- WASHINGTON (AP) -- Space snowballs may be pelting the Earth's atmosphere,
but not in the blizzard of ice boulders proposed by a famous theory, researchers
say in the latest volley between warring scientists.
- Satellite measurements and calculations
by experts suggest that the Earth's extreme upper atmosphere is too dry
for there to be a constant shower from space of huge chunks of ice, scientists
say in a study to be published May 14.
- But Louis A. Frank, a University of Iowa
physicist, just shrugs off the latest attack on his theory.
- "There's no way that could be right,"
he said of the new study. "There are some people who are just being
more emotional than scientific about this thing."
- In the small community of atmospheric
physics, emotions about Frank's theory have reached a red-in-the-face,
fist-shaking level. Five other studies attacking the theory were published
earlier this year and at least four papers opposing it are planned this
month at an American Geophysical Union meeting in Boston.
- But Frank is unruffled. The Iowa scientist
says he has proven his case and the skeptics are just "emotional die-hards."
- "The only thing that changes some
scientists' opinion is death," he said.
- Whoever is right, Frank said the public
is fascinated by his theory and it remains a hot, controversial topic among
- Twelve years ago, Frank presented evidence
that a satellite had detected what he said were house-sized chunks of ice
speeding through space and colliding with the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
- When that finding was denounced, Frank
designed a camera for a new satellite and got more pictures. At a meeting
of the AGU last year, he presented new pictures that showed objects streaking
in from space and then ballooning into clouds some 600 to 15,000 miles
above the Earth's surface. He said the objects were ice chunks weighing
up to 40 tons moving at more than 20,000 miles an hour. He estimated that
about 200 million tons of space ice vaporize around the Earth annually.
- Frank said the space ice adds up to an
inch of water to the planet every 20,000 years and that it may be the source
of water for the Earth's oceans.
- Many scientists at the meeting said Frank
proved that comets routinely were hitting the atmosphere and some suggested
it was a major new discovery. But most doubted if the comets were as big
or as numerous as he claimed.
- Researchers led by Bryan J. Hannegan
of the University of California, Irvine, now say they have new proof that
Frank is wrong.
- Hannegan, lead author of a study in Geophysical
Research Letters, said water measurements by another satellite show the
atmosphere 15 to 35 miles above Earth is too dry to be receiving 200 million
tons of water a year from space.
- There may be space snowballs, Hannegan
said, but at the very most they amount to only about 2 million tons yearly
spread evenly around the planet.
- "We can't rule out that there is
water coming in from space," said Hannegan, "but we think it
is about 100 times less than what Frank proposes."
- Otherwise, he said, there would be more
water vapor and other gases in the high upper atmosphere than was detected
by the satellite.
- Confronted with the study, Frank just
- "They've tried to say that before,"
he said. "They're wrong. You can't just stop 20 tons of water vapor
at the top of the atmosphere. It comes in at a high speed and then just
plunges deep into the atmosphere."
- Told that four more studies attacking
his theory would be presented at the Boston meeting, Frank chuckled again.
- "I'll be there," he said with
a relish. "We're down to 10 or 20 skeptics and they'll never change