Programs 331-360



331-Space Salsa


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Published PRX February 16 , 2017
Recorded February 7, 2017

If Lunar and Martian colonists are to have chips and salsa they will need grow their own tomatoes.  To test methods to do this German Aerospace Center or DLR has developed the EU:CROPIS satellite which will be launched by a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit sometime in 2017.  Once in orbit the satellite  will be programmed to rotate at two different speeds on its own axis to produce Lunar gravity for 6 months and then Martian gravity for the next 6 months.  Inside the satellite tomato seeds will germinate and grow under the watchful eyes of 16 onboard cameras.  A trickle filter containing the Euglena [U gleen a] microbes will use synthetic urine to produce fertilizer for the tomato plants. The half plant half animal Euglena microorganisms will produce oxygen on the satellite and protect the plants against excessive ammonia build up.   LED lights will provide the day night cycle required by both the plants and the Euglena microbes.  The separate Lunar and Martian space green houses will operate in a pressure tank to simulate Earth's atmosphere.  These experiments will be carefully controlled and monitored by humans on the ground.

The satellite's trickle filter uses lava stones and dried soil to produce a home for the microorganisms which process the simulated urine. The same design could be employed in Earth's cities to recycle urine for use in green houses which are built into high rise buildings.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 331 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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332-Greg's Destination

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Published PRX February 16 , 2017
Recorded February 7, 2017

A winter storm hit Mt. Lemmon, Arizona closing access to the observatory by blowing over trees and producing large snow drifts.  After the Mountain Operations Crew cleared the road, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was able to make his way to the top and discover an asteroid which could be visited by human astronauts.  Greg's new 120 foot diameter space rock , named 2017 BV93, spends most of its time between Earth and Venus as it orbits the Sun once every 346 days.

JPL and NASA have created the Near-Earth Object Human Space Accessible Targets or NHATS webpage which contains tools for evaluating newly discovered asteroids. 

If a rocket speed of less than 7Km/s or 4.4 miles per second is chosen, Greg's new space rock 2017 BV93 pops up on the NHATS table.  On this possible mission, the astronauts would spend 89 days getting to 2017 BV93, 88 days at the asteroid, and 137 days in return to Earth.  A mission like this will develop techniques for obtaining water and metals from asteroids for space colonists.

Before such a trip could be seriously planned astronomers will need to measure the pattern of colors 2017 BV93 reflects to determine its chemical composition and be able to specify its path around the Sun with great precision.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 332 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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333-Whoppers

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Published PRX February 23 , 2017
Recorded February 17, 2017

Recently, my Catalina Team Captain Eric Christensen discovered a potentially hazardous 3,000 foot diameter asteroid, 2017 CH1.  Asteroid hunters are discovering less than one asteroid of this size or greater per month.   Eric's discovery, 2017 CH1, has an orbit which can bring it to about twice the Moon's distance from planet Earth.    Although it will not come anywhere near Earth in the foreseeable future, asteroid hunters will continue to monitor 2017 CH1's orbit to make sure that it remains no threat to planet Earth.

Asteroid hunters have discovered more than 870 Earth approaching asteroids which are more than one km or about 3,300 feet in diameter.  It is important that asteroid hunters find and track the approximately 90 asteroids remaining in this size range which have not been discovered, since the tiny chance of the once every 500,000 years impact of one of them, would have a global damaging effect on weather and agriculture. Using some mid range values it is estimated that the impact of a 1 KM object could release more energy than 800 large hydrogen bombs and produce a crater 8 or 9 miles in diameter. The US Congress has directed NASA to find and track one Km or larger near Earth asteroids which is the reason they are a special focus of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.  Fortunately none of these large celestial objects are heading our way. Asteroid hunters will continue to scan the sky for any others that might exist.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 333 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

334-Last 19 hours

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Published PRX February 23 , 2017
Recorded February 17, 2017

2008 TC3 was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski on October 6, 2008. It is the only asteroid which humans have tracked traveling through space, have seen exploding in our atmosphere, and have been able walk up to pieces on the Earth's surface. 

2008 TC3 was about 13 feet in diameter and would have weighed in at about 176,000 pounds if it were on the surface of our planet.  It is likely that two or three small asteroids like 2008 TC3 enter the Earth's atmosphere every year and explode 20 miles or so above the surface of our planet releasing the energy of several thousand pounds of TNT.  

When Richard discovered it, this small space rock was about 1.3 times the Moon's distance from him traveling towards our planet from the direction opposite to the Sun with its little full moon face pointing towards the Earth. 24 hours previously it was bright enough to have been spotted if someone had been looking in it's direction.  18 hours after Kowalski's first data point 2008 TC3 had brightened more hundred times before becoming invisible when it entered the Earth's shadow 57 minutes before it exploded in the Earth's atmosphere. 

