely be used.
Using Galileo to make observations will be challenging
however. The amount of data the spacecraft can transmit back to Earth
is limited by the capability of its low-gain antenna (the spacecraft's
high-gain antenna, which could have transmitted large amounts of data
in short periods of time, failed after launch and the time available on
the receiving antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network here on Earth. A
lot of data frames can be stored in the Galileo tape
recorder, but only about 5 percent of them can be transmitted back to
Earth. so the trick will be to decide which 5 percent of the data are
most likely to include the impacts and have the greatest scientific
value, without being able to look at any of them first! After the fact,
the impact times should be known quite accurately. This knowledge can
help to make the decisions about which data to return to Earth.
|The impact site of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter.|
The Ulysses spacecraft was designed for solar study and
used a "gravity assist'' for flying close to Jupiter to change its
inclination (the tilt of its path relative to the plane of the planets)
so it can fly over the poles of the Sun. In July 1994 it will be about
378 million kilometers south of the plane of the planets (the ecliptic)
and able to "look'' over the south pole of Jupiter directly at the
impact sites. Unfortunately, Ulysses has no camera as a part
of its instrument complement. It does have an extremely sensitive radio
receiver that may be able to detect thermal radiation from the impact
fireballs once they rise sufficiently high above interference from the
Jovian ionosphere (upper atmosphere) and to measure a precise time
history of their rapid cooling.
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is now far beyond Neptune and is
about 6.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. It can look directly back at
the dark side of Jupiter, but the whole of Jupiter is now only two
picture elements in diameter as seen by its high resolution camera, if
that instrument were to be used. In fact the camera has shut down for
several years, and the engineers who knew how to control it have new
jobs or are retired. It would be very expensive to take the camera "out
of mothballs'' and probably of limited scientific value. Voyager does have an ultraviolet spectrometer which is still taking data, and it will probably be used to observe the impact.
A new small spacecraft called Clementine was launched on Jan. 25 of this year, intended to orbit the Moon and then proceed on to study the asteroid Geographos. Clementine
has good imaging capabilities, but its viewpoint will not be much
different from Earth's. Still. it seems probable that attempts will be
made to observe "blips'' of light on the edge of Jupiter from the
entering fragments or subsequent fireballs.
Stupendous as these collisions will be, they will occur on the far
side of a planet half a million miles from Earth. There will be no
display visible to the general public. Amateur astronomers may note a
few seconds of brightening of the inner satellites of Jupiter during
the impacts, and they might observe minor changes in the Jovian cloud
structure during the days following the impacts. In the best of cases,
these events will be spectacles for the mind to imagine and big
telescopes to observe, not a free fireworks display. The real value of
this most unusual event will come from scientific studies of the
comet's composition. of the impact phenomena themselves, and of the
response of a planetary atmosphere to such a series of "insults.''
Atmospheric phenomena on this scale cannot be reproduced, even by
nuclear fusion explosions, and have never before been observed.
Sixty-five million years ago the Earth was struck by a large asteroid
or comet, an event which may have hastened the extinction of the
dinosaurs. Better knowledge of the effects of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on
Jupiter may allow scientists to predict more accurately just how
serious could be the results of future impacts of various-sized bodies
Energy Comparisons & Power Comparisons
|Event||Energy in Joules||Energy Relative|
|Two 3,500-lb. cars colliding head-on at 55 mph||9.6 X 105||1|
|Explosion of 1 U.S. ton of TNT||4.2 X 109||4,271|
|Explosion of a 20-megaton fusion bomb||8.4 X 1016||87,500,000,000|
|Total U.S. annual electric power production, 1990||1 X 1019||10,400,000,000,000|
|Energy released in last second of 1013-kg fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9||9 X 1021||9,375,000,000,000,000|
|Total energy released by 1013-kg fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9||1.8 X 1022||18,750,000,000,000,000|
|Total sunlight on Jupiter for one day||6.6 X 1022||68,750,000,000,000,000|
|+ Note: 1 BTU = 252 (small) calories = 1,055 Joules = 2.93 X 104 kWh.|
|Power Producer||Power in Megawatts||Power Relative|
|Grand Coulee Dam, final plant||9,700||7.2|
|Annual average, sum of all U.S. power plants||320,000||238|
|Average, impact of 1013-kg fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, final second||9 X 1015||6,700,000,000,000|
|Sun||3.8 X 1020||280,000,000,000,000,000|
|+ Note: 1 horsepower = 745.7 W = 7.457 X 104 Megawatts (MW)|
© 1994, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112.
Comet Shoemaker-Levy Home Page
Tue, 14 Mar 2000 13:33 EST
From July 16 through July 22, 1994, pieces of an object designated
as Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter. This is the first
collision of two solar system bodies ever to be observed, and the
effects of the comet impacts on Jupiter's atmosphere have been simply
spectacular and beyond expectations. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 consisted
of at least 21 discernable fragments with diameters estimated at up to
News Flash (Last Updated March 14, 2000)
* NASA Renames NEAR Spacecraft For Planetary Science Pioneer Gene Shoemaker (NASA - March 14, 2000)
* New CDROMs With Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Data Available (Goddard Space Flight Center - July 29, 1999)
* Moon Burial For Eugene Shoemaker (BBC News - July 28, 1999)
* Eugene Shoemaker Ashes Carried on Lunar Prospector (University of Arizona - January 7, 1998)
* Eugene Shoemaker (1928-1997) (Brian Marsden - July 18, 1997)
* Chain of Impact Craters Suggested by Spaceborne Radar Images (NASA - March 20, 1996).
* Comet SL9 Home Page Tops 7 Million Accesses (March 1, 1996).
* Hubble Observes Comet SL9 Effects on Jupiter (February 22-23, 1996).
* Pic du Midi Images of Jupiter (February 3, 1996).
* New Galileo Jupiter Animations Available (JPL - February 2, 1996).
* Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Splits Again (Sky & Telescope - February 2, 1996).
* Galileo Probe Science Results (NASA - January 22, 1996).
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, torn into pieces as a result of a close
approach to Jupiter in July 1992, will collide with Jupiter during the
third week of July 1994. Of tremendous scientific importance, the
impacts of the cometary fragments will release more energy into
Jupiter's atmosphere than that of the world's combined nuclear
arsenals. Because the impacts will occur on the night side of Jupiter,
the explosions will not be directly observable from Earth. However,
professional and amateur astronomers may observe the impact light
flashes reflected off the inner satellites of Jupiter. Any lasting
effects on Jupiter, such as atmospheric clouds, ejecta plumes, or
seismic thermal disturbances, may be observable an hour or so later
when the rotation of Jupiter brings the impact sites into Earth's view.
Analysis of high-resolution images of the comet taken by the NASA's
Hubble Space Telescope in July 1993 suggests that the major cometary
fragments range in size from one to a few kilometers. The large
fragments are embedded in a cloud of debris with material ranging in
size from boulder-sized to microscopic particles. Although comet-like
outgassing of the fragments has not been observed, the fragile nature
of the object suggests that it is indeed a comet rather than a more
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was the ninth short-periodic comet discovered
by Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy. It was first detected
on a photograph taken on the night of March 24, 1993 with the 0.4-meter
Schmidt telescope on Palomar Mountain in California. Subsequent
observations were forthcoming from observers at the University of
Hawaii, the Spacewatch telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona and McDonald
Observatory in Texas. These observations were used to demonstrate that
the comet was in orbit about Jupiter, and had made a very close
approach (within 1.4 Jupiter radii from Jupiter's center) on July 7,
1992. During this close approach, the unequal Jupiter gravitational
attractions on the comet's near and far sides broke apart the fragile
object. The disruption of a comet into multiple fragments is an unusual
event, the capture of a comet into an orbit about Jupiter is even more
unusual, and the collision of a large comet with a planet is an
extraordinary, millennial event.
This page lists a series of articles on the preliminary conclusions
that have been drawn so far on the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision
* Report of the Near-Earth Objects Survey Working Group (June 1995).
* A Comet's Fiery Dance at Jupiter (Galileo Messenger - May 1995).
* Abstracts from IAU Colloquium 156 (May 1995).
* Summary of European SL-9/Jupiter Workshop (Postcript file only) (ESO - February 1995).
* Talk given by Amara Graps at the MacWorld Expo in January 1995.
* The Brilliant Death of Comet SL9 (JPL - December 1994).
* Update on SL9/Jupiter Collision (Richard West - December 15, 1994).
* Galileo Comet SL9 Observations (JPL - October 31, 1994).
* Summary of Comet Day Poster Session (Mark Boslough - October 1994)
* The Great Dark Spots of Jupiter (Sky & Telescope - November 1994).
* Hubble Observations Shed New Light on Jupiter Collision (NASA - September 29, 1994).
* ESO Messenger Article (September 1994).
* http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/uni1.html (JPL - July 29, 1994).
Images, Images, Images (1444 Images, 64 Observatories)
Comet Shoemaker-Levy Impact Times
* Impact Times for SL9 (Chodas & Yeomans - March 18, 1995).
* Impact Times for SL9 (Calar Alto - October 25, 1994).
* Post-Crash Impact Times for SL9 (Chodas & Yeomans - August 5, 1994).
* Lastest Table of Impact Times for the remaining comet fragments from Chodas, Yeomans (July 20, 1994).
* Predicted Impact Times of the Lost Fragments (July 11, 1994)
* Best Viewing Locations for the Impacts (June 25, 1994)
* Earth Facing Views of Each Impact.
* Likelihood of Fireball Visibility.
Spacecraft Observations of the Impacts
Ground Based Observations
* Jet Propulsion Laboratory
* Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory
* Comet Impact Network Experiment
* Deep Space Network
* European Southern Observatory
* Griffith Observatory
* Infrared Telescope Facility
* IUE Observatory.
* Keck Telescope
* Kitt Peak National Observatory
* Kuiper Airborne Observatory
* Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
* Lick and Leuschner Observatories
* Lowell Observatory
* McDonald Observatory
* Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories
* Mt. Wilson Observatory
* National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Very Large Array (VLA)
* National Solar Observatory
* Owens Valley Radio Observatory
* Project BAMBI Amateur Radio Telescope
* South Africa Astronomical Observatory
* Space Telescope Science Institude (STScI)
* University of Hawaii
* University of Oregon
* University of Rochester
* Whately Observatory
Links to Other Comet Shoemaker-Levy Home Pages
* Comet/Jupiter Collision Frequently Asked Questions Home Page (Texas A&M).
* Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Bulletin Board (University of Maryland).
* Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Collision with Jupiter Home Page (GSFC).
* EUVE/Comet Shoemaker-Levy Home Page (University of California, Berkeley).
* Computer Simulations of the Jupiter-Comet Collision (MIT).
* Shoemaker-Levy9/Jupiter Collision (European Southern Observatory).
* Comet Shoemaker-Levy Home Page (Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center).
Please direct questions and comments about this page to Ron Baalke
Fri, 04 Jan 2008 12:53 EST
As we kick off the year 2008, Comet Tuttle is putting on a nice show
for backyard skywatchers. It had not been seen since 1994, but you'll
have an excellent opportunity to pick it up with binoculars or small
telescopes during the next two weeks.
Tuttle can even be glimpsed by sharp-eyed observers under pristine
skies without any optical aids, for it is one of the brightest of the
short-period comets, those that orbit the sun often enough to be seen
again and again from Earth and identified as such.
And speaking of short-period comets, Comet Holmes continues to
delight observers more than two months after its stupendous explosion
to naked-eye visibility.
As we all know, Halley's was the first comet-to be recognized as
periodic, but it had been seen on many previous returns before Edmund
Halley announced that fact in the year 1705. Similarly, although
Encke's comet was discovered in 1786, it was observed on three more
returns before Johann Franz Encke determined that it had an orbital
period of 3.3-years.
The object that we today call Comet Tuttle had a similar history.
On Jan. 9, 1790, the renowned Parisian comet hunter Pierre Méchain
discovered a fairly bright telescopic comet in the western evening sky.
His friend and rival Charles Messier described it on the following
night as resembling an unresolved star cluster or nebula without a
nucleus. It was followed for just over three weeks; just not enough
time for a sufficient number of observations to determine an accurate
Astronomers assumed that the object was traveling in a parabolic
orbit and would never be seen again, and entered the literature simply
as "Comet 1790 II." It wasn't to be seen again for nearly 70-years.
Horace P. Tuttle, an assistant at Harvard College Observatory,
discovered three comets by telescope during the year 1858. Tuttle found
the first of them on Jan. 4 in the constellation Andromeda. Still
approaching the perihelion point of its orbit (its least distance from
the sun), the comet was favorably placed relative to the Earth, and
this made possible a long series of positional measurements.
Comet Tuttle was brightest during February at about magnitude 7,
meaning it was just below the threshold of naked eye visibility, though
a relatively easy object to see with binoculars or a small telescope.
Tuttle himself was among the first to suggest that his object was
identical with Comet 1790 II. A 13.7-year period was proposed by
several astronomers, and it soon became clear that Comet Tuttle of 1858
had been missed at four intervening apparitions. At three of those
returns (1803, 1817, and 1844) it was too close to the sun in the sky
to be seen, while conversely, in 1830 it should have been an easy
object in the morning sky but was somehow missed.
Comet Tuttle became the eighth comet to be recognized as a periodic object hence it is now designated as 8P/Tuttle.
The perihelion distance of 8P/Tuttle places it just outside of the
Earth's orbit at 95.5 million miles (153.6 million kilometers). Also,
around Dec. 22 of each year the Earth passes through the dusty trail
left behind by the comet from its previous visits. This encounter gives
rise to an annual display of meteors known as the Ursids, which appear
to diverge from near the bright star Kochab in the bowl of the Little
Because 8P/Tuttle was observed at each return following its 1858
rediscovery except in 1953, this time around will go down in the record
books as its 12th observed apparition. And as it turns out, this
apparition will be among its very best.
Where and when to look
On New Year's Day, 8P/Tuttle passed closest to Earth; a distance of
23.5 million miles (37.8 million kilometers). Although it is now slowly
moving away from the Earth, it will continue to slowly approach the
sun, passing closest to it on Jan. 27. Comets are most visible when
they near the sun, which lights up material that boils off the comet.
So, during these next two weeks, the comet will hold nearly steady
in brightness at around magnitude 6. For those blessed with clear, dark
skies far from significant light pollution, the comet might be even
glimpsed with the unaided eye. But good binoculars or a small telescope
will easily bring 8P/Tuttle into view if you know where to train them;
it should appear as a small fuzzy star possibly sporting a faint,
The comet will be situated against the rather dim stars that compose
the so-called "watery region" of the sky, passing through eastern
Pisces (the fishes) into Cetus (the whale) during the night of Jan.
6-7. On that night, it will lie not far to the west from one of the
brightest stars in Pisces: fourth magnitude, Al Rischa, located at the
point where the two fish are tied. In fact, the name comes from the
Arabic word for "cord."
For the next couple of weeks both Pisces and Cetus can be
conveniently found well up in the southern sky between 6 to 8 p.m.
local standard time.
Comet 8P/Tuttle will appear to skid south in its orbit against the
background stars of these two constellations. After moving through
Cetus, 8P/Tuttle will pass into the dim, shapeless constellation of
Fornax (the furnace) on Jan. 16. It will continue to plunge south
thereafter, gradually becoming unfavorably placed for viewers in the
Northern Hemisphere, although those living south of the equator will be
able to follow the now fading comet right on into February.
A reminder about Comet Holmes!
While the spotlight is now on Comet Tuttle, we should not forget
about our old friend, Comet Holmes which continues to be dimly visible
to the unaided eye as a diffuse, circular cloud, roughly twice the
apparent diameter of the moon against the stars of the constellation
This comet was no brighter than magnitude 17 in mid-October - that's
about 25,000 times fainter than the faintest star that can normally be
seen without any optical aid. But late on Oct. 23, the comet's
brightness suddenly rocketed all the way up to magnitude 2.5,
brightening nearly one million times in less than 24 hours!
In attempting to explain why Comet Holmes exploded, comet expert,
John Bortle suggested that this comet's nucleus consists of low-density
material that, over time developed into a large region with a very
tenuous structure, like a honeycomb. At some point, the highly fragile
bonds connecting the honeycomb of material reached a failing point and
a sudden crushing collapse occurred, expelling a gigantic volume of
dust into space, making this dim comet suddenly appear impressively
Back in 1892, Comet Holmes suffered two major outbursts separated by
about 75 days. This leads to the question as to whether this comet will
undergo a similar "cosmic aftershock" in the wake of its recent late
Bortle thinks it's a possibility, based on the theory that there may
be a large amount of residual instability which might lead to a second
major collapse of material on the comet nucleus. If what happens now
parallels what happened in 1892, another possible explosive outburst
may be imminent, so it might be wise to keep a close watch on Comet
Holmes in the coming days ahead.
Sat, 05 Jan 2008 13:31 EST
"Mysteries are due to secrecy."
On December 24, 2007, the website Space.com published a report entitled, "The Enduring Mysteries of Comets."
The premise is intriguing, since it is rare for science media to
acknowledge that "mysteries" of any real significance exist for
conventional theories. Unfortunately, the report mentions few of the
recent discoveries that have thrown the popular "dirty snowball" model
of comets into disarray.
"We have now had four close encounters with comets, and every one of
them has thrown astronomers onto their back foot." -Stuart Clark, New Scientist, September 09, 2005.
The Space.com article begins with the statement, "For
millennia, comets were believed to be omens of doom." This itself is a
profound anomaly left unanswered by mainstream theorists, but the
author makes no inquiry into why this is so. Instead, his next sentence
reveals that the veil of discredited theories distorting scientists'
view of comets has yet to be lifted. "...Solving the mysteries
regarding these 'dirty snowballs' could help reveal the part they
played in the birth of life on Earth, as well as secrets concerning the
rest of the galaxy." But as we shall see as we continue, one can only
hold to the idea of comets as "dirty snowballs" by ignoring all of the
recent revelations about comets.
The first item asks, "Did comets help create Earth's seas?" The
report reads: "For years scientists thought comets slamming against the
newborn Earth helped deliver water to a once dry planet. But roughly a
decade ago this view was shaken by the discovery that the water in
comets and Earth's oceans did not match up in terms of hydrogen
But the mainstream is not yet ready to abandon the notion of
primordial comets dumping copious amounts of water onto Earth. The
article continues: "In the last two years, however, researchers have
discovered comets in the outer part of the asteroid belt. These
'main-belt comets' may have the right levels of hydrogen isotopes, and
are perhaps close enough to Earth to have realistically brought us the
seas that life emerged from."
In the minds of Electric Universe proponents, most cometologists
have a distorted view of cometary water/ice. Cometary comas often exude
an abundance of what scientists interpret as "water." In fact, what
they measure as "water" is the hydroxyl radical OH, the most abundant
cometary radical, which they assume is formed by the breakdown of water
from solar UV radiation. It is this radical's presence that leads to
their estimates of the amount of water ice sublimating from the comet
Electrical theorist Wallace Thornhill offers a different
interpretation, consistent with the surprising discoveries of recent
years. He notes that space probes have detected the negatively charged
oxygen atom, or negative oxygen ion, close to cometary nuclei.
Additionally, spectral analysis of neutral oxygen (O) shows a
'forbidden line' indicative of the presence of an 'intense' electric
field. Negative ions near a comet nucleus puzzled investigators because
such ions are easily destroyed by solar radiation. Thus, investigators
reviewing the findings at comet Halley noted, "an efficient production
mechanism, so far unidentified, is required to account for the observed
densities" of negative ions.
As stated by Thornhill,
"...the intense electric field near the comet nucleus is inexplicable
if it is merely an inert body plowing through the solar wind." But the
electric model resolves the mysteries: "The electric field near the
comet nucleus is expected if a comet is a highly negatively charged
body, relative to the solar wind. Cathode sputtering of the comet
nucleus will strip atoms and molecules directly from solid rock and
charge them negatively. So the presence of negative oxygen and other
ions close to the comet nucleus is to be expected. Negative oxygen ions
will be accelerated away from the comet in the cathode jets and combine
with protons from the solar wind to form the observed OH radical at
some distance from the nucleus."
If Thornhill is correct, the OH does not require water ice on, or
in, the comet. Though it would be irrational to categorically exclude
the possibility of ice, our probes have revealed scorched surfaces
looking more like burnt rocks than "dirty snowballs." They are, in
fact, barely distinguishable from ice-free asteroids.
The Space.com report continues with questions about the
origins of comets -- "Where do they come from?," and "Secrets regarding
the birth of the solar system?" Astronomers have long told us that
comets were born in the theoretical "Oort cloud," about 4.6 trillion
miles from the Sun. Until fairly recently it was as simple as that. But
a few years ago, cometologists began to adjust the theory, postulating
that only long-period comets were born in an ultra-remote cloud.
Scientists have not reached a consensus on where they think
short-period comets originate. "Maybe there are other reservoirs of
comets yet to be discovered," says astrophysicist David Jewitt.
Proponents of standard theory have long claimed comets are "Rosetta
stones" that can help us decipher the origins of the solar system. But
the notion was dealt a devastating blow by the findings of NASA's
Stardust Mission. The tiny fragments of comet dust that the mission
brought back to Earth did not accrete in the cold of space, but were
formed under "astonishingly" high temperatures. Mineral inclusions
ranged from anorthite, which is made up of calcium, sodium, aluminum
and silicate, to diopside, made of calcium, magnesium and silicate.
Formations of such minerals requires temperatures of thousands of
NASA curator Michael Zolensky said, "That's a big surprise. People
thought comets would just be cold stuff that formed out ... where
things are very cold....It was kind of a shock to not just find one but
several of these, which implies they are pretty common in the comet."
Researchers were forced to conclude that the enigmatic particle
material formed at a superheated region either close to our Sun, or
close to an alien star. "In the coldest part of the solar system we've
found samples that formed at extremely high temperatures," said Donald
Brownlee, Stardust's principal investigator. "When these minerals
formed they were either red hot or white hot grains, and yet they were
collected in a comet, the Siberia of the Solar System."
Some scientists speculated that perhaps something occurred in or
very near the Sun in its formative phase, flinging immense quantities
of material out to the periphery of the Sun's domain (far, far beyond
the orbit of Pluto), all the way to the Oort cloud. Then the
researchers reminded themselves that this would produce a mixing and
contradict the zoning that is evident in the asteroid belt. "If this
mixing is occurring, as suggested by these results, then how do you
preserve any kind of zoning in the solar system," Zolenksy asked. "It
raises more mysteries."
But today, a new report states, quite unequivocally, that parts of Wild 2 formed in an area close to the Sun. The spacedaily.com site writes: "The X-ray and isotopic analyses point to gas acquisition in a hot, high-ion flux nebular environment close to the young sun."
The startling bottom-line is that comet scientists cannot give us
any reliable story of comet formation. And the glaring contradictions
are barely acknowledged, if at all. The "mysteries" of the Stardust
mission -- which are not mysterious under an electrical model of comets
-- are not even mentioned in the Space.com report. Obviously,
the question of comets' origins is profoundly affected by the discovery
of abundant minerals that only form under super-hot temperatures.
The Electric Universe puts forth a very different hypothesis on the
origins of both comets and asteroids. In an epoch of planetary
instability in our solar system, many planets and moons, moving through
the electric field of the Sun and immersed in an electrically dynamic
environment, experienced electrical interactions with one another.
Electric arcs shattered small moons and raked across planetary
surfaces, producing the most dramatic scarring features we see on
planetary bodies. These electrical scars include Valles Marineris, the
stupendous chasm that stretches more than 3000 miles across the Martian
surface. In this view the comets and asteroids we observe are leftovers
from these violent electric discharge events. And the composition of
comets is from the same material that planets and moons were formed.
In fact, this vision of the electrical theorists explains the next "mystery" in the Space.com
piece, "Why are comets so close to the Sun?" The report reads, "The
main-belt comets are themselves a mystery. Until their discovery,
researchers had largely supposed no comets could have lasted that close
to the sun without getting baked away after a few centuries or
millennia." But then again, if the electrical theorists are correct,
comets have not been around for billions of years, not even millions of
years. They are the residue of catastrophe in the recent history of the
The Space.com story concludes by attempting to answer the
question of speculative "Interstellar comets." It reads: "As our solar
system formed, calculations predict the gravitational pull of the
planets would have scattered 90 to 99 percent of all comets that once
orbited the sun away toward the stars, never to be seen again. 'If
every star does that, you would expect some of their comets to come
toward us, but no such object has ever been seen,' Jewitt said."
This admission only reinforces the failure of the standard model,
confirming that virtually nothing discovered in recent decades has
matched theoretical expectations. But in electrical terms, the idea of
comets wandering interstellar space was never a viable concept. If
comets are the remnants of electrical discharge activity within the
solar system, then their short-term and long-term orbits are the
results we should expect.
Space.com considers the above mysteries to be the greatest
puzzles for conventional comet theory. We can only urge them to more
carefully consider the following comet discoveries, none of which are
expected by a "dirty snowball" model, but which are both explicable and
predictable by the electrical one:
Supersonic jets have been seen exploding from comets' nuclei. From
the mainstream perspective, these jets are eruptions of subsurface gas
and water from solar heating. But again and again, this theory has been
refuted by observation. In the case of Comet Wild 2, some of its nearly
two dozen jets emanated from the dark, unheated side of the comet.
And as seems to be the case with most comet jets, they remained intact
across great distances -- they did not disperse in the fashion of a gas
in a vacuum (an anomaly left unresolved, and not even addressed by most
mainstream theorists). Consider also the jets of comet Hale-Bopp, which began discharging (seven jets) while it was still too far from the Sun for a "snowball" to melt.
Amazingly, as far as back as the early 20th century, the Norwegian
physicist Kristian Birkeland demonstrated experimental evidence for the
electric comet theory. He was able to emulate cometary jets from a
cathode in a vacuum tube -- Birkeland wrote: "From a cathode of
graphite there came long, steady pencils of light, which greatly
resembled the so-called eruptions or jets in comets." (See Comets: Kristian Birkeland's Theory)
From the Electric Universe perspective, comet jets arise from the
interaction between the electric charge of the comet and the solar
discharge plasma. The comet spends most of its time far from the Sun,
where the plasma charge density is low. The comet moves slowly and its
charge easily comes into balance with that region. On the other hand,
as the comet approaches the Sun, the nucleus moves at a furious speed
through regions of increasing charge density and varying electrical
characteristics. The comet's surface charge and internal polarization,
developed in deep space, respond to the new environment by forming
cathode jets and a visible plasma sheath, or coma. The jets flare up
and move over the nucleus irregularly, and the comet may shed and grow
anew several tails. Or the comet may explode like an overstressed
capacitor (see below), breaking into separate fragments or simply
giving up the ghost and disappearing.
