Programs 181-210



181-Beyond Moon

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Published PRX September 10 , 2015
Recorded September 09, 2015

The relentless pull of the Earth's gravity on the Moon causes it to always point the same side towards us. The Moon's slight wobble has allowed us to catch glimpses of a small sliver of the Moon's far side. In 1968 the first humans to see the far side with their own eyes were the astronauts of Apollo 8.

Imagine getting into your spaceship and traveling in the direction of the Sun about 4 times the Earth-Moon distance from planet Earth while matching the Earth's motion around the Sun. Your first surprise would be how bright and colorful the Earth is when viewed from this perspective. If you aligned your spaceship in the plane of the Earth-Moon system, once a month you would see the Moon travel between you and Earth. It would look like a disk 1/4 the Earth in size and you would be seeing the far side of the Moon which never faces the Earth. Recently the NASA Deep Space Climate Satellite provided us with a view from your imaginary spacecraft ride.

There is no sign of alien creature bases on the far side of the moon. What we do see is a very rugged surface with multiple craters and very few flat lunar maria such as we see on the Moon's side which faces us. Scientists continue to puzzle over why the two sides of the Moon are so different. There is no perpetual dark side of the Moon since the far side goes through phases just like the part that is visible to us.

Maybe Pink Floyd was right "There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it's all dark"

Perhaps someday humans will put a base on the far side of the Moon where powerful telescopes would be unaffected by light and electronic noise from Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 181 for more information.

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

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182-Earth Life On Mars

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Published PRX September 10 , 2015
Recorded September 09, 2015

If Earth had a mountain about four times higher than Mt. Everest this hypothetical mountain's summit would have the thin atmosphere, UV radiation from the Sun, and the temperature extremes approaching the hostile environment to be found on the planet Mars. 

Dr. Jean-Pierre de Vera of the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Planetary Research in Germany conducted the first experiment to test the ability organisms from Earth to adapt to Mars like conditions.  In this test an Antarctic lichen, from atop the Black Ridge in Antarctic's North Victoria Land,  was subject to the rigors of the red planet's environment.  Two samples of this lichen were placed in a chamber about the size of a pressure cooker which reproduced the atmospheric composition, pressure, temperature, humidity, and solar radiation to be found on the surface of Mars. These two sample's Martian environments lacked only the low gravity and the radiation from outside the solar system which is present on the red planet.

One of the lichen samples inside the "Mars" chamber was subjected to the full brutal dose of solar radiation to be found on Mars while the other was shielded so as to receive several dozen times less radiation.  The second situation is what might be expected in a protected place such as in a crack in the Martian surface. After 30 days the sample which received the full dose of solar radiation was barely alive. Amazingly the one in the simulated protective niche was found to have adapted to the Martian conditions and was using photosynthesis to convert sunlight and minerals into chemical energy.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 182 for more information.

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


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183-No Worries

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Published PRX September 17 , 2015
Recorded September 10, 2015

A number of blogs and postings on the web have been spreading the false rumor that there is an asteroid which is about to strike the Earth producing catastrophic damage. There are also recurrent false rumors that the government or governments are hiding the fact that a catastrophe is about to occur. Neither of these has a shred of evidence to back them up.

Asteroid hunting is an open book.  When my group, the Catalina Sky Survey, finds a potentially new Earth approaching object,  we post our observations on a public website at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. Other observatories and individuals, around the world,  use our posting to observe this potentially new object. In about 72 hours the new object's orbit is sufficiently established so that astronomers will be able to identify it when they observe it moving through the night sky.  Then the Minor Planet Center gives it a name.  If the newly discovered asteroid or comet is found to have remote chance of striking the Earth in the next 100 years or so it is, posted on the NASA/JPL Sentry Impact Risk Page.  There the odds of the, so far, extremely remote possibility that an object will strike are listed for all to see.  In every case to date, additional observations continue to reduce the chances that a particular object will impact mother Earth.

A recent find, 2015 PU228, has been predicted to come to within less than an Earth radii of us in January of 2081. The asteroid hunting community will continue to monitor this object to make sure than it's orbit does not change to make it an impactor as encounters other objects in space. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 183 for more information.

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

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184-Most Dangerous


Published PRX September 17 , 2015
Recorded September 10, 2015

Recently the  3.5 meter Space Surveillance Telescope located at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico found an an asteroid which has been named 2015 PU228. It is currently the asteroid which is most likely to collide with planet Earth in this century.  Don't worry, its closest approach to our home planet will not be untill January 15, 2081.  

Currently 2015 PU228 has a one in 23,000 chance of impacting Earth more than 60 years from now. Since 2015 PU228 is about 4 football fields in diameter, could strike the Earth at a speed of 17 miles per second, and packs a potential impact energy of 4,000 million tons of TNT it has jumped to the top of the list of asteroid hunter's concerns.  An object of 2015 PU228's size probably strikes the Earth every 100,000 years or so making an impact crater 3 or 4 miles in diameter.

