Cometary Catastrophes, Cosmic Dust and Ecological Disasters in Historical Times

Abstract of talk by Bill Napier

Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh BT61 9DG, Northern Ireland, e-mail: wmn[at]
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

Available data from fireball and comet observations, meteorite impacts, small lunar craters and the current near-Earth environment are assembled to yield a coherent picture of the interface between the Earth and its current interplanetary environment. The Taurid Complex of meteors, meteoroids, asteroids and Comet Encke has probably been a significant and regularly visible celestial hazard from the last Ice Age through to the present day. These data lead to the expectation that history has been punctuated by: (i) Tunguska-like impacts, singly or as part of fireball swarms; (ii) freezing events of decadal duration, due to cometary dusting of the stratosphere; and (iii) occasional disastrous inundations of coastal areas due to small-body ocean impacts.

BILL NAPIER is an astronomer at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, where he is financed by the Leverhulme Trust to carry out research into 'Giant comets, catastrophes and civilisation'. After obtaining degrees in astronomy at Glasgow University, he spent the bulk of his career as an astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, where he gained an 'individual merit' grade, before moving briefly to Oxford and thence to Armagh. His main research interest is in the field of comets and catastrophes, and he has co-authored a number of recent and forthcoming books on these subjects. More recently he has also initiated a programme of testing claims made over the years by Arp, Tifft and others that some extragalactic redshifts cannot be explained in terms of currently understood physics.