Cometary discharging may also occur due to any disturbances of its
electrical plasma sheath as it passes through regions of varying
electric potential. This seems to have occurred in the recent "totally
surprising" outburst of Comet Holmes 17P as it moved away from the Sun's domain.
Comets Breaking Apart or Exploding
The unexpected break-up of comets, some at considerable distances from the Sun, has long baffled comet investigators. In 1976, Comet West
never approached closer than 30 million kilometers from the Sun. So
when the comet suddenly split into four fragments, astronomers were
More recently, the explosive break up of Comet Linear in the summer of 2000 provoked even greater amazement. The event occurred well over a hundred million kilometers from the Sun.
In fact, eighty percent of comets that split do so when they are far
from the Sun, according to Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, authors of the
book Comet. Comet Wirtanen fragmented in 1957 a little inside the orbit
of Saturn, and something similar occurred to Comet Biela/Bambert.
But other comets have approached much closer to the Sun and not
broken apart. The perihelion of the Great Comet of December 1680,
studied by both Newton and Halley, was less than 100,000 kilometers
from the Sun, but it did not split.
We can also point to the astonishing disintegration of Comet
Schwassman-Wachmann 3, whose catastrophic fate remains unexplained by
the scientific mainstream. Some proposed that the comet disintegrated
due to "thermal stress" resulting from the rapid transfer of heat
through thousands of feet of insulating material -- something
inconceivable even if one ignores the deep freeze of the vacuum through
which the comet is moving, with its sunward face continually changing
due to rotation. Other explanations included "the outburst of trapped
volatile gases," and the suggestion that the comet flew apart from
"rapid rotation of the nucleus." One astronomer even proposed that the
comet "was shattered by a hit from a small interplanetary boulder."
This is yet another instance where scientists' lack of consideration
for an electric model has left them unable to explain what they're
Many other "mysterious" comet discoveries and observations of comet
behavior are best explained as electrical phenomena. These include:
The sharply carved relief of comets -- the exact opposite of what astronomers expected under the "dirty snowball" model;
The unexplained ability
of a relatively minuscule comet nucleus to hold in place a highly
spherical coma, up to millions of miles in diamater, against the force
of the solar wind;
Ejection of larger particles and "gravel" that was never anticipated under the idea that comets accreted from primordial clouds of ice, gas, and dust;
A short supply or complete absence of water and other volatiles on comets' nuclei;
The predicted occurrence of an advance flash prior to the impact of a projectile into the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1 (Deep Impact.)
Recently, the journal Icarus published a report confirming that the
advance flash did indeed occur, "upstream" (and slightly off-course) of
the projectile -- exactly as one might expect of an electric discharge
just prior to impact.
This article began with reference to the historic quote, "Mysteries
are due to secrecy." If a kind of tacit "conspiracy" exists amongst
space scientists, it is to never speak of cosmic electricity, despite
the overabundance of evidence for electrical activity in space. Sadly,
mainstream astronomy seems still to be guided by the axiom, "If it
doesn't fit, you must forget!" But the puzzles will not be solved by
ignoring or downplaying them. And in increasing numbers, critics of
today's standard theory are coming to agree that the key to resolving
these unsolved mysteries is electricity.
Wed, 09 Jan 2008 19:23 EST
artist rendering uses an arrow to show the predicted path of the
asteroid on Jan. 30, 2008, and the orange swath indicates the area it
is expected to pass through. Mars may or may not be in its path.
UPDATE - As expected, scientists at JPL's Near-Earth Object Office
have further refined the trajectory estimate for asteroid 2007 WD5 and
ruled out any possibility of a Mars impact on Jan. 30. The latest
trajectory plot of the asteroid was made possible by adding to
previously obtained data some new data from a round of observations
acquired by three observatories on the evenings of Jan. 5 through 8.
Based on this latest analysis, the odds for the asteroid impacting Mars
on Jan. 30 are 0.0 percent. The latest observations come from the
German-Spanish Astronomical Center, Calar Alto, Spain; the Multi-Mirror
Telescope, Mt. Hopkins, Ariz.; and the University of Hawaii telescope,
Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
For more information, visit the Near-Earth Object site at [link]
Tue, 08 Jan 2008 17:40 EST
I'm starting to receive reports of a fireball southwest of Baltimore Monday evening. Here are two of them:
From Donna Caudle: "My husband and I were
driving last night (1/7/08) through Perry Hall, MD when we spotted a
blue-green fall fireball speeding to some site not far from us ... We
were traveling near the area of Magdlet Rd in Perry Hall and Joppa was
closed for some accident. I would say we were facing north west when we
spotted it falling the the direction of Carney or Towson. The time was
about 8:50 pm last night ,Monday the 7th of Janurary "
And, from Jeff Ceccola, who has reported before: "Frank,
I was lucky enough to see another fireball tonight (1/7/08). Twice in a
2 months. I fear my friends are going to think I'm fibbing when I tell
them about this one.
This one was to the southwest, in front of the constellation
Cetus. It had a greenish hue, with a magnitude of about a -4, lasting
no more than 3 seconds.
I was in West Chester, Pa., the event occurred about 8:40 PM.
From my POV, it was to the SW at about a 30 degree angle, falling from
SW to W.
Since my first event, I've been doing a lot more star gazing and
have studied sky maps. I'm sure my increased interest is why I was
lucky enough to see yet another fireball..
Let me know if anyone has seen this one. Look for you in the Sun. -Jeff"
If anyone else out there saw this object, please send me a comment.
Be sure to include the time you saw it, where you were, which direction
it was going relative to your location, any sounds that seemed to
accompany the event, and any other descriptive details you have. Here is more on what to include.
Never seen a fireball? Well, here's one in a terrific image captured
Nov. 2, 2005, by Mark Vornhusen of Germany and published by NASA. It is
NOT Monday's object. But if you got a picture of it, send it to me and
I'll replace this one with yours.
|Fireball in Germany, Nov. 2, 2005|
Wed, 09 Jan 2008 08:59 EST
The Greene County Sheriff's Department was investigating Saturday
night a series of explosions heard over a 10-mile area west of
According to Capt. Randy Gibson of the Greene County Sheriff's
Department, the department received "eight or nine calls" of explosions
in the area of Greene County EE.
"We got reports from as far away as (Missouri) 266 west of town and
north to Willard of explosions and light flashes. Some were loud enough
to rattle windows at residences north of I-44 and some were barely
"It's a bit of a mystery to us at this point," said Gibson, who said
he heard the explosions himself from his home. "They did not sound like
a sonic boom and there shouldn't be any blasting in that area."
He said he heard four very loud explosions and eight smaller ones.
He said the first one occurred about 7:45 and they continued for about
25 or 30 minutes.
"Willard Police officers heard them, and the 911 call center in the middle of town."
Wed, 09 Jan 2008 10:33 EST
FOX 35 viewer, Alexandra Gregory captured
these spectacular images of an object -- what appears to be a meteor --
streaking through the sky on Tuesday, January 7, as seen from Poinciana.
35 viewer, Alexandra Gregory captured these spectacular images of an
object streaking through the sky on Tuesday, January 7, as seen from
According to NASA, beginning each New Year and lasting for nearly a
week, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower can be witnessed across the night
sky for nearly all viewers around the world, though Monday's sighting
in Central Florida has not been confirmed as being related this annual
The term meteor comes from the Greek meteoron, meaning phenomenon in
the sky. Solarviews.com describes a meteor as a streak of light
produced as matter in the solar system falls into Earth's atmosphere
creating temporary incandescence resulting from atmospheric friction.
This typically occurs at heights of 50 to 70 miles above Earth's
surface. A meteorite is a meteoroid that reaches the surface of the
Earth without being completely vaporized.
The International Meteorite Collectors Association offers extensive
records which show occurrences of meteorites striking man-made objects,
animals and even people! You can see a list of such events, including
one reported strike in Orlando in 2004, by clicking here.
The Evening Telegraph
Fri, 11 Jan 2008 08:25 EST
Likened to a scene from an HG Wells novel, the green streak of a
meteor has been sighted in the skies above Peterborough and Stamford.
Verified by three separate eye-witness accounts, the meteor - which
could have been hundreds of miles above the Earth's surface - may have
been no larger than a pea.
The meteor was initially reported to The Evening Telegraph by a reader in Werrington, Peterborough, who spotted the glowing green object at 7pm on Wednesday.
That prompted systems engineer Adam Warr to reveal he had seen
sighted something similar as he walked his dogs in Orton Longueville,
He said: "I'm glad someone else saw it, because I thought I was imagining things.
"I saw this object passing over to the north, as if heading towards Ferry Meadows.
"As your Werrington reader indicates, this was a greenish-tinged glowing object that seemed quite large in the night sky.
"I'd say it was football-sized and very bright, with a green halo surrounding it.
"I'm no expert on such things, but would suggest that the meteor had
a high copper content, causing the green glow as it burned up.
"Any fan of HG Wells or '70s prog rock would find startling parallels between this and the martian cylinders in the War of the Worlds.
"I was half expecting to see giant metal tripods emerging from Ferry Meadows."
Meanwhile, a third sighting was made in Stamford by Dave Dickens, at precisely the same time.
He said: "I was in my car in Recreation Ground Road when I spotted something travelling seriously fast through the sky.
"It had a 5ft tail and was the size of a football. It was gone in a split second."
Andrew Richens, a member of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said:
"The object seen was a meteor. they only become meteorites if they fall
"Had the object indeed fallen to Earth, it may well have been football-sized.
"However, the object would have been several hundred miles up in the
outer atmosphere when seen, and judging its size with the naked eye may
have been somewhat extreme.
"Meteors do occasionally contain small quantities of copper. They
do, however, also contain nickel which was the most probable cause for
the green flame.
"Most meteors are the size of a pea and burn up as they meet with
friction generated from hitting the Earth's atmosphere, at about 17km
Fri, 11 Jan 2008 05:14 EST
There was pandemoniun yesterday as a loud explosion emanating from a heavy metal - like object rocked the city of Sokoto.
The object fell from an unknown location and landed at Mana Village,
Sokoto South Local Government Council, at about 10:00p.m. Wednesday
night, in the compound of one Bello Mohammed, creating extra ordinary
lightning across the metropolis.
THISDAY gathered that residents were thrown into confusion
when they saw an illuminated object moving before it later
exploded.Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Criminal
Investigations Department, Sir Clement Adoda, who confirmed the
incident, said as soon as the incident occured, security personnel
moved swiftly to the village and located the shattered house.
He said the object is a Meteorite, which has completely
destroyed the roof of Mohammed's house, and went almost two meters deep
into the ground. Adoda also went with bomb disposal men who took the object to the state police command for further investigation.
He, however, said the police are yet to ascertain where the object came from. No casualty was recorded.
AIAA 2007 Planetary Defense Conference
Thu, 10 May 2007 09:07 EDT
WHITE PAPER: SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Meeting Overview
The 2007 Planetary Defense Conference was held March 5-8, 2007 at
the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center at George Washington University in
Washington, D.C. The primary objectives of the meeting were: to
highlight current capabilities in Near Earth Object (NEO) detection,
characterization and mitigation; to advance understanding of the threat
posed by asteroids and comets and arrive at possible responses to an
asteroid impact; and to consider political, policy, legal and societal
issues that would affect our ability to mount an effective defense. The
conference followed a format similar to the 2004 Planetary Defense
Conference, results of which are summarized in an AIAA Position Paper.
Copies of papers, presentation material, and videos of the presentations themselves are available at the conference web site.
Day 1 of the conference provided an overview of
efforts to discover threatening Near Earth Objects (NEOs), defined as
asteroids or comets whose orbits have perihelia of less than 1.3
Astronomical Units (AU), and the subset of NEOs that pose a more
immediate threat to Earth, called Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHOs).
PHOs are defined as asteroids and comets that pass within 0.05 AU of
Earth's orbit and are large enough to cause significant damage should
one impact Earth (~50 meters in diameter and larger). Day 1 presenters
also discussed what we know about the composition and structure of
PHOs, how such characteristics are determined, and what has been
learned from recent missions to, and observations of, asteroids and
comets. Briefings included a summary of the detection and
characterization aspects of the recently completed study by NASA in
response to congressional direction. Information was also presented on
NEO/PHO populations, the potential increases in their rates of
discovery, and the variation of impact probability as the number of
Presenters in Day 2 discussed techniques that could
be used to deflect or otherwise mitigate a threatening asteroid and the
design of deflection and mitigation missions. Presentations highlighted
how NEO composition and structure influence the effectiveness of
mitigation techniques, described slow-push and quick-impulse deflection
methods, and proposed techniques that could be used to break a
threatening object into small fragments. Presenters also gave an
overview of missions that have been proposed to actually test our
ability to move an asteroid. Included in Day 2 was the presentation of
deflection technique-related highlights of the NASA Report to Congress.4
Day 3 summarized recent work on consequences of an
impact, including tsunamis and the overpressure developed during a
high-speed entry into Earth's atmosphere. The latter work suggests that
treating airbursts as point-source explosions may not provide the most
accurate estimates of surface effects from NEO entries. Likely,
hypothetical reactions of disaster and emergency response agencies and
the public to warnings or to an actual impact were also highlighted
using lessons learned from recent hurricane and tsunami-related
On Day 4, the final day, a panel of experts
discussed topics such as legal issues associated with testing and
implementing deflection techniques, educational aspects of NEO impact
protection, and maintaining funding for an ongoing, long-term level of
effort on detection, characterization and deflection. The panel also
reported on ongoing efforts to develop an international decision
process for NEO deflection. A second panel, made up of session chairs,
discussed key points raised in each session. Meeting attendees were
invited to address both panels.
After the meeting, key points discussed by presenters and
participants were distilled and refined by the conference's steering
committee and circulated to all conference attendees for comment and
discussion. Resulting consensus findings and recommendations are
collected in this document.
2. Findings and Recommendations
While significant scientific and technological advances have been
made since the 2004 conference and are ongoing, it is clear that
providing effective planetary defense from Near Earth Objects and
planning for mitigation of an impact disaster are in their infancy.
Specifically, the primary findings of the conference are that:
1. While our search and discovery efforts have
successfully found most of the large, "civilization-killer" 1-km and
larger objects, we are just beginning to find the much more prevalent
and, for that reason, more frequently dangerous objects in the 140- to
300-meter size range. An impact by an object in this size range could
occur with little or no warning and could cause serious loss of life
and property over a broad area.
2. Earth-based resources such as the Arecibo radar
are critical for refining a PHO's orbit and providing basic information
required for deflection. Arecibo has an essential role in refining the
threat posed by PHOs such as Apophis.
3. Deflection of a threatening object is in the
conceptual phase. We are just beginning to identify the options
available to deflect an object and have yet to design or test
techniques that might be used. Further, we have yet to design complete
missions to deliver one or more deflection devices, and have not
considered what is required to assure a high probability of success for
an overall deflection campaign.
4. There are serious technical, political, policy,
legal and societal issues involved in deciding whether and how to
respond to a threat of a NEO impact. NEO impacts have the potential to
cause disasters that would equal or exceed anything ever faced by
recent civilizations. Moreover, this type of threat has never been
seriously considered by any agencies that would have responsibility for
responding. In addition, it is uncertain where responsibility for
coordination of all aspects of the NEO threat lies, from detection to
deflection to impact aftermath.
5. Understanding, analyzing, and dealing with a
potential NEO threat is an international problem demanding
international cooperation. Considerable work is required to develop a
foundation for international cooperation and action in all areas
related to planetary defense. This foundation may extend beyond defense
and include benefits from international manned and unmanned space
The remainder of this White Paper provides background and
recommendations in five areas considered at the conference: Detection
and Characterization; Deflection Approaches and Missions; Impact
Consequences and Response; Political, Policy, Legal; and Public
Perception and Trust.
2.1 Detection and Characterization
Significant progress has been made in detecting and tracking NEOs,
with about 4600 currently known compared to ~2700 in 2004. Similarly,
the number of known PHOs was about 580 in 2004 and is currently about
850. Presenters estimated that there could be over 100,000 NEOs,
including 20,000 PHOs, once the smaller, 140-meter and larger objects
are added to the catalog. It was suggested that as many as 10,000 new
140-meter class objects, whose Earth impact probabilities will
initially be non-zero, might be discovered in the next 20 years should
an effort to discover and catalog these smaller objects proceed. In
addition, some NEOs are binary in nature, and accompanying bodies are
themselves large enough to pose a hazard; these must also be included
in deflection plans.
The 270-meter diameter asteroid 99942 Apophis continues to be an
object of interest, and the calculated probability of impact has varied
as additional tracking data have been utilized to refine its orbit.
Presenters discussed the predicted 2029 close Earth flyby and the
associated "keyhole," the small region in space during the 2029
approach where Earth's gravity would perturb the asteroid's trajectory
such that the subsequent 2036 encounter would be an Earth impact. A
deflection effort for Apophis prior to the 2029 keyhole would require
more than four orders-of-magnitude less momentum transfer than after
2029, and good tracking data during the 2012-2013 apparition of Apophis
is particularly critical for refining impact probabilities and deciding
whether a deflection action is required before the 2029 close approach.
As a note, there may be several deflection techniques, including
slow-push techniques, that could be applied prior to 2029; after that
date, deflection options narrow to more energetic techniques - probably
nuclear explosives. The Arecibo radar, which is scheduled for possible
closure, is the most powerful instrument available for improving
orbital accuracy and physically characterizing many NEOs making close
passages to Earth.
A related issue is bringing appropriate assets to bear in a
cost-constrained environment. For example, the NASA report to Congress
noted that there are civil and U.S. Department of Defense assets that
could be leveraged for the NEO detection task. There may also be
international resources that should be integrated into these efforts.
One potential requirement for PHOs might be "tagging" the object to
permit precise tracking for several years. The Planetary Society is
conducting a global competition for a mission design to place a
transponder on an asteroid, with a $50,000 privately funded prize.
Results from this competition should be studied as a first step for
future considerations of tagging. This competition may be a model for
encouraging creative ideas for other aspects of planetary defense.
There is continuing scientific uncertainty about the internal
structure of NEO objects, with spacecraft imagery indicating that some
smaller bodies are not solid, monolithic bodies, but so-called "rubble
piles" - accumulations of smaller objects and debris held together by
little more than their own self gravity. These physical properties are
important for assessing the effects and effectiveness of deflection and
mitigation options. Missions to asteroids may be the only way such
issues can be resolved.
U.S. and Japanese missions to asteroids and comets are providing
invaluable information on these bodies. Presenters detailed results of
the Japanese Hayabusa mission to asteroid Itokawa and the proposed
European Don Quijote mission. The Hayabusa spacecraft is returning to
Earth in 2010, hopefully with small samples of Itokawa obtained when it
touched down on the asteroid's surface. Don Quijote is being planned to
send an orbiter to an asteroid, where it will observe the effects of a
kinetic impact on the object and on its orbit.
2.1.1.Immediately initiate actions to locate
threatening objects in the 140-meter to 1-km size range. Objects
smaller than 1 km, while certainly not "civilization killers," are
large enough to cause local devastation and large loss of life. Perhaps
more significantly, objects of this class are much more likely to
strike Earth during future decades than are larger objects. The 1908
Tunguska event, caused by the entry of a NEO estimated to be 30-50
meters in diameter, leveled over 2000 sq km of Siberian forest - an
area larger than the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Current
technology limits our ability to detect and track many objects this
small, but ground-based telescopes could, if adequately funded,
discover and track a high percentage of potentially threatening
140-meter class NEOs in a reasonable time at a relatively low cost. The
addition of a space-based infrared survey telescope could significantly
increase the discovery rate and provide improved estimates of NEO sizes.
2.1.2.Characterize Apophis and refine its orbit
during the 2012-2013 apparition. Asteroid 99942 Apophis is the first
known and tracked NEO that will pass close to Earth and present a real
threat of impact within the next 30 years. The 2012-2013 apparition
presents the opportunity to substantially improve orbital predictions
and determine whether the threat warrants future deflection action.
2.1.3.Support the operation of facilities critical
to NEO discovery, orbit determination, and tracking. Discovery and
precision orbit determination are the critical first steps in
characterizing a NEO threat and initiating a mitigation action.
Facilities and capabilities for collecting and quickly processing
discovery data are essential. The planetary radar at Arecibo is a
unique national asset. The facility has the world's best capabilities
for determining the orbit of Apophis, as well as estimating its size
and spin state, detecting accompanying bodies, helping resolve
uncertainties in impact probability and projecting the scope of impact
damage. But plans call for this asset to be shut down and rendered
unavailable during the 2012-2013 apparition of Apophis. Its use during
this period is very important for determining whether Apophis will be a
serious threat to Earth in 2036. A similar need for this or an
equivalent asset will exist as additional new objects are discovered.
2.1.4.Initiate a program in collaboration with
planetary science objectives for the in-situ characterization of PHOs.
The effectiveness of deflection techniques is strongly influenced by
the physical characteristics of the target NEO, yet we do not have a
good understanding of the range of properties with which we might have
to deal. Characterization missions, related to both general and
specific threats, are required to provide insight into the nature of
the objects we may need to deflect. Small and micro-spacecraft
technology should be considered to reduce costs and enable multiple
characterization missions. International collaborative missions to
achieve these goals should be encouraged.
2.1.5.Release the full 272-page "2006 Near-Earth
Object Survey and Deflection Study" to the public. This report contains
more detailed data and analysis supporting the NASA NEO Analysis of
Alternatives Report to Congress4 and is an excellent benchmark for the
current state of knowledge on NEOs and their discovery and deflection
2.2 Deflection Approaches and Missions
Sometime in the future a credible NEO threat will be identified and
actions will be required to prevent an impact disaster. As noted, we
are very early in the development of technologies and techniques that
could be used for such action.
Potential options identified in the NASA Report to Congress and
discussed at the conference vary from slow-push techniques such as the
gravity tractor and mass driver to more energetic impulsive techniques
like kinetic impactors and nuclear explosives. Of course, technological
development and verification is required for each, and the nuclear
explosive option also requires addressing substantial public and
In addition to technology developments related to the implementation
of a deflection technique such as a gravity tractor or nuclear
explosive, each option also has mission design-related issues that must
be addressed. For example, in many cases a kinetic impactor will
approach the NEO at a very high relative velocity, and thus will
require rapid, accurate, and autonomous trajectory control. Similarly,
slow-push techniques require rendezvous and long-term operation either
attached, or in close proximity, to the target NEO. All options also
have limitations imposed by the availability of launch vehicles and the
demand for high reliability.
The 2004 conference discussed mission reliability and it was noted
that to achieve the overall objective of deflecting an approaching
object away from Earth with high reliability, a deflection campaign
might include multiple launches of the same vehicle design. Further,
since a common fault might be present in a single mitigation approach,
a deflection campaign might actually consist of deflection attempts
using two or more independent techniques.
The possibility of synergism between two deflection techniques was
discussed from the perspective that a deflection campaign might
incorporate both a slow-push and a more energetic technique to increase
overall reliability. Some noted, for example, that a deflection
campaign might utilize a slow-push technique as primary, with a quick-
impulse technique as backup; others suggested a quick-impulse technique
as primary, with a slow-push used to "clean up" the results. Of course,
the mission timeline, cost effectiveness and overall probability of
success of the campaign will factor into related decisions.
In all cases, we must be able to determine a new orbit after (or
during, in the case of a slow-push technique) execution of a deflection
attempt. The time required for establishing a new orbit must be
included in the overall mission design and features that might be used
to improve the accuracy of the post-execution orbit, such as placing a
transponder on the object or maintaining a spacecraft on station
nearby, were proposed.
The possibility was also raised that a deflection action might
successfully avert a specific impact, but might increase the
possibility of an impact at some future date. Design of a mission for a
specific deflection must consider and minimize this possibility.
2.2.1.Research, characterize and demonstrate
technologies associated with the most promising impulsive and slow-push
techniques. Except for some technologies that might be used for
impulsive missions, very little work to characterize deflection
techniques has been done. Research is required to move these techniques
from concepts to viable options for NEO deflection. Research should
identify technologies critical to each method. Research should also
consider approaches that might be synergetic and improve the overall
certainty of a deflection mission. Included should be microgravity
experiments to illustrate the response of NEO materials to impacts or
to methods that might be used to attach or couple to the surface of
such objects in microgravity conditions (i.e., attaching transponders
or other instrument packages).
2.2.2.Identify and pursue opportunities to
demonstrate potential deflection technologies during characterization
missions that are in formulation or early development. At present,
designers of deflection missions must allow for large uncertainties in
the response of a target NEO to a deflection attempt, and additional
research is required to increase confidence in our ability to predict
and control the effectiveness of a deflection attempt. Compatible
opportunities during characterization missions should be identified to
demonstrate potential deflection technologies (e.g., attaching
transponders, testing kinetic impactors, using low-impulse ion engines
and slow-push techniques, etc.). The European Space Agency's Don
Quijote mission is an example of the type of mission that might be used
to characterize a NEO and to test deflection technologies.
2.2.3.Develop and document complete designs of a
deflection campaign, including launch vehicle and payload requirements,
ground support requirements, overall mission reliability, mission
timelines and milestones, and costs. Our ability to deliver a
deflection option to a threatening NEO with a high probability of
success must also be considered in detail. Results of these studies
would feed into an overall NEO deflection plan and help develop a
roadmap for the architecture of a deflection campaign using current and
near-term technology and capabilities. This plan should be updated on a
2.3 Impact Consequences and Response
Many small objects enter Earth's atmosphere on a daily basis and a
few yield fragments that survive to reach the surface as meteorites.
While some small object entries lead to airbursts and most are
harmless, an otherwise harmless but brilliant bolide (fireball) in the
wrong place could be mistaken for an attack, potentially causing a
dangerous response. Quick notification of such events, should they be
detected, would help avert such consequences.
