Programs 421-450

Travelers In The Night


Image Credit:  NASA


421-New Aten

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Published PRX December 28, 2017
Recorded 
December 12, 2017

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammates Carson Fuls and Greg Lenoard discovered an Aten asteroid which orbits the Sun once every 272 days and on a path that crosses the orbits of Venus and Earth a number of times each year.    Atens account for only about 6% of the Earth approaching asteroids that asteroid hunters discover. They are relatively dim and difficult to discover because they spend most of their time inside the Earth's orbit with their sunlit side facing away from us. For example Carson and Greg's newly discovered asteroid, 2017 WJ16,  is bright enough for asteroid hunters to track for only about 50 nights every couple of years.  It is about 150 feet in diameter and travels on an orbit which can bring it to a bit more than three times the Moon's distance from Earth.  When 2017 WJ16 is closer to the Sun than Earth it travels faster then we do allowing it to catch and just barely cross our orbit as we both travel about the Sun.   In 2020, 2017 WJ16  will make one of it's closer approaches to us when it comes to about less than 5 times the Moon's distance from our home planet.    At that time it will be traveling at 2.9 miles/second relative to us which is well within reach of our current rocket technology.  I suspect that in the future if the pattern of colors which 2017 WJ16 reflects, reveals a high metal or water content humans will mine it to construct and operate their colonies in space.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 421 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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422-Almost Dangerous

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Published PRX December 28, 2017
Recorded 
December XX, 2017

At about 4 AM on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona I was observing, in the constellation of Cancer, with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope when I came across a rapidly moving point of light in the predawn sky.  After I reported my discovery observations on the Minor Planet Centers Near Earth Object Confirmation page,  this previously unknown object was tracked by telescopes in Tenerife, New Mexico, Arizona, and Italy and given the name 2017 VV14. To be classified as Potentially Hazardous an asteroid must be greater than 448 feet in diameter and have an orbit which comes closer to ours than 5% of the Earth's distance from the Sun.  With an estimated diameter of 2,500 feet 2017 VV14 is large enough, however,  it misses being classified as being potentially hazardous since it's orbit misses coming close enough to ours by only 3,000 miles.  When I first spotted 2017 VV14, it had crossed the orbit of Mars traveling at 7.7 mi/s and was on it's way to a point three quarters of Jupiter's distance from the Sun which it will reach in April of 2019.  After that it will head back into the inner solar system. In 2020 this large space rock will pass closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury  traveling at an amazing 43 miles per second.  To survive such a harrowing close pass to the Sun 2017 VV14 must be made of metallic rocky material and could be of interest to asteroid miners.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 422 for more information.
© 2017 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2017 A. D. Grauer



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423-Silent ET

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Published PRX January 4, 2018
Recorded 
December 17, 2018

Oumuamua (“Oh-moo-ah-moo-ah”) is the asteroid that zipped by the Earth on a trajectory that started beyond our solar system in truly deep space.  After rounding our Sun at 97,000 mi/hr this unusual space rock will continue onward into deep interstellar space.  The fact that this reddish object's brightness changes by a factor of 10 every 7.3 hours has been interpreted as being due to an elongated rocket or cigar shape which reflects different amounts of sun light in our direction as it tumbles through space.  This strange space rock appears to be about 730 feet long  and about 100 feet wide. Oumuamua's interstellar path and unusual shape prompted Breakthrough Listen Scientists to use the 300 foot diameter, 8,000 ton,  Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope to see if  Oumuamua is emitting radio signals which could indicate that it is some type of artifact or spacecraft which passed through our solar system to check it out.   Preliminary analysis of several hours of data with a cluster super computers do not reveal any signals of artificial origin even though this instrument could detect a cell phone at the space rock's distance in about a minute.  Care is being taken to to reject signals which could be of human origin as well as those which are not consistent with Oumuamua's speed and location.   The hypothesis that this interstellar space rock is an alien probe is pretty farfetched, however, how it came to have it's current shape is almost equally hard to imagine.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 423 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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424-Long Winter Nights


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Published PRX January 4, 2018
Recorded 
December 17, 2018

