The September 21, 1991 issue of Science News, the weekly science magazine, has several interesting articles. One titled “Plutos Galore” offers a fairly new theory of astronomer S Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO. Stern suggests the possible existence of 1,000 “ice dwarfs”—ice-covered planets orbiting the sun with a size and mass similar to Pluto. According to his theory, the little planets would have been formed at the same time as the rest of the planets but would have been ejected to the outskirts of the solar system by the gravitational influence of Uranus and Neptune.
Several of the unexplained features of the solar system may be due to collisions or near-misses with small planets, including similarities between Pluto and its moon Charon, the unusual tilts of Uranus and Neptune, and the backward motion of Neptune’s satellite Triton. The most generally accepted theory to account for these anomalies is a series of collisions or near-misses involving small planets. But the odds of such collisions are astronomical unless there are a good many small planets available to provide the action. Though Stern thinks most of the ice-dwarfs would have been ejected into the outer edge of the solar system into the area of the “Oort Cloud” which is the theoretical source of many comets, a few might have been pulled further into the solar system where they would have melted and might be the source of frozen water on some of the inner planets.
I was delighted to learn of Stern’s work since I have written repeatedly that it seemed logical to have a number of small planets outside Neptune, of which Pluto was the first to be discovered. As I suggested, we have four small, solid planets (Mercury through Mars), then thousands of asteroids, then four large, gas planets, and then an area supposed inhabited by Pluto and its Moon which is at least half as big as Pluto plus a lot of comets. It seemed logical that there might be many small asteroid-like bodies in that outer area along with the comets.
The asteroids have been repeatedly in the news lately as astronomers have written of the potential danger of a collision with earth. A few million dollars could set up a systematic program to watch for asteroids which cross earth’s orbit, to be able to detect any which might be on a collision course with earth. They could then be deflected while still in space, before impact. The theory is still under consideration that collisions with asteroids or comets were responsible for periodic past extinctions of many life forms, including the dinosaurs. The impact of a large body could throw up heavy dust and smoke clouds and perhaps increase volcanic eruptions which add their quota of debris to the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and interfering with normal weather patterns of wind and rainfall. The so-called “year without a summer” in the U.S. in the early 1800s when there was frost every month in the Midwest farm area was blamed on the particulates thrown up by a single volcano.
We still have a lot to learn about our weather. The El Niño which was predicted is yet to come, and the drought continues in southern California. After a cool summer, September has brought a heat wave which may have broken records but I’m out of touch with the daily news as I write this in the country under a cloudless blue sky.
Another interesting article in the same issue of Science News describes the new work confirming a theory offered many years ago by Michel and Francoise Gauquelin. Physiologist Gloria E. Hoffman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says that their work with sheep is the first solid proof that the fetal brain initiates labor in the mother, at least in animals. Work in New Zealand hinted at this as much as 20 years ago, and current work in Auckland, N.Z. as well as work at Cornell University is providing more confirmation. The Gauquelins discovered what they called the “heredity” effect, a statistically significant tendency for grandparents, parents, children etc. to be born with the same planet rising or culminating. In some families, Mars would be in the Gauquelin “power zones” which covered about ten degrees below the Ascendant and before the MC in addition to the twelfth and ninth houses. Other families might have Saturn there. Our family tends to have Moon and Neptune in the power zones. Gauquelin suggested that in some unknown way, the fetus was aware when the appropriate planet was in the proper place and that it initiated the process of labor in the mother. But the mechanics of the timing remain a mystery. How could a fetus calculate how long it would take a mother to dilate after it started the process? As usual, every bit of knowledge we get leaves vast numbers of unanswered questions. I think the fetus must have some help from someone somewhere.
A third article in the same Science News describes the latest problem with the Hubble Space Telescope. I think that we included the chart of the launching of the telescope in an earlier issue of the Asteroid/World. The chart showed the likelihood of continuing problems for the project.
I continue to be fascinated by archeology though I have little time to keep up with new work in the field. On September 9, 1991, the Los Angeles Times ran an extensive article on a new discovery in Arizona. Elaborate burial chambers created by the prehistoric Mogollon Indians have been found near Springerville, AZ. Though not as elaborate as the catacombs of ancient Rome, the caves and vaults are being compared to Rome. John Hohmann discovered and is excavating them, and they are the only known catacombs north of Mexico. Hohmann suggests that the pains to which the Mogollon people went to bury their dead implies a complex culture with a rich spiritual life. It is hard to deduce spiritual beliefs from pot shards so our knowledge is limited when dealing with cultures without writing. The dwellings of the people who built the catacombs are also unusual with rooms made in a variety of shapes and of varied materials. The Indian town was apparently abandoned during a prolonged drought in the area. The current nearby town hopes to attract tourists when the ruins have been studied and prepared for visitors.