Programs 301-330




301-Visitors From Afar

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Published PRX November 3 , 2016
Recorded October 26, 2016

One of the perks of being an asteroid hunter is having a comet named for you. To do this you must be the first to discover it as a moving point of light in the night sky and at the same time recognize that it is a comet by observing the coma and tail which are names for the clouds of gas and dust that surrounds it.

After being on the lookout for a comet for sometime, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny discovered two of them within a 4 day period of time. Both of them C/2016 T1 (Matheny) and C/2016 T2 (Matheny) are likely to be first time visitors to the inner solar system. These two comets have quite different paths which are both inclined at large angles to the paths of the planets about the Sun. In addition, both of them are traveling at very close to the escape velocity from our solar system and have uncertain orbital periods around the Sun which are likely to be thousands of times the age of the Universe. 

Both of Roses's new comets will come closest to the Sun in 2017 and not be closer to us than about 1.5 times the Earth's distance from the Sun.  Roses's two new travelers in the night most likely came from the Oort cloud of distant frozen objects located some 10,000 to 50,000 times further from the Sun than we are. They were probably nudged out of their previous distant orbits by the gravity of a nearby star. Roses's two new comets are about as eternal as any material that we know about and will be so far away that they will be untouched when the Sun turns into a red giant and incinerates the Earth billions of years from now. Perhaps one of our descendants will pass one of them on their way to a nearby by star.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 301 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer



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302-Sensing A Comet

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Published PRX November 3 , 2016
Recorded October 26, 2016

More than 400 years ago Galileo Galilei expanded human vision using a telescope to view the cosmos. Since then humans have extended their senses to view the Universe in x-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, radio, and other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum not accessible to our senses. 

In a pioneering effort, Ekaterina Smirnova has employed the spectroscopy, magnetometry, and molecular data collected by the Rosetta spacecraft to create watercolor paintings, sculptures, a musical collaboration, and an augmented reality project to create new art forms.  She has also taken Rosetta data obtained from it's close up observations of comet 67P to create interactive art which uses a smart phone app to experience scientific results in a completely new way. 

Using the chemical composition of comet 67P obtained with Rosetta's mass spectrometer Ekaterina and her collaborators have produced the smell of the comet. In addition she collaborated with musicians and sound engineers using Rosetta data to produce a musical composition which tells the story of how comets travel through the solar system on their own cycles releasing dust, water vapor, and organic molecules into space. The piece uses 67P's magnetic field oscillation frequencies, the human heart beat, and the sounds of the ocean to stimulate the ways in which comets transport and deposit life's ingredients through out the Universe.

Ekaterina Smirnova is connecting real scientific results with the senses to explore new dimensions in which to experience the wonders of the Universe. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 302 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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303-CRASH


Published PRX November 10 , 2016
Recorded October 31, 2016

Elon Musk of SpaceX has warned the Mars colonists he proposes to send to the red planet that they must be prepared to die. This sober position is supported by the fact that 26 out of 44 spacecraft sent from Earth towards Mars have failed.  

Recently the European Space Agency sent a Trace Gas Orbiter and a lander named Schiaparelli [scap-par-relli] on a 7 month journey to visit Mars.  Everything went according to schedule and three days before the lander was to enter the Mar's atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour the two parted company.  The trace gas orbiter started circling the red planet on its science mission while the lander, Schiaparelli, was slowed by the braking effect of the thin Martian atmosphere and deployed it's parachute right on time.  Apparently the onboard computer thought it was close to the surface and directed the heat shield and parachute to be released too early.  The thruster breaking rockets were then fired for only 3 out of the expected 29 second burn.   After that Schiaparelli was apparently in free fall until it hit the surface at 186mph.  The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged the Schiaparelli landing site before and after the attempted landing and discovered a new crater 8 feet in diameter and 20 inches deep with the ejected 39 foot diameter parachute and heat shield nearby.  

It is important to find out exactly what happened with the Russian designed landing system which Schiaparelli was to test since a bigger version of it is to be used to safely bring a much larger 6-wheeled rover to the martian surface in 2021.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 303 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


304-Close One

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Published PRX November 10 , 2016
Recorded October 31, 2016

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny had no way of knowing that the fast moving point of light that she had just discovered would create such a stir. Rose sent in her discovery and followup observations to the Minor Planet Center where astronomers calculated that her discovery would make a very close approach to Earth about two days later and gave it the name 2016 RB1. More than two dozen observatories around the world tracked 2016 RB1 as it came towards us.

During the next 48 hours 2016 RB1 was observed intensively by the Center for Solar System Studies in California, the Lowell Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona, and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii as part of the Mission Accessible Near Earth Object Survey.  
Dr. Audrey Thirouin of Lowell Observatory presented the results of the analysis of these data at the 48th Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in California. This team of scientists  were able to discover that 2016 RB1 is a metal rich object, approximately 20 feet in diameter, rotates once ever 96 seconds, and is suitable for a visit by one of our spacecraft. Dr. Bill Ryan of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory also observed this object and reported that it came to about 125 miles from two DIRECTV satellites.

