Programs 451-480


451-Going Far


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Published April 12 , 2018
Recorded April 8, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson was very surprised when the large comet with a long stringy tail, which he has just imaged with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, was an unknown object.  Jess quickly emailed his discovery observations along with a description of the comet's coma and tail to the Minor Planet Center.  Over the next eight days astronomers at 11 different observatories around the world tracked Jess's new comet.  Scientists at the Minor Planet used these data to calculate it's path around the Sun, verify it to be a comet,  and give it the name C/2018 F3 (Johnson).  We now know that Comet C/2018 F3 (Johnson) had crossed the orbit of Pluto in 1997 and had reached it's closest point to the Sun 217 days previous to Jess's discovery observations.  Further, about two weeks before Jess spotted it , moving through the constellation of Leo, Comet 2018 F3 (Johnson) had streaked unnoticed past the Earth.  Unfortunately Jess's comet is likely to be visible only in electronic camera images and in 2037  will once again cross Pluto's average distance from the Sun on a path which will take it into truly deep space.  Until a few years ago all of the comets human astronomers had observed originated in the  distant regions of our solar system, the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud .  Perhaps  C/2018 F3 (Johnson)  is an interstellar visiting Comet and is thus a sample of a place currently beyond our reach.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 451 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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452-Small But Deadly


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Published April 12 , 2018
Recorded April 8, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard's discovery of, 2018 FO5, a three football field diameter asteroid that can come closer than our Moon is a reminder that we need to keep searching for the many thousands of Potentially Hazardous asteroids larger than 500 feet in diameter which are likely to exist.  An asteroid the size of Greg's discovery, 2018 FO5, strikes the Earth every 50,000 years or so creating a crater 2 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep.   Structures 10 miles from such an impact would experience a 283 mph wind causing multistory and wood framed buildings to collapse. The ground would shake as in a magnitude 6 earthquake and 90 percent of the trees in the area are likely to be blown down by the air blast.  This extremely remote possibility is the reason for NASA's goal to find the 15,000 or so such city threatening  asteroids which are suspected to exist.  At our current rate of discovery it will take asteroid hunters decades to achieve this goal.  Currently there are only a few hundred people world wide looking for such dangerous asteroids.  My 11 member team, the Catalina Sky Survey discovered 43 of 118  dangerous asteroids which were found in 2017. To move at a faster pace we will need more telescopes and more asteroid hunters to operate them. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 452 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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453-HAMMER

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Published April 19 , 2018
Recorded  April 14, 2018

Moving at about 70,000 mph on it's path about the Sun, the Earth travels the distance one of it's diameters, every 7 minutes.  Theoretically, If an asteroid on a collision course with our planet could be slowed sufficiently it could be made to pass behind our planet as it orbits the Sun.   In a recent scientific paper, NASA funded scientists carefully analyze how a conceptual spacecraft called HAMMER might be used to deflect the 1,600 foot diameter, 86 million ton,  asteroid, Bennu,  which has a 1 in 2,700 chance of impacting our planet in 2135 and is soon to be visited by the NASA OSIRUS-REx spacecraft on a sample and return mission.  These researcher's mathematical analysis using a number of HAMMER hypothetical spacecraft as either a high speed projectiles or as transportation for nuclear devices exposes how difficult and complex such a set of missions would be.  They find that as the time before an asteroid's impact grows shorter the amount of energy and thus the number of launches required to make it miss us begins to become impossibly large.  It appears that at least a 10 year lead time will be required to take effective action stretching our ability to predict orbits far into the future. Thus the best current strategy is to discover and track as many Earth approaching asteroids as possible while at the same time carefully investigating methods including civilian defense measures which could mitigate the effects of a disastrous celestial impact.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 453 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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454-Comets and Asteroids


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Published April 20, 2018
Recorded April 14, 2018

If you set your mind to it,  you can find and hold a sample of an asteroid, called a meteorite, which has landed on the Earth's surface.  If you are extraordinarily lucky you could even find and hold one out of a thousand meteorites which is actually a lunar rock ejected from our moon by an asteroid impact long ago.  On the other hand, watching major meteor showers like  the Eta Aquarii'ds in May,   Perseid's in August,  Orionid's in October,  Leonid's in November, or the Ursid's in December will allow you to see but not touch comet dust as it enters and burns up in the Earth's atmosphere.  So far the only sample of comet material scientists can study in their laboratories comes from NASA's Stardust mission which in 2006 which collected dust particles from the coma of Comet Wild 2.  This treasure is a sample of primitive solar system material keep in nature's deep freeze for the past 4.6 billion years.  So far it has been used in more than 150 scientific papers. What we have learned has generated a host of new questions relating to how solar systems form, how organic material and water could have come to Earth, and what to look for in distant solar systems which could indicate how they could host livable worlds.  For additional physical samples of cometary materials we may have to wait until if and when a NASA mission to Comet 88P/Howell brings back samples including organic material to Earth in the 2030's.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 454 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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455-17,000 to Go

