Programs 511-540



511-Geomagnetic Storms


To Be Published
 


512-Aten 
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Published November 10 , 2018
Recorded 
November 3, 2018

While observing in the constellation of Persus with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon a fast moving point of light appeared in one of my sets of images.  It was subsequently tracked by telescopes in Arizona, Croatia, Illinois, Hawaii, Ukraine, and Italy.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate its 303 day long orbital period about the Sun, estimate its diameter to be 174 feet, and give it the name 2018 UY1.  This space rock is classified as an Aten asteroid since it crosses the Earth's orbit twice a year on a path on which it spends most of its time closer to the Sun than we are.  Atens are relatively rare and account for only 7.4 % of the known Earth approaching asteroids.  15 days after I discovered it, 2018 UY1 came to about seven and half times the Moon's distance from us traveling at 5 mi/sec.  Although, currently, 2018 UY1 can never come closer than about 3.2 lunar distances from the surface of Earth, one of its size strikes the Earth every 540 years or so releasing the energy of 500 kilotons of TNT. Many of the 1,300 Atens are classified as potentially hazardous.  Asteroid hunters need to be vigilant so that an Aten asteroid doesn't sneak up on us.  These stealthy space rocks can be dim and hard to detect since for most of their path about the Sun since their illuminated side is facing away from us. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 512 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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513-Mtn Ops

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November 16 , 2018
Recorded 
 November 3, 2018

My team, the Catalina Sky Survey, would not find a single asteroid without Steward Observatory's Mountain Lemmon Operations, or Mtn Ops for short.  The Mtn Ops crew of of 6 maintains the Mt. Lemmon and Mt. Bigelow sites which are the home of 9 hard working telescopes.  In the winter the Mtn Ops crew plows snow and keeps ice on the domes from shutting us down.   Every summer they do major maintenance and up grades including putting fresh coats of aluminum on the telescope's mirrors on a regular schedule.  When a telescope quits working or a dome gets stuck in the middle of night one of the Mtn Ops crew comes out to get us back on the sky again.  High speed internet communications is central to asteroid hunting and would not function without the Mtn Ops Crew's regular attention.  The crew also maintains the site utilities including water, telephone, and emergency power generators.  When a storm packing 80 mph winds hit,  the Mtn Ops crew sharpened up their chainsaws and cleared a mile and a half of road so we could get to the telescopes.   When a wild ring tailed cat got into one of our telescope domes, Mtn Ops caught it in a live trap and took it to another place on the mountain and released it. Skunks can be particularly unpleasant when Mtn Ops chases them out of a building.  Bottom line is that Mtn Ops does whatever it takes to make our Asteroid Hunting facilities continue to function.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 513 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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514-Close Space Rocks

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Published November 18 , 2018
Recorded 
November 3, 2018

The closest passage by a non-impacting space rock was made by the tiny asteroid 2011 CQ1.  It was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski, on February 4, 2011, while he was observing in the constellation of Cancer with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.  Twelve hours after Richard discovered it 2011 CQ1 passed 3,410 miles above the Earth's surface traveling at 6 miles per second.  If this five and a half foot diameter space rock had entered the Earth's atmosphere, it would have produced a brilliant fireball meteor explosion.  As luck would have it 2011 CQ1 missed.  However, its  438 day orbit was drastically changed to a new 279 day path about the Sun, which crosses the orbits of both Venus and the Earth.  Astronomers estimate that several dozen asteroids between 20 and 40 feet in diameter pass closer to the Moon, from us, every year.  In the past most of them slipped by undetected, but currently asteroid hunters are finding several such close approaching space rocks every month. Most of them are tiny,  however, since 1900 there have been 11close misses by asteroids larger than 300 feet in diameter.  One of them, the Tunguska Object was about 400 feet in diameter. It entered the Earth's atmosphere and exploded with such force that it blew down trees over an 800 square mile area in 1908. Hopefully that will not happen again anytime soon.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 514 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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515-Dust Moons

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Published November 27 , 2018
Recorded 
 November 27, 2018