Larger objects enter less frequently, but the effects increase as
size increases. As noted earlier, the 1908 Tunguska event occurred
after an airburst of a 30- to 50-meter-diameter object, which caused
widespread devastation. The energy released had previously been
estimated in the range of 10 to 20 megatons. More recent estimates
suggest that the energy released could have been as low as 3 to 5
megatons. An entry of this size is estimated to occur once every 1000
years on average. The statistical likelihood of such an entry this
century is 1 in 10.
Based on responses to past disasters, predictions are that an impact
would result in initial confusion at all levels of leadership. The lack
of understanding of the characteristics of a major impact event and
impaired command and control are likely to result in delayed initial
response efforts and resulting additional loss of life and suffering.
As noted by Michael Chertoff, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, in his testimony to the Select Committee Hearing after the
Hurricane Katrina disaster: "This tragedy 'once again' emphasized how
critical it is that we ensure our planning and response capabilities
perform with seamless integrity and efficiency in any type of disaster
situation - even one of cataclysmic nature."
2.3.1.Conduct an Impact Response Exercise - a
well-scripted and well-designed tabletop exercise, driven by improved
gaming, modeling and simulation resources to increase understanding of
the evolution of an impact disaster and demands on response agencies
and communication systems. For many natural disasters, agencies
responsible for assisting those affected conduct simulations involving
all segments of disaster response to identify issues and develop
solutions. An unexpected NEO impact should be added to the set of
disasters simulated. The disaster could be either from an ocean impact,
where the effects could be experienced by a long expanse of coastline
and possibly affect several or many nations, or from a land impact. The
simulation would focus on effects of a 50- to 140-meter class NEO, a
size that would likely impact without warning. Ideally, the exercise
would involve all stakeholders that would be involved in a response,
including local and national governments, military organizations,
disaster responders, and members of the press.
2.3.2.Incorporate the NEO hazard into the mandates
of agencies, both national and international, that are charged with
addressing very large-scale natural and man-made catastrophes. Nations
should assess the risk relative to natural and man-made hazards, and
encompass the NEO response within existing national and international
frameworks that address the more familiar hazards, ensuring that
emergency response capabilities are suited to dealing with NEO-related
2.3.3.Conduct additional research to advance
understanding of the relationship between NEO size and event
consequences. This relationship is critical for setting the lower limit
of our detection efforts and making the decision to initiate a
deflection campaign or other mitigation efforts. Previously, NEO
explosions above Earth's surface (events believed typical of a class of
smaller NEOs) have been treated as point-source explosions. New
information indicates that the shock and flow field generated
throughout the entry trajectory may be important contributors to ground
effects (tsunamis, etc.). Additionally, an impact could release an
electromagnetic pulse that could interrupt communications among
disaster responders. We may not yet understand the complete nature of
the hazard associated with PHO impacts and the dependence of impact
consequences on object size.
2.4 Political, Policy, and Legal
An asteroid impact could occur anywhere on the globe at any time, so
planetary defense has implications for all humankind. All nations on
Earth should be prepared for this potential calamity and work together
to prevent or contain the damage. That said, there is currently very
little discussion or coordination of efforts at national or
international levels. No single agency in any country has
responsibility for moving forward on NEO deflection, and disaster
control agencies have not simulated this type of disaster.
Providing funding over the long term was also seen as a challenge.
Much of the work in virtually all areas of planetary defense has been
done on individuals' own time and initiative. There is a need for
ongoing studies and peer-reviewed papers to improve our knowledge in
this area, as well as to increase the credibility of the issue and the
public's trust in our ability to respond. The reality is that NEO
deflection or disaster mitigation efforts may not be required for
decades or longer, so governments, which are focused on more immediate
concerns, may not be willing to commit sufficient recourses to this
type of work. Determining the appropriate level of this work and
funding such activities over the long term is seen as a major issue.
In addition, major legal and policy issues related to planetary
defense need to be resolved. An example is liability for predictions
that prove false or deflection missions that only partially work or
fail completely, resulting in an impact. Other examples include:
· A prediction is made that an impact may occur
in a specific area, and residents and businesses that might be affected
leave. Are there liabilities associated with the loss in property
values if the prediction is wrong?
· A nation makes a deflection attempt, but it
fails to change the object's orbit enough to miss Earth. Is that nation
now responsible for the damage inflicted?
· A NEO threat demands the nuclear option, but
public perception is that the possibility of a launch failure and
subsequent damage is more acute than the threat from the NEO. What are
the liabilities and political and policy implications associated with a
launch failure during a deflection mission?
These types of issues should be discussed and resolved before they are raised by a serious threat.
2.4.1.Develop an international protocol for use in
situations when critical decisions relating to threat and disaster
mitigation are required. Given the global nature of the consequences,
it is unlikely that one country will decide on its own whether to take
action. There must be international involvement in decision-making and
in whatever actions are decided. Discussions on how these decisions
will be made should begin while there is no specific threat. Principles
and protocols for the process of communication and dissemination of
information about potential impacts, and the implementation of
necessary mitigation measures should be negotiated and agreed to at an
international level. These protocols should identify roles and
responsibilities of key players and include a means to notify
governments and the public of all hazards of a regional or global
2.4.2.Increase international collaboration on
efforts aimed at detection and characterization, mission planning, and
research related to deflection. One concept suggested is to establish a
Planetary Defense Coordinating Committee (PDCC) where nations can
discuss and coordinate research efforts at the technical level. The
group might be similar to the current Inter-Agency Space Debris
Coordinating Committee (IADC) where space agencies of 11 nations
meet to address the issue of man-made debris. The PDCC would be
chartered to coordinate NEO research activities and provide technical
recommendations supporting legal and policy decisions.
2.4.3.Develop and implement a mechanism to maintain
funding for critical technologies and efforts over the long term.
Establishment of a trust fund or foundation should be considered to
ensure uninterrupted financial support for research related to
2.4.4.Develop a framework for the use of nuclear
explosives for NEO deflection before a credible threat is identified.
The nuclear option for NEO deflection is sure to raise concerns among
the public and governments, but this option would be necessary for the
largest NEOs, or for NEOs that don't respond as predicted to
non-nuclear techniques, or for those discovered too late to utilize
2.4.5.Develop international agreements limiting the
liability related to making impact predictions or to taking or not
taking action on a NEO threat. In its discussions about NEOs, the
international community should develop agreements regarding specific
limitations of liability for taking or not taking actions, and for
making predictions about NEO threats. At present, there may be
potential liabilities related to specifying a threat and to taking a
deflection action. For example, the mere forecast of an impact could
have tremendous implications for the value of land and for businesses
in the impact zone; a failed or ineffective deflection attempt could
result in a subsequent impact and serious damage to the original threat
area or possibly another area.
2.5 Public Perception and Trust
Low probability disasters come to the attention of policy makers and
become part of the national and international agenda as the result of
focusing events. These are infrequent, sudden and harmful events that
become known to the public and to the government simultaneously. As
attention-grabbers, they initiate a push to "do something" about
redressing the situation and preventing its recurrence. A hurricane,
earthquake, major oil spill or technological catastrophe can generate a
"spike" in interest that typically peaks in a few weeks in the media
and in a few months in governmental deliberations and then dissipates
as other issues come to the fore. Typically it produces a two-year
window of opportunity for preparing for similar disasters, a window
that closes slowly in the absence of another focusing event.
Progress occurs when there is an organized community of scientists
and policy experts who push for new legislation during the window of
opportunity. Such "policy entrepreneurs" have been highly successful
promoting useful legislation following earthquakes, with the result
that construction standards have improved consistently over the past
hundred years. For example, earthquake policy entrepreneurs were
instrumental in the drafting of the National Earthquake Hazard
Reduction Act (NEHRA) of 1977. The key is a motivated and organized
group of policy advocates that presses for efforts to mitigate the
hazard and not just speed the flow of post-disaster relief.
While no NEO impact disastrous to society has occurred yet,
significant NEO detections and even low-level threat warnings provide
windows of opportunity for educating the public and decision makers on
the nature of this recently recognized problem. Additionally, major
projects, such as developing a new NEO warning or mitigation system,
may have focusing effects and further our mitigation efforts. In
presenting risk, we must treat the threat seriously and act through
established protocols that are understandable by the public.
2.5.1.Engage and sustain the interest of
professionals and practitioners from the social and behavioral
sciences. Even as effective detection and deflection strategies depend
upon the best available knowledge from astronomy, physics, and
engineering, effective warning and recovery depend upon utilizing the
best available knowledge from anthropology, psychology, sociology,
political science, risk communication and related disciplines.
2.5.2.Develop a strategy for educating elected and
governmental officials and the public on the nature of the NEO threat
and what to expect in regards to NEO detections and warnings. The
strategy should include ways to present sober, realistic assessments of
the facts during periods of potential high risk and subsequent risk
reduction efforts after refined orbit determinations are arrived at.
The strategy should also consider enhancing understanding of our
current abilities to discover threats and the potential for impacts to
happen anytime without warning. One suggestion is to provide or enhance
Internet sites to show how threats evolve and to illustrate possible
action scenarios. A protocol for actions and notifications should be
developed for threats that exceed predefined thresholds.
2.5.3.Examine how social factors such as individual
and group psychology, culture, and political and religious beliefs
might affect the decision to move forward on a NEO deflection effort.
Individuals approach problems from a variety of viewpoints, and these
factors are likely to be involved in discussions and decisions related
to planetary defense and disaster recovery. Experts involved in NEO
science and technology must also be aware of these aspects of the
problem - particularly when they are informing the public, decision
makers or potential funders about their research implications. A
periodic survey on issues related to planetary defense may be a way to
track progress in public understanding.
The 2007 Planetary Defense Conference focused on the current
state-of-the-art of planetary defense-related technologies and legal,
policy, political, and public-response issues that would affect the
decision to mount a deflection campaign or to respond to a NEO-related
disaster. The broad sponsorship of the conference indicates that
planetary defense is increasingly being accepted as a legitimate issue
and goal internationally and domestically.
The 19 recommendations presented in this White Paper are a result of
presentations and discussions at the conference and subsequent
interactions among conference participants. The hope of participants is
that the recommendations contained herein will encourage serious,
long-term efforts to develop and test technologies and to debate and
enact policies that support protecting Earth from the threat of Near
Sun, 06 Jul 2003 11:03 EDT
In 1982, two British astronomers, S. V. M (Victor) Clube and William Napier, published a book entitled The Cosmic Serpent. Clube and Napier suggested that the outer planets occasionally divert giant comets
(more than 50 kilometers in diameter) into the inner solar system into
short-period orbits. Debris from the resultant disintegration of these
giant comets can adversely affect the environment of the Earth. Dusting
can block sunlight, resulting in globally cooler conditions. Impact
events in the super-Tunguska class may result in not only heavy
localized destruction but also the occasional "impact winter" or dust
veil with global climatological effects.
Clube and Napier identified the progenitor of the Taurid complex as
such a giant comet whose injection into a short-period (about 3.3 year)
orbit occurred sometime in the last twenty to thirty thousand years.
The Taurid complex currently includes the Taurid meteor atream, Comet
Encke (the only known currently active comet in the Taurid complex),
"asteroids" such as 2101 Adonis and 2201 Oljato, and copious amounts of
dust. All ten of the numbered asteroids in the Taurid complex appear to
have associated meteor showers and therefore are likely to be extinct comets masquerading as asteroids.
The effects of the disintegration of the Taurid progenitor object
in an Earth-crossing orbit should appear in the geological and
climatological record. Clube and Napier marshalled evidence for such
effects in "The Cosmic Serpent" as well as their later book Cosmic Winter
published in 1990. Clube and Napier, following in the footsteps of
earlier catastrophists, also sought evidence of catastrophic events in
ancient mythology and history. These authors have also written papers
in standard peer-reviewed journals about the role giant comets play in
constructing a tenable physical theory of coherent catastrophism.
The giant comets normally reside far beyond the planets, in a
spherical cloud surrounding the Sun, called the Oort cloud. There is
also evidence for a flattened disk of comets closer to the inner solar
system, called the Edgeworth/Kuiper belt. What prompts members of
either of these comet repositories to enter the realm of the planets?
Clube and Napier suggest a galactic influence. The solar system
periodically passes through the plane of the galaxy as the Sun (and the
solar system with it) orbits the galactic center. Each passage may
dislodge giant comets and divert them closer to the Sun. The outer
planets, particularly Jupiter, may then perturb some of these giant
comets into orbits which enter the inner solar system. These comets,
stressed both by gravity and by heat from the sun, may fragment into a
cloud of smaller objects with dynamically similar orbits.
Chiron offers a good example of a giant comet as called for by
Clube and Napier's giant comet hypothesis. Chiron is somewhere between
148 and 208 kilometers in diameter. Currently Chiron's unstable
"parking orbit" lies mostly between Saturn and Uranus. Chiron may end
up injected into the inner solar system within a hundred thousand
years, or ejected from the solar system on a similar time scale. It is
also possible that Chiron has already visited the inner solar system.
The Taurid complex and the Kreutz sungrazer group are two families
of objects which most likely represent the fragmented remains of two
giant comets in the current era. SOHO has recently discovered many new members of the Kreutz group which were previously unknown.
The Kreutz progenitor was injected into a retrograde orbit and
attained the sungrazing state at a high inclination to the ecliptic.
Hence the debris of its "children" does not pose a threat to the Earth.
The Taurid progenitor on the other hand ended up in a short-period
low-inclination prograde orbit. This is why the Earth can encounter its
debris with potentially calamitous results.
What would happen should the Earth pass through the orbit of a
disintegrating giant comet just before or after the comet passes that
same point? Since larger fragments tend to cluster close to the nucleus
of the comet, chances would increase that the Earth would be bombarded
by these larger fragments. The severity of this comet fragment shower
would far exceed any ordinary meteor shower. Not only would "shooting
stars" and bright fireballs caused by small debris appear, but so too
would large airbursts and possibly ground impacts. These would result
in significant destruction should they occur over an inhabited area. If
a large enough fragment struck in the ocean -- say, 200 meters or so in
diameter -- it would raise tsunamis even at a great distance that would
sweep away coastal habitations.
Duncan Steel, a colleague of Clube and Napier, refers to this
process as coherent catastrophism. Widespread destruction derives from
the coherent arrival of many impactors within a few days, as opposed to
the sporadic arrival of objects spread randomly in space. The shower
repeats for a period of years until the cometary orbit precesses so
that the Earth no longer encounters the dense part of the debris field.
(Of course, sporadic debris unrelated to the disintegrating comet may
impact at any time as well.)
I believe that coherent catastrophism, as enunciated by Clube,
Napier, Steel, and their colleagues, provides the best physical model
for recent astronomical catastrophes, although I do not necessarily
agree with all of their historical ideas.
For a contrary viewpoint you should read David Morrison's reviews of recent books and articles
on the impact hazard which includes the books by Lewis, Steel,
Verschuur, Cox and Chestek, Gribbin and Gribbin, Desonie, and
Barnes-Svarney. Also available is a preliminary version of a review of
Duncan Steel's book by Clark Chapman.
The final version appeared in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary
Science, v.31 (1996), pp. 313-314. Morrison and Chapman strongly
disagree with the Clube/Napier/Asher/Steel idea of coherent
A common criticism levelled against Clube et al's giant comet
hypothesis is that it uses a "Velikovskian" approach to mythological
and historical evidence as a primary basis. It does not. Even should
every single one of the mythological interpretations offered by Clube
and Napier in The Cosmic Serpent or Cosmic Winter prove to be
incorrect, this says nothing whatever about the correctness of the
giant comet hypothesis and coherent catastrophism. The correctness of
these depends solely on physical evidence. Mythological evidence might
at best be supporting evidence. The same cannot be said of many other
versions of non-orthodox catastrophism, e.g., Velikovsky's, which seek
to rewrite physics and astronomy based upon ancient myths.
Bob Kobres's Web Site
offers this independent researcher's views on coherent catastrophism.
He likes Clube and Napier's ideas. You can find his papers on the role
of comets in the Bronze age collapse and on Comet Phaeton's Ride, among other interesting things.
Cambridge Conference Correspondence Menu
provides archived messages from this mailing list run by Benny J.
Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University. The Cambridge list offers a
venue for announcements about current topics and research into
near-Earth objects and historical catastrophism.
Tony Smith discusses the Taurid complex, possible timing relationships between Supernovae and comets, and more on his Comets
web page. Hale-Bopp was a relatively large comet of twenty-five miles
diameter. This is not as large as the purported Taurid progenitor, or
comet Sarabat, which reached a magnitude of -3.0 and was visible for
over six months in 1729 A.D. Sarabat is estimated to have been 50 km to
100 km in diameter. See my astronomy pages for more links to sites about Hale-Bopp and other comets.
Comets And Disaster In The Bronze Age
by Benny J. Peiser was originally published in the December 1997 issue
of British Archaeology magazine. Peiser discusses the possible role of
cosmic impacts in the widespread collapse of many civilizations around
The extracts from Victor Clube's paper "Giant Comets and their Role in History
" which appeared in The Universe and its Origins edited by S. Fred
Singer (Paragon House, New York, 1990) emphasize the potential climatic
effects of the Taurid complex.
The Second SIS Cambridge Conference entitled Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilizations: Archaeological, Geological, and Astronomical Perspectives
(sponsored by the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies) was held at
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, UK, July 11-13, 1997. This conference
brought together "historians, archaeologists, climatologists and
astronomers in order to discuss whether the 'giant comet' hypothesis
brought forward by neo-catastrophist astronomers such as Victor Clube,
Bill Napier, Sir Fred Hoyle, David Asher, Mark Bailey, Duncan Steel et
al. can be substantiated by the archaeological, climatological and
historical record." Includes abstracts of the presentations. See Mark Bailey's review of the conference for more details.
The Dark Ages: Were They Darker Than We Imagined?
by Greg Bryant originally appeared in UNIVERSE - Journal of The
Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc.. Bryant reviews the
possible relationship between major accretion events from the Taurid
complex and the AD 536 onset of the Dark Ages.
Royal Observatory Greenwich Blog
Sun, 13 Jan 2008 12:15 EST
The 27-metre diameter asteroid 2008 AF3 will tonight pass by the Earth as close as the Moon! (see its orbit here)
In fact, it is passing so close that you can see it for yourself
(from a dark site, with a large telescope). At magnitude 14, you will
need a 12" diameter telescope to spot it as it passes through Ursa
Major (the Plough) this evening (you can plot its position from your
locations using Tom's Asteroid Flybys Webpage).
But the worry is that it was only discovered 3 days ago, highlighting the difficulty of finding asteroids that are coming straight for us!
If an asteroid is larger than 100m, and is expected to pass the
Earth within 20 times the Earth-Moon separation, then it is considered
a potentially hazardous asteroid. Fortunately, none are expected to hit
the Earth at the moment, but new ones are being discovered on a regular
Vistas in Astronomy, Volume 39, Issue 4, Pages 673-698
Fri, 01 Dec 1995 13:42 EST
essentially untroubled state of mind in the presence of comets during
the last two centuries has been fortified by the overall relative
brevity of cometary apparitions and the calculated infrequency of
cometary encounters with planets.
During the course of the Space Age, however, the fact of cometary
splitting has also become increasingly secure and there is growing
appreciation of the fact that mankind's state of mind can never be
altogether relaxed. Indeed a watershed in the modern perception of
cometary facts has evidently been reached with the most recent and
devastating example of cometary splitting, that of the fragmentation
of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 and its subsequent bombardment of planet
Thus there is a recognized tendency now amongst comets, especially
those in short-period orbits, due to the occasionally excessive effects
of solar irradiation, planetary tides and small body impacts, which
gives rise to individual swarms of cometary debris, and it is the
resulting repeated penetration of such dispersed swarms by our planet
which apparently increases the danger to mankind from time to time.
The danger comprises global coolings, atmospheric pollution and
super-Tunguska events, the cometary debris being responsible for both
high-level dust insertions and low-level multimegaton explosions in the
Earth's atmosphere along with a generally enhanced fireball flux.
Historically, the presence of such danger was drawn to mankind's
attention by the observed bombardments over several decades due to
"blazing stars threatening the world with famine, plague and war; to
princes death; to kingdoms many curses; to all estates many losses; to
herdsmen rot; to ploughmen hapless seasons; to sailors storms; to
cities civil treasons."
The sense of cosmic destiny aroused by these bombardments evidently
involved degrees of fatalism and public anxiety which were deplored by
both ecclesiastical authorities and secular administrations with the
result that acknowledged dispensers of prognosis and mitigation who
endorsed the adverse implications of 'blazing stars' (astrologers,
soothsayers etc.) were commonly impugned and censured.
Nowadays, of course, we are able to recognise that the Earth's
environment is not only one of essentially uniformitarian calm, as
formerly assumed, but one that is also interrupted by 'punctuational
crises', each crisis being the sequence of events which arises due to
the fragmentation of an individual comet whose orbit intersects the
Earth's. That even modest crises can arouse apprehension is known
through the circumstances of the nineteenth century break-up of Comet
Indeed it seems that these crises are rather frequently
characterized by relatively violent (paradigm shifting) transmutations
of human society such as were originally proposed by Spengler and
Toynbee more than sixty years ago on the basis of historical analysis
It would appear, then, that the historical fear of comets which has
been with us since the foundation of civilization, far from being the
reflection of an astrological perception of the cosmos which was
deranged and therefore abandoned, has a perfectly rational basis in
occasional cometary fragmentation events. Such events recur and
evidently have quite serious implications for society and government
Thus when cosmic danger returns and there is growing awareness of
the fact, we find that society is capable of becoming uncontrollably
convulsed as 'enlightenment' spreads. A revival of millenarian
expectations under these circumstances, for example, is not so much an
underlying consequence but a deviant manifestation of the violent
turmoil into which society falls, often to revolutionary effect.
I. INSPIRATION AND FOREBODING
Today science is more or less unquestioned as the primary body of
systematic knowledge reaching us through observation and measurement.
However, by making too much of the more passive aspects of this body of
knowledge, i.e. its reproducibility through repeated accurate
measurement, it is possible to undervalue the significance of its more
active aspects, i.e. the inductive insights or connecting links which
ultimately give the overall system of knowledge its intrinsic strength.
Scientists, of course, are aware of these countervailing tendencies
and while recognising the care, patience and technical skill that are
necessary to sustain the reproducibility of systematic knowledge, they
do also draw attention to the need for a state of mind in research
which brings its practitioners to the point of insight and
Thus a picture for the overall development of knowledge seems now to
have emerged in which the network of connections between supposed
islands of knowledge may be discontinuously and abruptly rearranged as
the islands themselves continuously grow and dissolve. Admittedly any
precise description of these discontinuities remains somewhat elusive
(Kuhn, 1962 cf. Lindberg, 1992) but there is no lack of archetypes such
as Archimedes and his well known cry of Eureka! from the bath as he
pondered the problem of the specific gravity of gold.
Our ancestors indeed, who undoubtedly recognised the importance of
this not so very subtle aspect of the acquisition of knowledge, would
tend to describe an enchanted state of mind which from the very
earliest times was believed to have been brought on through the wiles
and trickery of a serpent. In fact, a modern dictionary still tells us
that to be fascinated, the prerequisite to knowledge, is to be deprived
of the power to resist or to escape by the look or presence of a
tormentor, possibly a serpent. A mythologist would have little
difficulty with such etymology: thus it was the original all-pervading
chaos associated with the primeval (cosmic) serpent, whatever this may
have been, which served as the principal exemplar down the ages of the
turmoil out of which desperate new connections were once forged and
which was accepted as naturally illustrating the critical path by which
new scientific (mostly astronomical) knowledge was obtained.
In other words, the insights leading to true knowledge have long
been thought of as being brought to human attention by some kind of
mesmerising process or cunning on the part of nature. That is, we
observe natural phenomena as to whose cause we wonder and by whose
effect we are astonished. And it is through the perceived enlightenment
that comes by joining such cause and effect that a fascination in, say,
astronomical phenomena is believed to broaden our cosmic experience and
thereby enrich our cultural heritage.
We may be fascinated of course in the sense of being enraptured and
heartened, in which case we are in the habit of accepting the cosmic
realm as a source of inspiration and our culture as both soothing and
ennobling. However, we may also be fascinated in the sense of being
agitated and petrified, in which case it can also be that the cosmic
realm is a source of foreboding and our culture is both disturbing and
Of the essence here is the injustice to our past if we look back on
the sum total of mankind's cosmic experience and fail to recognize how
this has ennobled our culture. But equally, there is the unfairness to
our future if we look back on this experience and fail to appreciate
how it has also overwhelmed our culture from time to time, e.g. through
our response to the intermittent incidence of celestial 'signs'. The
mistake in fact is to suppose that inspiration and foreboding are
uniformitarian and arise in equal measure at all times, rather we
should be aware of the possibility of a temporal sequence in the
balance of inspiration and foreboding; and of the timescale of
variation from one extreme to the other which is tantalizingly beyond
the usual reach of direct individual experience. That is, for long
periods of time on Earth, generations can follow generations under the
impression that our cosmic environment is a continuous source of
inspiration only to be succeeded for a while by generations aware of
the fact that our cosmic environment can also be an intense source of
The point to be noted then is that there are positive and negative,
both light and dark, sides to the inspiration provided by astronomical
phenomena in the past; and we seriously misunderstand human history if
we suppose our celestial environment never impinges adversely upon the
Quite simply, the enlightened or supposedly uniformitarian
view of nature these last two hundred years has diverted attention from
adverse celestial inputs and there is now a serious risk,
especially from within the fastness of an ivory tower, that
inspiration's commonest inducement, the appeal to a sublime principle,
will continue to press our cosmic perspective and our cultural
endeavour towards some kind of paradisical extreme.
To achieve some kind of balance of course, it is probably necessary
to come down from the fastness of the ivory tower and to join the
maelstrom in the courtyard below for it is only through grim human
contact, it seems, that we are more able to contemplate the
punctuational crises which continually threaten and sometimes afflict
civilization. There will be optimists, to be sure, who will trivialize
such crises and regard such balance as imbalance but, as a well-known
yet typical mentor of the last century (Proctor, 1875) once quoted,
when troubles were about to befall men, "nation rising against nation,
and kingdom against kingdom, with great earthquakes in divers places,
and famines, and pestilences, and fearful sights", then "great signs
shall there be from heaven".