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Published April 26 , 2018
Recorded April 20, 2018

Tens of millions of space rocks come closer than about 30 million miles to us and are thus classified as near-Earth objects. The vast majority them are tiny and produce nothing more than a spectacular light show when they enter our atmosphere. Then there are those large enough to create a destructive sonic boom such as the one which broke thousands of windows, damaged buildings,  and injured nearly 1,500 people in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. The most worrisome celestial neighbors are the estimated 25,000 Earth approaching asteroids that are larger than about 500 feet in diameter since the impact of one of these would cause significant damage over thousands of square miles should it enter our atmosphere over a populated area.  So far asteroid hunters have found about 8,000 of these large dangerous Earth approachers leaving 17,000 more to go. At our current rate of discovery of about 115 per year, it will take 133 years to find and track 90% of them. 
 To discover and determine the physical properties of these 17,000 dangerous neighbors in a decade,  NASA has designed and proposed the NEOCam spacecraft which will be placed at the L1 stable Sun-Earth orbital location about 930,000 miles away where it's observations will be unobstructed by the Earth and Moon. NEOCam's infrared cameras will allow us to both discover and accurately determine the sizes of objects which enter our neighborhood giving us the ability to find them before they find us.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 455 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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456-Dangerous Trio


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Published April 27 , 2018
Recorded April 20, 2018

In the space of only four days, my Catalina Sky Survey teammates, Brian Africano, Alex Gibbs, and Greg Leonard, discovered three Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.  Two of them had never before been observed while the other had been lost for more than 15 years.  These three large space rocks range in size from 540 to 810 feet in diameter and travel about the Sun with orbital periods of between two and three years on paths that cross the orbit of Mars and also bring them close to Earth.  There are likely to be another 3,000 or so similar asteroids yet to be discovered.    According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator an asteroid similar to one of these three,  strikes the Earth every 40,000 years or so with an energy of several large hydrogen bombs creating a two mile diameter crater, 2,000 feet deep. If one were to strike the Earth, 100 miles away, 32 seconds after impact it would feel like a magnitude 6 earthquake.  If such a large space rock struck the ocean, 25 miles offshore, in water 2,000 feet deep, about 9 minutes after the impact, the adjacent shore line would experience a  tsunami wave up to 80 feet high.  Searching for such a large space rock on an impact trajectory with planet Earth is what keeps my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, going to our four telescopes, 24 nights per month, when the moon isn't too bright, in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson Arizona. 


For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 456 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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457-30 Years of Fireballs


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Published May 5 , 2018
Recorded May 4, 2018

Fireballs are meteors which become brighter than the planet Venus and can sometimes be seen in the daytime.  They are caused when small space rocks occasionally exceeding 3 feet in diameter enter our atmosphere and burn up high above us.  Fireballs that explode in mid-air are called Bolides.  These small space rocks are usually not large enough to make intact to Earth, however, fragments sometimes make it to the ground for meteorite hunters to discover.  Occasionally Bolides produce a loud booming sound which can break windows and do damage to trees and buildings on the ground.  Dr. Alan B. Chamberlin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech has produced a map showing the dates, locations, and energies of the more than 700 fireball events recorded  by US Government sensors, world wide, for the past 30 years.  The most energetic, by a factor of 10, is the one which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia injuring nearly 1,500 people and raining pieces over a wide spread area in 2013. More than half  of these 700 tabulated fireballs had less than 0.05%, of the energy of the Chelyabinsk Bollide and landed at random locations over the entire surface of the Earth.  Many more than are recorded by US Government Sensors are witnessed by visual observers around the world.  If you are lucky to see a fireball send in your report to the American Meteor Society and become a citizen scientist.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 457 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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458-Large and Close


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Published May 5 , 2018
Recorded May 4, 2018

