Monday, February 4, 2008

The Ice That Came In From The Cold

James Ehmann wrote for The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), frequently on scientific topics. Many former readers of his popular columns were saddened and unpleasantly surprised when he died as a young man from an illness several years ago.

I recently happened upon a letter he sent in 1986 after we had a phone conversation about mysterious falls of ice from the sky -- a phenomenon that continues with regularity all over the planet, as most of you already know (all manner of things seem to be falling from above anymore). James, like myself, was perpetually amused by routine explanations which appear like clockwork every time ice falls, stating that the ice "must have" dropped from an airplane toilet. Of course, the vast majority of these ice chunks, some of dangerous size and proportions with a proven ability to destroy a fair number of home roofs, exhibit no evidence of toilet origin. Indeed, whether clear or showing some color, the frozen intruders often contain water and nothing else.

All of this had come about because of Dr. Louis Frank, a physicist in the news nationally who postulated that earth's water was delivered over the eons by bombardment with icy comets and the like. While many of his colleagues were dismissive of his theories in the eighties, the fact that we've since discovered evidence of water on other planets and perhaps throughout the universe may legitimize his ideas significantly.

We should also mention now in 2008 that changes in climate alone may also influence ice falls, with atmospheric conditions precipitating heavy chunks of ice leading to ground damage. One might also wonder if ice from comets (per Dr. Frank) shouldn't include pieces of rock and other debris from the universe itself, or perhaps this mixture would have been more common in the early creation of the universe.

So, James Ehmann sent the letter shown here, and also enclosed photocopies of something the famed writer Arthur C. Clarke had written about ice falls. In addition, Ehmann included a copy of a letter Clarke had written the editor of Omni Magazine (see) just weeks previously.