Space, Asteroid Hunting, and Astronomy, an insider view. The music is "Eternity" by John Lyell. Astronomy Asteroids Space NASA Comets Earth Impact
In 1933 Fritz Zwicky suggested that the high speeds of galaxies in the relatively distant Coma Cluster are indicative of some type of invisible material which is pulling on them. In the 1970's Dr. Vera Rubin began to measure the speeds of stars in galaxies using the Doppler shift. She expected stars orbiting at different distances from the centers of spiral galaxies to behave like the planets in our solar system since for these giant star systems the luminous mass that we observe is concentrated towards their centers. To her amazement the stars near the edge of the great galaxy in Andromeda and many other spiral galaxies are moving at speeds which indicate that these galaxies contain ten times the amount of mass that emits radiation which is visible to us. It was at this point that Dr. Rubin realized that she had discovered compelling evidence to support Zwicky's dark matter hypothesis.
Being night sky friendly means that you only use outdoor lighting fixtures which direct light onto the ground where humans need it and not up into the sky where it obscures the natural wonders of the Universe. Currently more than 2/3 of the US population and more than 1/2 of the those people living in Europe cannot see the Milky Way or a meteor streaking through the night sky because of inappropriate outdoor lighting. Amazingly enough being night sky friendly saves money and is good for business.
About 35 million years ago the Earth was impacted by two large asteroids creating the more than 50 mile diameter Popigai [pop a gay i] Crater in Russia and a similar crater in Chesapeake Bay in the USA. Analysis of fragments indicate that the impacting objects were not made of the same material. This finding has led scientists to speculate that there may be an astronomical process which changes conditions in the inner asteroid belt and causes the Earth's orbit to change slightly. This combination could have triggered the ice age which caused the first significant ice sheet in Antarctica to form and led to the last major extinction event in the Earth's history.
In February 2013 a space rock about 59 feet in diameter entered the Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia making a fire ball 30 times brighter than our Sun. It came without warning and nearly 1,500 people were injured primarily by flying glass from broken windows. In the end spending a billion dollars a year on asteroid damage prevention is like purchasing expensive insurance for an extremely unlikely event. However, it has a side benefit that it will employ people and may stimulate science and technology.
There are more than 20,000 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inches in diameter and millions of tiny ones in orbit around the Earth. At orbital speed a flake of paint carries as much energy as a 550 pound object traveling at 60 miles per hour. Eventually all of this stuff will fall back to Earth. So far no injuries or property damage has been confirmed. Heads up.
For 43 years after its discovery in 1949, the Earth approaching asteroid Icarus, was known as the object which passes closest to our Sun. It is named for a boy in Greek mythology whose wings of feathers and wax melted when he ignored his father's advice and flew too close to the Sun.
To survive on Venus where the temperature is 864F and the surface air pressure is 90 times that of Earth, NASA and JPL engineers are exploring the concept of avoiding the use of modern temperature sensitive electronics by creating a fully mechanical rover.
Using the long arm of the internet, astronomers in Russia are observing with a telescope located near Mayhill, New Mexico to discover solar system objects. The New Mexico Skies Observatory, near the village of Mayhill, is located 7,300 feet above sea level and has world class, clear dark skies, ideal for astronomical viewing. In addition to discovering new objects the ISON-NM telescope is being used to determine the size and shape of asteroids by carefully measuring the light they reflect as they spin on their axis of rotation and move about the Sun. The size, shape, and rate of spin of an asteroid is the kind of information which humans need to prepare for the unlikely situation that a small body is found to be on a collision course with planet Earth.
Juno was found by German astronomer Karl L. Harding in 1804 who noticed that to the human eye it appeared to be a star like moving point of light in the night sky. The light that Juno reflects suggests that it could be the source of stony meteorites called chondrites that we find on Earth.
Martian Trojan asteroids have stable orbits around the Sun, leading and trailing the red planet by 60 degrees, where the Sun's and Mars's gravity are balanced. The impact more than 4 billion years or so ago which blasted loose the Trojan asteroids and gave them the 3mi/s required to escape the red planet gives us an insight into the level of violence which occurred before our solar system came into it's present relatively calm state.
Recently my NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey teammate Carson Fuls discovered an approaching asteroid about the same size as the one whose high altitude disintegration injured nearly 1500 people in Chelyabinsk Russia in February of 2013. Fortunately this new one missed planet Earth. There is more good news. Carson spotted this small space rock about 40 hours before its closest approach to planet Earth. This means that if it had been on a collision path with our home planet we would have had time to warn people to seek shelter before it created a potentially destructive sonic boom in our atmosphere.
On Earth, human life is enabled by plants which provide us with calories, vitamins, fuel, medicines, and oxygen to breathe. In addition, recent scientific studies indicate that plant cultivation reduces anxiety and depression and has a positive influence on diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and longevity. It is likely that when humans travel to Mars they will continue this practice. The plants that Mars explorers take with them will provide a source of fresh fruits and vegetables , fresh air to breathe, and perhaps a psychological benefit that is crucial to the success of their mission.
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.
My Catalina Sky Survey teammate Greg Leonard discovered, 2016 WJ1, a relatively large asteroid which can come close but will not hit the Earth. Once in every million years or so an asteroid impact by an object of this size could cause global climate change disrupting human agriculture and plunge our society into a real crisis.
Jupiter has been observed throughout human history and is so bright that you can even spot it under the artificial light dome of one of our cities. Even so it is less than 40 years ago that we were first able to view Jupiter in detail as the Voyagers streaked by it. Jupiter contains more than twice the mass of all of the other planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets in our solar system combined.
Asteroids are moving points of light in the night sky, which shine by reflected Sun light. The asteroid hunting community determines a new object's orbit around the Sun by continuing to measure its changing position in the sky. The next time you hear someone state the size of an asteroid it is a safe bet that it based on Dr. Landolt's Standard Star measurements.
During a recent 30 day period asteroid hunters spotted 88 small space rocks passing through our neighborhood. Their diameters ranged from the length of a Uhaul Van to one that would occupy the majority of a city block. None of them pose a threat to Earth in the foreseeable Future.
About a month before my Catalina Sky Survey teammate Rik Hill spotted it, a 5 football field diameter asteroid had been almost as near to the Sun as the planet Venus. His discovery images showed it about to cross the Earth's orbit at a speed of 21 miles per second coming towards us. Additional observations by telescopes in Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona showed that its 7.6 year path around the Sun will take it out to well past the planet Jupiter. This object's orbit is highly elliptical and inclined so that it moves above and below the plane where the planets and nearly all of the other solar system objects exist. It had crossed the Earth's orbital path moving towards the Sun about 6 weeks before it was discovered but nobody noticed it since it was faint and far away from Earth.
Until recently smoky nights at the observatory were rare. Now they have become more common place as wild fires continue to devastate portions of the western United States. The consequences of expanded fire prone areas goes far beyond missing a few nights data at the telescope. Potentially millions of people will be at increased risk of respiratory aliments. Further the burn scars left behind will adversely affect the quality and quantity of the precious water these high altitude areas provide to a a dry and thirsty west.
If you woke up tomorrow morning with radio eyes your surroundings would look very different. Invisible to us, are the radio waves occupying a vast region of other wavelengths.These invisible radio waves are produced by a number of very interesting physical processes in the Universe. In fact how things look would depend on the part of the radio spectrum that you could see.
Francesco Manca of the Sormano Astronomical Observatory is doing some of the important work of keeping track of the asteroids which can make close approaches to our Earth, our Moon, and other objects in space. He has compiled the fact that the asteroid hunting community has found more than 2000 small asteroids, of less than several football fields in diameter, which can make close approaches to us. Nearly 700 have orbits which allow them to come closer to the Earth than our Moon. So far more than 250 of these small asteroids have come or are predicted to come less a lunar distance from our home planet.
Evidence from comets and meteorites has brought many scientists to believe that the basic building blocks of life were brought to Earth by small bodies which impacted our home planet early in its history. When and where did the substances, including water and organic materials required for life as we know it, appear in our solar system?
As a result of human caused increases in green house gases the troposphere is expanding and the stratosphere is shrinking. Between 1980 and 2018 the stratosphere has become a quarter of a mile thinner and is projected to contract in total by nearly a mile by 2080 if the present human increases in green house gases continues. Find out why buckle up for safety has more than one meaning in the era of climate change we are moving into.
Recently my Catalina Sky Survey teammate, Rose Matheny discovered a tiny asteroid that passed 115,000 miles from Earth and 104,000 miles from our Moon. Rose's discovery demonstrates the fact that the asteroid hunting community is beginning to have the ability to discover small space rocks before they make their closest approach to Earth.
A team of astronomers find that as many as 14 comets which came to less than 4 times the Moon's distance from us as long as 4,000 years ago are detectable as meteor showers in the present era. These results make us aware of potentially hazardous comets from the past which could come into our space again in the future.
Recently I was observing with the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey 60 inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon when the computer identified a faint fast moving object in the night sky. Not being sure it was real I scheduled followup observations. About an hour later the second set of observations showed that it is a real object. On the next two nights this small space rock was observed by telescopes near Westfield, Illinois and on Kitt Peak in Arizona. These observations allowed the Minor Planet Center to determine an orbit and a tentative size. It was given the name 2015 GB.