Programs 91-120

Travelers in The Night


91-Faster Than A Speeding Bullet


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Published PRX October 30, 2014
Recorded October 30, 2014


Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Its not Superman, its a meteoroid. Yes, a volleyball sized stoney meteoroid, which is typically traveling 15 to 60 times faster than a high powered rifle bullet, has 8 times the kinetic energy of a passenger diesel electric locomotive traveling at 100 miles per hour.

When such an object enters our atmosphere it can produce a meteor called a fireball. These meteors can be brighter than the planet Venus and be visible over hundreds of square miles. They sometimes penetrate the Earth's atmosphere down to an altitude 30 miles or so and can produce booming sounds. Over the past few years 2,000 to 4,000 fireball events have been reported each year. This must be an underestimate,  since those events which occur during the daytime or over the oceans are much less likely to be observed.

On a recent day the NASA Fireball network reported 30 fireballs. Their 15 cameras cover only a small fraction of the continental United States. Observations from several cameras are used to determine a
small object's path through space before its impact with Planet Earth.

About 1/3 of the meteorites found on the Earth's surface are  called "falls" since they are discovered as a result of someone seeing the object fall from the sky. In fact 4 meteors from the planet Mars have been observed streaking across the sky and later pieces of them have been found on the ground.  By keeping your eyes and ears open you may be able to discover a meteorite.  

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 91 for more information.


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


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92- An Earth Approaching Comet


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Published PRX October 30, 2014
Recorded October 30, 2014

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski has discovered an Earth approaching comet that comes within 18 million miles of our home planet. It orbits the Sun every 5 and a half years on a path that takes it from a point between the Earth and Mars out to near the planet Jupiter. Even though it is unlikely to become a bright naked eye comet or a threat to us, its discovery alerts us to the fact that there are objects like this out there.

Humans know something about approximately 5,000 of the perhaps 1 trillion comets that orbit our Sun.  On a typical year one of them is likely to become bright enough to be seen with the unaided human eye.

Recently comet Siding Springs made a close approach to the planet Mars.  NASA placed its three orbiting spacecraft on the opposite side of Mars as the comet's dust trail came near.  This maneuver was deemed necessary since the comet and its dust was traveling at more than 30 miles per second relative to the Red Planet.

In 1910 the Earth passed through the end of the tail of Halley's comet.  Today such an event could pose a threat to the artificial Earth satellites that we rely on, for everything, from finding a restaurant, to making a bank transaction.  

The NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey operates two telescopes 24 nights per month in the Catalina mountains near Tucson, Arizona to discover Earth approaching objects.  Hopefully we will be able to give a heads up in the extremely unlikely situation in which a comet is about to make a very close approach to planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 92 for more information.

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


93-Name That Asteroid


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Published PRX November 6, 2014
Recorded October 31, 2014 

It has been traditional for an asteroid to be named by its discoverer. The 1990s were the golden age for private individuals as computerized telescopes and electronic cameras became affordable and readily available.  The number of catalogued asteroids increased slowly and by 1999 there were approximately 20,000 of them.  During the next 15 years this number has increased nearly 50 times as the large surveys have come into operation. This has made it difficult but not impossible for amateurs and students to discover and name asteroids using their own equipment.  

New opportunities for students to discover and name asteroids are being provided by The International Astronomical Search Collaboration.  Students are enabled to make original hands-on scientific discoveries. They receive high quality images from professional telescopes which they then search to discover and track new asteroids. So far students and teachers from 7 US states and 4 foreign countries have discovered asteroids which have been tracked for 3-5 years are in the process of being named. Currently, there are 500 schools/year from 80 countries that are participating in International Astronomical Search Collaboration programs. What a wonderful way to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Observers in the asteroid hunting community have the opportunity to propose names for the asteroids which we have discovered. Check out the asteroid I named for my wife, Anniegrauer.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 93 for more information.

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


94-You Are Close To Outer Space



Published PRX November 6, 2014
Recorded October 31, 2014
 
How often do you traveled 5, 10, or more miles on a shopping trip?  If instead of traveling on the Earth's surface you were to travel 6 miles straight up, to the realm of the jet airliner, you would likely need oxygen to stay conscious. At an altitude of 12 miles you would need a space suit to stay alive. Several groups have reached an altitude of 24 miles using cameras attached to unmanned weather balloons with budgets of less than $1,000.  At this height their cameras were above 99% of the Earth's atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip will soon be taking passengers from Spaceport America to about 62 miles above the Earth's surface at a cost of $250,000 per ticket. From this altitude you will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space.    

When you see a meteor streaking across the night sky it is likely to be, 50 and 70 miles above the Earth's surface.  Scientists at the University of Calgary, using rocket borne instruments have found a boundary between the  winds in the Earth's atmosphere and high speed charged particles from space to be 73 miles above our planet's surface. The International Space Station maintains an altitude between 205 and 270 miles.  You have probably traveled further than any of these distances on a automobile trip.  At 6000 miles above the Earth's surface there are a few more gas molecules than there are in interplanetary space.