If 2016RB1 had been about to hit, this team could have predicted that it would likely produce a light show, a sonic boom, and would be no threat to humans on the ground many hours before impact. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 304 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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305-Murky

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Published PRX November 17 , 2016
Recorded November 09, 2016

It was murky cloudy night on Mt. Lemmon where I was trying to find Earth approaching objects with the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope. At about 1AM another hole in the clouds opened and I could see stars on the all sky video camera.  On this fourth attempt, one set of images showed a bright rapidly moving object.  Followup observations by my teammate Greg Leonard using the Catalina Sky Survey 40 inch telescope next door and two different observers in Japan provided the data which allowed the Minor Planet Center to calculate an orbit, estimate a size, predict its path in the sky, and give it the name 2016 VA. Twenty hours after I discovered it, Dr. Gianluca Masi using the Virtual Telescope Project facility 56 miles south of Rome, Italy, repeatedly imaged 2016 VA as it made an 11 minute passage through the Earth's shadow. He used these images to make a remarkable video of this tiny asteroid as it passed through the Earth's umbra. It was the fastest asteroid that he had ever tracked. Fortunately a bit after this video, 2016 VA missed the Earth by about 59,000 miles while traveling at a speed of 13 miles per second relative to us.  In 2024 it will once again come near to both the Earth and our Moon. 

It is only a matter of time before one of us in the asteroid hunting community finds a space rock like 2016 VA and we are able to track it as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. Maybe we will even be able to tell you where to look for a piece of it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 305 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer

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306-Egg Rock


Published PRX November 17 , 2016
Recorded November 9, 2016

On Earth fortune seeking prospectors follow paths looking for interesting and possibly valuable rocks.   Similarly, for the past few years, the NASA/JPL Curiosity rover has been on a path on the surface of Mars taking a close up view of interesting rock formations.  Curiosity operates under the direction of it's human masters at the Mars Science Laboratory taking pictures and analyzing samples.  Curiosity was starting up Mount Sharp on a mission to study sedimentary rock layers which formed under ancient martian lakes when scientists spotted a strange shiny rock the size of a golf ball in one of its images.  The new object was unlike any of the Mars rocks that they had seen and they nicknamed it "egg rock".  Curiosity was programmed to get close egg rock  and use it's ChemCam to analyze it.  This remarkable scientific instrument uses a laser to excite atoms in a tiny portion of a sample. The pattern of colors in the light that these atoms emit reveals exactly what substances it contains.  ChemCam's analysis reveals that egg rock is made of iron, nickel, phosphorous, and some other trace elements.  Egg rock's chemical composition and visual appearance is so different from other native Mars rocks that scientists have concluded that it is a meteorite which came from the molten core of an ancient asteroid.  We find such iron meteorites on Earth. They were the source of valuable metals long before modern methods of smelting and refining were developed.  With diligence and a powerful magnet you could find an iron meteorite at a location near you. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 306 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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307-Stepping It Up

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Published PRX November 25 , 2016
Recorded November 9, 2016

For nine glorious years, from 2005 to 2013, my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, led the world in the discovery of Earth approaching objects.  During most of this time the PanSTARRS group was building and placing into operation their first telescope on the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui.  2014 ended with PanSTARRS at 622 near Earth Asteroid discoveries to my team's 616.  The Hawaiians were the clear winners in 2015 finding a record breaking 754 Earth approaching objects.   By the midpoint of 2016 the PanSTARRS group was ahead by more than 100 objects.  In August of 2016 my team installed a new camera with a hundred million pixels on our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  Our discovery rate skyrocketed and once again we are in the lead in the discovery of near Earth asteroids.  Both groups appear to be on a path to break their previous records.  My team can't rest on our laurels since the Hawaiians are working on a second telescope which they plan to place into operation in 2017.

Both PanSTARRS and the Catalina Sky Survey are funded by the NASA Near Earth Object Program.  Our goals are to discover any potentially dangerous neighbors before the become a threat to planet Earth.  Our friendly but very real competition gives humans the best chance to find dangerous objects as well as giving the American taxpayers the best bang for their buck.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 307 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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308-Planning For Impact


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Published PRX November 25 , 2016
Recorded November 9, 2016

My team the Catalina Sky Survey found the only two space rocks which humans have discovered before they entered the Earth's atmosphere. Fortunately, they were both small and harmlessly exploded at about three times the height that airliners fly. For one of them, 2008 TC3, meteorite hunters were able to find pieces of this small impactor on the surface of the deserts of Sudan. Asteroid hunters missed the incoming object which exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia injuring nearly 1500 people in 2013 because it was lost in the glare of the Sun as it approached planet Earth. Given the efforts being made to develop new telescopes, cameras, and computer programs it is only a matter of time before asteroid hunters find another incoming space rock. Statistics indicate that it will be small and if you are lucky it will produce a light show for you to see as it harmlessly explodes high above. 