Winter nights can be exhausting, productive, as well as sometimes frustrating for asteroid hunters.  At the Sixty Inch Telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, near winter solstice,  the night's observing starts at 6:30 PM and continues till after 6 AM which combined with start up and end tasks makes the asteroid hunter's work "day" more than 13 hours long.  On such a recent long winter work night, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Carson Fuls discovered an impressing total of 18 new Earth approaching objects.  On the other hand on the next 3 night shift, I was treated to one night which was clear followed by two nights which were dominated by the first big snow storm of the season.  The best nights are clear, cold, and calm with asteroid images which are small intense points of light.  Such a night is said to have good seeing.   Nights which are clear but have bad seeing with fuzzy star and asteroid images due to atmospheric turbulence and high winds makes the discovery of faint objects virtually impossible.  High winds can and do shake the telescope producing double images of every object.  Nights which consist of sporadic clear holes in the clouds also yield few new discoveries.  Fishing what we call "sucker holes" in the clouds is very frustrating since it is hard to verify a new discovery under such conditions.  Then there are the nights which are perfectly clear but we have to keep the dome closed because of the snow on it.  Then there are those nights which are clear with good seeing from start to finish on which the asteroid hunter makes new discoveries while being treated to views of millions of stars, gas clouds, and galaxies which inspire a child like sense of wonder.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 424 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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425-Greg's Comet

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Published PRX January 11, 2018
Recorded January
 6, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was searching for Earth approaching objects with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he discovered an interesting new comet moving through the constellation of Leo.  After Greg posted his discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Confirmation Page it was observed over the next 3 weeks by 10 different observatories around the world.  These data were used to calculate the details of the new object's  51 year path around the Sun and give it the name Comet C/2017 W2 (Leonard) .   Greg's newly discovered comet's orbital plane is almost at a right angle to paths of the planets and most of the asteroids so that it spends most of it's time in the lonely space high above or far below the rest of the members of our solar system.  Riding with Comet C/2017 W2 (Leonard) would bring a space traveler into the inner solar system about once per human lifetime.   Greg's comet receives only mild solar heating since at it's closest it is about 3 times further from the Sun than we are making it unlikely to ever be bright for human observers.  At it's furthest from the Sun, Comet Leonard is in a very cold region, receives less  than 1% solar energy than we do, and and likely to have a surface temperature of about -300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Greg's comet is likely to remain as it is for eons since it spends so much of it's time far from the Sun and the gravitational tugs of most of the rest of the members of our solar system.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 425 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer





426-Rose Rules Again

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Published PRX January 11, 2018
Recorded January
 6, 2018

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny discovered 8 new Earth approaching object candidates on a single night with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona. One of them, 2017 YO is a mile and a half diameter, main belt asteroid, while the other 7 are interesting Earth approaching objects.   Another one of Rose's single night discoveries is 2017 YM1.  When Rose first spotted it this space rock was moving rapidly north, at 6.9 miles per second, away from the Earth in the constellation of Ursae Major.  About 5 days earlier it had passed near both the Earth and Our Moon at which time it was too far south to be seen from Arizona.  This space rock is about 92 feet in diameter, orbits the Sun once every 2.25 years, and can come to less than a tenth of the Moon's distance from us.  2017 YM1 is about 1.5 times larger than the Chelyabinsk (Shell ya binsk) meteor which in 2013 broke many thousands of windows and injured 1,200 people.  According to Perdue University's impact calculator, a space rock like 2017 YM1 enters the Earth's atmosphere once every hundred years or so with an energy of 250 kilotons of TNT, explodes into a cloud of fragments at about 73,000 feet, rains pieces onto the ground, and produces a sonic boom that would get your attention as it breaks a lot of windows.  Asteroid hunter's goal is to discover any such impactor days before it enters the Earth's atmosphere so that people 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 426 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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427-Meteor Whispers 

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Published PRX January 18, 2018
Recorded January
 6, 2018

Often observers report hearing a percussive sound, like a sonic boom from an aircraft, minutes after viewing a bright meteor fireball.  In addition, in a fewer number of instances, there are many reliable reports of observers hearing popping, hissing, and rustling sounds at the same time they are observing a very bright meteor traveling though the night sky.  Professional astronomers have long dismissed these reports saying that what these people hear simultaneously with their visual observations cannot be due to to sound traveling from the meteors path since sound travels 800,000 times slower than light and would take 1.5 to 4 minutes to traverse the distance that the light does in a tiny fraction of a second.  Recent scientific studies have begun to shed light on the interesting mystery of how the small number of what we now call electrophonic meteors produce simultaneous light and sound. One theory is that the flickering bright light produced in the meteor's path is absorbed by by hair or other material near the observer's ears producing acoustic sound waves. An alternate hypothesis is that as the meteor streaks through our atmosphere it ionizes air molecules whose motion in the Earth's magnetic field generates radio waves which travel to objects near to the observer causing them to vibrate and thus produce sound.  Either way observers with large amounts of hair or those near metallic objects like barbed wire fences are the most likely to hear these strange unusual sounds.  If you are lucky you could hear a meteor's dying whispers and could even be the first person to record these sounds on your cell phone.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 427 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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428-Phaethon 

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To be Published PRX January 18, 2018
Recorded January
 6, 2018

The mysterious Earth approaching object Phaethon (FAY-eh-thon) does not fit neatly into our definition of either an asteroid or a comet.  Further it appears to be like the Peanuts character Pigpen in that it leaves a trail of dust and other fine debris in it's wake which in the case of 
Phaethon produces the Geminid Meteor Shower to delight us every year around Christmas time.  Phaethon is amazing in that every 524 days it makes a death defying flight to a point less than one of half of the planet Mercury's distance from the Sun, where it's surface temperature reaches a mind boggling 1,200 Fahrenheit.  During one of these events the NASA Stereo Spacecraft A discovered that Phaethon had rock dust tail.