My team, the Catalina Sky Survey has recently installed 100 million pixel cameras on both of our telescopes.  We hope to be able use them to discover impacting space rocks like 2008 TC3 and maybe even be able to tell you where to find pieces of them on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 334 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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335-DART


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Published PRX March 2 , 2017
Recorded February 17, 2017

A stony asteroid 130m or about 430 feet in diameter has a mass of 3 billion Kg or 6.5 billion pounds.  Such an object is likely to strike the Earth every 11,000 years or so creating a crater a mile in diameter crater and inflicting damage over a hurricane sized footprint on the surface of our planet.  If one like this were found to be heading straight for us deflecting it would take some ingenuity.   The key is early discovery so that perhaps a gentle nudge would do the trick.  How do do we test such an idea before we are in a situation where the test occurs on an incoming impactor where failure is not a good option? 

In a clever approach to this problem scientists at NASA, the European Space Agency, and several universities have been funded to develop DART,  a projectile spacecraft,  which is being designed to strike the small moon located in the binary near Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos.   The impact of  NASA's DART 1,100 lb space craft traveling a 6KM/s or about 13,000 mph has been calculated to produce a 1% change in the asteroid moon's orbit.  The impact's effect is planned to be measured by Arecibo and Goldstone RADAR telescopes. 

The DART impactor experiment will enable researchers to calibrate the potential of a collision to shift the path of an asteroid whose size poses a real threat to the citizens of planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 335 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


336-Meteorite Mystery

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Published PRX March 2, 2017
Recorded February 17, 2017

A research expedition to near the south pole is developing to investigate a meteorite mystery.  Meteorites landing on the Antarctica ice sheet are slowly transported along by ice flows until they are dumped into the ocean or up against a mountain range.  The concentration of meteorites into stranding zones on the lower slopes of mountain ranges has allowed humans to collect 2/3 of the meteorites discovered on Earth in Antartica.  The fact that the percentage of iron meteorites found in these places in Antartica is 1/8 what are found elsewhere on Earth is puzzling.   

To investigate this problem Dr. Geoffrey Evatt led a team from the University of Manchester in the UK which has conducted experiments and published the results in Nature Communications.  Their work shows that real meteorites with a high thermal conductivity, such as irons, when exposed to solar warming, can sink faster than the upward movement of the ice and thus be trapped below the surface and be missed by human meteorite collectors.  With only 2 or 3 meteorites per square mile they will need a sensitive search technique that doesn't miss anything.  After testing their special mine sweeping equipment in Norway these scientists will survey possible Antarctic sites, and finally be able to search in earnest near the Trans Antarctic Mountains in 2019 and 2020.  What they find is likely to open a new chapter in solar system exploration right here on planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 336 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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337-Lucy

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Published PRX March 9 , 2017
Recorded March 8, 2017

Jupiter's Trojan asteroids lead and follow the giant planet around the Sun occupying stable locations where Jupiter and the Sun's gravity balance each other. Humans have discovered only a tiny fraction of the million of them larger than one kilometer or about 3,300 feet in diameter that are suspected to exist. 

Upon NASA's selection of the Lucy mission, Dr. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado commented “Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins.”

NASA's Lucy spacecraft will arrive at its first target, a main belt asteroid, in 2025. From there Lucy will move on to visit 4 Jupiter Trojan asteroids which travel Jupiter's orbit  60 degrees ahead of the giant planet in 2027.  After that it will get a gravitational boost as it flies past Earth on its way to visit two more asteroids in the other large group of Jupiter Trojans which follow 60 degrees behind Jupiter as it orbits the Sun .  During the flybys, Lucy will map the surface composition and geology, determine the masses and densities,  as well as to look for rings and satellites of these unexplored members of our solar system. What the Lucy spacecraft finds will revolutionize our knowledge of the time less than 10 million years after the birth of our Sun which set the stage for the way we find things now.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 337 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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338-Psyche Bound

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Published PRX March 9, 2017
Recorded March 8, 2017

When the material came together to form our home planet,  gravity was strong enough to pull the heavy materials like iron to the center, giving our planet an iron core. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of known asteroids and comets orbiting our Sun are made of mixtures of rocks and ices of various substances. They do not have enough gravity to cause heavy materials to move to their centers.  From scientific measurements the asteroid Psyche appears to be composed almost entirely of iron, nickel, and possibly other valuable metals.     Perhaps the Massachusetts sized, 130 mile diameter, asteroid Psyche is the core of a Mars sized planet whose outer layers were blown away by collisions early in the history of the solar system.  Although NASA has no plans to bring back material for earthlings to use, space mining enthusiasts are interested in Psyche since the metal in this asteroid may be worth 10,000 quadrillion dollars on today's market.

