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Frank submits $60 million NASA proposal to study his small comet
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Space Physicist Louis Frank has
submitted a $60 million proposal for NASA to fund a mission to further
investigate his small comet theory. In May, Frank presented researchers
at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union with a series of photographs
taken by cameras aboard NASA's Polar spacecraft as proof of his 11-year-old
theory that thousands of 20-to-40-ton ice comets disintegrate in the Earth's
atmosphere each day, providing enough water, over the age of the Earth,
to fill the oceans and perhaps plant the seeds of life.
If funded, his proposal would be one of the largest single projects
ever undertaken by a University of Iowa researcher. Frank says that the
project, nicknamed "Cyclops," is necessary because his small
comet theory has implications for nearly all aspects of human existence.
"The Polar spacecraft images show that we have a large population
of previously undetected objects in the Earth's vicinity," he says.
"This relatively gentle cosmic rain and its possible simple organic
compounds may well have nurtured the development of life on our planet."
"With Cyclops, we'll intercept several small comets with cameras
mounted on a spacecraft in a circular orbit at an altitude of about 600
miles. Our first mission must be to go up and observe the amount of water
coming into the atmosphere and identify several simple organic molecules
contained in the small comets," says Frank, who, along with UI Senior
Researcher John Sigwarth co-discovered the small comets and designed the
cameras aboard the Polar spacecraft.
Cyclops is named for its large camera eye which continually searches
for the arrival of a small comet's water cloud just above Earth's atmosphere.
Upon detection of the cometary cloud, two cameras are activated to provide
movies of the objects at different wavelengths.
Frank developed his small comet theory in 1986 after some of the photographs
taken by NASA's Dynamics Explorer 1, a spacecraft designed to take pictures
of the northern lights, contained unexplained dark spots. After eliminating
other explanations, Frank concluded that the spots represented clouds of
water vapor being released high above Earth's atmosphere by the disintegration
of small ice comets. He noted that their small size -- 20-to-30-feet in
diameter -- and faint glow made observation difficult. Not until the 1996
launch of Polar, with its two sensitive visible light cameras and one far-ultraviolet
light camera, was there a chance to photograph the small comets with greater
Co-investigators named in the proposal are: Ralph C. Bohlin of the
Space Telescope Science Institute; Charles M. Brown, George R. Carruthers
and Robert R. Meier of the Naval Research Laboratory; Michael R. Combi
and Thomas M. Donohue of the University of Michigan; Paul D. Feldman of
Johns Hopkins University; and Sigwarth of the University of Iowa.