Programs 391-420


Travelers In The Night




391-Finding Spacerocks


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Published PRX September 14, 2017
Recorded August 29, 2017

Finding a meteorite that has traveled billions of miles through space to reach it's present location is exciting. It might even be worth real money. 

To discover your own meteorite, first you will need a place to look. A place that is not littered with rocks is best. Obtain permission from a private land owner to look on their property. If you live near Federal BLM land you can collect up to 10 pounds per year without a permit. The great plains has 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. There is also a web site which lists recent meteor falls. Remember, please do not trespass on others land.

Detecting equipment includes your eye, a powerful magnet, a metal detector, and a streak plate. Train your eye using published photographs of real meteorites. 

When you find an interesting rock, does it have a thin black rind like dark glass fusion crust? Is it Magnetic? Is it heavier than other similarly sized rocks? Does it have thumbprint like features? Does it make a reddish brown streak on an unglazed piece of ceramic tile? If the answers to these questions are yes, you may have found a meteorite.

Next do further research on your find. Hopefully you have found a real meteorite. Where did it come from? Possibilities include the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or maybe even the Moon, Mars, or a comet.

Good Luck.   Holding an ancient space traveler, older than any terrestrial rock,  perhaps as old as the solar system in your hand will be your reward.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 391 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

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392-Dragon Delivers

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Published PRX September 14, 2017
Recorded August 29, 2017

Dragon was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket on it's 2 day voyage to the International Space Station.   As SpaceX 11slowly approached the orbiting human outpost, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson grabbed it with the station's robotic arm.   Included in SpaceX 11's 6000 lb payload was a cosmic ray monitor, some biological experiments as well as ice cream, exercise equipment, and much needed supplies for the 6 person crew.  This mission is the first time an American spacecraft has visited the space station since the NASA Space Shuttle Program ended in April of 2011.  After about a month in orbit Dragon will return nearly 3,300 lbs of scientific equipment, space hardware, and crew supplies safely back  to Earth.

Elon Musk's Space X Falcon 9 rocket regularly returns to Earth for an upright landing as part of the effort to reuse space hardware and thus lower the cost of spaceflights.  Being able to reuse SpaceX's Dragon low orbit cargo ship adds another first in space exploration.  In 2018 Space X plans to use one of it's Dragon capsules to carry crew members to the International Space Station.

For more than 16 years, 200 individuals from 18 countries have lived and worked in the International Space Station.  The experience and experiments they have conducted in the station's unique microgravity environment have advanced medical research, Earth resource monitoring, and laid the groundwork for human and robotic deep space missions.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 392 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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393-Newest Moon

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Published PRX September 21, 2017
Recorded August 29, 2017

The moon cycle from new moon through full moon and back to new moon again was used by many nations to regulate their activities and forms the basis of the Islamic lunar calendar. A calendar based on the first visibility of the lunar crescent is difficult to predict in advance since this observation depends on the clarity of the atmosphere and other local conditions.  The interesting observational problem of when it is possible to spot the new moon has been analyzed in the scientific literature as an aid to historians who are seeking to interpret the writings of ancient civilizations.

You might try making this interesting observation yourself.  In the first 2 days after the new moon the lunar crescent is low in the western twilight shortly after sunset.  Naked eye sightings have been reported as early as 15.5 hours following the new moon while observers using telescopes have been able to spot the thin lunar crescent 12 hours and a few minutes after the exact time of new moon.  You need to be careful if you use a telescope when the Sun is still up so that you don't become a member of the one eyed observers club.  For observers in the mid northern latitudes the months near the spring equinox are the best to spot the thin lunar crescent since at that time the Moon's path makes a steep angle upward relative to the western horizon.  Observers south of the equator are given the same favorable opportunity to make the first observation of the new Moon around the fall equinox.

If you have witnessed either a total or partial solar eclipse you have seen the Moon a few minutes after it was new and well before the thin lunar crescent is visible in the western sky after sunset.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 393 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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394-Tiny Beasts

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Published PRX September 21, 2017
Recorded September XX, 2017

Humans have a long history of partnerships with a variety of micro organisms. Although the proportions vary widely with individuals, recent scientific estimates suggest that a typical human being has approximately the same number of bacteria and other microbes as they do actual human cells. Now it appears that a partnership with yeast and algae will enable spacefaring humans to use their waste products to produce food and plastics during long duration space flights. Dr. Mark Blenner of Clemson University leads a research group developing strains of yeast which obtain their nitrogen from untreated urine and their carbon dioxide from exhaled breath or the Martian atmosphere which has been converted into yeast food by algae. One of Blenner's yeast strains produces omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for heart, eye, and brain health while another strain of yeast has been engineered to produce polyester polymers which could be used by 3D printers to produce plastic tools and other useful devices. In the future research Blenner's team will focus on increasing the output of these tiny beasts to the point that they will generate useful amounts of nutrients and plastics from astronaut's waste products. This new research when added to the fact that on the International Space Station space travelers now routinely drink recycled water from their urine, sweat, and showers moves us closer to the day when space travelers literally use and reuse every atom that they lift from the Earth's surface enabling journeys that may last for years.

