Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Title: Travelers in the Night Eps. 157 & 158: Neighborhood’s Edge & Encounter With Pluto
Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s 2 topics:
- Confronted with the deluge of new possible planets, in 2006, The International Astronomical Union voted to categorize Pluto as a Dwarf Planet and not the 9th planet in our solar system as most school children had learned.
- After 9 years, 3 billion miles, and 18 sleeping periods NASA gave a wake up call to the New Horizons when it was 135 million miles from the Pluto system.
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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157E: Neighborhood’s Edge
For 62 years after Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery, Pluto remained a solitary mysterious object at the edge of our solar system. In the early 1990’s, technology gave astronomers electronic detectors 30 times more sensitive than the photographic film that Clyde Tombaugh used to search for and find Pluto. Armed with these new detectors and powerful computers scientists began to discover many new objects in the far reaches of our solar system. In 1992, Dr. Dave Jewitt and Dr. Jane Luu from the University of Hawaii discovered, 1992 QB1 which turned out to be a small object orbiting the Sun at about the same distance as the Planet Pluto.
Dr. Mike Brown, a planetary astronomer at Caltech, led the charge discovering Eris, an object which is about the same size as Pluto. It has an an orbital period of 558 years which places it out past all of the known planets. He and other astronomers have gone on to discover scores of new objects in the distant frozen regions of our solar system.
Confronted with the deluge of new possible planets, in 2006, The International Astronomical Union voted to categorize Pluto as a Dwarf Planet and not the 9th planet in our solar system as most school children had learned.
Recently the NASA New Horizon’s spacecraft flew past Pluto carrying some of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes.
The New Horizon’s space craft is one of the few human made objects which are likely to exist till the end of time.
158E: Encounter With Pluto
After 9 years, 3 billion miles, and 18 sleeping periods NASA gave a wake up call to the New Horizons when it was 135 million miles from the Pluto system. After more than 8 hours of waiting, NASA engineers were ecstatic to receive a message from the New Horizons stating that “I am fine and ready to go forward with an encounter with Pluto”.
The Sun at Pluto’s distance is 1500 times fainter than it is to us on Earth and Pluto has a surface temperature of 370 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. These two facts might lead one to believe that the frozen surface of this distant world has changed little over the eons and should be pock marked with craters from impacts it has received over its 4.5 billion year history. Instead of this situation New Horizons has found regions on this distant world which are entirely free of craters. One of them, the Tombaugh Regio, is about 1000 miles across and has no craters at all making its surface only about 30% older than the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Pluto’s weird geology is driven by the fact that at -370F water ice is as strong as rocks are on Earth creating ice mountains more than 11,000 feet high. We can only guess at what might be powering these recent surface changes.
Because New New Horizons has a low power transmitter and is at an incredible distance from Earth it will need more than a year to send all of its data from the Pluto encounter back to its human creators.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
End of podcast:
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