Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Title: Travelers in the Night Eps. 593 & 594: Kasper’s First Comet & Earth Grazer
Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
- Kacper Wierzchos spotted C/2020 H3 (Wierzchos) in Aquila.
- Hannes Growler discovered 15 foot diameter 2020 JJ.
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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593: Kasper’s First Comet
My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Kacper Wierzchos was asteroid hunting with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he spotted a fuzzy object with a tail moving through the constellation of Aquila. After Kacper sent his discovery observations to the Minor Planet Center his first comet discovery was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, the Canary Islands, ,Tican, New Mexico, South Bohemia, and Hawaii. Astronomers used these observations to determine this new object’s orbit about the Sun and give it the name C/2020 H3 (Wierzchos). Turns out, this frozen ball of gases is a visitor from far away making its one and only trip near us, and not really a member of our solar system at all.
Unfortunately Kacper’s first comet will not come closer than about 658 times the Moon’s distance from us making it a dim object in our night sky. However, we now know that at Christmas time in 1999 comet C/2020 H3 (Wierzchos) was just coming closer than Pluto’s average distance from the Sun on a path taking it towards the inner solar system. In 2019 Kacper’s comet crossed the orbit of Jupiter and in May of 2020 it was propelled by a gravitational boost as it rounded Sun on a path taking it towards the edge of our solar system and beyond. In October of 2040 this frozen gas ball will cross Pluto’s average distance from the Sun heading in the direction of the constellation Orion. From there it is likely that comet C/2020 H3 (Wierzchos) will continue its lonely journey until the end of time.
594: Earth Grazer
Asteroid hunters have discovered that the Earth encounters many tiny asteroids as it zips around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour. Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Growler discovered an approximately 15 foot diameter space rock, now named 2020 JJ, about 6 hours before it came to within 4,400 miles of the Earth’s surface over the Pacific Ocean. For the next two hours, this tiny space rock was tracked by telescopes in Arizona, Illinois, and Hawaii as it brightened before passing through the Earth’s shadow.
2020 JJ was very challenging to track since, under the influence of Earth’s gravity, this tiny space rock’s speed was doubling every couple of hours and its path around the Sun was being bent by some 25 degrees. According to the Purdue University and Imperial College of London’s Impact Calculator a space rock of this size enters the Earth’s atmosphere about once every 8 months and bursts into fragments at 121,000 feet producing a very bright fireball meteor. If this happens over a populated area it is also likely to be recorded on Doppler Weather RADAR. These additional data would allow scientists to predict where large fragments might reach the ground for meteorite hunters to discover.
If you are fortunate to witness such an event become a citizen scientist and report your observations to the American Meteor Society. The American Meteor Society website could give you an idea of where to find a meteorite and thus the chance to hold a 4.5 billion year visitor from outer space in your hand.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
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