On June 30, 1908 a celestial object exploded 28,000 feet above the Tunguska river drainage area in Siberia, Russia releasing the energy of 185 Hiroshima sized atomic bombs.  A man 40 miles from ground zero was hurled from his porch, trees were knocked down in a radial pattern over a 770 square mile area, and an atmospheric pressure wave from this event was recorded thousands of miles away in England.  Recently a similar sized space rock made a sudden appearance before it passed very close to our Earth and Moon.  The first to spot it was my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs  when an unusually bright, fast moving, point of light caught his attention.  After Alex posted his discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Confirmation page this new object was tracked by telescopes around the world.    21h and 17 min after Alex's discovered it this 194 diameter space rock approached to less than half of the Moon's distance from us.  3h and 14m after that this asteroid, now known at 2018 GE3, made an even closer approach to our Moon.  If 2018 GE3 would have been on an impact trajectory with planet Earth, Alex's early discovery observations would have allowed residents of the affected area to seek shelter in hurricane resistant structures. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 458 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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459-Falling Space Rocks


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Published May 10 , 2018
Recorded May 4, 2018

In the early evening of January 17, 2018 six hundred and seventy four observers in 11 States and Canada reported a fireball meteor streaking across the sky to the American Meteor Society.  This attention getting event was recorded by more than twenty security video cameras, by one of the NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network cameras, and as a 2.0 magnitude earthquake by seismic detectors.  The 6 foot diameter parent object entered the Earth's atmosphere at 28,000 mph and exploded at high altitude.  Doppler weather RADAR tracked it's fragments and predicted where pieces would fall to Earth. Over the next ten days more than 16 meteorites were discovered, mainly on the surfaces of frozen lakes, in the Township of Hamburg, North of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  These fallen space rocks range in size from several inches in diameter with the mass of 10 US quarters to clusters of tiny rain drop sized fragments which were visible against the white surface of a frozen lake.  Meteor falls are rare. In the past five years,  the American Meteor Society has received multiple reports on each of more than 15,000 fireball events but only 37 documented cases of meteorites being collected immediately after they were observed to fall from the sky.  To find freshly fallen meteorites visit the American Meteor Society's website but do not hunt for meteorites on private land without permission.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 459 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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460-TESS


Published May 12 , 2018
Recorded May 4, 2018

By measuring the tiny dips in light that occur when a planet passes in front of it's star, the NASA Kepler Spacecraft has discovered more than 20 Earth like planets in an area which is only 0.3% of the entire sky. Unfortunately these planets are so far away that it is hard to imagine that humans will ever know much about them. To find planets closer to home NASA has launched TESS the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite which will monitor more than 200,000 much brighter, nearby, stars over the entire sky to detect the tiny dips in light caused when a planet passes in front of it's star.   It is likely that TESS will discover more than 1,600 transiting exoplanet candidates including 70 rock and ice covered Earth sized planets some of which are likely to be in the habitable zones surrounding their stars.  The stars that TESS will be observing are on average ten times closer and 30 to 100 times brighter than those observed by Kepler and be at a maximum of only several hundred light years away.  The James Webb Space Telescope and the large ground based telescopes currently being developed should be able to measure methane, oxygen, and other chemical signs of life in the atmospheres of the Earth like planets which TESS discovers.  The TESS era will be a most exciting time as humans discover and are able determine the properties of relatively nearby habitable worlds and dream about what might be living in our neighborhood of the Milky Way.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 460 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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461-Brian's First

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Published May 17 , 2018
Recorded May 17, 2018

During one of my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Brian Africano's first solo observing nights on our team's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, a rapidly moving point of light in the constellation of Corvus caught his attention. After Brian reported his discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center this new object was observed by telescopes in Arizona, Chile, and Croatia. Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's 892 day,Earth and Moon crossing, orbit around the Sun, estimate it's size to be 570 feet in diameter, and give it the name of 2018 HQ. It thus became Brian's first Potentially Hazardous Asteroid discovery. At some time in the future this large space rock will come to less than six times the Earth-Moon distance from us, however in 2018, more than a month after Brian discovered it, 2018 HQ  passed a distant 94 times the Moon's distance from us.  More interesting is that in 1903 Brian's discovery, 2018 HQ, came to less than two times the Earth-Moon distance from the planet Mars.  From orbiting spacecraft we can see many impact craters on Mars including some that have occurred since humans have begun to obtain close up satellite images.  It will be very exciting if some time in the near future asteroid hunters are able to discover a space rock on a similar path as Brian's discovery, 2018 HQ, which is actually on a collision course with Mars giving humans an opportunity to witness the formation of a crater on the red planet. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 461 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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462-Our View


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Published May 18 , 2018
Recorded May 17, 2018

