Podcaster: Dr. Al Grauer
Title: Travelers in the Night Eps 651 & 652: Spotting Meteors & Our Number
Organization: Travelers in The Night
Description: Today’s two stroy:
- In space, they are called meteoroids and typically ranged in size from that of a grain of sand to perhaps ones as big as of a piece of driveway gravel.
- Greg Leonard discovered, 2016 WJ1, a relatively large asteroid which can come close but will not hit the Earth.
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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651: Spotting Meteors
Meteors, shooting stars, or falling stars are different names for the streaks of light in the night sky which are in reality the dying embers of tiny asteroids. These small interplanetary travelers were speeding along at between 7 and 44 miles per second when they entered the Earth’s atmosphere. In space, they are called meteoroids and typically ranged in size from that of a grain of sand to perhaps ones as big as of a piece of driveway gravel. Large space pebbles can produce fireballs which are brighter than the planet Venus. Most meteors burn up 50-70 miles above you, however, a very few of them produce fragments which fall to the Earth’s surface. In rare occasions meteor observers are able to walk up to such a fallen space rock which is called a fall.
The best time to view meteors is generally after midnight on a clear, moonless night. You will see many more meteors in a rural area than under city lights. On nights not during a meteor shower, you may expect to view sporadic meteors at the rate of between 2 and 16 per hour. Some meteor showers produce more than 100 events per hour. Rarely you will have a chance to view a meteor storm which will give you the feeling that you are seeing the Earth move through space. In 1966 one of these storms produced a WOW inspiring 40 meteors per second.
During the year, there are a dozen major meteor showers. Check out the International Meteor Organization Calendar for a complete listing of the dates of meteor showers as well as how bright the moon will be on those dates. Happy viewing.
652: Our Number
The extremely unlikely scenario of an impactor with our number on it would start the with the report of a fast moving point of light in the night sky. After a few days of data the Minor Planet Center would give it a name. Tracking the new asteroid, asteroid hunters would be alarmed as the chances that this object will impact the Earth starts to rise. Large telescopes would then be trained on it to obtain the pattern of colors in the light it reflects and use this information to determine it’s size, mass, and chemical composition. Hopefully this fictional impact would be far enough in the future so that humans could mount a space mission to intercept it and deflect it so that it would miss Earth. Even when a collision with this mythical object is certain, scientists would not be able to accurately predict its point of impact on the surface without additional tracking data.
To be prepared civil defense organizations around the world would begin to think about the possibility of mass evacuations. Chances are that this would be a small object which would have a negligible effect on humanity. Much much much less likely is that this fictional impactor would be a once in every million years or so event which would cause global climate change disrupting human agriculture and plunge our society into a real crisis.
The story you have just heard is a complete fantasy, however, there is a extremely tiny remote possibility that a real version of it could start tonight.
For Travelers in the Night this is Dr. Al Grauer.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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