Programs 361-390


361-Nearby Planets

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Published PRX June 1, 2017
Recorded May 26, 2017

There are ten times more cool red stars than there are yellow dwarf stars like our Sun in our stellar neighborhood.  This realization has caused astronomers to search for and find two or three planets circling nearly every dim red star they have studied. About a quarter of these are Earth sized worlds  and have temperatures which would allow life as we know it to flourish.  

In 2018 the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite nicknamed TESS will be launched and begin a two to three year mission to discover small Earth sized planets orbiting bright stars in the solar neighborhood.  TESS will accomplish its research by monitoring the brightness of more than 200,000 stars to detect the regular dips in brightness which occur as a planet passes in front of its star.

It is expected that TESS will be able to discover about 70 Earth sized planets orbiting stars close enough to us so that their masses, sizes, densities, and atmospheric composition can be determined by the James Webb Space Telescope when it is launched, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the new generation of giant ground based telescopes which are currently being constructed. 

Engineering studies indicate that habitable planets in our stellar neighborhood could be visited  by ultra light probes carrying cameras, life chemistry detecting sensors, and communications equipment.  To cut the mission time to 20 years or so these nano probes will be propelled by repeated pulses of energy from Earth bound lasers which upon striking their light sails over time will accelerate them to 20% of the speed of light.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 361 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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362-Asteroid Day

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Published PRX June 1, 2017
Recorded May 26, 2017

On June 30, 1908 a meteor the size of an office building exploded over Tunguska, Siberia causing an airburst which flattened trees over an area about two and a half times the size of New York City.  Fortunately the area of destruction was in a sparsely populated area and caused no known human casualties.  In 2013 a 66 foot diameter asteroid gave humans another wake up call when it exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia injuring nearly 1,500 people.   Asteroid Day is held on June 30, the annual anniversary of the Tunguska event.  It got started when in 2014, Dr. Brian May an astrophysicist and guitarist for the rock band QUEEN composed a musical score which Grigorij Richters used in the  production of a film about a fictional asteroid impact and its effect on the human population on our planet.  June 30, Asteroid Day resulted from discussions by a group of astrophysicists and artists who previewed this movie at a STARMUS Science and Arts Festival. 

At the current rate of discovery it will take asteroid hunters about a thousand years to find the million or so Chelyabinsk sized space rocks which could threaten the residents of Earth.  In 2017 Asteroid day events are being held at more than 500 hundred locations in 72 countries world wide. Participants at Asteroid Day events are encouraged to sign the 100X Declaration which seeks to increase the rate of discovery of potentially damaging space rocks.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 362 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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363-Scoping Planets

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Published PRX June 8, 2017
Recorded June 6, 2017

NASA's Spitzer Space telescope has discovered 7 Earth sized planets orbiting a small red star named TRAPPIST-1. It is in the constellation of Aquarius located and is about 40 light years from Earth. Three of them are in the habitable zone where temperatures could be suitable for life as we know it. In the next few years the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is likely to discover 70 or so Earth sized planets circling nearby stars.

We suspect that aliens finding oxygen and methane in Earth's atmosphere would have strong evidence of life on our home planet since these molecules would not be present in our atmosphere without continuously being generated by living organisms. Recently, Dr. Dimitri Mawet and a group of researchers at Caltech have published papers in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal which describe how the future 30 meter telescope, when it begins operations in the late 2020's, can be used to measure the abundance of oxygen, methane, and other molecules in the atmospheres of nearby Earth like planets. This is an incredibly difficult task since from our perspective the light from a planet is overwhelmed by the glare from the billion times brighter star which it orbits. Dr. Mawet's group's plan is to use an opaque disk, a baffle, and an optical vortex followed by adaptive optics to eliminate most the light from the planet's star and feed the light which remains into a high resolution spectrograph. This instrument is designed to produce a pattern of present and missing colors which reveals the abundance of oxygen, methane, and other molecules produced by living creatures in a planet's atmosphere.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 363 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


364-Laser Surfing

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Published PRX June 8, 2017
Recorded June 6, 2017

When we find a planet which appears to have the chemical signs of living organisms in its atmosphere, the desire to take a close up look at it will be hard to contain. 