During it's close approach to Earth in December of 2017 the Arecibo Observatory, having just recovered from hurricane Maria, used the unique combination of it's giant 1,000 foot diameter dish and RADAR transmitting capability to ping Phaethon to obtain images with the RADAR signals it reflected back to us.  These data reveal that Phaethon is roughly spherical, about 3.6 miles in diameter, has a several football field sized crater near it's leading edge, and a dark area near one of it's poles.    By studying the second largest Potentially Hazardous asteroid Phaethon, as well as scores of other potentially dangerous Earth approaching objects, the Arecibo Observatory is an important global asset in humans efforts to prepare for the day when asteroid hunters discover an object with our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 428 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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429-2017's Catch

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Published PRX January 25, 2018
Recorded January
 20, 2018

In 2017 my team the Catalina Sky Survey led the world in the discovery of Earth approaching objects by identifying 987 of them as they whizzed by us.  The largest is 2017 DO36 which is 3,250 feet in diameter while the smallest, 2017 UL6, is less than 5 feet in diameter.    None of the 987 are likely to strike the Earth anytime soon although 17 of them can theoretically come closer to the Earth's surface than the communication satellites.  45 of our 2017 asteroid discoveries are large enough and can theoretically come close enough for NASA to designate them as Potentially Hazardous so that asteroid hunters will keep close track of them as they pass near to other objects in space. Fortunately none of these potentially dangerous neighbors will impact the Earth for hundreds of years.  Earth approaching asteroids range  from loose collections of dust and rocks to solid metallic objects.  21 of our 2017 discoveries must be very tough rocky metallic objects since they regularly survive on paths which take them closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury.  Some of the nearly 300, 10 to 70 foot diameter asteroids my team discovered in 2017 could contain hundreds of pounds of rare metals like gold and platinum. Unfortunately asteroid hunters do not have access to the large expensive telescopes required to measure the pattern of colors in the light each asteroid we discover reflects from the Sun.  If we did  we could provide you with a treasure map of which ones to mine.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 429 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



430-Deportee

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Published PRX January 25, 2018
Recorded January
 20, 2018

The beautiful star cluster the Pleiades in the constellation of Tauris is about 100 million years old making it one of the youngest objects that you can see in the natural night sky.   Looking a bit like a little dipper this prominent group of stars has been recognized in cultures as diverse as the Aboriginal Australians, Celts, Arabs, Chinese, Japanese, Aztec, Cherokee, Hindus, as well as those of the Bible.    In 2017 astronomers discovered something  about the Pleiades to ignite the imagination of modern humans.
Data obtained by observing Oumuamua (“Oh-moo-ah-moo-ah”),  the first object humans have identified which is definitely from outside of our solar system suggests that it is an icy body with a red, rock appearing shell, of carbon rich organic material.  By tracing Omuamua's path for millions of years into the past, Dr. Fabo Feng of the University of Hertfordshire , found that it's slow speed in the vicinity of 5 stars in the Pleiades suggests that it was ejected from one of them.  Additional scientific research finds that close double stars are common in the Pleiades while another suggests that Oumuamua may be a fragment from a planet which was torn apart in a close binary star system.   It is likely that in the next few years asteroid hunters will detect more objects traveling through our solar system giving scientists additional opportunities to measure their compositions and research their origins.  In the meantime check out the Pleiades with your unaided eye,  binoculars or a small telescope and contemplate the messengers it might be sending our way. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 430 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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431-Tough Space Rocks

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Published PRX February 1, 2018
Recorded January
 21, 2018

Most small asteroids are likely to be rubble piles of small rocks and dust loosely held together by their weak force of gravity while others may be made of ices of various substances.  A few are solid objects which may contain metals like iron and nickel as well as gold, silver, and platinum. As they whiz by us it is hard to tell much about them from their overall brightness and distance from us.  In 2017 my team the Catalina Sky Survey found 21 asteroids having an average diameter of 750 feet which pass closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury.  They must be made of very tough rocky material since they regularly receive more solar energy than heats the surface of Mercury to 800F. Over the centuries this repeated baking has likely removed all of their water and other volatile materials leaving only rocky metallic minerals.  The largest of this group of tough guys is the half mile in diameter asteroid 2017 VV14 which orbits the Sun once every 3.4 years and can come to about 20 times the Moon's distance from us.  The smallest is the 30 foot diameter tiny asteroid 2017 RQ17 which orbits the Sun once every 214 days on a path that brings it close to Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Our Moon.  Based on known terrestrial deposits many of the key elements required for modern industry and food production such as phosphorus, antimony, silver, gold, and copper could be exhausted on Earth in the next 50 to 60 years.  Perhaps in the future humans will mine tough asteroids for the materials they need.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 431 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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432-Close Space Rocks

