Programs 61-90

Travelers in The Night

Programs

61- There Are Still Big Ones Out There 


Published PRX July 17, 2014
Recorded July 09, 2014

There are millions of moving objects in our solar system traveling in relative isolation, in trillions of cubic miles of space, as they orbit our Sun.  The surface of our Moon and the more than 100 impact craters on Earth testify to the fact that celestial collisions are very rare but not impossible. 

During a recent 4 day period 5 large asteroids were found in our neighborhood. The largest is about 1.5 miles in diameter and comes within 19 million miles of our planet.  The second and third in size are both about a mile in diameter and will miss the Earth by wide margins.  The two smallest of these  asteroids are both about 1/2 mile in diameter and never come closer than 20 times the distance to our Moon.  It is fortunate that none of these 5 will ever strike the Earth since they would all cause far more devastation than the object which killed 80 million trees in Russia in 1908.
   
Asteroid Hunters have discovered almost 900 Earth Approaching Asteroids whose impact could trigger global climate change. Fortunately none of them are on a collision course with planet Earth. Statistically we expect that there about another 100 out there. There are many more smaller ones whose impact would cause a hurricane sized area of devastation.

Humans have the ability to discover dangerous asteroids and mitigate the damage when one is found to be on a collision course with planet Earth.  NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System to give us the means to visit an Earth Approaching asteroid. This is a first step.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

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62-From Big Dark Asteroid To Beautiful Bright Comet

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Published PRX July 17, 2014
Recorded July 09, 2014

J. A. Johnson found Asteroid 2013 UQ4 as a moving point of light in the night sky. He was observing with  the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey telescope on Mt. Bigelow in Arizona.  Dr. Rick Binzel  and his colleagues at MIT used the NASA 3-m telescope in Hawaii to obtain a spectrum. These data suggested that this object is dark, carbon rich, and about 12 miles in diameter.  At that point in its orbit, it had no discernible gas cloud or any other cometary activity. For all practical purposes it appeared to be a carbon rich asteroid.  Its orbit was somewhat surprising, since its path about the Sun, is in the opposite direction to that of most of the other objects in the solar system.

About 26 weeks after its discovery, astronomers in Australia were the first to notice that this asteroid was beginning to have a fuzzy appearance.  Six weeks later, Damian Peach, in England, took a stunning image  showing this object is a beautiful comet with a coma and a long tail.

This type of frog to prince transformation shows that the distinction between an asteroid and a comet may change depending on the objects distance from the Sun.

Questions remain.  What caused now comet C/2013 UQ4 to have an orbit so different from most of the rest of the members of our solar system? What will it be like when it returns in 470 years? Could this comet be similar to ones which are suspected of bringing water and organic materials to an ancient Earth that was dry and sterile?

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

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63-Rocks From Space Bearing Vitamin B3


Published PRX July 24, 2014
Recorded July 19, 2014

Vitamin B3 is also known as niacin.  It is a precursor to the formation of the amino acids.  Amino acids in turn are important components of molecular proteins.  These complex molecules allow living cells to perform the vast spectrum of functions which make life as we know it possible.

Conditions on Earth long ago would have allowed Vitamin B3 to form as a result of naturally occurring chemical processes.  However, it appears likely that this important building block for life was also deposited by celestial objects which impacted our planet.  A number of years ago Dr. Sandra Pizzarello  at Arizona State University led a team which discovered Vitamin B3 in the Tangis Lake Meteorite.   Recently, Karen Smith, a graduate student at Penn State University, headed up a team which discovered Vitamin B3 in 8 different meteorite samples. These researchers state that it is unlikely that the niacin in the meteorite samples comes from terrestrial contamination since they found it in combination with other chemicals not present in living structures.  Further the concentration of Vitamin B3 in the meteorites is related to conditions on the parent asteroid. This is situation is unlikely to be mimicked by Earthly contamination.   

Research indicates that Vitamin B3 can form on ice crystals in deep space.  From there asteroids and comets can bring it to Earth. How rocks from space play into life as we know it remains a mystery for us to ponder.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org for more information.


© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


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64-Asteroid Brings Life's Ingredients to Earth

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Published PRX July 24, 2014
Recorded July 19, 2014

A unique opportunity occurred in January of 2000, when a large meteoroid exploded and rained down pieces onto the frozen surface of Tagish Lake in British Columbia.  

Dr. Christopher Herd of the University of Alberta said that the first Tagish Lake samples were quickly collected from the frozen surface.  They are  the best preserved meteorite in the world.  Dr. Michael Callahan of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center commented that they are the closest thing in purity to those collected in a space sample and return mission.

The team which analyzed these meteorites published a paper on their work in the Journal Science.  They found that the meteorite pieces from the same fall contained varying amounts of different kinds of amino acids.  These organic compounds are the building blocks of life on Earth.  The fact that the isotope of Carbon found in the meteorite amino acids is rare on Earth but common in space provides evidence of its extraterrestrial origin. The diversity of amino acids appears to have been caused by varying amounts of water in the parent asteroid. 

