by Richard Hoagland

Saturday, August 20, 2005

from EnterpriseMissionCaptain'sBlog Website


OK, courtesy of Linda Moulton Howe's latest interview, we've finally had our first peek at some REAL data from Deep Impact (or, we're supposed to think we have) ....

What do we now know?

Well, for one thing, we know that major efforts at continued "misdirection" on the whole Deep Impact issue still abound; from what Linda was told just a few days ago by Dr. Carey Lisse, member of the Deep Impact Science Team, she now reports that:

"... the Deep Impact mothership was not pointing exactly the right way to get the best spectral results when the impactor slammed into Tempel I [emphasis added]."

Now, that's original ....

For, according to Keyur Patel, JPL Deep Impact Deputy Project Manager, speaking before the world's press in a packed JPL auditorium just minutes after the climax of the Project in the wee hours of July 4th:

"... The Impactor went and hit the Comet [Tempel 1] in a specific spot. The Fly-By's job was to image that spot. And, between the two of them ... the coordination ... we had the spot nailed ... to less than fifty meters off!

"So, the Fly-By [spacecraft] imaged the spot within fifty meters of where the Impactor hit ... that's just amazing [emphasis added] ...."

To understand the full implications of this description, and why it totally contradicts what Linda's now been told,

  1. you have to know that all the science instruments aboard the Fly-By spacecraft - including the critical spectrometer - were boresighted (aimed) at that same ~50-meter spot Patel described.

  2. that "fifty meters" is about half the width of a football field ... in this case, as seen from across almost twice the width of the United States (from ~5000 miles away)!

So, Patel's official remarks that night - regarding Deep Impact's superb aiming accuracy - were, if anything, a major understatement!

In addition, immediately following Patel's glowing assessment of his JPL Deep Impact Team's technical performance, Principal Investigator of the Science Team, Dr. Michael A'Hearn (far right - below), added his own enthusiastic statements.

Said A'Hearn:

"... the Impactor was perfect. The Fly-By instruments also worked beautifully: we got tremendous spectra ... new spectral features ... really strong spectral features ... great thermal spectra [emphasis added] ...."

However, now ... just six weeks later ... after directly contradicting both the Deputy Project Manager and his own Team Leader - by claiming the Fly-By spacecraft at Impact "was not pointing exactly the right way ...", Linda then reports Dr. Lisse as telling her:

"... But back toward Earth, the largest infrared telescope ever launched into space was watching the Deep Impactor collide with the comet. The Spitzer Space Telescope was monitoring in a 5 to 40 micron wavelength range, which was more sensitive than Deep Impact's 1 to 5 micron wavelength range.


Deep Impact was so close, it could only see a part of the comet's coma, which is the fuzzy haze of glowing dust that surrounds the comet's hard nucleus. Spitzer could see the whole coma, the hot gases and the ejecta rushing out from the explosion for hours and days afterward [emphasis added] ...."

Lisse's exact words were:

"Of all the data I've seen [on the Deep Impact event], Spitzer is one of the most gorgeous data sets. I think we've got the first good handle on excavating a comet and finding the dinosaur bones of the solar system's formation ...."



OK, let's use a little common sense.

Here we have two spacecraft - each armed with a "telescope" and a "spectrometer." One telescope (the one called "Spitzer") is about three times wider (~10 times larger in area) than the other, the smaller telescope located on the Deep Impact Fly-By spacecraft.

But, Deep Impact was located only 5000 miles from the location of the Comet at Impact. The larger Spitzer instrument, though about ten times more sensitive (because its mirror has about ten times the area of Deep Impact's), was located MUCH farther away from the point of Impact: in fact, in a large Earth orbit ... about 83 MILLION miles away!