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Published PRX February 1, 2018
Recorded January
 28, 2018

In 2017 my team the Catalina Sky Survey discovered 17 space rocks that can come closer than the communication satellites to the surface of planet Earth.  Three quarters of them are less than 50 feet in diameter and would produce a harmless exciting light show if they ever enter our atmosphere.  Another very close approaching asteroid, 2017 YZ1, is a different story.  It was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls using our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona and on it's present path can theoretically come to about 30,000 miles from the surface of planet Earth.  Fortunately asteroid hunters are sure that it will not impact the Earth in the next few hundred years.  An asteroid like 2017 YZ1 strikes the Earth every 66,000 years or so releasing the energy 7 large hydrogen bombs.  According to the Purdue University Impact Calculator, if 2017 YZ1 were to be made of dense rock and entered our atmosphere at about 7 miles per second it would make a crater about 2 miles in diameter and 1,500 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  If you were 100 miles away from ground zero,  32 seconds after impact it would feel like a Richter Scale 6.3 magnitude Earth quake.   Eight minutes later you would experience a 15 mph breeze and a sound as loud as heavy traffic. Rest easy, there are no known asteroids currently on a collision course with Earth.  Additionally, my team the Catalina Sky Survey scans the sky with 4 telescopes to discover any space rocks coming our way.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 432 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



433-Tiniest Space Rock

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Published PRX February 8, 2018
Recorded January
 28, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny gets the prize for the smallest of the 987 Earth approaching objects our team discovered in 2017.  When Rose first spotted 2017 UL6, her 4 foot 6 inch diameter baby space rock, it was 478,000 miles away in the constellation of Pisces traveling in our direction at 4.5 miles per second.  Thirty hours later it safely passed less than 2 Earth diameters from the surface of our home planet. Four hours after that it was too dim for asteroid hunters to track as it continued to move away from the Earth with it dark side facing us.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator an asteroid the size of Rose's discovery, 2017 UL6, enters the Earth's atmosphere about once a year, has an energy equivalent to several thousand pounds of TNT, and bursts into a cloud of fragments at an altitude of about 120,000 feet.  If it is made out of dense rock it not make a crater, however, some sizable pieces are likely to reach the Earth's surface.  If you witnessed it's impact at night it would produce a fireball meteor and perhaps a loud booming sound. In 2017 our team found four other small asteroids less than 10 feet in diameter which passed even closer to us than Rose's baby space rock.  2018 may be the year when asteroid hunter's find a small space rock on a collision course with Earth.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 433 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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434-Biggest Space Rock


Published PRX February 8, 2018
Recorded January
 28, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls wins the prize for finding the largest of the 987 Earth approaching asteroids which our team discovered in 2017.   When Carson first spotted his discovery, this huge space rock was a relatively faint point of light, 123 million miles away, moving in the constellation of Leo Minor. It was tracked by asteroid hunters for 95 hours.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center were able to calculate it's orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size to be 3,250 feet in diameter, and give it the name 2017 DO36.   Fortunately on it's current path 2017 DO36 never gets closer to the Earth than about 75 times the Moon's distance from us.  An asteroid  it's size strikes the Earth every 500,000 years or so creating a crater 8 miles in diameter and 2,100 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  If it struck in water, 2,000 feet deep, 62 miles from the shore line, an asteroid the size of 2017 DO36 would create a Tsunami 300 feet high.   Carson's huge space rock, 2017 DO36, has a surface area of 770 acres enough for a small space ranch.   Perhaps when it comes to about 75 times the Moon's distance in 2183 and 2190 humans will visit it for it's water and mineral content.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 434 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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435-Number 31

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To be Published PRX February 15, 2018
Recorded January
 28, 2018