The Psyche spacecraft is scheduled for launch in 2023.  It will get a boost in speed from the Earth's gravity in 2024, fly by Mars in 2025,  arrive at the asteroid in 2030, and then orbit this strange world for at least 6 months taking scientific data.  Since we can not visit our home planet's core a trip to Psyche will enable us to explore the unknown nature of what is below our feet and provide clues about the exotic mixtures of metals and minerals which may be hiding there.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 338 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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339-No Need To Smile


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PRX March 16 , 2017
Recorded March 8, 2017

The company Planet's,  Dove satellites may not be spot you looking up, smiling, and waving when you are in the great outdoors but they could detect a car in your driveway.

Recently, the Indian Space Research Organization launched a rocket which orbited 88 of the San Francisco based company's Dove satellites bringing the total of the small imaging platforms orbiting the Earth to 149.  This constellation of satellites is capable of imaging the Earth's entire land mass every day and so far has more than 100 clients.  Each Dove satellite is 4 inches by 4 inches by 12 inches in length, width, and height, weighs about 10 lbs,  and can resolve surface details on planet Earth down to 10 to 17 feet in size.   Agricultural producers and economists will be able to follow the US corn crop on a daily basis throughout the growing season. Emergency  personnel dealing with fires and floods will be able to take action using the best available information.   Urban planners and transportation planners will be able to observe daily changes in suburbs, inner cities, shopping centers, and more .   Environmental scientists will be able to keep track of changes in forestation, marshes, and other important environmental assets.  These are but a few of the uses for daily images of the Earth's land surface.

It is likely that the company Planet's,  Dove satellite's daily images will have a positive influence things you count on and hopefully will not have a significant negative impact on your privacy.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 339 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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340-Carson's Comet

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Published PRX March 16, 2017
Recorded March 8, 2017

My team was excited when our Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered his first comet, C/2017 D1 (Fuls),  when it was  traveling between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter about 257 million miles from Earth.  It is classified as a Jupiter Family Comet and orbits the Sun once every ten and a half years on a path that keeps it hundreds of million miles from both the Earth and Sun.  It is likely that Carson's comet originally had an orbit out in the Kuiper belt far beyond Pluto.  Comet Fuls was directed into our vicinity when its original path was changed by a collision with another object or perhaps because of the gravitational tug of passing star.  A  Jupiter family comet like Carson's orbit is unstable due to the gravitational pulls of the planets especially the giant Jupiter.  For example, in 1767 an object passed near to Jupiter as it approached the Sun from the outer solar system.  The giant planet's gravity slung this small ice ball in a direction that caused it to miss the Earth by only  a million miles three years later.  As it made its very close  approach to Earth humans gave it the name Comet Lexell.  In 1779, after making two trips around the Sun, Comet Lexell once again passed near Jupiter. This time its gravity flung Comet Lexell completely out of the solar system.  This actual event leads us to suspect that Carson's comet's ultimate fate will be to collide with a planet or be ejected from the solar system.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 340 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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341-Ballooning To Space


Published PRX March 23, 2017
Recorded March 17, 2017

To travel to the edge of space you can strap yourself into a capsule and ride atop of a carefully controlled explosion or you can enter a crew capsule and be gently lifted by a balloon into the stratosphere.  Unlike a suborbital rocket flight lasting for a few minutes a ride under a balloon can give you several hours to enjoy the wonders of the Earth and its curvature against the back drop of space.  Tucson based World View Enterprises is on track to take you on such a balloon ride to the edge of space for the price of a $75,000 ticket.  This innovative company is getting started with an unmanned balloon borne capsule called the Stratollite.  

At the home of World View Enterprises at Spaceport Tucson, balloons are constructed in a 142,000 square foot facility which features a balloon construction table a tenth of a mile long.  The finished stratospheric balloon and payload is released for it's skyward voyage at an adjoining 700 foot wide launch pad. By controlling the amount of air in the balloon the pilot or electronic control system can pick an altitude which will allow the craft to travel to a point above the Earth and hover there for extended periods of time.

