Programs 151-180




151-A Climate Changer


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Published PRX May 28 , 2015
Recorded May 13, 2015

The asteroid hunting community has discovered more than 90% of the 1 KM or larger asteroids whose impact could cause global climate change.

Recently the PanSTARRS group in Hawaii discovered a new large potentially hazardous asteroid.
It is the 872nd, 1 KM sized asteroid to be discovered and has a diameter of approximately 10 football fields. When humans first spotted it this asteroid was more than 1.5 times the distance to our Sun from us. It was traveling towards Earth at almost 13 miles per second. Observations by telescopes in Arizona, Hawaii, and Germany were used to discover it's orbit around the Sun. The Minor Planet Center gave it the name 2015 HY116.

Fortunately this large Earth Approaching Object never gets closer to us than about 19 times the distance to our Moon. If it did collide with planet Earth it would released 850 times the energy of the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever exploded and produce a crater 8 or 9 miles in diameter. It is about the minimum size for an impacting object to produce global climate change. Statistical studies predict such an impact every 500,000 years or so.

It should be stressed that the asteroid hunting community has not found an object like 2015 HY116 which is on a collision course with planet Earth. If we do, we hope to provide a minimum of days to weeks notice so that the affected area can be evacuated.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 151 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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152-Big and Bad

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Published PRX May 28 , 2015
Recorded May 13, 2015

Within the space of a couple of days my Catalina Sky Survey teammates Rik Hill and Rose Matheny discovered three new potentially dangerous asteroids.

Rik's discovery was named 2015 JJ.  It travels about the Sun, in a bit over a year,  on a somewhat unusual path that takes it from about 20% outside to about 10% inside that of the Earth's orbit.    Further observations by telescopes at more than a dozen locations around the globe refined its orbit and its size estimate was reduced about 5%. It is thus slightly smaller than is required for it to be classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.  Even so it bears watching since it can come closer to us than our Moon.

Rose Matheny discovered two potentially hazardous asteroids 2015 JD1 and 2015 JV. The largest 2015 JD1, is about 850 feet in diameter and orbits the Sun in about 1.34 years.  It gets the biggest baddest award, since when it crosses the Earth's orbit it is traveling at more than 32 miles/second relative to us.  Fortunately it never gets closer to us than about 9 times the distance to our Moon.  

Rose's other Potentially Hazardous Asteroid,  2015 JV is about half the size of the larger one. 

The asteroid hunting community will continue to track these asteroids to make sure that their paths are not changed to make them a threat.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 152 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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153-Alien Invaders

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Published PRX June 3 , 2015
Recorded June 03, 2015


The most likely alien invaders are viruses or other bits of living materials that humans have exported from or imported to Earth's biosphere. Currently there are international efforts, like the outer space treaty and the Committee on Space Research, to keep the human exploration of space from spreading Earth's life forms to other places or to contaminate our own biosphere with extraterrestrial organisms if they exist.

We have seen how the AIDS virus and the Ebola virus have rapidly spread in the human population and how difficult it is to contain them. What would happen if we accidentally exported an organism that would flourish on Mars or brought back a Martian virus?

We have sent robotic probes to Mars and will land one on the asteroid Bennu in a few years. Great care has been taken to prevent these emissaries from contaminating in either direction.  

Humans are more of a problem. A typical human being is host to a hundred trillion microorganisms from ten thousand species. If these microorganisms were exterminated the human would die. When we start sending astronauts to Mars how we we keep them spreading Earth's life forms to a place which may have its own living organisms?

There is evidence that Mars once offered conditions habitable conditions for micro biological life. 

Suppose we don't find any life forms on Mars in 10, 20, or 30 years?  Remember that Mars has a surface area equal to the land area on Earth. When will we be able to say "there is no life on Mars" and forget about contaminating the red planet?

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 153 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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154-100 Years Of Data

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Published PRX June 3 , 2015
Recorded June 03, 2015

Computer data, audio programming, and video content must be migrated forward in time as technology evolves, or its information is lost.  Does anyone remember 9 track computer tapes or an 8 track audio tape? On the other hand a photographic plate taken in 1885 contains a wealth of information which can be viewed directly by a human or converted into digital information.  

From about 1885 to 1992 more than 500,000 photographic glass plates were taken with telescopes at various locations and sent to the Harvard College Observatory.  Over the years the same area of the sky was photographed repeatedly. These time lapse images are a unique record of changes in the Universe over more than 100 years.  

In the past obtaining information from these glass plates was a slow tedious endeavor which required researchers to travel to Cambridge, find the images for a particular time and the area of the sky by looking at logbooks, and finally studying the information contained on each relevant photographic plate.

