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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299 – Sporadic Geysers
Using a small telescope or a set of binoculars you can see Europa for yourself as a small moving point of light circling the giant planet Jupiter. More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered this seemingly small dead world the Hubble Space Telescope spotted geysers erupting from its south polar regions. Recently, over a 15 month period, the Hubble was able to observe 10 transits of Europa across the face of Jupiter. On three such occasions plumes were seen to be erupting from this small moon.
The interior of Europa is warmed as it is flexed by the gravity of Jupiter as it travels around the giant planet once every three and a half days. Several lines of evidence have led astronomers to believe that Europa has a 60 mile deep salty ocean of liquid water in contact with a warm rocky mineral rich interior. We know that the environment around hydrothermal vents on Earth’s ocean floor abounds with a diversity of living organisms. On Europa, this potential habit for alien life is protected from the harsh vacuum of space by a 6 to 19 mile thick global ice sheet which at a temperature of -260 degrees F is as hard as granite. The exciting discovery of Europa’s geysers will allow an orbiting laboratory to obtain a sample of the subsurface oceans.
Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, and Ceres have reservoirs of liquid water along with the energy and minerals necessary for life. The discovery of microorganisms on any of them would revolutionize our knowledge of how life works.
300 – Biggest Ears
China has constructed and is beginning to operate the worlds largest radio telescope called FAST. It is a dish more than 1,600 feet in diameter, is in a zone free from human radio interference, has a surface area large enough to hold 36 NFL football fields, points straight up, and is located in a natural sinkhole called a “Karst”. To observe a larger area of the sky than passes directly overhead as the Earth rotates on its axis, FAST uses a very clever system of cables, pulleys, and actuators to move the radio receiver cage across the face of the dish as well as to change the shape of the dish itself. These innovations allows FAST to detect signals from a large area of the sky and to track objects for a relatively long period of time.
This capability will allow FAST to discover new pulsars, map the distribution of the hydrogen in the local Universe, detect interstellar organic molecules, and to search for signals from alien civilizations.
FAST’s first observations are of a pulsar more than a thousand light years from Earth. It is expected to discover thousands more of these rapidly spinning neutron stars.
Managing the data from FAST is an interesting effort since it is expected to collect enough information to fill 120,000 Blu-Ray 25 gigabyte disks every year.
Every time humans come up with a better more sensitive way to view the Universe exciting unpredicted results are likely.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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