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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311 – Bright and Bald
My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered 2015 TC25 as a rapidly moving point of light in the night sky. Followup observations using data from four different telescopes has enabled a team of astronomers led by Dr. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory to determine that this small asteroid reflects four times more of the sunlight than do most other Earth approaching asteroids. Dr. Reddy points out that large asteroids are covered by a blanket of dust but that “Small asteroids might be bald and dust free.” This team of researchers found the surface of Carson’s discovery to be similar to a small meteorite which fell to Earth in France in 1836.
Dr. Audrey Thirouin [tear-ouin] of Lowell Observatory states that “2015 TC25 is one of the five smallest Near-Earth Objects ever observed to measure rotation rate”. She used observations with Lowell’s Discovery Channel Telescope, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory 2.4-meter Telescope, to determine that 2015 TC25 is rapidly spinning with a rotational period of only 2.23 minutes.
Dr. Thirouin obtains data and coordinates a network of telescopes which come together on short notice to track newly discovered Earth approaching objects. If we discover an asteroid to be on an impact path with planet Earth we need Dr. Thirouin and her team to measure it’s composition, size, and speed to be able to effectively warn people in the impact area to keep injuries and deaths to a minimum.
312 – Yards of Trouble
Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered a rapidly moving point of light in the night sky. Subsequent observations made by telescopes in Arizona, Romania, Illinois, the Czech Republic, Australia, and France revealed it to be a close approaching Potentially Hazardous Asteroid. The Minor Planet Center named it 2016 WJ1. This asteroid is about 200 yards in diameter, orbits the Sun once every 567 days, and currently can come to within about 26,000 miles of the Earth’s surface. 2016 WJ1’s orbit eventually will bring it near Mars, Earth, our Moon, and Venus. Any of these encounters have the potential to change it’s path around the Sun.
The NASA Near Earth Object Program exists to find, characterize, and track dangerous celestial neighbors. The JPL Sentry Risk Table lists that 2016 WJ1 has 81 potential impacts with Earth between 2030 and 2108. Currently, there is a cumulative probability of one in 6,250 of a collision with our home planet. It is extremely unlikely that as we continue to track Greg’s discovery the chances that it will collide with Earth will increase. If that scenario were to occur humans will need to come up with a plan to minimize the damage which 2016 WJ1 could inflict. Current ideas include changing its orbit by striking it with a missile or planting an explosive device on it while at the same time preparing for evacuations and developing other civil defense measures.
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365 Days of Astronomy
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