Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
- Our host, Al Grauer, found 2016 VA in a hole in the clouds on a murky night. The rock passed 59,000 miles away from Earth, traveling 13 miles/sec. It’ll be back in 2024.
- NASA’s Curiosity rover has studied a shiny, smooth rock on Mars’ Mt. Sharp. Nicknamed “Egg Rock” it appears to be a nickel/iron meteorite.
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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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305 – Murky
It was murky cloudy night on Mt. Lemmon where I was trying to find Earth approaching objects with the Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope. At about 1AM another hole in the clouds opened and I could see stars on the all sky video camera. On this fourth attempt, one set of images showed a bright rapidly moving object. Followup observations by my teammate Greg Leonard using the Catalina Sky Survey 40 inch telescope next door and two different observers in Japan provided the data which allowed the Minor Planet Center to calculate an orbit, estimate a size, predict its path in the sky, and give it the name 2016 VA. Twenty hours after I discovered it, Dr. Gianluca Masi using the Virtual Telescope Project facility 56 miles south of Rome, Italy, repeatedly imaged 2016 VA as it made an 11 minute passage through the Earth’s shadow. He used these images to make a remarkable video of this tiny asteroid as it passed through the Earth’s umbra. It was the fastest asteroid that he had ever tracked. Fortunately a bit after this video, 2016 VA missed the Earth by about 59,000 miles while traveling at a speed of 13 miles per second relative to us. In 2024 it will once again come near to both the Earth and our Moon.
It is only a matter of time before one of us in the asteroid hunting community finds a space rock like 2016 VA and we are able to track it as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe we will even be able to tell you where to look for a piece of it.
306 – Egg Rock
On Earth fortune seeking prospectors follow paths looking for interesting and possibly valuable rocks. Similarly, for the past few years, the NASA/JPL Curiosity rover has been on a path on the surface of Mars taking a close up view of interesting rock formations. Curiosity operates under the direction of it’s human masters at the Mars Science Laboratory taking pictures and analyzing samples. Curiosity was starting up Mount Sharp on a mission to study sedimentary rock layers which formed under ancient martian lakes when scientists spotted a strange shiny rock the size of a golf ball in one of its images. The new object was unlike any of the Mars rocks that they had seen and they nicknamed it “egg rock”. Curiosity was programmed to get close egg rock and use it’s ChemCam to analyze it. This remarkable scientific instrument uses a laser to excite atoms in a tiny portion of a sample. The pattern of colors in the light that these atoms emit reveals exactly what substances it contains. ChemCam’s analysis reveals that egg rock is made of iron, nickel, phosphorous, and some other trace elements. Egg rock’s chemical composition and visual appearance is so different from other native Mars rocks that scientists have concluded that it is a meteorite which came from the molten core of an ancient asteroid. We find such iron meteorites on Earth. They were the source of valuable metals long before modern methods of smelting and refining were developed. With diligence and a powerful magnet you could find an iron meteorite at a location near you.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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