The situation changed dramatically with the construction of a custom designed plate cleaner and most importantly an extremely fast, accurate plate scanner.  Each plate is carefully cleaned and scanned to produce a digital file of the brightness and position of every object on the plate. 

Get ready!  Every time we look at the Universe in a new way something totally unexpected pops up.
Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 154 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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155-Full Moon


Published PRX June 10 , 2015
Recorded June 03, 2015

In folklore the full Moon is associated with insanity, magic, and other paranormal events.  None of this has any basis in scientific fact. 

In reality, the full moon lights up the sky so brightly that it is difficult to impossible to find faint stars or asteroids.  My group, the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey does not observe at the full moon, instead we have a meeting.  It is the one time of the month that none of us is observing.  

There are many things which must happen for us to be able to find new Earth approaching asteroids. At our full moon meetings we go through any problems which occurred on each of the three telescopes our team operates; the 60 inch on Mt. Lemmon, the 40 inch on Mt. Lemmon, and 27 inch Schmidt telescope on nearby Mt. Bigelow. 

We use the same computer programming environment at each telescope. This software allows us to cull through the millions of objects we image each night to find a handful of new Earth approaching objects.  Much of our discussions concern refinements to this family of computer programs.

During July and August the monsoon rains come to southern Arizona.  During this time our group does routine maintenance and makes major equipment up grades.   

The third night after full moon we begin to search the sky for Earth approaching objects for the a total of 24 nights before we again break for the full moon.  Our team discovers about 600 new near Earth objects per year and has accounted for about 47% of the total humans know about.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 155 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


156-8 Close Ones


Published PRX June 10 , 2015
Recorded June 03, 2015

In less than 10 nights my team, the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey, discovered 8 new close approaching asteroids.  They orbit the Sun with periods from less than a year to a bit over 4 years.  They range in sizes from that of a large truck to one with a diameter that would allow it to fit into a football field. 

The closest  approaching of these asteroids was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson.  2015 KW121 is about 60 feet in diameter and can pass closer to us than our communication satellites. Three days before Johnson spotted it this small space rock it was bright enough to be detected by backyard telescopes.  No one spotted it then as it streaked across the night sky.  When Jess found this small space rock it was about 333,000 miles from us and traveling was away from the Earth at 13 miles/second.  It was visible to Earth's telescopes for less than a week as it zipped by us on its 15 month path around the Sun. It will make close approaches to our moon in 2015, the Earth in 2015, 2018, and 2020, and to the planet Venus in 2016 and 2017.  2015 KW121 appears unlikely to strike the Earth anytime soon.   If it did it would probably disintegrate in the upper atmosphere creating a sonic boom.

The other seven of this group of recent discoveries can travel relatively close to us but are no threat to planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 156 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


157-Kissing Frogs


Published PRX June 18 , 2015
Recorded June 18, 2015

The idea that you have to "kiss a lot of frogs" to find true love has its roots in a more than one hundred year old Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Frank Shelly is one of the software geniuses on my team, the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey. His computer programs help us to find Earth approaching asteroids.  Here is a summary of some of Frank's comments.  Our process is to take a set of 4 images, of the same place in the sky, over about a 45 minute time interval called a field.   On a typical night in each of the 190 fields we record the images of more than 10,000 stars, galaxies, planets, moons of planets, comets, artificial satellites, and asteroids of all types.  To reject most of these, we use the fact that Earth approaching asteroids are among the fastest moving objects in the night sky.  

We start by knowing which of the more than 500,000 known asteroids and comets are predicted to be in the field at the time it was taken.  The number of known objects we find in a field ranges from 0 to more than 150 and averages about 25.  That leaves about 30 suspects which are presented to the observer at the telescope for validation.  She or he then decides if each candidate is likely to be a noise glitch or a real object.  About 1/4 of the time the field contains a previously known Near Earth Object. 

In about one out of 50 fields the observer discovers a new Earth approaching asteroid. 

On an average night the observer at the telescope says "not real" more than 4000 times  hence the title of this piece.          

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 157 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


158-Know A Star


Published PRX June 18 , 2015
Recorded June 16, 2015

How would you like to know more about a particular star than anyone else on Earth? 

The American Association of Variable Star Observers, or AAVSO as it is called, has been offering this opportunity to its members and the general public for more than one hundred years.  Don't let the name fool you. The AAVSO is an international organization which is active in more than 100 countries around the world. The AAVSO even has a mentoring program to help you start on your path of discovery. 

There are those stars which explode violently, some others which pulsate regularly,  as well as some which look like a single point of light but are really many stars orbiting each other.  Stars can have spots and flares which cause them to change in brightness.  In addition there are some really strange stars which have disks of material around them. To top it off, there are varying points of light in the night sky which look like stars but have inner workings which are a complete mystery. 

