Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Title: Travelers in the Night Eps 141E & 142E: Alien Invaders & 100 Years of Data
Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
- What would happen if we accidentally exported an organism that would flourish on Mars or brought back a Martian virus?
- From about 1885 to 1992 more than 500,000 photographic glass plates were taken with telescopes at various locations and sent to the Harvard College Observatory.
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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141E: Alien Invaders
The most likely alien invaders are viruses or other bits of living materials that humans have exported from or imported to Earth’s biosphere. Currently there are international efforts, like the outer space treaty and the Committee on Space Research, to keep the human exploration of space from spreading Earth’s life forms to other places or to contaminate our own biosphere with extraterrestrial organisms if they exist.
We have seen how the AIDS virus and the Ebola virus have rapidly spread in the human population and how difficult it is to contain them. What would happen if we accidentally exported an organism that would flourish on Mars or brought back a Martian virus?
We have sent robotic probes to Mars and will land one on the asteroid Bennu in a few years. Great care has been taken to prevent these emissaries from contaminating in either direction.
Humans are more of a problem. A typical human being is host to a hundred trillion microorganisms from ten thousand species. If these microorganisms were exterminated the human would die. When we start sending astronauts to Mars how we we keep them spreading Earth’s life forms to a place which may have its own living organisms?
There is evidence that Mars once offered conditions habitable conditions for micro biological life.
Suppose we don’t find any life forms on Mars in 10, 20, or 30 years? Remember that Mars has a surface area equal to the land area on Earth. When will we be able to say “there is no life on Mars” and forget about contaminating the red planet?
142E: 100 Years of Data
Computer data, audio programming, and video content must be migrated forward in time as technology evolves, or its information is lost. Does anyone remember 9 track computer tapes or an 8 track audio tape? On the other hand a photographic plate taken in 1885 contains a wealth of information which can be viewed directly by a human or converted into digital information.
From about 1885 to 1992 more than 500,000 photographic glass plates were taken with telescopes at various locations and sent to the Harvard College Observatory. Over the years the same area of the sky was photographed repeatedly. These time lapse images are a unique record of changes in the Universe over more than 100 years.
In the past obtaining information from these glass plates was a slow tedious endeavor which required researchers to travel to Cambridge, find the images for a particular time and the area of the sky by looking at logbooks, and finally studying the information contained on each relevant photographic plate.
The situation changed dramatically with the construction of a custom designed plate cleaner and most importantly an extremely fast, accurate plate scanner. Each plate is carefully cleaned and scanned to produce a digital file of the brightness and position of every object on the plate.
Get ready! Every time we look at the Universe in a new way something totally unexpected pops up.Stay tuned.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
End of podcast:
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