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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419 – ET’s Cigar
In 2012 as it crossed the orbit of Neptune heading towards the Sun a small space rock was 250 times fainter than can be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope. Five years later, after it had rounded the Sun, it became visible in asteroid hunter’s telescopes for about 16 days, as it streaked across our planet’s orbit at 37 miles per second, as it continued to move away from the Sun. During that brief period of time it was discovered by the PanSTARRS group in Hawaii, tracked by telescopes around the world, and given the name Oumuamua (“Oh-moo-ah-moo-ah”). Turns out that previous to the discovery observations, sightings too sparse to report, were obtained by my team using the Catalina Sky Survey’s Schmidt telescope on Mt. Bigelow, Arizona. In 2024 this unusual space rock will cross Pluto’s average distance from the Sun traveling on a path which will take it into deep interstellar space. Since we don’t know how Oumuamua could obtained it’s current trajectory from processes in our solar system, it is safe to presume that it originated in truly deep space. The mystery of Oumuamua deepened when astronomers measured it’s brightness to change regularly by nearly 10 times over a 7.3 hour period of time. If these brightness variations are due to it’s shape, and thus the amount of sun light reflected as it rotates, Oumuamua looks like a cigar. Even though Elon Musk’s SpaceX Mars rocket could catch Oumuamua, it is more cost effective is to simply wait to discover another one of the several interstellar asteroids which pass by us each year.
420 – Dry Sand
The NASA Curiosity Rover has shown us evidence of ancient rivers and bodies of liquid water on the martian surface. Given it’s thin cold atmosphere, seeps of liquid water, presently on the surface of Mars which are capable of hosting microbial life appear to be unlikely. Scientists were thus surprised when high resolution imaging of the red planet’s surface revealed thousands of intriguing dark streaks called RSL on hundreds of rocky slope areas. These fascinating features slowly extend down hill and grow during the martian warm season, fade during the colder season, and reappear during the next martian warm period. On Earth features like these are produced by seeps of liquid water. However, on Mars a careful study of 151 RSL features at ten different sites using the high resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that they occur almost entirely on slopes which are greater than 27 degrees. This new research published in Nature Geoscience suggests that RSL are composed of solid particles in dry granular flows which unlike water seeps appear to end on many of the dunes when it’s slope falls below a critical value. What makes RSL tick remains a mystery and likely involves small amounts of water trapped from the atmosphere. Currently surface conditions are hostile to life as we know it, however, the possibility of finding evidence of ancient life or perhaps even still existing microbe colonies in deep sub surface pockets of water are reasons to continue to explore our next door neighbor without contaminating it.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
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365 Days of Astronomy
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