Asteroids appear as moving points of light in an asteroid hunter's images so that when my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs spotted a fuzzy moving object he immediately suspected it to be a comet. The data obtained by astronomers over the next 8 days enabled scientists at the Minor Planet Center to verify Alex's 31st comet discovery and give it the name C/2018 A6 (Gibbs).  In January of 2018 it was in the constellation of Leo traveling from the vast empty space above the Sun's north pole toward the plane of the solar system which contains all of the planets and most of the asteroids.  In March of 2018 Comet C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) will cross the plane of the solar system a bit farther from the Sun than the giant planet Jupiter's orbit.  After that it will continue on a wide arcing parabolic path, pass under the Sun's south pole in the summer of 2019,  and once again cross the plane of the solar system in February of 2021.  After that it will continue into the vast empty space above the Sun's north pole from whence it came.   How a comet brightens as it approaches the Sun is difficult to predict. With luck humans will be able to spot Comet C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) with their naked eye, binoculars, or a small telescope as it pays a rare visit to our planet's neighborhood. Stay tuned.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 435 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




436-Lonely Asteroids

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To be Published PRX February 15, 2018
Recorded January
 28, 2018

Most asteroids are located in the lonely space between Mars and Jupiter where the average distance between two asteroids is about 600,000 miles.  Even though there is a tremendous space between asteroids they occasionally collide and pieces of them become Earth approaching objects.  Most of them remain close to the plane of the solar system, however, a few  are sent on paths which take them into the extremely lonely space high above and far below the orbits of the planets about the Sun.  In 2017, my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, discovered 13 of these loneliest asteroids whose paths are tilted more than 45 degrees to the plane of the solar system.  They have an average diameter about 4 times larger than that of the 987 asteroids we discovered in 2017.  Even though 13 is a small sample it is interesting to speculate what this size difference could mean.  In 2013, astronomers used the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to discover that main belt asteroids with orbits which are highly inclined to the plane of the solar system tend to be larger and made of stronger materials than those asteroids which reside in the plane of the solar system.  They attribute these differences to the collisions which must have occurred to send asteroids into highly inclined orbits about the Sun. If this result applies to the lonely near Earth asteroids we discovered then perhaps they are made of very strong materials and could be of particular interest to asteroid miners.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 436 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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437-Christmas Comet

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Published PRX February 22, 2018
Recorded February 20, 2018

On December 25, 2017, while searching for Earth approaching asteroids in the constellation of Virgo, the Universe gave my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard a Christmas present in the form of a comet which now bears his name. Comet P/2017 Y3 (Leonard) orbits the Sun once every 31 years on a highly elliptical path which takes it from between the orbits of Earth and Mars out to almost the planet Uranus's average distance from the Sun. Since it has been observed for only a very short piece of it's path about the Sun, it is not possible to accurately predict Comet Leonard's location very far into the future. In 2017 and 2018 it appeared as a faint fuzzy point of light in the night sky and never came came closer than about 150 million miles from Earth. Comet Leonard's next visit to our neighborhood will be in 2033 or 2034. At some point in the future it's orbit could bring much closer to Earth as it comes into the inner solar system about twice every human lifetime. Greg's comet is classified as a Halley family comet and although it is difficult to predict how a comet will brighten as it approaches the Sun, it is unlikely that it will ever become as bright as it's famous cousin. That situation could change when Comet Leonard comes near the giant planet Jupiter. In the past Jupiter has sent Comets in our direction or ejected them from the solar system. Only time will tell.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 437 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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438-Bright Darkness

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Published PRX February 22, 2018
Recorded February 
 20, 2018

Most of the humans on planet Earth have never witnessed that the natural night sky is not dark; but rather it is alive with it's own lights.    To see for yourself, pick a dark sky place near you like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary from the International Dark Sky Association's website, darksky.org, and recruit a friend. Do a bit of research on how to achieve and sustain your night vision.  Bring a red filtered flashlight, reclining lawn chair,  star maps, binoculars, warm clothes, a telescope if you have one, and snacks.  Keep on the look out for special events.  The American Meteor Society's  website will let you know when to expect meteor showers.  Most humans have never seen the glowing light pyramid called the Zodiacal light which is produced by ice particles and dust in the solar system.  In the northern hemisphere it is prominent in the evening sky in February, March and April. During the same months it lights up the predawn sky in the southern hemisphere.  Star clusters scattered around the sky can be enjoyed with binoculars or a small telescope. New Moon's from May through October will provide you opportunities to explore the Milky Way with your naked eye or pair of binoculars. This adventure will fill you with wonder at what might be out there. Last but not least Mars will dominate the night sky during much of 2018 as it and the Earth come near to each other.  For a time in late July of 2018 Mars will even outshine the giant planet Jupiter in the night sky.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 438 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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439-Big and Close