If there is an ideal close approaching asteroid, 2015 PU228 is it.  Humans have discovered this object long before it comes near to our home giving plenty of time to deflect it if that becomes necessary.  Serious scientific and engineering studies are currently underway to investigate various asteroid impact mitigation strategies.  These range from using a solar sail to give the problem asteroid a gentle push to setting off a buried nuclear weapon to create a rocket type thrust which will cause the potential impactor to miss planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 184 for more information.

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


185-So Many Possibilities


Published PRX September 24 , 2015
Recorded September 18, 2015

The number of possible places in a galaxy for life as we know it to develop depends on the number of stars which have planets, the presence of necessary elements such as iron, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, and the freedom from nearby supernova which could sterilize an otherwise habitable planet.

In a large spiral galaxy like our Milky Way, the forces of chemistry and physics are likely to be creating a new star like our Sun approximately once a year.  Every one of these could very well have a number of planets orbiting it. The NASA Kepler spacecraft has discovered a tip of the iceberg list of Earth sized planets.  There are estimated to 11 billion planets likely to be orbiting Sun like stars in our home galaxy.  

If that is not enough, a recent survey of nearby galaxies has found that a giant elliptical galaxy could have 10,000 times more Earth like planets than our own spiral Milky Way galaxy.  In addition a giant elliptical galaxy is rich in the elements necessary for life and has 10 times fewer life killing supernova explosions than a spiral galaxy like our own.  

The good news, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in New Mexico has reported the discovery more than 150,000 galaxies which are rich with the three life enabling properties. The bad news is we will get monologues and not dialogs since it will take 9 million years for radio waves from the closest one to reach us and another 9 million years for our answer to make the trip back.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 185 for more information.

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


186-Breaks Happen


Published PRX  September 24 , 2015
Recorded September 16, 2015

Hunting asteroids by poking around in clear holes between cloud layers can be very tiresome, however, sometimes it has its rewards.  A break in the monsoon weather pattern over southern Arizona allowed my Catalina Sky Survey Teammate, Richard Kowalski, to discover four new Earth approaching objects during the part of a night it was clear. 

One of Kowalski's new discoveries, 2015 RT1, would fit on an olympic sized basketball court, orbits the Sun once every 342 days, and makes close approaches to Venus, Earth, and our Moon.  On its current path it occasionally comes to within about 3 lunar distances from us.  It is extremely unlikely to enter our atmosphere anytime soon.

Two of these new discoveries 2015 RC and 2015 RD can approach to within about 12 times the Moon's distance and are no threat to planet Earth.

The largest of the four, 2015 RS1, is about the size of a 71 story building, orbits the Sun in a bit over 3 years, and came near Earth in 1909 and 2015.  It was observed 22 other observatories after Kowalski posted his discovery observations on a Minor Planet Center webpage. It's orbit takes it on a path from near Earth halfway out to the planet Jupiter and back again.  2015 RS1 was initially classified as potentially hazardous one but that was changed when further observations indicate that this big boy's approaches never will bring it closer than about 19.5 times the distance to the Moon from us. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 186 for more information.

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


187-Ganymede's Layers

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Published PRX October 1 , 2015
Recorded September 16, 2015

You can spot Ganymede orbiting the planet Jupiter with any backyard telescope. It is the largest of the four bright moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610.  In your telescope Ganymede will be the third farthest moon from Jupiter.  This tiny point of light is really a small world composed of ice, water, and rock.  

Ganymede has  an iron-rich core which creates a magnetic field.  This magnetic field causes Ganymede to have a northern and southern aurora similar to the northern and southern lights on Earth. Astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to track these two aurorae's motion on this distant world. These data enabled them to map the salt water ocean beneath Ganymede's icy surface.  What they found is an ocean 10 times deeper than exists on our own planet.

Recently a NASA funded a research project headed by Dr. Steve Vance at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He used computer models to calculate how water and ice become organized under the very high pressures in Ganymede's ocean.  This work indicates that below the icy surface there is likely to be a water ocean sandwiched between perhaps three layers of ice covering this moon's rocky crust.  This layered structure allows for the contact of salty water and warm rock layers.  Could living things be using the water, nutrients, and energy source found in such a situation on Ganymede?  We find rich colonies of organisms near volcanic vents on Earth's ocean floor. Could something similar be happening on Ganymede? 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 187 for more information.

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

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188-Deep Listen

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Published PRX October 1, 2015
Recorded September 16, 2015

There is a mind blowing potential for life in the Universe.  Humanity's ignorance of any life forms beyond Earth has prompted the Breakthrough Prize Foundation at the Royal Society in London to create a program to award 100 million dollars in grants to fund projects to search for signals from intelligent life. 

A third of these grant funds will purchase twenty percent of the time on the football sized Green Bank Radio Telescope located in West Virginia as well as on the venerable Parkes Radio Dish in Australia. These two giant radio telescopes will be employed as a part of the most extensive search for intelligent life in the Universe ever attempted. 