The point Proctor makes of course is that our cosmic
experience has always had both its paradisical and its purgatorial
aspects and it is mostly when the latter are in the ascendancy that our
cosmic experience rouses us from the opium of culture and plunges us
into the politics of despair. Thus it could be a twentieth
century indulgence to suppose despondency under uniformitarian
conditions cannot be further plumbed for such could be as nothing
compared to the depths of despair which have come with the most
significant cosmic events during recent millennia.
In this essay, we shall begin with a 'journalistic' perspective on
the contemporary politics of punctuational crises and then move on to
evaluate the cosmic perspective which now seems to be forced upon us. We
shall come to recognize that the great signs from heaven were never
primarily the eclipses and random comets which we hang on our
supposedly ignorant ancestors, rather they were the fireball flux
surges whose nature remains as problematical for us as it was for them.
2. COMETS BY JOVE - A WARNING TO THE PRESIDENT'S MEN?
The unprecedented events on Jupiter during the summer of 1994 served
to quicken the pace of developments in space. There was clearly
something awesome in those predicted encounters of comet pieces with a
planet which, had they occurred on Earth, would have resulted in a mass extinction.
Very few could have failed to be moved by the prospect that future
comet splittings might suddenly produce a similar impact hazard heading
towards the Earth which mankind would be unable to avoid.
Inevitably, so it seemed, there was an added sense of common purpose
to mankind's continuing watch on space. Such a sense of purpose in
'spacewatching' has frequently arisen in the past usually in a national
context, and can he traced back to the very dawn of civilization: one
thinks for example of the Sumerians (e.g. Frankfort et al., 1946), then
later the Chinese (e.g. Schafer, 1977) and eventually perhaps the
Aztecs (e.g. Sejourne, 1957), all of whom are known to have confronted
the cosmos at different epochs for many generations with the same air
of realism and foreboding.
Nowadays, of course, it is the American nation which bears
the brunt of this watch and ensures that the responsibility is taken
seriously. As recently as 1990 for example, Congress was
pressing space agencies for an assessment of the impact risk to
civilization. Congress however did not count on inertia within the
scientific corpus giving rise to a characteristically sanguine
interpretation of the brief. Thus there is a kind of mindset afflicting
those who put order into the cosmos which also causes them to resent
disorderly intrusions. Disintegrating comets which suddenly appear in
the Solar System are of this nature and the reaction which is by way of
turning a blind eye to unwelcome visitations can often mean that the
common purpose is blunted. Those who would have turned us away
from Galileo's telescope so many centuries ago were still able to turn
us away from the unprecedented events on Jupiter during the summer of
Even as the comet pieces arrived though there was movement within
the corridors of power to revitalize the body scientific. Thus the US
Congress or, more specifically, its House Committee on Science, Space
and Technology was evidently impelled to recommend an immediate
stepping up of the Spaceguard program - NASA's pipeline project to assess the asteroid and comet threat to civilisation from space.
Reflecting what appeared to be a public pressure on dilatory space
guardians the Committee's Chairman Representative George Brown, was to
comment to the New York Times (Aug 1, 1994) that "you're going to see this thing take off like a rocket. It's going to be easy to sell in Congress".
Later, of course, the excitement receded and we reached a period of
more measured reflection. There was then a question mark over NASA's
failure to anticipate cometary splittings and a degree of concern
whether this organisation's activities should have been oriented so
exclusively to single body events. The latter in fact are rare; and to
the extent that the currently nominated space guardians may also have
had it in mind to exploit asteroids and comets as the largest
accessible resource in space, one could readily suppose that the more
frequent hazard due to the more numerous debris from cometary
splittings had been seriously overlooked.
However, in making its more measured judgement, it was more or less
inevitable that the House Committee would reckon in terms of balancing
all of NASA's previously approved and currently perceived requirements.
This essentially meant a watering down of the more immediate celestial threat. The question for Congress still remained therefore whether Spaceguard provided everything that the American public expected.
To understand what is going on here, we need to examine some of the
Spaceguard programme (Morrison, 1992) details which have been tucked
away in the fine print. Thus the Spaceguard Catalogue,
when it is completed, will be over 90% asteroids. But some of these
asteroids will be dormant or dead comets - and herein lies the catch.
For, during the next century, the probability of the pure
asteroid threat to civilization being realized is only about one in a
thousand. Whereas the probability of the dead, dormant or active comet
threat being realized during the same period - due to cometary
splitting - is more in the region of certainty.
The asteroid threat by itself therefore is not of the kind
that will give Congressmen sleepless nights; the comet threat on the
other hand could well be of the kind that is a cause of public concern.
The point is that there are crucial physical differences between
pure asteroids and comets which are a significant factor when we
calculate their respective threats.
Basically, for the asteroid threat to be realised, we need a direct
hit on our planet - truly a rare event. For the comet threat to be
realised however, given that these objects break up and the debris
sprays out around the parent orbit, we need only a relatively close
encounter to have some fraction of the original material impact the
Earth - a reduced input of mass evidently but impacts nevertheless
which are altogether more frequent and by no means negligible in their
The Catalogue then is not the only problem; we need also to consider
when comets are going to fragment. Indeed with the benefit of hindsight
on the comets by Jove, the situation for the President is now very
clear. He may be provided with a map of the world but that does not
tell him where and when the next Rwanda is going to arise. Likewise, he
may be provided with a catalogue of asteroids and comets in their
various orbits but that does not tell him where and when the next
earthbound Shoemaker-Levy is going to arise!
There is a very definite sense therefore in which the current NASA plan is deficient in relation to the civilization hazard from space
and lulls the American public into a false sense of security. One has
to recognize of course that astronomers are trained not to cry wolf in
the night and it is a matter of normal common sense that the paymaster
is most comfortable if the catalogue on offer appears to provide enough
warning whilst keeping down the cost. Unfortunately, this kind of
bashful timidity and mutual backscratching amongst scientists and
moneyspinners currently results in our not having a policy to deal with the most probable hazard from space, a situation which seems to provide the American public with rather less than it expects!
For what then should we prepare?
First, of course, there is no point in denying the usefulness of
Spaceguard for the ferocity of the asteroid threat, when it is
realised, is not in doubt - mankind could well be extinguished. It does
not follow however that the more frequent cometary threat can therefore
be ignored on account of the greater modesty of its effects - for, in
this case, it is also worth noting that mankind could well not be
Thus governments are not merely confronted with a general fear of global extinction but with that of localized extinctions, or holocausts, as well. In other words, we really need to know about the troubles that arise during the anticipation and the aftermath of any multimegaton events
that occur in the wake of a fractured comet (see Section 3.3). These,
as we have noted, occur at intervals of a couple of centuries or so and
at the very least now we have to consider the possibility of
one or more population wipe-outs or Chernobyl-like disasters on the
urban to large nation scale, or a mini-ice age of global proportions.
Less frequently, at intervals of a millennium or so, we can expect
the incidence of such disasters to be substantially increased.
Obviously these are tantalizing rates for heads of state who feel
that there may be a risk and that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
But invariably, so it appears, the general tendency is to discount the
risk with the result that civilization and society are usually
unprepared. Thus, just as fifteenth and seventeenth century
European society apparently broke down in the presence of newly
fragmented comets, so it appears the emerging global village of our
present epoch could well break down in the presence of yet another
newly fragmented comet.
What matters here is the extent to which society is convinced by contemporary 'experts' that the danger is real.
For example, the breakdowns during the centuries preceding
Reformation and Enlightenment occurred as apparent historical
certainties concerning the incidence of 'providences' or 'blazing
stars' were newly translated into the vernacular (i.e. from the Books
of Daniel and Revelation) and propagated uncensored from the pulpit
(e.g. Thomas, 1971). In the future, it is more likely to be the deeper
historical certainties which are gained from the latest scientific
understandings of our astronomical past and which are then propagated
uncensored through a modern communications network of even greater
The problem always with these hazards, like the occasional snowstorm
over England, is their rarity - the fact that pragmatic authorities
will at present only handle them in accordance with circumstances, as
they arise. This wholly reactive mode means that the comet
threat is never going to be taken seriously until such post-detection
panic as will occur due to the incoming cometary debris is fully
recognized for what it may very well be.
Paradoxically though, the more skilled and informed the
civilization, the sooner in general the reality is appreciated and the
greater the opportunity there is for the subordinate and more reliant
elements of society to become seriously unsettled.
Mankind is not extinguished of course and many parts of the globe
may even escape physical blemish, but it is a matter of general
experience, overlooked apparently by the American scientific community,
that sustained public panic is a very effective leveller of civilizations, even to the extent that many societies are capable of becoming seriously unhinged.
Thus it is not obvious that even the most
advanced societies will avoid social chaos without the most careful
preparation in advance to counter the illusion of 'last times'.
In the past, it has always fallen to individual nations and
their administrations to attempt to deal with the illusion through
counter-propaganda. In the future it seems more likely that it will
fall to the global village to attempt to deal with the illusion through
counter-propaganda and it is by no means clear that any preparations
are yet in place.
History is more informative in respect of this problem than many might suppose. Even the word 'revolution'
for example, in its more general usage today, seems to have acquired
its meaning in the past through the recognized effects of the orbiting
debris of a comet! Thus it is generally accepted that its connotation
signifying social upheaval was a sixteenth and seventeenth century
development arising out of its earlier (Copernican) connotation
signifying physical circulation. However it is perhaps not so widely
appreciated that the witchhunts and political upheavals of the
seventeenth century in England - which modern authorities sometimes
look upon as archetypal in respect of the circumstances which generally give rise to revolution
- were directly attributed by contemporaries to the unsettling effects
of an (observed) celestial circulation: these contemporaries speak of
celestial signs which were deliveries of "God's providence" and which
were evidently mediated by "God's revolution".
Indeed these types of attribution, once the signs had passed, were
very soon to mean that the blazing stars were scorned by the learned:
Bishop Sprat (ed. Cope and Jones, 1959) in his History of the Royal
Society speaks of a peculiar weakness on the part of his countrymen, to
supposed prodigies and providences, which was now no longer to be
encouraged. Thus the demise of the London Society of Astrologers
broadly coincided with the transition from Interregnum to Restoration
and the emergence of the Royal Society of London; and, it is apparent,
also to a period of intense scientific censorship (Hill, 1975).
It is well known for example that very few of Newton's historical
researches into catastrophism and the role of comets and fireballs were
published in his time with the result that astronomical science, and
hence natural philosophy, tended thereafter to assume uniformitarian
(i.e. non-catastrophic) characteristics.
Nevertheless, we can now tell from past astronomical records when
civilization was apparently unhinged by threatening signs in the sky
(see Section 4.1) and it is clear that the cometary threat, on the
point of being realised, is far from being a trivial occasion - our
ancestors were not joking, it seems, when they saw disintegrating
comets as "a warning to kings".
Even the President's men therefore may need a
degree of authority and understanding in the face of incoming cometary
material such as the age of 'enlightenment' has so far failed to
The point here, of course, is that modern society, like its
founding fathers, chooses still to ridicule the cometary threat.
Ridicule was necessary perhaps as the means to a particular end - the
restoration of civil order - in the wake of a previous cometary
fracture and its chaotic aftermath. But this end was essentially
realized and it may well be now that western civilization requires an
attitude to these events in future which is a good deal more subtle
than the official American approach currently allows.
There are new understandings of our environment, then, to be taken on board. Thus
the last millennium or so tells clearly enough of a Western European
civilization which eventually took over the New World but which was
also oppressed by cosmic inputs considerably more than most of us have
been given to believe.
It also tells of a civilization driven to such extremes by
these external pressures that the subordinate and more reliable
elements of society could only seek their freedom by aimless uprising
while others with the means and some sense of purpose sought their
freedom by escaping their environment.
Viewed negatively on the one hand, the cosmic inputs are an
unbearable overpressure which society characteristically fails to
resist and which has a roughly one in four human lifetime chance of
recurring; viewed positively on the other hand, the same inputs are the
cause of 'punctuational crises' which are also the principal opportunity for civilization to step out of its mold.
Each new search for civil order in the wake of
oppression and chaos has proved to be an added spur to civilization's
advance and a likely paradigm shift.
Something of the right note here may be struck by Trevor-Roper
(1987) when he tells us, albeit without any reference to an increased
fireball flux, how:
... in Germany, the ideas of Paracelsus were combined with [ ]
metaphysical speculations: how there too a new era of enlightenment was
expected to follow the return of a chemical prophet, 'Elias Artista',
who would make all things new; and how the beginnings of the Thirty
Years War were seen as the 'shakings' which would precede the fall of
Antichrist and, as it were, light the fuse for the great eschatological
explosion. That did not work out according to plan; but in 1640, when a
new series of 'shakings' began in England, hope was rekindled. The
English Puritan Revolution, which we see as a purely national struggle,
appeared to many European Protestants as an event of international
significance, the second stage of the Bohemian Revolution of 1618. So
messianic expectations were renewed and central European enthusiasts
looked, and sometimes came, to an England which, they hoped, having
reclaimed its historic role, would realise the Bohemian promise of
enlightenment as the prelude to the millennium.
Trevor-Roper goes on to point out that many of the time were indeed
responding to the same intellectual challenge. For at one extreme of
the Reformation-Counter Reformation debate we find an anticipated
messianic return: that of the likes of 'Elias Artista', essentially the
late medieval rendering of neo-Platonism's cosmic demi-urge, for which
such as Bruno would go to the stake; whereas at the other extreme of
the debate, we find a desire for permanence and stability: an
establishment set against any Pyrrhonist (catastrophist) perception and
determined at all costs to preserve for Christendom its basic
(Aristotelian) cosmic theme. It seems though that "none of them
produced a final answer. But in the convulsion of their time the old
compromise was destroyed, or at least emptied of its real content, and
all of them, out of its relics, incidentally contributed something to
the succeeding age..."
In other words, there is a perspective on the historical
process which now tells us that the Renaissance needed its Inquisition
to preserve the perceived cosmic order and suppress the omens which the
astrological view of nature nevertheless allowed.
Likewise the English Enlightenment needed its official
ridicule to counter the cometary threat which the scientific view of
nature essentially allowed.
But now, with space tentatively explored, the
public has learned that neither the Inquisition nor official ridicule
will impede future cosmic inputs.
The US Congress no doubt will decide how these inputs will be
challenged - but if realism is to prevail, and ridicule no longer
works, the new understandings of our cosmic environment will impose
their new discipline on society as well!
In short, society still has to come to terms
with the seriousness and comparative urgency of the cosmic threat and
to recognise the need for an enabling contract between mankind and its
leaders which guarantees both the discipline and the challenge.
If history is a guide, the necessity of preventative action will of
course be ignored! Thus the situation is by no means new and has
occurred many times before (Cohn, 1957; 1993). Recent studies have probably given us a pretty good idea how societies respond in extreme circumstances
and, to encapsulate these, we can do worse than go back to the
beginnings of western civilization itself. For it is here that we find
how the Roman Empire became aware of and confronted the cosmic threat
during its fourth and fifth century decline, essentially realising that
neither Stoics nor Epicureans had any answer to the intense public
anxiety which then emerged.
Thus, it came about, so it now appears, that a whole subjugated
people extending from the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe
rather suddenly succumbed to the blandishments of a Christian community
(Brown, 1971) which promulgated the notion that one could escape the
torment of "demons" by electing to "belong" to an everlasting (cosmic)
community of "saints". By associating these demons and saints with
members of the human population as well as with clashing celestial
armies and hence with an observed circulation in the sky (Section 3.5),
it seems that this Christian notion had its basis in verifiable cosmic
facts which had been endorsed by neo-Platonists such as Proclus and
The point here is that a basic classical view of the Universe,
originating with the pre-Socratics and given its most perfect
expression in Plato's Timaeus, reached its zenith with the
neo-Platonists. Plato and the neo-Platonists described how a divine
agency, the demi-urge, had constructed the main features of the visible
heavens: a planetary system in the plane of the ecliptic which probably
included the Earth in orbit around the Sun and another divine
circulation inclined to the ecliptic which not only intersected the
path of the Earth but supposedly reached out beyond the sphere of
stars. It was this circulation apparently, with the characteristics of
elliptical motion and precessing nodes, which returned to the Earth at
long intervals with catastrophic consequences. However the more
cultivated and sophisticated elements of Roman society were not at
first prepared to go along with this expectation. Rather both secular
and ecclesiastical opinion discounted the demi-urge and held to an
(Aristotelian) perception of the environment which presupposed some
degree of permanence and stability in the cosmos at hand.
Before enduring the Dark Age however, the Roman Empire was to be
horrified by the imprint of "deserted areas" which contemporary opinion
closely associated with the imminent arrival of world-end (Esmonde
Cleary, 1989). Such devastation now seems to have the character of
super-Tunguska events; and, indeed, one such putative event in England,
as the particular country in question was to become, was subsequently
attributed to "the fire of righteous vengeance".
While enlightened scholarship has for long been in the habit of
ridiculing the implications of such phraseology, several historians
have recently gone out of their way to emphasise the essentially dramatic
nature of this event and its consequences. These, realistically
interpreted, appear greatly to exceed those expected with a mere
exploratory invasion by a boatload of (Anglo)Saxon brigands as
enlightened scholarship would normally have it (e.g. Myres, 1986 cf.
In other words, the possibility of severe cosmic events is no longer
in principle denied and it may therefore be hardly surprising that
ideas put about by neo-Platonists during the fourth and fifth centuries
should have been in the ascendancy.
During the sixth century Justinian period, indeed, the social
upheaval and environmental calamities appeared to be scaling new
heights and it is not without significance that a firm administration
then closed down the Platonist Academy in Athens and thereby
effectively created a subversive undercurrent of astronomical knowledge
which was to remain at the heart of Christendom's intellectual discord
for at least another fifteen hundred years (e.g. Lindberg, 1992)!
Thus it was in the aftermath of catastrophe, during the latter half
of the Justinian administration, that (Byzantine) Christendom securely
embraced Aristotelian doctrine for the first time, to be followed a
century later along this track by (Muslim, non-Arab) Islam (e.g. Brown,
1971). Subsequently, another five centuries were to pass before
Aristotelian doctrine was also embraced by Western European Christendom
by which time the latter came to be seen as having experienced an
intellectual dark age of some seven or eight centuries.
Now, as we acquire an improved understanding of the relevant cosmic
facts (Section 3), it seems that the crucial scientific advances later
engineered by Kepler, Bruno, Galileo and Newton provided us with the
basic framework which eventually led to the Space Age revelations
culminating with the split comet by Jove and which will in due course
mark the astronomical notions of the neo-Platonists as ones which
should never have been set aside!
3. EVOLUTION, PUNCTUATIONAL CRISES AND THE THREAT TO CIVILIZATION
3.1. Punctuated Equilibrium
The idea that evolution on Earth proceeds at a uniform pace towards
some undefined state of perfection in the remote future has given way
in recent years to one involving successive states of "punctuated
equilibrium" (Gould and Eldredge, 1977). Thus, in keeping with
evolution's supposedly progressive nature, it is assumed that both the
environment and the distribution of living species remain in successive
uniformitarian states for characteristically long periods of time and
that these also begin and end with much briefer periods when both the
environment and the distribution of species undergo very rapid
There is an implicit assumption here, of course, that the upheavals
are then necessarily progressive whereas in practice the condition of
the environment along with the distribution and character of species,
treated broadly as a geophysical/biophysical cum
geochemical/biochemical state, is probably most simply perceived as
experiencing a catastrophic recession followed by a catastrophic
advance. An 'advance' as such does not then have any absolute
significance but is merely said to be so on account of its
retrospective accord with the direction taken to reach the following
Under these circumstances, it is to be expected that we are dealing
with uniformitarian states which are broadly regressive rather than
progressive - that is, tending towards some statistically average state
rather than deviating from it - and punctuational states which broadly
comprise a recession forced by cometary input and an arguably
deterministic advance forced by the random disequilibrium so inflicted.
The significance of cometary inputs is that they allow both
biophysical and biochemical effects i.e. cosmic insertions reaching
different levels in the atmosphere which are capable of generating
either catastrophic explosions or catastrophic loading of the
atmosphere with particulate material (dust) bearing biologically active
chemicals. If this understanding is generally correct then it
is clear that the Darwinian perspective on evolution, suggestive of an
intrinsic directional quality in natural selection, is no longer
supported and that we should look to the random yet (in principle)
predictable cosmic inputs and their induced chaos as the fundamental
controlling factor determining the course of evolution.
Natural selection, on this account, is but a counterbalancing process
tending to preserve equilibrium after a disturbance and is essentially
With the advances during recent years in our knowledge of the
astronomical environment, there has been a tendency to suppose these
'punctuations' might reasonably be associated with isolated 'impact
crises' due to encounters with single bodies in Earth-crossing orbits.
While, as a matter of definition, it might be considered arguable
exactly what level of crisis qualifies as a punctuation in the
terrestrial record, one can perhaps assume, as a matter of principle,
that only those impinging bodies capable of significantly influencing
the whole globe for a brief period should be considered.
It is on just such a basis apparently that single near-Earth objects
(NEOs) greater than a kilometre or so in size have come to be the new
focus of attention so far as terrestrial evolution is concerned.
Indeed, through this rather simplistic perception, recognizing also
that the human species is a global phenomenon, the notion that km-plus
NEOs are the most serious threat to civilization has recently gained
some impetus (e.g. Chapman and Morrison, 1994).
Civilization however, is not something that we necessarily associate
with mankind as a whole; rather we envisage several different
'civilizations' which occupy different parts of the globe at any one
time; and many 'civilizations' during the course of history which have
flowered and foundered (e.g. Spengler, 1932; Toynbee 1945).
Civilization, in fact, treated as a modest evolutionary aspect of
the human species, not only appears to be associated with distinct
ethnographic and demographic qualities of mankind but tends to be
regarded as a local rather than a global phenomenon; in which case, the
theory of punctuated equilibrium would seem to require that single
or multiple sub-km NEOs capable of depositing massive dust veils or
inducing super-Tunguska events represent the commonest and hence most
likely serious threat to an individual civilization.
At the same time, it may have to be admitted that the modern trend
towards the rapid 'globalization' of civilization and its other
qualities is perhaps rendering these characteristics more synonymous
with mankind as a whole than was formerly accepted. But however
globalized and/or superficial the evolutionary characteristics of
civilization may be, it is clear that this more qualified
understanding of punctuated equilibrium allows the possibility of
localized evolution of a dominant strain in association with a
localized cosmic input such as a super-Tunguska event and of the global
extension of this dominant strain in due course. Such a turn
of events is not excluded apparently by the present condition of the
human species and its evolution from a single African location during
the past million years or so.
It follows from considerations such as these that the evolution of
civilization may be no more than a simple extension of the evolution of
biological species. Thus we are accustomed to the idea of punctuated
equilibrium in biological evolution reflecting isolated encounters with
the single km-plus (meteoritic) asteroids which have undergone a prior
series of orbital deflections since leaving the asteroid belt. But we
are less familiar perhaps with the idea of 'punctuational crises'
affecting biological evolution and the advance of civilization, these
being due to the more sustained bombardments by fragmentation debris
when active, dormant or dead comets which have deviated from the most
likely source of comets (the Oort cloud, say) undergo significant
splitting in Earth-crossing orbits. Such orbital debris encountering
the Earth's atmosphere is evidently capable of introducing both
high-level dust and low-level explosions, depending on its mass and
cohesive strength, and it follows that punctuational crises are
comprised of global coolings and super-Tunguska events together with a
generally enhanced fireball flux.
Taken as a whole and in conjunction with a given planetary target
(e.g. Jupiter, Earth etc.), the response function to the bombardments
is inevitably complex. Nevertheless, we can broadly expect that the
strength of a punctuational crisis will vary as the progenitor comet
mass, the inverse (velocity) dispersion of its debris and the inverse
(time) delay since fragmentation. In which case the encounter between
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (P/SL-9) and Jupiter may be taken as
representing an extreme punctuational crisis where the dispersion and
delay were small.
An extreme punctuational crisis affecting our planet and involving
multiple comet fragments may also be envisaged for such evolutionary
events as the mass extinction of species, for example the KT event 65
Myr ago. Such rare events however are at one end of the evolutionary
scale: at the other end of the scale, we deal with the lesser but more
frequent crises affecting the Earth which have disturbed civilization
several times during recent millennia - these may have had smaller
inverse dispersions and smaller inverse delays but are no less
important for that!
Indeed, such crises can now be regarded as the smallest units of our
overall catastrophic experience; and to place them in perspective, we
need to consider the catastrophic record as a whole. This leads us to
recognise the relatively sudden flowering and foundering of
civilizations during interglacials as the principal signatures of
punctuational crises that arise as the corresponding debris of a giant
comet in a short-period, Earth-crossing orbit passes through the final
stages (splittings) of its evolution and decline.
Thus we envisage a situation where the particular mass distribution
of comets settling in Earth-crossing orbits includes occasional very
massive candidates up to a few hundred kilometres in size for it is the
evolution of these very massive comets which seems to be dominant in
the terrestrial record. For example, the contemporary millennia can now
be seen in the context of successive myriads of years (104 - 105
yr) in which the global coolings either persist (a glacial period under
the control of a disintegrating giant comet) or remain largely in
abeyance (an interglacial period under the control of a largely
dispersed giant comet).
The interwoven glacial-interglacial structure which is then
imprinted from time to time on the terrestrial record and corresponds
to ice ages some - 106 - 108 yr in duration is
then readily enough understood in terms of Oort cloud perturbations
which characteristically last for such periods of time and of a
resulting overall flux of giant comets settling in short-period,
Earth-crossing orbits which is apparently not so very different from
that currently observed (Bailey et al., 1994).
The evidence, in other words, seems to
indicate that it is the cometary flux which dominates the general
course of biological evolution, the general course of the global
climate and the general course of the civilization to which we belong.
Such pre-eminence in terrestrial affairs accorded to comets
remains, of course, a very uncomfortable proposition for much of
twentieth century civilization and science.
3.2. Cumulative record of catastrophes
Our knowledge of the impactor flux reflecting the general state of
the inner Solar System environment is largely based on the cumulative
counts of impact craters formed on lunar mares since the end of the
heavy bombardment phase. As a result, the diameter-flux relationship
for the largest impactors arriving at the Earth is commonly represented
by a simple uniformitarian power law:
Φ(D) = k D -α, 1 <= D <= 102.5 km
Continuity considerations require that this relationship is
applicable to the potential impactors in Earth-crossing orbits which
are currently observed. Amongst these we must include the
Earth-crossers having intermediate and long period orbits which reach
out beyond Jupiter towards the Oort cloud. However, their particular
direct influence, in comparison with that of the Earth-crossers in
sub-Jovian space, which principally derive from short-period
asteroidal (mainbelt) and short-period cometary (Jupiter family)
reservoirs, is so small that they can reasonably be neglected for the
purposes of the present discussion.
