Programs 481-510


481-Fireball


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Published July 26 , 2018
Recorded July 22, 2018

On July 8, 2018 a beautiful fireball Meteor was seen streaking across the sky in evening twilight.   So far the American Meteor Society has received more than 700 reports of this event , from observers in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.  These eye witnesses describe the fireball as having had a white center surrounded by an intense greenish blue cloud. Some lucky viewers were treated to a 10 second view of this event.  By combining all of the eye witness reports scientists were able to construct a 3D path which appeared to indicate that the parent object had a atmosphere grazing trajectory.  Since 255 observers reported seeing the fireball fragment into pieces it is possible, that instead,  the parent meteoroid came in at a steep angle and broke into pieces high above the Earth's surface.   Currently no meteorites from this event have been found.  In the first 6 months of 2018 the American Meteor Society has received 274 fireball sightings with at least 5 reports each.  If you witness a fireball meteor and/or record a fireball with your dash cam or security camera report it to the American Meteor Society and become citizen scientist.  Your data will be very important in finding out where it came from in the solar system  as well as to indicate where it might be possible to find pieces of it on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 481 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




482-Botswana Fragment

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Published July 29 , 2018
Recorded July 22, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered 2018 LA moving through the constellation of Scorpio.  Next  security cameras spotted what had been the 6 foot diameter space rock, 2018 LA, as it turned into a fireball meteor and exploded high above Africa.  The latest is that a team of scientists from Botswana,  South Africa, Finland, and the United States have recovered a piece of this former asteroid in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Preserve.  Their discovery of a tiny freshly fallen meteorite came after 5 days of walking and searching.  Their task was made difficult by the winds which had scatted 2018 LA's fragments as they descended through our atmosphere.   These researcher's find is a priceless uncontaminated sample of material from the primitive solar system.    Further, knowing the chemical composition of what had been 2018 LA will help to defend planet Earth.  Here's how.  In asteroid hunter's telescope an Earth approaching object is a moving point of light.  To estimate its size we need to know the percentage of sunlight a space rock reflects toward us since a very large dark object will have the same brightness as a small ice covered one when both are at equal distances from Earth.  Chemical analysis of what had been 2018 LA will give us its reflectivity and thus an accurate estimate of its size.  This calibration will help humans to prepare for and defend against a much larger object with our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 482 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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483-Double Trouble

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Published August 2 , 2018
Recorded July 22, 2018

Approximately 15 % of the known Earth approaching asteroids are binaries. Most of these consist of a large object circled by a much smaller satellite. When asteroid hunters on my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, and the Morocco Oukaimeden (Oukaï-meden) Sky Survey discovered what is now called 2017 YE5 it appeared to be an unknown moving point of light in their images. Astronomers were thus surprised when they directed RADAR pulses from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico towards 2017 YE5 and then analyzed the reflected signal which was received by Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia.  The RADAR images they obtained clearly show 2017 YE5 to be two, nearly equal sized, asteroids orbiting a common center of gravity once every 20 to 24 hours.  In visible light these two asteroids are likely to appear as dark as charcoal bricks making them much larger than the sunlight they reflect would suggest.   Interestingly , although nearly equal in size, the two components of 2017 YE5 have different RADAR brightnesses. These data suggest that the two objects now it a close dance with each other have different densities, compositions near their surfaces, different surface terrain, and perhaps a totally different place of origin within the solar system.  How they came to be together and what humans would do if such a large double trouble object is heading for us remains a mystery.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 483 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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484-Aliens?


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Published August 3 , 2018
Recorded July 22, 2018

Most Astronomers find it hard to believe that given perhaps a trillion planets in the Milky Way alone that our Earth is the only one which hosts living organisms.
Thoughtful estimates suggest that there maybe somewhere between 10 and 10,000 technical societies inhabiting some of the millions of Earth like planets in our home galaxy.  Using our rocket technology any one of them could colonize our galaxy in 5 to 50 million years. Since such waves of colonization should have happened several times in the past, one is left with the question: "Where are they"? Despite a considerable expenditure of  time and money scientists have been unable to find any proof these technological societies exist never mind that they have ventured forth from their home planets. Many, if not, a majority of people believe that UFOs are piloted alien spacecraft and that the governments of the world have conspired to keep this information from them.  In reality, casting aside obvious hoaxes, about 5% of UFO sightings cannot be easily explained by human activity or weather phenomena.  At this point the leap that these sightings are alien spacecraft seems unjustified. However some serious scientists continue to call for a careful investigation of each such event.     It is both exciting and terrifying to realize we have no concept of what living forms may exist outside Earth in the Milky Way.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 484 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