One third of the Breakthrough Prize Funds will go to giving these giant radio ears extremely new sensitive receivers and processing capability.  This will enable them to sort through the radio signals that pass through the Earth's atmosphere in channels which are not drowned out by the cosmic microwave background radiation. To cover the possibility that advanced civilizations no longer use radio waves for communication purposes the equipment is being designed to be sensitive to detect normal air-traffic control radar should it be emanating from planets orbiting a thousand of the nearest stars.

Identifying an intelligent whisper on one of the billions radio, optical, and infrared channels which could come from billions of locations in the sky is a formidable task. Humans may or may not have the patience for the length of time which could be necessary to find the this tiny needle in the cosmic haystack.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 188 for more information.

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

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189-That's 2

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Published PRX October 8 , 2015
Recorded September 20, 2015

Gennadii Borisov has done it again. In a stretch of less than six weeks this talented observer and telescope maker discovered two interesting Earth approaching objects. In this age of big science it is gratifying to see that an individual with relatively modest equipment can make scientific discoveries. In this case Borisov beat my team the Catalina Sky Survey and the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii with our large telescopes and powerful computer systems to the discovery of a significant object. 

Borisov discovered his new asteroid using a half meter telescope and an electronic camera. After posting his observations on a Minor Planet Center website this object was tracked by 11 different observatories around the world. 

Gennady Borisov's new asteroid, 2015 RH2, has a diameter about one and a half times the size of a football field. It crosses the orbits of the Earth and Mars as it orbits the Sun every once every 489 days. In October of 2011, nobody spotted it as it passed the Earth about 50 times the Moon's distance from us at a speed of 6 miles per second. At its closest 2015 RH2 can come to within 4.4 times the distance to the Moon from us. The current data indicates that 2015 RH2 will make a particularly close approach to planet Earth in February of 2024. As the asteroid hunting community continues to track this object our knowledge of its orbit will continue to improve. Not to worry, there is no chance that 2015 RH2 will collide with the Earth in the foreseeable future.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 189 for more information.

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

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190-EX Most Dangerous

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Published PRX October 8 , 2015
Recorded September 20, 2015

For a week or so after its discovery by the 3.5 meter Space Surveillance Telescope, 2015 PU228 was thought to be the asteroid most likely to collide with Earth in this century. Calculations based on limited data indicated that this asteroid had a one in 23,000 chance of colliding with our planet in January of 2081. As the length of 2015 PU228's observed path in the sky grew its chances of a collision with Earth decreased. More than a month's observations has made us sure that it will completely miss planet the Earth in 2081. 

How could such a dramatic change in our prediction of a possible collision occur? We know the Earth's orbit with great precision and can calculate exactly where it will be far into the future. A recently discovered asteroid is a different story. In this case, 2015 PU228 takes more than 1200 days to orbit the Sun. If we have only a week or so's worth of data it's orbit is very poorly know.  

Typically, as the length of a newly discovered close approaching asteroid's measured path around the Sun increases its impact probability grows until it suddenly drops to zero indicating a complete miss of our planet.  

Against enormous odds, perhaps one day, perhaps even tonight, asteroid hunters will discover an object for which every new observation makes it appear more likely that it will collide with planet Earth. Hopefully, if a large threatening object is ever discovered there will be sufficient lead time so that humans can take steps to mitigate the damage an impacting asteroid could cause.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 190 for more information.

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

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191-Two Odd Fellows

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Published PRX October 15 , 2015
Recorded September 21, 2015

Recently I was lucky to be able to use the Catalina Sky Survey Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona for about 7 hours during a clear hole between storms.  This brief period on the sky yielded 7 new objects which were posted on the Minor Planet Center's discovery page.  Fortunately telescopes around the world were able to make followup observations of these objects since the next thing we got in Arizona was a major rain event.

The two most interesting asteroids in this lot of 7 could be placed on top of each other under the St. Louis arch. 

2015 SY orbits the Sun in only 321 days.  In the next 50 years it will make 21 close approaches to Earth, 6 to Venus, and 2 to Mercury. Sometimes 2015 SY can come to about 3 times the Moon's distance from us as it cruses the inner solar system.

2015 SZ orbits the Sun every two and a half years.  This asteroid's path takes it from near Earth's orbit to about halfway to Jupiter before it heads back towards the Sun again.  It came close to the Earth in 1933 and 2015 but will not do so again for several hundred years. 2015 SZ's path never brings it closer than about 14 times the Moon's distance as it orbits the Sun between Earth and Jupiter. 

Fortunately neither of these will enter the Earth's atmosphere in the foreseeable future since they are both capable of producing a city destroying air blast.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 191 for more information.