Recently, NASA and FEMA hosted a session which focused on how to collect, analyze, and share the data about a hypothetical asteroid predicted to hit the Earth. Reality is that when we discover an Earth approaching object we can only be certain about what it is and what it might do by collecting more and more data. Confronted with the possibility that this hypothetical space rock would hit somewhere in a narrow band across Southern California or just off the coast in the Pacific Ocean they were forced to develop an evacuation plan for millions of people. Fortunately this was just an exercise, however, reality could come knocking and it is best to be prepared.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 308 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer



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309-Tiny Atira

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Published PRX December 1 , 2016
Recorded November 27, 2016

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs discovered an Earth approaching asteroid whose orbit is entirely within that of our home planet.  It is classified as an Atira and is rather rare. There are less than two dozen of these objects orbiting the Sun closer than we do out of the more than 15,000 Earth approaching objects which asteroid hunters have discovered.  

Atira, the first of this type of asteroid, was discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Program using telescopes in New Mexico.  Atira is a stony object more than a mile in diameter, spins on it's axis of rotation once every three hours, has an irregular shape, and orbits the Sun once every 233 days.  This asteroid was named Atira who is a goddess of the Native American Pawnee tribe.  She is the wife of the creator god, Tirawa [Tire a wa].  She is the goddess of Earth and the Morning and Evening star. 

Alex's Atira, 2016 VB1, is only about the size of a small U-haul Truck. It orbits the Sun once every 233 days. Since 1960 Alex's new space rock has come close to Earth 30 times, Venus 14 times, and Mercury 6 times. In 2054 it will come to within about 3 times the distance to the Moon from our home planet and will be well positioned for further study by human telescopes.

Atira asteroids are not threat to planet Earth since their orbits do not cross ours. However, as they pass Mercury and Venus things could change and asteroid hunters will continue to need keep special track of them as we continue monitoring moving objects in the night sky.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 309 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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310-Ethics and Mars


Published PRX December 1 , 2016
Recorded November 27, 2016

It is unlikely that any living organism could survive being blasted from the surface of a planet, travel through interstellar space on a meteoroid, survive a fiery entry through another planet's atmosphere, and be viable when it reaches the surface. However, humans are breaching this interplanetary barrier. We have robots operating and are planning to land colonists on the red planet. This situation has prompted doctoral student Daniel Helman of Prescott College to ask the question "If Martian microbial life is discovered, is it ethical for humans to colonize Mars even if that means spoiling the environment of the microbes?" .  

The study of a life form which has arisen independently on another world is likely to give humanity a profound new insight into life on planet Earth.  

On Mars any microbes that we might try to protect could be important to unknown and future life forms on the red planet. For example, Helman points out that if microbes on Earth had been destroyed billions of years ago there would be no humans now.  

If in the future we may encounter an advanced civilization and seek to enter into a peaceful trading partnership with them.  Helman suspects that perhaps the most important trading commodity that humans have to offer is the library of biochemistry and genetics which exist here on Earth and perhaps in other places in our solar system.   

Humans have never been much into looking before leaping, but hopefully the work of Helman and others should prompt society to consider some of the possibilities before we bring irrevocable changes to another world. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 310 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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311-Bright and Bald

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Published PRX December 9 , 2016
Recorded November 27, 2016

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered 2015 TC25 as a rapidly moving point of light in the night sky. Followup observations using data from four different telescopes has enabled a team of astronomers led by Dr. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory to determine that this small asteroid reflects four times more of the sunlight than do most other Earth approaching asteroids. Dr. Reddy points out that large asteroids are covered by a blanket of dust but that "Small asteroids might be bald and dust free." This team of researchers found the surface of Carson's discovery to be similar to a small meteorite which fell to Earth in France in 1836.

Dr. Audrey Thirouin [tear-ouin] of Lowell Observatory states that “2015 TC25 is one of the five smallest Near-Earth Objects ever observed to measure rotation rate”. She used observations with Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory 2.4-meter Telescope, to determine that 2015 TC25 is rapidly spinning with a rotational period of only 2.23 minutes.