It follows that the asteroidal and cometary bodies of interest in
Earth-crossing orbits, comprising mostly their sub-asteroidal and
sub-cometary fragmentation products which encounter the Earth
(meteorites and meteoroids, respectively), are essentially those
surviving in two sub-Jovian orbital regimes. These have 'dynamical
lifetimes' of ~ 108 yr and ~ 106 yr,
respectively, depending on the eccentricity of their progenitor
injection orbits - below and above 0.5, say. Thus, so far as these
short-period reservoirs dominating the terrestrial influx are
concerned, it is basically orbital eccentricity which determines the
likelihood of a grazing encounter with a major celestial body such as
would tend to remove these smaller bodies from inner Solar System
space, and it is now recognized that the terrestrial planets are most
likely to play this role when e < 0.5 (Wetherill, 1988; 1991) while the Sun and Jupiter are most likely to play this role when e > 0.5 (Froeschle et al., 1995).
Transitions between these orbital regimes are not of course
excluded, so their unique categorization in terms of asteroids and
comets, respectively, cannot be absolutely relied upon. Nevertheless it
is broadly the case that meteorites and meteoroids have differing
(top-heavy) mass distributions and fragmentation spectra as well as
differing physical and dynamical lifetimes with the result that
cometary-meteoroidal impactors, unlike their asteroidal-meteoritic
counterparts, cannot be expected to achieve a fully relaxed spatial
distribution with respect to solar ecliptic longitude and latitude. In
other words, the minor body flux of cometary origin normally takes a
period of time to become fully sporadic which is significantly in
excess of its physical survival time. The result, as a consequence of
hierarchical disintegration, is that the sporadic distribution is only
present at higher (D > 1 km) and lower (D < 10-3km) mass levels while the uniformitarian law undergoes an observed steepening in the intermediate range, such that
Φ(D) = k D -β, 10 -3 <= D <= 1 km
where β > α (Shoemaker, 1983). The relationships (1) and (2) are
based on the lunar cratering record but we can also determine the
diameter-flux relationship for smaller impactors currently arriving at
the Earth, as derived from the bodies in space which are observed
either in situ or penetrating the atmosphere (Rabinowitz et at, 1993;
Ceplecha, 1992; Tagliaferri et al., 1994), whence it turns out that
Φ(D) = 10 - 100 X Φ(D), D<= 10-2 km
This may evidently be understood as a temporary condition, also in
accordance with the observational steepening, and has for some while
been attributed, as we have seen, to a still disintegrating, very large
comet (Kresak, 1981) of the kind now believed to be present in the
inner Solar System from time to time (Δ t ~ 105 yr; Bailey et al., 1994).
The steepening thus straightforwardly implies that the commonest
'evolutionary events' on Earth relating to the low mass end of the
Solar System minor body population (i.e. 10-1 < D < 1 km) are due to correlated encounters with the hierarchically disintegrated products of the debris from successive giant comets.
The appeal to a contemporary giant comet does of course represent a general departure from uniformitarianism on timescales 10E4 - 10E6
yr, the typical interval between giant comets settling in sub-Jovian
space. The cumulative record of catastrophes thus leaves open the
question whether there are additional modulations of the terrestrial
record on timescales < and > 10E4 - 10E6 yr which would also be indicative of a predominantly cometary influence on terrestrial evolution.
3.3. Punctuational crises
To many investigators, the idea that isolated impact crises rising
above some global threshold are the only astronomical influence we need
consider when dealing with evolutionary processes in geology and
biology is simply not compatible with the evident complexity of the
terrestrial record (Hallam, 1989). Thus it is widely
recognized that long-term climatic and other factors must also be
involved and it has been known for seventy years that the terrestrial
record is marked by periodic and stochastic modulations on timescales
between 106 and 109 yr indicative of a Galactic driving force
(e.g. Holmes, 1927). Indeed it is for these reasons that many
investigators in recent years have given greater credence to a cometary
(Oort cloud) rather than a (Mainbelt) asteroidal source of
'punctuational crises' (see Section 3.4).
The role model for punctuations then is not the ostensibly
narrow epoch associated with a random (km-plus) asteroid; rather it is
the considerably broader epoch associated with the relatively
short-lived, orbitally correlated, disintegration products of a
not-so-random (km-plus) comet.
There are several points to be made here. First, these considerably broader epochs may be characterized by one or more global coolings and/or super-Tunguska events occurring as a prelude to or in association with an enhanced fireball flux:
events of this kind are to be expected as a consequence of high-level
dust insertions and low-level multimegaton explosions such as may be
produced, depending on their cohesive strength, by sub-cometary masses
of about 0.1-1 km in size. Secondly, both the cometary mass function
(which is top-heavy) and the tendency of comets to undergo rapid
disintegration determine that a high degree of coherence may be present
in the incidence of sub-km and km-plus comets on Earth at any one time.
Cometary material in general is capable of being active, dormant or
dead and for inner Solar System material of this kind whose
distribution does not evolve and which has broadly unchanging orbital
and constitutional characteristics, it would certainly be expected that
the frequency of punctuational crises (as now defined) at any epoch
would also be broadly unchanging and reflective of the integrated
"minor body" mass "in residence".
With a variable mass content however, such as arises with the
top-heavy mass distribution of comets settling randomly in inner Solar
System space, the pattern of punctuational crises may be expected to
take on the general character of a glacial-interglacial with both
periodic and random groups of events on timescales < 105 - 106 yr reflecting the orbital and fragmentation history of a particular giant comet (e.g. Asher and Clube, 1993).
In other words, as a consequence of the cometary mass distribution,
we envisage punctuational crises which are themselves hierarchically
nested in the overall manner of glacial-interglacials, each lasting in
effect for the duration of ~ 104-10 orbits in
accordance with the size of the parent comet within the nested
hierarchy i.e. from a few hundred to a few kilometres in size. It is
thus in the general nature of the intermittently top-heavy population
of comets deposited in inner Solar System space that our planet is
bound to experience glacials and interglacials, the latter being
themselves interspersed with global coolings of shorter duration which
are in association with super-Tunguska events and sustained
enhancements of the fireball flux. Several facts then come together to
inform us as to the likely nature of the current environment:
a)the disintegration products of comets
(meteoroids) currently incident upon the Earth outweigh the
disintegration products of asteroids (meteorites) by one or two orders
of magnitude (e.g. Tagliaferri et al., loc cit)
b)the sporadic flux of meteoroids in inner Solar
System space is dominated by a single, very broad, elliptical torus
(e.g. Stohl, 1983) suggestive of a recently disintegrated, very large,
Taurid comet (e.g. Clube, 1987; Steel et al., 1994).
c) the current interglacial follows on a recent
glacial at ~ 20,000 ± 10,000 BP broadly suggestive of a recently
disintegrated, very large comet and is itself interspersed with
sustained enhancements of the fireball flux known on several occasions
to be correlated with severe global coolings (Asher and Clube, 1993;
Clube, 1994; Baillie, 1994).
d) dynamical studies (e.g. Asher et al., 1993) are
consistent (within a factor ~2) with a ~ 20,000 yr hierarchically
disintegrated Taurid comet characterised by relative speeds of
separation ~ 1 kms-1 such as are plausibly associated with differential energetic outflows (jets) from cometary fragments, the
fragmentation apparently arising through tidal splitting during close
encounters with terrestrial planets, through solar irradiative effects
and through intrusive high velocity impacts.
The evidence indeed points to the contemporary environment having
been dominated by an evolved giant comet and it is clear from the
dynamical behaviour of other such bodies like Chiron further out in the
Solar System (Bailey et al., 1994) that these extended inputs are
currently recurring at random intervals ~ 10E5 yr. We may conclude that
it is the cometary punctuational crises which are dominant on
timescales < 10E6 yr.
3.4. The Holmes cycle
Unfortunately the cratering record is not yet well enough resolved
to describe with certainty any of its possible modulations on
timescales ~ 10E6 ~ 10E9 yr (Grieve, 1989). Nevertheless to the extent
that geological and biological signatures may be understood as proxy-signatures for punctuational crises,
there is good evidence for a late Phanerozoic cycle of 26.3 Myr
(Rampino and Caldeira, 1992) broadly confirming previous determinations
based on the extinction cycle alone (Raup and Sepkoski, 1984 cf.
Holmes, 1927). It also appears that the most recent maximum phase of
this cycle coincides with a mid-Miocene peak ~13-14 Myr BP from which
the early Pleistocene peak ~ 2 Myr BP introducing the Sun's latest
Galactic plane passage is clearly distinguished.
On the assumption that geomagnetic reversal events in particular
provide a reasonably undistorted record of the major glacials due to
large (inner Solar System) comets, the 26.3 Myr cycle is rather clearly
interleaved with another cycle of the same period but lower amplitude;
the two together being then uniquely associated with variations of the
continuous and stochastic components of the Galactic 'dark matter' gravitational field
acting upon the Oort cometary cloud, expected as a consequence of the
Sun's vertical oscillation about the Galactic plane (Clube and Napier,
1996 cf. Matese et al., 1995). Quite apart from the not- unimportant
implications for dark matter and its nature, these cycles are in fact
strong prima facie evidence of a very persistent influence on
terrestrial affairs due to very large comets originating from the Oort
cloud and we may conclude that cometary punctuational crises are
dominant on timescales > as well as < 10E6 yr.
It is perhaps an interesting aside on the theory of punctuational
crises that the latest two peaks of the compound Holmes cycle,
correlating with two broad spasms of increased terrestrial activity,
seem, respectively, to be associated with the first appearance of
hominids and with the eventual emergence of homo sapiens while the
particular activity that goes with the latest, very large, comet seems
remarkably well correlated with mankind's bare survival under stringent
circumstances at the end of the Pleistocene during a global climatic
recession (i.e. the most recent glacial at ~ 20,000±-10,000 BP) and the
subsequent rise of civilization during the Holocene. Civilization
in other words is merely the latest random facet of a continuing
galacto-terrestrial interaction expressed through the action of comets
on the resident gene pool!
3.5. Spenglerian model of civilization
To recapitulate then: by studying the longer term cycles in the
terrestrial record and some of the details in civilization's advance,
we have now come to recognize the fundamental role of the Galaxy and
comets in terrestrial affairs. This role inevitably causes us to give
particular attention to very large variations in the impact catastrophe
rate. Indeed we can now recognize a broad category of evolutionary
events described here as punctuational crises.
Punctuational crises can have an elaborate structure in practice but
are no different, in principle, from the recent P/SL-9 encounter with
Jupiter. Thus the differences in general are merely those that arise
due to the differences in the target, the fragmentation agency and the
degree of orbital correlation.
So far as civilization is concerned, the aspect of the
matter which gives punctuational crises their special distinction over
isolated impact crises is their capacity for inducing social
destabilization as a result of fragmentation and the perceived
statistical inevitability of encounters with the Earth.
In the case of P/SL-9, since another planetary target was involved,
mankind was able to take a detached view of the subsequent proceedings.
In the case of an Earth encounter however, since the enhanced fireball flux is indicative of its more massive correlates,
the view can never be detached. Such enhancements have in fact occurred
frequently in the past - ostensibly in association with the Taurid
stream (Clube, 1994: see also Fig. 1) - and the next occurrence, as we
have seen, has a roughly one in four human lifetime chance.
Historically, inasmuch as these enhancements have frequently
been interpreted as indicating the imminence of 'last times',
predisposing even the most advanced societies to break up and lose
control, the corrective response has usually depended on the
disposition of society as it experienced punctuational crisis.
A study of past civilizations appears to indicate differing responses depending
on whether society is subject to theocratic or secular control, the
crucial factor being the ability of the administration to maintain
basic freedoms whilst avoiding any descent into social chaos.
The situation is not satisfactory for it seems that theocratic
states will tend to censor any perceived deviation from the perceived
celestial norm (whatever form this takes) while secular states will
merely seek to trivialize any threat posed by comets.
As we have already noted, neither censorship nor trivialization is likely to be effective in future
and it is not clear therefore that civilization is currently well
placed to handle the next punctuational crisis. Indeed, any benefit
accruing to civilization through the uncritical endorsement of the
Spaceguard programme (Chapman and Morrison, 1994) does little at
present to alleviate the pressures due to the next punctuational crisis.
Ultimately, there is a problem here because we still belong to a
period of human history in which the Darwinian or progressive view of
our past is so securely entrenched that we set aside contemporary and
near-contemporary proponents of any alternative view. There is no lack
of concern of course as to the fate of civilization but academe still
requires a supposedly uniformitarian terrestrial environment and a
supposedly innate tendency on the part of the human species to evolve
through natural selection towards some perfectly civilized state. It
seems in fact that the currently adopted scientific paradigm requires
us to take a severely anthropocentric view of the environment,
virtually guaranteeing catastrophes will not occur.
Insofar as we pay any respect to the environment, we are encouraged
to believe that mankind has it essentially under control. That is, we
assume as a matter of principle that the environment can be preserved
in a uniformitarian state. Accordingly we no longer pay much attention
to any teleological or eschatological view of history (Butterfield,
1981; Bultmann, 1957) and have very little patience with historians
such as Spengler (1932) or Toynbee (1945) who have seen in civilization
a necessarily ephemeral characteristic of the human species. The former
indeed, in his once renowned The Decline of the West, saw
only a tendency for the various cultures and their corresponding
civilizations to stand alone in space and time in a demonstrably
self-contained way. This was not to propose that the principal
paradigms of a culture are not part of a longer term evolutionary trend
but to indicate that the paradigms which prevail across an interface
between successive cultures in time are characterized by a process of
random selection and a degree of rapid remoulding. Each such
culture-civilization so pre-formed did admittedly evolve but always in
a repeated and characteristic manner which depended not so
much on the environment or the state of technology but on an inner
combination of perceptions borne and successfully conveyed to
succeeding generations by a dominant founding group. Thus
there would be a frenzied 'spring' and a staid 'autumn', periods of
growing dominance and settled equilibrium, respectively, but always
such civilizations would begin and end with periods of trauma which
marked them off in time. Spengler described these periods of trauma as
"psuedomorphic" rather than "punctuational", seeming to imply
nevertheless some kind of mainspring which he described as "cosmic".
The nature of the cosmic mainspring has not been evaluated, as it
happens, but the model was applied to world history, as it was known,
with some evident success - albeit with implications which, whilst they
were not accepted into the mainstream, have never been precisely
Foremost amongst these implications was the recognition of a
significant pseudomorphosis during the seventh century BC (cf Starr,
1961) associated with the emergence of three major civilizations, those
of China, India and the Mediterranean, culturally aligned with Taoism,
Buddhism and Stoicism, respectively. Of particular significance to the
long term development of these civilizations, so Spengler inferred, was
the emergence and decline during the subsequent millennium, of the
so-called Magian culture centred on and around Babylon. This he
evidently pictured as the main intellectual conduit through which the
basic knowledge of an underlying cosmic influence, as it was perceived
in earlier neighbouring civilizations such as the Persian, the
Mesopotamian, the Egyptian and the Aegean, came to be harmonized and
perpetuated. Thus Spengler was able to describe how the domain of
Christendom became the principal bearer of an original, predominantly
Magian, culture which also underwent significant metamorphosis in the
hands of the Greeks. But he also made it clear that this metamorphosis
created inherent ambiguities since the modified culture experienced
successive schisms at three determining councils (Nicea, Ephesus,
Chalcedon) before spreading in its various doctrinal forms broadly
along the Eurasian temperate zone.
The significance of the Magian culture, if Spengler is
correct, lies then in its cosmic paradigm: the fact of alternative
fundamental perceptions of the astronomical environment, both of which
came to have very wide, almost global, acceptance by the major
civilizations of the world.
Broadly speaking, what we are dealing with here is the (original)
pre-Socratic or (later) neo-Platonic version of the Universe and the
fact of an intervening unresolved schism which resulted in the
Aristotelian version of the Universe eventually being accepted
throughout Christendom. We deal in effect with a pre-existing,
essentially physical, perception of the astronomical environment which
takes the Universe to be infinite in extent, both temporally and
spatially; but, inasmuch as the trauma of pseudomorphoses have been
moderated by the adoption of a more pragmatic philosophy, we also deal
with an imposed, essentially comfortable, perception of the
astronomical environment which takes the Universe to be finite in
extent, both temporally and spatially, and subject to external,
benevolent control. It is the finite version apparently western civilization currently takes the lead in preserving.
It was Aristotle of course who reminded us of a mythical tradition
of extreme antiquity in which the stars are gods and in which "the
divine embraces the whole of nature". But it was he also who
disapproved of the existence of any infinite object or any infinite
plurality of objects to explain the Universe, claiming instead that the
fixed stars at the same distance from the Earth essentially marked the
limit of the world.
Plato, it will be recalled, likewise thought of stars and planets
along with the sun and moon as relatively local features of the
Universe; but with the important difference in his case that these
objects were all temporary products of the recent and even
on-going evolution of a former "cosmic egg". Thus Plato and his
predecessors quite clearly did not accept the Aristotelian limit and
considered the Universe to be infinite. Indeed, the pre-Socratics and
the early atomists subscribed to the idea of innumerable worlds or
"cosmic eggs" scattered throughout infinite space which passed into and out of existence.
The underlying idea was that of an infinite or 'boundless' Universe
whose constituents therefore represented the unlimited 'stuff' of the
Universe. Such stuff was of an ungenerated and imperishable nature; it
was also in a state of eternal motion, being therefore classified as
immortal and divine. In addition though, the pre-Socratics were
hylozoists in that they went beyond the mere atomistic conception of
dead matter in mechanical motion and the Cartesian dualism of matter
and mind supposing that the primary stuff of the Universe carried in
some form the essential characteristics of animate, conscious beings
(e.g. Cornford, 1952). The soul-stuff of life on Earth, for example,
was thus thought of as being in some kind of continuum connecting it
with the soul-stuff of a corresponding life-form in the visible,
evolved heavens. The living world to which we belong, according to the
pre-Socratics and neoPlatonists, was therefore a limited cosmic entity
both representing the evolved constituents of a particular cosmic egg
and occupying a volume of finite extent in both space and time. It was
necessarily part of the Universe but since the latter was of infinite
extent in both space and time, it was natural that the immediately
visible world was also perceived as the 'world-cavern'.
In effect, the 'world-cavern' was a cosmic setting for the living
community, or species, to which we and our basic soul-stuff could be
considered to belong. It was a cosmic setting which was also conceived
to possess a beginning and an end, both chaotic periods when the
relevant cosmic egg was considered to undergo deconstruction and
But whereas Plato's Universe gave us uniformity beyond the stars - a
world of cosmic eggs stretching from here to infinity and from now to
eternity - together with an interaction beneath the stars between
heaven and Earth, essentially permitting the basic astrological
principle; we find that Aristotle's Universe, based on a similar
framework of facts- gave us uniform (circular) motion for the planets
between the stars and the Earth and thus an absence of any local
interaction between heaven and Earth within the world-cavern, essentially discarding the basic astrological principle.
It is the discarded astrological principle of
course which removes the theoretical possibility of cosmic terror
afflicting civilization and which gives the Aristotelian Universe its
particular charm so far as any pragmatic leadership is concerned.
One cannot be surprised therefore that ecclesiastical
authorities and secular administrations, anxious to maintain some kind
of stability in the face of cosmic stress, should be diverted by the
charms of a principle which merely 'saved appearances' and created the
illusion of uniformitarian calm in the vicinity of our planet!
Astronomers however do not have to be so diverted since the Universe,
for them, is not a matter of wishful thinking!
Thus, broadly in line with the Timaeus, before mankind had achieved
any kind of measurement which would indicate for certain the sizes and
distances of the planets, our 'world-cavern', was thought of as somehow
displaying the typical characteristics of an evolving world amongst the
plurality of worlds. The general appearance of the celestial sphere
seemed to imply a stellar firmament outermost which contained within
its space two mutually inclined circulations of material derived
originally from the relevant cosmic egg. Plato is known to have
ultimately regretted his initial opinion that the Earth lay at the
focus of these circulations. This suggests he may have favoured the
'central hearth' or the 'Sun as the centre of the cavern while it was
the Earth rather than heaven, of these mutually inclined structures,
which comprised the visible bodies we now associate with the ecliptic.
Plato also considered that the original fashioning of this
construction was in the hands of the demi-urge, its apparent purpose
being to introduce an interaction between heaven and Earth which was to
a large extent reflected in the meteoric phenomena which we observe.
Thus it was fundamental to the whole perception that the heavenly
circulation returned to Earth with apocalyptic force at long intervals
of time; indeed, it was a specific and enduring characteristic of the
Magian culture, having cosmic significance, that "something was
descried in the far future, indefinitely and darkly still, but with a
profound certainty that it would come".
Eventually, as the perceived awesome nature of the forthcoming event
became even more intense, there was increased speculation as to the
character of the world-cavern and its association with a succession of
demi-urges (or 'craftsmen' - 'sons of God'). The latter supposedly
fashioned the successive ages of mankind, each new beginning being
marked by the return of the everlasting fire and by the occurrence of a
portentous cosmic birth, conceivably a cometary splitting and hence a
recognizable 'messianic' sign (see Section 4.1).
In due course, the Magian culture would undergo transformation
during the fourth and second centuries BC and then again during the
first and third centuries AD before experiencing yet another profound
pseudomorphosis during the Dark Age period 400-600 AD. By then, the
belief in the apocalypse had intensified to the extent that it
penetrated the doctrine of European Christendom where it was to remain
for at least another millennium undergoing yet further transformation
and revival during yet further pseudomorphoses around 1100 AD, 1500 AD,
1650 AD and 1790 AD, each time in association with enhancements of the
fireball flux (Fig. 1).
At each of these epochs, the Platonist tradition is evidently
restored, most intensely perhaps during the Dark Age and the
Reformation, but each time only to be countered by revival of the
Aristotelian tradition. In fact, the fear of "last times" has never
entirely disappeared from western culture, notwithstanding Comet Biela
and the Darwinian Enlightenment, and perhaps there is now an increased
suspicion, arising through the line of historical development which
Spengler perceived, that the modern influence of a Taurid progenitor
and the ancient perception of a cosmic egg, both of which are believed
to have fragmented and dispersed, have a great deal in common.
We might well suppose in fact that our Space Age findings in
relation to the Taurid/Encke stream are in close accordance with the
pre-Socratic cosmic perception. In other words, the Space Age like a
typical fireball flux enhancement, by arousing an intense awareness of
the probable nature of our astronomical environment, can ultimately be
seen as providing us with a cosmic perception equivalent to that of the
Platonist tradition; and it is natural that this should already have
been countered (unsuccessfully!) by an entrenched Aristotelianism
opposed to the implications of the Taurid-Encke stream!
4. CELESTIAL INFLUENCE OF THE TAURID-ENCKE STREAM
The air we breathe can be remotely or locally sensed, e.g. through
our eyes and nose, respectively. Likewise, to the extent that it may
continuously penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and produce condensation
nuclei in sufficient numbers to constitute recognizable atmospheric
features e.g. noctilucent clouds, the material content of the
interplanetary environment is also capable in principle of being
remotely or locally sensed.
In most instances however, it appears that the air we breathe and
the material content of the interplanetary environment we are able to
detect remain below the threshold of everyday experience. Thus the
action of the interplanetary environment tends to be substantially
unmonitored and we can only build up our general picture of what is
going on largely through a process of irregular sampling as and when
the development of new technology unexpectedly provides us with a new
capacity to detect one of this environment's effects. The pace of
technological progress has certainly advanced this process
significantly during the Space Age but we cannot presume that this
period will necessarily have coincided with the interplanetary
environment's most dramatic effects.
4.1. Chinese astrological records
The basic perception now arrived at, as described in this article,
is that of an extraterrestrial input which transfers to our planet from
the sub-Jovian interplanetary environment and which in former times was
regarded as transferring from within the perceived 'world-cavern'.
Included from within this region at the few percent level is the
asteroidal-meteoritic material diverted from the main asteroid belt but
the dominant contribution by far from within this region, as we have
seen, is evidently the ecliptic-wide distribution of
cometary-meteoroidal material arriving at the Earth from the broadly
elliptical (i.e. helion/antihelion) circulation in sub-Jovian space
whose main concentration intersects the Earth's orbit in late June and
early November (Stohl, 1986). The dominant component, being of
comparatively recent origin, does indeed have a non-uniform
-distribution in solar ecliptic longitude reflecting its continued
concentration close to the orbit of the circulation's source; whence it
follows that this main concentration is also the likely most
significant target for intrusive hypervelocity impacts giving rise to
intermittent disintegration events in sub-Jovian space.
The most prominent of these events resulting in significant dust
signatures, i.e. the so-called cometary trails, are then naturally
associated with the largest bodies in inner Solar system space capable
of rapidly undergoing hierarchical disintegration. Such bodies are
likely to be choked off and rendered inert by their dust-laden
environments; likewise they may be naturally associated with the
release of substantial daughter bodies, even as large as small comets,
which separate only slowly from the parent source; and also with
relatively short-lived meteoroidal swarms in neighbouring orbits, which
may retain their coherence long enough to be repeatedly penetrated by
The picture arrived at is evidently one which allows us to bring
together such prominent interplanetary features as the well known
helion/antihelion flux, the conspicuous Encke trail, the major
meteoroidal concentration which has been found near the core of the
helion/antihelion flux and the huge intermittent enhancements of the
meteoroid flux known to us through Chinese astrological records
maintained during the two most recent millennia (cf. Fig. 1).