The flip side of our partnership with microorganisms is that it is extremely difficult to protect the worlds we explore from a microorganism invasion which would threaten their home grown biology.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 394 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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395-House Sized Space Rocks

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Published PRX September 28, 2017
Recorded September 5, 2017

Throughout history small close approaching space rocks have been a part of our environment.  Now, thanks to improved telescopes and cameras, asteroid hunters are routinely discovering these small asteroids as they pass closer than the Moon is to us.  Since these tiny asteroids are only bright enough to detect for a few days out of their long, many month duration paths about the Sun, astronomers have had difficulty in determining how many of these small space rocks may exist in near Earth space.  This effort received more emphasis when a house sized space rock exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 releasing about 10 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.  Although this asteroid was tiny compared to the one that ended the dinosaurs rule of the planet, the air blast the Chelyabinsk bolide produced caused nearly 1,500 human injuries and damaged more than 7,000 buildings. 

In a 2017 paper in the Astronomical Journal, Dr. David Trilling of Northern Arizona University and his group of researchers present data from the Blanco 4 meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile which they use to estimate that there are approximately 3.2 million Earth approaching asteroids similar in size to the Chelyabinsk impactor.  

My team the Catalina Sky Survey uses 4 telescopes, 24 nights per month, in the mountains north of Tucson, Arizona with the goal to provide warnings for people to stay away from doors and windows should a Chelyabinsk sized space rock be on an impact trajectory with planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 395 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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396-Jupiter

Published PRX September 28, 2017
Recorded September 5, 2017

Jupiter has been observed throughout human history and is so bright that you can even spot it under the artificial light dome of one of our cities. Even so it is less than 40 years ago that we were first able to view Jupiter in detail as the Voyagers streaked by it.  Jupiter contains more than twice the mass of all of the other planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets in our solar system combined. 

Eons ago, our solar systems very own giant planet, Jupiter, appears to have cleared out the inner solar system leaving enough rocky debris to form Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Without Jupiter's action our solar system is likely to have turned out like the more than half of the planetary systems which we have found which consist of non-inhabitable super Earth sized planets orbiting closely about their host stars.

In terms of the defense of planet Earth from impacting objects, Jupiter is a mixed blessing. It apparently deflects some of the long period comets out of Earth impacting orbits while sending other asteroids and comets our way. In 1770 a small comet came in from the outer solar system and passed near Jupiter. This encounter sent it straight towards Earth. Fortunately this celestial visitor missed humanity by about a million miles. After two orbits of the Sun this small comet once again passed near Jupiter and was ejected from the solar system.

Look up where to find Jupiter on the internet and observe it. Jupiter is an awesome sight in binoculars or a small telescope. As you view this gas giant think about the fact that it is likely the reason you have a place to stand and air to breathe.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 396 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

397-Spotting Meteors


Published PRX October 5, 2017
Recorded September 5, 2017

Meteors, shooting stars, or falling stars are different names for the streaks of light in the night sky which are in reality the dying embers of tiny asteroids. These small interplanetary travelers were speeding along at between 7 and 44 miles per second when they entered the Earth's atmosphere. In space, they are called meteoroids and typically ranged in size from that of a grain of sand to perhaps ones as big as of a piece of driveway gravel. Large space pebbles can produce fireballs which are brighter than the planet Venus. Most meteors burn up 50-70 miles above you, however, a very few of them produce fragments which fall to the Earth's surface. In rare occasions meteor observers are able to walk up to such a fallen space rock which is called a fall.

The best time to view meteors is generally after midnight on a clear, moonless night. You will see many more meteors in a rural area than under city lights. On nights not during a meteor shower, you may expect to view sporadic meteors at the rate of between 2 and 16 per hour. Some meteor showers produce more than 100 events per hour. Rarely you will have a chance to view a meteor storm which will give you the feeling that you are seeing the Earth move through space. In 1966 one of these storms produced a WOW inspiring 40 meteors per second.

During the year, there are a dozen major meteor showers. Check out the International Meteor Organization Calendar for a complete listing of the dates of meteor showers as well as how bright the moon will be on those dates. Happy viewing.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 397 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



398-Mars Rocks

Published PRX October 5, 2017
Recorded September 5, 2017

At about 2AM on July 18, 2011 several people in near Tata, Morocco saw a bright fireball which was described by one of them to be initially yellow, then turned green, and finally exploded into several pieces producing two sonic booms.  In October of 2011 desert wandering nomads began finding very fresh looking dark fusion-crusted stones which were radioactively dated by Dr. John Duke of the University of Alberta to be less than 5 years old.  In total 15-24 lbs of meteorites consistent with a very recent fall were found in a strewn field, were whisk away to receive high prices from collectors, and named after the town of Tissint [tee.seent] about 30 miles from their discovery location.

