[meteorite-list] Re: Crackpot Theory Redux

From: Sterling K. Webb <kelly_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Sat Oct 29 02:20:23 2005
Message-ID: <4363147B.9307C2C7_at_bhil.com>

Hi, Darren, Marco, Mark, List

    Being really bored recently, I emailed
Richard B. Firestone at Berkeley, Lawrence's
Radiation Lab, #1 Cyclotron Road (yeah, that's
his real address!) the following email.

> To: Richard B. Firestone
> Re: Disputed Cometary Hypothesis
> Reading this press release:
> about your disputed cometary hypothesis, and having fine
> arguments with folks who use words much stronger than
> "disputed" for it, it occurs to me that, if you have a
> plethora of micro-samples from the dated deposits you discuss,
> it would be definitive proof of their origin in a supernova if
> any of their iron content were to be of the isotope Fe60.
> It also occurs to me that you appear to be located where a
> shortage of mass spectrometers would not be a problem. Have
> you attempted to determine if Fe60 is present? Since the
> discovery, a few years ago, of a sub-handful of Fe60 atoms in
> oceanic sediments was a major piece of news, such a trial
> would seem an obvious step, given what you propose.
> Sterling K. Webb

    I mean, what's the point of our talking ABOUT
somebody on this List when you could just ask them
what you want to know? They say the information
universe is global now; let's test that hypothesis,
I said to myself.

    When the original press release was posted to this
List, there was a certain amount of "Who is this guy?"
Take a look at:

    For those too lazy to click through, Richard Firestone
has been a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory since 1979. He's the author of 130 books and papers
in the field of nuclear isotopes and geochronology, and is the
editor of the "Table of Isotopes," now in its eighth edition,
a volume that is to isotopes what the "Catalogue of
Meteorites" is to meteorites.

    A few days later, I got the following reply from Dr.
Firestone to my email (which I got too busy with other
things to post right away, but here it is):

< Subject:
< Re: Disputed Comet Hypothesis
< Date:
< Sun, 25 Sep 2005 08:18:36 -0700
< From:
< Richard B Firestone <RBFirestone_at_lbl.gov>
< To:
< "Sterling K. Webb" <kelly_at_bhil.com>
< Sterling:
< There are many things to look for and 60Fe
< is a good one. I don't think that this is
< easy and nobody has come forward to do
< it. So far we have found anomalous 40-K
< abundances and strong evidence that the
< impacting body was composed of KREEP-like
< material identified on the Moon. We are
< looking for fullerenes and diamonds in the
< particle layer.
< It is interesting that people are critical
< of something they haven't seen. The
< archaeologists I showed this to are very
< receptive. The particles that bombarded
< mammoths probably are comparable to well
< known "pre-solar grains" that are forged
< in the supernova explosion itself. If
< they can survive that environment, they
< can likely penetrate the atmosphere.
< Of course, this is a hypothesis and people
< are welcome to provide other explanations,
< but not to simply dismiss the data.
< Regards,
< Rick Firestone

    The key point is to be found in the last
sentence, if course. We have here a case of
someone with perfectly good data and a perfectly
lousy hypothesis to explain it.

    The original hypothesis about super fast
particles surviving the atmosphere is silly
because as we all know the faster you goes the
more thoroughly you burn up!

    The new hypothesis about super slow particles
is equally silly because nothing can "fall" to
Earth without achieving escape velocity in the
process -- just ask old Isaac; he explains it
better than I do.

    Dr. Firestone is an expert on ONE thing
(isotopes) and I'm sure his data is correct,
a successful and compelling hypothesis to keep
it company, so he gets called a "crackpot." So
now he's put together another hypothesis,
equally poor, to replace the first one.

    The case is a complete parallel to another
well-known scientific "flurry": The Small Comets
of Louis Frank. There is nothing wrong with Frank's
data; it his explanation of it that is seriously
flawed. Frank is a great experimental physicist,
and as all theoreticians know you never let an
experiemntalist propose a hypothesis, just as
they never let a theoretician near an experiment.
It's always disastrous!