In a Scientific American article, Lee Billings describes Yuri Milner's 100 million dollar project "Breakthrough Starshot" which has been created to leap frog our current rocket technology's extremely long travel times to nearby planets.  The plan is to put ultra light space probes on paths which will enable them to collect data as they streak by nearby potentially habitable planets.   Our current iPhone technology is being used to envision a tiny robotic space probe which features cameras, life detecting sensors, maneuvering rockets, computers, and communications gear and yet has a mass of about that of a dime.    Photons from 100 gigawatt pulses from a ground based laser array are then envisioned to reflect off the tiny spacecrafts solar sail where they transfer momentum to the space craft accelerating it to 20% of the speed of light.  Numbers of these tiny robotic investigators could be launched together into Earth orbit and perhaps one a day could be sent towards a nearby star accelerated by laser pulses each of which contains the energy required to send a space shuttle into orbit.   In a few decades closeup views and data from nearby worlds would begin streaming back towards the residents of our planet. The cost of investigating our planetary life hosting neighbors is likely to be less than what the US is planning to spend to upgrade its nuclear weapons.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 364 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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365-Tabby's Star

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Published PRX June 15, 2017
Recorded June 14, 2017

The mystery of Tabby's star began to unfold when in 2015 Dr. Tabetha S. Boyajian [boy-AA-jee-uhn] of Louisiana State University and her team published a paper describing the irregular dips in the light output of what otherwise would seem to be a garden variety star over the period 2009 to 2013.  Subsequently a list of proposed explanations include swarms of comets, large asteroids, a debris disk, and even a massive alien megastructure.

In what appears to be the best scientific explanation of the strange behavior of Tabby's star, Dr. Brian Metzger of Columbia University and his team propose that the dips in brightness of Tabby's star are the result of its having swallowed one or several of its planets in the recent past. Their calculations published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggest that this cannibalism occurred between 10 and 10,000 years ago depending on the mass of the devoured objects. In their model the gravitational energy released as an object or objects spiral into the outer layers of Tabby's star caused it to brighten while we were not looking and what we are seeing is it now returning to normal with perhaps dips also caused by debris passing across our line of sight. The authors are going to monitor any further activity by Tabby's star to see what else there is to learn.

All is not lost for those with the alien megastructure point of view since this idea cannot be completely ruled out by the data.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 365 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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366-3 Explorers

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Published PRX June 15, 2017
Recorded June 14, 2017

Recently, my Grandsons, Dane and Hank joined our asteroid hunting team at the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon. 

The most interesting of our discoveries, 2017 KJ32 is only 16 feet in diameter, orbits the Sun once every 315 days, and can come closer to us than the communications satellites. 4 days and 16 hours before Dane, Hank, and I spotted it, 2017 KJ32 passed about 41,000 miles from the surface of Earth traveling at a relatively slow speed for an Earth approaching asteroid  of 1.6 mi/sec.  By the time 2017 KJ32 came into one of our images it was already 768,000 miles from Earth and was traveling away from us at 1.5 miles per second.  A few weeks later it was too faint to be detected by our most powerful telescopes.

It is interesting to speculate that given 2017 KJ32's speed and orbit that perhaps it is a piece of our Moon which was blasted loose when a larger asteroid or comet impacted the lunar surface.  Humans have found more than 240 meteorites on the Earth's surface whose chemical composition suggests that they came from our Moon.  These moon rocks were launched from the Moon's surface by an impacting object and traveled around the Sun for a while before being captured by the Earth's gravity.  When such an object enters the Earth's atmosphere, it explodes, and sometimes rains a few pieces onto the ground for us to find as lunar meteorites. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 366 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



367-Future Impactor

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Published PRX June 22, 2017
Recorded June 16, 2017

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered a 33 foot diameter asteroid which has about a 1.1% chance of impacting the Earth on 569 encounters with our planet between 2045 and 2116. Its name is 2017 LD. It is on the list of the most likely objects to strike the Earth in the next hundred years as reported on NASA's Sentry Earth Impact Monitoring table. Even so, given our current data, there is a 98.9% chance that 2017 LD will not enter our atmosphere on any of its close approaches to Earth in the next 100 years.

Carson spotted 2017 LD 3 days and 6 hours before it made a recent close approach to planet Earth when it was a bit over a million miles from him and was coming towards us at about 3 mi/sec. Unfortunately, Carson's small space rock was bright enough for asteroid hunters to track for only 25 days out of its 601 day long path around the Sun. This lack of additional tracking data gives us a considerable uncertainty in knowing exactly where it will be in the future.

There are likely to be tens of millions of asteroids of 2017 LD's size. One its diameter enters the Earth's atmosphere every 10 years or so, explodes at about 3 times higher than airliners fly, and in some cases rains pieces onto the ground for us to discover. Carson's early discovery means that if 2017 LD had been an impactor, humans would have had time to prepare for the spectacular light show that an object its size produces.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 367 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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368-Asteroid Alert


Published PRX June 22, 2017
Recorded June 14, 2017

When Asteroid hunters discover a new object it is given a score ranging from 0 which means it is likely to be a distant main belt asteroid up to 100 which means that it is likely to come near to us.  Each newly discovered asteroid which receives a score of 65 or greater is posted on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page so that telescopes around the world can track it to estimate it's size as well as to refine our knowledge of it's orbit around the Sun.