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

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192-WISE Alive

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Published PRX October 15 , 2015
Recorded September 21, 2015

When the NASA WISE spacecraft ran out of frozen hydrogen, its detectors warmed up, and it was no longer able to conduct its primary mission.  It was placed in a hibernation mode and left to orbit the Earth in silence.  A couple of years ago NASA engineers figured out that the spacecraft, even with warm detectors, could find some interesting asteroids and decided to wake it up. The WISE spacecraft in turn has produced data on more than15,000 solar system objects including more than 350 Earth approaching asteroids and 60 comets.

Recently the repurposed NASA WISE spacecraft  discovered a rather interesting potentially hazardous asteroid named 2015 RR150.  Least you get worried this 1300 foot diameter asteroid's current path never takes it closer than 9 times the Moon's distance from us.  What makes this asteroid interesting is that its orbital path takes it way out of our solar system's plane where almost every other object orbiting the Sun travels. It must have an interesting story to tell.

Perhaps, 2015 RR150 is related to the so called Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) asteroids which were created by one of the last great collisions in our solar system some 700 million years ago.  This family asteroid's members do not reflect much sunlight and have orbits which are highly inclined to the solar system's plane.

It is important for humans to discover and study the family of low reflectivity asteroids related to 2015 RR150 so that one of them does not sneak up on planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 192 for more information.

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

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193-Survivor

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Published PRX October 22 , 2015
Recorded October 12, 2015

Thirty six hours before my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rik Hill discovered it, a space rock about size of a Toyota Prius passed about 14,000 miles above the Earth's surface.  When Rik first spotted it this small asteroid was about a million miles from us and was moving away from the Earth at 12.6 miles per second. Its orbit had been changed by a narrow escape from the Earth's gravity and it was on a new path around the Sun  This small space rock was subsequently observed by telescopes in Russia and Arizona.  The Minor Planet Center used these observations to calculate an orbit and give it the name 2015 SK7.  

All asteroids have a lighted side which is facing the Sun and a dark side which is pointing away from the Sun. Asteroid 2015 SK7 approached from close to the direction of the Sun in the sky with only 6% of its lighted side facing towards planet Earth.  This geometry caused it to brighten more than 10,000 times in 4 hours as it streaked by us at 13.6 miles per second.  No one saw it when it was closest to us even though it was bright enough to be recorded by a backyard telescope equipped with an electronic camera.  A small space rock of this size enters our atmosphere about once every year or two.  When one does it typically may be visible for a few minutes before it explodes 25 miles above the the Earth's surface raining pieces onto the ground. 

2015 SK7 survived it's 2015 encounter with planet Earth. It may not be so lucky the next time.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 193 for more information.

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

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194-Star Wanderer

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Published PRX October 22 , 2015
Recorded October 10, 2015

From the dawn of history, humans have longed to wander amongst the stars. Now we know that comets are able to make such a voyage giving us paths to follow. 

From late November of 2015 through January of 2016 Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) is predicted to be visible to the naked eye. My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered this interesting object in 2013.  Observations by telescopes around the world have shown that this Comet is being ejected from our solar system.

NASA scientists have suggested that the first interstellar robotic spacecraft could be propelled by a solar sail as large as the state of Texas.  Such a mission, perhaps two or three hundred years into the future could follow a comet's path.  In this flight of fantasy the spaceship would be inclosed in a reflective spherical heat shield, placed into a Sun grazing orbit, and flung by the Sun's gravity onto a path which will cause it to be ejected from the solar system. After getting to a safe distance from the Sun the robotic spacecraft would deploy its solar sail and use light pressure to accelerate towards its destination.  It could be further helped along using a powerful laser projected from the far side of the Moon. In a few decades or maybe even a few centuries it would arrive in a nearby solar system.  After that it would be on its own to try to make sense of what is there and to beam information back to its human creators.

Back to science reality.  Take the time to look at Kowalski's object, C/2013 US10 (Catalina) as it passes through our solar system on its way to the stars.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 194 for more information.

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

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195-Flat Earth Society Reincarnation

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Published PRX October 29 , 2015
Recorded October 12, 2015

More than 2000 years ago an Egyptian astronomer, Eratosthenes, came up with a method to measure the circumference of the Earth to a accuracy rivaling that of modern scientific instruments.  He used the fact that on the summer solstice at noon the Sun was directly overhead in the city of Syene while at the same instant in Alexandria, which he assumed to be directly to the north of Syene, he measured the Sun's direction to be 1/50th of a circle from the vertical. He correctly assumed that the Earth is spherical and that the Sun is very far away.  Multiplying the distance between the two cities by 50 he calculated the Earth's circumference. If we use Eratosthenes's method with more accurate data, the circumference obtained is within 1/4 of a percent of the best accepted modern value.

In the 1800's the English writer Samuel Rowbotham published a 430 page book entitled "The Earth is Not A Globe" . He hypothesized that the Earth is a flat disk centered on the north pole.  At the edge of the disk the world ends in an Antarctic wall of ice.