    The irony is that, oddly enough, in BOTH
cases, everyone seems to be perfectly to toss
the data our with the hypothesis, and that shows
insufficient reverence for simple facts, which are
all the Universe gives us to work with -- explaining
them is our job; the Universe doesn't do that part!

    So this time around, instead of a flurry of
"this is dumb..." comments, how about some sound
suggestions of how you would explain the data?

    As for my suggestion of looking for 60-Fe
(which would be absolute proof of supernova origin
since that isotope is only formed in the deadly
heart of the biggest explosion in the Universe
and nowhere else), you will note that Dr.
Firestone says that "nobody has come forward
to do it."

    I looked into the work done to find that
handful of probably 5 million year old 60-Fe
atoms in oceanic sediments a few years ago,
and it was a monumental task, involving the
processing of a huge amount of material to find
a few atoms among the trillions of trillions of
atoms processed, like Madame Curie going through
tons of pitchblende to find some radium... It
took years, in both cases, really hard work.
This may be why there is no line of volunteers
going around the block to do this work on
Firestone's samples... The total number of
atoms found by the German team? 23.

    However, those 60-Fe atoms prove that we
were exposed to a major supernova explosion
that recently, a controversial suggestion now
nailed down, like, rock solid. Science is
hard work.

    Here's the poop on the 60-Fe atoms:
    "An interdisciplinary team of German
scientists from the Technical University
of Munich (Gunther Korschinek, 011-49-89-
the Max-Planck Institute (Garching), and
the University of Kiel have identified
radioactive iron-60 atoms in an ocean
sediment layer from a seafloor site in
the South Pacific. First, several sediment
layers were dated, and only then were
samples scrutinized with accelerator mass
spectroscopy, needed to spot the faintly-
present iron. The half-life of Fe-60
(only 1.5 million years), the levels
detected in the sample, and the lack
of terrestrial sources point to a
relatively nearby and recent supernova
as the origin. How recent? Five million
years. How close? Close. An estimated 90
light years. If the supernova had been
any closer than this, it might have had
an impact on Earth's climate. The resear-
chers believe traces of the Fe-60 layer
(like the iridium layer that signaled
the coming of a dinosaur-killing meteor
65 million years ago) should be found
worldwide but have not yet been able
to search for it.
(K. Knie, W. Hillebrandt, et al., Physical
Review Letters, 5 July 1999.)"

    Or see this reference:

    The discovery has been variously haled
as "major, astonishing, compelling," and so

    Since then the same team has repeated their
results with greater precision:
    "Back then they analyzed three layers
of South Pacific sediment, each over 2
million years thick in geologic time. The
new measurements, acquired at a site some
3000 km away, are much more robust: 28 layers
(rather than 3), from deeper depths (4830 m
rather than 1300 m), with a better dating
method (beryllium-10 dating) and a more
accurate estimate of the layers' age (in
some cases to within a few 100,000 years).
On the basis of their measurement, the
researchers deduce that the samples
represent the remains of a star that
exploded 2.8 million years ago (with
an uncertainty of 0.3 million years)
at a distance from Earth of some tens
of parsecs."

    It's important to point out that these
atoms had to be physically transported to
Earth as particles or grains, probably adhered
to larger particles or grains, from the site
of the supernova explosion:
    "The German researchers say that after
the stellar explosion, gaseous iron-60
condensed on dust particles, probably
from inside the star. Hitching a ride
on these particles, the iron-60 had enough
velocity to pierce the solar wind and
reach Earth. From the amount of iron-60
in the samples, the supernova must have
been within about 90 light-years, they

   It's worth pointing out for those of
you that don't follow this sport, that this
supernova explosion is MUCH CLOSER and MUCH
MORE RECENT than what astronomers thought
was likely or even possible, but the
evidence is apparently very solid.