Modern technology provides us with stunning views of objects in the Universe in wavelengths invisible to our eyes, however, nothing is as moving and thought provoking as looking into deep space with your very own eyes.  Astronauts tell us that the best views of the stars, are from a natural night sky location on Earth, since in space one must wear eye protection because of the dangerous radiation which is present there. An exception is that during the 45 minutes of night, International Space Station residents have on each orbit about the Earth, astronauts have long enough time to become dark adapted and thus are able to see a brief glimpse of stars as well as spectacular views of the Milky Way.  In the end nothing beats a natural night sky location on Earth like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary for leisurely views into deep space.  Being under a natural moonless night sky allows you to see everything from meteors 70 or so miles away on out to planets, stars, clusters of stars, all the way out to the Great Galaxy in Andromeda some 2.5 million light years from us, with your very own eyes. To find your place, visit the International Dark Sky Association's website, darksky.org, click on find a dark sky place and invite a friend to go with you. Bring a red filtered flashlight, star maps, binoculars, warm clothes, a lawn chair, snacks, and sit back and experience the wonders of the Universe with your very own eyes.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 462 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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463-Exiled Asteroid


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Published May 24 , 2018
Recorded May 17, 2018

According to a paper published in the Journal Nature, eons ago the giant planet Jupiter formed about three and a half times as far from the Sun as our Earth is today.  In what lead author Dr. Kevin Walsh of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado calls the "Grand Tack"  gas surrounding our young Sun caused Jupiter to spiral inward to bring it near to the present position that Mars occupies today.  From there, in a sailing ship like tack maneuver,  under the influence of Saturn's gravitational pull, Jupiter sailed away from the Sun to eventually land where it is today 5.5 times our distance from the Sun.  During that process enough material was left in Jupiter's wake to form Venus, Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt as we know them today.  In addition bit's and pieces were flung out into the Kuiper Belt some 30 to 50 times further from the Sun then we are.  Recently astronomers used the European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope in Chile to measure the pattern of colors reflected and thus the chemical composition of the 117 mile diameter asteroid 2004 EW95 which orbits the Sun on a path in the Kupier Belt out past the planet Uranus.  Their data show that 2004 EW95's carbonaceous composition indicates that it was formed in the inner solar system and was likely exiled to it's lonely position at the  outer limits of the solar system during Jupiter's rampaging tack maneuver long ago.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 463 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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464-Big Atira


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Published May 25 , 2018
Recorded May 21, 2018

Using our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was searching for Earth approaching objects, as close to the rising Sun as possible, when he discovered an unusual object streaking through the constellation of Andromeda.   Additional observations by telescopes in California, Germany, Japan, and the Canary Islands allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to determine that what Richard spotted is a rare Atira type Earth approaching asteroid whose orbit lies completely inside that of the Earth.  They also estimated it's size to be 3,500 feet in diameter and  gave it the name 2018 JB3.   From the Earth and it's orbital positions, an Atira asteroid like 2018 JB3 appears to humans only as a thin crescent and never shows it's entire full moon face to us. This geometry makes an Atria particularly dangerous since it is always close to the Sun in our sky and it is dim for it's size to boot.   Since the impact of a 1 kilometer diameter asteroid like 2018 JB3 could cause global climate change it is fortunate that 2018 JB3's present orbit never brings it closer than about 53 times the Moon's distance from us, however, Richard's discovery of it reminds asteroid hunters to continue to search near the Sun so that a large dangerous object does not sneak up undetected on the residents of planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 464 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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465-Returnee


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Published May 31, 2018
Recorded May 21, 2018

Almost ten years ago my then Catalina Sky Survey teammate Andrea Boattini was observing with our 60 in telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he discovered asteroid 2010 WC9 streaking through the constellation of Pegasus.  25 and a half hours later, 2010 WC9 became too faint to track as it rapidly moved away from planet Earth and was lost.  Recently, using the same telescope, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered a rapidly approaching space rock in the constellation of Hercules. Since this asteroid appeared to be about to come very close to planet Earth, telescopes at a dozen observatories around the world tracked it's path.  After 2 days of intensive observations, scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to identify it as Andrea's lost discovery.  A week after Richard re-discovered 2010 WC9, it passed about half the Moon's distance from us at 29,000 miles per hour.   2010 WC9 is significantly larger than the small asteroid which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia injuring nearly 1,500 people and breaking thousands of windows in February of 2013.  Fortunately 2010 WC9 missed us and will not come very near again 2188 AD. If it had been on a collision trajectory, Richard's early re-discovery could have been used to warn people in the impact area to seek shelter in hurricane proof structures.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 465 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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466-Dangerous Impactors