World View Enterprises first launch soared to nearly 15 miles above the Earth's surface and produced satellite quality images revealing details as small as  a compact car.  After its mission was complete the solar powered instrument package sailed to a gentle landing.   Meanwhile World View Enterprises continues to work on a crew capsule which will take humans to the edge of space and stay there for several hours before gently returning them to the Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 341 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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342-That's Close

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Published PRX March 23, 2017
Recorded March 17, 2017

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered an asteroid, 2017 EA, which is so tiny that it could pass under a basketball hoop.  It  missed exploding in our atmosphere by only about 9,000 miles as it streaked between the communications satellites and the surface of our planet high above the eastern pacific ocean.  After Greg discovered it, this small celestial visitor was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, New Zealand, and New Mexico before it disappeared into the Earth's shadow.  When this tiny space rock emerged from our planet's shadow it was too close to the Sun for further observations by ground based telescopes.  However, our observations pinned down it's orbit around the Sun well enough, for astronomers to conclude that it will not come this close to us again during the next six encounters with Earth from 2019 to 2126.

Greg's discovery, 2017 EA, orbits the Sun once every three and a quarter years on a path that occasionally brings it to the vicinity of Earth, our moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.   There are likely to be a hundred million Earth approaching asteroids like 2017 EA which come close to us.  In the past they have zipped past our planet unnoticed by humanity.  About once a year one of them enters our atmosphere exploding many times higher than airliners fly and in some cases rains pieces of itself onto the ground for humans to discover.   With perservance you could find such a meteorite waiting on the Earth's surface for you to discover.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 342 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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343-Mars Window


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Published PRX March 30, 2017
Recorded March 18, 2017

Every 26 months a window in time opens up for travel between the Earth and Mars, as they achieve ideal positions in their respective orbits about our Sun.  Right now, on Earth, humans are preparing a small fleet of rockets which are scheduled to be launched towards the red planet during the July/August 2020 launch time window. NASA and JPL are preparing a car sized, 2020 rover, which will continue to expand the work of their successful Curiosity rover which has revolutionized our knowledge of the surface geology of Mars.  The NASA/JPL 2020 rover is designed to take our search for life to a new level. The European space agency plans to use a Russian Proton rocket to take its ExoMars rover to the red planet where it will search for microbial life by drilling up to 6 feet below the surface to obtain samples.  Elon Musk's SpaceX company has scheduled it's 2018 launch of an unmanned Red Dragon landing capsule to Mars into the 2020 window.  The Red Dragon landing program is designed to develop techniques for  landing the heavy payloads on Mars which will be necessary for humans colonists to make a foothold there.  China is planning to use the 2020 window to send its trio of an orbiter, a lander, and a small rover to prepare for a sample and return mission to the red planet a decade later.  The United Arab Emirates will use the 2020 window to launch it's Hope Mars orbiter to help to contribute to science and celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding.  

Join in the exploration of the red planet by visiting the NASA Mars Curiosity website.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 343 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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344-Gnats

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Published PRX March 30, 2017
Recorded March 18, 2017

Near Earth Asteroids or NEAs which are accessible are those objects whose orbits bring them close to Earth at speeds which are reachable by our rockets. They are potential space mission targets for science as well as for asteroid mining to obtain the raw materials necessary for humans to colonize space.

Lindley Johnson, the NASA Planetary Defense Officer, commented  
"While looking at the animation of accessible NEAs moving in their orbits along with Earth about the Sun, it reminded me of a cloud of gnats swarming around the porch light on a summer’s eve. " This observation prompted the creation of the acronym N H A T S, for the Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study, to be pronounced "gnats" like the insects.

Brent Barbee, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, is the driving force behind the NHATS ["gnats"] accessible asteroid's website and other activities which seek to keep track of accessible asteroids, determine their properties, and rapidly notify the observing community about objects for which additional data is needed.  

The NHATS ["gnats"] website, hosted in cooperation with JPL's Center for NEO Studies website, contains tools which provide mission planning details  for newly discovered space rocks.     Planetary Resources and other space mining companies are planning to rendezvous with accessible asteroids and obtain water, metals, and other materials which can be used to support human space operations.  With nearly 2000 asteroids of all sizes on its website, the NHATS ["Gnats"] program is an important component in this effort.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 344 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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345-364 Days

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Published PRX April 7, 2017
Recorded April 07, 2017

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was using the University of Arizona's 60 inch telescope atop Mt. Lemmon when he discovered a 50 foot diameter asteroid with an orbital period around the Sun of 364.4 days.  After the discovery observations were posted this small asteroid was observed by telescopes in Arizona, Illinois, Ohio, England, New Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, France, and Australia.  Greg's new space rock, 2017 FZ2, follows a path which crosses Earth's orbit twice a year as it moves from near the planet Venus's orbit to halfway to the path of Mars around the Sun.  Most of the time it is so far away and dim that asteroid hunters are unable to track it.  In 2017 it made an unusually close approach to us coming less than two times the Moon's distance from our home planet.  There are likely to be tens of millions of small asteroids like 2017 FZ2 which come near us.  About four times a century one of them enters our atmosphere producing an airburst equivalent to 82,000 tons of TNT exploding at an altitude a bit more than twice the height airliners fly.   If you are lucky enough to observe it in the night sky you would be treated to a fantastic light show.  Sometimes humans witnessing such an event are able to find pieces of the parent object on the ground.  There are more than 1,100 documented events like this called meteorite falls as opposed to meteorite finds which are space rocks which landed unobserved and are later found on the Earth's surface. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 345 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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346-Arctic Ice

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Published PRX April 7, 2017
Recorded April 7, 2017

Eliminating NASA's climate research programs is a bit like someone who has a CT scan which reveals a health problem demanding that the CT scan machine be destroyed instead of looking for a cure for themselves.