Members of the American Association of Variable Star observers learn about a star's personal story by observing it with the naked eye, a set of binoculars, or a small telescope equipped with an electronic camera.
Others do not observe at all but analyze data with their home computers which enable them to discover very interesting stellar properties.  AAVSO members are also active in education and public outreach.

Start today on your path of scientific discovery by visiting the aavso.org website.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 158 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


159-Good News


Published PRX June 24 , 2015
Recorded June 16, 2015

Recently my NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered an approaching asteroid about the same size as the one whose high altitude disintegration injured nearly 1500 people in Chelyabinsk Russia in February of 2013.  Fortunately this new one missed planet Earth.  There is more good news.  Carson spotted this small space rock about 40 hours before its closest approach to planet Earth.  This means that if it had been on a collision path with our home planet we would have had time to warn people to seek shelter before it created a potentially destructive sonic boom in our atmosphere.

When Fuls discovered it this 55 foot diameter asteroid was about 150,000 miles from him and was traveling towards us a 10 miles/second.  Telescopes in Arizona, Australia, Romania, Italy, and France tracked it through the night sky.  The minor planet center used these observations to find its path and give it the name 2015 LF.  It orbits the Sun once every 3.5 years on a path that takes it from between Earth and Venus out to 80% of the way to the planet Jupiter. 

Unlike the Chelyabinsk Meteor which came at us from close to the direction of the Sun,  2015 LF approached planet Earth from a direction away from the Sun with most of its little full moon face pointing in our direction.  This is the most favorable situation for asteroid hunters to be able to detect an Earth approaching object.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 159 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


160-ALMA Spots Juno

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Published PRX June 24 , 2015
Recorded June 16, 2015

Juno was found by German astronomer Karl L. Harding in 1804 who noticed that to the human eye it appeared to be a star like moving point of light in the night sky The light that Juno reflects suggests that it could be the source of stony meteorites called chondrites that we find on Earth. 

Scientists have long known that every object whose temperature is above absolute zero radiates a small glow.  On Earth we use this fact to construct night vision goggles and to do non invasive medical imaging of the human body. 

Up until October of 2014 our knowledge of Juno was based on the light this asteroid reflects from the Sun. That all changed when astronomers pointed the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array at it. This powerful group of radio dishes which is nicknamed ALMA is located about 9,500 feet above sea level in the high dry desert of northern Chile.

"In contrast to optical telescopes, which capture the reflected light from the Sun, the new ALMA images show the actual millimeter-wavelength light emitted by the asteroid," said Todd Hunter, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  Hunter continued stating “By using ALMA to image the thermal glow from asteroids like Juno and other bodies in our solar system, astronomers will be able to study their shape, composition, and surface properties.”

Juno will make a much closer approach to us in 2018.   At this range ALMA will be able to make images with the double the resolution of the previous ones.   Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 160 for more information.


© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer 

161-Half A World Away

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Published PRX July 2, 2015
Recorded June 25, 2015

Using the long arm of the internet, astronomers in Russia are observing with a telescope located near Mayhill, New Mexico to discover solar system objects.

The New Mexico Skies Observatory, near the village of Mayhill, is located 7,300 feet above sea level and has world class, clear dark skies, ideal for astronomical viewing.

Recently, Leonid Elenin, a Russian astronomer, using the remotely operated ISON-NM telescope located at the Mayhill site discovered a new potentially hazardous asteroid.  This telescope has previously been used to discover more than 1,500 asteroids and three comets.  Leonid's most recent discovery is a potentially hazardous asteroid named 2015 LK24.  Amazingly enough, he made this discovery while sitting in a control room in Moscow.  This asteroid's current path allows it to come about 1/3 of the Moon's distance to us. The asteroid hunting community will need to keep track of 2015 LK24 since if it ever entered our atmosphere it would release 3 or 4 times the energy of the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever exploded.

In addition to discovering new objects the ISON-NM telescope is being used to determine the size and shape of asteroids by carefully measuring the light they reflect as they spin on their axis of rotation and move about the Sun.  The size, shape, and rate of spin of an asteroid is the kind of information which humans need to prepare for the unlikely situation that a small body is found to be on a collision course with planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 161 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

162-Icarus Pays A Visit

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Published PRX July 2 , 2015
Recorded June 25, 2015

For 43 years after its discovery in 1949, the Earth approaching asteroid Icarus, was known as the object which passes closest to our Sun. It is named for a boy in Greek mythology whose wings of feathers and wax melted when he ignored his father's advice and flew too close to the Sun.  