In a dance of unequal partners the Earth and Moon orbit a common center of gravity which itself travels about the Sun.  Leading and trailing the moon's twisted path by 60 degrees, are the L4 and L5  Lagrange points, where gravitational forces create a bowl in space time in which an object will remain until it is disturbed.    In 1961, a Polish astronomer, Kazimierz [kas za meriz] Kordylewski [kor dy lew ski] , reported the discovery of dust clouds at the Earth-Moon L4 and L5 points.  These Kordylewski dust moons are exceptionally faint and hard to detect  raising skepticism as to their very existence.  In November of 2018 a team of astronomers led by  Dr. Judit Sliz-Balogh [Bal oh] of Eötvös [uvos] Loránd University in Hungary published a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society detailing calculations predicting the likely transient existence of the Kordylewski dust moons.  To detect these faint extended dust clouds Sliz-Balogh's team took  long exposure images with a polarizing filter system, camera lens, and CCD detector attached to a telescope pointed at the L5 Earth-moon point.  What they found and report in a second article in the same Journal are two large ghostly neighbors approximately 65,000 by 45,000 miles in size at the L4 and L5 sites approximately 250,000 miles from both the Earth and Moon.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 515 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer

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516-Space Weather

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Published November 29 , 2018
Recorded November
 27, 2018

Space is not all that far away. Traveling straight up, long before you reached an altitude of 20 miles above the Earth's surface, you would need a pressurized space suit to survive.  At an altitude of 70 miles you would find yourself in the realm of meteors and space weather.  At first glance, the Sun appears peaceful and constant.  In reality its surface has bubbles of hot ionized gas which are expelled into space forming the solar wind.  This million tons per second river is a steady stream of particles traveling away from the Sun at from 800,000 to 5 million miles per second.  The Earth's magnetic field protects us from this potentially lethal radiation, however, occasionally the effects of a solar outburst can reach the surface of our planet.  On March 9, 1989, 6 million people lost electric power in Quebec, when a powerful geomagnetic storm was created by a coronal mass ejection following very large flare on the solar surface.  If a twice as powerful solar eruption in 2012 had happened a week earlier, the blast of radiation would have caused wide spread power blackouts disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket as well as the water and sewer systems which rely on electric pumps.  As luck would have it in 2012 the billions of tons of plasma solar burp tore through the Earth's orbit when we weren't there.  For the latest in what is happening above you check out spaceweather.com

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 516 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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517-Close Again

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Published December 7 , 2018
Recorded
 November 27, 2018

Recently Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard found yet another another very close approaching space rock while asteroid hunting in the constellation of Taurus with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  For the next 39 hours, astronomers at 13 observatories around the world tracked Greg's discovery. These data allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to calculate its 3.62 year long path about the Sun, estimate its diameter to be 50 feet, and give it the name 2018 VO5.  Turns out that approximately 4.5 hours before coming to less than half the Moon's distance from humanity this 50 foot space rock had passed less than a lunar distance from our Moon.  Asteroid hunters are learning that small space rocks like 2018 VO5 routinely pass near Earth. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator, a space rock the size of 2018 VO5 
enters our atmosphere about once every 16 years releasing an energy 0f 190 tons of TNT, explodes at an altitude of 102,000 feet, produces an extremely bright fireball, and makes a sonic boom.  Much smaller space rocks frequently enter our atmosphere. The American Meteor Society accepts and logs the more than 5000 smaller fireball events that occur every year.  As asteroid hunters equipment and skills continue to improve we will be able to find and track some of these tiny impactors and perhaps be able to suggest where to find pieces of one of them on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 517 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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518-Busy Night

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Published December 13 , 2018
Recorded November 27, 2018