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485-Last One

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Published August 9 , 2018
Recorded July 26, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered our team's last Earth approaching object before the 2018 monsoon rains settled into the American Southwest.  Greg's discovery, 2018 ND1, is a whopper. It has a diameter greater than the length of 11 football fields.  Fortunately 2018 ND1 never comes closer than about 57 times the distance to our moon.  Every July and August the monsoon rains bring life giving moisture to our mountain and desert environment. This weather imposed break from observing gives our team the opportunity to make major equipment upgrades and perform routine maintenance. These activities lowers our down time when the weather is favorable for asteroid hunting.  For example, we operate our hundred million pixel camera at -100 Celsius or - 148 Fahrenheit to eliminate electronic camera noise.  This frigid operating temperature enables the camera to record very faint fast moving space rocks.  The electronic camera chip itself  is in a vacuum chamber with a window to allow light to be imaged upon it. When the vacuum surrounding the chip deteriorates to the point that we can't pump it down far enough at the telescope to keep it cold, the 35 lb camera must be removed and taken down the mountain to have it's vacuum renewed.  It is a procedure with some risk but when the camera is reinstalled its as good as new.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 485 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




486-Martian Storms


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Published August 10 , 2018
Recorded July 26, 2018

Small telescope observers were disappointed when, in 2018, as the orbits Earth and Mars brought the two planets near each other, a raging dust storm had engulfed the red planet obscuring most of its surface features.  Such global dust storms occur every six to eight Earth years three or four Martian years.  On the surface of red planet, the human made robot, Opportunity,  derives its powered from solar panels.  The NASA and JPL scientists who operate it were forced to suspend its science operation until the dust settled.  Almost on the opposite side of the red planet, the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, has a small nuclear power plant and is able to study the effects of the nearly planet wide dust storm from the surface.  Meanwhile high above NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Orbiter and the European Space Agency's Mars Express captured images of a storm that started about the size of a US state and within weeks developed to engulf  much of the red planet.  Another orbiting space lab, NASA's MAVEN continued to study how Mars changed from a world similar to ours, with liquid water on its surface, to the cold dry place it is now. Mars has a thin atmosphere so that the high winds during such a storm did not topple any spacecraft on the surface but instead sand blasted them with dust particles.  Future Martian colonists will just have to hunker down during such a months long violent event.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 486 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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487-Touching The Sun


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Published August 16 , 2018
Recorded July 26, 2018

Imagine a spacecraft traveling at a speed that would take it from New York to Tokyo in less than a minute, a mere 4 million miles from the surface of our Sun, where it would be exposed to about 500 times the solar radiation we receive here on Earth.  Not science fiction but science fact for the NASA Parker Solar Probe on one of it's final laps around our star.  In order to survive, the Parker and it's instruments, are to be protected by a 4.5 inch thick high tech carbon-composite heat shield.  In order to get there the Parker spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over about 7 years to reduce its orbital path about the Sun and reach a top speed of 430,000 miles per hour.  The Parker Solar Probe's mission is to study the mysterious solar corona which is visible to humans only during a total solar eclipse.  During its epic voyage Parker will follow how energy moves through the solar corona and is channeled into the solar wind whose flow past our planet creates the northern and southern lights.  It will also study how the Sun is able to eject particles at nearly half the speed of light and direct them towards us.   These high energy particles can damage satellite communications equipment and are likely to modulate our weather in ways we still don't understand.  Your chance to follow Parker's odyssey will start with its launch in August of 2018 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 487 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer

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488-20 Years

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Published August 17 , 2018
Recorded July 26, 2018

It has been 20 years since the world woke up to the news that a half mile diameter asteroid, 1997 XF11, discovered by Space Watch on Kitt Peak, had a slight chance of impacting the Earth in 2028.  Further observations prove there is no chance this potentially devastating space rock will impact the Earth in the next 200 years.  Since then my team the Catalina Sky Survey and the rest asteroid hunters of the world have brought the total known Earth approaching objects list to 18,000, a number which grows by about 40 new ones each week.  The NASA and JPL's Center for Near Earth Object Studies or CNEOS (see-neos) for short maps space rocks orbits, predicts when they will come close to us, and reliably determines each one's chance of impacting Earth. This process begins when an asteroid hunter images a moving point of light and sends it's path to the Minor Planet Center.  These observations are then posted on the Near Earth Object Confirmation Page so that observers around the world can track it.  CENEOS (see Neos) Scout software system analyzes each new object's path to determine if it will come very close. Recently, Scout correctly predicted the impact of the small space rock, 2018 LA, which exploded high over Botswana.  In addition, Sentry, another NASA computer system keeps tabs on all known close approaching objects. All of this should make you sleep well each night safe in the knowledge that humans are not in danger from a space rock.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 488 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