Published June 2 , 2018
Recorded May 22, 2018

Statistically the 892 known Earth approaching asteroids larger than 1 km or 3,280 feet in diameter represents more than 90% of those which are thought to exist.  It was thus unusual when my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, discovered two new such large asteroids, in less than a week. The largest of them is 2018 KV.  This  huge 4,300 foot diameter space rock was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson as it was streaking through the constellation of Hercules. This giant space rock, now named 2018 KV, orbits the Sun once every 1,542 days on a path which can bring it close to Earth, Mars, and Jupiter.  Fortunately on it's current path, Jess's discovery, 2018 KV, can never come closer than 61 times the Moon's distance from us.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator an asteroid this size slams into the Earth every 300,000 years or so, making a crater 7 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep in sedimentary rock, creating the effects of a magnitude 7.5 Earthquake 100 miles from ground zero.  If such a large asteroid entered the ocean 20 miles from shore in water 1,000 feet deep it would create a tsunami 200 to 400 feet high. Asteroid hunters estimate that there are less than 100 of these potentially devastating space rocks yet to be discovered and hope that none of them has our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 466 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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467-Time Travel

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Published June 7, 2018
Recorded June 7, 2018

Looking out into space takes you back in time. To experience time travel go to a natural night sky location like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary or another location on the darksky.org website. When you view the Moon you are looking back in time one and a quarter seconds since that is the time that it took for light to travel from the Moon to your eye. When Mars is at it's closest on July 31,2018 it will appear to you as it was 3 min and 13 seconds earlier. The blue white bright star Vega in the summer triangle appears this year as it was 1993. The beautiful cluster of stars called the Pleiades will appear to you as it was in 1574 AD while viewing the red supergiant Betelguese in the constellation of Orion will take you back to 1375 AD when the light entering your eye left there. The farthest that you can go back in time without a telescope will be when you view the great Galaxy in Andromeda, or M31, some two and a half million light years away. If you want to delve further into the past you can use a pair of binoculars.  To embark on your time travel adventure, visit the International Dark Sky Association's website, darksky.org, click on find a dark sky place and invite a friend to go with you. Bring a red filtered flashlight, star maps, binoculars, warm clothes, a lawn chair, snacks, and sit back and experience the wonders of the time travel with your very own eyes. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 467 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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468-Peek A Boo Asteroid

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Published June 8 , 2018
Recorded June 7, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammates Hannes (Ha-ness) Groeller and Richard Kowalski were observing in the constellation of Ursa Major when they discovered an unknown object streaking through the night sky.  Strangely a few hours later our computers were unable to find it on follow up images. The plot thickened when Dr. Bill Ryan used the Magdalena Ridge Observatory's very large 2.3 m telescope in New Mexico to discover that Hanness and Richard's object is real but that had faded by more than two and a half times compared what it was on their discovery images.   When Hannes and Richard reviewed their followup images they discovered that this peek a boo object is indeed real but so much fainter that our computer programs had failed to identify it.     Additional observations from telescopes in Arizona, New Mexico and Germany showed it to change in brightness over a period of hours or less and allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to calculate it's orbit around the Sun and give it the name 2018 KJ1. Unfortunately clouds moved in and the peek a boo asteroid became invisible as headed towards the Sun's direction in the sky. Frustrated astronomers will just have to wait for another opportunity to determine if the peek a boo asteroid,is a strange, rare, rapidly rotating elongated object, or maybe one with hemispheres with greatly differing reflectivity like Saturn's moon Iapetus, or perhaps even a very close binary asteroid.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 468 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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469-Flying Couch


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Published June 14 , 2018
Recorded June 13, 2018

My  birthday present from outer space was the opportunity to use the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Az  to discover a tiny sofa couch sized asteroid as it was flying through the constellation of Bootes.  Additional data obtained by telescopes in Arizona and China allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to determine than it would miss planet Earth and give it the name 2018 KW1.    31 hours after I discovered it, Dr. Nick Moskovitz (mos ko witz) of Lowell Observatory led a team of astronomers who used the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to determine 2018 KW1's physical properties as it passed only 12 Earth diameters from them at 4.5 mi/sec.  2018 KW1's regular,rapid, changes in brightness reveals it to be a solid object which spins on it's axis of rotation once every 10.8 seconds, the fasted asteroid spin rate ever measured!  The pattern of colors 2018 KW1 reflects from the Sun allowed Moskovitz's team to determine that it is 6 to 10 feet in diameter and has a chemical composition similar to the very common chondrite meteorites.  Once every 6 months or so, lucky observers will witness a sofa sized space rock similar to 2018 KW1 entering the Earth's atmosphere creating a spectacular light show, and raining pieces to Earth for meteorite hunters to discover.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 469 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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470-Martian Asteroid Hunters