On Halloween night while observing with the Catalina Sky Survey's 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona I discovered 21 space rocks streaking through the night sky.  Ten of them turned out to be Earth approaching asteroids, five are other interesting asteroids, and six were lost when bad weather made it impossible to track them long enough to be able to identify them in the future. Perhaps the most interesting of the lot is 2018 VC, a 60 foot diameter space rock, which makes frequent close approaches to Earth on its 437 day path about the Sun.  Even better its speed relative to Earth makes it possible for a Falcon Heavy rocket to launch a sizable robotic spacecraft to visit it and to return to Earth orbit in less than a year.  About 5 % of the meteorites on the Earth's surface are irons or stony irons containing substantial amounts of iron.  If 2018 VC were to have the chemical composition of a stony iron meteorite it would contain more than 10,000 metric tons of iron, a valuable commodity which humans could use to build colonies in space. Before embarking on such a mission is  necessary to determine the surface composition of such a distant asteroid by measuring the pattern in the colors of light it reflects from the Sun.  This effort requires time on a relatively large telescope to systematically study every small asteroid that comes near to us.  If this sounds like complete science fiction consider the fact that both the US and Japan currently have spacecraft visiting asteroids.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 518 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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519-Greg's Comet

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Published December 21 , 2018
Recorded December 07, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was asteroid hunting in the constellation of Taurus with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon when he noticed an unknown object with a coma and tail moving through the night sky. For the 10 days after Greg sent his observations to the Minor Planet Center his discovery was tracked and imaged by observers in Arizona, Hawaii, Hungary, and Japan. These data allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to determine that Greg had indeed discovered a comet and give it the name P/2018 VN2 (Leonard). This icy chunk of primitive material moves about the Sun once every 8.2 years on an orbit that crosses Jupiter's path but never gets closer than Mar's distance from our star. It is likely that Greg's comet is a small fragment from a collision between objects in the Kuiper belt far from the Sun long ago. Neptune can cause the path of such a collision fragment to begin to move in a highly elliptical orbit about the Sun. An encounter with Jupiter can drastically change such an object's path so that it begins to move about the Sun with an orbital period of less than 20 years creating a Jupiter family comet. Rarely as in the case of Shoemaker-Levy 9 such an object will collide with Jupiter. Typically,  as a Jupiter family comet such as Greg's discovery, cruises through the inner solar system and is warmed by the Sun,  its volatile materials will become exhausted and it will become indistinguishable from a garden variety asteroid.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 519 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer

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520-Comet Lemmon

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Published December 28 , 2018
Recorded 
December 07, 2018

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona in the constellation of Cygnus when a point of light streaked through a set of his images.  For three weeks after Richard submitted his discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center this unknown object was tracked by astronomers at 22 observatories around the world.  These data allowed scientists to recognize that Richard's discovery, now named Comet C/2018 U1 (Lemmon) , is on a path which originated in truly deep space.  Turns out, that when Richard first spotted Comet C/2018 U1 (Lemmon) in October of 2018 it was approaching  Saturn's path about the Sun on its way into our neighborhood. At that point it was so far away from the Sun that it did not have a recognizable gas cloud around it.  Unfortunately this made it impossible for Richard to identify its cometary nature and have it named for him. The size of a comet is hard to estimate, but from it's brightness far from the Sun it is possible that the nucleus Comet C/2018 U1 (Lemmon) could be several miles in diameter.  In 2021 this interstellar traveler will come slightly closer to the Sun than does the Giant Planet Jupiter.  After that Comet Lemmon will continue on a hyperbolic path into deep space.    In 2043 it will be further than the average distance that Pluto is from our Sun.  Eons from now comet C/2018 U1 (Lemmon) may enter another solar system and be tracked by intelligent beings as it continues its tour of the Milky Way. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 520 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer


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521-Lunar Space Rock

Published January 5 , 2019
Recorded December 7, 2018

More than 340 Lunar meteorites have been found in the Dhofar region of Oman, on the LaPaz Icefield of Antartica, and other locations on the Earth's surface. These traveling space rocks were blasted from the Moon's surface by the impact of an asteroid or comet which accelerated them to speeds greater than the lunar escape velocity of 1.5 miles per second. Subsequently these interplanetary travelers in the night orbited the Sun for an extended period of time before entering our atmosphere and falling to Earth. We know these meteorites are from the Moon because they contain mixtures of atoms which are found on the Moon but not in Earthly rocks. 
Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Growler discovered an Earth approaching asteroid which has a speed consistent with it being ejected from the Moon by the impact of an asteroid or comet long ago. Its name is 2018 WV1. This small space rock is approximately 10 feet in diameter and orbits the Sun once every  387 days. When Hannes first spotted it, 2018 WV1 was about 1.5 times the Moon's distance from him and was moving at a speed 1.24 miles/second relative to planet Earth.   69 hours after Hannes discovered it,  this small space rock passed closer than the communication satellites are from us.   Given its slow speed relative to Earth a human made rocket could catch 2018 WV1 and discover that it was indeed blasted from our moon by an asteroid or comet  impact. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 521 for more information.
© 2018 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2018 A. D. Grauer