Every 409 days Icarus makes a scorching approach to the Sun at which point it is less than half the distance of the planet Mercury from our star and is traveling at 58 miles per second. Icarus's close approaches to Earth always happen in June at intervals of 9, 19, and 28 years. 

In 2015 Icarus made a relatively close approach to Earth at which point it was about 21 times the distance to our Moon from us. It was bright enough to be spotted by a backyard telescope equipped with an electronic camera. It was also close enough for humans to bounce RADAR beams off of it. These data will refine Icarus's orbit and may provide some images of it.

In its current orbit it never get closer than 16 times the Moon's distance from us. This is a good thing since it is nearly a mile in diameter and is traveling at 18 miles per second relative to planet Earth when it crosses our orbit.

Icarus will make relatively close passages to Mercury in 2025, Earth in 2043, Venus in 2045, and Mars in 2074. Humans will need to keep track of it to make sure that its path in space is not changed by these encounters to make come nearer to our home planet. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 162 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

163-Space Junk

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Published PRX July 8 , 2015
Recorded June 25, 2015

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny was observing on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when she found a bright object streaking across the night sky.  She submitted her discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center where it was identified as a potential Earth approaching object. It was then observed by telescopes in Arizona, California, England, and New Mexico for more than a month.  Dr. Bill Gray analyzed these observations and came to the conclusion that this object is not a natural Earth approaching asteroid but rather some piece of space debris.   His calculations reveal this moving object's path is a lot like the INTEGRAL spacecraft and booster, however, he was not able to identify it with anything released during this mission. Dr. Gray commented   "it's probably a few meters across and very light, based on how much solar radiation pressure is kicking it around".   

These observations and their analysis reveal one of the complications in the asteroid hunting business. The Integral Spacecraft was launched more than a decade by the European Space Agency to observe gamma rays from celestial objects. It has given us valuable insights into the most violent events in the Universe including gamma-ray bursters and black holes. 

There are more than 20,000 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inches in diameter and millions of tiny ones in orbit around the Earth.  At orbital speed a flake of paint carries as much energy as a 550 pound object traveling at 60 miles per hour.  Eventually all of this stuff will fall back to Earth.   So far no injuries or property damage has been confirmed.  Heads up.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 163 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


164-Big Threat or Not


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Published PRX July 8 , 2015
Recorded June 06, 2015

In February 2013 a space rock about 59 feet in diameter entered the Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia making a fire ball 30 times brighter than our Sun. It came without warning and nearly 1,500 people were injured primarily by flying glass from broken windows.

The Chelyabinsk event has prompted people around the world to come together to learn about asteroids and what can be done to make humans safer from them. They have called their movement Asteroid Day and have held it on the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska Event when an object impacted Earth in Siberia killing 80 million trees over an 800 square mile area. The Asteroid Day organizers call for humans to spend a billion dollars a year to make us safer from celestial threats.    Some of these funds would be used to build a space based asteroid hunting telescope.

My Catalina Sky Survey team leader Eric Christensen points out that it will probably be centuries before another Chelyabinsk sized asteroid hits over a populated area and that a larger like the one the Tunguska object is not likely to impact the Earth for hundreds of years and then its landing spot is most likely to be an ocean. He also states the fact that we can do the asteroid detection work much more cheaply with the right ground based telescopes.

In the end spending a billion dollars a year on asteroid damage prevention is like purchasing expensive insurance for an extremely unlikely event. However, it has a side benefit that it will employ people and may stimulate science and technology.
  
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 164 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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165-One Two Punch

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Published PRX July 15 , 2015
Recorded July 07, 2015

About 35 million years ago the Earth was impacted by two large asteroids creating the more than 50 mile diameter Popigai [pop a gay i] Crater in Russia and a similar crater in Chesapeake Bay in the USA.  Analysis of fragments indicate that the impacting objects were not made of the same material. This finding has led scientists to speculate that there may be an astronomical process which changes conditions in the inner asteroid belt and causes the Earth's orbit to change slightly.  This combination could have triggered the ice age which caused the first significant ice sheet in Antarctica to form and led to the last major extinction event in the Earth's history.

The Popigai Crater was created when a large asteroid crashed into the Tamyr [tim er] Peninsula in northern Siberia, Russia.  This large impacting object was traveling at more than 10 miles per second. The force of impact melted thousands of cubic miles of rock spraying debris over a huge area. 

The more than 50 mile diameter, one mile deep, Chesapeake Bay Crater was formed when 6 or 7 mile diameter object crashed into Earth creating a 15 story high tsunami which went inland to near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The cooling of the Earth 35 million years ago is coincident with the impact of these two different types of asteroids one iron rich and the other iron poor.  This suggests that they came from different regions in the solar system and may have been disturbed from their previous orbits by resonances in planetary orbits that can cause chaos in the solar system.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 165 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


166-Asteroid Diamonds

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Published PRX July 15 , 2015
Recorded July 07, 2015

Did you know that asteroids can bring diamonds to Earth and that asteroids sometimes create diamonds when they collide with our planet?