Chemical analysis of samples of the Tissint meteor suggest that it was ejected from Mars about a million years ago and traveled about the Sun for the subsequent period of time before falling to Earth in 2011.  The 2011 fall is particularly significant because these samples are very fresh having been on the ground for only a few months in the dry Moroccan desert.  They are relatively uncontaminated by the terrestrial environment and the best we have before a Martian sample and return mission.

Currently a tiny piece of the Tissint  meteorite the mass of dime is selling for more than $2,000.   It is likely that there are some Martian meteorites amongst the rocks in the American southwest deserts awaiting discovery. They could be worth 10 times or more their weight in gold.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 398 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

399-Moons of Florence 

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Published PRX October 12, 2017
Recorded September 10, 2017

Dr Lance Benner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory headed up a team of scientists who used the 70 meter antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex to bounce RADAR beams off of the asteroid Florence as it made a close approach to Earth in September of 2017.  The RADAR images these researchers obtained reveal that Florence consists of a 2.8 mile diameter primary asteroid which is orbited by two small moons.  Florence's two satellites appear to be between three hundred and a thousand feet in diameter and orbit the main asteroid in about 8 and 24 hours respectively.  Florence is rare since there are only two other triple asteroid systems among the 16,000 Earth approaching asteroids which asteroid hunters have discovered.  We would know more about Florence if Hurricane Irma had not prevented astronomers from using the giant Arecibo RADAR Dish in Puerto Rico to study it.    Our curiosity will have to wait since Florence will not come very close again until September 2, 2057.

Like the other triple Earth approaching asteroid systems the main asteroid in the Florence system rotates fairly quickly, once every 141 minutes.  Perhaps it was spun up to this speed by a collision or by the effect of sunlight over a very long period of time.  Ether way such a spin up could cause an asteroid to break up into several pieces producing a large asteroid orbited by two small moons.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 399 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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400-Roving Venus


Published PRX October 12, 2017
Recorded September 10, 2017

Venus and Earth are similar in size, composition, density, and mass. Unfortunately, our sister planet Venus is an example of a place where green house gases have created an extreme situation.  Venus's thick carbon dioxide atmosphere has a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth.  It would crush a submarine.   Additionally, the thick atmospheric blanket holds in the heat causing Venus's surface temperature to be 864 F, hot enough to melt lead. 

Given that the successful Russian landers lifetimes on the surface of Venus were measured in minutes, NASA and JPL engineers are exploring the concept of avoiding the use of modern temperature sensitive electronics by creating a fully mechanical rover.  Mechanical computers using levers and gears have an extensive history as eclipse predictors, adding machines, algebraic equation solvers, and more.  A modern version of a mechanical computer would serve as the rover's brain.  Power would come from wind turbines allowing the Venus rover to move around on tank like treads.  To communicate it's finding, a shutter moving back and forth in front of a RADAR reflecting target would allow the rover to blink a signal code to an orbiting RADAR pinging satellite in a fashion similar to signal lamps on Navy ships.  In the future, the product of such NASA funded out of the box thinking could study the geology of Venus and perhaps even drill a few holes it's surface.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 400 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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401-Night Vision

Published PRX October 19, 2017
Recorded October 10, 2017

Many people in our modern world rarely if ever experience night vision. To achieve this interesting state of sensory awareness you cannot look at your cell phone or any other source of bright light for 30 to 45 minutes. Your night vision comes about over time because the rod sensors in the retina of your eye undergo a chemical change when they are placed in total darkness. The process starts immediately but takes 20 to 30 minutes to get 80% of maximum sensitivity. The night vision process can be reversed in seconds by exposure to a bright light. In it's most sensitive state your eye can function with a billion times less light than is present in strong sunlight enabling you to see a candle flame from 1.6 miles away.