522-Comets Africano

Published January 12 , 2019
Recorded January 5, 2019

Recently, with in a space of only 13 nights, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Brian Africano discovered two comets.  Brian found his first, Comet C/2018 V4 (Africano), while asteroid hunting in the constellation of Orion with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. This frozen ball of primitive solar system material orbits the Sun about once every 4,000 years or so. During Comet C/2018 V4 Africano's last visit to the inner solar system humans were erecting the outer ring at Stonehenge. At the rate human's are changing the Earth's climate who can guess what will be happening on Earth when this comet returns in about 6,000 AD.  Brian's second comet
 was  discovered and reported independently to the Minor Planet Center by my Catalina Sky Survey teammates Brian Africano and Hannes Growler who were at different telescopes on mountain tops 10 miles from each other.   Unaware of each other's discovery Brian's report got there first and the comet was named C/2018 W2(Africano).  When this comet was last near Earth 20,000 years ago humans were making pottery vessels in China and leaving artifacts near Canberra, Australia. Although comet magnitudes are difficult to predict, when C/2018 W2 (Africano) comes closest to Earth in late September of 2019 it is likely to be visible as a faint dust cloud in small telescopes in the constellation of Pegasus. After that it will travel into deep space on an orbit that will not bring it back to our neighborhood till 22,000 AD.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 522 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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523-One Thousand

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Published January 19 , 2019
Recorded
 January 5, 2019

For the first time in history, an asteroid hunting team, the Catalina Sky Survey, has discovered more than 1,000 Earth approaching asteroids in a single year. The honors for discovering the one thousandth asteroid of the year goes to my teammate Carson Fuls.  Observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, Carson made this discovery as the unknown object was moving through the constellation of Triangulum at 4.2 miles per second about 34 times the Moon's distance from him.  This asteroid  was then observed for the next 48.5 hours by telescopes in New Mexico, Arizona, Croatia, Italy and Illinois.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to determine its 4.3 year long orbit about the Sun, estimate its diameter to be 138 feet, and give it the name 2018 XK2.  On its current path this relatively small space rock never comes closer than about 29 times the Moon's distance as it crosses the orbit of Mars but not that of the Earth.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an asteroid the size of 2018 XK2 enters the Earth's atmosphere every 540 years or so, bursts into fragments at 31,000 feet, and scatters pieces of itself on the Earth's surface for meteorite hunters to discover.  Ten miles from from impact an observer fortunate to witness the event from the ground would see a wonderful light show and hear a sound like heavy traffic.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 523 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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524-Home Wrecker

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Published January 25 , 2019
Recorded January
 5, 2019

In 2018, my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, discovered five of the six Earth approaching objects larger than 1km or about 6/10 of a mile in diameter.   Asteroid hunters have identified nearly 900 such large celestial visitors and suspect that fewer than 100 of this size or larger are yet to be discovered. The discovery of more than 90% of our 1km or larger neighbors is important, since the impact of one of them has the possibility to produce global climate change. The latest large asteroid discovery was made by my teammate Alex Gibbs in the constellation of Orion with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  Fortunately, on its current path, which crosses the orbits of Earth and Mars, Alex's 3400 foot diameter discovery, now named 2018 XV5,  never comes closer than about 12 and a half Earth-Moon distances from humanity.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an object the size of 2018 XV5 strikes the Earth every 310,000 years or so creating a crater 7.5 miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  10 miles from ground zero it would feel like a 7.5 magnitude Earthquake and a 2,900 mph wind would devastate the landscape.  The extremely remote chance that such a dangerous mountain sized space rock has our number on it is what keeps my team going to our four telescopes in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 524 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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525-Collision

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Published February 2 , 2019
Recorded January 23
, 2019