Published June 15 , 2018
Recorded June 14, 2018

An appreciative listener,  wonders how my team, the Catalina Sky Survey,  would function on Mars.  Happily, we could keep the same eating and sleeping schedule,  since the day night cycle on Mars is only 40 minutes longer than on Earth. However, the martian seasons are more extreme and nearly twice as long as on Earth giving asteroid hunters many long and bitter cold winter nights stressing us and our equipment.    Further, there are dust storms and other weather conditions to force us to cease observing.  On Earth the full Moon lights up our atmosphere at night making it impossible to find find faint fast moving asteroids.  Mars has a much thinner atmosphere and two strange Moons.  Phobos orbits very near to the surface and streaks around the red planet 3 times a day.  It appears to be about a third the size of our Moon in the martian sky.   Deimos rises in the east and sets 2.7 days later in the west as it slowly falls behind the rotation of Mars.  The thin atmosphere of Mars probably doesn't glow much by moonlight so we would not have to shut down for the full moon and thus have no excuse to take a few nights off.  We would be bound to get a lot of action since Mars's proximity to the asteroid belt is likely to provide 2 or 3 times more close passages and impacts by small space rocks than we experience on Earth.  Last but not least,  the double planet, our Earth and Moon, in the Martian night sky would be an unforgettable sight and well worth the trip.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 470 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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471-Botswana Bound

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Published June 21 , 2018
Recorded June 13, 2018

A small space rock with a diameter less than the height of an NBA basketball player had just crossed the orbit of our Moon on a collision course with Earth when it was spotted streaking through the constellation of Scorpius by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski.  Amazingly,  asteroid hunters have discovered only three such impacting objects before they entered the Earth's atmosphere and all three of them have been found by the Richard, using our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. His observations triggered NASA's Scout Computer system which predicted it to be a possible impactor.  Additional observations by telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii were used to refine it's orbit and predict that it would enter our atmosphere at 10 miles/second over southern Africa.   8 hours and 37 minutes after Richard's discovery observations, sure enough the space rock now known as 2018 LA was seen by security cameras to explode over Botswana in southern Africa right on schedule.   So far no pieces of it have been found.   2018 LA came towards us from a direction opposite to the Sun with it's little full moon face pointing towards and could have been detected a day and a half earlier had anyone been looking.  Although 2018 LA posed no danger to residents of planet Earth, it's discovery our reaction to it will come in handy when asteroid hunters discover a larger, much more dangerous, space rock with our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 471 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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472-Martian Mysteries


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Published June 22 , 2018
Recorded June 13, 2018

Since 2012, NASA's Curiosity Rover's scientific odyssey on the surface of Mars has revealed a fascinating geology and an environment which was much more friendly to life in the past than it's stark dry surface is today.   Recently in the journal Science, Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode a biochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and her team of scientists report that Curiosity has discovered carbon containing molecules like those which are used and produced by living organisms on Earth to be present in rocks a few inches below the martian surface.  Based on current data, these scientists are not sure if these martian organic molecules are a record of ancient life, was food for living organisms, or that they were produced in the absence of life. In a second paper in the same issue of Science, Dr. Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his team report the discovery that the organic molecule methane varies with the martian seasons reaching a peak during each brief summer on the red planet. These results are very intriguing since such seasonal variations in methane on Earth are directly related to the activities of living organisms. In 2020 the NASA Mars Rover, a European Rover, and perhaps a Chinese Rover will dig deep below the surface of the red planet to search for clues  concerning these two exciting results and in the process may shed light on the mysteries of life on Planet Earth.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 472 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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473-Ryugu Bound

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Published June 28 , 2018
Recorded June 23, 2018