489-Martian Water

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Published August 23 , 2018
Recorded August 22, 2018

The NASA Mars Curiosity Rover has visited dry steam beds, gullies, and sedimentary deposits which imply that billions of years ago liquid water, an essential factor for life on Earth, flowed freely on the surface of the red planet. Currently the atmosphere of Mars is too thin to allow streams and lakes to exist on its surface.  However, the existence of Lake Vostok, 
the largest of the more than 400 subglacial lakes here on planet Earth, 2.5 miles below the surface of the ice in Antarctica, has caused astronomers to wonder if such bodies of liquid water could exist elsewhere in our solar system. Exciting new evidence from the ground penetrating RADAR aboard the European Space Agencies Mars Express orbiter, published in the Journal Science, strongly suggests that there is a 12 mile diameter, several feet deep, lake of briny liquid water a mile below the surface of the Martian south polar cap. Unfortunately the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's RADAR has yet to confirm this discovery. This may be because the wavelengths it uses do not penetrate the thick overlying ice layer as well as those from the Mars Express.  It is frustrating that we will have to wait for a new Mars Orbiter whose instruments will be able to distinguish between a briny pool of liquid water and a layer of muddy sediments. Until then we will continue to wonder if there are currently abodes for life on our next door neighbor.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 489 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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490-Mini Moons

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Published August 24 , 2018
Recorded August 22, 2018

In September of 2006, using our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey team captain, Eric Christensen discovered 
2006 RH120.  This 13 foot diameter asteroid is the first natural  Earth orbiting object aside from our Moon which astronomers have been able to identify. Since then, despite major advances in camera and telescope systems, the only other such object to be observed was a bright natural meteor detected by the Czech Republic all sky fireball camera system which had about a 95% probability of having been in Earth orbit before it entered our atmosphere.  In a recent  review article in Frontiers of Astronomy and Space Science Dr. Robert Jedicke and his team of scientists  predict that at any time there are hundreds smaller than softball sized and perhaps several dozen football to beachball sized, natural Earth mini moons, which are so small and fast moving that they are able to slip through asteroid hunters images without being detected.  They propose to test their theory with data from the 8 meter LSST now under construction on Cerro Pachon in Chile.  If these researchers theoretical population of tiny transient Earth neighbors is confirmed, it will be a rich source of scientific samples of the solar system and provide nearby destinations for tests of commercial space operations.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 490 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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491-One Half Inch

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Published August 30 , 2018
Recorded August 22, 2018

In an asteroid hunter's telescopic images, potential Earth approaching objects appear as tiny, faint, fast moving, points of light.   Fuzzy, spread out, asteroid images due to atmospheric and or equipment produced distortions can cause important objects to slip through an asteroid hunter's discovery images undetected.  My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Jess Johnson is researching what factors control the sharpness of our telescope's images and how acting together these processes determine the faint limit of the asteroids we are able to discover.  Interestingly a telescope in orbit looking down on Earth is able to see much finer detail than a similar sized one on a mountain top looking up.  Both are observing through the same layer of Earth's atmosphere, however, the big difference lies in layer of air surrounding the ground based telescope.  Heat sources near the telescope cause turbulence which blurs and degrades the images essentially transforming the telescope into a much smaller version of itself.  Amazingly an important source of image degradation is the 1/2 inch thick layer of air immediately above the surface of the telescope's primary mirror.  Jess's work emphasizes that a careful monitoring of the temperature at a number of different locations in the observatory environment and using fans and other techniques to minimize temperature differences will restore the power of our telescopes so that they can detect much fainter objects than is currently possible. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 491 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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492-Not Human

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Published August 31 , 2018
Recorded August 22, 2018