It doesn't take a professional astronomer or optics expert to instantly know that the closer instrument to Tempel 1 - the one on Deep Impact - would have been VASTLY more sensitive than the other telescope (Spitzer), located millions of miles away. The actual difference in sensitivity (if anyone wants to work through all the numbers - factoring in the respective spacecraft distances ... the relative size of the two telescopes on-board, etc., etc.), is that Deep Impact's spectrometer that night was about 30 MILLION times more sensitive than Spitzer's equivalent instruments orbiting the very distant Earth!

"Thirty million times" is a HUGE advantage in this game ... in terms of both the ability to see faint spectral features (sensitivity to low percentages of key materials, anyone ...?), and to record short time-scale events. Like ... what really came gushing out of Tempel 1 in those first few critical seconds after Impact!

So, the flat assertion in Linda's story, that,

"... the Spitzer Space Telescope was monitoring in a 5 to 40 micron wavelength range, which was more sensitive [to the effects of the Impact] than Deep Impact's 1 to 5 micron wavelength range ...."

Is bunk!!

The immediate result of this deft misdirection by Dr. Lisse is evident in his "major scientific conclusions" from the Deep Impact Experiment itself.



"the very first data showed hot water. At least 50% of Comet Tempel I is water ice [emphasis added] ...."

Oh ... really?

By deliberately ignoring Deep Impact's close-in data ("the spectrometer was pointed in the wrong direction ..."), and focusing instead on the millions-of-miles-distant Spitzer observations ... what Lisse was doing was averaging the effect of Deep Impact's violent collision - and the resulting materials which immediately gushed out - with the literally weeks of preceding "outgassing" of volatiles from Tempel 1, and their enormous expansion into the surrounding cloud ("coma") around the tiny ~5-mile nucleus ... a volume of literally millions of cubic miles.

The result was a dramatic, artificial skewing of the spectroscopic water data from the Spitzer instrument ... by averaging all the previous water which had accumulated in that extended "coma" (cloud) ... which would have inevitably made it look like far more water initially erupted from Tempel 1 on Impact - that "50%" that Linda quoted - than actually occurred!

What the Deep Impact Team said they wanted to observe before we got there - the overriding reason they sent a $333 million-dollar Fly-By spacecraft to observe this Event close-up - was to see (and record) the localized eruption of the pristine, interior materials from the Direct Impact site!

What Lisse was now reporting was a travesty on those original scientific intentions - a deliberate averaging of the water in the entire cometary coma ... as seen from a spacecraft 83 million miles distant ... at the critical moment.

Corroboration of this apparent effort to "inflate the amount of water" coming out of Tempel 1 at Impact comes from an impeccable scientific source: data from the independent "SWAS satellite" (below) - reported here (and elsewhere) almost immediately after Impact.

SWAS, you may remember, was another spacecraft (operated by another NASA scientific team, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) that was also observing Tempel 1 from Earth orbit - analyzing the "submillimeter" radio emissions from the water released on Impact.


Like Spitzer, because it was so far away, the SWAS submillimeter wave antenna was "seeing" the entire comet's coma - that vast cloud of gas and dust (including water vapor) which had been slowly outgassing from Tempel 1 in the weeks before Deep Impact arrived ....

But, in direct contradiction to Lisse's Spitzer report - this is what the Harvard-Smithsonian SWAS Team published on July 8th; what they "saw" at Impact:

"It's pretty clear that this event did not produce a gusher," said SWAS principal investigator Gary Melnick of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).


"The more optimistic predictions for water output from the impact haven't materialized, at least not yet [emphasis added]."

The SWAS team measured about 730 pounds of water per second being released from Tempel 1 before Impact.

And, about 550 pounds per second after ... indicating that the collision actually slowed the water release rate!

Remember, these observations were also averaging the previous material with "the new stuff": the water vaporized directly by the Impact ... together with the H2O previously present in the coma. If that latter number went down - which it did, as SWAS observed the Comet - it could only mean one thing:

That - in striking contrast to what Linda was told by Lisse - the material exploding out of Tempel 1 after it was struck, was essentially ... BONE DRY!!