One of the of the most interesting and fun ways to experience night vision is to go to a location with a natural night sky such as the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary on a clear moonless night. Allow your eyes to become dark adapted by using only a very dim red light.  Amazingly you will find yourself walking about by the light of the stars. Your reward will be to experience seeing the Milky Way, meteors streaking through the night sky, star clusters, planets, bright and dim stars of different colors and more. Pick a dark sky place near you on darksky.org and recruit a friend. Bring a red filtered flashlight, star maps, binoculars, warm clothes, and snacks to experience the wonders of the Universe first hand.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 401 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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402-Above Scotland


Published PRX October 19, 2017
Recorded  October 10, 2017

During the age of steam, shipbuilding along Glasgow, Scotland's River Clyde once produced a nearly a quarter of the worlds ocean going ships.  Now a small company, Clyde Space is producing products which support approximately 40% of all CubeSat missions globally.  CubeSats are the new small spaceships containing the volume on the order of that of a quart of milk. They weigh from 2 to 10 lbs with some of them being no larger than the diameter of a drink coaster.  In 2017 CubeSat launches are running at the rate of more than 300 per year and are on an exponential path of growth. Typically these small spacecraft hitchhike on rockets carrying larger satellites into near Earth orbit.  Their uses include observations of crops, fires, floods, and urban development, as well as providing new communications channels, and testing components for larger spacecraft.

In 2014 Clyde Space launched UKube-1 the first satellite to be designed and built in Scotland.  Currently Clyde Space offers a number of off-the-shelf CubeSat platforms with internal volumes ranging from that of a coffee cup to ones which can contain a small suitcase of equipment.  These customizable platforms provide the power, pointing, data storage, communications channels, and more  for complex missions.  The CubeSat industry is making relatively low cost exploration of space possible and is creating heretofore undreamed of opportunities for the human exploration of space.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 402 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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403-Double Comet

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Published PRX October 26, 2017
Recorded October 10, 2017

In November of 2006, University of Arizona's Spacewatch astronomers on Kitt Peak discovered a faint moving point of light in the night sky which appeared to be a garden variety main belt asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. The Minor Planet Center calculated it's orbit and gave it the name 2006 VW139.  Five years later when it again moved closest to the Sun the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii discovered that 2006 VW139 is surrounded by a gas cloud like a comet and it was given a comet designation, 288P.  My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Steve Larson is a member of the team of astronomers who use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe asteroids which have comet like burps.   Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope between August 2016 and January 2017 clearly show 288P to be two similar, mile diameter, asteroids orbiting each other about 60 miles apart, surrounded by a gas cloud, as they move about the Sun.   The Hubble team estimates that about 5,000 years ago this strange object was formed when a rapidly rotating comet nucleus came apart into two large pieces. 
It's gas cloud is likely to come from volatile ices like carbon dioxide and water vapor which were liberated by solar heating. Objects like this one are very interesting since they may have had a role in bringing water to a bone dry Earth in the early days of our solar system.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 403 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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404-Jess's Find


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Published PRX October 26, 2017
Recorded October 10, 2017

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson discovered a large new member of the group of sneaky asteroids called Atens.   The geometry of an Aten's orbit can allow it to approach the Earth with it's dark side pointing in our direction making it difficult to discover.  
Jess's new object was then observed at more than 10 observatories around the world.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate the details of it's 353 day orbital path about Sun, estimate it's size to be about 0.4 of a mile in diameter, and give it the name 2017 SN14.    An asteroid the size of Jess's object strikes the Earth once every several hundred thousand years or so creating a crater 6 miles in diameter and producing devastation over thousands of square miles of the Earth's surface. Fortunately 2017 SN14 's path never brings it closer than 20.5 times the Moon's distance from us.  The most famous and most potentially dangerous Aten cousin of 2017 SN14 is Apophis.  For a brief period in 2004 it appeared that Apophis might impact the Earth in 2029 releasing 13 times the energy of the largest hydrogen bomb ever exploded. Subsequent data confirms that the luckiest Friday the 13th in human history will occur in 2029 when Apophis misses Earth by less than the distance to our communication satellites.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 404 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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405-Kiwi Nights 


Published PRX November 2, 2017
Recorded October 18, 2017

New Zealand's 4.5 million people are concentrated in three major population centers which to various degrees suffer from the modern plague of light pollution. However, most of New Zealand's large rural areas and land reserves, covering an area as large as the UK, have unpolluted natural night skies. 

A completely unique place to experience New Zealand's natural night sky is the Aotea [ Ah - yoh - tee - ah]-Great Barrier Island International Dark Sky Sanctuary.  It encompasses New Zealand's, 110 square mile,  sixth largest island, which is located about 62 miles from central Auckland.  It is easily accessible by boat or a short airline flight.   The island's 1000 residents are employed by agriculture and tourism. They value the natural night sky and function without externally generated electricity or street lights and fully support the preservation of their prestine night sky.  In the daytime Great Barrier Island offers wonderful beaches and hikes.  When the sun sets the night sky becomes alive with its own natural lights.  Night sky measurements by Auckland Astronomer Nalayini [ Na - laa - i - ni] Davies and her collaborators have proved that the Great Barrier Island's natural night skies are second to none on planet Earth.   Using the unaided eye, a set of binoculars, or a small telescope an observer on the Great Barrier Island is treated to spectacular views of the center of the Milky Way, the clouds of Magellan the nearest galaxies to us, the nearest stars, as well as numerous star clusters, meteors, comets, and other wonders of the natural night sky.  Perhaps this unique spot deserves a place on your bucket list.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 405 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer


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406-2 Close Ones

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Published PRX November 2, 2017
Recorded October 18, 2017

In less than 24 hours, while observing with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona , I discovered two 25 foot diameter space rocks that theoretically can pass less than a quarter of the Moon's distance from us. After I posted my discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation page one of them received immediate attention, as an incoming object, and was tracked by observers at 14 different observatories around the world. Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's 926 day orbital path around the Sun, estimate it's size, and give it the name 2017 TH5. 36 hours after I first spotted 2017 TH5 streaking through the night sky it came to less than 60,000 miles from the surface of our planet traveling at 7.6 miles per second. 8 hours and 49 minutes later it passed less than half a lunar distance from the surface of our moon. If 2017 TH5 would have been on an impact trajectory with Earth humans would have had time to prepare for a spectacular light show. Approximately once every 5 years a tiny asteroid like 2017 TH5 enters our atmosphere exploding at an altitude about 3 times higher than airliners fly releasing the energy of about 5,000 tons of TNT.  Asteroid hunters are well on our way towards being able to issue a warning to stay away from doors and windows should a small space rock be discovered to be on an impact trajectory with planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 406 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer

407-Plant Companionship

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Published PRX November 9, 2017
Recorded November 1, 2017

On Earth, human life is enabled by plants which provide us with calories, vitamins, fuel, medicines, and oxygen to breathe.  In addition, r
ecent scientific studies indicate that plant cultivation reduces anxiety and depression and has a positive influence on diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and longevity.   Perhaps this is the reason that 80% of the cultivated plant species on planet Earth are not used for any food related purpose.  

On long duration space missions astronauts live in close quarters isolated from the natural world where the basic activities like eating, sleeping, and attending to bodily functions are difficult and stress producing.  Recent research conducted on the International Space Station suggests that space gardening helps astronauts to cope with the sterile space craft interior, allows them to combat boredom, as well as some of the other negative psychological effects of their long period of confinement.  Specific examples of International Space Station gardens include astronaut Scott Kelly's first zinnia to bloom in space and astronaut Peggy Whitson's small crop of space soybeans.

For many thousands of years people making long journeys have taken plants for food and recreation with them.  It is likely that when humans travel to Mars they will continue this practice.  The plants that Mars explorers take with them will provide a source of fresh fruits and vegetables , fresh air to breathe, and perhaps a psychological benefit that is crucial to the success of their mission.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 407 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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408-Earth's Pet Rock

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Published PRX November 9, 2017
Recorded November 1, 2017

On it's gravitational leash, Earth's pet space rock, 2016 HO3, accompanies us at a distance of between 38 and 100 times the Moon's distance from Earth as we both travel about the Sun.  As this tiny asteroid orbits the Sun it spends about half of it's time inside the Earth's orbit where it moves faster and passes ahead of us and the other half of it's yearly path outside of our orbit which causes it to lag behind our home planet.   Since it's discovery little has been known about Earth's pet space rock leaving some to speculate that perhaps it is an old rocket booster or other piece of space junk.  To answer this question, Dr. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory headed up a team of astronomers who used the University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope and the Discovery Channel's Telescope to determine some of it's properties. This team of researchers found that 2016 HO3 is indeed a natural object about 100 to 300 feet in diameter, rotates about once every 28 minutes, and is made of material similar to meteorites which have landed on Earth.    Our pet space rock, 2016 HO3, has apparently been in it's present relationship to Earth for a hundred years and is likely to remain so for hundreds of years to come.   Even though 2016 HO3 is not gravitationally bound to the Earth, the combination of the Sun's and Earth's gravitational pulls keeps it relatively near making it easy to reach and thus is an ideal candidate for visits by human or robotic spacecraft.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 408 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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409-Alien Rock?

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Published PRX November 16, 2017
Recorded November 1, 2017

Rocks including those asteroid hunters see flying through interplanetary space are composed of atoms which were present when our solar system formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud some 4.6 billion years ago.  Astronomers have tracked scores of comets which are in the process of being ejected from our solar system by the sling shot boost in velocity they obtained from our Sun's and sometimes Jupiter's force of gravity. Milena from now some of these objects will visit distant solar systems of planets and asteroids.  Astronomers have long anticipated and awaited the discovery of a rock or comet from another solar system. 