Outer space is not far, it just takes a lot of energy to get there.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 94 for more information.

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


95-Phantom Meteor Shower



Published PRX November 13, 2014
Recorded October 31, 2014

Comet Blanpain was discovered in 1819 and was described as having a small confused nucleus.  It was lost a few months after its discovery and pronounced dead.  It 1956 a meteor outburst was observed by the crew of a Japanese expedition ship on its way to the Antarctic.  This intense meteor  shower seemed to be unrelated to any other and became known as the phantom meteor shower.  More than a decade ago,  Catalina Sky Survey observers discovered what appeared to be an unknown Earth approaching asteroid, 2003 WY25.  Recently these seemingly unconnected observations have been shown in all likelihood to be manifestations of the same object.  

The linkage between these various sightings became apparent by observations of  asteroid 2003 WY25 by astronomers at the University of Hawaii and the Pan-STARRS group. These data showed this asteroid to have a coma of gas around it making likely to be a piece of long lost comet Blanpain.  

This unusual object orbits the Sun with a period of 5 and a half years.  Sometimes it can come within 1.6 million miles of Earth while at other times it is out near the planet Jupiter.  Perhaps its encounter with Jupiter in 1817 has produced some of its strange behavior.

One of the original members of the 1956 Japanese Antarctic expedition, now 91, is planning to travel to the Canary Islands to hopefully witness another meteor shower created by this object. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 95 for more information.

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



96-Target Asteroids



Published PRX November 13, 2014
Recorded October 31, 2014

Many scientists have been started on their career paths by an interest in astronomy and the mysteries of space.  As technology has developed it has become more difficult for students to be involved in hands-on scientific research.

Target Asteroids provides an opportunity for students to participate in real scientific research and to have a chance to discover and name an asteroid.

The Catalina Sky Survey and the Pan-STARRS group will take professional quality astronomical images of near Earth asteroids as they orbit the Sun. 

Students will be given the first opportunity to research this source of unique scientific data. 

Astronomers with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration and the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids team will provide a site license for the Astrometrica software the students will need.The International Astronomical Search Collaboration website also has some training material.  

High School and college students will measure the position and brightness objects in space from these images.  These data will allow the OSIRIS-REx  science team to determine some of the physical properties of objects which come near and very rarely collide with planet Earth. 

In addition the students will measure the position and brightness of other asteroids on each image.  By comparing their position measurements with the data base of known asteroids they will be able to discover and name some of these small worlds which orbit our Sun.  Their discoveries will be reported to the Minor Planet Center where they will be transmitted to the rest of the world via electronic circulars.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 96 for more information.

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




97-A Large Strange One



Published PRX November 20, 2014
Recorded November 20, 2014

Recently my, University of Arizona, Catalina Sky Survey, teammate, Jess Johnson, was searching for Earth Approaching asteroids when he discovered a faint slow moving object in the night sky.  Six nights of followup observations revealed that this new object's path is out near the planet Neptune. It takes approximately 173 years for it to travel once about the Sun so it will take observations over the next few years to pin down its orbit.  With a diameter of approximately 43 miles it is much larger than the Earth approaching objects we normally encounter.  The Minor Planet Center has classified it as a Centaur.

Centaurs are named for the mythical beings which are half horse and half human.
They are small cold worlds that share the characteristics of both asteroids and comets.  Humans have discovered less than 200 of the more than 40,000 of them which are likely to be traveling amongst the outer planets. 

 A Centaur's orbit about the Sun changes as it crosses paths with the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  Sometimes one is perturbed to move it closer to the Sun, be warmed, and give off a cloud of gas.  At that point a Centaur may be impossible to distinguish from a faint comet.

Centaurs are so far from us that we don't know much about their surface features. By studying the light that is reflected from them we know that they contain carbon, organic molecules, and ices of various substances.

How many Centaurs have collided with the Earth over the eons and enriched our planet remains a mystery.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 97 for more information.

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




98-Small Objects Visiting Our Neighborhood



Published PRX November 20, 2014
Recorded November 20, 2014

My, University of Arizona,  Catalina Sky Survey, teammate, Rik Hill, continues to add to the collection of small Earth approaching asteroids which he has discovered.  He is able to distinguish these faint points of light in the night sky from the millions of stars his equipment images, by their rapid motion relative to other objects in space.   Five of these recently discovered small space rocks, were followed up  by telescopes in  Illinois, France, New Mexico, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Arizona  All of these observations were necessary to determine each asteroid's size and path around the Sun.

All of this set of Rik's 5 small asteroids come closer than the Moon.  They range in size from 20 to 50 feet in diameter and would have impact energies between 100 and 1000 kilotons of TNT if they were to enter the Earth's atmosphere. 

Our NASA funded group at the University of Arizona has discovered the majority of the nearly 800 known 30-60 foot diameter asteroids similar to the one which injured nearly 1500 people in Russia in 2013.  There are probably 20 million asteroids in this size range which come near the Earth.  A few of these may eventually impact our planet.  Those that do are likely to explode high in the atmosphere producing a supersonic boom.