Published March 1 , 2018
Recorded 
 February 20, 2017

Using our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was searching for Earth approaching asteroids in the constellation of Virgo when he discovered a moving point of light which had suddenly appeared and was about 40 times brighter than is typical for a near Earth asteroid. 75 hours later, scientists at the Minor Planet Center used data from 17 different observatories around the globe to calculate it's orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size to be 630 feet in diameter, and give it the name 2018 BT6.    Three weeks before Richard discovered 2018 BT6, it was very dim with less than 1% of it's illuminated side facing us as it came from the direction of the Sun giving humans little advance notice as it approached us at a speedy 16.4 mi/s.   In 2018 this relatively large space rock came to about 18 times the Moon's distance from us. In the future it's orbit can bring it to about 0.6 of the Moon's distance from us.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, one it's size impacts the Earth every 300,000 years or so creating a crater in sedimentary rock 7 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep.  Fortunately 2018 BT6 will not strike the Earth in the foreseeable future, however, it's discovery presents us with the fact that currently humans would have little advance warning of the impact of a relatively large space rock if it approached us from the direction of our Sun.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 439 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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440-Tracking Elon's Car

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Published March 1 , 2018
Recorded 
February 20, 2018

Elon Musk decided not to use a traditional mundane concrete block dummy payload for the first launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle to test his rockets lifting capabilities.  After orbiting the Earth for 5 hours a third burn by the Falcon second stage placed a 2,750 pound payload consisting of a 2008 Tesla Roadster, Starman mannequin, Hot Wheels toy model roadster, electronic copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, and plaque etched with the names of more than 6,000 Space X employees into orbit around the Sun. Surrealistic video from a camera mounted ahead of this unusual spacecraft showed the red roadster and its dummy pilot with the Earth in the background.  My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard joined with astronomers around the world in tracking starman and his booster rocket.  The JPL Horizons Software system used 269 such ground-based optical astrometric observations spanning Feb 8 through 13 of 2018 to determine that Tesla and Starman will cross the orbit of Mars on July 31, 2018 and reach it's furthest distance from the Sun on November 9, 2018 before coming back to it's closest point about the Sun near the Earth's orbit on August 14, 2019.  After that Starman and Tesla  will continue to orbit the Sun for millions of years to come as a physical testament to human ingenuity and our sense of humor.    

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 440 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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441-Carson's Pair

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Published March 8 , 2018
Recorded March
 5, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls was observing, in the constellation Lynx, with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona , when within the space of only 35 minutes, he discovered two small space rocks well before they made very close approaches to Earth. 79 hours after Carson discovered the first, 2018 CB, this approximately 70 foot diameter space rock passed about 1/5 of the Moon's distance from us. Turns out that the second of Carson's duo, an approximately 50 foot diameter space rock got near us first, when 62 hours after Carson discovered 2018 CC, it came to less than 1/2 of the Moon's distance from the surface of planet Earth.  Since we didn't have a large enough, properly equipped telescope to measure the pattern of colors each of Carson's discoveries reflects from the Sun we can only estimate their physical sizes and guess at their densities and chemical compositions. In any event, if either of these space rocks were to strike the Earth they would likely explode at an altitude about 100,000 feet above the Earth's surface, releasing the energy of tens of thousands of pounds of TNT, producing a spectacular light show.  Both of Carson's discoveries could be similar to the space rock which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia breaking windows, injuring nearly 1,500 people, and producing numerous fragments which made it to the ground.   If either of Carson's discoveries had been on an impact trajectory with Earth, asteroid hunters would have had time to warn people in the effected area to stay away from doors and windows.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 441 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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442-Brian's Debut

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Published March 8 , 2018
Recorded March
 5, 2018

During the only 3 clears hours of his first night solo as an asteroid hunter, my new Catalina Sky Survey teammate Brian Africano discovered two new Earth approaching asteroids with our Schmidt Telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.  Brian came to us with a rich family and work history in astronomy and has quickly learned the additional skills required to make space rock discoveries. Brian's first discovery of the night, 2018 DR is small.  In only about 20 hours of observations asteroid hunters determined that it is no threat to us.  Brian's second discovery of the night 2018 DG1 is a different story. Since it is almost 300 feet in diameter, astronomers at 18 different observatories around the world stayed on it for more than 68 hours, after Brian posted his discovery observations, to determine a reasonable orbit for it.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an asteroid the size of 2018 DG1 strikes the Earth every 2,300 years or so releasing the energy of 19 million tons of TNT.  Such an impactor would likely burst into fragments at an altitude of 14,000 feet and not make a crater even though some large pieces of it could make it to the ground for meteorite enthusiasts to find. Fortunately, Brian's discovery, 2018 DG1, will not impact the Earth in the foreseeable future and will not come very close to us again until September of 2170, when it will pass about one and a quarter million miles from humanity.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 442 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