In fact, these records of fireballs are now rather firmly indicative
of the Taurid-Encke stream harbouring the bulk of the disintegrating
meteoroidal material in inner Solar System space and of successive major disintegration events every other century or so afflicting the Earth:
the most recent of which probably gave rise to Comet P/Encke some short
interval of time prior to its discovery in 1786 (e.g. Asher and Clube,
Thus, while the sizes in general of prominent daughter bodies cannot
be readily predicted and while the absolute calibration of the Chinese
records is uncertain due to unknown variations in the monitoring
process and the detection threshold, these records do nevertheless
reliably suggest a stochastic Taurid source function which has given
rise to possible cometary apparitions and fireball flux
enhancements (x 10-100) around AD 0-100, 400-600, 1040-1100,
1400-1460, 1500-1540, 1640-1680, and 1760-1800, the last of
these active periods apparently bracketing the supposed formation epoch
of Comet P/Encke and the current Encke trail. It is perhaps surprising
to note on this account that Comet Encke could be merely the latest in
a succession of demi-urges while the Encke trail harbours the principal
(inert) remnant of the original giant comet which gave rise to the
Taurid Complex (cf. Section 3.5)!
With regard to the observation of fireballs, it is worth
noting that a distinction can be drawn between the fluctuations
detected since the 18th century and those detected prior to this period.
Thus the former reflect as much the increased scientific activity in
which we currently participate while the latter reflect a moderately
uniform, slowly extending, observational regime in China and the
Orient, particularly Japan and Korea.
For the duration of this regime, the astronomical interests of the
Orient, like those of Europe, lay with portentous rather than with
astrophysical phenomena, the maintenance of suitable records being to a
large extent professionally organised only in China (Schafer, loc cit).
Given the presumed nature of this observational material, whatever the
astrophysical reality giving rise to the recorded meteoroid flux and
its correlates (e.g. high level dust insertions, super-Tunguska
events), we can be confident that the phenomena, especially during the
periods of their dominance lasting for several decades at a time, would
most probably have been understood in both China and Europe as divine
revelations or rather fearsome exemplars of a natural (presumed
astrological) process in which the cosmos necessarily interferes with
Indeed, these enhancements of the meteoroid flux which, as we have
seen, are likely to be broadly associated with the most recent giant
comet to have settled in inner Solar System space, are of particular
interest in their European context since the periods of their
principal activity happen also to coincide with periods of pronounced
social and intellectual upheaval when it is clear that the normal
ascendancy of secular over fundamentalist modes of thought, affecting
the general view of the cosmos, experiences a sharp reverse.
It is reasonable, in other words, to suppose these were the periods
when cosmic agencies were expected to interfere in terrestrial affairs,
when the inspiration due to the cosmos gave way to foreboding.
We note, for example, corresponding to these particular epochs: the
time of Christ, the Dark Age foundation of the Holy Roman Empire, the
initiation of the Crusades against Islam, the Great Schism, the
Reformation, the English Revolution and the American War of
Independence allied with the French Revolution. The activities during
all these periods point to a much closer link between political,
religious and cosmic affairs during the ancien regime than
historians normally countenance. In fact, the political consequences of
revived fundamentalism and the renewed interest in demonic agencies
during these periods, especially their destructive tendencies, often
perceived as a millenarian threat (Cohn, 1957), no longer appear to be
without an identified material cause of external origin.
The prevailing tendency nonetheless, since the 12th century, has
increasingly been to regard demonic agencies as a heresy (Thomas,
1971), not only distorting our view of the cosmos but raising
unwarranted doubts as to the reality of the likely eschatological
associations at these and earlier epochs.
4.2. Eschatology displaced
Eschatology is a relatively long-established if now somewhat obscure
branch of learning currently stranded somewhere in the hinterland
between history and theology where it remains comparatively untouched
by scientists and by historians of science. Its concern is with the
doctrine of so-called 'last times' or, more precisely, with the
perceived occurrences which, as a matter of historical record, were
thought of as bringing the known world to its final destruction.
The most recent authoritative account of eschatological theory by
Bultmann (1957) in his Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh indicates that
this subject, which was of decisive importance for the long history of
the West, developed in association with the ancient concept of a
periodicity in the course of world events. This idea originating with
the earliest known astronomical traditions based on the ancient Near
East, most probably involving a Zoroastrian tradition from Persia
(Cohn, 1995), was later developed in Greek and Roman philosophy chiefly
by the Stoic thinkers and is perhaps best known today through the
reference in Plato's Timaeus to bodies from space which return at great
intervals to cause a serious conflagration on Earth: the general concept is indeed that of a universal catastrophe deriving from the cosmic Zeus from whom also radiated a new world.
Thus the astrological literature countenances a periodically moribund
world-civilization in need of revival and restoration and the periodic
emergence of a new star at the end of an aeon, or world-year, to mark the occasion.
Bultmann emphasises however that, in addition to this over-arching
perception applicable to the known natural world, we must recognise in
the earliest historical narrative an account of normal human welfare
characterised by occasional catastrophes, mostly cosmic, which are
typical acts of divine chastisement.
The point here is that the catastrophes of divine origin were once a
common enough perception to imply relatively frequent occurrence and it
is against this background that ancient authors considered the more
serious effects of periodic universal catastrophes. Thus the Old and
New Testaments were fundamentally distinguished by the latter's added
anticipation of a forthcoming new aeon freed from Satan's
(catastrophic) rule. The picture to be envisaged therefore was that of
a new 'world catastrophe' which would bring to an end both the lesser
catastrophes and the sequence of past 'world catastrophes'. In
practice, the precise start of the new aeon was subject to a good deal
of chronological reckoning based on the apocalyptic scheme due to
Daniel and there was growing agreement during the period of the 'Pax Romana', even amongst secular historians, that the new order would be introduced around 500 AD.
Historians of course are in dispute over the precise nature of the
Dark Age. The fact of major reverses in civilization in some parts of
Europe during the fifth and sixth centuries has to be set against
survival, often in reduced circumstances, in other parts. A decline in
the level of civilization in Britain, for example, which is said not to
have been restored for upward of twelve or thirteen centuries, is
perhaps material enough evidence of the deprivation involved. Thus, in
the face of this kind of reality, whatever physical hardships were
endured, one can hardly be over-critical of survivors of a predicted
world-catastrophe who then appear somewhat casual about the
shortcomings of a failed astronomical theory i.e. it can certainly be
assumed that survivors would have recognized that the 'last times' did
not in fact arrive. It is perhaps but a short step therefore from
Plato's soul-stuff continuously emanating from the world-cavern to the
perception of a versatile if somewhat magical 'divine providence'
through which such effects as a partial conflagration might be
During a subsequent era, then when the possibility of a universal
conflagration no longer appeared probable, one can perhaps understand
that a continuing cosmic struggle might be envisaged between the dark
powers of nature and unreasonableness on the one hand and divine
providence on the other hand, the latter now losing its material
attributes and becoming primarily the source of free will and
Thus, as Bultmann supposes, "the idea of the eschatological
consummation would later be interpreted as the victory of reason,
regarded as the necessary end of the historical development". Indeed,
by subsequently placing such an interpretation on the fifth century
writings of Augustine, the Church can now be seen to move away from a
purely naturalistic interpretation of the celestial influence. However
we should not overlook the fact that the general period corresponding
to the decline of the Roman Empire (400-600 AD) was in association with
circumstances which were widely seen as predictably marking a world-end
of cosmic provenance (Barb, 1963).
In fact, such anomalies of the period as the desertion of major
tracts of land and the forced migration of whole peoples
(Esmonde-Cleary, 1989) point to an underlying cause of the
Dark Age which enveloped at least the whole of Europe and which could
well have been be due to a succession of localized catastrophes
involving super-Tunguska bodies as implied now by the
formation epoch of Comet P/Encke and by the 1760-1800 and 400-600 AD
enhancements of the fireball flux (Asher and Clube /oc cit). Thus a
cometary progenitor for the Taurid meteoroidal concentration is also
implied and it is the coincidence of the latter's orbital nodes with
the Earth's orbit around 400-600 AD which would now lead us to envisage
a wholly material cause for the Dark Age.
The evident fact of a new aeon which was not freed from
Satan's rule can of course be eventually seen as a fairly pressing
problem for the leaders of the subsequent Holy Roman Empire and
there would have been a natural tendency for later scholars to defer
the arrival of 'last times'. Indeed it was to be a feature of
historiography, then in the future, that the apocalyptic tradition with
its scheme of the four world empires of Daniel and the idea of an
eschatological end to history were gradually reinstated as part of the
4.3. Paradigm shifts
In fact, the protestant tendency, which was most seriously
aroused on the occasions of an enhanced fireball flux, was generally
intent on maintaining the apocalyptic tradition. The resulting
debate was of course a critical factor determining the pattern of
social upheaval and revolution throughout Europe until the end of the
Indeed it is only since Hegel specifically pronounced against the
role of "divine providence" in secular and philosophical affairs (e.g.
Lewis, 1954) that the crises and catastrophes comprising the main
national and world events have come to be seen as motivated by
non-cosmic disputes between oppressors and oppressed. In view
of the likelihood now of a straightforwardly natural (cosmic)
explanation of the apocalyptic tradition, we have to face the
possibility that Hegel and his successors were mistaken as to the true
nature of providence as well as to the prime cause of revolutions!
Amongst the twentieth century historians, both Spengler (1932) and
Toynbee (1945) have argued for the origin, growth and decay of
civilizations, effectively in the tradition of eschatological history,
each new growth emerging from a preceding period of chaos so that the
movement of history is brought about by an unpredictable factor,
namely, the behaviour of a nation in a critical situation. Spengler
indeed perceived such situations as a quite natural extension of
biological evolution as a whole. Thus he anticipated the theory of
punctuated equilibrium with the following perceptive commentary:
"The picture that we possess of the history of the Earth's crust and
of life is at present still dominated by the ideas which civilized
English thought has developed, since the Age of Enlightenment, out of
the English habit of life, [thus] Lye11's 'phlegmatic' theory of the
formation of the geological strata, and Darwin's of the origin of
species, are actually but derivatives of the development of England
herself. In place of the incalculable catastrophes and metamorphoses
such as von Buch and Cuvier admitted, they put a methodical evolution
over very long periods of time and recognize as causes only
scientifically calculable and indeed mechanical utility-causes".
Rather "all that we see about us impels us to the conviction that
again and again profound and very sudden changes take place in the
being of plants and animals, changes which are of a cosmic kind and
nowise restricted to the Earth's surface, which are beyond the ken of
human sense and understanding in respect of causes, if not indeed in
all respects. So, too, we observe that swift and deep changes assert
themselves in the history of the great Cultures, without assignable
causes, inferences or purposes of any kind".
To Spengler therefore, civilization is no more than the fullest
development of a culture or a paradigmatic view whose principal
characteristics are essentially dictated from the cosmically induced
chaos through which they emerge.
Accordingly, for example, we now see the fireball flux enhancement
of 1640-1680 initiating the predictions of world end in England at this
time, based on the latest analyses of the Book of Daniel by scholars
such as Alsted, Brightman and Mede (Trevor-Roper, 1987). Received into
popular currency alongside a breakdown in official censorship, these predictions were to precipitate social upheaval and intellectual chaos, as well as civil war and interregnum
in the aftermath of which those affecting to make something of a
principle out of pragmatic protestantism selected to discount
providential fireballs (Sprat loc cit) and restore scientific
censorship. Thus was silenced the recently aroused Pyrrhonist
(neo-Platonist) wing within the broad protestant tradition, tipping the
balance once again towards its more catholic (Aristotelian) wing. These
were the ambiguous conditions under which Newton was able to make
public his science and yet keep private his eschatological speculations.
Likewise, while we may now see such understandings of the stellar,
galactic and cosmological environments which have emerged during the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries as enriching our understanding of an
earlier, neo-Platonist perception of the boundless Universe, it seems
that some of the perhaps less well known astronomical findings of the
Space Age now also provide us with an understanding of the Sun and its
planetary and cometary environments which enriches our understanding of
the Magian world-cavern!
To be precise, it now seems that the latter is neither altogether
imperishable nor is it altogether temporary. Rather the Sun, its
planetary system and life on Earth are comparatively ancient
constructions from the boundless while it is the latest giant comet,
also a product of the boundless, which we should now identify in
particular with the most recent evolution of the human species and
upheavals on Earth. As such, this giant comet is merely the latest in a
continuing series, the overall picture being that of punctuational
crises which extend over a wide range of intensities and which
transform our understanding of biological and social history. The
overall picture, furthermore, is one that necessarily provides divine
revelation and cosmic myth with a natural material content, now
essentially removing such entities from the realm of fantasy.
Indeed, it seems that the secular eschatological component of
theological debate throughout history can also no longer be denied. In
short, there is inspiration and foreboding generated by a giant comet
which has masqueraded as both a cosmic egg and a cosmic serpent. There
is also a watershed in the modern perception of cometary facts marked
by the fragmentation of Comet P/SL-9 which society and government would
be unwise to ignore.
A substantial section of this article is reproduced from two of the
author's earlier papers, one of which was composed in collaboration
with Dr D. J. Asher. The author would like to thank the organisers of
the 'Inspirations' conference for their patience during the preparation
of this article. The author also wishes to acknowledge and express his
appreciation of the very material assistance, while this patience was
being exercised, provided by Dr. W. M. Napier and, through the good
offices of Dr S. P. Worden and Dr. S. Nozette, by the USAF (EOARD
1]Asher, D. J. and Clube, S. V. M. (1993) Quart. J. Roy. Astron. Soc. 34, 481.
2]Asher, D. J., Clube, S. V. M. and Steel, D. I. (1993) Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 264, 93.
3]Bailey, M. E., Clube, S. V. M., Hahn, G., Napier, W. M. and Valsecchi, G. B. (1994) In: Hazards due to comets and Asteroids, T. Gehrels et al (eds), pp 479-533. University of Arizona Press.
4]Baillie, M. G. L. (1994) The Holocene 4(2), 212.
 Barb, A. A. (1963) In: The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, A. Momigliano (ed.), pp. 100-125. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
 Bultmann D. R. (1967) History and Eschatology. Edinburgh University Press.
 Butterfield, H. (1991) The Origins of History, A. Watson (ed.) Eyre Methuen, London.
 Ceplecha, Z. (1992) Astron. Astrophys. 263, 361.
 Chapman, C. R. and Morrison, D. (1994) Nature 367, 33.
 Clube, S. V. M. (1994) In: How Science works in a Crisis: the Mass Extinction Debate, W. Glen (ed ) pp 152-169 Stanford university Press.
 Clube, S. V. M. and Napier, W. M. (1995) Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., submitted.
 Cohn, N. (1957) The Pursuit of the Millennium. Secker & Warburg, London.
 Cohn, N. (1993) Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
 Cornford, F M (1952) Principium Sapientiae: The Origins of Greek Philosophical Thought, W. K. C. Guthrie (ed.) Cambridge University Press.
 Esmonde-Cleary, A. S. (1989) The Ending of Roman Britain. Batsford, London.
 Frankfort, H., Frankfort, H. A., Wilson, J. A., Jacobsen, T. and Irwin, W. A. (1946) The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man. University of Chicago Press.
 Froeschle, Ch., Hahn, G., Gonczi, R., Morbidelli, A. and Farinella, P. (1995) Icarus 117, 45.
Gould, S. J. and Eldredge (1977) Paleobiology 3, 115.
 Grieve, R. A. F. (1989) In: Catastrophes and Evolution: Astronomical Foundations, S. V. M. Clube (ed.), pp. 57-80. Cambridge University Press.
 Hallam, A. (1989) In: Catastrophes and Evolution: Astronomical Fooundations, S.V.M. Clube (ed.), pp. 25-56. Cambridge University Press.
 Hasegawa, I. (1992) Cel. Mech. Dyn. Astron. 54, 129.
 Hill, C. (1975) Change and Continuity in Seventeenth Century England. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.
Holmes, A. (1927) The Age of the Earth: an Introduction to Geological Ideas. Berm, London.
 Kresak, L. (1981) Bull. Astron. Inst. Czechosl. 32, 19.
 Kuhn, T. S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
 Lee, H P (1971) Plato: Timaeus and Critias Penguin Harmondsworth
 Lewis, J. (1954) Introduction to Philosophy. Watts & Co., London.
 Lindberg, D. C. (1992) The Beginnings of Western Science. University of Chicago Press.
 Matese, J. J., Whitman, P. U., Innanen, K. A. and Valtonen, M. J. (1995) Icarus 116, 255.
 Morrison, D. (ed.) (1992) The Spaceguard Survey: Report of the NASA International Near¬Earth-Object Detection Workshop. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
 Myres, J. N. L. (1986) The English Settlements. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
 Proctor, R. A. (1880) Myths and Marvels of Astronomy. Chatto & Windus, London.
 Rabinowitz, D. L., Gehrels, T., Scotti, J. V., McMillan, R. S.,
Perry M. L., Wisnewski, W., Larson, S. M., Howell, E. S. and Mueller,
B. E. A. (1993) Nature 363, 704.
 Rampino, M. R. and Caldeira. K. (1992) Celest. Mech. Dyn. Astron. 54, 143.
 Raup, D. M. and Sepkoski, J. J. (1984) Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 81, 801.
 Schafer, E. H. (1977) Pacing the Void. University of California Press.
 Sejourne, L. (1957) Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico. Thames & Hudson, London.
 Shoemaker, E. M. (1983) Ann. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci. 11, 461.
 Spengler, 0. (1932) The Decline of the West, H. S. Hughes (ed.). Oxford University Press.
 Sprat, B. T. (1959) History of the Royal Society, J. I. Cope and H. W. Jones (eds). St Louis
 Starr, C. G. (1961) The Origins' of Greek Civiization, 100-650 BC. A. A. Knopf Inc., New York.
 Steel, D. I., Asher, D. J., Napier, W. M. and Clube, S. V. M. (1994) In: Hazards due to Comets and Asteroids, T. Gehrels et al. (eds), pp. 463-477. University of Arizona Press.
 Stohl, J. (1986) ACM II, C.-I. Lagerkvist et at (eds), p. 565. University of Uppsala Press.
 Tagliaferri, E., Spalding, R., Jacobs, C., Worden, S. P. and Erlich, A. (1994) In: Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids, T. Gehrels et al., pp. 199-220. Universuty of Arizona Press.
 Thomas, K. (1971) Religion and the Decline of Magic. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.
 Toynbee, A. J. (1945) A Study in History. Oxford University Press.
 Trevor-Roper, H. (1987) Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans. Secker & Warburg, London.
 Wetherill, G. W. (1988) Icarus 76, 1.
 Wetherill, G. W. (1991) Comets in the Post-Halley Era, I, J. R. Newburn et al. (eds), p. 537. Kluwer.
Wed, 16 Jan 2008 13:25 EST
Racine, Wisconsin - Three sophomore high school students at Racine's
Prairie School have discovered an asteroid, a feat that is probably
Sophomores Connor Leipold, Tim Pastika and Kyle Simpson will name
the asteroid, now known as "2008 AZ28", in about four years, said the
Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., the international body on
solar system objects which verified the discovery.
"It's extremely rare and I don't know if an asteroid has ever been
discovered by high school students before," said their science teacher,
Andrew Vanden Heuvel. "Ninety-nine percent are discovered by
The asteroid must be observed two nights in a row in order for it to
be considered an official "discovery," WISN.com quoted Heuvel.
"Asteroids are not easy to spot. They are very faint, about 10,000
times fainter than the faintest thing you can see with your naked eyes.
You need to know how to look for them," said Heuvel who estimates that
the 2008 AZ28 asteroid takes approximately five years to orbit the sun.
Five undergraduate astronomy students at the University of Washington discovered 1,300 asteroid in 2005 and 2006.
Wed, 16 Jan 2008 09:09 EST
A UFO sighting has been reported by an Observer reader.
Mason Woodhams described seeing a "green fireball track across the sky" at about 11.05pm last night (Tuesday).
"The head of the fireball was white-yellowy-orange with a bright
green fire trail. The whole thing lasted no more than five seconds or
"It was quite low and slow in the sky between 15,000 and 20,000
feet, quicker than an aeroplane but slower than a shooting star and it
traveled from east to west.
"This was obviously a meteor of some sort burning up, but the fact
that it was so low in the sky and a brilliant green colour made this so
"I spoke to a science teacher this morning about this and he said
that either copper or barium gives off a green flame when burnt. As
most meteors are made from iron/nickel, I guess this makes this quite a
Anyone else who spotted this mysterious fireball on Tuesday night can contact the Observer at email@example.com
Fri, 18 Jan 2008 06:57 EST
An observatory which monitors the potential threat to earth from
asteroids has launched a campaign to raise money to install a new
|The cost of installing the telescope is estimated at £54,000|
The Spaceguard Centre in Knighton, Powys, has been offered the
telescope free of charge by the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.
It would mean the centre could hunt for near earth objects as well as tracking them once they have been discovered.
The cost to install and house the device has been estimated at £54,000.
Known as a Schmidt camera, it has a wide field of view and takes photographs of the sky, said Jay Tate, who runs the centre.
Mr Tate said images were compared to "see what had moved" and potential comets or asteroids could then be identified.
He explained why the telescope had been offered to the centre.
"They can't use it in Cambridge anymore because of the light pollution," he said.
"This part of Wales has very dark skies so that wouldn't be a problem.
"Nasa searches for near earth objects and it funds six telescopes in
the US and two in Italy and Australia, but no-one else is doing this
sort of work in the UK.
"It would mean we could search for objects as well as tracking them once they have been identified."
|The Spaceguard Centre monitors asteroids|
The Spaceguard Centre has a robotic telescope which is able to track
asteroids and it also has an observatory which attracts school parties
Mr Tate added that no funding was available from the Welsh Assembly
Government, the UK government or the National Lottery to help pay
towards installing the new telescope.
"I am now turning my attention to private sponsorship," he said.
Knighton's county councillor Ken Harris said the telescope would be a "unique tourist attraction".
"It would be great if someone or an organisation could help the Spaceguard Centre fund this expansion," he added.
Sat, 19 Jan 2008 11:05 EST
Something unusual in the sky made such an impression on a Mount Pocono man last month that he's still wondering about it.
Ernest Gross wants to know if anyone else saw the same strange, luminous, unidentified object that caught his attention.
|Meteors from the Geminid Meteor Shower on Dec 14 could be seen all over the world, as seen here from Italy.|
"At first I thought it was a satellite," Gross said. "But it was
coming too low and too fast. If it was a satellite coming down then it
must have landed somewhere and someone has to know about it."
Gross said he was out of bed to use the bathroom around 3 a.m. on Dec. 14, when he happened to look out the window and catch a view of the object - which he described as being twice the size of the moon - streak across the sky.
"I was looking north, at about a 30-degree angle, and saw it fly
across from west to east in an arching motion," he said. "It was so
fast, just a second and it was out of sight."
Gross said the object had similar illumination to the moon, with a fuzzy outline and soundless.
But it's possible, according to an East Stroudsburg University astronomer, that the object could have a scientific explanation.
"The Geminid meteor shower had peak activity over Dec. 13 and 14,"
said ESU professor David Buckley. "They were very visible this year and
would have been best viewed after midnight."
Gross' description of a bright white, fuzzy-outlined object
traveling very fast matches known descriptions of the Geminid meteors.
The annual Geminid shower has a reputation for producing bright white meteors that leave few visible streaks.
"Something moving that fast would almost certainly be a meteor,"
Buckley said. "And these meteors would have been visible all over the
But Gross remains adamant that what he saw was much too large to be a meteor, at least one that no one else noticed.
"If it was a meteor it was a huge one," he said. "I wouldn't have thought much of it if it was a tiny thing."
Gross said his description might refresh the memories of anyone else
who could have seen the object and not reported it. "It was a clear
night, no clouds," he said. "It's only a one-in-a-million chance that I
saw it. But if anyone else did, they'd remember."
Sun, 20 Jan 2008 19:37 EST
Spruce Grove residents woke up yesterday to a mysterious octopus-shaped hole in a frozen golf-course pond.
A hole about 1.5 metres in diameter was visible yesterday on the
pond at The Links at Spruce Grove, along with at least 20 splash marks
- the longest about six metres.
|©Renato Gandia/Sun Media|
Aaron Soos measures yesterday the depth of a mysterious hole that
appeared in ice half a metre thick on a pond at The Links golf course
in Spruce Grove.
"It wasn't there (Friday)," said neighbour Tina Danyluk, whose house backs onto the pond.
She suspects it might have been a meteorite.
Whatever it was, it had to have followed a high trajectory based on "how the splash spread," Danyluk said.
Astronomer Martin Beech said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of a falling meteorite, but the marks perplexed him.
To punch through ice nearly half a metre thick, the meteor would
have to be huge and would look like a bright burning ball with an
associated sonic boom, said Beech, who teaches astronomy at Campion
College at the University of Regina.
"Usually, it's quite a distinctive rumbling sound and people tend to notice that sound," Beech told Sun Media from Regina.
But no one reported seeing or hearing anything unusual.
"The whole pond was covered in snow (on Friday) until this morning when we saw the strange marks in the pond," said Danyluk.
Beech said he wasn't aware of any reports of fireballs in the area.
He also noted that such an object wouldn't normally melt thick ice.
"If it wasn't a meteorite, what the heck was it?" asked the baffled astronomer.
Danyluk's neighbour, Aaron Soos, said the marks were puzzling and the phenomenon had residents talking all day.
"If the pond was not frozen, we wouldn't even see those marks."
Mon, 21 Jan 2008 09:38 EST
The mystery surrounding what Spruce Grove residents believe was a
meteorite that hit an area pond last week began to unravel yesterday.
An eyewitness came forward to say he had seen a fireball shoot down from the sky.
"I first thought it was a shooting star, but it wasn't burning out,"
said Eric Whyte, who was driving southbound on Highway 2 between St.
Albert and Morinville around 10 p.m. Thursday.
"It was a big ball of fire, bright orangey in colour, and there was a big tail behind it," he recalled.
Astronomer Martin Beech said the sighting of a fireball is crucial in determining whether it was a meteorite.
But he couldn't say for sure what dropped into the frozen pond at The Links golf course in Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton.
Derrick Zienowicz was the first to see the strange octopus-shaped hole in the frozen pond on Saturday morning.
He immediately told his neighbours Tina Danyluk and James Shankowski, whose house is closest to the strange marks.
They initially believed the strange marks were made late Friday night or early Saturday.
But both Shankowski and Zienowicz said it is possible the marks had
been there since Thursday night because none of them looked out their
back windows Friday.
Also, Zienowicz said he felt his house shake at about 10 p.m. Thursday while he was standing in the kitchen.
"It's kinda weird. For about 10 seconds, the house shook. I said, 'What the heck was that?' "
He now suspects it was associated with the fireball and the strange marks.