Dr. Herd concluded, Our results provide perhaps the first clear evidence that water percolating through the asteroid parent body caused some of the molecules to be formed and others to be destroyed. The Tagish Lake meteor provides a unique window into what was happening to organic molecules on asteroids four-and-a-half billion years ago.
   
We have no conclusive evidence that life on Earth originated or was stimulated from space. However, one does have to wonder about what might be out there given the diverse chemistry that we know exists in the Universe.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


65-Your Shield

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Published PRX July 31, 2014
Recorded July 27, 2014

The NEOShield project is an international group of scientists and engineers from space faring nations. They are doing the detailed analysis and planning required to provide an effective means of dealing with an asteroid which is on a collision course with planet Earth. They are also studying the ways to protect us from falling man made space debris since it is a greater danger than asteroids. 

NEOShield has a detailed plan to send a spacecraft to intercept and deflect a threatening asteroid.  The mission will first deploy an orbiter which will carefully study the asteroid  for several months.  A second impacting spacecraft will then transfer momentum to the asteroid in such a way as to cause it to miss planet Earth.  This mission will be effective for smaller solid asteroids.

To deflect the largest asteroids which threaten our planet an explosive device must be used to expel material from the asteroid creating a rocket type thrust.   Burying the Nuclear or Chemical explosives on the asteroid before detonating them may be the most effective technique.

A third method of asteroid deflection is to use the tiny gravitational force between an asteroid and a spacecraft to change a threatening asteroids trajectory.  This approach may be used for fine tuning the effects of the impactor or blast techniques.

Human piloted spacecraft may be able to enhance the chances of success of any of these mitigation techniques.  The jury is still out on this one.

Implicit in the mitigation planning is the early detection of dangerous objects which is provided by the NASA Near Earth Object Program.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 65 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

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66-Opportunity Celebrates 10 Years On Mars


Published PRX July 31, 2014
Recorded July 27, 2014

More than ten years ago my wife Annie and I saw the JPL Engineers testing a model of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rovers. The model was in what looked like a large sand box in Pasadena, CA. 

The Opportunity Mars Rover landed on January 24, 2004 for a 3 month mission.  In the next 10 years it  traveled 24 miles from where it landed,  to the edge of a 14 mile diameter, 1000 foot deep crater named Endeavour.  During its journey this rover traveled across bed rock made of minerals which indicate that Mars had a wet environment billions of years ago. When the Opportunity Rover arrived at the edge of the Endeavor Crater's rim, it discovered a vein of the mineral gypsum sticking out of the soil.  This layer contains calcium, sulfur, and water. It is  likely to have been formed by water coming out through a crack.  This discovery proves that in the past Mars had an environment which would allow micro bacterial life to exist. 

It is impossible to do justice to this fascinating mission in 2 minutes, 2 days, or even 2 weeks. Take the time to visit the NASA Opportunity website.  You will personally experience the first time in history that humans have explored the surface of another planet. 

The Opportunity Rover has been joined by,  a car sized robot, named Curiosity. So far it has found that ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.    You can follow its journey on the NASA Curiosity website.   What will it find next?

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 66 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


67- NASA Deep Space Network Turns 50


Published PRX August 7, 2014
Recorded July 27, 2014

NASA's Deep Space Network is celebrating its 50th birthday. Australia, Spain, and California host its three sites. These facilities are spaced nearly evenly around the world to provide continuous communication with any spacecraft.

The Deep Space Network is the worlds most sensitive system for commanding, tracking, and monitoring spacecraft at the far reaches of our solar system.  It is also used for studying asteroids, as well as the interiors of planets and moons.

Every day the NASA Deep Space Network communicates with the furthest, human made, Traveler In The Night.  At more than 11 billion miles, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is more than 100 times further from the Sun than is the Earth.   It is so far that radio waves, traveling at a speed which would take them around the Earth 7 times per second, take more than 17 hours to go from the Voyager I to Earth. 

Closer to home the NASA Deep Space Network is the communications channel between the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Earth. This spacecraft has returned enough data to fill nearly 50,000 DVDs.   You can view its fabulous images of our neighbor in space via the internet. 

The key to nearly every successful space mission is the communications link provided by the NASA Deep Space Network. Its data capacity will need to be increased by more than 10 times during each of the next three decades to keep up with the discoveries being made by spacecraft.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 67 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


68-Hubble Finds Three Surprisingly Dry Exoplanets


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Published PRX August 7, 2014
Recorded July 27, 2014

Water is essential to life on our planet.  Recently, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was used to study 3 planets orbiting stars similar to our Sun.  Astronomers divided the infrared light from these planets into its component colors to see which are present and which are missing. These data provide direct evidence of the amount of water which is present on each planet.

