Programs 541-570



Travelers In The Night


Image Credit:  NASA



541-Most Dangerous in 2018


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To be Published May 24, 2019
Recorded May
  6, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs found 2018 XV5, the largest potentially hazardous asteroid discovered in 2018  while observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  At an estimated diameter of 3,400 feet Alex's discovery is one of the nearly 1,000, known,  1 KM or larger in diameter asteroids whose impact would produce real problems for humanity.   According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's Impact calculator an asteroid the size of 2018 XV5 enters the Earth's atmosphere once every 240,000 years or so  releasing the energy of 1,260 megatons of TNT.  If you were 50 miles from the point of such an impact you would experience a 229 mph wind and the effects of a Richter Scale 7.3 magnitude Earthquake.  Glass windows would shatter, multistory buildings would collapse, and up to 90% of the trees around you would be blown down with those left standing being stripped of leaves and branches.  The impact of a large space rock like 2018 XV5 would create a 5.7 mile diameter, 1890 foot deep crater in sedimentary rock.   Fortunately, on its current path, Alex's 3,400 foot whopper cannot come closer than 12.5 times the Moon's distance to humanity.  Not to worry.  Asteroid Hunters have not found a single space rock on a collision path with planet Earth.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 541 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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542-Toughest Asteroid

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To be Published May 31, 2019
Recorded May
  6, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs was observing in the constellation of Crater with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he discovered  2018 GG5.  This amazing asteroid is about 1,200 feet in diameter and orbits the Sun once every 1023 days on a path that takes it from out to between Mars and Jupiter back to only about 28% of Mercury's  distance from our Star.  If you had thumbed a ride on 2018 GG5 on July 16, 2018, as it crossed the Earth's orbit heading away from the Sun you would have been quite a ride.  In early November of 2019 this quarter mile diameter asteroid will have reached its furthest point from the Sun some 359 million miles from our Star.  From this point on the relentless pull of the Sun's gravity begins 2018 GG5 on its next death defying journey.  In late February of 2021 it will have crossed the Earth's orbit heading for our star and on March 31 of 2019, 2018 GG5 will be closest to the Sun and be traveling at 78 miles per second.  At this scorching distance it will receive 12.6 times the radiation that heats the planet Mercury's surface to 800 F.   This hardy space rock has made this trip many times and is likely to be made of extremely tough materials and in the future could prove to be a valuable source of raw materials for human space colonists.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 542 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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543-Asteroid Zoo

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Published June 14, 2019
Recorded June
  13, 2019

In 2018 Asteroid Hunters discovered 1839 previously unknown space rocks as they passed through our celestial neighborhood.   They range in diameter from one the height of an NBA basketball player to one as large as a 100 story building.  More than half of these space rocks are small enough to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge. On their current paths about the Sun, 182 can come closer to us than the Moon and 3 can come closer than the communications satellites.  The most dangerous member of this group is the 500 foot diameter asteroid now named 2018 LK.  It orbits the Sun once very 403 days on a path that takes it very near to both Earth and Venus.  According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London's impact calculator, an asteroid like 2018 LK enters the Earth's atmosphere every 11,000 years, starts to break up at an altitude of 215,000 feet, strikes the surface at a speed of 2 or 3 miles per second, and creates a crater 0.9 miles wide and 900 feet deep.  If you were 100 miles from the point of impact  it would feel like a 5.1 magnitude Richter Scale Earth Quake.  
 On its current path 2018 LK can theoretically come to about a mere 1,000 miles from the Earth's surface. However, it is not likely to do so until after 2,200 AD.  Rest assured that asteroid hunters will continue to track this potentially dangerous neighbor to make sure that its path is not changed to make it a threat as it passes near the Earth, our Moon or Venus.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 543 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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544-Missing


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Published June 21, 2019
Recorded June 13, 2019

Statistically, asteroid hunters are thought to have discovered 90 to 95% of the Earth approaching asteroids larger than about 3,000 feet in diameter. This group of celestial visitors is important since the impact of one of these giant space rocks  could throw up enough dust and debris to disrupt human food production for a number of years. Despite new cameras and larger telescopes asteroid hunters still have not found the 50 to 100 of these dangerous asteroids which are suspected to exist. Recently we got a clue about where these missing space rocks might be hiding when the European Space Agencies Gaia (Guy ya) spacecraft, designed to measure the positions and velocities of a billion stars, discovered three asteroids with very unusual paths about the Sun. They all have orbits which are highly inclined to the plane of the solar system which contains all of the planets and most of the other asteroids. On these unusual paths these space rocks are hard to discover since they spend much of their high above or below other members of the solar system. These high-inclination asteroids were produced by violent collisions long ago and are likely to be made of materials which give them the strength to avoid being torn apart during catastrophic encounters with other objects. They could be made of rare materials and thus  may eventually prove useful to space colonists.  In the meantime, asteroid hunters will need to use ground and space based telescopes to make sure that one of these rogue asteroids does not sneak up on planet Earth.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 544 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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545-Celestial Congestion