The Sutter's Mill meteorite fell to Earth April 22, 2012. Its fall was recorded by Doppler weather RADAR which indicated where fragments of it could be found.  Two days later pieces of it were discovered by NASA Ames and SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens.  The samples he collected have resulted in more than a dozen scientific papers.   In one of them, NASA scientists report having found two microscopic diamonds, in this celestial messenger, which are large enough to suggest that they were formed in the interiors of objects which existed in our solar system long ago.  

About 40 years ago, diamonds were discovered in the asteroid impact Popigai  [pop a gay i] Crater in Siberia.  Recently some Russian Scientists began to claim that this site may contain trillions of carats of industrial diamonds some of which may be twice as hard as ordinary diamonds. So far this deposit has not proven to have economic value since synthetic industrial quality diamonds for cutting tools have been made economically by humans since the 1950s.  Most of the tiny diamonds from this asteroid impact are less than the thickness of two dimes in diameter.  The heat and pressure during the impact event simply did not last long enough to create large clear stones which would have value in the jewelry market.

These two astronomical sources of diamonds remain an interesting target of scientific investigation.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 166 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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167-Night Sky Friendly


Published PRX July 22 , 2015
Recorded July 20, 2015

Being night sky friendly means that you only use outdoor lighting fixtures which direct light onto the ground where humans need it and not up into the sky where it obscures the natural wonders of the Universe.

Currently more than 2/3 of the US population and more than 1/2 of the those people living in Europe cannot see the Milky Way or a meteor streaking through the night sky because of inappropriate outdoor lighting.

Amazingly enough being night sky friendly saves money and is good for business. 

The economic impact of being night sky friendly has been demonstrated by Union County in the northeast corner of New Mexico. Union County, New Mexico has a population of slightly over 4,000 people. It is not on any heavily traveled tourist route, and it has a history of low visitor spending. Amazingly, Union County's economy received a 15.6% boost when Clayton Lake State Park was certified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.  Park staff and volunteers continue to work closely with the Town of Clayton and the New Mexico State Parks system to ensure quality lighting guidelines both within the park and in the surrounding community.  Being Night Sky Friendly has produced an across the board increase in local business activity in this economically depressed rural community.

Perhaps more importantly the reduced glare produced by night sky friendly lighting reduces the risk of accidents.

You can find information about becoming night sky friendly on this and the International Dark-Sky Associations websites.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 167 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


168-Invisible Stuff



Published PRX July 22 , 2015
Recorded July 20, 2015

In 1933 Fritz Zwicky suggested that the high speeds of galaxies in the relatively distant Coma Cluster are indicative of some type of invisible material which is pulling on them.  

Nearer to home, Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun, zips along at 29 miles per second.  In contrast, the much more distant Pluto orbits at a leisurely 3 miles per second .  The Sun controls the orbits of these objects in this way because it has most of the mass of the solar system and is relatively compact.

In the 1970's Dr. Vera Rubin began to measure the speeds of stars in galaxies using the Doppler shift. She expected stars orbiting at different distances from the centers of spiral galaxies to behave like the planets in our solar system since for these giant star systems the luminous mass that we observe is concentrated towards their centers.  To her amazement the stars near the edge of the great galaxy in Andromeda and many other spiral galaxies are moving at speeds which indicate that these galaxies contain ten times the amount of mass that emits radiation which is visible to us. It was at this point that Dr. Rubin realized that she had discovered compelling evidence to support Zwicky's dark matter hypothesis. 

Picking up the torch, a high school student, Theodora Mautz has received the Young Astronomer Award from the Astronomical League for her investigation of the possible effect of dark matter on globular clusters orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy.  

We know there is invisible stuff which has gravity.  Its nature remains a mystery. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 168 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


169- Neighborhood's Edge


Published PRX July 30 , 2015
Recorded July 29, 2015

For 62 years after Clyde Tombaugh's discovery, Pluto remained a solitary mysterious object at the edge of our solar system.  In the early 1990's, technology gave astronomers electronic detectors 30 times more sensitive than the photographic film that Clyde Tombaugh used to search for and find Pluto.  Armed with these new detectors and powerful computers scientists began to discover many new objects in the far reaches of our solar system. In 1992, Dr. Dave Jewitt and Dr. Jane Luu from the University of Hawaii discovered, 1992 QB1 which turned out to be a small object orbiting the Sun at about the same distance as the Planet Pluto.  Dr. Mike Brown, a planetary astronomer at Caltech, led the charge discovering Eris, an object which is about the same size as Pluto. It has an an orbital period of 558 years which places it out past all of the known planets.  He and other astronomers have gone on to discover scores of new objects in the distant frozen regions of our solar system.