We are not more likely to be hit by a small asteroid  than we have in the past. However, we are becoming more likely to be able to provide a tornado like warning for people in the affected area to stay away from doors and windows.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 98 for more information.

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


99-Peppered By Space Rocks


To be Published PRX November 27, 2014
Recorded November 22, 2014

During the past 20 years more than 550 small asteroids ranging in size from 3 to 60 feet in diameter have entered the Earth's atmosphere. They had impact energies ranging from 5 to 500,000 tons of TNT.  Newly released data show that most of them exploded high above the ground doing little or no damage at the surface.  NASA NEO Observations Program Executive Lindley Johnson stated  "We now know that Earth's atmosphere does a great job of protecting Earth from small asteroids".

Dr. Peter Brown of Western Ontario University and his co-authors have done a thorough analysis of data obtained when a small asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. This was an impressive and unusual event which injured nearly 1500 people. To an observer directly under it, the airburst would have appeared to be about 30 times brighter than the Sun.  Dr. Brown and his co-authors  comment that telescopic surveys have found only 500 of the estimated 20 million objects in the near Earth asteroid population in the 30 to 60 foot diameter range.  

Further, Dr. Brown and his co-authors have analyzed airbursts from meteors with energies of more than 1 kiloton of TNT.  They indicate that there may be 10 times the number of impacts of asteroids in the 30 to 150 foot size range than was previously suspected.  This finding suggests that the human population may be more at risk from smaller rather than larger Earth approaching asteroids.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 99 for more information.

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




100-Where Extension Cords Can't Reach



To be Published PRX November 27 , 2014
Recorded November 22, 2014

Marie Curie's discovery of radioactivity started humans on a path which so far has skirted annihilation and has led to cures for cancer and the exploration of the distant regions of our solar system.

Solar panels work well for powering spacecraft out to the orbit of Mars.  Beyond that the use of radioactive isotope power generators has enabled the exploration of Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, and soon a mission to Pluto. One of these power plants enables Voyager I, the most distant, human made, traveler in the night,to operate and communicate with Earth. It continues to operate more than 37 years after it was launched.

Radioisotope Power Systems provide heat and electricity to operate spacecraft  by using the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238. This potentially dangerous substance is carefully protected.  Over the past 50 years radioisotope power systems have been flown on 27 missions.  No member of the public or NASA employee has ever been injured by one of these units.  

Radioisotope Power Systems work well where solar panels are impractical.  At Saturn, for example, a solar panel would receive only 1% of the Sun's energy that it would receive in Earth Orbit.

If you want to get an idea about what our knowledge of the solar system would be like  without Radioisotope Power Systems, go to a used bookstore or the library and find an Astronomy text book from the mid 1970's and well as a current one. Look up the planets in both.

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 100 for more information.

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




101-Navigating The Earth-Moon Dance


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Published PRX December 4, 2014
Recorded December 02, 2014

Some months the asteroid hunting community finds more than a half dozen small asteroids that pass closer to the Earth than our Moon.

Visualize the Earth and Moon to be on a playground teeter tooter. The Earth is so much more massive than the Moon, that the balance point, for this mythical teeter tooter, would be only about 3,000 miles from the center of the Earth.  The Earth and Moon move about this imaginary balance point, called the center of gravity, every 27 days 7 hours and 43 minutes.  The dance of these two unequal partners, causes the Moon, to move in and out from the Sun, by more than 230,000 miles as the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system orbits the Sun.

Imagine a tiny asteroid passing between the Earth and the Moon as the two do their dance about the Sun. The Moon is about 30 times the Earth's diameter away from us, so most of the time, one of these small objects slips between them with no problems. Very rarely an asteroid doesn't make it. We know that space rocks strike the Earth and when we look at the Moon with a telescope we can see the many impact craters on it.

Hundreds of small objects strike the Moon every year. On March 17, 2013 a NASA telescope observed a mini-asteroid strike the Moon. If you had been watching you would have seen a star like looking spot on the Moon which lasted about a second. Perhaps one night we will discover a small asteroid on a collision course with our Moon. Lots of people would go outside to witness such an event.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 101 for more information.

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

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102-Little Asteroid On Inside Track



Published PRX December 4, 2014
Recorded December 02, 2014

A small previously unknown asteroid immediately got my attention. I was observing with the NASA funded, University of Arizona, Catalina Sky Survey, 60 inch telescope, on Mt. Lemmon.  This asteroid was moving fast enough to make a trailed image during a 30 second exposure. It was subsequently observed by telescopes in England, Illinois, Arizona, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.  These data were used to determine its size and orbit and it was given the name of 2014 US7.  This asteroid is about the size of a semi-trailer truck and orbits the Sun every 292 days.

When I first spotted 2014 US7 it was about 1.7 million miles from the Earth and it was traveling away from us at about 5 miles per second.  It spends most of its time inside the Earth's orbit and crosses it twice each year.  It will make close approaches to the Earth and our Moon in 2018 and to the planet Venus in 2025.  

2014 US7 is called an Aten [Ah tin] type of asteroid. The first of its type was discovered by Dr. Eleanor Key Francis "Glo" Helin in 1976. She was an American astronomer who discovered more than 800 asteroids and several comets. During her long career she made the transition from glass plates to the latest electronic detectors.  She was a leader in the establishment of the Near-Earth Tracking Project which discovered more than 36,000 asteroids. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 102 for more information.

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




103-Small Asteroids In Earth-like Orbits



Published PRX December 11, 2014
Recorded December 03, 2014

Four days after it made its closest approach to Earth, I found a 10 foot diameter asteroid with the NASA funded University of Arizona 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon. At that point it was 838,000 miles from us and was moving away at about 3 miles/second. Previously, It had been about half the distance to the Moon from planet Earth.  This small asteroid orbits the Sun every 349 days on a path which crosses our orbit twice a year.  Calculations by  the NASA - JPL group indicate that it can come within 2 Earth diameters of us.  

A week later my Catalina Sky Survey Survey team leader, Eric Christensen found a slightly larger small asteroid.  It orbits the Sun in 388 days and can closer than 4 Earth diameters to us. 

Either of these small asteroids would fit into the bed of a dump truck. Their speeds relative to Earth are well within our rockets ability to catch them.

These two asteroids do not pose a threat to humans.  If they ever did enter the Earth's atmosphere, they would likely burn up at high altitude producing a supersonic boom. They are interesting because they could be targets for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission.  The concept for this project is to redirect a small asteroid into orbit around the Moon where it would be visited by Astronauts using the Orion Spacecraft.  This mission will provide us with scientific data about Earth approaching objects and develop the capability for humans to explore the planet Mars. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 103 for more information.

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




104- Jupiter Trojan Confusion


Published PRX December 11, 2014
Recorded December 05, 2014

Humans know of approximately half million main belt asteroids orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.  We have also found approximately 11,000 Earth approaching asteroids.  Members of these two groups can be recognized by briefly observing their motion since their paths about the Sun are very different.  Jupiter Trojans, on the other hand, occupy a point either 60 degrees in front or behind Jupiter as it moves about the Sun.  Their orbit around the Sun takes about 5 and a half years so short pieces of one of their orbits  can mimic the path of an Earth approaching object. When Jupiter Trojans are opposite to the Sun, their little full moon faces are pointing towards Earth. When they are in this position in the sky we have to sort through a number of them so we can  separate them from real near Earth objects.

The Jupiter Trojans oscillate about a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind a planet as it orbits the Sun.   This geometry was predicted by Joseph-Louis Lagrange in 1772.   More than 100 years later Astronomers began to discover Jupiter Trojans.  Today we know of almost 6,000 of the perhaps several hundred thousand of these asteroids which are larger than a kilometer in diameter.   The largest one, Hektor. It is about 120 miles in diameter.    Most of the Jupiter Trojans are much smaller than Hektor and may be fragments of larger ones which collided with each other.

Someday humans may visit these distant asteroids and find them to be a rich sources of raw materials.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 104 for more information.

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



105-A New Chapter In The Human Exploration Of Space



Published PRX December 18, 2014

Recorded December 11, 2014

The first unmanned test flight of the new NASA Orion Spacecraft went perfectly. It made two orbits of the Earth traveling as far as 3600 miles above the surface of our planet.  Its path took it nearly 15 times higher than the international space station. This is further than any spacecraft designed for humans has flown since the Apollo era.

The 4 and a half hour mission demonstrated that Orion's heat shield will be able to protect the crew during reentry.  More tests including that of the launch abort system are planned before astronauts are allowed to fly Orion in 2021.

Orion is designed to take 2 to 6 astronauts on missions lasting up to 21 days.  The first such flight is planned to be an orbit of the Moon. 

NASA is working on plans to have the Orion spacecraft rendezvous with an asteroid which has been redirected from its original path to orbit the Moon. 

Alternatively, Dr. Rick Binzel of MIT and others suggest that there are a number of asteroids which could be visited by humans since their orbits bring them closer than our Moon.  Telescope surveys to find such candidates are relatively cheap compared to space missions.  Human flights to some these Earth approaching asteroids would extend our reach towards Mars, develop planet protecting asteroid deflection techniques, and explore the possibilities of obtaining raw materials in space. 

Personally I have to wonder what our planet be like if  governments spent a fraction of what they put into wars on human space exploration.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 105 for more information.

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


106-Your Reality Fueled Spacecraft



Published PRX December 18, 2014
Recorded December 11, 2014

Computers are extremely efficient at processing numbers while humans excel at visualization.  NASA and JPL have developed a computer environment, based on game software architecture, which allows you explore the solar system and beyond using real scientific data. It is called Eyes on The Solar System.  

Don't let the power of this computer visualization program intimidate you.  It installs itself and has options that will allow you to begin to follow a path to where your interests lead you.  The views that you will get are based on real NASA data.

When you start the program you have three directions; 
Eyes on the Earth, Eyes on the Solar System, and Eyes on Exoplanets.  

Try the simple first. Take a look around.  Go to the advanced mode 2nd button bottom right. Pick destination say Mars at bottom left. Click go. Now double click on Phobos.  Use the right-left  arrow keys to fly behind this small Moon of Mars until you see it in front of the red planet.  

Go to our Moon, turn off the satellites, and play with the controls until you are behind the Moon and see the Earth from this perspective.  

You can also travel through time to the past or future.  Go to destinations, asteroids, Apophis and watch it miss the Earth in 2029. This is all a lot more complicated sounding than what it is.  Play with the controls till you get the basic concepts. It is great fun and there is something to learn for everyone. 

If you know a 12-15 year old ask them to sit beside you and take you for a spin.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 106 for flight instructions.

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




107-Mining Asteroids


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Published PRX December 26, 2014
Recorded December 11, 2014

Science fiction writers have long imagined human space colonies which use the resources they find. Dana Stabenow's Star Svensdotter Series is an excellent recent example.

Dr. Martin Elvis at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge is bringing a scientific analysis to the concept of mining platinum and water from asteroids. He has developed a simple formula to determine the number of Earth approaching asteroids which are accessible with current rocket technology.  He estimates that there are 10 known asteroids which could be commercially mined for the platinum group metals.  He also finds approximately 9,000 small and 18 football field sized water bearing, accessible, asteroids.   Dr. Elvis points out that his numbers are conservative and uncertain.   The number of commercially mineable asteroids can be increased by improved rocket speeds and by finding and determining the properties of many more of the millions of small objects that come within range of our telescopes. 

Several companies including Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are  undeterred by the difficulties and are currently pursuing commercial mining of Earth approaching asteroids.  Japan is launching a spacecraft to blast an asteroid with a cannon and return samples of it to Earth.

It will take major, risky investments over many years to develop the capability to use asteroids to enable humans to explore our neighborhood in space.  Asteroid mining may seem far fetched, however, many of the things that we are doing today were science fiction a few years back.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 107 for more information.

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


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108-How Close Will It Come To Us?

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Published PRX December 26 , 2014
Recorded December 16, 2014

The goal of the NASA Near Earth Object Program is to provide an early warning should an asteroid be found to be on a path bringing it close to planet Earth.  I am a member of the University of Arizona, Catalina Sky Survey.  Our team operates two telescopes in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona.  We discover Earth approaching objects by measuring their motion relative to other objects in space and sending our results to the Minor Planet Center where they are posted on a public website. Other observers around the globe measure the new objects motion and position and post their observations on the Minor Planet Center's Near Earth Object Confirmation Page.  All of these observations are used to calculate the new object's path around the Sun.  Its orbit along with our knowledge of the Earth's path around the Sun allow researchers at the Minor Planet Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sormano Astronomical Observatory, and other locations to predict when and by how much the new object will miss the Earth.  These calculations are typically carried out to 100 years in the future.  Until this entire process is complete we don't know how close an asteroid or comet will come to planet Earth.

So far we have found two small asteroids before they entered the Earth's atmosphere where they broke up into harmless pieces.  

My friends often ask for an early warning of impending doom. As you can see our work is an open book.  Look at the Near Earth Object websites and you will know about any close approaches as soon the calculations are made.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 108 for more information.

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


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109-Eighteen Sleeps Later

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To be Published PRX January 1, 2015
Recorded  December 16, 2014

The NASA, New Horizons spacecraft woke up from its 18th sleeping period in the last 9 years.  Its long space naps have lasted an average 104 days each. It has traveled 9 years from Earth and has crossed the orbit of Neptune. Even though the New Horizons has journeyed nearly 3 billion miles it finds itself more than one and a half times further from its destination, the Pluto system, than the Earth is from the Sun.

In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, who was observing at Lowell Observatory, discovered a new planet, Pluto.  Nearly 80 years later we still know very little about this strange cold world.  Our concepts of the solar system expanded with the discovery that Pluto is one among many small icy solar system objects orbiting far from the Sun.  In 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted to create a new category of solar system object called dwarf planets.  In this scheme of things, the dwarf planet Pluto, is the prototype of a new group of objects  called "plutoids".    Recently, I was reminded by a representative of a car rental agency,  that many school children learned our solar system has  9 planets.  Some have never forgiven the astronomical community for the perceived demotion of Pluto to less than planet status.  

By traveling to within 6,200 miles of its surface, the New Horizons spacecraft is sure to show completely unknown weather and surface features on the distant world that is Pluto.  All of us have the opportunity to participate via the internet.   

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 109 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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110-Asteroids Accessible By Human Space Flights



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To be Published PRX January 1 , 2015
Recorded December 16, 2014

So far humans have discovered about 100 asteroids which could be visited by astronauts with current rocket capability.  My group, the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona has discovered 65% of these Earth approaching space rocks.

The largest accessible asteroid that we have identified is a bit larger than a football field in diameter while the smallest is about the size of a sofa couch.   At their next close approaches, Arecibo and Goldstone Radar will be employed to provide the shape and surface details of these small objects. The sunlight reflected from them can tell us about the minerals on their surfaces. 

One candidate with the shortest round trip mission time of 186 days, is  2014 TW.  It was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Jess Johnson.  This asteroid is about 70 feet in diameter and orbits the Sun every 381 days.  The time to visit it with minimum energy spent is in the late 2030s.

A mission by astronauts would start in low Earth orbit, rendezvous with the asteroid, stay for a period to study it, and return safely home.  The length of such a voyage ranges from 186 to 354 days.   This is a long duration space mission which is much more changeling than a round trip to our Moon.  It will require a spacecraft built for truly deep space similar to what will be necessary to travel to Mars and back.

The successful unmanned test of the new NASA Orion Spacecraft is the first step towards the goal of astronauts visiting an asteroid.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 110 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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111-Green Meteors


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To be Published PRX January XX, 2015
Recorded January 08, 2015


Recently, my wife and I saw a beautiful, bright,  green, meteor fireball streaking across the western New Mexico night sky. Such sightings by some UFO enthusiasts , have been advanced as the best observations of alien spacecraft.  Other observers have explained this phenomena as being sightings of secret American or Russian spy devices.

In reality, a fireball meteor is a beautiful natural phenomenon. Its appearance is related to the color response of the human eye, the elements the meteor has brought to Earth, and its speed. Only about 1/20th of the light emitted from a fireball and its trail come from the atoms vaporized from the meteoroid. The rest of the light it produces comes from energized atoms in our atmosphere. Emission lines from iron, magnesium, sodium, manganese, chromium, copper, and other elements have been identified in the spectrum of colors given off by fireballs. 

You can expect to see a fireball brighter than the planets Mars or Jupiter every 20 hours or so.   The date and time you observe it along with your estimates of its brightness, path, and visual appearance are of scientific interest and should be reported to the American Meteor Society using its on-line form.     If your sighting is within the range of the NASA Fireball network you may be able to see it recorded  there.

Not long ago, a bright fireball entered the Earth's atmosphere over San Antonio, Texas.  It reached a peak brightness of greater than the full moon.   There was a report from the Maverick County Sheriff's Office that an impact was felt at  the time the fireball was observed. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 111 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer

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112-A Banner Year For Asteroid Hunters



To be Published PRX January , 2015
Recorded January 08, 2015

In 2014 asteroids hunters discovered more than one thousand four hundred and fifty Earth approaching objects making it the most productive year yet.  Both the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii and my team, the Catalina Sky Survey each found more than 600 Earth approaching asteroids. 

In 2014, ninety three asteroids were marked as Potentially Hazardous since they are large enough and can come close enough to us for the asteroid hunting community to keep special track of them. We now know of more than 1500 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.  Fortunately none of them will collide with planet Earth for hundreds of years, if ever.

2015 promises to be an even more productive year for the discovery of near Earth objects.  My group, the Catalina Sky Survey is scheduled to increase the field of view of our 60 inch telescope 4 fold.  We are upgrading the computing equipment and software since we will now be looking at fields containing more than 8 million stars and tens of thousands of known moving objects per night  to find the small number of new Earth approaching objects in these  data.

The goal of the NASA Near Earth Object Program is to discover any objects on a collision course with planet Earth.  We now know of more than 90% of objects whose impact could cause global climate change.  None of them is a current threat.  A more likely problem are the millions of small space rocks which come near to us. We are working on creating the ability to give a tornado like warning for people to stay away from doors and windows should one of them be about to enter our atmosphere. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 112 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


113- A Dwarf Water Planet In Our Solar System



Published PRX January 14 , 2015
Recorded January 07, 2015

Our home would undoubtedly be known as the water planet to space aliens visiting our solar system.  There is enough water to cover the entire Earth to a depth of more than 1.5 miles.  Water is essential to life as we know it.

The dwarf planet Ceres may be a place in our solar system where life could have developed.  At 590 miles in diameter it is the largest asteroid and only dwarf planet  orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.  Ceres appears to have rocky core surrounded by a thick mantle of water ice which accounts for up to 40% of its volume. How much of Ceres's water, if any, is in liquid form remains to be seen.  The mystery of Ceres has deepened by the recent discovery of water emissions coming from this small world.

For more than 200 years the dwarf planet Ceres has been little more than a moving point of light in the night sky. Unlike the Moon, Mars, Europa, and Vesta,  Ceres has no meteorites which can be linked to it.  Thus it remains a puzzle with few pieces. Answers to some of our questions are coming soon.  After a journey of 8 years, the NASA Dawn Spacecraft will soon be in orbit about Ceres.  What mysteries exist on this small world which has a surface area of 1.7 times that of the State of Alaska or 4 times that of the State of Texas.  The instruments on board the Dawn Spacecraft will take high resolution images of the surface of Ceres and probe the interior to a depth of 10 feet or so.