In spite of the shape of the Earth's shadow on the Moon, sailing ships disappearing below the horizon, satellite photographs, orbiting objects, and a mountain of other information about the size and shape of the Earth there are still people who belong a flat Earth Society and even have websites. The number of believers has diminished from 3,500 twenty years ago to less than a few hundred today.

Not to worry the Flat Earth Society is being replaced by the Climate Change Deniers.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 195 for more information.

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

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196-Dark, Bright, and Beautiful


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Published PRX October 29 , 2015
Recorded October 13, 2015 

Recent evenings of astronomical viewing at the Cosmic Campground in Southwestern New Mexico started with a riveting view of the planet Saturn as it chased the Sun into the western twilight.  The brilliant ring system about this distant planet has delighted and fascinated humans since they were first observed by Galileo Galilei more than 400 years ago.  

Far from artificial lighting , as the glow from the setting Sun fades, stars pop out a purple velvet dome of the darkening sky.  The Milky Way becomes visible in twilight, grows in prominence, and finally reaches its full glory an hour or so after sunset.

Time travel is possible.  You can do it by viewing objects in the night sky.  When one views Saturn at its closest point to Earth it is seen as it was some 70 minutes ago. The light from bright star Vega takes one back in time some 25 years since that is the length of time it takes for this star's light to reach us.

The Great Galaxy in Andromeda or M31 as it is also known is one of the furtherest objects that can be seen with the unaided human eye.  It is about two and a half million light years away.  More than a thousand years ago the a Persian astronomer named Al-Sufi described the Great Galaxy in Andromeda as a "small cloud" in his  Book of Fixed StarsNow there are few places on planet Earth like the Cosmic Campground where one can see it with the naked eye due to inappropriate night time lighting. 

A few hours spent under the natural night sky allows one to explore some of the mysteries of what it is to be human.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 196 for more information.

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

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197-Rik's 2 Homers

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Published PRX November 5 , 2015
Recorded October 27, 2015

During his last official observing run before retiring, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Rik Hill knocked two out of the park. On successive nights he discovered two new potentially hazardous asteroids 2015 TD323 and 2015 TK238. Not to worry, neither of these asteroids are a threat to Earth in the foreseeable future. However, they are large enough and can come close enough to prompt asteroid hunters to keep careful track of them.

Both of Rik's discoveries are called Apollo Earth approaching asteroids since their orbit crosses Earth's path around the Sun like the asteroid Apollo. After Rik discovered 2015 TD323 streaking across the night sky at 17 miles per second, it was tracked by telescopes in Japan, New Zealand, Chile, France, and New Mexico.  2015 TD323 has a diameter approximately the height of the Eiffel tower. Our equipment is so sensitive that Rik was able to discover it at a distance of 1.5 million miles from Earth. This asteroid makes a trip around the Sun in a bit over 2 years on a path that takes from between Mercury and Venus out to past Mars before it heads in our direction again.   It will not come close to Earth again until 2155. 

Rik will be missed on our team. During the past three years he discovered 377 Earth approaching objects including 18 potentially hazardous asteroids.  With 27 comet's to his credit, Rik is in third place on the list of comet discoverers.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 197 for more information.

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

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198-Asteroid Water Wagons

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Published PRX November 5 , 2015
Recorded October 27, 2015

Our Moon is the nearest and most likely place for humans to colonize in the near future. It has a hostile environment where air and liquid water as we know them on Earth are not to be found.

For humans water is required for drinking and growing plants. By using the abundant solar energy on the Moon, water can be separated into oxygen and hydrogen giving people air to breathe and hydrogen to fuel rockets to Mars and other destinations. 

There are ice deposits near the polar regions on the moon, however, at these locations the available solar energy is limited, the temperatures are very cold, and radio communication with Earth is difficult.

In the past astronomers hypothesized that comets are the source of water on the Earth and Moon. However, calculations by Svetsov and Shuvalov published in Planetary and Space Science indicate that when a comet impacts the Moon it is likely that 99% of its water evaporates into space and is lost. On the other hand their work indicates that asteroids have been hauling water to our Moon and depositing it in places which are very handy for future human colonists.  Specifically it appears probable that 2 to 4.5 % of lunar craters are likely to contain substantial amounts of water in the form of hydrated minerals. These asteroid impact craters are a convenient source of water and solar energy for lunar bases and are likely to be the home of human lunar colonists.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 198 for more information.

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

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199-Space Boomerang


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Published PRX November 12 , 2015
Recorded October 27, 2015

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny discovered a fast moving point of light in the night sky.  Giving it the temporary name WT1190F, Rose posted her observations on the IAU Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation page.  It was then observed by telescopes in Arizona, South Africa, and Japan.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center concluded that WT1190F was not an asteroid and it was temporarily forgotten.  Twelve days after Rose discovered it Bill Gray connected Rose's 2015 observations of WT1190F with two sets of observations by the Catalina Sky Survey telescopes in 2013.  It is possible that this object was observed several times in the past and was lost before it could be identified. 