From the time 3 million years ago that our ancestor Lucy walked in what is now Ethiopia until the widespread use of electric lighting began in the 1880s the changing panorama and awe inspiring beauty of the natural night sky was available to most human beings. These naked eye views of the Cosmos inspired countless generations poets, scientists, mathematicians, musicians, artists, and creative works of all kinds.   Now it is likely that 80% of the children born in the United States will never see the Milky Way or a meteor streaking through the night sky.  Examples of shows that the Universe produces for you are the Perseid and the Geminid meteor showers which occur every August and December, the panorama of the magnificent Milky Way with it's star clouds and clusters, a nearby galaxy,  and the ever changing movement of the Moon and planets. To see for yourself visit a place like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary that you can find on the darksky.org website and invite a friend to go with you.  If you time your visit during the three or four days on either side of new moon you will be able to see the faintest objects.  All you have to do is not look at your cell phone or another bright light for 30 to 45 minutes.  Your eyes will become dark adapted and you are ready.   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 492 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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493-Ringed Dynamo


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Published September 6 , 2018
Recorded September 03, 2018

Even though humans have been aware of the planet Saturn from from the dawn of history this beautiful object still offers mysteries for us to explore. Examples include that Saturn radiates more than twice as much energy into space as it receives from the distant Sun and that it has winds that blow continuously at speeds ranging from several hundred to a thousand miles per hour. Jess Vriesema (VREE-zuh-muh)
 , a graduate student at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, has developed a scientific model which enables him to calculate how the winds in Saturn's atmosphere produce electric currents in a way similar to a dynamo in a human built power plant. These charge flows in Saturn's atmosphere could be the source of some of the excess heat which Saturn radiates into space. To test his calculations, Jess hopes to use measurements by the MAG instrument on the Cassini Spacecraft during its final close orbits before it plunged to its death into Saturn's atmosphere. These data when available will be used to check Jess's calculations which predict more electrical heating at Saturn's mid latitudes and less at it's equator. The next step in understanding the ringed planet's wild weather will involve calculating how its thermosphere and ionosphere interact with Saturn's rings and  why it's magnetic field is so closely aligned with its axis of rotation.  This research, could in the long run, help humans to better understand processes controlling the weather right here on planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 493 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


494-Guard Down


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Published September 8 , 2018
Recorded 
September 03, 2018

In February of 2013, a house sized asteroid, entered our atmosphere at 40,000 mph and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, releasing 30 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.  This fireball explosion shattered windows,  damaged buildings, and injured over 1,600 people.  Unfortunately human memory is short and currently worldwide the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office alone,  funds more than 90% of the Earth approaching asteroid discoveries.  They are accomplished primarily by my  team, the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona at 48% and the Pan STARRS group in Hawaii at 40% of the 5 year totals.  Normally the weather in Hawaii is good during the summer monsoon rainy season in Arizona, however, in 2018, July and August were cloudy and rainy in both locations sidelining the worlds two most productive asteroid hunting surveys.   Space based asteroid detection systems do not have weather problems but have other difficulties and are many times more expensive than ground based facilities.  A cost effective way to make the Earth's planetary defense system more weather proof would be to put a network of asteroid hunting telescopes around the world  to discover and track potentially dangerous nearby neighbors. Such a project, costing less than a few modern fighter planes, might be something the worlds governments could agree on.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 494 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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495-Catching Asteroids

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Published September 13 , 2018
Recorded 
September 03, 2018

The long time goal of asteroid hunters is to find potentially dangerous asteroids far from Earth where a tiny push would make it miss our home planet.  Turning that around, Minghu Tan, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow has been investigating the possibility of deflecting a small asteroid causing it to graze the Earth's atmosphere and thus use aerobraking to put the small space rock into Earth orbit.  Tan, the lead author of a paper published in Acts Astronautica outlines a procedure in which a small asteroid rich in precious metals, water, or other materials useful to space colonists is captured using the drag of the Earth's atmosphere to slow it down and place it into an accessible orbit.  Tan and his fellow researchers would minimize the risk to Earth by selecting one of the thousand or so candidates less than 100 feet in diameter, which if things went wrong and it entered the Earth's atmosphere, would burn up before it hit the ground.  Critics point out that the target of such a maneuver would have to be carefully selected to make sure that it's composition and physical make up do not turn the asteroid mining experiment into a nasty surprise.  Far fetched as Tan's proposal sounds there is no getting around the facts that obtaining valuable materials from asteroids could be cost effective and that currently the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission is sampling the asteroid Bennu.  Who can say which of the current science fiction proposals will eventually become a human accomplishment.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 495 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