NASA feeds data on each new discovery into it's Scout software system.  Scout is designed to identify those objects which are most likely to make a close approach to Earth in the very near future. It's alert allows astronomers to access the new object's risk of impact as well as to study it before it fades into the distance.    Fortunately, asteroid hunters have not found any dangerous impacting asteroids, however, Scout's rapid alert has enabled astronomers to measure the size, chemical composition, and rate of rotation for a number of close approaching asteroids.  These data are extremely important to plan an effective response should an object be found to be on a collision course with planet Earth.  For the vast majority of Earth approaching objects that asteroid hunters discover, additional observations make it less and less likely that an object will impact or even make a very close to approach to our home planet.  Those few space rocks which have a tiny remote chance of coming very near to us are passed into NASA Sentry system which makes and keeps astronomers aware of nearby objects so that we do not lose track of them.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 368 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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369-Finding Treasure 

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Published PRX June 29, 2017
Recorded June 28, 2017

The energy required to lift water, food, and construction materials from the Earth's surface is very expensive.    Asteroids come relatively close to Earth and could provide space colonists with metals, carbon, water, and the other important ingredients of modern life.  Most space rocks like most terrestrial rocks may be pretty and interesting but they are not a practical source of the materials humans use and need. 

The space mining companies Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are planning and designing small spacecraft to fly up to asteroids to determine if they contain any commercially useful materials. 

The pattern of colors present and missing in the sunlight  that an asteroid reflects contains the unique signature of the atoms and molecules on it's surface.   
Dr. Martin Elvis, a Harvard astronomer, continues to point out that the largest Earth bound telescopes are capable of making such measurements from the light of a faint asteroid in several minutes.   This remote reconnaissance research makes it possible to identify the one out of ten asteroids which are likely to contain precious materials such as water, iron, and platinum and not waste time and money visiting worthless rock piles.

Asteroids that are most accessible in terms of rocket fuel are among the thousands of small Earth approaching space rocks that my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, has discovered.  We continue to add dozens of new ones to the list every month.  The next step is to train large telescopes on them to determine their sizes and chemical compositions.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 369 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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370-Life's Parts


Published PRX June 29, 2017
Recorded June 28, 2017

24 hours a day, 16,600 feet above sea level in the high dry desert of northern Chile, the 66 antennas of 1.4 billion dollar Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA receives signals located between the infrared  and radio portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The waves that ALMA receives have a length which is about the same as the thickness of a dime. The pattern of present and missing wavelengths in these signals contains the characteristic spectral signatures of the complex molecules that form the basis of living organisms.

ALMA'S observations deep within the cocoons of warm gas and dust clouds surrounding infant sun like stars about 400 light years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus reveals the presence of simple sugars and other complex molecules which are involved in the synthesis of peptides and amino acids.  Finding these prebiotic molecules in conditions similar to what is likely to have been present in our solar system 4.5 billion years ago,  suggests that life's parts were likely to have been present on the very young Earth.

In four years, NASA's Kepler Space telescope has found approximately 50 Earth sized planets, in an area about 1/400 of the whole sky, which are at the right distance from their star to have liquid water on the their surfaces.  Coupled with ALMAs discovery of life's ingredients in typical infant star system one has to wonder what kind of creatures may exist on some of Kepler's planets.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 370 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


371-2 Headed Space Worm

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Published PRX July 6, 2017
Recorded June 28, 2017

Humans are moving towards a day when there are space colonies in orbit, on the Moon, and the planet Mars, places where the force of gravity ranges between zero and 38% of what we experience every day.  What effect will such different environments have on the regeneration of liver, skin, and other human body organs? 

To discover how the remarkable ability of Planaria flat worms to regenerate amputated body parts functions in a weightless environment researchers at Tufts University compared a group of whole and amputated flat worms which had lived for 5 weeks on the International Space Station with control groups which remained behind on planet Earth.  The space faring flatworms were found to have undergone metabolic and other body function changes which persisted after they returned to Earth.    Strangely one of the amputated worm fragments sent into space developed into an extremely rare double headed worm.  Researchers were astonished since they had not seen this happen once during 5 years of observations of 15,000 worms.  Further when both heads were removed from the space traveling double headed worm's middle section it grew 2 heads indicating that its body modification plan was permanent.  

The implications of these experiments for humans in space, if any, remain to be determined. Bottom line is we just don't know enough about how human reproduction and development will work off the Earth to plan on having permanent sustainable colonies elsewhere.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 371 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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372-Trappist-1 Planets

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Published PRX July 6, 2017
Recorded June 28, 2017

Humans of today, like our most ancient thinking ancestors,  look into the night sky and wonder about beings who might be out there.  The Kepler Space Telescope mission and systematic searches by ground based telescopes have discovered the existence of more than 4 dozen potentially habitable Earth sized planets orbiting distant stars. 