A bright burning ball with an associated sonic boom normally
indicates a falling meteor, said Beech, who teaches astronomy at
Campion College at the University of Regina.
But Whyte said none of his family believed he saw a falling meteor.
"They were all saying it's a shooting star and they thought I was
crazy. I read the article in the Sun (yesterday about the pond) and
then it made perfect sense."
Mon, 21 Jan 2008 16:38 EST
Maybe it's a meteorite and maybe it isn't, but it's unlikely the
source of a mysterious hole at an Alberta golf course will be
discovered any time soon.
The octopus-shaped opening in the slushy ice of a golf course pond
just west of Edmonton has neighbouring homeowners abuzz with the
possibility a small piece of space could have plummeted to earth in
their very backyards.
But the mystery will likely stay submerged in the seven-metre-deep
pond that provides water to irrigate the golf course, Glen Andersen, a
superintendent at The Links in Spruce Grove, said Monday.
"I think it's a safety issue now," said Mr. Andersen, who added he
wouldn't want to inch across the thin ice in search of what may have
"We're not going to do that. We hope people don't come out here - we'd ask them to leave."
Residents first reported the hole Saturday, and reports of a
fireball in the sky two nights before have piqued the interest of many.
Mr. Andersen said while it's fun to ponder what may have fallen,
those who work at the course are much more interested in golf. "It's
kinda neat, interesting, but that's it."
Many objects can fall from the sky, but very few end up being
meteorites, said University of Alberta professor Chris Herd, who
curates the province's meteorite collection.
Space debris such as pieces of satellites sometimes rains from the
sky. The mystery object that caused the hole could even be a large
piece of frozen waste from an airplane, he said.
"The fact is that there could be a number of other possibilities for
what punched a hole through the ice, and the fact that if there is
anything, it's at the bottom of a pond, doesn't put it high on the list
of priorities for investigating it, unfortunately."
While it's unusual with Canada's massive size for people to see a
falling meteorite and actually be able to recover it, Herd says his lab
sees about 100 rocks a year that people think may be from space. About
one in 400 actually turns out to be.
A motorist who described seeing a big ball of fire in the sky
Thursday night may provide a key to the puzzle. Eric Whyte, who was
driving on Highway 2 between St. Albert and Morinville around 10 p.m.,
said he originally thought what he saw was a shooting star, but the
bright-orange ball of fire with blazing tail didn't burn away.
Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the University of Calgary
and co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre, said that
description sounds like a falling meteorite.
He said he will review the data captured by an all-sky camera near
Edmonton to see if it captured a bright trace in the sky Thursday night.
"Certainly once we have enough information, we can tell the
difference between a natural object entering and man-made debris coming
down," he said.
Only between 60 and 70 individual meteorites have ever been found in Canada, according to Prof. Herd.
None of these has been recovered from a pond, he said. He explained
the water could act quickly to destroy much of a meteorite's interest.
"You can actually have chemical reactions take place. You can have
alteration pretty quickly. It degrades the original minerals that are
inside, and it's harder to study for scientific reasons."
Prof. Herd added that under Canadian law, meteorites - which tend to
be heavy and can be worth a fair amount of money - belong to whomever
owns the land where they touch down.
The Geological Survey of Canada, which maintains the national
collection of meteorites, offers a minimum of $500 for the first
specimen of any new Canadian meteorite.
Prof. Herd says he's happy to examine any potential meteorites that
are recovered, but it would be far too difficult to try to recover
something that could end up being of no scientific interest.
"You'd need equipment to dive down into this pond," he said. "So if
somebody entrepreneuring would want to do it, I'd be happy to look at
what they might find, but I can't justify the expense to go looking."
Cornell University Communications
Fri, 25 Jan 2008 14:57 EST
The Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico will observe a newly
discovered asteroid on Jan. 27-28, as the object called 2007 TU24
passes within 1.4 lunar distances, or 334,000 miles, from Earth.
The asteroid, estimated at between 150 and 600 meters in diameter -
about 500 feet to 1,900 feet, or the size of a football field, at 360
feet, to the size of Chicago's 110-story Sears Tower, at 1,454 feet -
was discovered by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey in
October 2007. It poses no threat to Earth, but its near approach gives
Arecibo astronomers a golden opportunity to learn more about
potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.
"We don't yet know anything about this asteroid," said Mike Nolan,
head of radar astronomy at the Puerto Rico observatory. Such objects
pass near Earth with relative frequency, he said - approximately one
every five years or so - but it's rare that astronomers have enough
advance notice to plan for rigorous observing.
"Because it's coming so close, we'll get our highest quality imaging," said Nolan.
Using Arecibo's powerful radar, which is the most sensitive in the
world, researchers will gauge the object's size, observe its speed and
measure its spin. Switching then to imaging mode, which will offer
resolution to 7.5 meters - three times more precise than NASA's
Goldstone telescope, the only other radar telescope in the world - the
researchers hope to map the object's surface in detail. The Robert C.
Byrd Green Bank Telescope, Green Bank, W.Va., will receive Arecibo's
echo from the asteroid and transmit its data back to Arecibo.
TU2 is one of an estimated 7,000 near-Earth objects, its size or larger - most have never been closely studied.
"We have good images of a couple dozen objects like this, and for
about one in 10, we see something we've never seen before," said Nolan.
"We really haven't sampled the population enough to know what's out
Arecibo's radar is vital for continuing to classify and understand
such objects, said Cornell University assistant professor of astronomy
Jean-Luc Margot. "Arecibo does a fantastic job at getting images,
discovering the shape, spin and reflection properties of such an object
. . . all these things that are important to know."
The telescope will be trained on TU24 Jan. 27-28 and again Feb. 1-4. Goldstone's planetary radar observed it Jan. 23-24.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Fri, 25 Jan 2008 15:09 EST
Contrary to expectations for a small icy body, much of the comet
dust returned by the Stardust mission formed very close to the young
sun and was altered from the solar system's early materials.
When the Stardust mission returned to Earth with samples from the
comet Wild 2 in 2006, scientists knew the material would provide new
clues about the formation of our solar system, but they didn't know
|Combined long- and short-exposure images captured during the Stardust flyby of the comet Wild 2.|
New research by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
and collaborators reveals that, in addition to containing material that
formed very close to the young sun, the dust from Wild 2 also is
missing ingredients that would be expected in comet dust. Surprisingly,
the Wild 2 comet sample better resembles a meteorite from the asteroid
belt rather than an ancient, unaltered comet.
Comets are expected to contain large amounts of the most primitive
material in the solar system, a treasure trove of stardust from other
stars and other ancient materials. But in the case of Wild 2, that
simply is not the case.
By comparing the Stardust samples to cometary interplanetary dust
particles (CP IDPs), the team found that two silicate materials
normally found in cometary IDPs, together with other primitive
materials including presolar stardust grains from other stars, have not
been found in the abundances that might be expected in a Kuiper Belt
comet like Wild 2. The high-speed capture of the Stardust particles may
be partly responsible; but extra refractory components that formed in
the inner solar nebula within a few astronomical units of the sun,
indicate that the Stardust material resembles chondritic meteorites
from the asteroid belt.
"The material is a lot less primitive and more altered than
materials we have gathered through high altitude capture in our own
stratosphere from a variety of comets," said LLNL's Hope Ishii, lead
author of the research that appears in the Jan. 25 edition of the
journal, Science. "As a whole, the samples look more asteroidal than
Because of its tail formed by vaporizing ices, Wild 2 is, by
definition, a comet. "It's a reminder that we can't make black and
white distinctions between asteroids and comets," Ishii said. "There is
a continuum between them."
The surprising findings contradict researchers' initial expectations
for a comet that spent most of its life orbiting in the Kuiper Belt,
beyond Neptune. In 1974, Wild 2 had a close encounter with Jupiter that
placed it into its current orbit much closer to Earth.
Comets formed beyond the so-called frost line where water and other
volatiles existed as ices. Because of their setting far from the sun,
they have been viewed as a virtual freezer, preserving the original
preliminary ingredients of the solar system's formation 4.6 billion
years ago. The Stardust spacecraft traveled a total of seven years to
reach Wild 2 and returned to Earth in January 2006 with a cargo of tiny
particles for scientist to analyze.
This is one of the first studies to closely compare Stardust
particles to CP IDPs. This class of IDPs is believed to contain the
most primitive and unaltered fraction of the primordial material from
which our planets and other solar system objects formed. They are
highly enriched in isotopically anomalous organic and inorganic outer
solar nebula materials inherited - through the presolar molecular cloud
- from dust produced around other stars. IDPs are gathered in the
stratosphere by high altitude airplanes (ER-2s and WB-57s) that are
typically more than 50 years old.
The Livermore team specifically searched for two silicate materials
in Stardust that are believed to be unique to cometary IDPs: amorphous
silicates known as GEMS (glass with embedded metal and sulfides); and
sliver-like whiskers of the crystalline silicate enstatite (a
rock-forming mineral). Surprisingly, the team found only a single
enstatite whisker in the Stardust samples, and it had the wrong
crystallographic orientation - a form typical of terrestrial and
|Stardust impact tracks created by comet dust entering silica aerogel at 6 km/s.|
Objects similar to GEMS were found, but Ishii and the team showed
they were actually created during the high speed 6-kilometer per second
impact of Wild 2 comet dust with the Stardust spacecraft's collector by
making similar material in the laboratory.
In analyzing the Stardust material, Ishii's team used Livermore's
SuperSTEM (scanning transmission electron microscope). Ishii said
future analyses should focus on larger-grained materials, so-called
micro-rocks, which suffered less alteration.
"The material found in primitive objects just wasn't there in the
samples," said John Bradley, another LLNL author. "I think this is
science in action. It's really exciting because it's just not what we
"Wild 2 doesn't look like what we thought all comets should look
like," Ishii said. "The Stardust mission was a real success because
without it, we would never have learned these things about our solar
system. The sample return was vital for us to continue to unravel how
our solar system formed and evolved."
In addition to Ishii and Bradley, other LLNL researchers include Zu
Rong Dai, Miaofang Chi and Nigel Browning. Other institutions involved
include UC Davis, the Natural History Museum of London, the University
of Kent and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
Stardust is a part of NASA's series of Discovery missions and is
managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Stardust launched in February
1999 and set off on three giant loops around the sun. It began
collecting interstellar dust in 2000 and met Wild 2 in January 2004,
when the spacecraft was slammed by thousands of comet particles
including some the size of BBs that could have compromised the mission.
It is the first spacecraft to safely make it back to Earth with
cometary dust particles in tow.
Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a
national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national
security and apply science and technology to the important issues of
our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence
Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's
National Nuclear Security Administration.
Fri, 25 Jan 2008 08:05 EST
Law enforcement agencies in our area are still trying to figure out
what folks saw streaking low across the evening sky in East Montgomery.
Around 6:00 Thursday night , the phone started ringing at the Police
and Sheriff's Department. Callers thought it might have been an
airplane falling from the sky. A swarm of rescue workers were
dispatched to the area, but found nothing.
As of now, no one knows what it was. some in law enforcement
speculate it may have been a meteor. If we find anything out for sure
we'll let you know.
Sun, 20 Jan 2008 22:52 EST
A cellphone report received on Saturday 01.12.08. Domingo Morales
phoned Andrew Alvarez to make a report on sightings in the City of
Ponce. Mr. Alvarez told him to phone me. Mr. Morales reported the
1. His brother, a resident of Valle Alta, Ponce, told him that on
Friday, January 4 2008 at 9:30 p.m,., his wife called him over to look
at a fireball over their house. Upon going outside , he saw an immense
ball of red fire. The wife didn't see it approach, rather she saw it
suddenly appear and light up on the spot. It remained static for some
20 minutes at an approximate altitude of 300 feet. It spent 20 minutes
lighting on and off. The fireball finally diminished the intensity of
its color and began moving SW in a zig-zag pattern, going up and down.
It had the apparent size of a baseball stadium floodlight.
2. On Saturday January 5, 2008 at 9:40 p.m., Domingo's brother
phoned again, this time to have Domingo climb onto the rooftop of his
house to see if it was possible for him to see the fireball, as he (the
brother) was seeing it. Domingo lives in Los Caobos, but was unable to
see the object from his home. According to Domingo's brother, the
fireball was over the same site, above his house and exhibiting the
At 10:40 p.m., the fireball reappeared. This time, Domingo's brother
saw it with nearly all of his neighbors. One of the neighbors was able
to photograph it with a cellphone. On this occasion, a twin-engine
plane flew over the area 15 minutes after the fireball vanished. This
[fireball] did not appear suddenly, it came in from [the town of]
3. On Sunday, January 6, 2008, Domingo and his wife decided to visit
Domingo's brother to see if the were lucky enough to see the fireball.
Just as they got out of the car, at 9:30 p.m., they saw two white balls
of light to the SW which appeared to be joined. They looked like two
orbs to the naked eye, but binoculars revealed them to be two plate
like objects joined together. These were higher up, at some 5000 feet.
(Domingo is a pilot, and is therefore able to calculate altitude better
than the average witness). In plain sight they looked like two joined
golf balls. They separated a minute later -- one heading south and
another to the north.
Five minutes later, Domingo phone FURA [P.R. police aerial
reconnaissance] and was told that they were going to send their
helicopter for a look. Domingo never saw the helicopter engage in a
fly-over. Domingo recalls that while he observed the two orbs, a woman
and her daughters stopped to ask him if they were seeing the fireballs.
She added that the fireballs had been visible since November in that
location, becoming apparent between 9-10 p.m. and as early as 5 p.m.
4. No sightings were reported on Monday, January 7.
5. Today, Saturday, January 12, Domingo will return with a camera in an effort to take pictures of the objects.
(Translation (c) 2007, S. Corrales, IHU. Special thanks to Lucy Guzman, Ovni.Net)
Mon, 14 Jan 2008 23:36 EST
On December 22, 2007, Wilmar and Frank were heading back toward
Bayamon from the city of Ponce. Upon reaching Av. Los Filtros around
6:10 p.m., they watched the sunset and the arrival of twilight.
Suddenly Wilma looked at the sky and saw what she at first thought was
a jet. She quickly realized this was not the case, and that it could be
a shooting star, but dismissed the possibility as the object remained
in view and grew larger in size. She then thought it was a meteorite or
something that had broken away and was falling toward the ground.
That's when she asked Frank to look up, thinking that it was a
meteorite or something similar. Frank told her it was a jet airplane.
Wanda replied that those airplane left smoke in their wake, and this
one had light. She added that it wasn't a normal aircraft, as it was
flying forward and not the customary route followed by commercial
Frank agreed with this assessment, and continued driving as they
kept their eyes on the object. When they passed the Military Academy,
the object stopped. Judging by the way the light came down, [the
object] appeared cone-shaped. Suddenly, Wanda realized that another
light of the same size pulled up beside it and then over the object.
Unlike the first one, Wanda did not see a descending shaft of light
from this craft. It only hung above the first one for some seconds.
Then the cone-shaped object made a right turn (as if heading toward San
Juan) making an "L" turn. It did not turn like a commercial airliner
would, rather in a perfect turn that startled the onlookers. Both
objects moved in unison and the lights suddenly disappeared.
Translation (c) S. Corrales, IHU. Special thanks to Lucy Guzman, Ovni.net.
Diario de Cuyo
Fri, 25 Jan 2008 08:12 EST
Yesterday the people of Santa Luc?a were surprised when a black
porous rock fell from the sky. Today the CASLEO (Astronomic Complex El
Leoncito) is analyzing the rock to determine if it is a meteorite or
"It was like a fire ball that traversed the sky", several witnesses said yesterday.
|©Diario de Cuyo|
Profesor Eloy Actis, director of the Observatory F?lix Aguilar, is
between those who do not believe it is a meteorite because he claims
"that it should weight more than 20 kg, when in reality it is only a
rock of only 2 Kg. It could be a volcanic rock, but due to the area
where it fell, this will be highly unlikely."
Translation by Signs of the Times
USA Today/Associated Press
Mon, 28 Jan 2008 14:33 EST
Space scientists and government officials
are tracking two massive objects that are hurtling toward Earth, but
only one, a dead satellite the size of a bus, is expected to hit
somewhere on the globe.
Government officials said Saturday that a large U.S. spy satellite
has lost power and could hit Earth in late February or early March. And
an asteroid at least 500 feet long will make a rare close pass by Earth
early Tuesday, but scientists say there is no chance of an impact.
The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where it might come down, said the government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret.
"Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation," says
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
John Pike, director of the defense research group GlobalSecurity.org, estimates that the spacecraft weighs about 20,000 pounds and is the size of a small bus.
Satellites have natural decay periods, and it's possible this one died
as long as a year ago and is just now getting ready to re-enter the
Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive,
says the spacecraft probably is a photo-reconnaissance satellite. Those
are used to gather information from space about adversarial governments
and terror groups and to survey damage from hurricanes, fires and other
The closest approach of the asteroid, known as 2007 TU24, is
expected to be at 334,000 miles, or about 1½ times the distance of
Earth to the moon.
The nighttime encounter should be bright enough for medium-size
telescopes to get a glimpse, says Don Yeomans, manager of the
Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
which tracks potentially dangerous space rocks. The closest approach is
expected to be at 3:33 a.m. ET.
The asteroid TU24 is one of an estimated 7,000 so-called near-Earth objects.
An actual collision of a similar-size object with Earth occurs on average every 37,000 years.
Spotted in October by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, TU24 is estimated to be 500 to 2,000 feet long.
The next time an asteroid this size will fly this close to Earth will be in 2027.
at that! An asteroid is having a close encounter with the Earth and a
spy satellite might hit the Earth, which no one is sure what kind of
materials it contains, yet harmful as reported. Interesting that SOTT
has carried a few editorials, very recently, on the subject of threats to Earth from space debris:
Wars, Pestilence and Witches
Cosmic Turkey Shoot
The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets
New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection
Mon, 28 Jan 2008 09:02 EST
|Comet of 1532|
This morning I was thumbing through a newly arrived book: Comet/Asteroid Impacts and Human Society,
published by the eminent scientific publishing house, Springer, edited
by Peter T. Bobrowsky and Hans Rickman. This book is a collection of
scientific papers presented at a workshop under the aegis of the
International Council for Science. In the introduction, we read:
The International Council for Science recently recognized that the
societal implications (social, cultural, political and economic) of a
comet/asteroid impact on Earth warrants an immediate consideration by
all countries in the world.
Wow! You think? You mean it's not just us here at SOTT (and a few
others on the net) who are keeping track of the increasing number of Fireballs and Meteorites that suggest we are passing through rather dangerous areas of space, or that maybe Something Wicked This Way Comes?
Yes, it seems so. In the chapter entitled "Social Perspectives on
Comet/Asteroid Imact (CAI) Hazards: Technocratic Authority and the
Geography of Social Vulnerability" we read:
Until quite recently, research into comet and asteroid hazards was
focused on establishing the scale and scope of past impacts, credible
estimates of their recurrence, and models for physical impact
scenarios. ... CAI hazards have moved well beyond the realm of
ungrounded speculation and apocalyptic visions. The results represent
more than just new findings. They revolutionize, or are about to
revolutionize, some basic understandings about the Earth, its history,
biological evolution and future. Although human life has had a tiny
place in the story so far, our longer term fate seems to be challenged
by these forces and may be decided by them.
In a chapter entitled "Social Science and Near-Earth Objects: an Inventory of Issues", we read:
It would have been ridiculous, not too long ago, to admit openly
that you were thinking about asteroids and comets slamming into the
Earth. Such events could mean the end of the world as we know it -
TEOTWAWKI as millenialists call it - and that kind of talk is often
Respectable people are pondering the issues. For example, S. Pete
Worden, who is a Brigadier General in the US Air Force and Deputy
Director for Command and Control Headquarters at the Pentagon, has said
that he believes "we should pay more attention to the 'Tunguska-class'
objects - 100 meter or so objects which can strike up to several times
per century with the destructiveness of a nuclear weapon."
I located the General's comments
and they are now in the SOTT database. It seems that the above is not
all the general said. In fact, he states quite unequivocally:
I can show people evidence of real strikes inflicting local and regional damage less than a century ago.
Even more compelling are the frequent kiloton-level detonations our
early warning satellites see in the earth's atmosphere. ... Within the
United States space community there is a growing concern over "space
The general was writing back in 2000. "Less than a century ago."
That would be after 1900. He said that there were "real strikes
inflicting local and regional damage" since 1900?!
Did I miss something? Did all of us miss something?
Well, we'll come back to that soon enough. That's not what I wanted
to talk about today. Today, I wanted to pick up where we left off last
time, the end of the Hundred Years' War.
In the previous installments of this series of articles we have
looked at how the Black Death was probably a period of cometary
fragment bombardment leading to mass death on an unimaginable scale. In
today's world, the equivalent would be the deaths of two, possibly
three billion people planet-wide and many animals as well. Just
contemplating what humanity would do with that many bodies to be
disposed of is daunting, not to mention considering how society would
continue. The Black Death was no respecter of rank, either: the elites
died in proportionate numbers to the masses of ordinary people. This
has some interesting implications in terms of how the elites are
looking at the matter now, but again, that is something we will come
back to once we have a look at the evidence.
In our discussion of the Hundred Years' War, we learned that a great
cover-up was effected at the end of it all and this was mainly to
reestablish the religious control of the masses because, of course,
religious control has always been the right arm of princes and
Inasmuch as it was popularly believed that the continued sterility of many years was caused by witches through the malice of the Devil, the whole country rose to exterminate the witches. This movement was promoted by many in office, who hoped wealth from the persecution.
And so, from court to court throughout the towns and villages of all
the diocese, scurried special accusers, inquisitors, notaries, jurors,
judges, constables, dragging to trial and torture human beings of both
sexes and burning them in great numbers. Scarcely any of those who were
accused escaped punishment. Nor were there spared even the leading men
in the city of Trier. For the Judge, with two Burgomasters, several
Councilors and Associate Judges, canons of sundry collegiate churches,
parish priests, rural deans, were swept away in this ruin. So far, at
length, did the madness of the furious populace and of the courts go in
this thirst for blood and booty that there was scarcely anybody who was
not smirched by some suspicion of this crime.
Meanwhile notaries, copyists, and innkeepers grew rich.
The executioner rode a blooded horse, like a noble of the court, and
went clad in gold and silver; his wife vied with noble dames in the
richness of her array. The children of those convicted and punished were sent into exile; their goods were confiscated; plowman and vintner failed hence came sterility. A
direr pestilence or a more ruthless invader could hardly have ravaged
the territory of Trier than this inquisition and persecution without
bounds: many were the reasons for doubting that all were
really guilty. This persecution lasted for several years; and some of
those who presided over the administration of justice gloried in the
multitude of the stakes, at each of which a human being had been given
to the flames. At last, though the flames were still unsated, the
people grew impoverished, rules were made and enforced restricting the
fees and costs of examinations and examiners, and suddenly, as when in
war funds fail, the zeal of the persecutors died out. (Burr: Linden, Gesta Trevirorum (from his manuscript in the City Library of Trier.) Latin. Printed in Hontheim's Historia Trevirensis diplomatica (iii, p. 170, note) and in Wyttenbach and Muller's ed. of the Gesta Trevirorum See this LINK for many first hand accounts and details of the witch persecutions.)
Indeed, the question that led to the persecution of witches was a
religious one: How could a world created by a watchful, benevolent, and
engaged God be such a mess? Answering this question led to a growth
industry in persons and institutions dealing death and destruction. We
see a lot of that going on in our world today: the "security industry"
is booming in the mythical "War on Terror."
The Reformation divided Europe between Protestant regions and those
loyal to the Pope, but Protestants took the crime of witchcraft no less
seriously--and arguably even more so--than Catholics. Germany, rife
with sectarian strife, saw Europe's greatest execution rates of
witches--higher than those in the rest of the Continent combined. Witch
hysteria swept France in 1571 after Trois-Echelles, a defendant accused
of witchcraft from the court of Charles IX, announced to the court that
he had over 100,000 fellow witches roaming the country. Judges
responding to the ensuing panic by eliminating for those accused of
witchcraft most of the protections that other defendants enjoyed. Jean
Bodin in his 1580 book, On the Demon-Mania of Sorcerers, opened the
door to use of testimony by children against parents, entrapment, and
instruments of torture. (A Brief History of Witchcraft Persecutions before Salem)
|Pope Innocent VIII|
The problem is, of course, that the primary targets in any such
persecutions are those who talk about the calamities themselves and
point out that the religious faiths are obvious failures and perhaps it
might be better to look at the world rationally and scientifically.
Such individuals must be accused of being witches or "cults" and
silenced because they threaten the very foundation of Western
Civilization, Uniformitarianism and the Fascist control of humanity by
We know of what we speak first hand! Have a look at The Disappeared: SOTT.net and Google's conspicuous omissions and then have a look at this ongoing defamation undertaken by modern-day Witch Hunters: Laura Knight Jadczyk's Cassiopaea Cult.
We wondered how long it would take the psy-ops folks to set up a 9-11
framed attack on us. As I commented yesterday, we must scare the
be-jeezus out of the PTB or so much effort wouldn't be spent on trying
to shut us down, suppress us, and, failing that, defame us.
But, getting back to the subject at hand (if one is going to be
defamed, one might as well be defamed for telling the WHOLE truth!), in
Victor Clube's narrative report
funded by the USAF and Oxford, the next important period of cometary
calamity was the Thirty Years' War. Let's look at a short timeline just
to orient ourselves.
1337 to 1453 - Hundred Years War
1347/48 - 1351 - Black Death (included in the time period of the Hundred Years' War)
1400 - Renaissance (begins as the Hundred Years War is ending)
1431- Joan of Arc burned at the stake for being a witch (included in the time period of the Hundred Years' War)
1484 - Pope Innocent VIII announced that satanists
in Germany were meeting with demons, casting spells that destroyed
crops, and aborting infants
1486 - Malleus Maleficarum published
1500 - Witch persecutions begin
1515 - Outbreaks of witchcraft hysteria, with subsequent mass executions begin
1591 - King James authorizes the torture of suspected witches in Scotland
1600 - Renaissance ends "officially"
1606 - Shakespeare's "Macbeth" performed
1616 - Thirty Years War begins
1642 - Beginning of the English Civil War
1643 - The largest witch-hunt in French history
occurred. For two years there were at least 650 arrests in Languedoc
alone. The same time was one of intense witch-hunting in England, as
the English civil war created an atmosphere of unrest that fueled the
hunting, especially under Matthew Hopkins.