On March 7, 2017 the Arctic Sea ice reached a record low wintertime maximum extent.   The maximum Arctic ice cover in 2017 was about a half million square miles smaller than the average for 1981 to 2010.   From the first satellite observations in 1979 till 2017 the Arctic sea ice cover has continued to get smaller and thinner making it more easily disrupted by ocean currents, winds, and warmer temperatures than ever before.  Even so it appears that it will be a while before ships begin to make the long sought northwest passage from Europe to Asia.

At the opposite end of the Earth on March 3, 2017, the end of summer sea ice around Antarctica was at the lowest extent ever observed by satellites.  This surprising result followed several decades of moderate sea ice growth.  It will take a few more years of data to determine if there has been a significant change in the trend of Antarctic ice sheet growth. 

Cutting funding for NASA's  observations and analysis of the changes happening on Earth will not stop human activity from warming our planet's atmosphere.  Get ready, changing the ocean surface from ice to open water is likely to have a significant, complex, and hard to predict impact on weather and climate.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 346 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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347-Your Space Rock

Published PRX April 13, 2017
Recorded April 08, 2017

If you are luckier than a hundred million dollar power ball winner you will see your space rock as a meteor streaking across the sky, fall to the ground, and land in a place where can you walk over and pick it up. On the other hand, with more persistence than luck you can find a space rock where it has been waiting for you on the surface of planet Earth. First you need a place to look. Dry lake beds have few surface rocks and can be a great place to find meteorites. There are strewn fields from known celestial falls that you can check out. On private land will you need the owner's permission.  If you live near BLM land you can collect up to 10 lbs of meteorites a year without a special permit. Train your eye by looking at photos of meteorites and/or make a visit to a museum to view the real thing. A dark fusion crust is a clue. Thumbprint like surface features is another. A powerful magnet will tell you if your candidate has a high iron content consistent with meteorites  An exciting new way to find freshly fallen space rocks involves the use of Doppler weather RADAR to track pieces of an exploding fireball on their way to Earth. There are web sites which can alert you to places to travel and search. 

You will probably need to consult an expert to determine if your space rock is from the asteroid belt, the Moon, or Mars. Holding an object older than any other rock on the ground which is billions of years old and has traveled an unimaginable distance to be with you will be your payoff.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 347 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

348-16

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Published PRX April 13, 2017
Recorded April 08, 2017

A clear night with excellent pinpoint star images allowed me to discover 16 near Earth approaching asteroid candidates with the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt Lemmon, Arizona. This 9 hr period of time provides us with a snap shot of the kinds of objects which constantly zip past our home planet.  Thirteen of the candidates turned out to fit the definition of an Earth approaching object, two were lost because of a lack of additional observations, and the other one is an inner main belt asteroid which for a time imitated an Earth approaching object   The thirteen close approachers travel about the Sun with orbital periods ranging from 3.6 years to only 248 days.  The largest is more than a quarter of a mile in diameter while the smallest is about the size of a small U-Haul truck.  Most of them stay relatively far from Earth with the closest approacher having the possibility of coming to within three quarters of the Moon's distance from our home planet.  One of the more interesting members of the group is 2017 FU90, a 100 foot diameter space rock which makes frequent visits to the vicinities of Mercury, Venus, Our Moon and Earth.  It must be made out of pretty tough stuff since it doesn't melt or evaporate when once every 248 days it is closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury.  If it is composed largely of iron, nickel, and other metals it could be a target for space mining.  Astronomers will need to obtain a spectrum of the patterns of colors of sunlight it reflects to get an idea of its chemical composition.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 348 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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349-Big and Fast

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Published PRX April 20, 2017
Recorded April 9, 2017