The Trappist-1 planetary system located about 40 light years away in the constellation of Aquarius consists of a small red dwarf star and 7 Earth sized planets.  By carefully studying changes in the planet's transit timings and the shape of the dip in the host star's brightness as each planet transits across it, astronomers have been able to measure the orbital period, radius, and approximate mass for each of the 7 planets.  Dr Billy Quarles of the University Oklahoma and his team used thousands of numerical simulations on super computers to investigate the range in each planet's parameters which would cause it to have a stable orbit and would thus produce the Trappist-1 solar system which we see today.  Their results, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters suggests that 6 of Trappist-1's planets have a rocky composition like the Earth the remaining one may be composed of 25 % water by mass compared to 0.02% water by mass for Earth.  The next step will be to use the James Web Space Telescope equipped with the latest scientific instruments to study the atmospheres of these distant worlds.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 372 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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373-Kepler's Planets

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Published PRX July 13, 2017
Recorded July 5, 2017

On March 7, 2009 the Kepler Space Telescope was inserted into an Earth trailing, 372.5 day, orbit about the Sun. Kepler is designed to stare at more than 145,000 stars simultaneously, in a field of view which is about 1/400 of the sphere of the sky surrounding it. It's camera and computer image analysis system is designed to detect the regular small dips in brightness which occur when a planet passes in front of it's parent star. So far, in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, the Kepler mission has found more than 4000 planets circling other stars. These exoplanets include Hot Jupiters, Cold gas giants, Ocean worlds, lava worlds, and rocky planets similar to Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. So far, Kepler has discovered 50 Earth sized planets in habitable zones surrounding their stars where it is possible for them to have liquid water on their surfaces. 30 of these Earth sized planets have been verified by additional observations made by other telescopes. In 2018 the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite called TESS will be launched to look for planets circling 200,000 stars in the solar neighborhood. Dozens of them are likely to be similar to the Earth in size and temperature. The James Webb Space Telescope when it is also launched in 2018 will be able to image these new worlds. All of the worlds which we have found are likely to be the tiniest sample of those which are likely to exist orbiting the hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way alone.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 373 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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374-Brute

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Published PRX July 13, 2017
Recorded July 5, 2017

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered a 0.4 mile diameter asteroid with the Catalina Sky Survey Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, AZ.  Two hours and 11 minutes later it came into a set images I obtained with the 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, AZ.  After I reported it, the new object was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, New Zealand, Slovenia, Kansas, Australia, Hungary, France, and Brazil. The Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's 1,353 day long orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size, and give it the name 2017 MB1.   Fortunately it will not impact the Earth in the foreseeable future.   An object the size of 2017 MB1 strikes the Earth every 200,000 years or so releasing the energy of about 300 large hydrogen bombs. It's impact onto a land area could produce a crater 6 miles in diameter, a fire storm that would ignite vegetation, clouds of toxic dust, acid rain, and produce other ill effects.  If 2017 MB1 landed in the middle of the ocean it would make 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 would be no threat to land many miles away.  

Asteroid hunters will continue to track 2017 MB1 as it passes near Venus, Earth, our Moon, and Mars to make sure that it's orbit does not change to make it a threat to the residents off our planet.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 374 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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375-Chelyabinsk Sized

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Published PRX July 20, 2017
Recorded July 5, 2017

There are likely to be tens of millions of small space rocks similar to the meteor which entered our atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February of 2013.  This celestial visitor exploded at an altitude of about 19 miles releasing about 30 times the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The shock wave from it's airburst damaged more than 7,000 buildings and sent nearly 1,500 people to the hospital with injuries from flying glass and other debris.  A small asteroid like the Chelyabinsk object is likely to enter the Earth's atmosphere every 60 years or so and 3/4 of the time probably explode harmlessly  over an ocean or other unpopulated area.  The Chelyabinsk meteor was not spotted traveling through space in part due to the fact that it came in from close to the direction of the Sun.

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny was observing with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when she discovered a Chelyabinsk sized space rock, 2017 MF,  when it was about two and a half times the Moon's distance from us traveling in our direction at 4 miles per second.  2017 MF was tracked by telescopes around the world as 38 hours later this small space rock made it's closest approach, about the distance to the moon, from us.  If 2017 MF had been on a collision course with planet Earth, Rose's early detection would have allowed asteroid hunters to warn people in the impact area to avoid injury by staying away from doors and windows.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 375 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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376-Active Asteroids

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Published PRX July 20, 2017
Recorded July 18, 2017

When it was first spotted by astronomers at Space Watch on Kitt Peak, 2008 GO98 appeared to be one of many outer main belt asteroids moving through the night sky.  9 years later when my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard observed it with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon it had a coma and a tail like a comet.  Active asteroids like 2008 GO98 have asteroid orbits but sometimes show cometary activity which could be caused by a collision with another object and/or by thermal fracturing and ice sublimation caused by the slight warming they obtain from sunlight.

