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        ASTEROID.TXT - "The End Of A Chapter?" FSR
                       (Vol.34, No.3, Sept., 1989)
                     - by FSR Editor Gordon Creighton
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                                THE END OF A CHAPTER?
        As all our  information media continue to bombard us with depressing
        reports about the Ozone Layer; the  "Greenhouse Effect"; the melting
        Ice-Caps and the  rising seas; the rapid loss of the  Earth's  great
        tropical rain-forests; the  massive  pollution  of  land and sea and
        atmosphere; the terrifying overpopulation  of  the Earth by Man, the
        Great Predator; and the accelerating destruction of  numerous  other
        species of life,  it  is  evident  that  many - even among the great
        unthinking masses of  humanity -  are  beginning  to  preceive  that
        And, here and there among them, the more perceptive  ones  are  even
        starting to see  that the close of one of the "Great Chapters in the
        Book of Life on Earth" may be at  hand.   Should  this indeed be so,
        then it is  nothing new!  For these things have occurred  repeatedly
        For what we  are discussing is "Catastrophism", and we know that the
        old-fashioned Victorian idea of "Gradualism", once so dear to the
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        hearts of such  folk  as  the  geologist Lyall, has now been totally
        discarded.  Today we already know  from  the scientific evidence, of
        at least 77 reversals of the Earth's Poles.
        Firstly, there is  the  problem  of  the  actual  wandering  of  the
        physical Poles, and  this  is  no  doubt  connected  with  the  slow
        processes of Continental Drift and the movements of the Plates.
        Secondly, as stated already, there  is  the question of the magnetic
        reversals.  It seems that there have been twenty  of  these  in  the
        last 4,500,000 years,  which  gives  us a rate of about one reversal
        every 200,000 years, on an average.
        There have been found to be several  sorts  of time-interval between
        them. One of the intervals is of about 700,000 years,  while another
        is of about  only 10,000 years.  The longest interval yet discovered
        by our scientists happens to be in  fact OUR CURRENT interval, as it
        seems that the last big reversal was about 690,000 years ago, though
        the scientists Folgheraiter and Mercanton have also  found  a  brief
        period of reversal about 3,000 years ago.
        Findings of scientists   in   the   Geological   Department  of  the
        University of Minnesota (published  in  the  London  Sunday Times of
        July 15, 1984) indicate that a new "flip" is indeed  pending.   They
        found that the  Earth's  magnetic  field has halved in strength over
        the past 4,000 years.  The actual  reversal may, the scientists say,
        "take a few years, or a couple of thousand if History is any guide".
        Clearly, when it does happen, magnetic compasses will be useless for
        navigation during the change, and the protection which  the  Earth's
        magnetic field at present gives us against solar radiation could be
        altered, no doubt bringing major changes in climate (such as we are
        already experiencing).
        Clearly, also, all  creatures that utilize the Earth's magnetism for
        their navigation - birds, fish, and honey bees for example - will be
        thrown into utter confusion and their survival will be in doubt.
        And what about ours? (Incidentally,  we  have  heard of all sorts of
        theories about the cause of extinction of the dinosaurs  -  such  as
        the explosion of  a  Supernova.   But  this  magnetic field reversal
        might also have been the cause.)
                         All Life Is Lived On A Razor's Edge
        All life is miraculous and perilous,  anyway,  and  we  live  on the
        razor's edge.  In  an  earlier article, "Will The  Earth  Be  Struck
        Again Soon?" (in  FSR  30/5, 1985), I gave an outline of the view of
        Dr.  Allen Hynek  and fellow astro-physicists  regarding  a  further
        danger with which our planet is faced - and has always  been faced -
        namely the possibility  of  another major strike soon by an asteroid
        or a comet, from which it seemed  pretty  evident  that  a good many
        astronomers think we might 'cop' something quite nasty  again before
        very long.
        Such a view   has  recently  received  much  confirmation.   In  his
        article, The Dynamics  of  Armageddon,   published  in  the  journal
        ASTRONOMY NOW, the Oxford University astrophysicist Dr. Victor Clube
        has pointed out that, since about 1970, the previous scientific
                                       Page 2
        thinking about the  likelihood of great geophysical disasters on our
        planet have been revised most drastically.   He  says that it is now
        perceived that, even within the tiny span of recorded  history,  the
        impact or near  passage  of  comets have had quite startling effects
        upon the Earth.
                  Comet Encke, And Another Near-Miss By An Asteroid
        Subsequently, on October 24, 1988, in an article in the London
        Daily Telegraph, Dr. Clube showed that, in particular, COMET ENCKE,
        which, with its million-mile swathe  of  debris  intercepts  Earth's
        orbit once every 3.3 years (!), represents a terrible danger to this
        planet, and he adduces cogent evidence to show that  in both the 5th
        century A.D., there  were  what he calls veritable "waves of attack"
        against the Earth by Encke.  He also  thinks, incidentally, that the
        famous "Tunguska Phenomenon"  of 1908 was almost certainly  a  large
        chunk of ice  about  40  yards  wide  and weighing some 30,000 tons,
        which had got detached from Encke's Comet.
        But now (Daily Telegraph, April 21,  1989)  we  learn that our Earth
        has just narrowly escaped being struck by a fresh,  totally unknown,
        asteroid weighing some 400,000,000 tons, which passed within half-a-
        million miles of us in March of this year!
        Dr. Henry Holt,  the  Northern  Arizona  University  astronomer  who
        discovered this "beastie",   using   the   Mount   Palomar   Optical
        Telescope, says that the thing had come in from the direction of the
        Sun, so that the Sun's glare had prevented anyone from detecting its
        approach sooner, and  that,  "If it had appeared only  a  few  hours
        earlier, it would have nailed us".
        "Half-a-million miles from Earth" mean that, as it passed us, the
        size of the  gap  separating the asteroid from us was only twice the
        distance from the Earth to the Moon.
        In 1937 the asteroid HERMES (400 million tons) also came within half
        a million miles of us.  If we are  to  go on having many such "close
        shaves", then assuredly it can only due to some Very High Guidance -
        in other words DIVINE PROVIDENCE.  But - can we always count on it?
        As we contemplate  these  Immensities,  we realize more acutely than
        ever that ALL  OF LIFE IS LIVED  UPON  A  RAZOR'S  EDGE.   What  the
        purpose of our existence here is, not one of us knows, but we can be
        certain that we  are here because we are useful to  Somebody  or  to
        Something.  Let us  ever be thoughtful and mindful, then, for should
        we cease to be useful, might not our time be running out?
        What do all the signs indicate?  Are  we  not all living on borrowed
        time now?
            Jerry W. Decker.........Ron Barker...........Chuck Henderson
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