Dr. Thirouin obtains data and coordinates a network of telescopes which come together on short notice to track newly discovered Earth approaching objects. If we discover an asteroid to be on an impact path with planet Earth we need Dr. Thirouin and her team to measure it's composition, size, and speed to be able to effectively warn people in the impact area to keep injuries and deaths to a minimum.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 311 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer



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312-200 Yards of Trouble

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Published PRX December 9 , 2016
Recorded November 27, 2016

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered a rapidly moving point of light in the night sky.  Subsequent observations made by telescopes in Arizona, Romania, Illinois, the Czech Republic, Australia, and France revealed it to be a close approaching Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.  The Minor Planet Center named it 2016 WJ1. This asteroid is about 200 yards in diameter, orbits the Sun once every  567 days, and currently can come to within about 26,000 miles of the Earth's surface.  2016 WJ1's orbit eventually will bring it near Mars, Earth, our Moon, and Venus. Any of these encounters have the potential to change it's path around the Sun.  

The NASA Near Earth Object Program exists to find, characterize, and track dangerous celestial neighbors. The JPL Sentry Risk Table lists that 2016 WJ1 has 81 potential impacts with Earth between 2030 and 2108.  Currently, there is a cumulative probability of one in 6,250 of a collision with our home planet.   It is extremely unlikely that as we continue to track Greg's discovery the chances that it will collide with Earth will increase.  If that scenario were to occur humans will need to come up with a plan to minimize the damage which 2016 WJ1 could inflict.  Current ideas include changing its orbit by striking it with a missile or planting an explosive device on it while at the same time preparing for evacuations and developing other civil defense measures.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 312 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer

313-Martian Motherlode

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Published PRX December 15 , 2016
Recorded November 30, 2016

Martian colonists will need to create mini environments with air to breathe and water to drink. Energy will be required to keep warm, power the settlement, and enable vehicles to move around the planet.

Using ground penetrating RADAR on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have discovered an ice deposit on Mars the size of New Mexico. It is covered with 3 to 33 foot deep layer of martian dirt and contains a quantity of water equal to the 2,900 cubic miles of Lake Superior.  Located about halfway between the red planet's equator and poles it is in a place where rockets could land and solar panels could provide the energy to melt the ice creating liquid water as well as to produce oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to power vehicles.

Cassie Stuurman a graduate student of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, at Austin and lead author of a report in the Journal Geophysical Research Letters states, "This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet's axis was more tilted than it is today,"  She started this project while a student at Western Ontario University in Canada and was drawn to this region on Mars by it's similarity to land forms in the Canadian Arctic.  She commented that this area looks like somebody took an ice cream scoop to the ground.

The massive deposit of ice to which Stuurman refers is in a 2,050 mile diameter basin which was created by an impact early in the history of the red planet.  It is both a resource for Mars explorers and a record of the martian climate long ago.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 313 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer



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314-Our Number

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Published PRX December 15 , 2016
Recorded November 30, 2016

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered, 2016 WJ1, a relatively large asteroid which can come close but will not hit the Earth.

The extremely unlikely scenario of an impactor with our number on it would start the with the report of a fast moving point of light in the night sky.    After a few days of data the Minor Planet Center would give it a name.  Tracking the new asteroid,  asteroid hunters would be alarmed as the chances that this object will impact the Earth starts to rise.  Large telescopes would then be trained on it to obtain the pattern of colors in the light it reflects and use this information to determine it's size, mass, and chemical composition.  Hopefully this fictional impact would be far enough in the future so that humans could mount a space mission to intercept it and deflect it so that it would miss Earth.  Even when a collision with this mythical object is certain, scientists would not be able to accurately predict its point of impact on the surface without additional tracking data.  To be prepared civil defense organizations around the world would begin to think about the possibility of mass evacuations.  Chances are that this would be a small object which would have a negligible effect on humanity.  Much much much less likely is that this fictional impactor would be a once in every million years or so event which would cause global climate change disrupting human agriculture and plunge our society into a real crisis.

The story you have just heard is a complete fantasy, however, there is a extremely tiny remote possibility that a real version of it could start tonight. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 314 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer



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315-See Comets

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Published PRX December 22 , 2016
Recorded December 07, 2016

2017 is looking to be much better for comet enthusiasts than was 2016. Opportunities for viewing include seeing a comet with your unaided eye, getting an even better view with a pair of binoculars, and/or if you have access to a telescope with an electronic camera being part of an international effort which will study rapid cometary outbursts in brightness.

Comets are notoriously unpredictable and can rapidly change in brightness as they are warmed by the Sun .  

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak orbits the Sun every five and a half years, has a nucleus about a mile in diameter, is known to have brightness flares, and could reach naked eye brightness in the spring of 2017. At the end of April it will pass near the Globular Cluster M92 creating an interesting photographic opportunity.  

Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson) was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson on 3 November 2015 when it was further from the Sun than the planet Jupiter. Since then it has been traveling on a hyperbolic path towards our neighborhood. It will good  viewing for observers in the northern hemisphere from February until it reaches maximum brightness in May of 2017. It will be nearest the Sun in June of 2017 and after that it will continue on its path into interstellar space. Observers in the southern hemisphere will be able to view Jess's comet until the end of 2017. Eons from now Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson may enter another solar system and treat any viewers who might be there to ghostly cometary appearance. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 315 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer

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316-Weird Centaur


Published PRX December 22 , 2016
Recorded December 07, 2016

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was surprised to find a moving point of light on some his images which was more than 50 times brighter than a typical Earth approaching object he observes . He was even more amazed when it was not cataloged as a known object and he reported his observations to the Minor Planet Center. A couple of hours before Richard spotted it, scientists using the Space Surveillance Telescope in New Mexico had picked up this unknown object on some of their images but did not immediately report their observations. For the next 67 hours the new object was tracked by telescopes at 24 different observatories around the world. These observations allowed the Minor Planet Center to calculate an orbit, give it the name 2016 WM48, and classify it as a Centaur.  Centaurs are named after the mythical beasts which were half human and half horse perhaps because they have characteristics of both asteroids and comets. 

Richard's object, 2016 WM48, is about a mile in diameter. We don't know if it has rings, tiny moons, or a gas cloud surrounding it as some other Centaurs do.  2016 WM48 must have had a catastrophic collision in the past few million years which put it on a very elliptical path which is tipped at 60 degrees or so to the solar system's plane.  Centaurs do not have stable orbits. Their paths are changed as they come near to the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. A Centaur's fate is to likely collide with the Sun or a planet or perhaps even be ejected from the solar system

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 316 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer

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317-Psyche Water

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Published PRX December 30, 2016
Recorded December 07, 2016

The asteroid Psyche may be one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the solar system. It is a small world about 116 miles in diameter and is composed of almost pure nickel-iron metal. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists find evidence that Psyche may be the exposed core of a planet which was destroyed by collisions as it was trying to form long ago. 

Recently Dr. Driss Takir of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and Dr. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory were the leaders of a team which used the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility to study the asteroid Psyche. To their surprise, the pattern of colors in the radiation which the surface of Psyche reflects reveals it to be similar to the surface of water rich asteroids. Reddy suspects that the water on Psyche's surface may have been brought there by the impact of asteroids in a way similar to the way Earth received it's water early in the history of the solar system.

Earth's core strongly influences our weather and climate and is very similar to the asteroid Psyche. Since we can't visit our home planet's core Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University is leading a team which seeks to send a space craft to Psyche.  If selected by NASA for flight, the Psyche mission will be launched in 2020 and will use solar electric propulsion to arrive at this unique little world six years later. A visit to Psyche would allow us to directly study a naked planet's core and provide clues as to the nature of what is beneath our feet. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 317 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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318-Caves of Mars

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Published PRX December 30, 2016
Recorded December 07, 2016

Presently the surface of Mars is very dry and any liquid water that reaches it quickly boils away since the martian atmospheric pressure is what you could experience in your space suit 30 to 50 miles above the Earth's surface.  However, since the martian gravity is about 1/3 that of the Earth, it's crust is less dense and more porous than what we find on our home planet. This situation leads Dr. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory to state “I consider it likely that there are deep pockets of water in the martian crust not yet detected”.   Letting our imaginations run wild, if there are deposits of liquid water miles underground perhaps there might be subterranean lakes fed by volcanic tubes.    Lava tube environments could be warmed by geothermal sources, have trapped, enclosed, pockets of liquid water, and be replenished by water flows up from the martian mantle.  Even today these deep martian caves are theoretically likely to contain warm mineral rich liquid water in contact with a thermal energy source.  It is intriguing to consider that deep inside Mars all of the necessary ingredients for life may be present together.   On Earth we find this type of environment near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor to have rich biological diversity of living organisms.

Perhaps there are martian organisms in deep underground aquifers that migrated there from the surface as conditions changed or maybe that has always been their home. The only way to know if any parts of this fantasy are true is to find and explore the deep caves of Mars.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 318 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer

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319-Lost and Found

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Published PRX January 5 , 2017
Recorded December 07, 2016

When asteroid hunters follow an object in the night sky for a few hours or a couple of days they are only able to observe a snippet or tracklet of the object's hundreds to thousands of days long path around the Sun. If we only have a short sample of an orbit we loose precision to locate the object as the length of time since the last observation increases.   It is thus possible to lose the knowledge of where to find a particular asteroid.

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski came across a moving point of light in the night sky which initially the Minor Planet Center classified as an unknown object .  For the next 70 hours telescopes in New Mexico, Arizona, Italy, England, France, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, Germany, and Pennsylvania measured the object's position in the sky and sent their observations to the Minor Planet Center.  These data enabled scientists there to link to an object which had been discovered 15 years earlier, 2001 WF49.

