Martz-Kohl Observatory: Collision Warning! Dangers Overhead!

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John Plumb, Ph.D. Head of Government Relations for the Aerospace Corporation.
John Plumb, Ph.D. Head of Government Relations for the Aerospace Corporation.

Private companies and space agencies are now launching satellites at a pace that may soon create an almost impenetrable traffic jam flying through space at 17,500 miles per hour over our heads. Outer space is growing more dangerous every year. This may soon pose greater risks than ever to astronauts, the world’s communication systems, GPS navigation, and more.

The Martz-Kohl Observatory will present “Space Traffic Management: Preventing Satellite Collisions in Space,” a vitally important webinar-zoom conference open to the general public, on Wednesday, November 18, at 7:30 p.m. To attend, simply go to the Martz-Kohl website (martzobservatory.org) on Wednesday evening, November 18 to register, starting at 7:15. Just click on the meeting tab and you will join the program. A lively and fascinating question & answer period will follow Dr. Plum’s talk for all attendees.

Satellite crashes are not like car crashes. Fatal car crashes happen at average highway speeds as high as 70 mph in Georgia and as low as 21 mph in Iowa according to autoinsurance.com. That’s bad enough.

But imagine crashing at orbital speed – head-on, that is a 22,300-mph crash! That’s what happens when space satellites collide high above the Earth.

As of March 31, 2020, there were 5,774 individual satellites cruising through space over our heads. Space-X has launched at least 400 more since then. And worse, there are also more than 23,000 potentially deadly baseball-sized pieces space junk in orbit plus 500,000 smaller pieces traveling that fast. Every one of them could be fatal to an astronaut, a spaceship, or a satellite.

Fortunately, somebody is watching the traffic. Dr. John Plumb will be Martz-Kohl’s special guest speaker on the topic “Space Traffic Management: Preventing Satellite Collisions in Space,” Dr Plumb, a native Western New Yorker, has served as a US Navy submarine officer, as a science and military adviser in the US Senate, as an official for missile defense, nuclear weapons, and space policy in the Pentagon, and on the National Security Council staff at the White House. He currently works as the head of government relations for the Aerospace Corporation, the only Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) dedicated to the space enterprise. John holds a bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Keep Looking Up

November is a good month for fans of meteor showers. On the night of November 11, 12, look for the Northern Taurids Meteor Shower to produce no more than 5 to 10 meteors per hour, but it is famous for producing a higher than usual number of bright fireballs. These are dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The thin crescent moon will leave the sky dark for good viewing.

On November 16, 17, don’t miss the Leonids Meteor Shower to produce up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique. It has a peak about every 33 years producing hundreds of meteors per hour, the last of which occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865.

Join Us!

And everything else is looking up at the Martz-Kohl Astronomical Observatory. We are still not open for tours or star-watching, but our Webinar-Zoom series is bringing together old friends and new from all across the region and across the country. Please join us on Wednesday evening, November 18, at 7:15 for our 7:30 presentation of “Space Traffic Management: Preventing Satellite Collisions in Space.”

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.