Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watcher of the Skies (WW104)

Tonight's WW features an interview with UWO's very own Paul Wiegert, an celestial dynamicist and asteroid hunter. Incidentally, he is the discoverer of Asteroid  172996 Stooke whose namesake we featured on last week's program ("The Map is the Tale"). Tonight's show also marks the debut of a new interviewer, Tyler August. Tyler is one of Paul's graduate students so he was really able to get into the meat of Paul's new discovery and his work. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did!

As always, the intro is below the cut and don't forget to check out the WW page for links to past episodes and the audio of this one once it becomes available.

Oft in one wide expanse had I been told/ That deep-browed Homer ruled as his dimaine/Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken. You’re Listening to Western Worlds!

Hello and welcome back for another conversation here on Western Worlds, an AFM*Original show heard right here on Astronomy.fm. My name is Dr. John and I’m coming to you this week as every week from the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University located halfway between Hogtown and the Motor City in London, Ontario, Canada.

Tonight’s quote is by the nineteenth century poet John Keats written on the occasion of his first reading of Homer’s Illiad as translated into English by George Chapman. The illiad tells the story of the greek conquest of the city of Troy, a conflict aided and abetted by the actions of the mythological gods after whom the planets of the Solar System are named. Appropriately, our accompanying music tonight is James Horner’s “Troy” from the 2004 movie of the same name.

Now, as for the two warring sides, they too have been immortalized in our planetary system. 60 degrees ahead and 60 degrees behind in the orbit of any planet is a little gravitational Sargasso sea where asteroids can accumulate. The largest concentrations of this solar system flotsam can be found, not surprisingly, on the orbit of Jupiter where the leading group is called the Greeks and the trailing group is called the Trojans. Both are doomed to revolve around the sun, minor pieces of rock and ice chasing one another on Jupiter’s puppeteering strings for all of time.

Why am I talking about Troy tonight? The reason is that we have with us a very special guest – Paul Wiegert. You see, Jupiter isn’t the only world to posess Trojan asteroids. Recently, Paul was part of a team that discovered the Earth’s very first Trojan, an achievement that was documented in the magazine Nature. Currently, Paul is a professor in the physics and astronomy department at Western University and his research interests extend to all of celestial mechanics, be it small bodies, meteor streams or systems of planets around other stars. Western World’s own Tyler August sat down with Paul recently to talk to him about his discovery and how small objects move around in our Solar System. 

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