Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
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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381 – Peaceful Star
Recently, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered 2017 NK, a potentially hazardous asteroid which spends most of it’s time within the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Observations by telescopes in Arizona, Italy, Illinois, and England allowed the Minor Planet Center to calculate 2017 NK’s orbital path around the Sun and estimate it’s size to be about 590 feet in diameter. In December of 2018, 2017 NK, will come to about 24 times the distance to the Moon from us traveling at 4.5 mi/s with only 14% of it’s lighted surface pointing in our direction.
Aten asteroids like 2017 NK account for about 6% of the Earth approaching asteroids which asteroid hunters have discovered. Since they rarely point their lighted side in our direction even relatively large ones can be faint and hard to spot. For a brief time in 2004 it appeared that the 1,000 foot diameter Aten asteroid Apophis (/əˈpɒfɪs/) was on a collision course with Earth. Astronomers have obtained new data and are now certain that on April 13, 2029 Apophis will pass closer than the communication satellites but will definitely not impact our home planet.
Fortunately asteroid hunters have not discovered an object like Apophis which has our number on it since if were to strike over a land area it could create a crater 3 miles in diameter inflicting damage over a hurricane sized foot print on the Earth’s surface.
382 – Martian Debris
The Moon is the only other world whose surface we can see directly. Every month my retired Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rik Hill uses a small telescope, electronic camera, and computer to explore our Moon from his backyard. The lunar surface is virtually unexplored and has an area which is about the same as that of North and South America combined. It’s outer layers contain water and other materials which have been deposited by billions of years of asteroid impacts. In the next few years, Moon Express, a Florida based company plans to dramatically lower the cost of accessing the lunar surface similar to the way cube sats have made low Earth orbit accessible to many more people.
Currently Moon Express is one of the 5 companies left in the Google Lunar X Prize competition for the 20 million dollar first prize to be awarded to the first entrant to soft-land a robot on the Moon, make it travel 1,640 feet, and send video and images back to Earth. Moon Express is developing and plans to mass produce a single engine lander stand alone lunar explorer called the MX-1. After the prize competition Moon Express plans to use it to establish a robotic base near the lunar south pole to identity sources of water and other important minerals.
Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to use it’s new Electron Booster to transport the MX-1 to the Moon. Moon Express’s vision includes using the abundant water and solar energy on the Moon’s surface to create the hydrogen and oxygen rocket fuel which could make it the gas station in the sky.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
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365 Days of Astronomy
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