Perhaps it was a spent rocket booster about the size of a small automobile. WT1190F's  orbit around the Earth took it from close to us to out past the Moon.This space boomerang met its fate in a collision with the Earth about 60 miles off of the coast of Sri Lanka producing a bright, but harmless light show in the noon  sky.   My Catalina Survey team captain, Eric Christensen,  concluded  "This is pretty cool for a lot of reasons, not least of which we won't have to re-discover the @#%! thing every few years!" 

WT1190F provided an opportunity to understand the entry of objects into the Earth's atmosphere from great distances as well as to prepare for the chance that an asteroid is on a collision course with planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 199 for more information.

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

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200-Comet Showers


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Published PRX November 12 , 2015
Recorded November 2, 2015

In the Earth's yearly trip around the Sun, it passes through the trails of old comets and we are treated to meteor showers.  The American Meteor Society's Calendar lists 12, annual, distinct meteor showers along with the parent object which has shed the debris to cause them. 

Could there be showers of objects coming into our solar system on a much longer time scale as the Sun and it's planets orbit the center of the Milky Way at a speed of 139 miles/second?

Well maybe.   Scientists long have speculated that the orbits of comets in the Oort cloud near the edge of our solar system could be changed by the gravity of nearby stars as the Sun and its planets move past them.  Some of these dislodged comets would likely enter the inner solar system and a few of them could impact the Earth.

Recently Dr. Michael Rampino of New York University and Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution published a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in which they present evidence of a link between impact craters and mass extinctions on Earth.  During the past 260 million years these scientists find a cycle of mass extinctions and impacts on our planet which repeats every 26 million years.   These two scientists point out that 5 out of the 6 largest impact craters on Earth have extinctions associated with them.  The 8 correlations Rampino and Calderia found between the impacts and extinctions are hard to ignore and suggest a cause and effect relationship. 

Humans would not likely be on planet Earth thinking about these data if it were not for the asteroid impact which helped to eliminate the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 200 for more information.

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

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201-Frequent Visitor

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Published PRX November 22 , 2015
Recorded November 2, 2015

In 1933 an asteroid about the size of a large U-Haul moving truck went unnoticed as it passed within about 5 times the Earth's circumference from the surface of our planet.   During the next 82 years this space rock came close to Earth 13 times without humans being aware of its existence.  In 2015 this object approached the Earth at 5 miles/second from the nearly the direction of the Sun.  On its approach to Earth, it got 100 times brighter in 5hr, as more of its lighted side faced towards us.  At its closest point to Earth it was about 8 times the distance from New York to Sydney.  Thirty six hours later my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny discovered it moving away from Earth at 5 miles/second. By then it was already 630,000 miles from her.  After Rose submitted her observations to the Minor Planet Center it was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, and Japan.  The Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate and orbit and gave it the name 2015 UM52.

2015 UM52 orbits the Sun once every 610 days on a path which goes from inside of our orbit to a bit past Mars.  Its orbit allows it to eventually pass within 3 Earth diameters of the surface of our home planet.  2015 UM52 will not come anywhere near that close to us as it makes 11 visits to our vicinity in the next 125 years. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 201 for more information.

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


202-Martian Purity

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Published PRX November 22 , 2015
Recorded November 2, 2015

The NASA/JPL Curiosity Rover was sent to Mars to explore and to look for evidence of ancient life on what we thought was likely to be a dry, dead planet.  In its directed rambling Curiosity has discovered undeniable evidence that Mars once had lakes, rivers, and oceans of liquid water.  

But what about the present?  Recently, orbiters circling the red planet have taken images which show football field length channels. These features change with the Martian seasons and appear to be the result of present day flows of salty water in at least a dozen places on the red planet.  Could these briney springs be the home of living Martian organisms? To find out humans had better be extremely careful not to introduce any of Earth's life forms into these places.

Recent scientific research shows that lichen from atop the Black Ridge in Antarctic's North Victoria Land
will flourish in Mars like conditions provided that it is shielded from most of the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

All of this has caused scientists to wonder if one of Earth's toughest creatures could have possibly hitchhiked a ride to Mars on the Curiosity Rover's belly.  If so we we would not want to give these hardy survivors a chance to take over one of Mars's salty springs.  At least for now Curiosity will be banned from these sensitive areas.  In the future our robotic emissaries to the red planet will need to be completely sterilized if we are to be sure that any organisms we discover are purely Martian.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 202 for more information.

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

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203-Big Rock

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Published PRX November 29 , 2015
Recorded November 28, 2015

Asteroid hunters find many of their objects traveling in the same plane as the planets.  Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs pointed the telescope away from the usual search area because weather conditions prevented him from observing in our regular spots. In doing so he found the 5th largest of the 1,357 Earth approaching objects discovered during the first 11 months of 2015.

