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No. 72: Nov-Dec 1990

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Icy minicomets not so dead!

An item in the June 1990 issue of Scientific American is entitled "Death Watch." In it, J. Horgan plays dirges for four phenomena that have received considerable attention in Science Frontiers: (1) minicomets; (2) cold fusion; (3) abiogenic oil; and (4) the fifth force. (Apparently Benveniste's "infinite dilution" work has already been in terred.) (Horgan, John; "Death Watch," Scientific American, 262:22, June 1990.)

But wait, there is a microwave flicker of life remaining in the minicomets. J.J. Olivero and his colleagues at Penn State have been monitoring the sky with a microwave radiometer in their search for emissions from high-altitude gases. During more than 500 days of observations, they detected 111 sudden bursts of water vapor. Olivero et al suggest that these bursts occur when small, icy comets vaporize at very high altitudes. These minicomets are of the same size (about 100 tons) and frequency (20 per minute over the whole atmosphere) as those predicted by L.A. Frank. Frank's icy comets have been received with about as much warmth as "cold fusion." One reason for the unpopularity of icy comets is that they would have provided sufficient water to fill the ocean basins, thus undermining the accepted view that our oceans derived from outgassed water vapor from deep within the earth.

Besides this mindset, the minicomets do have some counts registered against them: (1) The effects of all the purported water vapor on the ionosphere should be easily detected but they are not; (2) Seismometers emplaced on the moon have not detected their impacts there; and (3) Military surveillance satellites have not seen these housesized objects.

(Monastersky, Richard; "Small Comet Controversy Flares Again," Science News, 137:365, 1990. Also: Emsley, John; "Are 'Minicomets' Peppering the Earth's Atmosphere?" New Scientist, p. 36, June 9, 1990.)

From Science Frontiers #72, NOV-DEC 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss