Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
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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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277 – Old Girl
Imagine a telescope old enough for Senior Citizen discounts, which has traveled between mountains, and started life with a metal mirror measuring one thing at time being equipped with a camera with 100 million pixels. This is the story of the “old girl”, the 60 inch Catalina Sky Survey telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.
My teammate, Catalina Sky Survey, Senior Scientist Steve Larson has accompanied the 60 inch on much of it’s odyssey, built many of it’s instruments, and is the camera building genius behind the new 100 million pixel camera.
It is thought provoking to reflect on the rapid advance in human science and technology. When I first started using the already old 60 inch telescope in 1988 it had no computer operating it and we moved it around the sky by hand. Originally the “old girl’s” instruments measured one object at a time. My advance was to build an instrument which measured three objects simultaneously while automatically guiding the telescope on a nearby star. It allowed me to enjoy the benefits of a “warm room” during the cold winter nights. Today the old girls new camera is able to accurately measure the brightness and position of 300,000 objects per image. In one night the 60 inch moves around the sky more and obtains more data than it did in decades of its previous life.
Amazingly, equipped with modern electronics and computers the “old girl’s” ancient frame now carries 1,300 pounds more than it did in it’s early years. All of this new gear has the “old girl” poised to continue to be a world leader in the discovery of Earth approaching objects.
278 – Nope
This is the story of the big one that got away.
While observing with the 60 inch telescope on Mount Lemmon in Arizona I came across a fast moving point of light in night sky. Three nights later my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard took additional data on this previously unknown object. The Minor Planet Center used our observations to calculate an orbit and give the object the name 2016 NA39. Based on these calculations an electronic circular was published stating that this object is a 3,300 foot diameter Potentially Hazardous Asteroid which orbits the Sun once every 1.75 years. This analysis suggested 2016 NA39 to be nearly a 1 kilometer sized Earth approaching object. NASA is particularly interested in kilometer or larger objects since the impact of one of them could produce global climate change which at the least would produce a very negative effects on human agriculture. Typically only a few of these relatively large Earth approachers are discovered each year. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, further analysis of the short orbital arc revealed that 2016 NA39 is not an Earth approacher at all but rather it is a mile diameter outer main belt asteroid traveling far from us.
2016 NA 39 illustrates the problem that there are a number of possible orbits which may fit a short arc of an object in the night sky. There may be scores of kilometer sized objects out there but 2016 NA39 is not one of them.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
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365 Days of Astronomy
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