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496-Boomer

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Published September 14 , 2018
Recorded 
September 03, 2018

The fireball meteor streaking across the sky the early evening of January 17, 2018, witnessed by 700 observers in 11 States and Canada was also recorded by infrasonic microphones and seismometers. Recently Dr. Michael Hedlin of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a team of scientists published a paper in Seismological Research Letters which reports on their analysis of atmospheric sound and earthquake wave data from this event. These researchers used these data to determine the location, altitude, and energy released during this celestial visitors violent death.  By comparing their results with images from ground based cameras and data obtained by a lightning mapper on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite these scientists were able to determine that the energy released by this fireball meteor's explosion was equivalent to 2.2 tons of TNT.  They estimate their analysis methods could each year detect 15 such bolide events over Eastern North America using the existing network of microphones and seismometers.  The payoff from this effort will be the ability to assess the risks presented by the 2,000 large fireball meteor explosions which occur each year world wide and will allow scientists to detect any secret nuclear tests being conducted by rouge individuals or governments.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 496 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer





497-First One


Published September 20 , 2018
Recorded  
September 18, 2018

It had been an unbroken Arizona monsoon spell of 57 rainy, cloudy nights, during which my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, had been unable to discover any new Earth approaching asteroids.  At long last the skies cleared briefly, allowing my teammate Brian Africano to open his dome and get on the sky.  Brian quickly pointed our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona towards the constellation of Pegasus and started taking images.  He was delighted when an unknown fast moving object appeared moving through the sky.  For the day and a half after Brian posted his discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page, this new object was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, England, Italy, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Romania.  Turns out that Asteroid 2018 RA, as Brian's discovery is now known,  had just passed near to Earth and about five and half hours after Brian's discovery observations, this 47 foot diameter space rock, came to less than  3 Earth-Moon distances from our Moon. It is unlikely to come so near to us again, for the foreseeable future, but will pass near to Mars in 2026.  A space rock like 2018 RA enters the Earth's atmosphere every 16 years or so, explodes at an altitude of 100,000 feet, produces a sonic boom, and rains fragments of itself on to the ground for meteorite hunters to discover.  Hopefully asteroid hunters will detect the next such impactor well in advance so that you can go outside and enjoy the show.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 497 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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498-Tiny Travelers

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Published September 21 , 2018
Recorded 
September 18, 2018

Although interplanetary space is not crowded with asteroids as is sometimes portrayed in science fiction movies, there are still hundreds of millions of small  Earth approaching space rocks, similar to the asteroid 2018 RW,  which my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Brian Africano discovered recently.  It is a tribute to Brian's skill and our equipment and software that he was able to spot and track  this interplanetary traveler, small enough to fit under a basket ball hoop, when it was one and a quarter times the Moon's distance from Earth, streaking through the constellation of Pisces at 3.8 miles per second.  21 hours after Brian discovered it,  2018 RW passed a bit less than half the Moon's distance from Earth.  Sixteen hours later it came near our moon, on its 293 day long path around the Sun.    It is not likely to come near again in the foreseeable future.  Once every 5 month's or so a space rock like 2018 RW enters the Earth's atmosphere, breaks up about 3 times higher than airliners fly, releasing the energy of 220 tons of TNT.  Such an event creates a spectacular light show in the night sky for us to enjoy. Although small space rocks like 2018 RW pose no threat to humans, they are an interesting part of our environment, offer a chance for asteroid hunters to develop their tracking skills, and occasionally provide an opportunity for a meteorite hunter to touch an object from outer space.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 498 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer





499-Oppy

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Published September 26, 2018
Recorded 
September 18, 2018

The NASA Mars Opportunity Rover, nicked named Oppy by those who operate and love it ,was designed to last 90 days on the Martian surface but has continued to explore the surface of the red planet for 14 years. Along Oppy's 28 mile long discovery journey on the surface of Mars the tough rover has accumulated a wealth of scientific information on Martian geology and the red planet's thin atmosphere.  It found evidence of a watery past written in the martian surface rocks and made tracks in the martian soil.  Its epic voyage has not been without problems.  Oppy was able to get it out of a sand top in 2005 and survived a severe dust storm in 2007.  As an astronomer, Oppy observed transits of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos across the disk of the Sun, imaged comet Siding Spring,  and photographed the Earth which is a very bright object in the martian sky.  Oppy also discovered "heat shield rock" the first of several meteorites it found residing on the Martian surface.  In June of 2018, while in the Mar's Perseverance Valley, Oppy was overtaken by a planet wide dust storm which blocked sunlight from reaching its solar panels.  To conserve battery power Oppy ceased scientific operations and was placed in a power saving sleep mode.  As the dust storm abated and the skies over Oppy began to clear NASA's JPL engineers started listening for signals that indicate that it will automatically begin recovery processes. Meanwhile, we wait and hope for Oppy's complete recovery.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 499 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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500-Why Look