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is conducting a six year flight from Earth to a potentially hazardous asteroid whose name is spelled Ryugu and pronounced (doo goo) . In 2018 and 2019 the spacecraft, named Hayabusa2 (hi ya boo sa 2), will take data on Ryugu 
 (doo goo) at close range and collect samples to bring back to Earth in 2020 for further studies. Ryugu  (doo goo) is almost one km  or 3,280 feet in diameter and is on an orbit which could bring to less than a quarter of the Moon's distance from us. Previous data indicates Ryugu  (doo goo)  to have a composition rich in carbon. Further it's rocks and minerals appear to have been in contact with water sometime in the past. During the 18 months Hayabusa 2 orbits Ryugu  (doo goo) it will release three or four rover/landers.  Samples unaffected by solar radiation are collected by firing a bullet into the surface.  The debris are scooped up by a long cylinder with a cone shaped end protruding from the spacecraft which is used during the touchdown sampling maneuver. The Hayabusa 2 return capsule will enter the Earth's atmosphere at 12 Km/s for a parachute controlled landing in the Woomera Test Range in Australia. Ryugu  (doo goo) is likely to have under gone little change since the formation of the solar system and samples of it will provide unique clues about the composition of the small bodies which brought water and the chemicals needed for life to the young Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 473 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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474-Earth-Venus Shuttle


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Published June 29 , 2018
Recorded June 23, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Jess Johnson, was observing, in the constellation of Virgo,  with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he spotted a 100 foot diameter asteroid on one of it's regular trips between the orbits of Earth and Venus.  After Jess posted his discovery observations on the Near Earth Object Confirmation Page this new space rock was tracked for 46 hours by telescopes in Arizona, South Bohemia, Croatia, Pennsylvania, and Australia.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's 295 day orbit around the Sun, estimate it to have a diameter of 100 feet,  and give it the name 2018 LM.    On this trip between the orbits of Venus and Earth,  Jess was able to spot 2018 LM because it was one the rare occasions when it is bright enough for asteroid hunters to detect.  2018 LM came particularly close to Venus in 1921 and made near passes to Earth in 1951 and 2018. It is likely collide with one of these planets in the future. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator a space rock of 2018 LM's size enters our atmosphere once every 231 years or so breaks into pieces at an altitude of 150,000 feet creating a sonic boom.  Such an impactor produces a spectacular light show, and is likely to rain pieces of itself to the ground for meteorite hunters to discover.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 474 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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475-Lonely Fragment


Published July 5 , 2018
Recorded June 30, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he spotted an unknown asteroid moving at 13 miles/second through the constellation of Andromeda.  Further observations by telescopes in Arizona and Croatia gathered the data which allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center estimate it to be nearly 2,000 feet in diameter and give it the name 2018 LC3.  2018 LC3's orbit crosses the paths of both Venus and Earth and is inclined 44 degrees to the orbital plane of the solar system where planets and most of the asteroids are located.  On January 29, 2019 this tilted path will take 2018 LC3 to a very lonely place 135 million miles below the plane of the solar system.  Not too worry, 253 days later 2018 LC3 will come zipping back through the plane of the solar system at a speed of 24 miles per second relative to the Sun on it's 570 day long orbit about our star.   2018 LC3's tilted orbit leads us to speculate that it is likely to be a relatively large fragment from a collision between two asteroids sometime in the past.  We can test this idea by looking for other members of it's family of asteroids with similar orbits and chemical compositions.  Asteroid hunters will be eager to track 2018 LC3 and look for members of it's family as it passes near Earth in 2026.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 475 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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476-Lost Comet

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Published July 6 , 2018
Recorded June 30, 2018

On June 14, 1770 Charles Messier, author of the Messier catalog, discovered comet, D/1770 L1. It was subsequently named, Comet Lexell, for astronomer Anders Johan Lexell who calculated it to have a 5.58 year orbital path about the Sun.  On July 1, 1770 Comet Lexell passed about 6 times the moon's distance from planet Earth, the closest a comet has ever come to humanity.   There, Comet Lexell's nucleus appeared to be as large as  Jupiter and was surrounded by a coma of glowing gas the size of the full moon.  In 1779 Comet Lexell passed very near to Jupiter, was never seen again, and considered lost.  Astronomers Lexell and Laplace explained Comet Lexell's vanishing act by arguing that Jupiter either placed it into an orbit far from Earth or completely ejected it from the solar system.   In 2018 Dr. Quan-Zi Ye of Caltech and his collaborators re-analyzed Messier's original observations and concluded that there is a 98% chance that Comet Lexell is still in our solar system.  Their paper to be published in the Astronomical Journal suggests that, 2010 JL33,  an Earth approaching asteroid discovered by my retired Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rik Hill has a 99.2% probability of being a fragment of long lost Comet Lexell.  Perhaps additional Lexell fragments are out there.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 476 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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477-Hannes's Discoveries

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Published July 12 , 2018
Recorded July 11, 2018