Confronted with the deluge of new possible planets, in 2006, The International Astronomical Union voted to categorize Pluto as a Dwarf Planet and not the 9th planet in our solar system as most school children had learned. 

Recently the NASA New Horizon's spacecraft flew past Pluto carrying some of Clyde Tombaugh's ashes.

The New Horizon's space craft is one of the few human made objects which are likely to exist till the end of time. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 169 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


170-Encounter With Pluto



Published PRX July 30, 2015
Recorded July 29, 2015

After 9 years, 3 billion miles, and 18 sleeping periods NASA gave a wake up call to the New Horizons when it was 135 million miles from the Pluto system.  After more than 8 hours of waiting, NASA engineers were ecstatic to receive a message from the New Horizons stating that "I am fine and ready to go forward with an encounter with Pluto".

The Sun at Pluto's distance is 1500 times fainter than it is to us on Earth and Pluto has a surface temperature of 370 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.  These two facts might lead one to believe that the frozen surface of this distant world has changed little over the eons and should be pock marked with craters from impacts it has received over its 4.5 billion year history.  Instead of this situation New Horizons has found regions on this distant world which are entirely free of craters.  One of them, the Tombaugh Regio, is about 1000 miles across and has no craters at all making its surface only about 30% older than the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Pluto's weird geology is driven by the fact that at -370F water ice is as strong as rocks are on Earth creating ice mountains more than 11,000 feet high.  We can only guess at what might be powering these recent surface changes.

Because New New Horizons has a low power transmitter and is at an incredible distance from Earth it will need more than a year to send all of its data from the Pluto encounter back to its human creators. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 170 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer 



171-Planet's Airglow


Published PRX August 6 , 2015
Recorded July 29, 2015

At the few remaining natural night sky viewing locations on Earth the horizon has a faint glow in every direction.  Near the magnetic poles, this night glow appears to join with the relatively bright higher altitude aurora which covers larger portions of the sky and exhibits beautiful colors including green and red. Green light is the strongest component of the Earth' airglow and comes from oxygen atoms which have become energized by our Sun. 

The planet Venus is similar to the Earth in many ways. It also also displays striking differences.   One of these is that Venus does not have an internally generated magnetic field but rather a weak one produced by the solar wind. Astronomers have long puzzled over this weak magnetic field and the unexpected occurrence of a faint sporadic green night glow on our sister planet.

Recently Dr. Candace Gray earned a PhD from New Mexico State University for her work to observe and understand Venus's mysterious green airglow and suggesting this is likely a global aurora about non-magnetic planets that occurs only after solar storms.   By using observations from Apache Point Observatory and spacecraft orbiting Venus to fuel atmospheric model calculations she has been able to connect Venus's enigmatic green line to mass burps from solar storms on our Sun.

Dr. Gray's work helps to better understand our own planet by comparing it with one of our neighbors in space. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 171 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


172-Number 1602


Published PRX August 6 , 2015
Recorded July 29, 2015

The one thousand six hundred and second potentially hazardous asteroid was discovered by the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii. Followup observations were made by  telescopes in Hawaii, France, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Pennsylvania. The Minor Planet Center used these vital observations to calculate an orbit and gave it the name 2015 OC22.

2015 OC22 is about 1200 feet in diameter.  Fortunately, on its current path, it can't come closer than about 10 times the Moon's distance from us.  An asteroid this size probably strikes the Earth every 100,000 years or so making a crater 3 to 4 miles in diameter. This particular asteroid's orbit crosses the paths of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury. It takes a bit over 3 years to make a single trip around the Sun.  In the past, it has made close approaches to the Earth in 1963 and 2012 and Mercury in 1972.

In 2015 this potentially hazardous asteroid will pass near Mercury and come a distant one third of the Sun's distance from us.  It will make close approaches to Mercury in 2024 and 2068 and the Earth in 2055 and 2095.  The asteroid hunting community will continue to monitor 2015 OC22's orbit for any changes which might occur.  2015 OC22 will continue to move through the inner solar system until it collides with another celestial object in the far distant future.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 172 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


173-An Earth Like Planet

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Published PRX August 13 , 2015
Recorded July 29, 2015

Since the dawn of our race, it is likely that humans have looked into the night sky and wondered if they are alone in the Universe on a unique planet.

