Giant Snowballs In Space? No, Says Researcher, They're Simply Black Snow On The TV Screen

December 09, 1997

San Francisco -- When University of Iowa space physicist Louis Frank presented his evidence last May, he had much of the science community shivering with anticipation. He claimed to have discovered 20- to 40-ton cosmic snowballs, the size of houses, pelting the Earth at the rate of 30,000 a day. What's more, Frank presented images he had captured of the giant snowballs.

But the snowballs may not exist. University of Washington geophysicist George Parks has analyzed Frank's ultraviolet (UV) camera images and has concluded that the white snow in space is no more than black "snow" on the television screen.

After a close analysis of one hour of data supplied by Frank, Parks says he and his collaborators are certain that Frank has been looking at "instrument noise." It is very similar, says Parks, "to the static you hear on your hi-fi."

Frank and Parks will debate the real vs. phantom snowballs here today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco (Dec. 9 at 4 p.m.).

Frank first proposed his theory of the cosmic snowballs -- actually small comets -- in 1986, but the idea was widely discredited. Then, earlier this year, he presented evidence from the Polar satellite, which carries an instrument that can produce both UV and visible light images. Frank compared the same spots on both types of image and concluded that these were clear evidence of the existence of the comets.

Parks says that at first he was "agnostic" towards Frank's data. But when he saw the far more detailed images from the Polar camera he became suspicious. It was simply unlikely, he says, that the clusters of spots on the images could have been caused by snowballs in space. Parks began an analysis of his own images taken with the Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) on the NASA Polar satellite. There he found the same dark spots that Frank had found on his images.

He grew even more uneasy about Frank's analysis when he found that the UVI had recorded the same dark spots while pointed at a UV light in the laboratory.

When Parks began a minute examination of the images, made by breaking the clusters of spots down into tiny picture point, or pixels, he found statistical evidence that he was seeing not real events, but what he calls an "instrument artifact."

After Parks had detailed his analysis in an article for Geophysical Research Letters, Frank released one hour of data that overlapped with Parks' UVI images. Parks has made a comparison of the two and now believes, even more emphatically, that Frank has been attempting to interpret background noise.

What is causing the spots on the images? Park blames the very complexity of the cameras themselves, which consist of a number of parts, including optics, an image intensifier that includes a device for multiplying electrons, a TV screen and a light-gathering charge-coupled device. Parks suspects that the dark spots change character as the camera's high voltage is varied.

Parks claims that Frank has taken complex images and selected only one tiny area as evidence of the comets' existence. "He nevers shows the full image because it always looks corrupted by noise," he says.

Is Parks then denying the existence of cosmic snowballs? "The burden is on Frank, he's got to prove they exist," Parks says. "He is seeing things that are scientifically not permitted. It would, for example, be easy for me to say these dark spots are UFOs, but it would be up to me to prove it."

University of Washington

Related Data Articles from Brightsurf:

Keep the data coming
A continuous data supply ensures data-intensive simulations can run at maximum speed.

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Novel method for measuring spatial dependencies turns less data into more data
Researcher makes 'little data' act big through, the application of mathematical techniques normally used for time-series, to spatial processes.

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.

Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.

Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.

Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.

Read More: Data News and Data Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.