Sometimes, due to a collision or an interaction with Jupiter, the orbit of an active asteroid like 2008 GO98 can change to bring it near the Earth.  When that happens the trail of dust it leaves could give rise to a meteor shower.  In the distant past such objects could have brought the water which form our oceans as they impacted upon the young Earth.

 3200 Phaethon [FAY-ə-thon] is soon to be a famous active asteroid.  It has an Apollo Near Earth asteroid orbit, is made of dark material, sometimes appears comet like, and sheds dust giving rise to the December Geminid Meteor shower.  Phaethon's close approach to Earth in December of 2017 provides astronomers with a rare opportunity to study one of the mysteries of our solar system.  You can come to appreciate one of Phatheon's gifts to us by viewing some of the spectacular Geminid Meteors as they streak through the pre-Christmas night sky. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 376 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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377-Insider

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Published PRX July 27, 2017
Recorded July 18, 2017

Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered 2017 NK,  a potentially hazardous asteroid which spends most of it's time within the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Observations by telescopes in Arizona, Italy, Illinois, and England allowed the Minor Planet Center to calculate 2017 NK's orbital path around the Sun and estimate it's size to be about 590 feet in diameter. In December of 2018, 2017 NK, will come to about 24 times the distance to the Moon from us traveling at 4.5 mi/s with only 14% of it's lighted surface pointing in our direction. 

Aten asteroids like 2017 NK account for about 6% of the Earth approaching asteroids which asteroid hunters have discovered. Since they rarely point their lighted side in our direction even relatively large ones can be faint and hard to spot. For a brief time in 2004 it appeared that the 1,000 foot diameter Aten asteroid Apophis (/əˈpɒfɪs/) was on a collision course with Earth. Astronomers have obtained new data and are now certain that on April 13, 2029 Apophis will pass closer than the communication satellites but will definitely not impact our home planet.

Fortunately asteroid hunters have not discovered an object like Apophis which has our number on it since if were to strike over a land area it could create a crater 3 miles in diameter inflicting 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 377 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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378-Moon Express

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Published PRX July 27, 2017
Recorded July 18, 2017

The Moon is the only other world whose surface we can see directly.  Every month my retired Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rik Hill uses a small telescope, electronic camera, and computer to explore our Moon from his backyard.  The lunar surface is virtually unexplored and has an area which is about the same as that of North and South America combined.  It's outer layers contain water and other materials which have been deposited by billions of years of asteroid impacts.   In the next few years, Moon Express, a Florida based company plans to dramatically lower the cost of accessing the lunar surface similar to the way cube sats have made low Earth orbit accessible to many more people.

Currently Moon Express is one of the 5 companies left in the Google Lunar X Prize competition for the 20 million dollar first prize to be awarded to the first entrant to soft-land a robot on the Moon, make it travel 1,640 feet, and send video and images back to Earth.   Moon Express is developing and plans to mass produce a single engine lander stand alone lunar explorer called the MX-1.   After the prize competition Moon Express plans to use it to establish a robotic base near the lunar south pole to identity sources of water and other important minerals.

Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to use it's new Electron Booster to transport the MX-1 to the Moon.  Moon Express's vision includes using the abundant water and solar energy on the Moon's surface to create the hydrogen and oxygen rocket fuel which could make it the gas station in the sky. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 378 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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379-Flying Mud Balls

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Published PRX August 3, 2017
Recorded July 22, 2017

75% of asteroid hunter's discoveries are called C type asteroids. They are dark, have a high abundance of carbon, consist of clay and silicate rocks, and may have a composition which is up to 22% water. Recently Dr. Phillip A. Bland of Curtin University in Australia and Dr. Bryan Travis of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona published an article in the on line journal Science Advances describing their numerical simulations of the evolution of the progenitors of the C type asteroids. These researchers find that these common asteroids are likely to have started out as giant convecting mud balls which could still exist at the center of large asteroids like Ceres. The C type asteroids are particularly significant in that they are likely to have been one of the ingredients which came together under gravity to form Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Their impacts upon a young Earth are likely to be the source of the water in our oceans. Of more immediate interest is that the type C asteroids could be a handy source of water and raw materials for space colonists either as they are currently flying through space or found buried in impact craters on the Moon.