The NASA Kepler spacecraft has discovered more than a thousand planets orbiting distant stars. Very recently this effort has revealed a planet, called Kepler-452b, to be orbiting a star very similar to our Sun at a distance that would allow for the possibility of liquid water on its surface. Additional observations by Earth bound telescopes in Texas, Arizona, and Hawaii have proved to be vital in determining the temperature and age of Kepler-452b's star. Computer models of how solar systems form suggest that this newly discovered planet could have a rocky surface  At Kepler-452b's distance of more than 1,400 light years, it is a challenge to develop the techniques to measure this Earth like planet's mass and atmospheric composition. The NASA James Webb Space Telescope which is scheduled to be launched in this decade is a powerful step in that direction.

Kepler-452b has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star. In the 4.5 billion years of the Earth's history the parade of more than 5 billion species has included single cell organisms, various multi cellular life forms, land plants, dinosaurs, mammals, birds, flowers, and humans to name a few. It is mind blowing to consider what kind of life forms might exist on a planet which is 1.5 billion years older than mother Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 173 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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174-Fascinating Europa


Published PRX August 13 , 2015
Recorded August 9, 2015

You can spot Europa with almost any small telescope as a moving point of light orbiting the planet Jupiter just like Galileo Galilei did 400 years ago. Of the 4 moons which you will see Europa is the one second closest to Jupiter.  

As Europa orbits the giant planet Jupiter on an elliptical path, it is stretched and flexed by tidal forces which heat its interior.  This continuous flexing heats Europa in a way which is similar to the way that automobile tires are heated as your car rolls down the highway.  The effect on Europa is so strong that it likely creates volcanic activity in the rocky layers far below its icy surface.  Measurements made by passing spacecraft strongly suggest that Europa has a salty ocean, covered by a thick layer of ice, which may contain more water than all of the Earth's oceans put together.   A sighting by the Hubble Space Telescope of plumes of water erupting from Europa give a further indication of the possibility of a subsurface ocean on this distant world.

On Earth there are places on the ocean floor where volcanic activity from below creates what are called hydrothermal zones where water and rock meet at high temperature.  These local environments are rich with diverse life forms which are sustained by energy and nutrients which are created as seawater interacts with the warm rocky ocean floor.

If as the data suggest,  Europa has a liquid salt water ocean in direct contact with warm rock layers then the key ingredients for life .. liquid water, nutrients, and a source of energy are all together in one place.   

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 174 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


175-One 4 Ukraine


Published PRX August 21 , 2015
Recorded August 9, 2015

Currently the majority of the Earth Approaching objects are found by my team, the Catalina Sky Survey or the Pan STARRs group in Hawaii. Both employ large telescopes, very expensive electronic cameras, and high powered computer systems.  However, an expert observer with a small 12 inch telescope and an electronic detector can still make interesting discoveries.

Recently Gennady Borisov observed a fast moving point of light in the night sky using a 0.3m telescope and an electronic camera. This new object was subsequently observed by 20 other observatories around the world.  The Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate an orbit and gave it the name 2015 OH.  At the time Borisov discovered this object it was 13 million miles from Earth.

2015 OH is more than 1100 feet in diameter.  It orbits the Sun every 1.52 years on a path that takes it from near Earth to a bit past Mars.  Fortunately this Earth approaching asteroid's current path never brings it closer than 32 times the Moon's distance from us. This space rock made close approaches to Earth in 2012 and 2015 and will come our way again in 2018 and 2021.   In 2015 this asteroid approached Earth from the south. It streaked north through the night sky until it was viewable in the northern hemisphere where most of the asteroid hunting telescopes are located. 

To his credit, Gennady Borisov an alert observer in the Ukraine was able to spot and report 2015 OH before anyone else. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 175 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


176-Weird Life


Published PRX August 21 , 2015
Recorded August 9, 2015

Our everyday world is in the thin web of life that surrounds our planet. We see living organisms made possible by solar energy, water, air, and nutrients from the Earth. Maybe all living creatures are not in an environment similar to ours. When looking for life in other places in the Universe we can take some clues from living systems in extreme environments on our own planet.

Currently, scientists are investigating some of the weirdest and toughest places to live on planet Earth.  One of these is is near volcanic hotspots on the ocean floor.  A mile and a half or more below the sea level the pressure is more than 100 times higher than on the surface, there is total darkness, and the water temperature can reach more than 400 degrees Celsius. With no sunlight to power them, this seemingly hostile environment is rich with living creatures from microbes to huge tube worms.  These strange and other world like creatures receive their energy and nutrients from the warm water produced by nearby searingly hot volcanic vents.

In our world the food chain is powered by the Sun. A key to understanding deep ocean life and perhaps that on other worlds is the food chain which exists in total darkness near the sea floor. 