I was asteroid hunting with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Steve Larson sent me an email requesting that I obtain some images of the asteroid 6478 Gault.  Several days earlier, using mountain top telescopes in the Hawaiian islands , astronomers working with the ATLAS project reported that the perviously normally appearing asteroid 6478 Gault now has a 250,000 mile long straight tail.  I added together four 60 second images which revealed a point of light with a tail which appeared to be similar to a long straight contrail left by a jet airplane high above the Earth. Images taken of 6478 Gault over the past several months suggest that it hit another object in the asteroid belt. If this idea is correct the collision fragments are what are giving this asteroid its long thin tail.  Asteroid Gault is approximately 2.3 miles in diameter and thought to be a member of the Phocaea [Pho e ah] Family of main belt asteroids which themselves were formed by a violent collision about 2.2 billion years ago.  This swarm of 2,000 space rocks , orbit the Sun  once about every 3.5 years, between Mars and Jupiter.  The object which the 2.3 mile diameter Gault hit is likely to have been a third of a mile diameter space rock.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 525 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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526-Tiny Visitor

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To be Published February 8 , 2019
Recorded January
 23, 2019

Recently I was observing in the constellation of Cancer with the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when a rapidly moving object appeared in one of my sets of images.  I immediately posted the discovery observations on the Minor Planet Center's, Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  The NASA Scout Computer software system analyzed these observations and concluded that this object was on a close encounter path with planet Earth.  Telescopes in Arizona, Hawaii, and Tenerife obtained additional data.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate the new objects orbit about the Sun, estimated its size to be about 5 feet in diameter, and give name 2019 AS5.  Turns out that 7h 53m 17s before I spotted it, 2019 AS5 had passed through the cloud of communication satellites surrounding the Earth at a distance of only 5,344 miles from humanity.  This small space rocks was accelerated by the Earth's gravity which flung into a new, different path about the Sun.  Approximately once a month an object the size of 2019 AS5 enters the Earth's atmosphere, bursts into fragments at an altitude of 150,000 feet, does not make much of a sonic boom, is seen as a brilliant fireball meteor, and scatters bits of itself on to the Earth's surface for meteor hunters to discover.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 526 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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527-Comet Groeller


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Published February 15 , 2019
Recorded February
 13, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Groeller was asteroid hunting  with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he discovered his first comet.   When Hannes first spotted it, this giant dirty snowball, surrounded by gases evaporated by the Sun,  was moving in the constellation of Hydra, 153 million miles from Earth.  For two weeks after Hannes' observations were posted on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page, his discovery was observed by telescopes at 18 observatories around the world.  These data allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to determine the details of its 7.55 year long orbit about the Sun and give it the name Comet P/2019 B2 (Groeller).  Comet Groeller is classified to be one of the nearly 600 known Jupiter Family comets and is likely to have originated in the Oort cloud far from the Sun.   A collision long ago sent it on a path into the inner solar system.  Comet Groeller could have been placed into its current orbit by an interaction with one of the solar systems giant planets Jupiter or Saturn. Comet P/2019 B2 (Groeller)  is likely to remain dim, below naked eye visibility,  and only be observable with a telescope and an electronic camera.  After the Sun bakes out all of the frozen gasses, Hannes's Comet, will lose its coma and tail and become indistinguishable from one of the millions of main belt asteroids orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 527 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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528-Asteroid Billiards

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To be Published February 22 , 2019
Recorded February 13
, 2019

As the Earth moves about the Sun it covers the distance corresponding to its diameter every 7 minutes.  When asteroid hunters discover a large space rock with our number it, a possible way to make it miss humanity is to slow it slightly, delaying the its arrival, and thus giving Earth time move out of the dangerous object's path before it arrives. A step in that direction came in 2005 when the 820 lb projectile from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft was purposefully slammed into the 4 mile diameter nucleus of comet Temple 1 at 6.3 miles/second.  Even though Temple 1's speed did not measurably change, the debris from the football stadium sized crater, this collision produced, yielded the surprise that the nucleus has much more dust and much less ice than was expected.  A new experiment, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART for short will take the next step. The plan is for NASA to slam a projectile into the 525 foot diameter, Didymoon, of the asteroid Didymos when it comes near us in 2022. The European Space Agency, or ESA , will send its own Hera Space mission to study the results of the DART impact on the orbit of Didymoon.  There are likely to be more than 10,000 Didymoon sized objects which come near humanity.  Methods to prevent one of them from devastating a region of our planet are the likely results of the DART and Hera space missions.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 528 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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529-Africano 4


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Published March 2 , 2019
Recorded February
 13, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey Teammate Brian Africano discovered his 4th comet while asteroid hunting in the constellation of Ursa Major with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona.  After Brian posted his discovery observations on the Near Earth Object Confirmation Page,  it was observed by telescopes in Arizona, Slovokia, and England.  Astronomers at these observatories measured the new object's path in the sky and reported the details of its cometary appearance.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate the new comet's path about the Sun and give it the name C/2019 B1 (Africano).  Because Brian's new comet has been observed for only short time, further observations will be required to make our knowledge of its path about the Sun more precise.  What we know so far is that Comet C/2019 B1 (Africano) orbits the Sun once every thousand years or so on a path which takes it from our neighborhood to two and a half times Pluto's average distance from our star.   C/2019 B1 (Africano) is likely to posses a nucleus of frozen gases several miles in diameter which contains material left over from the formation of our solar system billions of years ago.  Observers with small telescopes equipped with electronic cameras are able to track Brian's 4th comet as it comes to near the orbit of Mars before it retreats into the cold dark region of our solar system not to return until 3000 AD.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 529 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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530-Cuban Meteorites

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Published March 8 , 2019
Recorded March 4, 2019

On February 1, 2019 the National Weather Service tweeted that its RADAR had picked up a large fireball meteor over Cuba. At about the same time residents in Viñales, Cuba heard a loud explosion. One of them, Juan Alberto Pérez Pozo, published a YouTube video of the smoke trail left by the death of this celestial visitor. So far, 19 observers on the ground have reported this event to the American Meteor Society. One of these eye witnesses, Scott Sutherland, was lucky enough to catch this meteor on his webcam at Ft. Myers, Florida. Amazingly Cruz Maria Ruiz photographed the fireball and smoke trail of the meteorite dropping fireball over Cuba from her airplane window while she was on her way from Orlando, FL to San Jose, Costa Rica on Spirit Airlines flight 923. Finally, pieces of this visitor from outer space were found by Fátima Rivera Amador. She shared her discovery by posting images of her meteorites on twitter. Over the past 10 years the American Meteor Society has recorded 77 falls for which pieces of an observed fireball meteor have been subsequently found on the ground. If you see a fireball meteor report it to the American Meteor Society. Your observations will allow scientists to calculate the fireballs path through the atmosphere and be able to suggest 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 530 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer

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531-Alex's Catch


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Published March 15 , 2019
Recorded March 
4, 2019

 On a cold windy night, with clouds frustrating his search, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs discovered 8 new celestial visitors while observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. Seven of Alex's discoveries come to less than 1.3 times our distance from the Sun and are classified as Near-Earth Objects while the other one is a bit more distant and is classified as a Mars Crossing Asteroid.   One of them, the 56 foot diameter, 2019 CR4 orbits the Sun in only 239 days on a path that goes from near Mercury to a bit further from the Sun than we are.  The largest of the group of seven is the 420 foot diameter, 2019 CD5. If it were a bit larger, it would be classified as Potentially Hazardous since its impact would devastate a region on the Earth's surface. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact Calculator one the size of 2019 CD5 strikes the Earth every 6500 years so , releases the energy of 25 megatons of TNT, and would create a crater 1300 feet in diameter and 283 feet deep in sedimentary rock.  If you were located 10 miles from such an impact it would feel like a Richter Scale 4.5 magnitude Earth Quake. Fortunately on its current path 2019 CD5 never comes closer than about ten times the Moon's distance from us. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 531 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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532-Teddy's Debut


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Published March 22, 2019
Recorded 
March 4, 2019

My new Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne received a degree in astronomy from the University of Hawaii. He is learning asteroid hunting by being mentored by my teammate Richard Kowalski.  On a recent training night with Teddy at the controls of our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, this duo discovered six new Earth Approaching Objects, an inner main belt asteroid,  and rediscovered an inner main belt asteroid which had been lost.  Two other objects Teddy discovered that night were subsequently lost due to bad weather and the resulting lack of follow up observations.  Three days before Teddy spotted it streaking through the constellation of Virgo, a 30 foot diameter space rock, now known as 2019 CL5, had passed less than two Earth Moon distances from both our Earth and Moon.  It is likely that a number of such small space rocks pass through our neighborhood every month and are undetected by humans. Once every 7 or 8 years a small object like 2019 CL5 enters our atmosphere and bursts into a cloud of fragments at 93,000 feet. If you are lucky enough to witness such an impact you would be treated to a spectacular light show.  If enough observers were to report such a spectacular fireball meteor to the the American Meteor Society,  scientists could calculate its path through the atmosphere and perhaps identify places for meteorite hunters to discover fragments of it on the ground.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 532 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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533-100 Moons


Published March 31 , 2019
Recorded 
March 24, 2019

The 48 inch Oschin Schmidt Telescope on Mt. Palomar, California used 14" X 14" glass plates to cover an area of the sky equivalent to 183 full moons, on each exposure, to create the Palomar Sky Survey.  Even though the photographic plates it used only responded to 3% of the light which struck them, this priceless set of images,  obtained from 1948 into the 1990s,  provides astronomers with a long baseline to measure changes in celestial objects over time.  A modern astronomical electronic camera can record in excess of 90% of the light that  reaches its detector.  This is an amazing thirty fold improvement over the photographic process. Initially the price for this vastly improved efficiency was an image of the sky covering an area much smaller than the Moon.  Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Rob Seaman pointed out that our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona covers an area equivalent to approximately 100 full moons on each of its electronic camera exposures.  My teammate Steve Larson's new camera and our team's cleaver asteroid detection software enable it to image all the the sky visible from Arizona every three days   Thus, in 2018, this small 30 inch telescope on Mt. Bigelow, was able to discover 222 new Earth Approaching Objects including 10 Potentially Hazardous ones. Our team has proved that it is possible for a small telescope to make a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the celestial visitors to our neighborhood.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 533 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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534-Followups

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Published April 6, 2019
Recorded 
March 24, 2019

Small snippets of the orbits of artificial satellites, comets, main belt asteroids, Earth approaching asteroids, and even objects on a collision course with planet Earth can all appear to be similar against the starry background.  This is why newly discovered objects are posted on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  From there observers around the world are alerted to track and report their observations so that scientists can calculate the new object's orbit about the Sun and estimate its size. During a recent year 19 million followup observations were reported to the Minor Planet Center.  Without these data, many if not most of the Earth approaching objects would be lost as they moved away from us leaving us with no idea when they might return to near Earth space or perhaps even strike our home planet.  On a recent clear night my Catalina Sky Survey team captain, Eric Christensen observed with two telescopes simultaneously to make 116 followup observations on a single night.  This was possible because of our queue manager software which allowed the 61 inch telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona and the 40 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona to be programmed to automatically perform followup observations and to notify the observer when it finishes each one.  After Eric sent his observations to the Minor Planet Center, scientists there updated the orbits of 116 of the more than 3/4 of a million asteroids, comets, Earth approaching asteroids and artificial satellites that they keep track of. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 534 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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535-Alone Or Not


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Published April 12, 2019
Recorded 
March 24, 2019

In our Milky Way Galaxy alone there are probably 25 billion planets located within the habitable zone of its star where there could be air to breathe and liquid water on its surface.  New large telescopes currently on the drawing boards will allow astronomers to carefully measure the colors of light that are present and missing in the light from an alien exoplanets atmosphere to find the life revealing signature of chlorophyll, oxygen, and the other elements necessary for life in its atmosphere.  Meanwhile, with 100 millions dollars in funding from entrepreneur Yuri Milner,  Project Breakthrough Starshot is designing a marble sized reconnaissance spacecraft which could be accelerated to a substantial fraction of the speed of light by a sail pushed with powerful Earth bound laser beams and be propelled to reach the closest Earth like world, Proxima b in 20 years.  Other astronomers are scanning the Universe in visible light, radio waves, and other forms of radiation to discover signals which could have been created by mature civilizations elsewhere. Other scientists are looking around our solar system for trash left behind by alien spacecraft.  Until the results of these experiments come, in you can take your lawn chair to visit a natural night sky location like the Cosmic Campground in New Mexico.  There as night falls you will experience the age old sense of wonder that a human obtains by looking into a star filled sky and asking if we are alone. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 535 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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536-Ultima Thule