In this way asteroid hunters were able to recover the ability to accurately predict the position of 2001 WF49, a 426 foot diameter object which orbits the Sun every 238 days on a path that has brought it near Earth nearly 50 times since 1900.  2001 WF49 comes much closer to Mercury than it does to Earth and must be made of rocky or metallic stuff to survive it's relatively close approaches to the Sun.   This might make 2001 WF9 a candidate for mining in the future as space colonists look for resources to build their homes and factories.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 319 for more information.
© 2016 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2016 A. D. Grauer


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320-WOW What A Ride

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To be Published PRX January 5 , 2017
Recorded December 07, 2016

Riding the surface of the asteroid that my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski recently discovered would be an incredible experience. 

When Richard first spotted this 508 foot diameter potentially hazardous space rock it was 50 million miles from him traveling away from the Earth at 15 miles per second towards the orbit of Jupiter.  After he reported his discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center it was observed by telescopes in Arizona, New Mexico, England, and Germany and was given the name 2016 XG1.  For the 8 months after Richard discovered it this asteroid will continue to move away from the Sun till on July 11, 2017 it will be more than half way to the planet Jupiter.  After that it will begin to pick up speed on it's breath taking plunge towards the Sun.    After crossing the orbits Venus and Mercury, on July 31, 2018 it will round the Sun at an amazing 46 miles per second.  At 2016 XG1's closest approach to our star it will be receiving nearly twice the amount of solar flux which heats the surface of the planet Mercury to 800F.   2016 XG1 must be made out of very durable rocky material since it has made this incredible voyage many times in the past.   Fortunately it never comes closer than about 16 times the Moon's distance from us.  This is a very good thing since a stony asteroid like 2016 XG1 strikes our planet every 150,000 years or so and inflicts major damage over a hurricane sized foot print on the Earth's surface.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 320 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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321-Dangerous Comets

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Published PRX January 12 , 2017
Recorded December 30, 2016

Every year, if we are lucky, several comets can come close enough for the Sun to warm and us to see the beautiful changing dust and gas clouds around them with binoculars or our unaided eyes.  So far asteroids have gotten most of the attention as dangerous celestial neighbors, however, Dr. Joseph Nuth, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland recently pointed out "Comets can also deliver a heaping helping of calamity to Earth, and scientists and policymakers alike should start taking measures to combat the threat".  Asteroid hunters are likely to spot a large incoming asteroid long before it before it becomes a threat.   Comets  can come out of nowhere entering the inner solar system at a high rate of speed with little or no warning.  Since humanity would not be given much lead time to deal with a deadly comet, Nuth suggests that we be ready with two spacecraft an "interceptor" and an "observer".   He feels that that these two vehicles should be ready so that if a threatening comet is discovered the "observer" could quickly be launched to make the measurements which would allow the nuclear weapon carrying "interceptor" to deflect the dangerous object which is on an impact trajectory with planet Earth.  The same system could be used to deal with a large dangerous asteroid should one avoid detection by asteroid hunters and be about to strike with little advanced notice.  The pair of space missions which Nuth proposes would cost  less than a pair of high end military F-35 fighter jets, provide insurance against a comet strike, and teach us more about the world around us.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 321 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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322-Dust Stories

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Published PRX January 12 , 2017
Recorded December 31, 2016

It is estimated that several hundred thousand pounds of left over particles from the formation of our solar system enters the Earth's atmosphere every day with perhaps 10% of the of the total reaching the surface of our home planet.  The individual grains of cosmic dust or micro-meteorites as they are also called range in size from the diameter of a human hair to twice the thickness of a dime.  

Hundreds of beautiful and informative micro-metereotites were collected by Jon Larsen, a Norwegian JAZZ musician.  Jon used a powerful magnet to discover 500 relatively large micro-meteorites from a sample of nearly 600 lbs of sediment from roof gutters in Paris, Oslo, and Berlin.  His partner Dr. Matthew Genge of Imperial College in London and the rest of their team analyzed individual members of Jon's sample and published the results of their effort in the Journal Geology.  The largest micrometeorites in the Larsen sample, about a quarter of the thickness of a dime in diameter, came from dust particles which entered the Earth's atmosphere at an amazing 7.5 miles per second.  Check out the U-tube video of 62 of Jon Larsen's micro-space rocks. They are beautiful and carry unique information about our solar system. By comparing Larsen's modern cosmic dust particles with those from samples from rocks of various ages, scientists are re-constructing a geological history of our solar system.  

You can start your own beautiful micrometeorite collection with a ZIP lock, a microscope, and a powerful magnet attached to the gutter downspout drainpipe from your roof.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 322 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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323-Big Splash

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Published PRX January 20 , 2017
Recorded December 31, 2016

To discover what would happen if an asteroid were to strike a large body of water, Dr. Galen Gisler led a team of scientists who used high performance computing facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory to calculate and visualize a 3-D model of an asteroid entering the Earth's atmosphere over one of the world's oceans. These efforts won them the Best Visualization and Data Analytics Showcase award at Supercomputing 2016.  Reality is that what happens depends upon the mass, size, speed, angle of approach, and composition of the impacting object.  Galen's group of scientists documented the hunch that since an asteroid strikes the water at a single point, it only effects the immediate region around the impact point, whereas to create a tsunami, you need something like an under water landslide which disturbs an entire water column from the ocean floor to the surface.

Impacting stony asteroids less than the size of a football field are likely to explode in the atmosphere.  One several hundred yards in diameter is likely to reach the surface making a splash that would send up billions of tons of water into the atmosphere and create waves 1,200 feet high which would quickly dissipate and are no threat to land many miles away.  Water is a powerful green house gas when blown into stratosphere could remain for months or years and would have a significant effect on weather and climate.  An impact near the coast would be an entirely different situation and would be very dangerous to nearby human populations.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 323 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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324-Newborn Planets


Published PRX January 20, 2017
Recorded January 3, 2016

The ALMA radio telescope located in the Atacama desert of northern Chile is able to see the faint millimeter wave length glow emitted by gas molecules and dust particles in the disk of material surrounding the very young star named HD 163296. This solar system in formation is located about 400 light years away in the constellation of Sagittarius.  HD 162396's age compared to our Sun is like that of a 3 day old human baby compared to a 65 year old adult.  

Recently Dr. Andrea Isella of Rice University headed up a team which analyzed ALMA's images of the proto-planetary disk of material surrounding HD 163296. Their work, published  in Physical Review Letters, suggests HD 163296's rings, in both the dust and CO gas, with gaps of material in between them,  are consistent with two Saturn sized proto-planets plowing through the dust and gas, adding material to themselves, as they increase their growing masses. 

We see a similar situation in Saturn's ring system where some of it's smaller moon's produce rings and gaps.

Astronomers will need to obtain more data on the proto-planetary disk system surrounding HD 163296 to be sure that what they are seeing are new planets forming far from their parent star and not some other physical or chemical phenomena that occurs in baby solar systems.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 324 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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325-Marrakech

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Published PRX January 26 , 2017
Recorded January 23, 2017

A location 9,000 feet above sea level in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is ideal for an asteroid hunter since the weather is often clear and the skies are dark. It was thus intriguing for me to see that a new asteroid discovery was posted from J43 which is the Morocco Oukaïmeden [pronounced Oukaï-meden] Sky Survey or (MOSS) located near Marrakech , a name I had not encountered except in the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Marrakech Express". The MOSS observatory has team members in Morocco, France, and Switzerland, call themselves amateurs, and produces professional quality results. The observatory is the result of a partnership between the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech which provided the building, the Jura Astronomy Observatory in Switzerland which provided the dome, and French amateur astronomer Claudine Rinner who provided the telescope. Claudine Rinner in France and Michel Ory in Switzerland have operated the telescope more than one thousand nights since 2011, remotely, with great patience, via a very slow internet connection. In the era of large funded surveys, sweeping through the sky, discovering  numbers of asteroids, the MOSS group has been able to discover nearly three thousand of main belt asteroids as well as a number of Earth Approaching Asteroids and several comets.  

A recent MOSS team's discovery is 2016 HX3 a two football field diameter Earth approaching asteroid which makes much closer approaches to Mars than it does to Earth.  Perhaps it will become interesting as a source of raw materials for future Martian colonists.


For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 325 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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326-Asteroids 2016

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Published PRX January 26 , 2017
Recorded January 24, 2016

2016 was another record year for asteroid hunters during which we discovered 1,894 new Earth approaching objects.  My team, the NASA funded, Catalina Sky Survey, led the pack with 931 Near Earth Asteroid discoveries.   

Overall, in 2016, asteroid hunters found 7 asteroids larger than 1 KM in diameter which if impacting the Earth could cause global climate change. We also found 120 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids which can come close enough and are large enough to warrant special attention.  Fortunately none of them will strike the Earth in the foreseeable future.

About 90% of the 2016 Earth approaching asteroid discoveries were funded by NASA's Near Earth Objects Observations Program which is mandated by the US Congress to discover potentially dangerous celestial neighbors. 

It is likely that in 2017 asteroid hunters will discover a small object on collision course with our home planet.   My money is on the Catalina Sky Survey's Schmidt telescope, on Mt. Bigelow.  My team has recently made major improvements to this telescope which includes a 100 million pixel camera giving it a field of view about half the size of the bowl of the Big Dipper.   Statistics suggest that an impacting asteroid which we find will be less than 13 feet in diameter, explode in the atmosphere at about three times the height that airliners fly,  produce a spectacular light show if it occurs at night, and perhaps rain a few pieces onto the ground for meteorite hunters to discover.  Maybe we will be able to tell you where to look for them.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 326 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



327-Suddenly Bright

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Published PRX February 2 , 2017
Recorded January 24, 2016

An example that a relatively large space rock can approach the Earth suddenly started with what appeared as a bright star moving across the images that I had just obtained with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.   It was about 100 times brighter than most of the Earth approaching objects asteroid hunters discover. Over the next 64 hours it was tracked by 45 different observatories around the globe.  This previously unknown space rock, now named 2017 AG5,  is approximately 370 feet in diameter and can come closer than the Moon's distance to us.  