Only that type of event could explain the SWAS team's unequivocal evidence of a reduction in average water in the coma - both in absolute terms, and as a percentage of total material ... after the Impactor hit the Comet!

Not exactly a "stunning confirmation" of Lisse's (obviously) biased reporting of the Spitzer water observations of Tempel 1 ....

Now, if we only had access to the Deep Impact Fly-By spacecraft data of the plume itself ... ALL these (apparent?) contradictions could be easily resolved ... Oops, I forgot: according to Dr. Lisse, Deep Impact was pointing the wrong way at that critical moment!

How ... "unfortunate."


Despite this last-minute, obviously attempted "save" of the "dirty snowball model," what Lisse told Linda next is REALLY fascinating: because ... it supports the exact opposite of that "standard" NASA cometary model ....

Dr. Lisse:

"... we've concluded so far that we see every major rock-forming element that makes up the Earth in this Comet Tempel I [emphasis added]."

Well ... not every element ....

"Except for iron ... the iron is hiding.

"We're trying to figure that out: is it just not easy to see in the infrared? Or, is the iron hiding in an iron oxide or iron sulfide, pyrite or rust [emphasis added]?"

Of course, this is where the Deep Impact Fly-By spectra would be MOST useful.

In those first few seconds, as the plume of super-heated hot gases and plasma rushed out of the hole created in Tempel 1 by the 6.3 mile-per-second Impact, even iron bound up in some oxide should have been split into raw elements - the iron revealing itself through primary iron emission lines ... as the material erupting would have been (for those first few seconds) ... hotter than the surface of the Sun!

And, of course, if the iron was hiding as "iron oxides" (as Lisse rather desperately suggested ...) - these are seen all the time (as solid minerals) in on-going IR observations of the planets: the current Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Rover spectral observations are seeing (and identifying) all sorts of iron compounds in the Martian rocks and dust these days ....

So, the fact that Dr. Lisse can't seem to find ANY iron in his,

"... 5 to 40 micron wavelength" Spitzer spectra of Comet Tempel 1, even after such a violent, high-temperature impact, must be trying very hard to tell us "something" .... [Or ... is it Dr. Lisse who's trying to do "the telling" - between (sorry ...) his missing "spectral lines?"]

Bottom line: this striking "lack of iron" in Tempel 1 is impossible ... if the "standard" comet model is correct! Which, of course, is why Dr. Lisse was so obviously concerned ....



In the classic processes envisioned for the formation of the solar system (above), iron is thought to have been amply represented (and mixed into the so-called "solar nebula") - along with all the other elemental and chemical constituents which eventually went on to form the planets, via a process called "accretion."

This iron is thought to have formed originally via "nucleosynthesis" in massive stars, and then to have spread across the interstellar night via their eventual catastrophic explosions - as brilliant "supernovae."


In this standard "element synthesis model," it is these massive exploding stars which ultimately "seed" interstellar clouds of collapsing gas and dust ("accreting solar systems" ...) with all the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium needed to make planets ....

Including iron.

If comets in general - and Tempel 1 in particular - are truly representative of the "pristine, materials" which in a distant time collapsed to form our solar system's worlds ... then iron should be readily apparent in the cloud of material which erupted from Deep Impact.

If it is NOT .... then, just perhaps, comets - and certainly Tempel 1 - are NOT "pristine remnants of that ancient forming solar system" after all ....

And ... wouldn't THAT be interesting?

The one known process which could deplete Tempel 1 of essentially ALL its iron, of course, would be if it is, actually, a surviving fragment of highly differentiated, former planetary crust ....

Which was blown into deep space with the catastrophic explosion of Planet V - EXACTLY as Tom Van Flandern (from his celestial mechanics calculations) and I (from the "Mars Tidal Model") have been saying for some time!!

In this scenario, billions of years ago the "missing iron" in Tempel 1 - except for trace amounts - sank to the center of its parent planet during its formation, to form a "nickel-iron core."