We suspect that conditions in the salty oceans of the moon of Jupiter, Europa could possibly be similar to the areas around deep sea volcanic vents on the ocean floor of planet Earth. It bends our imaginations to consider what might live there.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 176 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


177-Flying Peanut

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Published PRX August 27 , 2015
Recorded August 26, 2015

For 16 years, since its discovery at Lowell Observatory, humans knew 1999 JD6 only as a strange, spinning, moving point of light in the night sky. It orbits the Sun once every 303 days on a path that brings it relatively close to Mercury, Venus, and Earth.  In the far distant future this small world is likely to collide with one of these planets, or the Sun, or be ejected completely from the solar system.

This mile in diameter asteroid came close to Mercury in 1990 and the Earth and Venus in 2015.  
1999 JD6 actually comes much closer to Venus than it does to Earth.   We will need to keep track of this one to make sure that its orbit is not changed by one of these encounters to make it come closer to our home planet.

Recently NASA researchers projected a RADAR beam from Goldstone, California, bounced this signal off of asteroid 1999 JD6 as it zipped past the Earth, and collected the radio waves it reflected with a large radio dish near Greenback, West Virginia. 

The reflected radio waves were used to create a movie of 1999 JD6 as it spins on its axis of rotation every seven and a half hours.  This RADAR movie reveals 1999 JD6 to be two asteroids in contact with each other giving the object a peanut shape.  Strangely enough 1 in 6 Earth approaching objects are like 1999 JD6 in that they are really two separate objects whose tiny forces of gravity keep them in contact as they orbit the Sun. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 177 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


178-Monster Telescope

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Published PRX August 27, 2015
Recorded August 26, 2015

Imagine a monster telescope that can collect 37 million times more light than can enter your eye.  A huge telescope with this capability, planned by the European scientific community, will sit atop a 10,000 foot high mountain in the high dry desert of northern Chile.

The construction of this new facility started in 2014 and is scheduled to be completed in 2024. 

The design of this new telescope promises to deliver objects 15 times fainter than currently operating very large telescopes.  The images will be much sharper than are currently being obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. 

The data obtained by the planned extremely large telescope are likely to reveal interesting details of how the Universe began and how it might end. 

The largest telescopes currently on Earth have imaged planets circling other stars but are unable to tell us much about the small rocky exoplanets.  The new European monster telescope will allow scientists to discover water and organic molecules in the atmospheres of the Earth sized planets orbiting other stars.  This new telescope will also probe solar systems in formation to discover how the building blocks of our world came together.

Closer to home a telescope with these capabilities will allow researchers to measure the size and composition of objects which come near to planet Earth.

When humans come up with a new capability to view the Universe exciting discoveries are a result.  Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 178 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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179-Planets, Billiards, & Alchemy


Published PRX September 3, 2015
Recorded August 26, 2015


"I do not know how I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself, in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

"Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things"

These are only two of the quotes attributed to Sir Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton's ideas about the physical world and mathematics continue to touch our lives every day in situations ranging from a game of pool,  to the braking of our automobile, to the construction of eye-glasses,  to reflecting telescopes large and small, to following the path of the New Horizons spacecraft as it explores the distant reaches of our solar system to name a few. 

Newton also spent substantial thought and effort on alchemy and the occult.  His efforts to understand the materials which surround us were at a time when Chemistry was beginning to emerge as a science and were thus a mixture of what we would consider to be science and magic. Newton suffered a nervous breakdown after a fire, purportedly started by his dog diamond, destroyed his alchemy laboratory and much of his writings on the subject. 

Nearly 300 years after his death, Isaac Newton's contributions to mathematics and the physical science continue to be relevant to many situations from the flight of an airplane to the colors of the rainbow. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 179 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


180-An Eternal One


Published PRX September 3,2015
Recorded August 26, 2015

In the Kansas song "Dust In The Wind" , a very memorable line is "Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky". Scientists predict that not even the Earth and Sky will last forever but are likely to be destroyed when the Sun becomes a red giant. 

In 2013 my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski found a faint moving point of light in the night sky.  After his discovery observations were posted on the Minor Planet Center's website it was observed by 10 other telescopes around the world and given the name 2013 US10.  It has taken additional observations to reveal that Kowalski's object is not an asteroid but rather a comet which will come closest to the Sun on November 15, 2015. After that its speed will be so great that it will leave our solar system never to return. 

The brightness of a comet is difficult to predict with accuracy.  In August of 2015, Comet C/2013 US10 is bright enough to be seen with binoculars. From late November of 2015 and into January 2016 it may bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye. Seiichi Yoshida has created and published finding maps on the web which will help you to locate Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina).  In 2028 it will pass Pluto's average distance from the Sun. 

Its path is not in the direction of any known star making it likely that it will continue its cold lonely journey till the end of time.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 180 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer



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