All asteroids are half illuminated with the lighted side towards the Sun.  2017 AG5 was able to sneak up on the Earth from the direction of the Sun with it's illuminated side pointing mostly away from us.  This geometry caused it to brighten more than 250 times in 9 days as it crossed the Earth's orbit and started pointing it's illuminated side towards us.  When I  spotted it, 6 days after it was closest to planet Earth, it was already moving away from us.  On most of its trips around the Sun it does not come anywhere near Earth and is invisible to us. During the next 136 years it will make 19 close approaches to Earth, 5 to Mars, and 1 to our Moon.  When it makes a close approach to Earth it is visible to our current telescopes for about 60 days out of it's 571 day orbital path around the Sun.

Fortunately 2017 AG5 is not on a impact trajectory with planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 327 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

328-The Heat is On


Published PRX February 2 , 2017
Recorded January 26, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has published an extensive data based review, analysis, and summary of the Earth's Climate.  2016 was hotter than 2015 which was hotter than 2014.  2016 is the warmest year the Earth has been in the more than 180 years of record keeping.  Overall in 2016 the whole Earth was 1.8 F above the 1951-1980 average.  The Arctic in 2016 was 7.2F higher than it was the pre-industrial age.

The average extent of Arctic sea ice in 2016 has shrunk by 400,000 square miles while the Antarctic sea ice in 2016 has been reduced by 970,000 square miles compared to the respective averages for the years 1981-2010.  Natural factors such as volcanos, solar changes, variations in the Earth's orbit, and El Nino accounted for about 10% of the 2016 warming.  The rest, 90%, were due to human activity particularly the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

The future is much harder to predict than it is to make physical measurements of past and present temperatures. The Earth's climate is chaotic in the sense that small changes in temperature can initiate events which produce large changes in the environment.

This no time to cutback on making measurements of our home planet from space and on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 328 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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329-Near Neighbor

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Published PRX February 9 , 2017
Recorded February 7, 2017

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls was using the new hundred million pixel camera on our team's Schmidt telescope located on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona, when he discovered  2017 AG13.  It passes near the Earth's orbit twice a year on its own 345 day path around the Sun.   When Carson spotted it, 9 lunar distances from him it was heading in our direction at about nine and a half miles per second.  Three days later it came to less than two times the distance the Moon's distance from us.  Carson's new space rock, 2017 AG13's orbit, can bring it to less than 2,000 miles from the surface of our planet.  It will not come near the Earth again until 2091 and will not strike the Earth in the foreseeable future.  2017 AG13 is slightly larger than the small asteroid which exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia, creating a sonic boom that injured nearly 1,500 people in February of 2013.  If it had been on an impact trajectory, Carson's early discovery, would have given humans the time to calculate where it would hit and thus be able to put out a warning for people in the affected area to stay away from doors and windows.  Less than three weeks later Carson was using the same equipment when he discovered another small space rock, 2017 BH30, which came to a bit more than an Earth's circumference from our home planet.  

Carson's recent discoveries illustrate the fact that asteroid hunters now have the capability to detect small space rocks before they make a close approach to Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 329 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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330-Comet Johnson

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Published PRX February 9 , 2017
Recorded February 7, 2017

Humans have recorded the passage of Halley's comet since at least 240BC, as it has appeared in our sky every 75 to 76 years.  Halley's comet returns regularly because its orbit around the Sun is a closed elliptical path. 

Comet C2/2015 V2 Johnson was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson on November 3, 2015. It travels on a hyperbolic path around the Sun which is highly inclined to the plane where the planets and most of the asteroids travel.  Jess's comet's path takes it from deep space into the inner solar system slightly further from the Sun than the planet Mars.  Although it will not get closer to the Earth than about 75 million miles it may out gas enough material to make it visible to the naked eye.   Observers in the northern hemisphere will have their best chance to view Comet Johnson in April and May of 2017 while those south of the equator will be able to observe it until early 2018.

Jess's Comet will come closest to the Sun in June of 2017 and then be slung into deep space by the Sun's Gravity.   In February of 2037 Jess's comet will be further than Pluto's average distance to the Sun and be invisible to human telescopes as it moves in the direction a star 417 light years away in the constellation of Eridanus. It will take more than 12 million years to get to the vicinity of that distant star.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 330 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer










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