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Published September 28 , 2018
Recorded 
September 18, 2018

Unlike some popular perceptions, when asteroid hunters go to the telescope, we are not hoping for or anticipating the extremely unlikely event that a large globally threatening asteroid will appear in one of our images.  Instead what we fear is that a small space rock capable of injuring people and damaging buildings is heading our way and that we will not find it in time to give a warning for people in the impact area to seek cover. In 2013, such a 66 foot diameter undetected space rock approached Earth from near the direction of the Sun, entered our atmosphere at 9.3 miles per second, and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia creating an air blast wave which injured nearly 1,500 people.  Statistically scientists expect a meteor fireball explosion like this one every 60 years or so, however, such Earth-space rock collisions are random. For example, in the past 110 years three other impactors which released an energy equal to or greater than the Chelyabinsk meteor have been recorded by observers on the ground.  Currently asteroid hunters often find small space rocks passing closer than the Moon to planet Earth.  So far researchers have discovered three tiny space rocks before they entered our atmosphere.  Amazingly all three were discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski.  Thus it appears that asteroid hunters are well on their way to being able to give you a heads up if a window shattering asteroid is about to enter your sky.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 500 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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501-Carson's Night


Published October 5 , 2018
Recorded October 4, 2018

Recently, on a single night, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Carson Fuls discovered four new Earth Approaching Asteroids and a comet with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona. Carson's catch of four nearby asteroids range in size from 40 to 350 feet in diameter and orbit the Sun with periods ranging from 318 to 918 days. One of them, a 40 foot diameter space rock, now called 2018 RE3 came to less than two times the Moon's distance from Earth four days after Carson discovered it. Five hours after that after that it came even closer to our Moon. This small space rock orbits the Sun once every 556 days on a path that brings it near the Earth, Venus, our Moon and Mars.  Over eons, these close encounters will likely change its orbit around the Sun to cause it to collide with the Earth or Venus.   According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an asteroid similar in size to 2018 RE3 enters the Earth's atmosphere every 9 years, releases the energy of 9 tons of TNT, and bursts into fragments at an altitude of 112,000 feet. Carson's early detection means that if 2018 RE3 had been on an impact trajectory with Earth, asteroid hunters would have been able to give you a heads up to go outside to enjoy the light show and perhaps give you a clue about where you might be able to find fragments of it on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 501 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer

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502-Pair of PHAs

Published October 5 , 2018
Recorded October 4
, 2018

Asteroid hunters have found nearly 2,000 asteroids with diameters greater than 140 m or 460 feet which come to less than 20 times the Moon's distance from Earth.  NASA classifies this group of large space rocks as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids or PHA's for short. It should be emphasized that currently no PHA is on a collision course with planet Earth, however, astronomers are keeping careful track of each one to make sure that none of their orbits change to make them a threat to humanity.  In 2018 asteroid hunters are discovering new PHA's at the rate of about 6 per month.  Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered two new PHA's on consecutive nights using our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  They are both about 600 feet in diameter and are no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future.  The reason that we will keep track of them is because according to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator a large space rock of this size enters the Earth's atmosphere every 39,000 years creating a crater 2 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  10 miles from ground zero an air blast with winds of 275 mph would blow down 90 % of the trees and cause buildings to collapse.  The extremely unlikely event that a PHA has our number on it is what keeps asteroid hunters going to our telescopes.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 502 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer





503-Fuls III


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Published October 11 , 2018
Recorded October
 4, 2018