Typically the near Earth objects asteroid hunters discover range from 10 feet to more than a mile in diameter.  Most Earth approaching asteroids are small with more than 2/3 of them being less than a few hundred feet in diameter.  Ones larger than about 10 football fields in size are rare and account for less than 1% of those found in recent years.    Alex's large asteroid, named 2015 VL142, is nearly a mile in diameter.  Fortunately this asteroid never comes close since the impact of one of this size is capable of causing global climate change.  2015 VL142's path around the Sun takes it from nearly out to the orbit of Jupiter to almost touching the Earth's path around the Sun.

According to analysis done by Dr. Alan Harris, an asteroid the size Alex discovered is likely to strike the Earth every million years or so releasing the energy of 100,000 million tons of TNT.  Statistics suggest that there are 50 to 100 large undiscovered Earth approaching objects out there. Asteroid hunters will continue to search the skies for them.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 203 for more information.

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

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204-Birthday Asteroid


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Published PRX November 29 , 2015
Recorded November 28, 2015

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny spent her birthday observing with a telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.  She wished for a comet. Instead the Universe gave her an asteroid. Early in her 11 hour long birthday night Rose posted her observations of an unknown moving point of light in the night sky on a public website at the Minor Planet Center.  Her new object was observed for the next 43 hours by telescopes in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Romania, France, Italy, Hungary, England, and Kansas.  It was given the name 2015 VP105.

When Rose first spotted her birthday asteroid it was a million miles from her and was traveling away at 11 miles per second.  2015 VP105 has a diameter which is approximately the length of a professional basketball court.  It came near to planet Earth 7 times from 1936 to 2010 without humans being aware of its existence.  In 2015 this space rock came near to both the Earth and Moon.  It is not likely to come this close to our planet again until some time past 2034 AD . 

There are likely to be a million asteroids the size of Rose's Birthday asteroid,  2015 VP105.  One of its size probably enters the Earth's atmosphere every hundred years or so exploding at about twice the height airliners fly dropping small pieces onto the ground.

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, perhaps if the Universe doesn't give you what you want it will give you what you need.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 204 for more information.

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

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205-Toy Asteroid


Published PRX December 3, 2015
Recorded November 28, 2015

Imagine an asteroid small enough to fit under a basketball hoop traveling through space, making visits to Earth, our Moon, and Mars. 

Forty Eight hours before I first observed it, this small space rock, 2015 WP2, was completely invisible to humans and was approaching the Earth from the direction of the Sun at a speed of 7.9 miles/second. Twenty five hours before it appeared on my discovery images this tiny asteroid was at its closest , approximately 140,000 miles from us. At the time of its discovery, 2015 WP2 had made a close approach to our moon and was continuing to move away, about 4 times the Moon's distance from planet Earth. Forty hours later it was once again to faint for asteroid hunters to detect it. 

2015 WP2 will make close approaches to the planet Mars in 2022, 2046, 2067, and 2089. It will come very close to planet Earth and our Moon in 2058. It appears that it will not collide with any large bodies for the foreseeable future.

 If 2015 WP2 had been an impactor it was bright enough to be detected 28 hours before it would have collided with planet Earth. It is a tribute to the Catalina Sky Survey's equipment and computer software that humans can detect a tiny space rock 3/4 of a million miles away.  

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 205 for more information.

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

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206-Stealthy Asteroids

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Published PRX December 3, 2015

Recorded November 28, 2015

In everyday life you can't see an infrared glow but you can feel it with your hands when you face them towards a hot object.

In the colors of visible light asteroids shine by reflected sunlight. Dark asteroids are dim in visible light, however, they glow brightly in thermal or heat radiation images. 

The NASA NEOWISE satellite has the ability to spot asteroids by their thermal infrared glow. These data provide an independent method to measure an asteroid's size.

Dr. Carrie Nugent, a NASA NEOWISE scientist points out "NEOWISE tends to find large, dark asteroids. When I say large, I mean asteroids hundreds meters across, or asteroids about the size of Disneyland. And when I say dark, I mean asteroids that reflect less than 10% of the sunlight striking them. Some of these asteroids are as dark as black ink." 

Recently the NEOWISE discovered a family of dark asteroids which were created by one of the last great collisions in the solar system some 700,000 million years ago. This family of stealthy asteroids soar high above the plane of the solar system between Mars and Jupiter. Over the eons these asteroids are subject to a gentle nudging by the planet Saturn causing some of them to be placed on an Earth approaching orbit. We don't know for sure how many more of these dark stealthy Earth approaching asteroids are out there. Asteroid hunters continue to use NEOWISE's infrared eyes to look for them so that one does not sneak up on planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 206 for more information.

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


207-Carbon Comets

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Published PRX December 10 , 2015
Recorded December 03, 2015

When my Catalina Sky Survey team captain Eric Christensen found Comet C/2006 W3 Christensen almost 10 years ago it was approaching the orbit of Saturn on its way towards the inner solar system. Three years later it reached it's closest point to our Sun.  Currently it is moving away from the Sun and is almost to the orbit of the planet Uranus.  It will not come back to near Earth again for another 2.5 million years. 