Recently the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii discovered a fast moving asteroid, A/2017 U1,  which may our first detection of an alien space rock which escaped from another solar system.  A/2017 U1 approached our solar system from near the current position of the bright star Vega.   After A/2017 U1 came closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury in September of 2017 this 500 to 1,000 foot diameter space rock streaked by Earth in October before heading back into interstellar space towards the constellation of Pegasus.  During the brief period that A/2017 U1 was close enough and bright enough to be studied by our telescopes astronomers did not detect a comet like gas cloud around it, confirmed that it's path suggests an interstellar origin, and provided evidence that it is a good candidate for an alien space rock.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 409 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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410-Extraterrestrial Whales

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Published PRX November 16, 2017
Recorded November 1, 2017

In an area which is about 1/400th of the entire sky, the NASA Kepler spacecraft has discovered 30 Earth like planets which are likely to have liquid water on their surfaces orbiting distant stars. These planets are likely to represent a tiny sample of the habitable planets which exist in the Milky Way.  In spite of our efforts to find them, the question remains where are the alien civilizations?   In a recent talk given at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting Dr. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute suggests that perhaps the majority of the worlds with biology and intelligent civilizations exist on interior water ocean worlds where their existence is hidden by the thick layers of rock and ice which separate them from the hostile vacuum of space.  We know that in our solar system alone the moon of Jupiter Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus, and perhaps several other small worlds are likely to have oceans of nutrient rich liquid water covered by a thick layer of rock and ice.  We also know that Whales and Dolphins have larger brains than humans, communicate with each other, and exhibit other forms of intelligence.  Advanced civilizations existing in ice covered seas may know little of the greater Universe,  may find it difficult to consider transporting enough water to travel beyond their worlds, and may not think that it is possible to communicate with others of their kind who are similarly hidden under miles and miles of radiation absorbing ice and rock.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 410 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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411-200 Plus

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Published PRX November 23, 2017
Recorded November 9, 2017

My team the Catalina Sky Survey set a new single month record by discovering 211 Earth approaching objects in October of 2017. Fortunately none of them are on a collision course with planet Earth, however, they give us a good idea of what whizzes by us every month. These 200 plus small asteroids range in size from 7 feet to 2,700 feet in diameter and orbit the Sun with periods between 221 and 2109 days. Nine of them are large enough and come close enough to fit the definition of a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid. The 19 closest approaching space rocks in this group can come to less than the Moon's distance from us. They are all small with the largest, 2017 TA, being a bit larger than an NBA basketball court.  2017 TA is about twice the size of the space rock which exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 producing a air blast wave which injured nearly 1500 people. On it's current 539 day orbit around the Sun, 2017 TA can't come closer than about 50,000 miles from the Earth's surface. 

My team the Catalina Sky Survey operates 4 telescopes in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona. We scan the skies 24 nights each month, when the moon isn't too bright, funded by a grant from NASA's Planetary Defense Office. Our goal is to discover impacting objects so that people in the effected area can be warned to stay away from doors and windows.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 411 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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412-Tiny Space Rock

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Published PRX November 23, 2017
Recorded November 9, 2017

Eighteen hours before my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny first spotted a small space rock with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona it had passed less than the Earth's diameter from the surface of our planet. Rose was able to discover this Smart Car sized space rock after it moved out of the Sun's glare.  At this point it was about the Moon's distance from her and was traveling away at 3.4 mi/s.  After Rose posted her discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation page,  for the next 24 hours it was tracked by telescopes in Spain, Illinois, and Arizona.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size and give it the name 2017 UJ2.  This small asteroid had come near the Earth in 1978 but was invisible to the technology which astronomers had available at the time.  2017 UJ2 will not come close enough for us to detect in the foreseeable future, however, there are likely to be tens of millions of others like it which can come close to Earth.  A small asteroid the size of Rose's discovery is likely to enter our atmosphere at least once a year and explodes at about 4 times higher than airliners fly.   If such an event happened at night and you were lucky enough to see it you would be treated to a fantastic light show.  If you are as lucky as a power ball winner you might even be able to find a piece of it on the ground. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 412 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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413-Fission Rocket


Published PRX November 29, 2017
Recorded November 10, 2017

To get an idea of the energy involved in a rocket launch, the NASA 
Saturn V, moon rocket, fully fueled on the launch pad contained the chemical energy of 2,000 pounds of TNT.  This old technology could carry us to Mars and back on missions that would last years.  To cut the mission time, the risks, and the mass of supplies required for such a prolonged space mission NASA is looking at alternative means of rocket propulsion.  Back in the 1950s NASA's project Orion was a study to investigate propelling a rocket by a series of atomic bomb explosions behind the vehicle.  Now a safer and more gentle way of propelling a space craft with nuclear fission is being studied as the result of a NASA grant to BWX Technologies.  The concept is to heat liquid hydrogen using a high temperature fission reactor furnace which would expel the gas at a high velocity producing the rocket's thrust.  The process would be about twice as efficient in terms of thrust per pound of fuel when compared to burning a hydrogen and oxygen mixture.  Since it is unacceptable to release trace amounts of radioactivity in the rocket's exhaust, engineers are investigating a technique developed by NASA in which the hydrogen exhaust is burned with oxygen to produce water which can be caught and decontaminated.  Don't expect to buy a round trip ticket on a high speed fission powered rocket any time soon.  However, in the long run nuclear technology could revolutionize the exploration and colonization of our solar system.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 413 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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414-Enormous Visitor