443-Unsung Heroes


Published March 15 , 2018
Recorded March
 5, 2018

When asteroid hunters find a moving point of light in the night sky they have no idea of what the object is or where it might be located without additional observations. The situation is similar to the fact that you can't tell if a basketball will go through the hoop when it has only traveled a foot from the shooter's hand, you need to see more of it's path. Often in the media, the observer or group which first discovers an object is prominently mentioned, however, in almost every case we wouldn't have a clue about what the object might be without accurate follow up observations by unmentioned observers around the world. For example, in 2017 observers in 50 countries at 440 different observatories made nearly 19 million observations of asteroids and comets which enable scientists to calculate where about 800,000 objects will be in the future. Additionally, scientists at the Minor Planet Center have the sometimes thankless job of keeping track of all of these data. Finally without the group of scientists at JPL's Center for Near Earth Object Studies and independent scientists like Francesco Manca at the Sormano Observatory in Italy who use observations to calculate when objects make close approaches to our Earth and Moon we would have no idea about what is going on in our neighborhood.  NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office funds most of the discovery activities and is the main reason we know about objects which are coming near to Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 443 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


444-Near Comets


Published March 15 , 2018
Recorded March
 5, 2018

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered one of the  only, one hundred of the nearly 18,000 Earth approaching objects which are known to be comets.   Comet,  C/2017 Y3 (Leonard), orbits the Sun once every 31 years on a path which can bring it to about 191 times the Moon's distance from us. It is unlikely to come any closer unless it passes near to Jupiter or Saturn in the far distant future.  Although no comet nucleus impact on the Earth has been conclusively identified, there is some evidence that suggests the 1908 Tunguska event in Russia, which knocked down trees over a 770 square mile area, could have been caused by a fragment of Comet Encke.  However there is no doubt that the Earth's collision with dust and small debris left trailing from comets produces some of the meteor showers we enjoy so much.   Comet Temple-Tuttle came closer than 9 times the Moon's distance from Earth in 1366 and has left behind a trail of debris which we know as the November Leonid meteor shower. In 1966 it produced meteor storm during which people saw as many as 40 meteors a second.    Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle orbits the Sun once every one hundred and thirty years  leaving a trail of debris causing the Perseid meteor shower.  Look for the Perseids to peak in the early morning hours of August 12-13, 2018. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 444 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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445-Not So Secret


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Published March 22 , 2018
Recorded March 15, 2018


The Catalina Sky Survey has led the world in the discovery of Earth approaching objects for eleven of the past thirteen years. Recently, at an annual NASA Office of Planetary Defense Conference, which included our primary competitor, the PanSTARRS group in Hawaii, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Rob Seaman presented the details of some of the not so secret keys to our success. 
Often, in the hours after it's discovery, an unknown object becomes fainter and without additional followup observations it's position becomes more uncertain making it likely to be lost, perhaps only to be rediscovered at some point in the future.  Computers shine in using algorithms to identify and sort through massive quantities of data while humans excel at pattern recognition.  At the Catalina Sky Survey we combine excellent identification software with highly competent observers at the telescope to identify, verify, and  quickly report new discoveries to the Minor Planet Center so that they can be followed up during the night of their discovery. This rapid reporting also allows the NASA Scout Software to identify objects which are likely to pass very near or even strike Earth.   Additionally,  our team led the pack in 2017 by making more than six million followup observations of objects to improve the knowledge of their future locations.   A partnership of humans and computers will help to minimize the damage when asteroid hunters find a space rock with our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 445 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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446-Asteroid Homestead

Published March 22 , 2018
Recorded March
 15, 2018

If history is a guide, today's science fiction may soon become science reality.
Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Vehicle which propelled spaceman and his Tesla roadster into orbit around the sun has liberated our imagination.  In the future one can envision a space mining family boarding a descendent of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Vehicle for a a trip into low Earth orbit.  A few hundred miles above the Earth's surface they would rendezvous with their asteroid mining spacecraft which will be their home for the next five years or so.  Their hydrogen and oxygen fueled rocket vehicle would then propel them into a solar orbit designed to bring them near an Earth approaching asteroid which has been selected for it's water and mineral content. Upon arriving at their asteroid homestead they would gently touch down and attach their vehicle firmly to it.  A light weight solar collector will generate electricity for them and also will be used to separate the asteroid's water into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen-oxygen rocket fuel for their return voyage.  Some small asteroids are likely to contain metals like nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, gold, magnesium and osmium which if our asteroid miners are lucky will pay for their efforts. This flight of fancy has an increasing possibility of reality to me since my former Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rose Matheny has taken a job to choreograph NASA's OSIRIS-REx's sample and return mission to the asteroid Bennu.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 446 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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447-Nuking An Asteroid

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Published March 30 , 2018
Recorded March 29, 2018