In an article in the Astrophysical Journal submitted in 2015, the analysis of the NASA  NEOWISE satellite observations of Comet C/2006 W3 Christensen reveal that it is outgassing vast quantities of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.  When these observations of Comet C/2006 W3 Christensen were obtained it had a dust cloud 2/3 of the diameter of the Sun.

 Dr. James Bauer lead author of the scientific paper tells us  "As they get closer to the sun, these comets seem to produce a prodigious amount of carbon dioxide",  Bauer goes further saying  "Your average comet sampled by NEOWISE would expel enough carbon dioxide to provide the bubble power for thousands of cans of soda pop per second."

Currently there are more than 5,000 comets which have been discovered by humans out of the 50,000 or more which may exist. They represent samples of what may have been present when our solar system formed. It is interesting to speculate that the carbon in our bodies may have been brought to Earth long ago by comets like C/2006 W3 Christensen.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 207 for more information.

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

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208-Hot Lunation


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Published PRX December 10 , 2015
Recorded December 03, 2015

My team the Catalina Sky Survey operates two telescopes in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona 24 nights per month between full moons.  We call this period of time a lunation.   During the November 2015  "hot lunation" our team discovered 89 new close approachers.

This newly discovered group of Earth approaching objects is very diverse.  They range in size from 8 to 4700 feet in diameter. Half of them are less than 150 feet in diameter.  Nine of them can come closer than the Moon to planet Earth. One of them is about 25 feet in diameter and can come to within about an Earth's circumference from us. 

The members of this group of 89 approach the Earth from various directions as they orbit the Sun.  Seven of them are called Atens since they cross the Earth's orbit with periods of less than a year. 54 are called Apollo's since they cross the Earth's orbit and have an orbital period of greater than a year.  The remaining are called Amor's since their orbit crosses that of Mars and comes close to ours but does not cross it.

The most dangerous one is 2015 WA2. It is about 650 feet in diameter and can come to within 11 Earth diameters of us.  There is no chance that it will impact Earth in the foreseeable future. One 2015 WA2's size enters  Earth's atmosphere every 36,000 years or so making a crater several miles in diameter.  We will need to keep track of 2015 WA2 in case its path is changed as it encounters other objects in space.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 208 for more information.

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

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209-Stretch Marked Moon

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Published PRX December 17 , 2015
Recorded December 03, 2015

The end of the line for the moon of a planet is when it reaches the Roche Limit distance from its host.  At this point the planet's pull on the Moon's parts is greater than the Moon's own ability to hold them in place and the Moon becomes a ring.

Phobos has an orbital period of only 7 hours and 40 minutes. It travels at a distance of less than one Mars diameter from the red planet. The stress is showing in the form of stretch mark grooves on the surface of Phobos.

 “We think that Phobos has already started to fail, and the first sign of this failure is the production of these grooves,” said Dr. Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Estimates on how long it will take for Mars to convert the 14 mile diameter Phobos into a ring range from 11 to 50 million years.  If Phobos were a solid object it is unlikely that Mars would be able to pull it apart.  Recent data has led scientists to think that Phobos is a rubble pile with a strangely coherent outer surface perhaps 300 feet thick. In this model the stretch marks observed line up with predicted of stress fractures.  Eventually what is left of Phobos will enter the atmosphere of Mars and impact with its surface.

Perhaps this has happened before. There are two aligned elliptical craters on the Martian surface just north of the giant volcanic mountain Olympus Mons.  These surface features are consistent with a mile diameter moon entering the red planet's atmosphere and breaking into two pieces which stuck the surface at a shallow angle.  Perhaps the same thing will happen to bits of Phobos.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 209 for more information.

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

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210-Life's Core

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Published PRX December 17 , 2015
Recorded December 04, 2015

To intelligently search for clues of life beyond Earth, humans must reach back into the past and study what happened here eons ago.  Fortunately there is a record for us to read.  Some of the story is encrypted into ribosome molecules which are found in every living cell on Earth.  Recently scientists have begun to understand how ribosome itself has changed over the 3.8 billion years of life on our planet.

“Biology is a great keeper of records,” said Dr. Loren Williams, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry  He continued “We are figuring out how to read some of the oldest records in biology to understand pre-biological processes, the origin of life, and the evolution of life on Earth.”

It appears that ribosome molecules found in every living structure, including humans, contain a common core which dates back 3.8 billion years to the beginning of life on our planet. A modern ribosome found in a particular organism is organized into layers like an onion with a common core for all life residing at the center.

Dr. Williams's work has demonstrated that the core of all ribosome molecules is older than life itself and at the core of the human ribosome is the same nucleus common to all other living creatures.

 Dr. Carl Pilcher, interim director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute sums it up well  “This work enables us to look back in time past the root of the tree of life and can guide our search for extraterrestrial environments where life may have developed.” 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 210 for more information.

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

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