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No. 58: Jul-Aug 1988

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One of the most astonishing discoveries of modern science!

We take this title from P. Huyghe's recent overview of the "oceans from space" controversy, printed not surprisingly in Oceans. (See p.000.) As readers will recall, we have been following this debate for over two years. Rather than retrace all the details, it is sufficient to say that the scientific community has been generally negative and often condemnatory about L. Frank's assertion and evidence that each year some 10 million icy comets, each averaging sixty compact cars in weight, strike the earth's atmosphere and, in the fullness of time, help fill the ocean basins.

In his article Huyghe reviews the considerable evidence that has accumulated supporting Frank's claim:

  1. The water in Halley's comet had the same abundances of two key isotopes as the earth's oceans;

  2. The rocket detection of unexpected amounts of water vapor in the upper atmosphere;

  3. The microwave detection of unusual water-vapor events in the upper atmosphere;

  4. The Lyman-alpha detection of hydrogen concentrated near the earth; and

  5. The photographic detection of small, incoming objects with the characteristics of the debated icy comets.

(Huyghe, Patrick; "Oceans from Space -- New Evidence," Oceans, 21:9, April 1988.)

Item 5. has been reported in other publications:

"Using a telescope with a moving field of view -- a difficult technique that required a year of preliminary calculations to plan -- physicist Clayne Yeates has found and photographed what seems to be a population of fastmoving objects near earth that range between 8 and 16 feet in size. These previously undetected bodies match Frank's predictions concerning the speed, direction and number of pro posed comets flying by earth, says Yeates, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "

(Monastersky, R.; "Cometary Controversy Caught on Film," Science News, 133:340, 1988. See also: Hecht, Jeff; "Snowballs from Space 'Filled Earth's Oceans'," New Scientist, p. 38, May 12, 1988.)

Comment. Now all this does not mean that Frank's hypothesis is proven in the eyes of all scientists. Far from it, there is too much at stake; namely, our whole view of the small-scale structure of the solar system and, even more important, the heretical notion that the earth's oceans have slowly filled with extraterrestrial water.

It has not been an easy two years for Frank. His reputation has been at risk. Huyghe hinted at this when he recorded Frank's reactions to the new photographic evidence: "Looking at the data, seeing those streaks, has made a lot of people's hearts stop," says Frank. He is thrilled at this result, but he dreads what will follow. "For the past two years I paid the price for being wrong. Now I'll pay an equal price for being right. After all, you can't just tip the scientific world askew and expect everyone to cheer."

From Science Frontiers #58, JUL-AUG 1988. � 1988-2000 William R. Corliss