That the 587 mile diameter, oblate spheroid, asteroid Ceres  may still have a convecting mud core and thus be geologically active fits with the Dawn Spacecraft's recent observations of new features on it's surface. In the far distant future Ceres may visited by human astronauts who could use it for a base to launch truly deep space missions. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 379 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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380-Southern Colleagues

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Published PRX August 3, 2017
Recorded July 22, 2017

Recently asteroid hunters at the SONEAR Observatory in Brazil used an 18 inch telescope equipped with an electronic camera to discover 2017 NN6, a 1,100 foot diameter, potentially hazardous asteroid, which can come to a bit over 7 times the Moon's distance from our home planet.   After Jacques, Pimentel, and Barrows, the three SONEAR observers, posted their discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page,  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data give it the name 2017 NN6, estimate it's size, and make a preliminary determination of it's 1234 day orbital path around the Sun.  2017 NN6 will not impact the Earth in the foreseeable future, however, astronomers will continue to monitor it as it crosses the orbits of Venus, Earth, and Mars.

2017 NN6 is the latest in the SONEAR Observatory's  list of discoveries which includes 5 comets, 26 near Earth objects, and a number of other asteroids.  In 2014, one of them,  comet C/2014 E2 Jacques delighted observers as it passed 35 degrees from the north Celestial Pole. In this age in which science is being advanced by large teams of scientists with budgets in the millions to billions of dollars, it is gratifying that a small, determined group of knowledgeable, individuals with modest resources, such as exist at the SONEAR Observatory,  are able to make significant scientific discoveries.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 380 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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381-Peaceful Star

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Published PRX August 10, 2017
Recorded August 10, 2017

The Sun is our very own well behaved star.  It rises and sets in our sky every day and  powers and makes possible all life forms on planet Earth.  A new appreciation for our Sun is growing as we learn more about other suns and their families of planets.  The Trappist-1 system of 7 planets orbits a dim M type red dwarf star about 40 light years away in the constellation of  Aquarius. This relatively close by solar system has received much attention since it appears likely that at least 3 of it's planets lie within the habitable zone where temperatures allow for the possibility of liquid water on their surfaces.   Recently,  Dr. Manasvi Lingam and Dr. Abraham Loeb of Harvard University have calculated the likelihood that planets orbiting red dwarf stars are able to possess an atmosphere conducive to life.  They report, in a recently published a paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology  that the  planet Trappist 1-e is more than 100 times less likely to be habitable than is the Earth.  Another group from Harvard and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, headed up by Dr. Cecilia Garraffo also find the Trappist-1 planets to be a tough place to live. These researchers add that the close proximity of these planets to their host star put them at risk of having their atmospheres stripped off by high stellar winds and their surfaces bombarded with high energy particles and electromagnetic radiation. Go outside today and enjoy some gentle sunshine from our well behaved star.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 381 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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382-Martian Debris

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Published PRX August 10, 2017
Recorded August 10, 2017

Martian Trojan asteroids have stable orbits around the Sun, leading and trailing the red planet by 60 degrees, where the Sun's and Mars's gravity are balanced. For some time astronomers have considered it unlikely that these asteroids wandered in from the asteroid belt. Recently, Dr. David Polishook of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel led a group of researchers who published a paper in the journal Nature Astronomy which sets forth evidence that a group of 7 Martian Trojan Asteroids were blasted from the Martian surface when a large asteroid impacted the red planet early in the history of the solar system. These researchers used the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to measure the pattern of colors in reflected sunlight from Martian Trojan asteroids to determine their chemical composition. These asteroids like the mile in diameter main member of their group, Eureka, are rich in the mineral Olivine which forms much of the Martian mantle but is rare in other asteroids. Polishook and his group used numerical simulations to show that the Martian Trojans are much more likely to be impact ejecta from Mars than captured olivine rich asteroids which strayed from the main asteroid belt. The impact more than 4 billion years or so ago which blasted loose a mile diameter chunk of Mars and gave it a speed of the more than the 3 mi/s required to escape the red planet gives us an insight into the level of violence which occurred before our solar system came into it's present relatively calm state.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 382 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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383-Moon Water

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Published PRX August 17, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

The lunar roving, battery powered, 4 wheel drive "Moon Buggy" allowed astronauts on Apollo 15, 16, and 17 to travel  8 mph on the lunar surface with a maximum range of approximately 4.7 mi. Some of the rocks that these space travelers brought back, from the tiny area they were able to visit on the Moon, contained volcanic glass beads with trace amounts of trapped water inside of them. Dr. Ralph Milliken and Dr. Shuai Li [shhway Lee] of Brown University used the data from the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter to map the amount of water present in pyroclastic deposits of rocks which were ejected from lunar volcanos. They suggest that the glass beads found near the Apollo landing sites are representative of the much larger glass-rich volcanic deposits elsewhere on the lunar surface , that volcanic eruptions are are a way to transport water from the interior to the surface, and that the interior of the Moon is water rich and not dry as was previously supposed. Currently, it is not possible to determine if the Moon's interior water survived from it's formation or was brought to the Moon by the impacts of asteroids and comets before the Moon completely solidified. In the future lunar colonists will be able to use the Moon's indigenous water to drink, to produce oxygen to breathe, to irrigate plants for food, and produce hydrogen and oxygen rocket fuel. Scientists will need the information obtained from lunar sample and return missions to understand how the trace amounts of water contained in volcanic glass beads could be used by human lunar colonies.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 383 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


