Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
- Alex Gibbs discovered Atira, an Earth approaching asteroid whose orbit is entirely within that of our home planet.
- If Martian microbial life is discovered, is it ethical for humans to colonize Mars even if that means spoiling the environment of the microbes?
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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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309 – Tiny Atira
My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Alex Gibbs discovered an Earth approaching asteroid whose orbit is entirely within that of our home planet. It is classified as an Atira and is rather rare. There are less than two dozen of these objects orbiting the Sun closer than we do out of the more than 15,000 Earth approaching objects which asteroid hunters have discovered.
Atira, the first of this type of asteroid, was discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Program using telescopes in New Mexico. Atira is a stony object more than a mile in diameter, spins on it’s axis of rotation once every three hours, has an irregular shape, and orbits the Sun once every 233 days. This asteroid was named Atira who is a goddess of the Native American Pawnee tribe. She is the wife of the creator god, Tirawa [Tire a wa]. She is the goddess of Earth and the Morning and Evening star.
Alex’s Atira, 2016 VB1, is only about the size of a small U-haul Truck. It orbits the Sun once every 233 days. Since 1960 Alex’s new space rock has come close to Earth 30 times, Venus 14 times, and Mercury 6 times. In 2054 it will come to within about 3 times the distance to the Moon from our home planet and will be well positioned for further study by human telescopes.
Atira asteroids are not threat to planet Earth since their orbits do not cross ours. However, as they pass Mercury and Venus things could change and asteroid hunters will continue to need keep special track of them as we continue monitoring moving objects in the night sky.
310 – Ethics & Mars
It is unlikely that any living organism could survive being blasted from the surface of a planet, travel through interstellar space on a meteoroid, survive a fiery entry through another planet’s atmosphere, and be viable when it reaches the surface. However, humans are breaching this interplanetary barrier. We have robots operating and are planning to land colonists on the red planet. This situation has prompted doctoral student Daniel Helman of Prescott College to ask the question “If Martian microbial life is discovered, is it ethical for humans to colonize Mars even if that means spoiling the environment of the microbes?” .
The study of a life form which has arisen independently on another world is likely to give humanity a profound new insight into life on planet Earth.
On Mars any microbes that we might try to protect could be important to unknown and future life forms on the red planet. For example, Helman points out that if microbes on Earth had been destroyed billions of years ago there would be no humans now.
If in the future we may encounter an advanced civilization and seek to enter into a peaceful trading partnership with them. Helman suspects that perhaps the most important trading commodity that humans have to offer is the library of biochemistry and genetics which exist here on Earth and perhaps in other places in our solar system.
Humans have never been much into looking before leaping, but hopefully the work of Helman and others should prompt society to consider some of the possibilities before we bring irrevocable changes to another world.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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