I was observing with the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt Lemmon, Arizona when a fast moving object appeared on a set of four images of the same area of the night sky.  After I sent the discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center this new object was observed by telescopes in  Arizona, Germany , South Bohemia in the Czech Republic , Chile, Pennsylvania , Italy, Hungary, and France.  2017 FE101's unusual path about our Sun is inclined by 53 degrees to the plane where the planets and most of the rest of the asteroids are located.  In September of 2016 it was not observed by humans as it streaked by at an amazing 22 miles per second.   Once every 125,000 years or so a 5 football field sized asteroid like 2017 FE101 collides with our planet producing a crater 4 or 5 miles in diameter, inflicts damage over a hurricane sized foot print on the Earth's surface, and in some cases throws up enough debris into the atmosphere to produce global climate change.  Since on its current path, 2017 FE101  can't come closer than about 21 times the moon's distance from us, this very large space rock is not currently classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid.  Rest assured that my team the Catalina Sky Survey and asteroid hunters world wide will keep track of 2017 FE101 as it comes near to Mars and Earth to make sure that its path does not change to make it a threat to our home planet.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 349 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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350-Asteroid Defense

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Published PRX April 20, 2017
Recorded April 9, 2017

In 2013 a 56 foot diameter space rock exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia releasing the energy of 450 kt of TNT and filled local hospitals with some of the 1,500 people who were injured. Fortunately no one died.  In 1908 a 200 ft diameter meteor exploded over a largely  unpopulated region at Tunguska, Siberia knocking down trees over a 750 square mile area. If it had hit over a populated area it could have caused a million casualties.

The approximately 250 people in the USA that NASA has working on asteroid detection and ways of mitigating the effects of an asteroid impact have plenty to do.  We still have to locate and track about a hundred very large asteroids which could produce global climate change.  Further, there are approximately 14,500 undiscovered slightly smaller ones which could cause a hurricane sized footprint damage areas to land areas on our planet.  Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that any but one of the smallest space rocks will hit the Earth in the next 100 years.

Asteroid hunters are striving to find the small most likely impactors so that when one of them is found to be on a collision course with planet Earth we can warn people to stay away from doors and windows.  My team the Catalina Sky Survey and other NASA funded asteroid search programs have the goal of finding any large potentially impacting asteroids far enough in advance so that humans can mount a space mission to deflect them from their deadly course.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 350 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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351-Another Close One


Published PRX April 27, 2017
Recorded April 18, 2017

Asteroid hunters have become aware of the many small space rocks which come near Earth because of improvements made to telescopes, cameras, and computer analysis software.  Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny used her skills and a new camera to discover the second small space rock in 32 days which came between the communications satellites and the Earth's surface.  Rose spotted her 10 to 12 foot diameter space rock as it approached the Earth more than a million miles away with its little full moon face pointing towards us.  31 hours later, her discovery, 2017 GM, came to within 10,100 miles of Earth as it streaked by at about 11 mi/s on its way towards an encounter with Venus five and a half weeks later.  It it had been on an impact trajectory with our planet, Rose's early detection would have allowed asteroid hunters to alert humans to prepare for a spectacular light show as it exploded in our atmosphere. 

There are likely to be scores of millions of tiny asteroids like 2017 GM orbiting our Sun which come close to our home planet.  Approximately once a year one enters our atmosphere and explodes harmlessly about four times higher than airliners fly.  Most of these space rocks originated from collisions in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  More rarely they are the result of a collision between a larger asteroid and Mars or our Moon.  These interplanetary visitors have traveled between planets long before humans imagined space travel to be possible.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 351 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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352-Worth Tracking

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Published PRX April 27, 2017
Recorded April 18, 2017

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was observing with our team's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona when he discovered a relatively large space rock, 2017 FD157, which can theoretically come closer to the Earth's surface than the communications satellites.    We don't have enough data to predict when it will make a very close approach to us.  What we do know is that 2017 FD157's orbit and that of the Earth nearly intersect coming to about Earth diameter of each other.  For 2017 FD157 to make a very close approach to our planet, both of them would need to be at the position on their respective paths which are closest to each other. 

If history is a guide, it is likely that additional observations will reveal that 2017 FD157 will never impact the Earth.   About once every 11,000 years one of its size impacts the Earth with an atmospheric impact energy of several of large hydrogen bombs creating a crater a mile in diameter.    If in an extremely unlikely turn of events, 2017 FD157, appears likely to impact our planet in the far distant future, humanity would be well served to mount a space mission to deflect it from it's deadly course.  If humans have enough time they may be able to paint it so that over time sunlight pressure would change its path otherwise a nuclear detonation or some other more aggressive move would be necessary.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 352 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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353-Backwards

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Published PRX May 4, 2017
Recorded April 18, 2017

Using the University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope atop Mt. Graham in southern Arizona, Dr. Paul Wiegert of Western University in Canada, led a team of astronomers who have determined that a 2 mile diameter object bucks the solar system traffic by traveling in a direction backwards to all of the planets.  In their March 30, 2017 article in the journal Nature, these astronomers confirm that 2015 BZ509,  travels about Jupiter on a path in a direction opposite to nearly every other member of our solar system.  Amazingly it has avoided a collision with Jupiter by using the giant planet's gravity to maintain a path that has been stable for a million years or so.   This astounding trick is performed as 2015 BZ509 passes once inside and once outside of Jupiter's orbit as they both travel about the Sun.  The resulting effect of Jupiter's timely gravitational pulls on this small asteroid are exactly right to keep it from having a collision or from being ejected from the solar system.

