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Smell a Rat

From: Benny J Peiser <
To: <
Date: 18. maj 1998 12:14
Subject: CCNet DIGEST 18/05/98

The Secrets of Asteroid Peril - British Media Smells a Rat
From Benny J Peiser <

In Deep Impact, the world is kept in the dark about an approaching comet for almost a year by the American and Russian administrations - and the scientific community. Nobody in the DreamWorks movie seems to be bothered about this year-long cover up. One only wonders why the news is broken in the first place (other than for dramaturgical reasons) before the Messiah mission lifts off. Yet in the real world of NEO politics, journalists aren't as restrained and understanding as in the movies (thank goodness). A report in London's Daily Mail on Friday openly accuses the astronomical community in the US of trying to cover up important scientific data on NEO research - at least until NASA has the final word (and who is to say that 'earth-shattering' information would not be kept secret for more than two or three days if the US administration were to follow the Deep Impactscript).

Despite many inaccuracies in the Daily Mail's news story, I have attached the article below. It shows that NASA's hasty and ill-considered attempt to politically control scientific research and the way NEO related data is allowed to be reported by NASA-funded astronomers (i.e. all American NEO researchers) can easily backfire. It would appear that NASA's failure to widely consult with the scientific community has led to an own goal. Instead of protecting the integrity and trustworthiness of scientific and astronomical research, the interim procedures cast a dark shadow over the openess of science in the US. It is essential, I believe, that NASA and the world's main scientific institutions will come to an international agreement on these matters in due course if further damage to the integrity and openess of scientific research is to be avoided.

Delayed Impact, or the Secrets of Asteroid Peril
From the Daily Mail, 15 May 1998
Mail Foreign Service

If a giant asteroid is hurtling in the general direction of our planet, we will be the last to know about it. For astronomers have decided that the news would be too earth-shattering for ordinary mortals to handle - and likely to cause widespread panic. In a week that sees the release of the film Deep Impact - a fictional account of just such a catastrophe - astronomers funded by the American space agency NASA have now agreed to keep asteroid and comet discoveries to themselves for 48 hours while more detailed calculations are made. The findings would then go to NASA, which would wait another 24 hours befor going public. The new procedures aim to avoid causing a repeat of a doomsday alert in March when astronomers reported that the asteroid 1997 XF11 could collide with Earth in 2028. That apocalyptic prediction was soon found to be a mistake and there was virtually no chance of any such impact.

The new interim procedures are not an attempt to hide anything but to make sure the information is accurate, claimed scientist Donald Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Laboratoy, whose calculations helped dispel the fear that 1997XF11 was headed straight for Earth. 'It is an attempt for the small scientific community that tracks these objects to build a consensus, to determine if an asteroid is a threat,' he said. Some scientists question the new push from NASA, saying quick action from astronomers is needed to determine an asteroid's danger. 'I don't think one should be secret about these things,' said Brian Marsden, the director of the International Astronomical Union [sic], which made the announcement about 1997XF11's projected collision with Earth. 'I think the public would be unhappy,' he added. Some astronomers say releasing their discoveries quickly and openly is critical. When a new asteroid or comet is discovered, scientists need as many sightings as possible in order to plot its orbit precisely and gauge how close it may pass to Earth, they claim. Meanwhile, other leading scientists have recommended that manned missions to asteroids approaching Earth should be undertaken to discover more about their possible threat. ...