384-Flying By

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Published PRX August 17, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

Until very recently humans have been completely unaware of the number of small space rocks which pass near to our home planet.  Asteroid hunters now frequently spot these small asteroids as they come between the Moon and the Earth's surface. 

Seven days after the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii discovered 2012 TC4 it moved away from the Earth and became too faint to detect as it continued to travel on it's 609 day orbital path around the Sun. Observations by one of the European Southern Observatories 8.2 meter telescopes in July and August of 2017 has allowed scientists from the NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to refine this small asteroid's orbit.  These NASA scientists are predicting that on October 12, 2017, 2012 TC4 will be 
traveling at 30,000 mph as it passes about 1/8 the distance to the Moon from the surface of planet Earth. NASA scientists are excited by this upcoming flyby and plan to obtain scientific data as well as to test NASA's network of observatories and scientists who work with planetary defense.  Dr. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is heading up a team involving more than a dozen observatories who will track and measure 2012 TC4's physical size, and other properties.  This is a golden opportunity to prepare for the impact of the small space rock out there which has our number on it. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 384 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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385-Phoning Home

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Published PRX August 24, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

In 2018 you are unlikely to be able to purchase a passenger ticket to the Moon, however, thanks to a German start up company called Part Time Scientists or PTScientists for short, if you were able to safely land on the lunar surface you could use your smart phone.  PTScientists will launch their Alina spacecraft as a secondary payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket late in 2018.  After softly touching down on the lunar surface near the Apollo 17 landing site Alina will release two Audi Quattro rovers.  This clever group will use Long-Term Evolution or LTE wireless technology which is also known as 4G in cooperation with the wireless phone company Vodafone.    The two Audi Quattro rovers, developed in cooperation with the car manufacturing company Audi, are essentially mobile phones.   These two small robots will carefully examine the Apollo 17 spacecraft to determine what has happened to it during its 45 year residence on the Moon.  PTScientists hopes to be the first private entity to reach the Moon's surface and thus open a new era in low cost lunar exploration which will eventually lead to a permanent human colony on our nearest neighbor.  This first mission is not designed to survive the 14 day long lunar night during which temperatures can drop to lower than a minus 280 F.  PTScientists, in subsequent missions will establish a permanent telecommunications infrastructure on the Moon's surface and then deliver up to 220 lbs of customer payloads to the lunar surface.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 385 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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386-Interplanetary Sand Traps

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Published PRX August 24, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

When the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa [Hi ya Boo sa] visited the near Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2005 it found this 2000 foot by 800 foot elliptical world to have a variety of surface features.  Instead of being a solid object like some asteroids, Itokawa is a rubble pile of boulders and pebbles held together by it's tiny gravity.   The total volume of pebbles seems to be comparable to the volume of large rocks and boulders which make up Itokawa , however, the depths of the pebbles or their concentration in the center remains unknown.  Given this uncertainty, this asteroid appears to be made up of a million times more small particles than larger ones.  Images of Itokawa show lowlands filled with pebbles and rocky highlands which are occupied by large boulders.  For example, the large sandy area called the Muses Sea is strikingly different from the adjacent boulder rich highlands.  In a recent Physics Today article Dr. Troy Shinbrot a professor at Rutgers University lays out theory and evidence suggesting that Itokawa's sandy seas may function like a golfer's sand trap in that they are easy to get into but hard to escape. Itokawa like the Earth is much more likely to be impacted by tiny objects than larger ones.  Shinbrot and his colleagues have conducted experiments and simulations which they published in Physical Review Letters.   This new research suggests that the sandy areas on Itokawa are formed because impacting small objects bounce off of boulders but sink into sandy, pebbly areas causing these features to grow.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 386 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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387-Florence

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PRX August 31, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

The 3 mile diameter, 4th largest Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, Florence,  was discovered by Dr. Bobby Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia on March 2,1981.  It was named for Florence Nightingale the founder of modern nursing.   As it comes to about 18 times the Moon's distance from us on September 1, 2017, Florence will be the largest asteroid to pass this close to our planet in more than 100 years. During this flyby astronomers will measure many of it's important physical properties and RADAR observers are expected to obtain images of features larger than 30 feet diameter. For several months Florence will be bright enough to be spotted by experienced observers with small telescopes.