How 2015 BZ509 got on such a strange path remains a mystery.  Perhaps it is the icy core of a retrograde comet which was captured by Jupiter with possibility a little help from Saturn.   So far 2015 BZ509 does not show any cometary activity.  This may be because it is too far from the Sun's  warmth to have generated a coma and a tail although more distant comets have produced them.   A spectrum, the pattern of colors it reflects from the Sun, could provide clues about its chemical composition and physical state. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 353 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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354-Returnee

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Published PRX May 4, 2017
Recorded April 26, 2017

On May 5, 2014 when I discovered 2014 JO25 with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona it was the brightest, fastest asteroid I had ever seen. In April of 2017, 2014 JO25 returned to come within 1.1 million miles of us at 21 mi/s. This rare, very close approach by an asteroid, of 2014 JO25's size allowed scientists at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to obtain radar images of it. Amazingly these images showed that what we had observed as a solitary moving point of light and had assumed to be a single asteroid is actually two asteroids in contact with each other. This tight pair rotates about a common center of gravity about every 5 hours which in turn orbits the Sun in about three years.  41 days before its encounter with Earth, this tight pair was closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury.

It is possible that 2014 JO25 is the burned out nucleus of a comet which has lost its ice and gases during multiple close approaches to our Sun.  The RADAR images of 2014 JO25 look very much like the nucleus of Comet 67P which was imaged close up by the Rosetta orbiter and visited by the Philae lander.   2014 JO25 is not likely to come so close again for hundreds of years and so its chemical composition is likely to remain a mystery.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 354 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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355-2 Suns

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Published PRX May 10, 2017
Recorded April 26, 2017

The NASA Kepler Spacecraft has discovered more than 2,000 planets which have been confirmed to be orbiting distant stars. It performs this remarkable feat by imaging more than 145,000 stars simultaneously to observe and measure the tiny dips in light which occur as a planet passes in front of its star.  Astronomers have long known that many of the solar systems in the Milky Way have more than one star. 

To investigate the possibilities for life in a double star system, Dr Max Popp a scholar at Princeton University and Dr. Siegfried Eggl of Germany's Max Plank Institute substituted the real giant planet orbiting the stellar pair Kepler 35A and B with an Earth sized one orbiting the Kepler AB pair with periods between 341 and 380 days.  Their detailed analysis is published in the journal Nature Communications. 

Instead of orbiting in almost a perfect circle as the Earth does about our Sun, these researcher's hypothetical water covered planet wobbles as it orbits about the center of mass of the Kepler AB double star system. At the outer edge of the double star's habitable zone a desert planet would have large temperature swings while at the inner edge a water covered planet could be comfortable by human standards.  All of this leads one to believe that Star War's Luke Skywalker's home planet "Tatooine" could actually exist in the real Milky Way.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 355 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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356-Seeds

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Published PRX May 10, 2017
Recorded April 26, 2017

When a fleet of interstellar spaceships leaves our solar system for a planet circling a nearby star the most important of all of the riches that human explorers will carry with them will be libraries of our planet's DNA and the seeds of plants.  They are the connection between past life, the inorganic world, and future life.

The only problem with this picture is that human's 12,000 year old legacy of coexistence and prospering with a very diverse collection of cultivated and wild plant seeds is under threat as never before.  The agribusiness and chemical industries seek to and are being successful in replacing the tens of thousands of varieties of food plants and their seeds which humans have developed, with genetically modified ones that they patent, market, and in many cases cultivate with chemicals.  Currently, about 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn, and sugar beets sold in the United States are from a limited number of genetically engineered seeds. Such a dependence on monocultures is troubling since in the past biodiversity has saved us from floods, droughts, and pests which attacked a particular plant species.  Independent scientific research and the labeling of food products seem to be basic to addressing consumers concerns.  In the meantime small groups of individuals around the planet are growing and stockpiling some of the tens of thousands of plant seeds that have advanced human health and prosperity and depositing them into seed banks. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 356 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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357-Double Trouble


Published PRX May 18, 2017
Recorded May 07, 2017

When I discovered 2014 JO25 with the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on May 5, 2014, it appeared as a single point of light as it moved past us.   As 2014 JO25 approached the Earth from the direction of the Sun in 2017, no-one had any idea that it is really a double asteroid system nearly a mile in diameter. 