Tonight, even though the chances are extremely slim, an asteroid hunter could find a sizable asteroid on a collision course with planet Earth. Since the Earth travels one of it's diameters every 425 seconds advancing or delaying an impactor's arrival, by times in this range, would cause it go in front of or behind the Earth missing humanities' home. To effect such a change we need to know the incoming object's physical properties and the length of time before the predicted impact. The asteroid Bennu (Ben You), which is the target of NASA's OSIRIUS-REx spacecraft's sample and return mission, is about 1,600 feet in diameter and has about a 1 in 24,000 chance of striking the Earth sometime in 2175. It's properties could be typical of some of our closest celestial neighbors. The data from OSIRUS-REx's visit will allow astronomers to calibrate data taken on an unknown much more dangerous asteroid if and when we find it. If we have decades warning, the potential impactor's arrival time could be changed by impacting the dangerous object with a high velocity mass or if we have less time we will need to nuke it which will either blow it to bits or give it a rocket like push. NASA is designing a HAMMER spacecraft which could perform such a mission while in the meantime asteroid hunters are trying find potential impactors to give us as much lead time as possible. Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 447 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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448-Two PHA's


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Published March 30 , 2018
Recorded March 29, 2018

Within the space of only 6.5 hours my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered two asteroids which are large enough and can come close enough for NASA to classify them as Potentially Hazardous. Both of Rich's asteroid discoveries are about 600 feet in diameter. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an asteroid of this size range enters the Earth's atmosphere every 15,000 years or so, starts to break up at an altitude of 215,000 feet, and ultimately creates a crater a mile in diameter and 1,000 feet deep. If you were 25 miles away, 2 minutes after such an asteroid crashed into the ground you would hear a loud noise and feel a 22 mph wind.  About 6 minutes after that you would experience seismic shaking equivalent to a 5.4 magnitude earthquake.  Fortunately neither of Rich's asteroid discoveries will strike the Earth or even come closer than about 9 times the distance to our Moon in the foreseeable future.  Even though nearly 1,900 Earth approaching objects are classified as Potentially Hazardous,  you should not worry about them since even though many of them will strike the Earth in the far distant future none will do so in the next few hundred years. What keeps my team, the Catalina Sky Survey going to our 3 telescopes in the mountains north of Tucson, Arizona,  24 nights per month,  are those potentially impacting objects that we don't know about.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 448 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




449-Cloud 7


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Published April 5 , 2018
Recorded March 29, 2018

To give you an idea of the asteroid traffic in our neighborhood, on a mostly cloudy night, through holes in the clouds, in a space of less than 2 hours, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski posted 7 new close approaching asteroid discoveries on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  The six which received followup observations from telescopes around the globe range in size from 43 to 394 feet in diameter and travel about the Sun with orbital periods between 275 and 960 days in duration.  Eight days earlier, one of them had been imaged, but went unnoticed, by our primary asteroid hunting competitor, the PanSTARRS group, in Hawaii.  Only one of Richard's discoveries was lost due to the cloudy weather which prevented it from being tracked long enough to enable astronomers to clearly define it's path around the Sun. About a week after Richard discovered the smallest of the six, 2018 ED9, this 43 foot diameter space rock passed about two times the Earth-Moon distance from both the Earth and our Moon.  2018 ED9 is smaller than the Chelyabinsk (Shell Ya Binsk) meteor whose atmospheric explosion injured nearly 1,500 people in Russia in February of 2013. One the size of 2018 ED9  enters the Earth's atmosphere every 23 years or so, bursts into a cloud of fragments at an altitude of 88,000 feet, and produces a loud boom and a light show. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 449 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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450-Saint Patrick's Day Comet


Published April 5 , 2018
Recorded March 29, 2018

On Saint Patrick's Day, while searching for Earth approaching asteroids with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona I spotted a slightly enlarged star like object with a tiny tail moving through the constellation of Virgo.  After checking to see that it was not a known comet, I sent my discovery observations along with a description of it's coma and tail to the Minor Planet Center.  Turns out that it had been observed as a moving point of light, but not noticed to be a comet, by the PanSTARRS group in Hawaii 3 month's earlier.  Given the PanSTARRS historical observations along with those from other observatories around the world it only took scientists at the Minor Planet Center 2 days of additional observations to verify it to be a newly discovered comet.  Since the naming rules state that a comet should be named after the first observer that identified it to be a comet it was given the C/2018 F1 (Grauer).  In December of 2018 and July of 2019 Comet C/2018 F1 (Grauer), which I share with my wife Annie Grauer, will be closest to Earth on it's 5,555 year orbital path about our Sun.  Unfortunately it is not likely to be visible to the unaided eye, appearing only as faint moving comet in the night sky on electronic camera images, leaving us to speculate on the condition of humanity when Comet C/2018 F1 (Grauer) returns in the year 7573 AD.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 450 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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