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Published April 20, 2019
Recorded April 19, 2019

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft discovered weather and physical processes on Pluto and its satellites never imagined possible as it flew past these distant worlds in 2015. Traveling an additional billion miles beyond Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft is now sending back data on 2014 MU69, a strange snow man shaped object which orbits the Sun once every 298 years. As the New Horizons spacecraft came within 2,200 miles of this weird 22 mile long object, scientists were amazed to see that it is made of a large flat 12 mile diameter lobe nicknamed Ultima connected to a smaller rounder 9 mile diameter lobe nicknamed Thule. These two components look like large lumpy fat pancakes connected together by a short neck and rotate about each other once every 7 hours. Ultima Thule has a reddish color, contains organic materials, and is likely to be made of water ice, and rocky materials. Because of the extreme distance it takes 6 hours for New Horizon's signals traveling at the speed of light to get back to Earth. At this distance the Ultima Thule data must be sent slowly and will not all arrive until the summer of 2020. After its close encounter with Ultima Thule the New Horizons spacecraft continues to move deeper in to the Kuiper belt of distant objects at 33,000 miles/hour leaving scientists with mysteries to explore. The New Horizons is spacecraft is likely to continue its lonely odyssey until the end of time.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 536 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer



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537-Earth Glow

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To be Published April 25, 2019
Recorded April
 19, 2019

During a total solar eclipse the Moon covers the Sun's bright photospheric disk and we are able to see the solar corona.  In 1972 Apollo 16 astronauts took an ultraviolet image of the Earth from the Moon which shows that the Earth too has a faint corona of gas surrounding it.  In a paper published in the February 15, 2019  online Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics scientists report that data from the NASA/ESA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) obtained in 1996,1997, and 1998 reveals the Earth's hydrogen corona extends 50 times our planet's diameter to a nearly a distance of  400,000 miles.  This means that the Moon flies through the outer limits of our atmosphere where there are less than three hydrogen atoms per cubic inch and that so far humans have never completely left the Earth's atmosphere behind.  Although you can't see the extremely faint geocorona,  you can observe other components of the Earth's nightly airglow.  The most prominent features are the auroras which can dominate the night sky in areas near the north and south magnetic poles.  In between the polar regions, on a clear moonless night,  you can see and even walk around by the light of the stars and airglow at a natural night sky location like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary in New Mexico.  Scientists are exploring how Earth's glow relates to our weather and climate.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 537 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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538-Asteroid Slam


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To be Published May 2, 2019
Recorded April
  XX, 2019

Moving at about 70,000 mph on its path about the Sun, the Earth travels the distance one of its diameters every 7 minutes.  Thus if the arrival time of an asteroid on a collision course with our planet could delayed by 7 minutes it would safely pass behind our planet as it orbits the Sun.  A lesson as to why this could help came in February of 2013 when the six story building  sized Chelyabinsk meteor exploded with the force of a nuclear weapon injuring more than 1,200 people and damaged buildings in Russia.     Detected far enough in advance,  a Chelyabinsk sized space rock could be slowed slightly so that it would arrive more than 7 minutes late and safely pass behind our home planet.  One way to ensure its late arrival is to slam a dangerous space rock with a heavy projectile.  The impact and the ensuing plume of debris which would act like a tiny rocket would work together to slow the space rock just enough to ensure its late arrival as it crosses our planet's orbit about the Sun.  In April of 2019 Japan tested this idea by slamming a copper cannonball into a 3,000 foot wide asteroid.  In the next such experiment NASA will use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART Mission which will slam into the 500 foot satellite Didymoon which orbits the half mile diameter Didymos.  These experiments will give us the know how to deal with a dangerous space rock which has our number on it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 538 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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