Every minute several huge "snowballs" break up as they approach the Earth and deposit a large cloud of water vapor in Earth's upper atmosphere. That's the startling finding of world-renowned physicist Louis A. Frank after an examination of the images relayed from the Dynamics Explorer 1 spacecraft. His conclusion, based on data acquired at the limits of detection, created a storm of controversy among scientists. This is the story that was told in The Big Splash, published in 1990. But the story does not end there.
Less than a decade later, Frank's discovery of these previously undetected small comets was confirmed when images were received from cameras aboard a different spacecraft named Polar. The news of this "vindication" of Frank's provocative theory in 1997 made the front pages of several large metropolitan newspapers, including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Washington Post.
Cosmic Rain, a greatly expanded edition of The Big Splash, tells this never-before-told follow-up, in Frank's own words, of the confirmation of the existence of small comets and the harsh criticism he faced from colleagues for upsetting so many scientific applecarts in the process.
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About the Author
A native of Chicago, Frank's first professional research activities began in 1958 when he assisted James Van Allen in the calibration of the first U.S. lunar probes, Pioneers 3 and 4, as an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa. Later, Frank was the principal investigator for the auroral imaging instruments for the Dynamics Explorer Mission, the plasma instrumentation for the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, the U.S. plasma instrumentation for the Japanese Geotail spacecraft, and the camera for visible wavelengths for the Polar spacecraft of the International Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program. His scientific accomplishments were many: he discovered the theta aurora, the remarkable configuration of auroral and polar cap luminosities that looks like the Greek letter theta hovering above the polar cap; he made the first measurements of the plasma ring around Jupiter and Saturn; and he was the first to measure solar-wind plasma funneling directly into the Earth's polar atmosphere, as well as the belt of ions around the Earth known as the "ring current." Frank was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and the recipient of the National Space Act Award.