- Press Release
- Sep 26, 2022
UI researcher finds new evidence for small comet theory
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a paper published in the March 1, 2001 issue of the
American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research, University of
Iowa physics professor Louis A. Frank says that he has found new evidence
to support his theory that the water in Earth’s oceans arrived by way of
small snow comets.
Frank reports that he obtained pictures of nine small comets among 1,500
images made between October 1998 and May 1999 using the Iowa Robotic
Observatory (IRO) located near Sonoita, Ariz. In addition, he says that the
possibility of the images being due to “noise,” or electronic interference,
on the telescope’s video screens was eliminated by operating the telescope
in such a manner as to ensure that real objects were recorded in the images.
This operation of the telescope utilized two simple exposure modes for the
acquisition of the images. One scheme used the telescope’s shutter to
provide two trails of the same small comet in a single image, and the
second scheme used the same shutter to yield three trails in an image.
“In the two-trail mode for the telescope’s camera, no events were seen with
three trails, and for the three-trail mode, no events were seen with two
trails,” he says. “This simple shutter operation for the telescope’s camera
provides full assurance that real extraterrestrial objects are being
detected.” Frank notes these images with the IRO confirm earlier reports
of small comet detection using the ground-based Spacewatch Telescope during
November 1987, January 1988 and April 1988.
The small comet theory, developed in 1986 with UI research scientist John
Sigwarth from data gathered using the Dynamics Explorer 1 satellite, holds
that about 20 snow comets weighing 20 to 40 tons each disintegrate in the
Earth’s atmosphere every minute. Over the lifetime of our planet, the
comets would have accounted for virtually all of the Earth’s water. The
small comet theory has been controversial almost from the beginning, with
some scientists suggesting that images identified as small snow comets
actually result from electronic noise on satellite sensors and other
researchers asserting that the images represent a real phenomenon. In 1997,
Frank revealed a series of photographs taken by Visible Imaging System
(VIS) cameras designed by Frank and Sigwarth and carried aboard NASA’s
Polar spacecraft as further proof of the existence of the small snow comets.
Robert A. Hoffman, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md. and project scientist for both the Dynamics Explorer 1 and
the Polar spacecraft missions, says that because satellite-based imagery
related to the small comet theory has been interpreted in different ways,
ground-based imagery is a good alternative.
“Due to the controversy surrounding the interpretation of the images from
space-borne detectors taken primarily in ultraviolet wavelengths, ground-
based visible observations with sufficient signal-to-noise appear to be
the most practical approach to obtaining clear evidence regarding the
existence of these objects. I hope more such studies will be performed,”
Frank, a UI faculty member since 1964, has been an experimenter,
co-investigator, or principal investigator for instruments on 42 spacecraft.
His instruments include those used to observe the Earth’s auroras, as well
as those used to measure energetic charged particles and thin, electrically
charged gases called plasmas. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical
Union and the American Physical Society, a member of the American
Astronomical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science
and the International Academy of Astronautics, and a recipient of the
National Space Act Award.
Further information, including images of two small comet trails, can be
found at the following web site:
(Note to editors and reporters: Frank will be traveling out of the country
from Feb. 26 through March 3 and will be unavailable for interviews during