Florence orbits the Sun once every 2.35 years crossing the orbit of Mars and coming very near but not crossing the Earth's path about the Sun. Florence rotates once every 140 minutes with a reflected light amplitude which suggests that it is not very elongated.  Ground based observations suggest that Florence is stony.   Observations during this flyby should give us a better idea of it's chemical composition. Astronomers have tracked Florence for nearly 40 years so that it's orbit is well known and are sure that it will not come very close to us again until September 02, 2057. Even though it is unlikely that Florence will impact the Earth in the next thousand years or so measuring it's properties will help us prepare for the eventuality of an object which asteroid hunters discover to be on a collision course with our planet.   

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 387 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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388-40 Years

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Published PRX August 31, 2017
Recorded August 15, 2017

Looking at the stars on a clear dark night, far from the artificial air glow humanity creates,  have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel in truly deep interstellar space?   40 years after their launches in 1977, your representatives,  the twin Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are in the vast space between the stars in our Milky Way galaxy.  Aboard each Voyager is a Golden Record time capsule which expected to last billions of years.  This message from all of humanity is inscribed with greetings from Earth as well as sounds, images, and a decoding key which will enable any intelligent aliens which find a Voyager to discover who made it and where it came from.

The Voyagers were designed to be very robust to withstand the radiation surrounding  Jupiter, however,  NASA scientists are surprised and elated that electronics from the year the Apple II went on sale could last so long.   The output of radio isotope thermoelectric generators which power the Voyagers is slowly declining and it is estimated that after 2030 they will not produce enough power to continue the science experiments.  In the meantime each Voyager makes a daily report of it's location and the conditions it is encountering.  Even though they have been flying at 30,000 miles per hour and travelled more than 10 billion miles from Earth it will be at least 40,000 years before either Voyager comes anywhere near another star as they orbit the center of the Milky Way Galaxy once every 235 million years till the end of time.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 388 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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389-Tiny Spacecraft

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Published PRX September 7, 2017
Recorded August 29, 2017

To reach the vicinity of the nearest star, 24 trillion miles away, in less than 20 years, an interstellar space probe would have to travel at a substantial fraction of the speed of light. Newton's laws of motion, published 300 years ago, predict that the greater the mass of an object the greater is the force required to increase it's velocity.  In order to alleviate the need for the virtually unaffordable amount of energy required to accelerate a normal sized spacecraft to a speed of 20% of the speed of light, the Breakthrough Starshot program has funded the creation of 'Sprite' , the world's smallest spacecraft.  About the size of a saltine cracker and having a mass of less than 2 dimes, the single-board Sprite spacecraft has all the essentials; solar panels, computing electronics, thermometers, gyroscopes, radio communication equipment and more. Working prototypes have been launched into Earth orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization attached to the Italian Max Valier and Latvian Ventra satellites. One of them has sent back signals which have been received by Cornell University's ground station. 

Dr. Zac Manchester who started the Sprite Spacecraft program while earning a PhD at Cornell University envisions using tiny spacecraft to explore near Earth Space as well as asteroids and moons in our solar system. In the future,  fleets of the decedents of Sprite could be sent to explore intriguing planets in nearby alien solar systems.  These tiny explorers will be propelled by high power Earth bound lasers directed at their solar sails and could reach and explore distant planets in a reasonable amount of time.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 389 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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390-One in 100,000

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Published PRX September 7, 2017
Recorded August 29, 2017

Friday the 13th appears to continue to be a lucky day for the human race.  When astronomers first discovered Apophis in 2004 it appeared possible that this 3 million ton, 1,200 foot diameter asteroid traveling at 8 mi/s could impact our planet creating a crater a several miles diameter and more than a half mile deep.   Additional observations over the years have eliminated this possibility as Apophis streaks by closer than the communications satellites on that lucky Friday the 13th.  Further, current calculations have reduced the chances of Apophis colliding with Earth in the next 100 years to about one in 100,000.   However, over the millennia Apophis is likely to strike the Earth as does one it's size once every 100,000 years or so. 

Asteroid hunters have discovered more than 1,800 potentially hazardous asteroids whose size and orbits warrant special attention.  Fortunately, none of them are currently on a collision course with our planet.  These large space rocks will continue to be monitored as they pass near to other objects in space.  Continuous tracking of dangerous objects is required since over time the uncertainty of their paths grows leading to a long term uncertainty about their collision possibilities with other objects.

The NASA Planetary Defense Program funds my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, to use three telescopes in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona to scan the skies to monitor the paths of potentially dangerous objects as well to discover any new dangerous celestial neighbors which may exist.


For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 390 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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