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Published PRX November 29, 2017
Recorded November 10, 2017

Without additional data, the true nature of the rapidly northward moving point of light my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls had just discovered would have remained a mystery.  Fortunately,  this new object was tracked by telescopes in both Arizona and New Mexico.  These data were used to calculate it's orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size, and give it the name 2017 UX5.  When Carson first spotted this enormous 1,200 foot diameter space rock it was more than 30 million miles away traveling in our direction at 10.7 mi/s.  It's orbit and that of the Earth's nearly intersect and at the closest point they are about two and one half times the Moon's distance from us apart.   An asteroid the size of 2017 UX5 impacts the Earth every 76,000 years or so.  According to the impact calculator developed at Purdue University and the Imperial College of London if 2017 UK5 is made of porous rock and came in at an angle of 45 degrees, it would start to break into pieces at an altitude of 41 miles and upon reaching the surface would create a crater 2.2 miles in diameter and 5/8 of a mile deep in sedimentary rock.  The results 20 miles away from impact would be that of a 6.4 Richter Scale magnitude Earth quake followed by 176 mph air wind blast which would blow down 90% of the trees and collapse wood frame buildings.  Fortunately asteroid hunters have not discovered any object like Carson's discovery with our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 414 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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415-Well Done


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Published PRX December 7, 2017
Recorded November 25, 2017

Once every 1,435 days , a 780 foot diameter space rock that my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered makes an annihilation defying close approach to our star.  At it's nearest point to the Sun, Carson's well done space rock is traveling at an amazing 93 miles per second and receives 26 times the amount of solar radiation that heats the surface of the planet Mercury to 800F.  After Carson first discovered his heat resistant space rock  traveling towards it's next hot date with the Sun, it was observed by telescopes in New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, and England.  These data allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to calculate it's orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size, and give it the name 2017 TC1. 
 2017 TC1 crosses the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury and can come relatively close to  Jupiter on it's extremely elliptical orbit around the Sun.  It is possible that in the very distant past the giant planet Jupiter's pull on 2017 TC1 sent it on it's current path around the Sun.   In September of 2021, 2017 TC1 will once again be bright enough for asteroid hunters to track as it makes another close approach to our Sun.  At this time astronomers with be able to measure the pattern of colors that 2017 TC1 reflects which will reveal it's surface chemical composition.  Until then we are left to wonder how it is possible for a space rock to survive on such a harrowing path.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 415 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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416-Odd Ball

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Published PRX December 7, 2017
Recorded November 25, 2017

The orbits of the planets are closely aligned with the extension of the Sun's equator into space and are contained within the flattened disk of material which forms the plane solar system.  Most asteroids have orbits with inclinations or tilts to the solar system's plane which are less than 20 degrees.  Thus, when my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny discovered a small space rock which soars into the lonely space high above and below our solar system's plane, it got our attention.  As with all of our asteroid discoveries, Rose had no idea of what kind of object she had discovered with our Schmidt Telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona until it had been tracked by observers around the world.  The Minor Planet Center used the data from 14 different telescopes  to calculate an orbit, estimate a size, and give the new object the name, 2017 TF4.  Rose's odd ball near Earth Apollo asteroid discovery , 2017 TF4,  has an orbit which is tilted by 60 degrees to the plane of our solar system. It's inclination or tilt is greater than 99.5% of the other 8,000 known Earth approaching Apollo asteroids.    2017 TF4, Rose's 260 foot diameter discovery orbits the Sun at about the same distance as the Earth once every 414 days. Perhaps as asteroid hunters discover additional small objects with orbits similar to Rose's discovery we will be able to trace them back to when they were created by a catastrophic collision long ago.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 416 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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417-Red Dwarf Planets


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Published PRX December 14, 2017
Recorded November 26, 2017