    The (mistaken) notion that you have to
collect all these particles into a big body,
like a comet, and have it make the trip to
Earth, is ridiculous, of course, and quite
unnecessary. The high-speed particles from
a supernova explosion form an expanding
thin shell of gas and dust as you can see
in countless Hubble photographs of gaseous
nebulae. They're everywhere. The velocity of
such particles are sufficient to pierce the
heliopause and they will just race through
the solar system undeterred unless intercepted
by a planet. Whether the material is "burned
up" is irrelevant; the atoms do not "go away;"
they reach the Earth's surface in one form or
another and are incorporated in sediments, etc.

    Firestone's poor ad hoc theorizing only
damages what could be valuable evidence. Given
the unique isotopic composition of the soil
layers he has analyzed, he has very strong
evidence that the material in them contains
a fraction that is of extraterrestrial origin,
but explaining how that material got there
will require A LOT MORE WORK and a much better
hypothesis than these recent suggestions.

    Anybody got one?

Sterling K. Webb
Darren Garrison wrote:

  A short while back I posted what I called
a crackpot theory on a comet striking the Earth
at interstellar speeds around 13,000 years ago.
Well, the "theory" is in the news again, but
this time, instead of the comet being impossibly
fast (I calculated the speed, based on the
supposed time ago and distance away of the
supernova at close to 1 percent of c) it is
now being reported as impossilby slow-- 1,000
kilometers an hour, or about 277 meters per
second. And what about these "lunar meteorites
that fell to the Earth about 10,000 years ago"?


  Scientist: Comets blasted early Americans
  Scientist says Supernova, comets may have impacted early

  COLUMBIA, S.C. Oct 28, 2005 ??? A supernova could be the
"quick and dirty"
  explanation for what may
  have happened to an early North American culture, a nuclear
scientist here said

  Richard Firestone said at the "Clovis in the Southeast"
conference that he thinks "impact
  on mammoth tusks found in Gainey, Mich., were caused by
magnetic particles rich in
  elements like
  titanium and uranium. This composition, the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory
  scientist said,
  resembles rocks that were discovered on the moon and have
also been found in lunar
  meteorites that
  fell to Earth about 10,000 years ago.

  Firestone said that, based on his discovery of similar
material at Clovis sites, he estimates
  comets struck the solar system during the Clovis period,
which was roughly 13,000 years
  ago. These
  comets would have hit the Earth at 1,000 kilometers an hour,
he said, obliterating many
  life forms
  and causing mutations in others.

  "I'm not going to tell you that there's Clovis people on the
moon, or that they had a space
  program," Firestone said. But these particles look "very
much like the material that comes
  from the
  moon, which is the only place we've found with this same
high titanium concentration."

  Amateur archaeologist Richard Callaway said he was surprised
by Firestone's theory.

  "I've always considered myself a pretty open-minded person,"
Callaway said, while
  browsing some of
  the artifacts on display at the conference. "And it's kind
of shocking to hear that
  something from
  the solar system could have done something like this."

  Callaway, an Episcopal priest from Atlanta, said that he and
his wife have volunteered at
  the Topper
  site in Allendale County for the past two summers.

  "To be a part of this ??? and find something no human being
has touched in 15,000 years
  something," Callaway said. "That's what I like about what we
do. You don't find the next
  answer. You
  find the next question."

  Earlier Thursday, University of South Carolina archaeologist
Al Goodyear lectured on his
  at Topper, where he says he has found evidence that man
existed in North America much
  earlier than
  previously thought. Goodyear showed slides of the many tools
he has recovered from
  Topper, as well
  as a charcoal strip he discovered in soil two meters beneath
a 16,000-year-old level of
  the site.

  "Topper's like a box of chocolates," Goodyear said. "Every
time we dig a hole,
  something new comes

  As the final event of the four-day conference, partially
sponsored by USC, Goodyear will
  attendees on a visit to Topper on Saturday.
Received on Sat 29 Oct 2005 02:19:39 AM PDT

Help support this free mailing list:

Yahoo MyWeb