Published June 28, 2019
Recorded June
  14, 2019

Imagine being under a clear natural night sky, with no moon, waiting for twilight to end.  You came there to see stars down to the horizon, the Milky Way, star clusters, planets, the zodiacal light, comets, and other wonders of the natural night sky.  Suddenly, you are shocked to find the night sky crawling with hundreds of artificial satellites bright enough to be seen in a light polluted city like Chicago.  This situation is what will happen if and when Elon Musk launches his planned 12,000 satellites for the Starlink Megaconstellation Project.   This effort aspires to dominate space based internet broadband coverage by providing fast broadband internet access to cars, planes, ships, and remote areas around the globe.   The Starlink Project will wreak havoc on star gazing, astrophotography, asteroid hunting, the search for extraterrestrials, and astronomical research of all kinds.  Even if Elon Musk follows through on his tweet that SpaceX will make sure that Starlink will have no material effect on astronomical research the best we can hope for is to have a night sky infested with dim moving star like objects.  All told, Starlink will triple the number of satellites in the currently congested low Earth orbit regime.  If that is not enough, Amazon wants to  put up 3,000 satellites and OneWeb intends to add 2,000 more.   A question for all of us is  "Why should a single company have the right to change the night sky without consulting the rest of humanity?"

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 545 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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546-Snoopy


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Published July 11, 2019
Recorded July 11, 2019

In 1969, before humans landed on the Moon, Apollo 10 Astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan flew their Lunar Module named "Snoopy" to within 9 miles of the lunar surface and marveled at the giant boulders they saw there. As the Apollo 10 astronauts left the Moon's vicinity in the Command Module, nicknamed "Charlie Brown", their Lunar Module "Snoopy" was jettisoned into an orbit about the Sun. 49 years later my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls may have spotted "Snoopy" while searching for Earth approaching asteroids in the constellation of Cancer with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. Carson's discovery now named 2018 AV2 was initially thought to be an asteroid but was eventually classified as a distant artificial satellite. Archival data reveal that in late 2017 and early 2018 asteroid hunters had spotted 2018 AV2 several times as it slowly moved through the winter sky. This small object orbits the Sun once every 382 days in an orbit on which it spends most of its time trailing Earth. Astronomer Nick Howes has been conducting a search for "Snoopy" with ground based telescopes since 2011. His research has led him to the conclusion that there is a 98% chance that 2018 AV2 is the long lost lunar module, Snoopy. To confirm this assertion astronomers will have to wait until 2037 when 2018 AV2 once again comes near enough to planet Earth to be detected by our telescopes. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 546 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer



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547-Impact Mars

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Published July 19, 2019
Recorded July
  11, 2019

A given piece of ground on Mars receives several times more space rock impacts than a similar sized area on Earth.  Mars's thin atmosphere means that craters and other surface markings these events produce persist over time.  From the first martian crater discovered by the Mariner spacecraft flyby in the 1960s until the present, our robotic emissaries have discovered more than 600,000 martian craters larger than a half mile in diameter.  Further scientific research indicates  the number of impacts by 3 foot or smaller diameter objects, which cause fireballs on Earth, is likely to change by 3 to 15 times as Mars travels on its eccentric orbit about the Sun.  Recently, the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed a new 50 foot diameter crater formed by a small
, 5 foot diameter, space rock impacting Mars sometime September of 2016 and February 2019.  The new crater's image is striking. It is surrounded by a black and blue colored area more than 10 times the crater's diameter with rays of debris extending over a several football stadium sized areas.  More data may reveal if the blue color around this fresh martian crater comes from newly exposed ice or some other exotic geology found on the red planet.  Perhaps, in the future the Martian tourist industry will bring visitors to view super meteor storms which occur each year when Mars is furthest from the Sun and to search for meteorites on the red planet's surface.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 547 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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548-Dragonfly


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Published July 26, 2019
Recorded July
  11, 2019