The discovery of an ocean of liquid water under the ice on Ceres will certainly wet our appetite as to what might be there. 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 113 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


114-Rose's First Asteroid



Published PRX January 14 , 2015
Recorded January 07, 2015

Rose Matheny's third solo night of asteroid hunting, using the University of Arizona Schmidt telescope, on Mt. Bigelow, was one of the longest of the year.  She had prepared for this night over the past several months by mastering the unique set of observing skills required of an asteroid hunter with the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey.

At this time of year the computers are restarted after 5PM and the dome is opened an hour later.  After searching the night sky for about 6 hours a bright fast moving object caught Rose's attention. She gave it the unofficial name of "zippy".     Over the next 20 hours this new object was observed by telescopes in Arizona, Japan, and France.  These data were used to calculate this small asteroid's orbit around the Sun and it was given the name 2014 YW14.

2014 YW14 is about 30 feet in diameter.  Most of the time it is too faint to be observed by our telescopes.  When Rose first spotted it, this asteroid was about 3 times the distance to the Moon from us and was traveling about 5 miles/sec towards her.  It spends most of its time inside the Earth's orbit and sometimes travels to midway between Venus and Mercury's distance from the Sun. Its trip around the Sun takes about 250 days.  

2014 YW14 can come as close as the Moon from planet Earth so we will be keeping an eye on it in the unlikely event that its path changes to be a danger to us.  If it ever did enter the Earth's atmosphere it would likely burn up at high altitude producing a supersonic boom.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 114 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


115-Ballistic Capture



Published PRX January 22 , 2015
Recorded January 07, 2015

Spacecraft destined for Mars have so far used the Hohmann transfer to achieve an orbit about the red planet.  This approach requires the launch from Earth orbit to be in a small window in time which becomes possible every 26 months.  When the spacecraft gets near Mars retro rockets, which require hundreds of pounds of fuel, must be fired to slow it so that the spacecraft so that it does not exceed orbital speed. 

To make the trip to Mars orbit cheaper and more reliable a new technique has been theorized and then tested on Moon flights.  It is called ballistic capture.  The Japanese were first to use this method for a trip to the Moon in 1991.  In this method a spacecraft is placed in a Mars like orbit, ahead of, and slightly slower than the red planet.  As Mars overtakes the spacecraft it is naturally drawn into a highly elliptical orbit.  This path can be modified into a better scientific orbit by skimming through Mars's thin atmosphere.  This maneuver, however, requires a heat shield which adds back some of the fuel weight saved compared to the Hohmann transfer technique. 

Disadvantages of a ballistic capture trip include the fact that it may take a few months longer  and it leaves the spacecraft 10 times higher than one which uses a Hohmann transfer. Advantages are that perhaps nearly twice the materials can be sent with the same amount of precious rocket fuel and the launch from Earth orbit can occur at anytime.  This latter advantage would allow a steady stream of materials to be sent from Earth to help support a human colony on Mars.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 115 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


116-Three Potentially Hazardous Asteroids Discovered In A Single Night


Published PRX January 22 , 2015
Recorded January 07, 2015

In less than three and one half hours, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Rose Matheny,  discovered three Potentially Hazardous Asteroids with the NASA funded, University of Arizona, Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow.  As far as I know, this string of catches should go into the Asteroid Hunting Guinness book of records. 

A potentially hazardous asteroid is one which is larger than about 1.5 football fields in diameter and comes within 5% of the distance from the Sun to us.  We keep special track of them since if one were to impact our home planet it would cause serious problems for human beings. We currently know about more then 1500 of these nearby, and possibly dangerous neighbors and discover a new one about every 4 days.  Fortunately none of them are likely to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future.

Rose's three new Potentially Hazardous Asteroids all orbit the Sun with periods ranging from 237 days to 2.6 years.  They range in size from about 1.5 football fields to 0.4 miles in diameter.  Two of them spend most of their time inside the Earth's orbit about the Sun while the other one travels out to between Mars and Jupiter.  When Rose discovered them they were opposite to the Sun with their little full Moon faces pointing towards us

The Catalina Sky Survey operates 2 telescopes, 24 nights per month in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona.  Our goal is to provide an early warning should a celestial neighbor be on a collision course with planet Earth.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 116 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


117-A Football Field Sized Asteroid Comes Near



To be Published PRX January 29, 2015
Recorded January 22, 2015

I was observing with the Catalina Sky Survey, NASA funded, University of Arizona, 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon when a bright fast moving point of light caught my attention. It seemed much too bright not to be known, but when I checked with the Minor Planet Center, it was not in any of their catalogues. It was was subsequently observed by more than a dozen telescopes scattered around the world and given the name 2014 YE42. 

This football field sized asteroid orbits the Sun on a very elliptical path which takes it from between the orbits of Earth and Venus out to 3/4 of the way  to Jupiter.  At it closest point 2014 YE42 can come less than half the distance to the Moon from us. It is visible in human telescopes for about a month every three and a half years.