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered his third comet, now named 
C/2018 R4 (Fuls), moving through the constellation of Pieces with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.   85 Observations of C/2018 R4 (Fulls) made by more than 16 telescopes around the world gives us preliminary details of its 5494 year long path about the Sun.    Carson's comet is likely to have a nucleus which is about a mile in diameter and be composed of rocks and dust held together by water ice and frozen gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.  In approximately 729 BC Comet Fuls was about 16 times Pluto's average distance from the Sun poised to start on its journey towards the inner solar system.  As it moved towards the Sun it began to pick up speed and and didn't cross Neptune's orbit until 2004.   In March of 2018 Carson's large dirty snowball came to almost the orbit of Mars.  As it did so the Sun's warming rays caused it to give off a cloud of gas and dust making it possible for Carson to recognize it to be a comet and make his discovery.  Comet C/2018 R4 (Fuls) is now on its way back into deep space.  Given the climate change Earth is experiencing it is hard to predict the state of our planet and humanity when Comet Fuls returns in 7,500 AD.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 503 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer






504-Vulcan

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Published October 12 , 2018
Recorded October
 4, 2018

In the fictional Star Trek series, Vulcan, Spock's home planet was imagined to orbit the A component of the triple star system 40 Eridani [Eri-dani ]Recently astronomers using the Dharma Planet Survey 50 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona have discovered that there is indeed an actual planet, named HD26965 b, with mass of 8.5 times that of Earth orbiting the star 40 Eridani A once every 42.38 days.   Its presence was detected by measuring the slight wobble a planet of its size causes in motion of its host star. Unfortunately the new planet's mass  and close proximity  to its star make it an unlikely home for real human like creatures.  A real habitable planet like the fictional Vulcan,  with liquid water on it's surface, would need to orbit 40 Eridani A in 223 Earth days at 68% of our distance from our Sun.  Such a planet may indeed exist and we may be able to detect it someday.  To add a new dimension to your stargazing, locate the naked eye star 40 Eradani also known as HD 26965 on your star map between the constellations of Orion and Cetus.   Do this on some cold winter night and wonder is this star has a real planet Vulcan with pointy eared telepathic creatures which we may someday meet. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 504 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




505-What A Night

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To be Published October 18 , 2018
Recorded 
October 15, 2018

To give you an idea of the celestial traffic in our neighborhood, on a recent clear night, using our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Groller posted 20 new objects on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  Over the next week further observations by telescopes around the world revealed that 14 are Earth approaching Asteroids, 2 are Mars Crossing Asteroids, and 4 were not confirmed due to a lack of follow up observations.  5 of Hannes's single night catch are classified as Amor type Earth approaching asteroids.  So far asteroid hunters have discovered 6139 Amor asteroids whose paths bring them to between the  orbits of Earth and Mars when they are closest to the Sun. The largest of the Amors is the 10 mile long peanut shaped asteroid Eros which orbits the Sun once every 54 years. It has a large crater which was formed about a billion years ago when it was struck by another asteroid. The impact was so severe that it produced seismic waves which shock the small world's surface obliterating tiny craters over about 40 % of its surface.  NASA's Shoemaker spacecraft orbited Eros in 2000, obtained close up images, and finally landed on this small world on February 12, 2001.  The two small moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos, may be Amors which were captured by the Red Planet's gravity.  In the future Amor asteroids may become a valuable source of raw materials for Martian colonists.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 505 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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506-Large PHA

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To be Published October 19 , 2018
Recorded October
 15, 2018

Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was asteroid hunting in the constellation of Pegasus with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he discovered a 2,000 foot diameter space rock streaking through the night sky. After Richard sent his discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center, this giant space rock was tracked by telescopes in Croatia, Illinois, Slovakia, Western Slovenia, Hungary, and Italy and given the name 2018 SK3. Fortunately on its current path, 2018 SK3 cannot come closer than about 19 times the Moon's distance from us. However, NASA classifies this giant space rock as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid or PHA for short.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator about once every 130,000 years, an asteroid the size of 2018 SK3  strikes the Earth producing a crater 3.5 miles in diameter and 1,600 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  If you were 10 miles from ground zero such an impact would feel like 6.9 magnitude Earth Quake.  The accompanying 1140 mph air blast would level buildings, destroy highway bridges, scatter cars and trucks, and blow down 90% of the trees with those remaining being stripped of their leaves and branches. The extremely remote possibility that a big one might have our number on it keeps asteroid hunters going to their telescopes.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 506 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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507-Eric's Night

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Published October 28 , 2018
Recorded October 27, 2018

