Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer


Title: Travelers in the Night Eps. 597 & 598: Aging Satellites & Illusive Asteroids

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night ; @Nmcanopus

Description: Today’s 2 topics:

  • A major solar outburst can damage communication satellites,  electric power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, credit card transactions, emergency services, and more.
  • Hannes Groeller discovered 2020 KT2 in the constellation of Boötes.

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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597: Aging Satellites

Fortunately Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect our human bodies from intense solar storms, however, our technology is not so lucky. A major solar outburst can damage communication satellites,  electric power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, credit card transactions, emergency services, and more.  Our two NASA space weather observation satellites DCSOVR and ACE are both more than 20 years old and need replacing.  

These watch dogs in the sky were created to alert humans to unplug and put sensitive electronics in a safe mode to mitigate potentially trillions of dollars in damages from a major solar storm.  In 1859 a super geomagnetic storm was produced when  billions of tons of matter in a coronal mass ejection from the Sun impacted Earth. It caused telegraph systems to fail and aurora displays bright enough to read a newspaper in Boston, MA.  Less powerful storms in 1921 and 1960 disrupted radio communications.  

A coronal mass ejection in 1989 took down the electrical grid in for 6 million people in Canada.  In July of 2012 the Earth’s orbital motion about the Sun saved our technology from the impact of billions of tons of matter in huge coronal mass ejection.  If this event had happened a week earlier the human economic structure would have received a blow that would have taken years to recover from.   If we don’t place some new space weather observing satellites into orbit it is possible that you will wake up one day to no electricity, no cell phone, no way to pump gas, and no way to pay for things with a credit card. 

598: Illusive Asteroids

My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Hannes Groeller was observing in the constellation of Boötes with our 60 telescope on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona when he discovered a potentially hazardous asteroid which had evaded being spotted by the asteroid hunting community on four previous occasions.  Such sneaky asteroids can avoid detection by hiding in the glare of a star, by mimicking the motions of a main belt asteroid, or simply being lost in the myriad of other objects in the night sky.  The night sky is a crowded place.  For example, my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rob Seaman pointed out,  on a night similar to the one that Hannes discovered this asteroid, the same telescope found about one new Earth approaching asteroid for every 1.4 million stars which were recorded by its cameras.

After Hannes posted his illusive object’s position and speed on the Minor Planet Center’s Near Earth Object Confirmation Page it was observed by telescopes in Arizona, Illinois, France, and Tican.  Using this information scientists were able to calculate its orbit about the Sun and give it the name 2020 KT2.  Subsequently, asteroid hunters combed through the previous month’s data and found it on images from 4 different nights. These before the discovery observations significantly improved the asteroid’s orbit.  We now know that 2020 KT2 does not pose an immediate threat to Earth.   Rest assured that asteroid hunters will  continue following 2020 KT2  to make sure it does not become a danger to our home planet as it passes near Venus,  Earth, Mars, or Jupiter.

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

End of podcast:

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