A problem searching for life outside of Earth is that we don't know what extraterrestrial creatures may look like or where they might live.  In our solar system the most exotic body which contains the complex organic molecules necessary for life is Saturn's Moon Titan. This strange world ,larger than the planet Mercury, has a thick nitrogen rich atmosphere with a surface pressure 50% greater than that of Earth.  Titan has clouds, rain, rivers, lakes, and oceans of organic liquid rich in carbon like methane and ethane.  You could walk around on Titan's surface if you had a face mask to provide you with oxygen and a thermal underwear good to -290 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.  Dr. Elizabeth Turtle, who received her PhD from the University of Arizona and is currently at Johns Hopkins University is leading a NASA team who plans to fly a drone like aircraft called Dragonfly around the surface of this exotic world.  Dragonfly will land in an area with dunes on Titan which are similar to those we find in Namibia in southern Africa. From there it will take flights up to 5 miles long on a route to sample areas with strange land forms until it arrives at the Selk impact crater where there is evidence of past liquid water and some of the complex chemicals which are necessary for life on Earth.  Dragonfly will be launched in 2026 and arrive in 2034.  What it finds is likely to give us new insights into how life originated on Earth as well as to provide us reasons to value what we have at home.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 548 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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549-Weirdest Star


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Published August 1, 2019
Recorded July
  11, 2019

Most stars appear to be steady pinpoints of light in the night sky. A few flare stars can brighten by a hundred times or more in minutes making them no place for a life hosting planet. To stimulate our imagination, the Kepler Spacecraft has found many thousands of stars showing tiny regular dips in light as their families of planets pass between us and their home star. In 2015, we were introduced to the strange behavior of Tabby's star when Dr. Tabetha S. Boyajian [boy-AA-jee-uhn] of Louisiana State University and her team published a paper describing the irregular dips in the light output of what otherwise would seem to be a garden variety star over the period 2009 to 2013.  Recently the Kepler Spacecraft found that a catalogue star HD 139139 now nicknamed the "Random Transiter" had 28 apparently random sharp narrow dips in brightness in only 87 days. This new candidate for the weirdest star could be actually two stars orbiting each other surrounded by a large number of planets, or maybe a few disintegrating planets, or perhaps a number of dust belching asteroids, or maybe even a third star. Really far out is the idea that the Rapid Transiter's dips in brightness are produced by an alien civilization which is harnessing the energy of their home star. As William Shakespeare's character Hamlet said " There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. "

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 549 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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550-Lunar Telescopes


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To be Published August 8, 2019
Recorded August 6, 2019

With the naked eye, humans discovered that planets are different from stars and the Earth revolves about the Sun. Galileo used the first astronomical telescope to discover the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and that the Milky Way is made up of virtually countless stars. Using the new 100 inch telescope on Mt. Wilson, California, Hubble and Humason discovered that the great nebula in Andromeda is outside the Milky Way and the Universe is expanding. The 200 inch telescope on Mt. Palomar California allowed astronomers to measure the distance scale of the Universe and to research Quasars and active galactic nuclei. The Hubble Space Telescope has enabled astronomers to explore our solar system as well as to study the most distant energetic objects in the Universe. Perhaps new discoveries will be made from the lunar surface having 1/6 of Earth's gravity making it easier to build giant telescopes, no air to degrade images, and on the far side no artificial signals to obscure faint celestial sources. Optical astronomers are working on techniques which would allow them to make giant mirrors from Moon dust. Radio astronomers covet the dark side of the Moon where they could plumb the depths of the Universe back to the time of the Big Bang as well as be able to detect very faint signals from other advanced technical societies if they exist. The new race to the Moon is on. Players include the USA, China, European Space Agency, India, Israel, and private companies.  Yesterday's science fiction often becomes today's reality.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 550 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer

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551-Exploding Space Rocks

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Published August 16, 2019
Recorded August
  6, 2019

On July 24, 2019 the American Meteor Society received nearly 50 reports of a lime green fireball as bright as the full moon streaking across the skies of Ontario, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Quebec.   The data collected by the University of Western Ontario's all sky camera network allowed astronomers to determine that this beach ball sized object came from the asteroid belt, entered the Earth's atmosphere at 45,000 mph, and likely rained small fragments of itself to Earth near the town Bancroft, Ontario.  Scientists are encouraging meteorite hunters to find pieces of this celestial visitor so that they can study first hand samples of material from the early history of our solar system.   In 2018 there were 15 such Meteorite Fall Events for which observers saw a fireball streaking across the sky which then led to the discovery of pieces of the celestial visitor on the ground. Amazingly two of the 2018 space rock fragments, called hammers,  struck man made objects or structures. To get in on one of these space rock hunts, monitor the American Meteor Societies web page for meteorite fall events near you.  Be sure to ask for permission before you enter private property.  On the hunt look for black rocks with a fusion crust which if they appear broken may have a lighter colored concrete appearing interior.  If successful, your reward will be the opportunity to hold a space visitor, older than the Earth, in your very own hand.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 551 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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552-Night Sky Surprise


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Published August 23, 2019
Recorded August
  6, 2019

In July of 2018 my wife Annie, several friends, Craig and Gayle, and I installed a Unihedron SQM-LU-DL night sky meter at the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary.  It is programmed it to take a night sky brightness reading every 5 minutes from dusk to dawn every night and store them in its internal memory.  When we had downloaded the first 78 nights of data we were treated to several surprises. The readings obtained in August were the darkest ever recorded and are in keeping with the fact that the Sun has entered a deep solar minimum with very few sun spots.  Then the surprises began.  The measurements made in September and early October showed  the moonless natural night sky to gradually becoming brighter.  Then on October 7, 2018 the moonless night sky became 25% brighter and reached the point where it is at a small light polluted city,  all without human intervention.  A check of the spaceweather.com website shows that from October 7 to 11 the Earth had experienced a geomagnetic storm when a canyon shaped hole in the Sun's atmosphere turned towards Earth projecting a stream of charged particles into our direction.  The increase in night sky brightness we measured is amazing, since NOAA scientist's aurora maps do not project the effects of a geomagnetic storm as far south as New Mexico.  The fact that the night sky at the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary is connected to space weather stimulates the imagination.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 552 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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553-Exploring The Far Side


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Published September 1, 2019
Recorded September
  01, 2019

The Earth and Moon, two unequal partners on a gravitational teeter-totter, have a center of mass which orbits the Sun once a year.  In this celestial dance Earth's powerful gravity causes one side of the Moon to point towards us even as the Earth turns on its own axis of rotation once every 24 hours.  In 1959 the Soviet Luna 3 Probe was the first to photograph the 82% of the Moon we never see from Earth, while the Apollo 8 astronauts were the first to view the Moon's hidden side with the unaided eye.  On Jan 3, 2019 the Chinese, Chang'e 4 [Chun uh 4]made a soft landing on the far side of the Moon where it is impossible to have direct radio communications with the Earth.  To keep in touch the  Chang'e 4's communications are relayed to humans by a satellite in a halo orbit around the L2 Lagrangian point where the satellite can see both the Earth and the Moon's far side.  Both the Chang'e 4 and its Yutu rover companion are solar powered and also have radioisotopic heaters which allow them to survive the two week long lunar night when temperatures can reach 280 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.  The Yutu rover whose name means "Jade Rabbit" is making scientific measurements and sending back spectacular images of the virtually unexplored part of the Moon. In the meantime China is preparing Chang'e 5 which is designed to bring lunar samples back to Earth.  Stay Tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 553 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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554-Martian Rolling Stones



Published September 6, 2019
Recorded  
September 01, 2019

Mars's tiny moon Phobos is only 27 KM or about 17 miles in diameter.  Its surface is littered with huge boulders 160 feet in diameter and there are strange track like groves crisscrossing this small world.  Phobos's surface gravity is 1,720 times smaller than on Earth so that if you weigh 180 lbs on Earth you would weigh only 1.67 ounces on Phobos.  Even stranger Phobos has a 6 mile diameter crater named Stickney which is nearly one third this tiny moon's size.  In an article in Planetary and Space Science astronomers Dr. Kenneth Ramsley and Dr. James Head explain how the impact which created the giant crater Stickney produced the grooves and huge boulders we see today. Their computer simulation produces bizarre images of boulders blasted loose by the Stickney's impactor rolling around and around Phobos liberated by this small world's micro-gravity. Their model shows that the boulder tracks produced right after the impact were likely crossed minutes to hours later by other boulders as they rolled around and around Phobos, like surface bound orbiting satellites.  Imagine how strange and wonderful it would be to witness such an event.  When the impacting object hit it produced huge boulders, which held loosely by Phobos's weak gravity, continued to roll around and around this tiny moon, bouncing and leaping over small surface depressions for hours after the impact.  Much later when all the dust and debris settled the impact left us with Mars's moon Phobos as we see it today.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 554 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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555-Dead Comet Dust


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Published September 13, 2019
Recorded 
September 01, 2019

The Phoenicids are a minor meteor shower which was discovered by the first Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition on December 5, 1956.  During this outburst, observers in New Zealand, Australia, the Indian Ocean and South Africa saw up to 100 meteors per hour coming from the constellation of Phoenix.    For more than 50 years, astronomers searched for the comet which could be the source of the Phoenicids.  The plot thickened when in 2003, my team the Catalina Sky Survey discovered an asteroid, 2003 WY25. This asteroid shares the orbit with the 1956 Phoenicid meteor stream as well as comet D/1819 W1 (Blanpain) which itself had been lost since it was last observed in 1819.  Dr. David Jewitt used the 2.2 m University of Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea to discover that asteroid  2003 WY25 has a faint gas cloud coma surrounding it.  Assuming that the long lost comet Blanpain, alias asteroid 2003 WY25, is the source of the Phoenicids a team of Japanese astronomers calculated that it should be possible to observe them.  They split into teams who went to North Carolina where they were able to photograph 29 Phoenicids as they streaked through the sky. To spot the illusive Phoenicids for yourself plan to observe during their expected peak which occurs around  December 5/6 each year.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 555 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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556-Earthly Moon Rock

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Published September 20, 2019
Recorded 
September 01, 2019

In a most amazing turn of events, an international team of astronomers have published research in the Journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters which indicates that the a 3.9 Billion year old rock brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts is actually a lunar meteorite which originated on planet Earth.   The team of scientists' hypothesis is that this tiny rock crystallized 10 to 15 miles below the Earth's surface some 4 billion years ago during a time when both the Earth and Moon were experiencing an intense bombardment by large objects left over from the period of planet formation.  It was blasted from its deep location by a giant asteroid which likely produced a crater thousands of miles in diameter.  Once on the Moon it was buried below the lunar surface by another impact.  About 28 million years ago it was once again brought to the lunar surface by an object which created the 340 meter diameter Cone Crater which we see today.  From there it was picked up by one of our astronauts who returned it to Earth.  
Although it is remotely possible that this tiny rock was formed at tremendous depths in the lunar mantle the most likely hypothesis is that it came from Earth via by an asteroid impact about 4 billion years ago.  Dr. David A. Kring, lead scientist states “It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life”.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 556 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer

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557-Back On The Sky

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Published September 27, 2019
Recorded 
September 01, 2019

In the American southwest we welcome the Monsoon rainy season during which the Earth receives much needed moisture.  Asteroid hunters use this break from observing to install new equipment and do annual maintenance to keep our telescopes in tip top shape.  This year we added new adjustable stand up /sit down desks to help us survive 13 hour long winter nights. After six weeks of clouds, thunder, rain, hail, and lightning asteroid hunters are glad to be on the sky again.  Taking advantage of the improved weather conditions my Catalina Sky Survey team captain Eric Christensen pointed our 60 inch telescope into the Constellation of Boötes and was rewarded by the discovery of four new space rocks. Of these 2019 QK quickly received enough followup observations for scientists at the Minor Planet Center to estimate its size and path about the Sun. Turns out that this 715 foot diameter space rock has an orbit which never takes it closer to us than about one third of our distance from the Sun.  Even so, this discovery marks the beginning of a new asteroid hunting season in Arizona.  Using our excellent location, my team the Catalina Sky Survey scans the sky with four telescopes, 24 nights per month when the Moon is not too bright from the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona.  Our goal is to find any celestial neighbors whose impact could pose a threat to residents of Planet Earth.  Along the way we discover thousands of new main belt asteroids and a few comets.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 557 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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558-Exploring The Lunar South Pole

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Published October 4, 2019
Recorded  
September 1, 2019

The race to explore the Moon by robots and eventually human lunar colonists is on.  The Indian Space Research Organization has placed a spacecraft, 
Chandrayaan-2, in lunar orbit where it is sending back images of our Moon from  less than a distance of 2,000 miles.  This project is an ambitious mission to land a rover near the Moon's south pole.  This wild lunar region has a mountain, Epsilon Peak,  29,600 feet high, deep basins, and a temperature of minus 13 Celsius or about 8 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.    So far orbiters from several countries have studied the lunar south polar region.  The NASA  Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite found water in the plume of debris created by the impact of its Centaur launch vehicle into a permanently shadowed south lunar pole crater bottom.  Crater rims in the lunar south polar region receive nearly constant sunshine which could to power solar panels.  Additionally at the bottom of these craters are cold traps which are in constant shadow and possess water ice and other volatiles left there during the early history of the solar system.  Near the lunar south pole human space colonists could use solar energy to power equipment and keep warm, manufacture needed items, and most importantly have water to drink as well as to use a raw material.  Applying electricity to water produces Oxygen to breathe and Oxygen and Hydrogen which is a handy rocket and rover fuel.  When humans will show up is only a guess.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 558 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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559-Farming On Mars

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Published October 10, 2019
Recorded September 01, 2019

On Earth plants provide us with medicines, food to eat, and oxygen to breathe. They also remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.  One of the major challenges facing humans as they contemplate colonizing Mars is how to supply the air, food, and water necessary to survive and flourish.  
Bringing everything from home takes too much energy and is too expensive.  There is also the problem of dealing with human waste products such as carbon dioxide and urine.   Plants can help with these situations, however, the challenges are many.  Space gardeners need to provide water and nutrients as well as to help their plants cope with reduced light and gravity.   In the past, astronauts on the International Space Station have used plastic bags and were able to grow and harvest red lettuce.  In new current experiments NASA is using hardware called PONDS designed to increase oxygen exchange and to provide sufficient room for plant root growth without requiring external power.  In these new micro-farms astronauts are able to cultivate three types of leafy green vegetables. Moving on, in 2021 astronauts will use a centrifuge to provide artificial gravity to facilitate bean plant sprouting and growing in a microgravity environment.  In the future, in addition to providing treats like strawberries it turns out that tending to the needs vegetables and watching them grow can help space travelers cope with the psychological stresses produced by the confinement experienced on long space missions.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 559 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer

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560-Wet Nights

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Published October 17, 2019
Recorded September 25, 2019

Our mountain top has weather which includes crystal clear skies as well as periods of rain, snow, hail, and fog.  One of the most frustrating situations for an asteroid hunter is a night when the stars are shining bright above the mountain but the humidity is so high that it is impossible to open the telescope's dome without damaging sensitive optics and electronics. Recently on such a night my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls was able to discover three new Earth approaching asteroids during the brief period when the humidity was low enough to open. After Carson posted these space rocks on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page telescopes around the world began to track them. This critical process allows scientists at the Minor Planet Center to estimate an object's mass, path about the Sun, and how close it can come to Planet Earth. Two of Carson's discoveries never get very close our home planet. The other, a 125 foot diameter space rock now named 2019 QZ3, has a 482 day orbit about the Sun which brings it from near Earth out to between the paths of Mars and Jupiter and back again. One its size enters the Earth's atmosphere once every 200 years, explodes at an altitude of 215,000 feet and produces an air burst equivalent to a half a million tons of TNT. Fortunately 2019 QZ3 will not strike Earth any time soon since if it exploded over a city it could produce human injuries and significant damage to buildings.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 560 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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561-Hannes Is Back


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Published October 24, 2019
Recorded September
 25, 2019

During the monsoon rainy season, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Hannes Groeller took a vacation in his native Austria.  There, he visited friends and family,  paddle boarded on a lake, and hiked in the alps,  spending 3 nights in wooden huts at high altitude.  Returning to begin the fall season of observing with our Schmidt  Telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona,  Hannes discovered 7 new Earth approaching asteroids in a single night.  Hannes also rediscovered a football sized asteroid, 2006 SE6 which had been in hiding near our Sun. On Hannes's record breaking night the only one of his space rocks which comes very close to the planet Earth is the 13 foot diameter 2019 QQ3.  14 hours before Hannes caught it streaking through the constellation of Aquarius, this tiny space rock escaped burning up in our atmosphere by only 59,000 miles.   On its current path about the Sun,  it crosses the orbits of both Earth and Venus.  2019 QQ3 will not come so close to Earth again until 2083, however, it is very likely to strike the Earth or the Moon sometime in the far distant future. Not to worry.  One the size of 2019 QQ3 enters our atmosphere approximately 3 times a year, bursts into a cloud of fragments at about 157,000 feet, and releases the energy of 170 tons of TNT.  If your were fortunate to witness such an event at night you would be treated to a silent but spectacular light show. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 561 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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562-Monster Space Rock

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Published October 31, 2019
Recorded 
September 25, 2019

While observing with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Groeller discovered a giant half mile diameter space rock streaking through the constellation of Orion.  After that it was  tracked by telescopes in Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, England and Tican.  Scientists at the Minor Planet Center used these data to calculate this space rock's path about the Sun, estimate its size, and give it the name 2019 RU3.    An object the size of 2019 RU3 enters the Earth's atmosphere every 180,000 years with an energy of 5,800 megatons of TNT.  Such an impactor begins to break up at an altitude of 215,000 feet, strikes the ground in a broken condition, and forms a crater 4.6 miles in diameter and 1,800 feet deep.  25 miles from impact the area would be bombarded by 20 inch diameter fragments and the ground would shake like a 7.1 magnitude Earthquake.  At this distance, buildings would collapse, 90% of the trees would be blown down, and highway truss bridges would collapse.  The only place to survive would be in an underground bunker.  Fortunately Hannes's discovery, 2019 RU3 will not strike the Earth in the foreseeable future.  Rest assured that asteroid hunters will continue to track this monster space rock to be sure it does not change path and become a danger to humanity as it crosses the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 562 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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563-Pre-Autumnal Harvest


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Published November 9, 2019
Recorded October 3, 2019

On a clear but windy night, near the fall equinox, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard was able to discover and verify 23 new Earth approaching objects as they passed through our celestial neighborhood. These visiting space rocks ranged from the size of an SUV to half the size of a city block. On average they had the diameter approximately the height of an 11 story building. Although three of them can come to less than 1/3 of the Moon's distance from us none of Greg's autumnal harvest of space rocks pose a threat to the residents of planet Earth. The one most likely to eventually enter our atmosphere is 2019 SD1. The day after Greg spotted it, streaking through the constellation of Pisces at 15 mi/s,  this 22 foot diameter space rock passed only 66,000 miles from our Moon. One hour and 11 minutes after that it came closest to Earth at a distance of less than 3/4 of the Moon's distance from us as it escaped from the Earth-Moon system. A space rock like 2019 SD1 enters our atmosphere every 3.3 years or so, bursts into a cloud of fragments at 106,000 feet, releases the energy of 68 tons of TNT, creates a spectacular light show, makes a sonic boom that is barely audible, and rains pieces of itself onto the surface for meteorite hunters to discover. You would be fortunate to witness such an event and if you are extremely lucky you might find a piece of such a celestial visitor to hold in your hand.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 563 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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564-Heavy Traffic

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Published November 16, 2019
Recorded October 3, 2019

In the space of less than 13 hours four small space rocks zipped through the Earth-Moon neighborhood. All of them were discovered by my team, the NASA funded, Catalina Sky Survey, before they made close approaches to our home planet. If any of these small space rocks had been on a collision course with Earth, astronomers would have had the opportunity to give us a heads up. These four tiny asteroids ranged in size from 13 to 46 feet in diameter and are no danger to humans. If any of them had entered our atmosphere they would have done nothing more than produce a light show and perhaps a small sonic boom. In the past few years advances in telescope technology, electronic cameras, and computers running clever software are making asteroid hunters aware of just how many space rocks visit our celestial neighborhood. Residents of our planet were alerted to the importance of this research when a 66 foot diameter space rock exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The resulting sonic boom injured 1,500 people mainly because of flying glass and other debris and damaged 7,200 buildings. A Chelyabinsk sized meteor enters our atmosphere about once every 70 years or so. The chances of one exploding over a city is relatively small. Asteroid hunters are developing the capability to warn people in an affected area to avoid injury by staying away from doors and windows.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 564 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer

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565-Ancient Crater


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Published November 22, 2019
Recorded October 3, 2019

In ancient times, Aboriginal people in southwestern Australia quarried fine grained rock on an ancient hill called Barlangi Rock to make very sharp tools.  Dr. Timmons Erickson, a NASA scientist at the Johnson Space Flight Center,  led a team which  discovered that the rocks the Aborigines used to make tools were formed by the impact which produced the  46 mile diameter Yarrabubba Crater. The asteroid impact 2.29 Billion years ago that formed this crater is coincident with the end of a planet wide extremely cold period called Ice Ball Earth. This timing suggests the Yarrabubba Impactor may have vaporized thick ice sheets, blowing clouds of steam into the stratosphere.  
Such a high layer of water vapor would act as a powerful greenhouse gas which in conjunction with volcanic eruptions could have caused the Earth to warm. The crater forming impact would also have spread dust over thousands of square miles, darkening the ice sheets covering the Earth which would have further enhanced the warming. Other researchers doubt that the asteroid alone could have triggered the end of such an ice age but like the idea of exploring this possibility.  Over the course of history asteroid impacts have caused mass extinctions of some species while improving the chances of other living forms like mammals to flourish. It is sobering to realize that human caused global warming is causing more extinctions than any asteroid in history.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 565 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer



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566-October Fest

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Published November 29, 2019
Recorded November 26, 2019

October of 2019 was a record breaking month for my team the Catalina Sky Survey during which we discovered 240 Earth approaching asteroids. This diverse collection of space rocks ranged in size from one that would fit into the bed of a small pickup truck to one which is more than 1/2 mile in diameter. They average out to be 223 feet in diameter with 149 of them being larger than the meteor which exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia injuring nearly 1,500 people in February of 2013. Fortunately none of our October discoveries will strike the Earth in the foreseeable future. 30 of this catch of space rocks can come closer to the Moon. In fact three of them can pass through the cloud of communications satellites which surround our planet. The 30 of these most closely approaching space rocks have an average diameter of 32 feet. One of this size enters the Earth's atmosphere once every 5 years or so, bursts into fragments at an altitude of about 122,000 feet, releases the energy of 4,000 tons of TNT, and rains fragments of itself onto the Earth's surface for meteorite hunters to discover.
My team the Catalina Sky Survey operates 4 telescopes in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, 24 nights per month when the Moon is not too bright. Our goal is to find any potentially dangerous space rock in time to mitigate the disaster it could produce. In addition we find a few comets and track the small space rocks that would produce sonic booms and light shows should they impact our home planet.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 566 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer



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567-Close Space Rock


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Published December 6, 2019
Recorded November  26, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne was observing with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona when he spotted a point of light moving through the constellation of Aries at 6 miles/second.  In order to determine its size and path through interplanetary  space telescopes in Arizona and New Mexico began to track it.  These observations allowed NASA scientists to estimate the new object's orbit and size. Amazingly, in only 6 hours this space rock, now named 2019 UN13, increased in brightness by more than 100 times and triggered the NASA Scout system as a potential impactor.  In fact, 9 hours after Teddy discovered it, this tiny, 4 foot in diameter, space rock streaked less than 4,000 miles above southern Africa as it passed through the cloud of communications satellites which surround our planet.  2019 UN13's near death interaction with Earth changed its path radically causing it to head away from us in the direction of the constellation of Virgo.  According to the Purdue University and the Imperial College of London's impact calculator an object the size of Teddy's small space rock enters the Earth's atmosphere once a month, explodes at an altitude of 145,000 feet with an energy of 49 tons of TNT, and may produce fragments for meteorite hunters to discover.  If you are fortunate to witness such an event you would be treated to a spectacular light show and perhaps of a new sense of appreciation for Earth's atmosphere as it protects us from the dangers of space.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 567 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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568-Tough Space Rock


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Published December 13, 2019
Recorded November
 26, 2019

While observing in the constellation of Cetus with our Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona my Catalina Sky Survey teammate David Rankin discovered an extremely tough space rock on wild roller coaster path about the Sun.  In November of 2017 this 350 foot diameter space rock, now known as 2019 UJ12, was at its furthest distance from the Sun out near the orbit of Jupiter. From there, under the relentless force of the Sun's gravity, 2019 UJ12 began a death defying trip about our Sun.  
At its closest point, on September 22 of 2019,  2019 UJ12 was only 1/3 of Mercury's average distance from the solar surface and received 9 times the amount of solar energy which heats the planet Mercury to 800F.  When David began to track 2019  UJ12 it had crossed the Earth's orbit and was heading back out of the inner solar system.  In August of 2021 this heat resistant space rock will once again reach its furthest distance from the Sun and start the cycle again.  2019 UJ12 makes one of its scorching solar encounters once every 3.77 years.  Since it has made many such passes it must be made of very tough rocky material.  If 2019 UJ12 has the chemical composition of a stony meteorite it could contain a sizable amount of iron and in the future could be of interest to space colonists as a valuable source raw materials.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 568 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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569-Fossil Ice

Published December 20, 2019
Recorded November
 28, 2019

Near our infant Sun, in the disk of material that was to become our solar system, it was too hot for ice or liquid water to exist.  Further away, beyond, what solar system scientists now call the "snow line" , 4.6 billion years ago, crystals of ice formed and were trapped inside accreting chunks of material.   As the planets condensed and were heated by gravitational forces,  Earth lost its water into interplanetary space.  On the other hand asteroids which formed far from our infant Sun retained trapped ice particles in their structure.  When this ice melted, the water combined chemically with the surrounding material to form water rich minerals and in the process left behind tiny microscopic holes known as fossil ice.  The first direct evidence of this activity was recently observed in the structure of a 4.6 Billion year meteorite, Acfer 094, found in Algeria in 1990.  It is very likely that the glass of water you enjoy today was brought to you by an asteroid impact which delivered water rich minerals to the young Earth long ago.  Recent findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggests that there is more water locked in the minerals of nearby asteroids, which are easier to reach than the Moon, than could be found in ice deposits near the lunar poles. This asteroidal water combined with solar energy could provide space colonists with water to drink, air to breathe, and hydrogen and oxygen to fuel their rockets.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 569 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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570-Catastrophic Wreckage


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Published December 28
, 2019
Recorded December 15, 2019

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski was asteroid hunting with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he spotted a fast moving point of light traveling through the constellation of Eradanus [A rid dan us]. Additional observations by telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii allowed scientists at the Minor Planet Center to calculate the new object's amazing 7.3 year long orbit about the Sun and give it the name 2019 UA14.  Richard's discovery, is a 2,000 foot diameter asteroid which has an orbit which is inclined by 72 degrees relative to the plane of the solar system which contains all of the planets and most of the other asteroids. Millions of years ago two large asteroids collided in the asteroid belt. Pieces were sent flying in all directions. A few of them like Richard's discovery were put into orbits which rise high above and below the plane of the solar system as they continued to travel around the Sun. Astronomers who have studied these high inclination asteroids find they have a higher cohesive force holding them together than asteroids with more normal orbits. Fortunately Richard's discovery, 2019 UA14, on its current path never comes very close to Earth. Recently another group of high inclination asteroids hiding in Jupiter's shadow have been identified. Encounters with the giant planet's gravity could cause some of them to experience orbital changes making them a threat to Earth. Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
Go to travelersinthenight.org program 570 for more information.
© 2019 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2019 A. D. Grauer


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