Recently, my newest Catalina Sky Survey Teammate, Hannes Groeller, had an excellent training night, working with Greg Leonard, on our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Az posting 14 new objects on the Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  Subsequent observations proved nine of them to be new Earth Approaching Objects and another to be a 7.5 mile diameter Trans-Neptunian object whose 8,805 year orbit carries it from between Mars and Jupiter to the outer reaches of the solar system and back again. One Hannes's discoveries, 2018 KB1, is classified as being potentially hazardous because of it's size even though on it's current path it never comes closer than 11.4 times the distance to our Moon. 2018 KB1's closest approach in the near future is in 2033 at which point human rockets could reach it in only 45 days.   If a relatively small asteroid like Hannes's discovery, 2018 KB1, has a chemical composition similar to the stony meteorites it would fetch 26 billion dollars on the iron scrap metal market in China. It's value as a source of building materials in space would be much greater than that since the cost of lifting iron from the Earth's surface is many times it's value on the scrap market. In the very near future humans are likely to be building homes in space, on the Moon, and on Mars and be looking to asteroids as a source of raw materials. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 477 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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478-Comet Leonard III


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Published July 13 , 2018
Recorded July 11, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard knew he had bagged his third comet when he spotted an unknown fuzzy object with a broad tail moving through the constellation of Pieces.   For 17 days after Greg posted his discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page, his new comet was imaged and tracked by observers at 11 different sites around the world.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate it's path about the Sun and give it the name Comet P/2018 L5 (Leonard).  The new comet Leonard orbits the Sun between the paths of Jupiter and Mars once every 6 years and it is giving off gases as it is being warmed by the Sun.  It is similar to Comet 2P/Encke which has 3 mile diameter nucleus and is likely to be responsible for the Taurid meteor showers.  Greg's Comet' s nucleus could be a mile or so in diameter,  will probably continue to remain faint in electronic camera images, and is not likely to produce meteor showers.   Comet P/2018 L5 (Leonard) is likely to have formed in the distant Oort Cloud, caused to move towards the Sun by the nudge of a passing star,  and placed in it's current orbit by an encounter with Jupiter in the relatively recent past.  Eventually when it looses it's volatile materials Comet Leonard will become one of the countless millions of main belt asteroids circling our Sun.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 478 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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479-Comet Catalina


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Published July 19 , 2018
Recorded July 11, 2018

During the busy period of time that occurs as the Sun begins to light up the dawn sky, my Catalina Sky Survey teammates Hannes Groeller and Richard Kowalski spotted and reported their discovery of a fast moving unknown object in the constellation of Pisces.  Subsequently asteroid hunters reported that this new object has a bright gaseous coma surrounding it.  After a week of observations by astronomers in Arizona, Australia, the Canary Islands, Pennsylvania, Tibet,  France, and Italy, scientists at the Minor Planet Center calculated it's path through space and gave it the name Comet C/2018 M1 (Catalina).  Even though this new comet's orbit and that of the Earth come relatively close to each other, neither will be at that close point at the same time and Comet C/2018 M1 (Catalina) will remain faint, being only visible in electronic camera images.  A month after rounding the Sun at 25 miles per second Comet C/2018 M1 (Catalina) will continue on it's parabolic path which means that it has just enough speed as it passes the Sun to escape our star's gravity.  It's voyage will be a long one, will cross the orbit of Saturn in 2020, and not reach Pluto's average distance from the Sun until 2038.  Comet C/2018 M1 (Catalina) is eternal in the sense that it will likely  wander the vast space between the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy until the end of time. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 479 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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480-A Large Visitor


Published July 20 , 2018
Recorded July 11, 2018

Statistically, asteroid hunters are thought to have discovered 90% of our potentially dangerous celestial neighbors greater than 1 KM in diameter.  Thus my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was surprised to discover an unknown very large asteroid moving through the constellation of Persus.  After Greg posted his discovery observations, it was followed by observers in Arizona, Croatia, Italy, England, Illinois, Germany, and Kansas.  Their 71 hours of tracking data enabled scientists at the Minor Planet Center to calculate it's orbit and name it 2018 ND1.  This 3,600 foot diameter asteroid had evaded detection because it's orbit is inclined by 65 degrees to that of the solar system making it's discovery likely only once every 23 years or so when it and the Earth are at a particular place In their respective orbits.  Fortunately on it's current path 2018 ND1 never gets closer than 57 times the moon's distance from us.  One it's size strikes the Earth once every 250,000 years or so making a crater 6 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep. At 100 miles from ground zero such an impact would feel like a 7.4 magnitude Earthquake.  Glass windows would shatter and people in poorly designed buildings could be in danger.  Asteroid hunters hope to find any such global effecting impactors well in advance so as to allow for mitigating steps to be taken.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 480 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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