Mar 19th: Race to Mars & Big Eye


Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Travelers in the Night Digest: Eps. 271 & 272: Race to Mars & Big Eye

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night

Description: Today’s 2 topics:

  • The race to explore Mars is heating up. Numerous countries and even SpaceX are all planning missions to the red planet.
  • The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST is under construction in Chile. It’ll photograph most of the sky every 3 nights, revolutionizing our understanding of short lived phenomenon.

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Bio: Dr. Al Grauer is currently an observing member of the Catalina Sky Survey Team at the University of Arizona.  This group has discovered nearly half of the Earth approaching objects known to exist. He received a PhD in Physics in 1971 and has been an observational Astronomer for 43 years. He retired as a University Professor after 39 years of interacting with students. He has conducted research projects using telescopes in Arizona, Chile, Australia, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Georgia with funding from NSF and NASA.

He is noted as Co-discoverer of comet P/2010 TO20 Linear-Grauer, Discoverer of comet C/2009 U5 Grauer and has asteroid 18871 Grauer named for him.

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271 – Race to Mars
The red planet may soon need air traffic control. In the next few years China, Europe, India, Japan, United Arab Emirates, United States, and SpaceX are all operating Martian spacecraft or planning to send robotic explorers to Mars.

Top priority is the discovery of home grown Martian microbes which would revolutionize our knowledge of how life happens and works. The United States’s NASA Curiosity Rover has been revealing details of the Martian surface for several years but has yet to find evidence for past or current living organisms. In 2020 it will be joined by a new more sophisticated NASA Mars Rover, a European Rover, and perhaps a Chinese Rover.

NASA and the private SpaceX company have both announced plans to eventually send humans to Mars. SpaceX hopes to lead the race by sending one of it’s robotic Red Dragon modules to Mars in 2018. This vehicle has about the same internal volume as an SUV and would not be a possible way for astronauts to travel to Mars. However, by 2022, this first step could enable sample and return missions to Mars. Such efforts would bring the power of trained personnel using the best laboratories on Earth to study Martian samples for evidence of microbial life. Serious scientific and economic studies are being created to create a mission during which the Red Dragon would pick up samples collected by the NASA 2020 Rover and return them to Earth. This mission would cost less than 1% of what the US spends on it’s military programs each year and would likely have benefits which are beyond our current imaginations.

272 – Big Eye
On a mountain top in the foothills of the Andes in northern Chile a new kind telescope, the LSST, is under construction. It’s unique design allows it to image an area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon and thus record the entire sky twice a week. In 30 seconds the LSST can spot objects 10 million times fainter than we can see with our eyes. It will discover objects which change in brightness and position to enable astronomers to study dark energy, weird stars, Earth approaching objects, and other fascinating time dependent events in the Universe.

The US Congress has mandated that NASA find 90% of the Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, larger than 460 feet in diameter, which could pose a threat to planet Earth. So far my team, the Catalina Sky Survey, the Pan-STARRS group in Hawaii, and the rest of the asteroid hunting community have only been able to discover about 25% of them. Recently Dr. Tommy Grav of the Planetary Science Institute headed a team which analyzed the efficiency of the LSST in discovering dangerous asteroids. The results, published in The Astronomical Journal, suggest that the LSST will improve our discovery fraction of these dangerous objects from the current figure of 25% to about 60%. They also found that about a quarter of dangerous asteroids are so dark that they are currently being mis-classified as being to small to worry about. Bottom line is that even if LSST works as designed there will still be millions of dangerous asteroids out there for asteroid hunters to discover.

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

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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