The 3 planets in this study are between 60 and 900 light years from Earth.  They are hot gas giants which are ideal  candidates for detecting water in their atmospheres as they pass between their star and our line of sight.  The surprising result is that they contain between 1/10 and 1/1000 th of the water predicted by current theories of planet formation. 

The NASA Kepler Spacecraft has found at least a half dozen Earth sized planets orbiting distant stars. Several of them are at the right distance from their star to allow life as we know it.  One of them  is about 1200 light years from Earth.  It is about 40% larger than Earth so life forms would have to adapt to a significantly stronger gravity than we experience.  Another of Kepler's Earth like planet discoveries is very similar to our planets size and is located about 500 light years from us. How much water is present on either of these planets remains to be seen.

What kind of life forms, if any,  exist on other planets remains one of the most interesting questions of our times. Stay tuned.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 68 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

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69-Fly Out Of Spaceport America


Published PRX August 13, 2014
Recorded August 05, 2014

SpaceShipTwo will carry 6 passengers and two pilots and be launched from the 18,000 acre SpacePort America in New Mexico. 

SpaceShipTwo passengers will receive 3 days of training at Spaceport America before their flight.  Their spacecraft will be carried by the mother ship WhiteKnightTwo to an altitude of 50,000 feet. After detaching from the mother ship a rocket motor will bring SpaceShipTwo to supersonic speed in 8 seconds.   After 70 seconds the rocket motor will cut out and the spacecraft will coast to its maximum altitude of about 68 miles. Passengers will be treated to 3- 4 minutes of microgravity on a suborbital flight path during which time they can float in near zero g. They will be able to view the beautiful Earth surrounded by the blackness of space.  Before the return descent begins the new astronauts  will be instructed to return to their seats and strap in. At about 21 miles above the Earth's surface they will experience the maximum G forces at about 6 times the force of gravity. After returning to subsonic speed the final glide to the ground will take 10-15 minutes. The 90 minute flight will end with a landing at SpacePort America.  In human history only about 500 people have traveled into space.  The passengers of SpaceShipTwo should nearly double that number in the first year of operation.

 Approximately 400 of the first thousand tickets still are available at $250,000 each.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 69 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


70- NASA Mars Spacecraft Prepare For A Close Comet Flyby

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Published PRX August 13, 2014
Recorded August 05, 2014

Robert McNaught discovered a comet as it was traveling northward from under the plane of the Earth's orbit.  He was observing at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales Australia.  This object was tracked by telescopes all around the world and named Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring).  It attracted attention as soon as it was realized that it would pass very close to the planet Mars in October of 2014. 

The comet's nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles.  During its close approach it will be shedding small particles which will be traveling at more than 30 miles/second relative to Mars and Mars orbiting spacecraft.  At that speed even a very small sand grain would do significant damage to one of NASA's orbiting spacecraft.

Fortunately the comet will miss Mars by a wide enough margin so that only the edge of the dust trail it leaves will provide some risk to our spacecraft.  NASA currently operates two Martian orbiters and expects a third one to arrive in the near future.  All of them have taken precautionary measures to protect themselves from cometary high speed dust damage. 

In 1910 there was widespread concern when the nucleus of Halley's comet passed 170 times farther from us than Comet Siding Spring will be from Mars in October of 2014.  Humans now use orbiting satellites for everything from predicting the weather to finding a motel.  Thus we have more to worry about a comets close approach in 2014 than humans did in 1910 when the Earth passed through the tail of Halley's comet.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 70 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

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71-Martian Women


Published PRX August 20, 2014
Recorded August 05, 2014

 Women have long played a prominent role at the forefront of astronomical and space research. Caroline Herschel discovered a number of comets and was the first woman to be paid for her scientific research when she received a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828. Annie Jump Cannon established the system that we use to classify the spectra of stars which led to the understanding of how stars work. Henrietta Leavitt discovered and calibrated the stars that we use to measure distances in the Universe today with the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars. Navigation engineer Linda Morabito discovered volcanoes on Jupiter's moon IO.  Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.  These are a few of the women who have made fundamental contributions to astronomy and the space sciences.

Currently, women are exploring the planet Mars.  Dr. Joy Crisp is the Deputy Project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. Nicole Spanovich is the Curiosity Mars Rover Science Operations Team Chief.There is also a whole team of women who have constructed a Mars like garden park in Pasadena California to exercise the rovers so that we know how to operate them on Mars.  There are unnamed dozens of other women who are Professors, Graduate Students, Engineers, Computer Programmers, and Managers who are making the exploration of Mars a reality. 

Men may be from Mars but women are exploring it.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 71 for more information.

 © 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


72-Could Space Aliens Detect Life On Earth


Published PRX August 20, 2014
Recorded August 11, 2014

If a space alien were to peer around the edge of the Moon from its base on the far side it could see our lights at night and perhaps even the smoke from our factories during the day.  It could also pick up radio and TV signals created by humans. An interesting question is could a space alien detect planet Earth and learn something about it if it were so far away that our Sun were only a tiny point of light in its night sky?

When a planet passes in front of its star it causes a tiny dip in the star's light.  The NASA Kepler spacecraft has discovered a number of Earth like planets using this technique.  During this tiny dip the light from the star passes through the planet's atmosphere. This causes the light from the star to be changed so that some of its colors are missing.  The missing pattern of colors tells us what is in the planet's atmosphere. 

To check out what a space alien would see as the Earth passed between it and our Sun, astronomers  looked at the sunlight which passed through the Earth's atmosphere during a total lunar eclipse.   This reflected Earth shine is Sun light with some of its colors missing.  The missing colors come about from water, ozone, and other constituents of our atmosphere. 

In the future the NASA Webb Space Telescope and giant telescopes on Earth will be able to analyze a star's light as one of its planets passes in front of it.  The colors that are missing during such an event will tell us much about an Earth like planet's atmosphere.

Stay tuned. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 72 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


73-Mars 2020 Rover


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Published PRX August 28, 2014
Recorded August 11, 2014

In the 50 years that human made Travelers In The Night have been visiting the planet Mars we have discovered a wealth of interesting information about our neighbor in space.  Mars has a surface which about the size of the land areas on Earth.  It has has a climate which has changed dramatically over the eons. We have literally just begun to scratch its surface.

NASA has begun planning for the Mars 2020 Rover which will based on the successful Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity Mars rovers.  Two of these roving scientific laboratories are still operating on the red planet.  The new rover will have advanced geological instruments to access the landing site for human astronauts.  It will also have a new generation of instruments which will allow it to directly search for signs of ancient life.

The new Mars rovers will collect soil samples and rocks and store them for a possible future mission which would take them to Earth for further study. 

An experiment aboard the new rover will be conducted to determine the feasibility of producing oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the martian atmosphere. This may be the method that future astronauts will use to will obtain some of what they need to explore the red planet.

Today you can participate in the exploration of Mars by visiting the Opportunity, Curiosity, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter websites.  You could very well discover something in one of the images that no one else has noticed.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 73 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


74-Space Aliens Listening to Our Sun

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Published PRX August 28, 2014
Recorded August 11, 2014

Suppose that a space alien were so far from us that our Sun appears as a tiny point of light in it's night sky. What would the space alien receive if it pointed it's radio antennas at our Sun?

If the space alien is more than 200 light years from our Sun it would be receiving radio waves produced by a normal Sun like star and perhaps bursts of radio waves created by lightening on Jupiter.

If the space alien were located less than 50 light years away, it would discover a pattern in the radio waves from the direction of our Sun that is getting more complex and repeats every 24 hours. When the Earth is oriented so that the Pacific ocean is pointing in the space alien's direction the pattern would be at a low point. When the TV transmitters from Japan and China come into its line of site there would be an increase in the strength of the signal.  There would then be a dip over Siberia and another peak when the TV stations in Europe come into view. This would be followed by an Atlantic ocean dip and then two peaks from the US East and West coasts.  The pattern discovered by the space alien would shift slightly in time as the Earth orbits the Sun.

For almost 30 years scientists and members of the SETI Institute have been working to search for intelligent life on other planets by looking for radio signals from stars that have an unusual pattern.  Nothing that cannot be explained by natural physical processes has been discovered.

The pattern in radio waves that the space alien receives will probably fade as human communications shift to satellites and fibers.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 74 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


75-Will Space Aliens Discover Us By Our Pollution


Published PRX September 4, 2014
Recorded August 18, 2014

When a distant planet passes in front of its star some of the star's radiation goes through the planet's atmosphere.  The pattern of colors or wavelengths which are present and missing tells us what is in the planet's atmosphere.  The NASA Kepler Spacecraft has discovered more than a half dozen Earth like planets which pass between their star and the Earth.

Methane is a very simple molecule containing Carbon.   On Earth 99%  of methane is produced by living sources including everything from microbes to cows to humans. Dr. Mandy Joye's of the University of Georgia and her colleagues'  research indicates that methane is the energy source for bacteria at the base of our oceans food chains.    Recently, NASA has discovered that Mars is currently producing methane. We don't know if it is from living or nonliving sources.  Current research methods are focusing on how to distinguish methane produced from living creatures and that which comes from other processes.

 As humans switch from high power broadcast radio and TV signals to fiber and satellites for communications the signals we radiate into space will decrease.  Thus in the future space aliens will have less of a chance of detecting humans by listening for our transmissions.  Unfortunately it appears that we will continue to pour polluting gases such as chlorofluorocarbons and methane into our atmosphere.

It appears likely that a way to discover pseudo intelligent life in the Universe is to search for pollution in their planet's atmosphere.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 75 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


76-Waking Up To No Satellites


Published PRX September 11, 2014
Recorded August 19, 2014

What would your day be like if you woke up and there were no functioning artificial Earth satellites?  All of us have become used to finding our way with GPS satellites, watching satellite TV, obtaining up to date satellite weather information, and buying gas with a credit card which is processed with a satellite transaction.

A comet that comes closer to Earth than Comet Siding Spring's near miss of Mars in October of 2014 would put many of our artificial satellites at risk.  Fortunately we have not discovered any such Earth approaching comets.  However, it is hard to assign a probability to such an event since comets routinely appear without warning.

On September 1, 1859 Richard Carrington saw two intense bright patches of light near some Sun spots. The flares that he saw on the Sun that day only lasted a few minutes during which time they released the energy of billions of nuclear weapons.   By the next day the massive solar flares that he had witnessed produced events on the Earth. The northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii while the southern version was observed as far north as Santiago, Chile. The glow this event created in our atmosphere was so bright that people in the northeastern United States were able to read the newspaper by its light.  The geomagnetic disturbances these mega solar flares produced caused telegraph equipment all over the world to fail. If the Carrington event occurred today, it would probably disable artificial satellites and disrupt power grids.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 76 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


77-Extremely Old World Could Harbor Life


Published PRX September 11, 2014
Recorded August 19, 2014

Radar beams that are reflected from your car as you travel down a highway reveal your speed and direction.  In a similar way,  scientists using a telescope in Chile have discovered two planets orbiting a nearby reddish star by measuring the tiny motions they produce in their Sun as they orbit it. 

These newly discovered planets orbit a a red dwarf star named Kapteyn [cop-tine].  This faint red star is only about 13 light years from us and is likely to be twice as old as our Sun. It can be seen with a small telescope or binoculars in the constellation of Pictor.  This star is traveling at 152 miles per second relative to us which causes it to change constellations much more rapidly than other stars. The star Kapteyn's rapid motion was first discovered in the 1890s by the astronomer Jacob Cornelius Kapteyn.  It was probably formed early in the history of the Universe and achieved its rapid motion as smaller galaxies merged to form the Milky Way.

Kapteyn b appears to be a 5 Earth mass rocky planet which orbits its faint red star in only 48 days.   Watery oceans are a definite possibility on this high gravity Earth like planet.  

During the past 3.8 billion years many life forms have come and gone on Planet Earth.  The parade goes from multicellular organisms to dinosaurs to human beings.  One can only wonder what life forms may exit on the planet Kapteyn b which is more than twice as old as our planet.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 77 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


78-Up Close And Personal With A Comet


Published PRX September 18, 2014
Recorded August 19, 2014

From the dawn of recorded history, comets have been viewed as the bringers of everything from gloom and doom to water and life.  In reality, comets are a sample of material which was present in the cloud of gas and dust which condensed to form our Sun and its planetary system.  Until recently a comet's nucleus has remained a mystery enveloped in a veil of gas and dust.

The Rosetta Spacecraft has traveled for more than 10 years to visit a comet.  Along its 4 billion mile long path it used three close approaches to Earth and one to Mars to achieve its current speed and direction with the available rocket fuel.  Upon its arrival it has discovered a two mile sized "duck" shaped comet nucleus which is emitting water vapor into space. Like a good doctor the first thing the spacecraft did was to take the comet's temperature.  At  -94 degrees Fahrenheit the comet is likely to be composed of ices of various materials covered with a layer of dust.  Rosetta's first job is to find a safe place for its lander which when deployed will directly sample the comet's nucleus. After that Rosetta will analyze comet burps.  From these measurements we will be able to learn about the many types of molecular building blocks of life which are present in a comet's nucleus.  By comparing the isotopes of hydrogen found the comet's nucleus with those in the Earth's oceans we will obtain evidence concerning the origin of the Earth's water. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 78 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


79-Interplanetary Travelers-Lunar Meteorites 


Published PRX September 18, 2014
Recorded September 04, 2014

One of the most amazing adventures in human history is the series of manned lunar landings that NASA made more than 45 years ago.  An extremely valuable scientific treasure are the lunar rocks and surface material that our astronauts brought back with them.

About one out of a thousand meteorites that you find on Earth started out on the Moon.  They were given escape velocity from the Moon as a result of the impact of an asteroid or comet. These lunar space rocks orbit the Sun or Earth and most of them eventually end on our planet.  

We are able to distinguish lunar meteorites from terrestrial rocks and meteorites from the asteroid belt by their chemical compositions and by comparing them with the lunar rocks the Apollo Astronauts brought back to Earth.

There are approximately 180 named lunar meteorites.  The largest one weighs about 30 lbs.  In fact, the largest 3, account for nearly 1/2 of the 150 lbs of lunar meteorites which have been found on the Earth's surface.   

Lunar meteorites are very rare and so far none have been found in North America.  The best places to find them are the dry deserts in Africa and on the ice in Antarctica. They are scientifically important in that they sample the surface of the Moon in different places than did the Apollo Astronauts.

A lunar meteorite can be worth more than either the same mass of gold or diamonds. A lunar space rock with the mass of a US quarter could be worth between $4,500 and $225,000 depending on how rare it is perceived to be. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 79 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


80-Rocks From Space Tell A Tale


Published PRX September 25, 2014
Recorded September 06, 2014

The history of our part of the Universe is written with a fine point in the space rocks which orbit our Sun. Some of them carry small grains of material from the cloud of gas and dust from which our solar system formed.  They also carry clocks. Naturally occurring radio active potassium in space rocks decays into argon gas atoms which are trapped until the rock becomes molten. By measuring the potassium to argon ratio, Dr. Tim Swindle of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is able to determine the length of time since meteorites have solidified after an impact event

Scientists used a variety of methods to analyze fragments from the meteor whose impact injured nearly 1500 people in Russia in 2013.  Dr. Swindle points out that the evidence suggests that the asteroid parent of this object  was probably struck by high speed fragment which was ejected outward in the solar system from the impact which occurred when a Mars sized object struck the Earth. This event happened 4.45 billion years ago and left us with the Earth Moon system.  Space rocks from the asteroid and Moon forming fragment collision have orbited the Sun for billions of years.  One of them had collisions 30 million and 2 million years ago creating the Chelyabinsk meteoroid and put it on a path which caused it to collide with planet Earth.   

Dr. Swindle concludes from the evidence that the object which struck the Earth in February of 2013 had been banged around pretty hard a least 3 times before it finally exploded in our atmosphere.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 80 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


81-Views From The Shores Of The Cosmic Ocean


Published PRX September 25, 2014
Recorded September 06, 2014

Before artificial lighting many people knew the night sky the way humans of today know their favorite TV channels. 
Our ancestors used the sky as a clock and calendar.  The night sky has informed humans when to plant, hunt, and even when the Nile river would flood.

More than 30 years ago Carl Sagan expanded the public's awareness of the Universe with the television series Cosmos. The episodes are available on YouTube and are well worth watching.

The International year of Astronomy 2009 was scheduled to coincide with the first recorded astronomical observations with a telescope by Galileo Galilei.

The International Year of Light 2015 has an astronomical component. The Cosmic Light.   Visit their website to learn more about how Einstein contributed to our understanding of light, become aware of the importance of being able to view the un-light polluted night sky, view many images of the Universe, gain an understanding of the Big Bang, and build your own high quality low cost telescope.

There are places where you can view the naturally appearing sky.  The National Park Service understands the importance of the natural night sky as part of the park environment.  There is a new accessible night sky viewing area in the Gila National Forest about 75 miles north and west of Silver City, New Mexico.  It is called the Cosmic Campground. Check it out at cosmiccampground.org.  It is one of the best places in the world to view the night sky in all of its beauty with the naked eye, a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 81 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


82-Interplanetary Travelers - Antarctic Meteorites


Published PRX October 2, 2014
Recorded September 23, 2014
 
In the cold deserts of Antarctica nature collects meteorites as ice sheets carrying space rocks are pushed up against mountains.  High speed winds remove the ice leaving dozens to hundreds of meteorites stranded in an area often as small as a football field.  

In the past 30 years the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program has discovered more than 20,000 meteorites.
This is more than all of other meteorites discovered in the past 500 years. Most of these space rocks come from asteroids and comets. Approximately 1 out of a thousand space stones found in Antarctica come from the Moon. Also rare but found are those which have traveled from Mars to Earth after being ejected from the red planet by an impact of an asteroid or comet. The meteorites which are collected are shipped, still frozen, to the Antarctic Meteorite laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas. There they are catalogued and distributed to scientists all over the world for study.  Antarctic space rocks have much to tell us about asteroids, comets, planets, and how our solar system was formed.

Even though Antarctic meteorite hunters operate in the "summer" it is still cold near the south pole.  People who are experienced in traveling across glaciers and ice sheets train prospective space rock hunters.  Explorers are rewarded when they find an area with a fantastic number of meteorites in a small area called a trough.  

The Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program takes applications from both men and women early in the spring each year.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 82 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


83-Two Space Rocks Come Close To Planet Earth In A Week  


Published PRX September 4, 2014
Recorded September 03, 2014

The NASA funded, University of Arizona, Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, AZ was used to discover two close approaching space rocks on the same night. They were spotted by Catalina Sky Survey team member R. A. Kowalski.  The largest and also the closest approaching of these two asteroids is about the same size as the one which entered the Earth's atmosphere and injured nearly 1500 people in Russia in 2013. This new space rock has been given the name of 2014 RC. At its closest it will be about 25,000 miles from us. Fortunately its path will miss the ring of geosynchronous satellites which we humans use for observing the weather and communicating with each other.

The NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey operates two telescopes, 24 nights per month , in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona. These two telescopes discover about 600 Near-Earth Asteroids per year. They are a part of the NASA Near-Earth Object Search Program.

Smaller asteroids like these two have gotten renewed interest since many injuries could have been avoided in Russia in 2013 if people had been warned to stay away from doors and windows. In the past 12 years there have been two other small asteroid impacts which have released atomic bomb levels of energy over the oceans.   New cameras and software offer the possibility of issuing tornado like warnings should we discover any small asteroids before they impact the Earth. 

Rest assured that the asteroid hunting community will keep track of these two new space rocks to make sure that neither of them become on a collision course with planet Earth as they pass other objects in space.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 83 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer

More Information On This Program

84-Interplanetary Travelers-Martian Meteorites


To be Published PRX October 2, 2014
Recorded September 23, 2014

Recently, Dr. Stephanie C. Werner of the University of Oslo in Norway and her colleagues have discovered the source of some of the Martian meteorites found on Earth. It is the 34 mile diameter Mojave Crater on Mars. The debris ejected from this impact event about 5 million years ago, orbited the Sun until one of the pieces fell to Earth and was discovered by humans in Antarctica.

EETA70991 is a large 17 lb stony meteorite which was found in Antarctica in 1979.  It contains bubbles of gas encased in glass. These gas bubbles have exactly the same combination of atoms that the Viking spacecraft measured in the Martian atmosphere in 1976.  It is a fingerprint of Martian origin.  It has also been found in at least 4 other Martian meteorites. Recently, the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover measured the relative abundances of the different kinds of Argon atoms in the Martian atmosphere. This is a way of positively identifying meteorites from Mars. 

No meteorites of lunar origin have been observed to fall while 4 Martian meteors have been observed streaking across the sky and soon after pieces of them have been found on the ground.  The most recent Martian meteorite observed striking planet Earth occurred in 2012 over Morocco. 

It is likely that there are some Martian meteorites amongst the rocks in the American southwest deserts awaiting discovery.  They are worth 10 times or more their weight in gold.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 84 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


85-Obscuring The Cosmos


Published PRX October 9, 2014
Recorded September 28, 2014

Imagine a world where people are never able to see the Milky Way or a meteor streaking like a falling star in the night sky.  For most of the people living in the Earth's cities this has already happened.  In the United States most people live in artificial light domes and in 10 years there will only a few places left at which to experience the natural wonders of the night sky.

For all but the last 50 years of human history most people experienced walking around at night by the light of the stars. The natural view of the cosmos has inspired countless generations of poets, scientists, mathematicians, and seekers of truth.  The ancient Sumerians used base 60 arithmetic to explain and predict what they observed. We still employ 60 seconds per minute, 360 degrees in a circle, and many other remnants of their system.   Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus and the laws of physics which are the basis for most of the mechanical devices  we use every day. He simply wanted to explain and predict what is observed in the night sky.  More recently space exploration and astronomy has stimulated the development of computers, cameras, navigation devices, and many more things which we take for granted every day.  Will future generations have similar opportunities to be inspired by a natural view of the Cosmos?

The International Dark-Sky Association  has recognized 25 parks and preserves world wide as ideal places to view the night sky.    A new candidate for that distinction can be found at cosmiccampground.org.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 85 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer



86-A Close Flyby


Published PRX October 9, 2014
Recorded September 28, 2014

Recently a semi-trailer trailer truck sized asteroid passed only 20,800 miles above the Earth's surface. It reached its closest distance to us about 6 days after it was discovered by team member, Richard Kowalski, of the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey.  Fortunately it did not enter our atmosphere.  

Dr. R. Binzel of MIT and his co-workers data indicates that it is a stony object similar to what is found in the inner asteroid belt.  Further observations  at Lowell Observatory were used to measure its rotation rate to be once every 15.8 seconds.  This is the most rapidly spinning asteroid every measured and suggests that it is a solid object.  Dr. L. Benner and Dr. M. Brozovic's observations with the Goldstone RADAR telescope find that this asteroid has a minimum diameter of 72 feet.  This is important scientific information which will allow us to prepare the proper warnings for the impact of an asteroid like this one.  It was observed far enough in advance, that if it had been an impactor, a warning would have eliminated many of the likely injuries it could have produced.  A similar sized object appeared without warning over Russia injuring nearly 1500 people February of 2013.  

The NASA Near Earth Object Program will have new equipment and telescopes coming on line in the near future. These facilities will allow us to have a far greater chance of providing an early tornado like warning should a small space rock be on a collision course with planet Earth.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 86 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


87-MOM Reaches Mars


Published PRX October 16, 2014
Recorded October 7, 2014

India's Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM has made the 10 month journey from Earth to Mars.  India joins the United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency in the exploration of the red planet by placing its Mangalyann [Mangle Yarn] spacecraft into orbit around Mars.  MOM is circling the red planet in a highly elliptical orbit which takes it from 262 to 48,000 miles from its surface.  Its orbit will allow  Mangalyann to study our neighboring planet's atmosphere and surface.  This remarkable achievement succeeded on its first attempt with a budget which is tiny compared to its competition.  India is the first Asian nation to send a spacecraft to Mars.

Mangalyann [Mangle Yarn] has 5 scientific instruments which will map Mars and study the minerals on its surface during its 6 month mission. The spacecraft's first photo shows Mars from pole to pole and captures a large dust storm in the red planet's northern region.  Its attempt to detect and measure the abundance of methane could have an important impact on our quest to find evidence of life on Mars.  

In the last few years, India has become a major player in the navigation, weather, and communication satellite industries.  This mission proves that the Indian Space Research Organization has the ability to design, build, and manage an interplanetary mission.

The Mars Orbiter Mission success will have many positive results including the inspiration of India's next generation of scientists and engineers. 

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 87 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


88-Space Rocks


Published PRX October 16, 2014
Recorded October 7, 2014

One can find references to rocks from space throughout human history including Australian Aborigines oral traditions concerning a meteor fall 4,700 years ago.

Asteroid 2008 TC3 is the only asteroid which was observed to be hurtling between planets, flying through our atmosphere, and pieces of it found to be lying on the Earth's Surface.  NASA funded, Catalina Sky Survey team member, Richard Kowalski discovered it 20 hours before it hit.  Airline pilots spotted it flying through the sky. Eventually, searchers were rewarded with pieces of it on the sands of the Sudanese desert.

On January 1, 2014 a small asteroid was spotted before its explosion, once again by my Catalina Sky Survey team, member, Richard Kowalski. Its sonic boom was recorded by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Network as it disintegrated over the Atlantic ocean. Every day, fireball meteors which are brighter than the planet Venus are spotted all around the world. Four Martian meteors have been observed streaking across the sky with pieces of them being recovered shortly afterward on the Earth's surface.  If you find a Martian meteorite it could be worth many times its weight in gold and diamonds.

Meteorites from asteroids, comets, the Moon, and Mars can be found on the surface of Planet Earth.  They contain many types of materials including amino acids and vitamin B3. These space rocks have much to tell us as we are learning to read the stories which are written in their compositions and structures.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 88 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


89-Witnessing An Asteroid Impact



Published PRX October 22, 2014
Recorded October 8, 2014

Recently I discovered a small asteroid with the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon. This space rock is about 200 feet in diameter and will never get closer than 1/4 of the distance to the Moon.  A friend asked what it would be like to witness the impact of such an object.  This  would be a serious event similar to what humans, 40 miles away,  witnessed in Tunguska in 1908 when 80 million trees over an 800 square mile area were destroyed.    

Here is some speculation fueled by calculations.   As the 200 foot diameter asteroid approaches the Earth its gets brighter and brighter. Hours before the impact it would be  visible in a small telescope. A few minutes before the space rock hits it will be visible at night with the human eye. A few seconds before it enters the Earth's atmosphere it would be brighter than the planet Venus and would be visible in the daytime.  At about 70 miles above the Earth's surface it would be heated by atmospheric friction.  What happens next depends on what the space rock is made of.  If it is an iron meteor a significant amount will be lost but some of it could reach the surface and make a crater.  If it is a stony meteor it could explode raining pieces onto the ground.  If it is an icy comet it could be completely vaporized.   In any event if the impact occurred over land, the super sonic boom it created, with perhaps the energy of 100 megatons of TNT,  would damage trees and buildings over a wide area.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 89 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer


90-Shine Little Asteroid Shine



Published PRX October 22, 2014
Recorded October 8, 2014

Recently I was observing with the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when I discovered a 200 foot diameter asteroid, 2014 SC324.  It is in an orbit around the Sun which takes it from inside our planet's path to 60% of the way to Jupiter. This is an unusual Earth approaching space rock in that it gets bright enough to be imaged with a small telescope equipped with an electronic camera.

The brightness of an asteroid as we see it depends on its distance from the Sun and Earth, its inherent reflectivity, and the fraction of its lighted surface which faces our home planet.  In the case of 2014 SC324 its brightness comes about from the fact that as it passes the Earth opposite to the Sun it appears like a little full moon in the sky. In 2014 it will pass about 1.5 lunar distances from the Earth.   On other occasions it come as close as 56,000 miles to our planet.  This asteroid can also make close approaches to our Moon.   

2014 SC324 orbits the Sun every 2.72 years so we will be seeing it again. It is large enough to leave a hurricane sized damage area should it impact our planet.  The asteroid hunting community will be keeping track of it since its Earth crossing orbit gives it a 1 in 244,000 chance of impacting the Earth after 2069.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 90 for more information.

© 2014 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2014 A. D. Grauer




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