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New Left Review I/217, May-June 1996

Mike Davis

Cosmic Dancers on History’s Stage? The Permanent Revolution in the Earth Sciences

Early on the morning of 1 February 1994, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the members of the National Security Council were awakened from their sleep by Pentagon officials. [*] I am very grateful to Phil ‘Pib’Burns (Northwestern University), Andrew P. Ingersoll (Cal Tech), and Herbert Shaw (usgs, Menlo Park) for their generous comments. A military surveillance satellite had detected the brilliant flash of a nuclear explosion over the western Pacific. There was intense concern that the strategic warheads aboard a Russian or Chinese missile submarine accidentally might have detonated. Military aircraft, however, failed to detect any unusual radiation in the indicated ocean sector, and defence intelligence experts soon concluded that the satellite had actually witnessed the explosion of an asteroid fragment, later estimated to have been the equivalent of a 200-kiloton nuclear blast. The President went back to bed. [1] The mass of the boulder-sized fragment was estimated as 2,500 tons. It was the fourth multi-kiloton meteoric explosion detected by satellites since 1988. See I. Nemtchinov, T. Loseva, and A. Teterev, ‘Impacts Into Oceans and Seas’, in Earth, Moon, and Planets, no. 72, 1996, pp. 414–16. Also see Duncan Steel, Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets, New York 1995, pp. 203–5.

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Mike Davis, ‘Cosmic Dancers on History’s Stage? The Permanent Revolution in the Earth Sciences’, NLR I/217: £3

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