Aug 13th: Martian Motherlode & Our Number

By on August 13, 2017 in

Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Travelers in the Night Digest: 313 & 314 – Martian Motherlode & Our Number

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night ; @Nmcanopus

Description: Today’s 2 topics:

  • Using ground-penetrating radar on the MRO orbiter we have discovered a huge, Lake Surperior-sized layer of ice under Mars’s surface. It will come in handy for colonists some day in the future.
  • Greg Leonard has discovered 2016 WJ1, a large (110-340 meter diameter) Earth approaching asteroid. It’s not an impact threat. But we do need to find all the asteroids of this size.


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.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2017, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at

313 – Martian Motherlode
Martian colonists will need to create mini environments with air to breathe and water to drink. Energy will be required to keep warm, power the settlement, and enable vehicles to move around the planet.

Using ground penetrating RADAR on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have discovered an ice deposit on Mars the size of New Mexico. It is covered with 3 to 33 foot deep layer of martian dirt and contains a quantity of water equal to the 2,900 cubic miles of Lake Superior. Located about halfway between the red planet’s equator and poles it is in a place where rockets could land and solar panels could provide the energy to melt the ice creating liquid water as well as to produce oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to power vehicles.

Cassie Stuurman a graduate student of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, at Austin and lead author of a report in the Journal Geophysical Research Letters states, “This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet’s axis was more tilted than it is today,” She started this project while a student at Western Ontario University in Canada and was drawn to this region on Mars by it’s similarity to land forms in the Canadian Arctic. She commented that this area looks like somebody took an ice cream scoop to the ground.

The massive deposit of ice to which Stuurman refers is in a 2,050 mile diameter basin which was created by an impact early in the history of the red planet. It is both a resource for Mars explorers and a record of the martian climate long ago.

314 – Our Number
Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered, 2016 WJ1, a relatively large asteroid which can come close but will not hit the Earth.

The extremely unlikely scenario of an impactor with our number on it would start the with the report of a fast moving point of light in the night sky. After a few days of data the Minor Planet Center would give it a name. Tracking the new asteroid, asteroid hunters would be alarmed as the chances that this object will impact the Earth starts to rise. Large telescopes would then be trained on it to obtain the pattern of colors in the light it reflects and use this information to determine it’s size, mass, and chemical composition. Hopefully this fictional impact would be far enough in the future so that humans could mount a space mission to intercept it and deflect it so that it would miss Earth. Even when a collision with this mythical object is certain, scientists would not be able to accurately predict its point of impact on the surface without additional tracking data. To be prepared civil defense organizations around the world would begin to think about the possibility of mass evacuations. Chances are that this would be a small object which would have a negligible effect on humanity. Much much much less likely is that this fictional impactor would be a once in every million years or so event which would cause global climate change disrupting human agriculture and plunge our society into a real crisis.

The story you have just heard is a complete fantasy, however, there is a extremely tiny remote possibility that a real version of it could start tonight.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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About Al Grauer

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