Astronomers continue to be delighted when they discover an Earth sized planet. Scientists were thus very disappointed when the red dwarf star hosting the nearest such planet, Proxima b some 4.2 light years away,  turns out to have the nasty habit of emitting bursts of radiation which are likely to sterilize and/or remove the atmospheres of it's family of planets.   Recently, hope of finding a nearby Earth was rekindled when scientists at the European Southern observatory in Chile discovered a small planet circling what appears to be a quiet well behaved red dwarf star 11 light years from us. Astronomers are not yet sure that this newly discovered Earth sized planet lies within it's stars habitable zone where liquid water could exist on it's surface. Jumping the gun,  ET enthusiasts have beamed a friendly message in the direction of another nearby red dwarf planet system.  Their target the super Earth planet, GJ 273b is located some 12.4 light years away near the bright star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major. At this distance a civilization on GJ 273b could have already received a picture of humanity by deciphering 'I love Lucy' and other TV signals it has been picking up for 50 years or so.  The next generation of very large telescopes will allow astronomers to search for the presence of oxygen and other molecules which indicate the presence of life in the atmospheres of nearby worlds.  In the mean time
 we have more reasons to be thankful for what we have here on planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 417 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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418-Fireball II

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Published PRX December 14, 2017
Recorded November 26, 2017

Recently there were four fireball meteors, brighter than the planet Venus, which exploded over Germany, France, Ohio, and Arizona within the space of only 10 hours.  A total of 1320 individuals were treated to light shows and reported their observations to the American Meteor Society.  The one which exploded over Arizona was probably several feet in diameter and entered the Earth's atmosphere over Flagstaff.  This event was observed in Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. It was recorded by numerous electronic security and dashboard cameras and was visible for from 3 to 7 seconds. This meteor also produced a booming sound which was reported by about a dozen different observers. The fireball was last seen over Happy Jack, Arizona and is likely to have produced meteorite fragments which are scattered along Interstate 17 somewhere in the rugged country between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
There are likely to be on the order of 1,000 fireball events over the Earth every day.  Most of them occur over the oceans or during the day and pass unobserved by humans. During the first 10 months of 2017 the most energetic fireball event occurred when a meteoroid entered the Earth's atmosphere at 8.5 miles/second above the ocean between Australia and Antartica.  If you record a fireball with your dash cam or security camera report it to the American Meteor Society.  Your data will be very important in finding out where it came from in the solar system  as well as to indicate where it might be possible to find pieces of it on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 418 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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419-ET's Cigar


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Published PRX December 21, 2017
Recorded December 12, 2017

In 2012 as it crossed the orbit of Neptune heading towards the Sun a small space rock was 250 times fainter than can be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope. Five years later, after it had rounded the Sun, it became visible in asteroid hunter's telescopes for about 16 days, as it streaked across our planet's orbit at 37 miles per second,  as it continued to move away from the Sun. During that brief period of time it was discovered by the PanSTARRS group in Hawaii, tracked by telescopes around the world, and given the name Oumuamua (“Oh-moo-ah-moo-ah”). Turns out that previous to the discovery observations, sightings too sparse to report, were obtained by my team using the Catalina Sky Survey's Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.  In 2024 this unusual space rock will cross Pluto's average distance from the Sun traveling on a path which will take it into deep interstellar space. Since we don't know how Oumuamua  could obtained it's current trajectory from processes in our solar system, it is safe to presume that it originated in truly deep space. The mystery of Oumuamua deepened when astronomers measured it's brightness to change regularly by nearly 10 times over a 7.3 hour period of time. If these brightness variations are due to it's shape, and thus the amount of sun light reflected as it rotates, Oumuamua looks like a cigar.  Even though Elon Musk's SpaceX Mars rocket could catch Oumuamua, it is more cost effective is to simply wait to discover another one of the several interstellar asteroids which pass by us each year. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 419 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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420-Dry Sands

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Published PRX December 21, 2017
Recorded December 12, 2017

The NASA Curiosity Rover has shown us evidence of ancient rivers and bodies of liquid water on the martian surface.  Given it's thin cold atmosphere, seeps of liquid water, presently on the surface of Mars which are capable of hosting microbial life appear to be unlikely.  Scientists were thus surprised when high resolution imaging of the red planet's surface revealed thousands of intriguing dark streaks called RSL on hundreds of rocky slope areas.  These fascinating features slowly extend down hill and grow during the martian warm season,  fade during the colder season, and reappear during the next martian warm period.  On Earth features like these are produced by seeps of liquid water.  However, on Mars a careful study of 151 RSL features at ten different sites using the high resolution camera on NASA's  Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that they occur almost entirely on slopes which are greater than 27 degrees.  This new research published in Nature Geoscience suggests that RSL are composed of solid particles in dry granular flows which unlike water seeps appear to end on many of the dunes when it's slope falls below a critical value.   What makes RSL tick remains a mystery and likely involves small amounts of water trapped from the atmosphere. Currently surface conditions are hostile to life as we know it, however, 
 the possibility of finding evidence of ancient life or perhaps even still existing microbe colonies in deep sub surface pockets of water are reasons to continue to explore our next door neighbor without contaminating it.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 420 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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