1648 - Thirty Years War ends
1651 - End of the English Civil War
1660 - Witch persecutions end - Europe saw between
50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed. About 80% of those killed
were women. Execution rates varied greatly by country, from a high of
about 26,000 in Germany to about 10,000 in France, 1,000 in England,
and only four in Ireland. The lower death tolls in England and Ireland
owe in part to better procedural safeguards in those countries for
1682 - England executes its last witch, Temperance
Lloyd, a senile woman from Bideford. Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis
North, a passionate critic of witchcraft trials, investigated the Lloyd
case and denounced it as a farce. Witch-hunting shifted from one side
of the Atlantic to the other, with the outbreak of hysteria in Salem in
I'm not too sure why the Renaissance is said to end in 1600, looks
to me more like it was probably the Thirty Years' War that ended it.
But, never mind, that's the date range agreed on by most scholars.
The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648, principally
on the territory of today's Germany, and involved most of the major
European powers. It began as an ostensible religious conflict between
Protestants and Catholics and gradually developed into a general war
involving much of Europe, related to the France-Habsburg rivalry for
pre-eminence in Europe, which led later to direct war between France
Notes to ponder: The Thirty Years' War also pretty
much spanned the reign of Louis XIII of France (1610-1643). Galileo
lived from 1564 to 1642. Many adherents of Catharism, fleeing a papal
inquisition launched against their alleged heresies in France, had
migrated into Germany and the Savoy. This may have been at the root of
the initial religious conflict. In fact, Catharism may have fed the
The Thirty Years' War was one which utilized mercenary armies to a
great extent, and these hired killers were said to have devastated
entire regions leaving the inhabitants to suffer widespread famine and
disease which decimated the population. This affected primarily the
German states and, to a lesser extent, the Low Countries and Italy. At
the same time, it bankrupted many of the governmental powers involved.
Sounds a lot like what is happening today, doesn't it?
The English Civil War, which began after the Thirty Years War had
been going on for about 25 years (and was running out of steam and
people), consisted of a series of armed conflicts and political
machinations that took place between Parliamentarians (known as
Roundheads) and Royalists (known as Cavaliers).
The question is, do we find any mentions of comets or other strange
astronomical phenomena during this period of time? As it happens, we do.
David Herlicius published in 1619 a discourse on a comet that had
appeared shortly before, in 1618, and enumerated the calamities that
this comet, and comets in general, bring with them or presage:
Desiccation of the crops and barrenness, pestilence, great stormy
winds, great inundations, shipwrecks, defeat of armies or destruction
of kingdoms . . . decease of great potentates and scholars, schisms and
rifts in religion, etc. The portents of comets are threefold - in part
natural, in part political, and in part theological. [William Whiston and the Deluge]
The seventeenth-century was witness to numerous comet sightings,
including those of 1618, 1664, 1665, and 1677. Inquiries into these
comets produced a noteworthy number of scientific texts including
Samuel Danforth's An Astronomical Description of the Late Comet (1665), John Gadbury's treatise De Cometis (1665), and Robert Hooke's 1678 report to the Royal Society, Cometa. These accounts
complemented the earlier work of Brahe and Kepler and helped to expand
the emerging technical understanding of this particular cosmic
Another reference: "This year (1618) brought on three bright comets."
Regarding Kepler: His observations on the three comets of 1618 were published in De Cometis, contemporaneously with the Harmonice Mundi (Augsburg, 1619).
My search for direct source material giving evidence of unusual
events from this time has been rather frustrating. I have found that
the only people reading the original documents are scholars who
generally refer to the descriptions of the time as being hyperbole, or
more or less "religious" metaphor, so it is frustrating to find that
these actual passages are quoted in the original language - generally
German. Not to be thwarted, I sent the material off to a German friend
of SOTT and he quickly returned a translation.
In the journal, German Life and Letters 54:2, Geoffrey
Mortimer published an article entitled "Style and Fictionalisation in
Eyewitness Personal Accounts of the Thirty Years War". He writes:
Eyewitness personal accounts of the Thirty Years War are of interest
not only for their overt content, but as examples of how the process of
writing itself can shape both the resultant text and the meaning
derivable from it by the reader. Techniques adopted, probably
unconsciously, by writers seeking to give force and point to their
narratives, here collectively termed 'fictionalisation', add to
well-known problems of eyewitness testimony to affect the historical
evaluation of such sources.
We are going to see that, apparently, Mr. Mortimer hasn't been
reading the work of Victor Clube! He goes on for some pages explaining
to us that the people who wrote these accounts were mostly simple
individuals who had no literary pretensions, and the works themselves
were things like diaries and records intended to be passed down in
families. One item that he says was written to "create the desired
impression, possibly at the expense of strict representational
accuracy" is the following:
Due to war, pestilence, price rise and famine, our people are
reduced to such an extent, that it will be difficult for our
descendants to believe it.
Now, one has to keep in mind the meaning of the word "pestilence" as
we discussed already in a previous section. Jon Arrizabalaga, in his
article included in Practical Medicine from Salerno to the Black Death, discusses the etiology of this word and how it was understood by the peoples of the time. He writes:
The emphasis placed on celestial causes of the 'pestilence' by the
different physicians studied here varied quite widely. ... In 1340
Augustine of Trent, a friar eremite of St. Augustine, justified having
written a medical and astrological work on a 'pestilence of diseases'
happening everywhere in Italy, because of physicians' ignorance about
the roots of diseases; this fact was considered by him 'a pestiferous
mistake involving many physicians', and he blamed it on their 'ignorance of astronomy'. ...
Works from other geographical areas assigned a more relevant role to celestial causes in the genesis of the 'pestilence.' ...
Jacme d'Agramaont ...said nothing concerning the term epidemia, but he extensively developed what he meant by pestilencia.
He gave this latter term a very peculiar etymology, in accordance with
a from of knowledge established by Isidore of Seville (570-636) in his Etymologiae,
which came to be widely accepted throughout Europe during the Middle
Ages. He split the term pestilencia up into three syllables, each
having a particular meaning: pes = tempesta: 'storm, tempest'; te =
'temps, time', lencia = clardat: 'brightness, light'; hence, he
concluded, the pestilencia was 'the time of tempest caused by light from the stars.'
And so, we have a better idea of what our German diarist meant when he said:
Due to war, pestilence, price rise and famine, our people are
reduced to such an extent, that it will be difficult for our
descendants to believe it.
On page 5 (101) of Mortimer's paper, we read that a young officer at the time of the sack of Magdeburg in 1631 wrote in his memoirs:
[A] grand storm-wind picked up, the town was inflamed at all
possible places, so that even little aid (rescue) was of help
(appreciated). ... then I saw the whole town of Magdeburg, except dome,
monastery and New Market, lying in embers and ashes, which raged only
about 3 or 3 1/2 hours, from which I deduced God's strange omnipotence
A "grand storm wind" and a town that was "inflamed" all over at
once, and burned to cinders in 3.5 hours? Perhaps the reader will like
to go back and re-read the description of how an overhead cometary
explosion would manifest, quoted at the beginning of the previous
section, Wars, Pestilence and Witches.
Note the date of the above event: 1631. As it happens, there were
other mysterious things happening on the planet at that time. In her
book Comets and Popular Culture and the Birth of Modern Cosmology Sara J. Schechner writes:
Comets, like other marvels, were exploited by polemicists in prodigy
books. In 1661-1662, for example, radical English dissenters published
sensationalist reports of prodigies, including comets, which gloomily
greeted the restoration of Charles II. ... There were no fewer than
twenty-five apparitions visible in seventeenth century Europe, and
these comets made frequent appearances in the polemical broadsheets and
chapbooks hawked in the marketplaces...
Comets were apparently flinging all over the place during this time.
One of these tracts shows comets in 1680, 1682, 1683. Another shows
five comets between 1664 and 1682. Another talks about comets of 1618.
A tract entitled "The Signs of The Times" shows a bunch of prodigies that accompanied comets. Schechner writes:
All these outbursts were concerned with specific political quarrels.
Some pamphleteers, however, raised themselves above the local rough
water to examine a larger vista. They thought they saw a
fast-approaching end to the world and their works adopted an
apocalyptic tone. The comet of 1580 confirmed Francis Shakelton in his
opinion that the Day of Judgment was near at hand...
Although Regiomontanus and others agreed that 1588 would be a year of great revolutions and world mutations,
Jesus had yet to reappear when William Lilly viewed the comets of 1664
and 1665 and 1673 as tokens of the beginning of the end. In comets like
that of 1680, E. Tonge, Christopher Ness, and others saw the great
"northern star" the messianic herald of the last days predicted by the
sybyl Tiburtina and Tycho Brahe.
Panic and joy were heightened by the great conjunction of Jupiter
and Saturn in the fiery trigon in 1682 which came on the heels of a
comet's apparition. While great conjunctions take place every twenty
years, this one was part of an astrologically profound series of
conjunctions that commenced with the climacteric conjunction at the
close of the sixteenth century. By definition, climacteric conjunctions
occurred only every eight hundred years when the great conjunction of
Jupiter and Saturn returned to the sign of Aries and to the fiery
trigon. It was widely reported by the popular press that Tycho Brahe,
Johannes Kepler and Johann Heinrich Alsted correlated historical
periods with climacteric conjunctions and believed that they portended
great mutations and reformations...
Tycho Brahe reckoned that all odd-numbered maximum conjunctions
were auspicious and urged people to look forward to the period of the
sabbatical or seventh climacteric conjunction since the world's
Creation which he believed would follow the conjunction in Aries in
1583. During the conjunctions in Leo in October 1682, the planets
allegedly would be in the same configuration as they had been at the
beginning of the world. Alsted believed this might be the last
conjunction of the present world and publicly announced that the Millennium would commence in 1694.
By itself, the great conjunction in the fiery trigon was a serious
matter but its power was corroborated by several other signs. Mars
joined Jupiter and Saturn in 1682. There was a solar eclipse. But most
critically, the great conjunction was ushered in by the comets of 1680
and 1682 and the former was said to have been unrivaled in eight
hundred years. Many thought the comets augured the Apocalypse... the
end of the world...
In sensationalist street literature, radical pamphleteers took advantage of these comets... At
the restoration, the Crown cracked down on the almanacs of Lilly and
others, blaming them for fomenting insurrection and irreligion during
the Civil War and Interregnum...
The author next discusses the major controls put in place at this
point to stamp out the popular discussion of predictions,
interpretations... of "signs in the skies." So we can understand how so
much of this period of "panic" when "governments fell" was covered up.
Based on the number of pamphlets and broadsides, it must have been a
really crazy time and everybody was thinking the world was going to
end. BUT, as we go through this description, we find a most interesting
item that relates to what our young officer witnessed at the fall of
The sunny disposition of the weather during the coronation (of
Charles II) was seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy. In 1630, at the
time of Charles' birth, a noonday star or rival sun
allegedly had appeared in the sky. ... Aurelian Cook in Titus
Britannicus explained its import: 'As soon as Born, Heaven took notice
of him, and eyed him with a star, appearing in defiance of the Sun at Noonday....'
For Cook, the extra sun announced that Charles ruled by divine
right. Moreover, the timing of Charles' entry into London on his
birthday was politically calculated to fulfill what had been portended
at his birth. Abraham Cowley, poet, diplomat and spy for the court
No Star amongst ye all did, I beleeve,
Such Vigorous assistance give,
As that which thirty years ago,
At Charls his Birth, did in despight of the proud
Suns' Meridian Light,
His future Glories, this Year foreshow.
Edward Matthew devoted an entire book to the fulfillment of the
prophecy declaring Charles "ordained to be the most Mighty Monarch in
Charles' return was seen as a rebirth of England and duly recorded
by a special act in the statute book, which proclaimed that 29 May was
the most memorable Birth day not only of his Majesty both as a man and
Prince, but likewise as an actual King...
So, a "second sun" was seen on and around May 29, 1630, and on May
20, 1631, one year later, Magdeburg fell as described by our young
The standard historical description of the Fall of Magdeburg goes pretty much as follows:
The fall of Magdeburg horrified Europe. The city had been starved
and then was bombarded unmercifully. The artillery shelling grew so
bad, the town caught on fire. Over 20,000 of the citizens perished in
the siege and the cataclysm that ended it. The city itself was burned
to the ground. The cruel and pointless devastation marked a new low, an
act abhorred by a generation well accustomed to horrors. [Link]
The war was to continue for 17 more years. 20 or 30 years later a
lot of new comets showed up, and I used to think that this "second sun"
seen at the time of the birth of Charles II may have been an appearance
of our sun's twin in the far reaches of the solar system. However, with
the scientific information provided by Clube and Napier et al, I have
changed my view.
In any event, we begin to see why Clube wrote:
[W]hen the prospect of these global catastrophes recurs, such is the
nerve-racking tension aroused in mankind that the principal leaders of
civilization have long been in the habit of dissembling as to their
cause (and likelihood) simply in order to preserve public calm and
avoid the total breakdown of civil affairs. ...
The Christian, Islamic and Judaic cultures have all moved since the
European Renaissance to adopt an unreasoning anti-apocalyptic stance,
apparently unaware of the burgeoning science of catastrophes. History,
it now seems, is repeating itself: it has taken the Space Age to revive
the Platonist voice of reason but it emerges this time within a modern
anti-fundamentalist, anti-apocalyptic tradition over which governments
may, as before, be unable to exercise control. The logical response is
perhaps a commitment on the part of government to the voice of reason
and a decision to eliminate all signs as well as perpetrators of cosmic
catastrophes in order to appease a public not too far given to rabid
uniformitarianism. Cynics ... would say that we do not need
the celestial threat to disguise Cold War intentions; rather we need
the Cold War to disguise celestial intentions!
We see that the events of those times have been covered up and/or forgotten, for the most part in their historical context.
Long after the event, John Dryden suggested that the comets of 1664
and 1665 were related to the Sun that was seen at the birth of Charles
II. He described this apparition as "That bright companion of the
After the Thirty Years War was over, comets were associated with
witches and both were written off as superstition by the protestants
who pride themselves on having ushered in the scientific age. Andrew C.
Fix, professor of History at LaFayette College, PA, writes:
Blathasar Bekker was a minister in the Dutch Reformed church first
in Friesland and then in Holland. He was educated in philosophy and
theology at the northern Dutch universities of Groningen and Franeker,
becoming a Doctor of Theology at Franeker. Influenced by Cartesian
philosophy, he was an important critic of belief in witchcraft in his
book De Betoverde Weerld (the World Bewitched) in which he
argued against the possibility that disembodied spirits could contact,
influence, or do evil to human beings, and thus against the possibility
of witchcraft. ...
After writing a work critical of the terrestrial influence of comets
Bekker became interested in other popular superstitions including
witchcraft and sorcery. He approached these topics from the point of
view of a Reformed minister upholding the power and earthly influence
of God against the supposed power of witches and spirits. ...
In the discussions around the Sabbath, the earthly effects of
comets, and witchcraft Bekker was motivated in part by Cartesian
rationalism, in part by his Calvinist idea of God's omnipotence, and in
part by his view of Scriptural exegesis, which included the doctrine of
accommodation, the idea that God had in some places accommodated his
holy language to the limited understandings of men.
In volume one of The World Bewitched Bekker maintained that
belief in the Devil and evil spirits as well as in such things as
fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft were originally pagan beliefs
founded upon ignorance, prejudice, and fear that had over time crept
into the Catholic church and even into Bekker's own Reformed tradition.
In volume two of the work Bekker applied Cartesian dualism to argue
that the material and spiritual worlds could not interact with each
other outside man and therefore spirits without bodies such as the
Devil could have no influence or effect on people. (Andrew C. Fix: Angels, Devils, and Evil Spirits in Seventeenth-Century Thought: Balthasar Bekker and the Collegiants)
And so it was that records of the phenomena of that time as having
any impact on Earthly matters have been explained away, covered up,
dismissed, consigned to superstition and "cults."
Note: If anybody can find any clues on the
event the general was referring to at the beginning of this article,
please forward it to sott!
Sat, 26 Jan 2008 13:20 EST
Visitors from space ?
A plane on fire ?
Just after 6pm Friday 25th January, residents in the southern French
city of Avignon rang the local police to report seeing "strange blue
and green lights in the sky." Almost immediately Gendarmes and
firefighters took to the roads to follow the lights, fearing that their
source may be an aircraft on fire and about to crash. However it was
quickly established that the blue and green trail of light was in fact
coming from a meteorite.
The celestial body in question eventually fell to earth just after
6.30pm, seven kilometres from Bourges in the centre of France. (Between
Bourges and the village of Trouy). Gendarmes were quickly on the scene,
when local residents reported hearing a loud explosion.
Experts say, what fell to earth was only "a small chunk of
meteorite". The small souvenir from space, landed in a field several
hundred metres from the nearest house. No one was injured and there was
no damage to buildings. The only trace that the chunk of meteorite ever
came down was the small hole left on impact.
At the scene of the impact one local resident said that if the whole
meteorite had hit Bourges, the town might have been wiped off the face
of the Earth. Who said life in Bourges wasn't exciting!
Sue Major Holmes
Tue, 29 Jan 2008 17:42 EST
Albuquerque, N.M. - An asteroid that exploded over Siberia a century
ago, leaving 800 square miles of scorched or blown down trees, wasn't
nearly as large as previously thought, a researcher concludes,
suggesting a greater danger for Earth.
According to supercomputer simulations by Sandia National
Laboratories physicist Mark Boslough, the asteroid that destroyed the
forest at Tunguska in Siberia in June 1908 had a blast force equivalent
to one-quarter to one-third of the 10- to 20-megaton range scientists
Better understanding of what happened at Tunguska will allow for
better estimates of risk that would allow policymakers to decide
whether to try to deflect an asteroid or evacuate people in its path,
"It's not clear whether a 10-megaton asteroid is more damaging than
a Hurricane Katrina," Boslough said. "We can more accurately predict
the location of an impact and its time better than we can a hurricane,
so you really could get people out of there if it's below a certain
On Tuesday, an asteroid at least 800 feet long was making a rare
close pass by Earth, but scientists said there was no chance of an
impact. The closest approach of 2007 TU24 will be 334,000 miles - about
1.4 times the distance of Earth to the moon. An actual collision of a
similar-sized object with Earth occurs on average every 37,000 years.
Although the computer simulation shows the Tunguska asteroid was
smaller, its physical size isn't known. That would depend on such
factors as speed, shape, how dense or porous it was and what it was
made of, Boslough said.
Smaller asteroids approach Earth about three times more frequently
than large ones. So if large asteroids approach about every 1,000
years, a smaller one would be about every 300 years, Boslough said.
"Of course there's huge uncertainties," he said.
The three-dimensional computer simulations were done last summer.
Boslough presented the findings at scientific meetings in September and
December. A paper on the phenomenon, co-authored by Sandia researcher
Dave Crawford, has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Impact Engineering.
The simulation, which better matches what's known of Tunguska than
earlier models did, shows that the center of the asteroid's mass
exploded above the ground, taking the form of a fireball blasting
downward faster than the speed of sound.
But the fireball did not reach the ground, so while miles of trees
outside the epicenter were flattened, those at the epicenter remained
standing - scorched, with their branches stripped off.
Boslough said they were likened to telegraph poles by the first
Russian expedition to Tunguska - an expedition that didn't arrive until
1927 because of the distance, primitive travel conditions and turbulent
times in Russia.
If the asteroid had been as large as previously thought, "it would
have had really different effects on the ground," Boslough said.
"It wouldn't have just blown over trees. There would have been a
zone of completely scorched earth for several miles," he said. "That
fireball would have come all the way down to the surface and everything
it came in contact with would have basically just vaporized."
Alan Harris, a planetary scientist at Space Science Institute in
Boulder, Colo., said he's been following Boslough's work on Tunguska
for several years "and I think the idea that he has there seemed very
"A meteorite or asteroid coming into Earth's atmosphere has a lot of
momentum," he said. "The idea that it would push down into the
atmosphere seems very plausible."
"The bottom line is it takes a lot less energy, a small explosion,
to create ground damage" such as that at Tunguska, said Harris, who
studies the frequency of such impacts to assess hazards.
In the future, he said, he'll take Boslough's work into account and revise estimates of damage from impacts by smaller objects.
NASA Scientists Get First Images of Earth Flyby Asteroid
Tue, 29 Jan 2008 22:12 EST
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,
have obtained the first images of asteroid 2007 TU24 using
high-resolution radar data. The data indicate the asteroid is somewhat
asymmetrical in shape, with a diameter roughly 250 meters (800 feet) in
size. Asteroid 2007 TU24 will pass within 1.4 lunar distances, or
538,000 kilometers (334,000 miles), of Earth on Jan. 29 at 12:33 a.m.
Pacific time (3:33 a.m. Eastern time).
"With these first radar observations finished, we can guarantee that
next week's 1.4-lunar-distance approach is the closest until at least
the end of the next century," said Steve Ostro, JPL astronomer and
principal investigator for the project. "It is also the asteroid's
closest Earth approach for more than 2,000 years."
Scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL have
determined that there is no possibility of an impact with Earth in the
Asteroid 2007 TU24 was discovered by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky
Survey on Oct. 11, 2007. The first radar detection of the asteroid was
acquired on Jan. 23 using the Goldstone 70-meter (230-foot) antenna.
The Goldstone antenna is part of NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone
station in Southern California's Mojave Desert. Goldstone's 70-meter
diameter (230-foot) antenna is capable of tracking a spacecraft
traveling more than 16 billion kilometers (10 billion miles) from
Earth. The surface of the 70-meter reflector must remain accurate
within a fraction of the signal wavelength, meaning that the precision
across the 3,850-square-meter (41,400-square-foot) surface is
maintained within one centimeter (0.4 inch).
Ostro and his team plan further radar observations of asteroid 2007
TU24 using the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in
Puerto Rico on Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 1-4.
The asteroid will reach an approximate apparent magnitude 10.3 on
Jan. 29-30 before quickly becoming fainter as it moves farther from
Earth. On that night, the asteroid will be observable in dark and clear
skies through amateur telescopes with apertures of at least 7.6
centimeters (three inches). An object with a magnitude of 10.3 is about
50 times fainter than an object just visible to the naked eye in a
clear, dark sky.
Scientists working with Ostro on the project include Lance Benner
and Jon Giorgini of JPL, Mike Nolan of the Arecibo Observatory, and
Greg Black of the University of Virginia.
NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth.
The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called
"Spaceguard," discovers, characterizes and computes trajectories for
these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our
planet. The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and
Ionosphere Center, a national research center operated by Cornell
University, Ithaca, N.Y., for the National Science Foundation.
La Dépêche du Midi
Thu, 31 Jan 2008 08:56 EST
The meteorite that stunned several French
people on January 25th , in the late afternoon, may not have fallen in
the surroundings of Bourges (Cher), as was first believed.
According to the research done by Dominique Caudron, an amateur
astronomer in the North of France, the falling point would be located
"a little bit toward the East of Albi, in the surroundings of
In an article published by le Figaro, Pierre Lagrange, a
sociologist of sciences and member of the College of Experts working in
a team of study and information on Unidentified Space Phenomena
(Geipan) at the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (National Center of
Space Studies) in Toulouse, gives a precise description of the
calculations of the young astronomer.
This new localization helps to understand the many reports from
witnesses gathered in the Tarn department , even if the celestial
object was also seen in other departments of the 'Midi toulousain' (the
region surrounding Toulouse).
"Between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. we saw very clearly a sort of 'sky
rocket' falling in a diagonal direction in a forest at the end of the
route going from Vabre to Cunac".
"A fireball with a silvery tail. It was very low, I had the feeling
that it was going to hit my car...," remembers very clearly Michele
Boyer in Blaye-les-Mines.
"It was like a rocket with sparkles all around. It was only three
meters from the ground. In my opinion, it fell either on the hedge or
on the neighbouring field," says Guy Morandin, a citizen of Albi.
Jacques Patenet, head of the Geipan at the CNES (National Center of
Space Studies) in Toulouse confirmed yesterday evening the accuracy of
Dominique Cuadron's calculation and the new hypothesis of an almost
vertical path above the Tarn department.
"An atmospheric entrance between 35 and 50 miles high is seen from a
very, very long distance, specially if it is a big and dense meteorite
of metallic consistency. But most of the time, nothing reaches the
Calling for witnesses
According to the scientist from Toulouse, "it would be an exceptional thing if we could find anything".
Jacques Patenet invites the witnesses of this event to report their
observations in order to confront and add accuracy to Dominique
Some reports from eyewitnesses:
In the region of Toulouse, a luminous phenomenon was pointed out in
several departments, among which we find the Haute-Garonne and
especially the Tarn.
Marc Fabre saw "a big white trail" above Puech Auriol (Castres's commune), while he was playing football with his son.
Mrs Enery, living in Gaillac, saw the meteorite "passing at a very,
very high speed from West to East." Still in the Tarn department, Mr.
Roquelaure from Lombers claims having seen "at exactly 6:15 p.m., while
he was going back home from the hairdresser in Montdragon, a red
fireball with a sparkling tail like the candles on a birthday cake..."
"I saw the meteorite here, in Auch, on Friday evening. It was a big
fireball that flew very rapidly across the sky at the Northeast while I
was at a traffic light coming back from work. It was not dark yet, but
the phenomenon was very intense," explains Dominique Amouroux, one of
our readers from the Gers department. She is not the only one to have
seen the fireball in the sky above Gers. Laurent Azanowsky, an
inhabitant of Arblade-le-Haut said: "I saw a fireball coming from the
Northwest and going Southeast, totally in the opposite direction to
what the people in Bourges report."
A woman from Auscitaine also saw the celestial body when driving on
Friday, between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., in Ordan-Larroque: "We were at
the exit of Ordan, on the road that goes to the forest of Auch. There,
there are a few houses, and a lady who was in her garden also saw it,"
"It was something very shiny with a white trail. We have the feeling
that it fell vertically, on a field... But if that had been the case,
there would have been a fire, woudn't it?" she asks. "We would like to
know the why, the how," she says, hoping that the beautiful show did
not end somewhere in a catastrophe.
Translated by SOTT.net
Comment: Sounds like maybe there were two of these fireballs in France that day, not just one, given the differences in the reports.