When Planet V exploded billions of years later, these "highly-differentiated outer fragments" (severely depleted in primordial iron) were ejected first ... so we are far more likely to see still remaining fragments of this ancient planetary crust ... as opposed to any remnants of the former planet's iron core (which would have vaporized anyway, as the internal pressures were suddenly released) ....

From the data that Lisse has provided us, Tempel 1 is increasingly looking like one of those ... a surviving crustal fragment of this exploded planet!

This also easily now explains Lisse's other provocative statement:

" ... we see every major rock-forming element that makes up the Earth in this Comet Tempel I [emphasis added]."

Of course he does ... because, based on this evidence, Comet Tempel 1 was once a part of the highly-differentiated surface of a planet just like Earth ... called "Planet V!"

But, the coup de grâce for the "primordial" Tempel 1 comet model came with Lisse's most astonishing revelation to Ms. Howe.


"... and we have also found evidence for carbonate in Deep Impact ....

"Carbonate is interesting in that it's like calcium carbonate, limestone, that you find on the Earth. We do not think there is any indication for life, before I go down that road, or [that] there is any intimation of that. Carbonates are interesting in that hints of them were seen once in Comet Halley. They are controversial because folks will be surprised to see them. Usually you need a liquid water environment to form them. You have carbon dioxide. You have water. And you have silicates, then you can form carbonate.

"What's confusing is that comets, as far as we know, were formed at about 30 to 40 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero. Very cold! Think 'ice ball' - and very little chemistry can happen to them.

"On the other hand, you have 5 billion years to make stuff ....

"So even if you are making things extremely slowly ... it's possible you can make carbonates in a solid state.

"Now, it's also possible that our chemistry folks will tell us, that what you did was form the carbonates in the primordial cloud that condensed into the solar system. That you did your [wet] chemistry before you condensed your comet at 30 to 40 degrees Kelvin. So this might be another clue as to the recipe to how things came together [emphasis added] ...."

Or ... not!

Remember that little scientific cliché called Occam's Razor - "the simplest explanation for a given phenomenon is usually the one that turns out to be correct" ...? This is the time to bring it back - with a vengeance.

The simplest explanation for the discovery of calcium carbonate in Tempel 1 is that it formed in those same oceans that created the sedimentary "beach sand" (silicon dioxide) that the Gemini North Observatory Team independently reported at Deep Impact several weeks ago!

According to the July 7th official Gemini North press release:

"'... The properties of the mid-infrared light [5 to 28 microns] were completely transformed after impact,' said David Harker of the University of San Diego, co-investigator for the research team. 'In addition to brightening by a factor of about 4, the characteristics of the mid-infrared light was like a chameleon and within five minutes of the collision it looked like an entirely new object.'


Harker's research partner Chick Woodward of the University of Minnesota speculated further, 'We are possibly seeing crystalline silicates which might even be similar to the beach sand here in Hawaii! This data will keep us busy trying to figure out the size and composition of these grains to better understand the similarities and differences between the material contained within comets and other bodies in the solar system [emphasis added] ..."

What could be simpler: two compounds discovered in Tempel 1, via two independent teams - "limestone" and "beach sand!" - each specifically requiring liquid water for their formation ....

Simple, of course ... if you then realize that Tempel 1 was once part of a major planet - which obviously had major oceans!

Lisse had other fascinating things to say in his interview with Linda - including, dropping hints about some unusual "hydrocarbon compounds" Spitzer had observed in Tempel 1 ... such as "PAHs" ­ (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) . He also went into more detail on what Spitzer had NOT seen ....

It's the "not" which, for the moment, is of far more significance.

For, in addition to NOT detecting iron, Lisse admitted that:

"What's [also] missing is ammonia. The amino in the word 'amino acid' is ammonia. But it does not mean ammonia is not there (on Comet Tempel I); ammonia has been terribly difficult to detect very well in comets. We have seen hints of it. We're pretty sure it is in comets. But it is hard to find [emphasis added] ...."