The RADAR images obtained at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar facility in California and the NSF's giant RADAR dish in Puerto Rico in 2017, clearly show that 2014 JO25 has a double lobed peanut shape with the largest piece being about 2000 feet in diameter.  It travels at 21 mi/s when it comes near Earth and fortunately will not enter the Earth's atmosphere or even come very close again for at least 500 years.

From RADAR observations and a careful study of the changes in brightness of single appearing asteroid points of light, moving in the night sky, it is estimated that about 16% of the Earth approaching asteroids larger than 600 feet in diameter have orbiting companions.  This observation prompts one to wonder how to defend against such a complex object.  A further complication is that some asteroids are solid objects while others are rubble piles of space rocks held together by their tiny forces of gravity.  Our best chance of a developing a defense for double trouble objects will be enabled by a careful study of every large object which comes within the range of our telescopes.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 357 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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358-Bigee

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Published PRX May 18, 2017
Recorded May 07, 2017

Evidence that relatively large, unknown close approaching asteroids exist came with my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski's recent discovery of 2017 HT2, a half mile diameter space rock, that on it's current path can come to about 4 times the Moon's distance from us.  It is extremely unlikely to ever strike the Earth. Asteroid hunting surveys have discovered about 75% of the Earth approaching asteroids of 2017 HT2's size leaving perhaps 150 more unknown ones out there.

Fortunately, the impact of an asteroid like Richard's discovery, 2017 HT2,  is rare, happening once every 200,000 years or so.  When such an impact occurs it's atmospheric entry energy is equivalent to 300 large hydrogen bombs and if it is stony it could make a crater 6 miles in diameter.  Since the Earth's  surface is 3/4 covered with water an impacting object is likely to strike the ocean somewhere.  As long as it happens far from shore the main effect would be to vaporize thousands of metric megatons of water and blow  it into the atmosphere.  The water vapor that makes its way to the stratosphere would act as a powerful green house gas and cause climate change.  All of this would be fairly bad news for the residents of planet Earth and is the reason that detecting potentially impacting objects many years in advance is the highest priority for asteroid hunters.  Given enough lead time humans could mount a space mission to a threatening object and deflect it from its dangerous path.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 358 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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359-Ice World


Published PRX May 25, 2017
Recorded May 07, 2017

Einstein used his theory of General Relativity to predict that the defection of light when it passed by a massive object is twice what is predicted by classical Physics.  His theory was validated during a solar eclipse in 1919.  Astronomers have discovered that this property of light and gravity can cause a phenomena called microlensing.  When a  relatively nearby star passes exactly in front of our line of sight to a much more distant star, microlensing causes a brief increase in the distant star's brightness.  If the closer star has a planet, it can cause an additional few hour increase in the distant bright star's brightness as seen from Earth.

Recently Dr. Yossi Shvartzvald led a team which published their discovery of an Earth sized planet using microlensing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The newly discovered planet OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb orbits a small dim object about 13,000 light years from us.  With only 7.8% of the Sun's mass the new planet's star may be a brown dwarf and not a star at all.  At about the same distance from it's star as we are from the Sun this new planet is likely to be an iceball world colder than Pluto.

NASA's Wide Field Infrared survey Telescope when launched in the mid 2020s will be able to discover similar small planets using microlensing.  Hopefully some of them will have better climates than OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb . 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 359 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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360-Rolling In

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Published PRX May 25, 2017
Recorded May 07, 2017

In astronomy as in life the closer an object is to you the faster it appears to move.  Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard witnessed this phenomena while asteroid hunting with our team's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  When Greg first spotted 2017 JA it was about 900,000 miles from him coming from the direction opposite to the Sun at 9.8 mi/sec with its illuminated side facing Earth.  From Greg's point of view this small space rock was moving through the sky at a rate of about 1/3 of a moon diameter per hour.  Twenty five hours later Greg's 16 foot diameter space rock had brightened by about 50 times and was 59,000 miles from the surface of Earth. At its closet point to us 2017 JA was streaking through the sky at an amazing 63 full moon diameters per hour.  Seven hours later 2017 JA was invisible to the Earth's most powerful telescopes with it's dark side pointing towards Earth and was about the moon's distance from us.  Like scores of millions of small space rocks, 2017 JA tours the the inner solar system orbiting the Sun on a path that brings it near Venus, Earth, our Moon and Mars.

A space rock like 2017 JA is no threat to the citizens of our planet.  One like it probably enters the Earth's atmosphere every couple of years and explodes 130,000 feet above us.  If you are lucky enough to witness such a meteor you would be treated to a great light show.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 360 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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