Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer


Title: Travelers in the Night Eps.641 & 642: Backyard Astronomy & Vesta Fragment

Organization: Travelers in The Night

Link : Travelers in the Night ; @Nmcanopus

Description: Today’s two stroy:

  • Richard Kowalski conducted his own Messier Marathon from his backyard in the middle of Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Grauer recorded this outside, apologies for the wind noise! 
  • Richard Kowalski discovered 2018 LA, a Vesta fragments Which entered our atmosphere over Botswana.

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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641: Backyard Astronomy

In the late 1700’s, visually using a small telescope in the middle of Paris, France,  Charles Messier compiled a list of 110 faint diffuse objects which a comet hunter like himself could mistake for a new comet discovery. His Messier catalogue contains the most spectacular galaxies, globular clusters, diffuse nebulae, open clusters, and planetary nebulae visible from the northern mid-latitudes. In March and April every year amateur astronomers, around the world, in Messier Marathons,  attempt to view all of 110 objects in the Messier catalogue in a single night.  

In the past this was accomplished by sequentially “Star hopping”  around the sky to nearby stars they had previously selected for each Messier object.  Now it is easier using a relatively inexpensive “GO TO” telescope which is operated by its built in computer containing the Messier Catalogue.  

Recently, on one of his nights off from asteroid hunting my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski conducted his own Messier Marathon from his backyard in the middle of Tucson, Arizona. Because of efforts by the International Dark Sky Association and other night sky conservationists the lights of Tucson have begun to decrease.  Thus Richard was able to spot 80 Messier Objects.  The remaining  objects eluded him because they were simply too low in the sky or too faint to be seen from inside the Tucson light dome.  In a more leisurely approach you can visit a dark sky location like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary and view spectacular Messier Objects with your naked eye, binoculars, or a small telescope.

642: Vesta Fragment

Vesta with a mean diameter of 315 miles is the second largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. Vesta is large enough and close enough to be visible to the naked eye from a dark sky location like the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary in New Mexico. When the NASA Dawn Spacecraft visited Vesta it photographed a 311 mile wide crater near Vesta’s south pole which is overlapped by younger 250 mile diameter crater. Both of these craters are very deep and cover a huge portion of Vesta’s surface. They were caused by catastrophic impacts long ago. More recently a smaller impacting object hit Vesta making a 10 mile diameter crater and in the process blasted loose fragments which have been orbiting the Sun for 22 million years or so. In June of 2018 my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Richard Kowalski discovered one of them streaking towards Earth with our 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon , AZ. About 8 hours later an exceptionally bright fireball meteor was spotted over Botswana, Africa. When the discovery observations were joined by those from the Asteroid Last Alert System in Hawaii it became apparent Richard’s tiny asteroid, now known as 2018 LA, had exploded at an altitude of about 17mi over Africa. A recovery team, led by SETI Institute astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens found a total of 23 fragments of 2018 LA while searching in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. Non destructive analysis at the University of Helsinki in Finland showed that Botswana meteorites were likely to be fragments of Vesta. 

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

End of podcast:

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