When I spotted this small asteroid it was about 12 times the distance to the Moon from us and was traveling at nearly nine miles per second towards planet Earth. 

It is likely that there are several hundred thousand asteroids of this size which come near the Earth.  Statistics indicate, that one similar to 2014 YE42, will strike the Earth every few thousand years.  Such an event would release the energy of several million tons of TNT and have a serious effect on the human population.  For example one smaller than 2014 YE42 impacted the Earth in 1908 and killed 80 million trees over an 800 square mile area.   

The asteroid hunting community will be keeping track of 2014 YE42,in the extremely unlikely event that its path is changed, to make it a threat, as it passes other objects in space.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 117 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer



118-A Skyscraper Sized Asteroid To Pay A Visit



To be Published PRX January 29 , 2015
Recorded January 22, 2015

In the distant future, an asteroid, with the diameter of the height of the One Worldwide Plaza skyscraper building in New York City, will likely make a close approach to planet Earth. It was discovered by my Catalina Sky Survey teammates Rik Hill and Jess Johnson using the University of Arizona, 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon.

This newly discovered asteroid, now named, 2014 XL7's diameter is about the same as the height of a 50 story building.  Amazingly,  our equipment is sensitive enough to have detected it 50 million miles from Earth as it streaked along at eight miles per second towards us.  2014 XL7 crosses the Earth's orbit twice a year.   Rarely it can come halfway to the Moon from planet Earth.  This is good news since if an asteroid of this size were to impact the Earth it would likely release the energy two and a half times greater than the most powerful Hydrogen bomb ever exploded.  Such an impact would probably devastate a hurricane sized foot print area on the Earth's surface.

2014 XL7 makes close approaches to Venus, Earth, and Mars.  Each such encounter can cause its orbit to change.  It has been classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid which means that the asteroid hunting community will be keeping special track of it.  The goal of the NASA Near Earth Object program is to find this type of asteroid at least 50 years before it is a threat to our home.

Serious scientific and engineering studies are currently underway to determine the best way to cause a large asteroid like 2014 XL7, to miss us, should it become on a collision course with planet Earth. 

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 118 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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119-Signs of Life On Mars

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Published PRX  February 5 , 2015
Recorded January XX, 2015

Indisputable proof that life existed or currently exists on the planet Mars has yet to be found. However, tantalizing pieces to this mystery continue to be discovered.

Water is essential to life on Earth. The surface of Mars is dry now, but, several discoveries point to the possible existence of an ocean that covered about a third of the red planet in the distant past. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken images which suggest that a large delta was formed by an ancient Martian river. It has also imaged large fields of rocks similar to what have been produced on Earth by underwater landslides. On the Martian surface, the NASA Curiosity Rover has photographed layered rocks similar to what are found on lake bottoms on Earth. It has also imaged sedimentary rocks which look like they are the result of small deltas which are stacked upon each other. 

On a different tack, the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover has discovered that methane and organic molecules currently exist on Mars.  

Methane is an organic molecule which is generated by life forms like cows and humans on Earth. It has been found on Mars before but the bursts that Curiosity discovered suggest the existence of a current local source. Although these data do not prove that life exists on Mars they do reveal current activity of some sort is occurring under the Martian surface.

It appears that conditions on Mars, 3.8 billion years ago, were similar to those on Earth at the time when we know that life developed here. The mystery of life continues to pull us towards the red planet.

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

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 119 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer


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120-Finally A Good Night



Published PRX February 5 , 2015
Recorded January 22, 2015

An Earth bound asteroid hunter needs clear skies and small steady images to discover faint asteroids.  I usually come up to the telescope  a day early to get on the night schedule and to catch up on all of the latest improvements in computer programming.  This time I enjoyed visiting with my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Richard Kowalski.  Unfortunately he was having to deal with high winds which shook the telescope and images which were so fuzzy that the faint objects he was looking for blended into the darkness of the night sky.  I slept throughout the next day and when I awoke I was treated to the first good night our group has had in more than two weeks. I was able to find 10 candidates for Earth approaching asteroids. Subsequent data show that five of them can come close enough to be classified as Near Earth Objects.   One of these is about 30 feet in diameter and can come within 6 Earth Diameters of our home planet.  Another is about a quarter mile in diameter and never gets closer than 19 million miles to Earth.

About 2:30AM a very bright, rapidly, moving object came through a set of images.  The Minor Planet Center was unable to identify it. It is likely to have been a human made object of some sort.  The various military establishments around the world that have their own satellites don't want to tell us about them or have us identify them in any way.  We see things like this in our images but do not keep track of them.  

After spending many years of my life observing the sky at night I have not observed any alien spacecraft.    I too have been waiting for Scotty to beam me up.
 
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

Go to travelersinthenight.org program 120 for more information.

© 2015 A. D. Grauer and ℗ 2015 A. D. Grauer






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