Feb 17th: Botswana Bound & Martian Mysteries

By on February 17, 2019 in

Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Travelers in the Night Digest: Eps.471 & 472: Botswana Bound & Martian Mysteries

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night ; @Nmcanopus

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night ; @Nmcanopus

Description: Today’s 2 topics:

  • Six foot diameter 2018 LA was the third impacting space rock found by mankind. It was the third found by Richard Kowalski too. Huh.
  • Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode of GSFC have found organic compounds on Mars that may or may not be indicative of life. Probably not. Dr. Chris Webster of JPL have found that Martian methane varies seasonally.

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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471 – Botswana Bound
A small space rock with a diameter less than the height of an NBA basketball player had just crossed the orbit of our Moon on a collision course with Earth when it was spotted streaking through the constellation of Scorpius by my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski.  Amazingly,  asteroid hunters have discovered only three such impacting objects before they entered the Earth’s atmosphere and all three of them have been found by the Richard, using our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. His observations triggered NASA’s Scout Computer system which predicted it to be a possible impactor.  Additional observations by telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii were used to refine it’s orbit and predict that it would enter our atmosphere at 10 miles/second over southern Africa.   8 hours and 37 minutes after Richard’s discovery observations, sure enough the space rock now known as 2018 LA was seen by security cameras to explode over Botswana in southern Africa right on schedule.   So far no pieces of it have been found.   2018 LA came towards us from a direction opposite to the Sun with it’s little full moon face pointing towards and could have been detected a day and a half earlier had anyone been looking.  Although 2018 LA posed no danger to residents of planet Earth, it’s discovery our reaction to it will come in handy when asteroid hunters discover a larger, much more dangerous, space rock with our number on it.

472 – Martian Mysteries
Since 2012, NASA’s Curiosity Rover’s scientific odyssey on the surface of Mars has revealed a fascinating geology and an environment which was much more friendly to life in the past than it’s stark dry surface is today.   Recently in the journal Science, Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode a biochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and her team of scientists report that Curiosity has discovered carbon containing molecules like those which are used and produced by living organisms on Earth to be present in rocks a few inches below the martian surface.  Based on current data, these scientists are not sure if these martian organic molecules are a record of ancient life, was food for living organisms, or that they were produced in the absence of life. In a second paper in the same issue of Science, Dr. Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his team report the discovery that the organic molecule methane varies with the martian seasons reaching a peak during each brief summer on the red planet. These results are very intriguing since such seasonal variations in methane on Earth are directly related to the activities of living organisms. In 2020 the NASA Mars Rover, a European Rover, and perhaps a Chinese Rover will dig deep below the surface of the red planet to search for clues  concerning these two exciting results and in the process may shed light on the mysteries of life on Planet Earth.  

For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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About Al Grauer

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