Perhaps ... because it really isn't there!?

Looking for ammonia in comets, again, is totally premised on the idea that comets are "primordial."

The nitrogen (N2) found in Earth's current atmosphere, the same gas found in Mars' atmosphere, and the tiny amount even present in Venus' atmosphere ... is all thought by planetary scientists to originally come from the breakdown of primordial ammonia (NH3), formed in the infant solar nebula and accreted into planets.


And, since comets have to be (according to most of these same folks) the untouched pre-planetary products of that same nebular accretion process (and thus "primordial") - these same planetary science folks (according to Dr. Lisse) have spent a LOT of time over the history of comet observations looking for precisely such "cometary ammonia".

Without luck.

Of course, if the nitrogen observed in Tempel 1 by Spitzer - bound with elements other than just hydrogen, forming more interesting compounds like "hydrogen cyanide" (HCN) or "methyl cyanide" (C2H3N1) - is actually derived from a secondary planetary atmosphere ... from a source of free nitrogen like our own, on a highly evolved world that one day catastrophically exploded ... then the so-far fruitless search for the "missing cometary ammonia" also becomes just another dead end in the "comets are primordial" scenario.

But, it is Lisse's physical description of Tempel 1, based on the highest resolution imagery Deep Impact acquired (which we have not yet seen, of course), which puts it all together:

"We've gotten the up-close images that will be released soon [now ... that's interesting .... Didn't someone on the Mission just a few weeks ago claim these close-up images were "hopelessly blurred!?" ...] - and there's all kinds of interesting geology on this body.

"It's got at least three different terrains that look very different. It's got young and old craters (we think it's been cratered for ten million to a hundred million years). It's got all kinds of structure on it.

"... Tempel I is nothing like just an ice ball that's been put together 5 billion years ago, and [is still] slowly boiling off; it's got a lot of things going on [emphasis added] ...."

In other words .... far from being the simple "dirty snowball" that so many had expected, Tempel 1 - even from this glimpse at partial data - has turned out to be a bewilderingly complex object, both chemically and physically ... with astonishing geological diversity packed into a volume of only a few miles ....

Not exactly an historical description of your "average mainstream comet."

But, exactly how one would describe a collection of "ancient, layered rocks" ... evolved on the surface of geologically diverse world like our own planet, and then literally smashed together in an almost inconceivable planetary explosion ... which ejected this assembled fragment deep into the outer solar system ... until the Deep Impact spacecraft found it.

Voila: an almost "textbook example" of Van Flandern's "Exploding Planet Hypothesis!"


We must hand it to Linda Moulton Howe for securing even this limited degree of information regarding this increasingly mysterious NASA Comet Mission. It should be obvious by now that Comet Tempel 1 is anything but what most of the NASA investigators involved in trying to understand Deep Impact's data must have expected ... when they began their search "for the origins of comets" on this Mission over seven years ago ....

Perhaps that explains their scientific shock, reflected - as opposed to ALL previous NASA planetary missions - in their obvious reluctance to release their increasingly amazing data from Deep Impact ... even after several weeks.

And - their apparent willingness to "go along" with even the most absurd of "cover stories" re this Mission - in hopes perhaps that some might buy them precious time, to truly understand what a few scientists must now be realizing as "the almost inconceivable": hard, scientific evidence of an actual exploded world!

"Cover stories" that persist and are still growing, even though these multiple excuses re Deep Impact - put forth in these last weeks by a variety of individuals - are now quite blatantly and ridiculously contradicting one another ....


Meanwhile, our own NASA "inside sources" are working quietly to gather additional information for us on this increasingly bizarre Mission ... to help us understand this increasingly mysterious - but crucial - "miniature world" called "Tempel 1."

Some new data has already been provided - and correlates well with what Dr. Lisse has now (inadvertently?) disclosed. But much work still remains before we can publish our own Model - on what we believe NASA's really found ... and doesn't quite know how to tell us ....

Stay tuned.