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No. 112: Jul-Aug 1997

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Icy minicomets caught by a satellite camera?

A geophysicist really risks his or her reputation if he or she suggests that the earth is bombarded each by 20 house-size, icy minicomets. Well, L. Frank, University of Iowa, did just that in 1986. He was duly pilloried for his trouble.

But, at the 1997 spring meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Frank presented new data to back up his previous assertions. The most startling of his new evidence came from a camera aboard a NASA satellite. Time-lapse photos imaged two objects streaking into the atmosphere over Poland and Germany. Frank identified these as clouds of water molecules from disrupted icy minicomets. The clouds had expanded from the house-size minicomets to clouds 3550 miles wide, weighing 20-40 tons.

Frank thinks the minicomets come from a cloud of such objects orbiting the sun from earth out to Jupiter and beyond. Why don't they evaporate in the sunlight and near-vacuum of outer space? Perhaps, thought Frank, they are protected by a thin coating of carbon.

(Roylance, Frank D.; "Space Snowballs Theory Gains Credence," Baltimore Sun, May 29, 1997. Also: Monastersky, R.; "Is Earth Pelted by Space Snowballs?" Science News, 151:332, 1997. Thanks to all who sent in clippings. There are too many to mention here. Frank's photos also appeared on some national news programs.)

Comments. We have already mentioned the minicomets several times in SF. See SF#60/275, for example.

If verified, icy minicomets might well be the source of some of the earth's ocean water. Perhaps they are related to those strange "nebulous" meteors

(SF#86/75) and noctilucent clouds. An intense 40day minicomet "storm" might be useful in accounting for certain historical floods!!

From Science Frontiers #112, JUL-AUG 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987