On a recent night of observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey team captain Eric Christensen posted 16 new discoveries on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page. Seven of these are classified as Apollo Near Earth Asteroids because their orbits about the Sun cross the Earth's path as they travel further from the Sun than we do. Statistically , there are likely to be several thousand Apollo asteroids larger than a half mile in diameter, 100,000 larger than a football stadium, and tens of millions as large as a house.  2018 TP5, one of Eric's single night Apollo discoveries is about 80 feet in diameter and can come to less than 1/2 the Moon's distance from us. It is somewhat larger than the Apollo asteroid which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia injuring nearly 1,500 people in February of 2013. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator, an asteroid the size of 2018 TP5 enters the Earth's atmosphere every 60 years or so, makes a light show and a booming sound as it bursts into a cloud of fragments at 80,000 ft, and rains pieces of itself onto the ground. Asteroid hunters are developing the equipment and skills which enable them to predict the impact of tiny space rocks. Thus in the future you may have the opportunity to witness the light show an impactor creates and perhaps even obtain clues which will enable you too find a piece of it on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 507 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




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508-Quiet Sun

Published October 28 , 2018
Recorded October
 27, 2018

The natural night sky is never completely dark due to the light from the Moon, randomly placed stars, planets, the Milky Way, light reflected by dust in the solar system, and airglow from the Earth's atmosphere.  Night sky measurements made at the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary when the Moon is below the horizon, reveal that from 2015 to 2018 the natural night sky has declined about 30% in brightness.  Amazingly this is due to the fact that the Sun has entered a relatively quiet mode, near a  minimum in the solar cycle, and thus has less ability to energize the atmosphere during the day time which in turn produces less air glow at night.  Humans have observed and recorded the presence of spots on the Sun since around 800 BC and have determined that there is an increase in the number of sunspots every 11 years producing the Solar Cycle.  During the past five years there have been the fewest number of sunspots  since 1906.  Overall solar activity in general seems to be on the decline since about 1950.  This may effect you.  From 1645 to 1715 AD the Sun's magnetic field was so weak that it produced no Sun spots.  During this time, called the Maunder Minimum, the Earth experienced what is called the little ice age and Europe and North America were much colder than normal.  Don't count on the decrease in solar activity to save you from human produced global warming, however something potentially important to you is happening on the Sun.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 508 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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509-Close

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November 2 , 2018
Recorded 
 October 27, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Growler was asteroid hunting in the constellation of Cetus with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he discovered a relatively bright object streaking through the night sky.  After Hannes posted his observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page his discovery was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, Ukraine, England, Croatia, Italy, and Illinois.  Scientist used these data to calculate this new object's path about the Sun, estimate its size, and give it the name 2018 UL.  We now know that 28 and a half hours before Hannes spotted it, this Subaru Outback sized object had passed less than 40% of the Earth-Moon distance from our Moon. Further, ten and one half hours a zooming past our Moon, 2018 UL came to less than 60% of the Moon's distance from humanity.  Until recently a very close approach discovery like 2018 UL was rare, however, due to improvements in telescopes, cameras, and computers asteroid hunters are now finding a significant number of these small celestial visitors to our neighborhood every month.  Astronomers suspect there are millions of small space rocks like 2018 UL and that one of them enters the Earth's atmosphere every 10 months or so producing a spectacular light show and rains fragments of itself onto the Earth's surface for meteorite hunters to discover. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 509 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




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510-Fourth Closest

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Published November 3 , 2018
Recorded 
October 27, 2018

Ten hours and 46 minutes after my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered a Toyota RAV4 sized space rock, now named 2018 UA, streaking through the constellation of Pegasus at 8.8 miles/second, this tiny asteroid passed less than 1/2 the distance of the communications satellites to the surface of planet Earth.  So far asteroid hunters have discovered more than 450 space rocks which have passed closer than the Moon's distance from us.  On this list of 450, Greg's discovery, 2018 UA is the 4th closest that an asteroid has come to the Earth since 1900 and not crashed into it.  It is likely that in the distant future 2018 UA will impact the Earth, our Moon, Venus or Mars.   According  to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact Calculator, an asteroid the size of 2018 UA enters the  Earth's atmosphere four of five times a year, bursts into fragments at an altitude of 167,000 feet,  and scatters fragments onto the Earth's surface for meteorite hunters to discover.  Greg's early discovery means that if 2018 UA had been on an impact trajectory asteroid hunters would have been able to give you a heads up to go outside to observe a spectacular fireball meteor and with the assistance of Doppler weather RADAR might be able to suggest where you could find a piece of it on the ground.  Discovering a space rock may be in your future. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 510 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer




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