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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on June 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Lunar Trailblazer, Moon Studies   

    From Caltech: “NASA Selects Caltech-Led Lunar Mission as a Finalist” 

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    From Caltech

    June 20, 2019

    NASA has selected a Caltech-led mission to send a small satellite to quantify and study water on the Moon. The project is one of three finalists selected from more than a dozen proposals for small satellite missions – at least one of which is expected to move to final selection and flight.

    Lunar Trailblazer follows up on a key discovery by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) on the Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission: small amounts of water and hydroxyl (in blue and violet) across the surface of the moon, especially near the poles. Credit: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS

    Left side of the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that was located on the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.


    The Lunar Trailblazer would follow up on one of the most surprising discoveries of the late 2000s: the detection of water on the Moon’s surface, long thought impossible because of its exposure to the vacuum of space. Trailblazer would map the tiny amounts of water and of hydroxyl (a compound of hydrogen and oxygen) on the sunlit side of the Moon, determining whether they change with time. Trailblazer would also peer into shadowed craters to map ice deposits, glimpses of which were observed on prior missions.

    The mission proposal is led by Bethany Ehlmann, professor of planetary science at Caltech and research scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. “Our team is excited to move forward to map water on the Moon. The water cycle of airless bodies is one of the solar system’s most surprising occurrences and is important for the support of future human lunar exploration,” Ehlmann says.

    The relatively tiny Trailblazer satellite, which would measure just 5 meters in length with its solar panels fully deployed, would spend a year orbiting the Moon at a height of 100 kilometers, scanning it with two key instruments: a shortwave imaging spectrometer built by JPL and a multispectral thermal imager built by the University of Oxford.

    The spectrometer would image the surface in multiple wavelengths in the infrared, searching for the signature of water—either in the form of ice or bound to minerals. Meanwhile, the thermal imager would map the temperature, physical properties, and composition of regions where the spectrometer detects water.

    The end result would be a high-resolution map—at 100 meters per pixel—that charts the form, abundance, and distribution of water while also collecting information about the environments where that water exists. The mission’s leaders hope that such information could not only fill in the gaps of our understanding of the Moon but also chart a course for future human exploration.

    The mission was proposed as part of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) Program for low-budget missions that are capable of major planetary surveys. “We’re eager to lead the way in science and discovery using this new small-satellite NASA mission class. The opportunities are huge,” Ehlmann says.

    The mission will now receive funding for up to one year followed by a NASA preliminary design review. At that time, NASA will determine when and if it will be selected for a flight. The satellite could launch within two to four years, Ehlmann says. Caltech would be responsible for managing the project and for the scientific leadership, with support from JPL. Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, would build the spacecraft.

    Once launched, the spacecraft would be operated by teams from Caltech and neighboring Pasadena City College. The teams would include students who will be supported by experienced Caltech and JPL personnel. The project’s science team includes researchers from Caltech, JPL, the UK Space Agency, the University of Oxford, Pasadena City College, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Brown University, and Northern Arizona University.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

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  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on January 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , China’s Chang’e-4 lander, , Moon Studies,   

    From smithsonian.com: “Best Photos From China’s Far Side Moon Landing” 

    From smithsonian.com

    January 7, 2019
    Jason Daley
    All photos from China National Space Admimmistration

    Yutu-2 rover leaves the Chang’e-4 lander

    Yutu-2 sets off.

    First images

    Close shot of Yutu-2 rover specialized wheel.

    China’s Chang’e-4 lander reached the Von Kármán crater near the moon’s South Pole on Wednesday, marking the first time a human craft has visited the lunar far side.

    The first upclose images of the far side’s surface came in shortly after via a satellite called “Queqiao,” report Steven Lee Myers and Zoe Mou at The New York Times.

    Queqiao Relay Satellite China

    The Guardian reports that, about 12 hours after the landing, a small rover named Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, left the Chang’e-4 spacecraft and began exploring the crater, which is part of the South Pole-Aitken basin, one of the largest known impact structures in our solar system.

    Chang’e-4 weighs about four metric tons and carries eight instruments on board, including an infrared spectrometer, panoramic camera and lunar penetrating radar, writes Andrew Jones at Smithsonian.com. It will also collect mineral and geological samples of the moon’s surface as well as investigate the impact of solar wind on the moon. The craft even has its own little farm, or lunar biosphere, aboard—the first of its kind. Part of an experiment designed by university students, it contains silkworm eggs, potato seeds and Arabidopsis, a model organism used in space plant studies.

    Because the far side of the moon is shielded from the radio signals coming from Earth, Chang’e-4 will conduct low frequency radio experiments using a new technique. Astronomers plan to connect a radio instrument on the landing craft with one aboard the Queqiao satellite and use the dual-system as a radio telescope—free from noisy radio interference that is common closer to Earth, reports Michael Greshko at National Geographic.

    “This will allow us for the first time to do radio observation at low frequencies that are not possible from Earth, from close to the moon and on the moon,” Radboud University astronomer Marc Klein Wolt, who leads the project, tells Greshko. “This will pave the way for a future large radio facility on the moon to study the very early universe in the period before the first stars were formed.”

    While such experiments are valuable, the landing is also considered an important accomplishment for the Chinese space program, which is quickly catching up to the decades-old United States and Russian space programs. Landing on the far side required a high level of technical expertise and unique communications solutions, Smithsonian.com’s Jones points out.

    “This is a major achievement technically and symbolically,” Namrata Goswami, an independent space analyst, tells The New York Times. “China views this landing as just a stepping stone, as it also views its future manned lunar landing, since its long-term goal is to colonize the moon and use it as a vast supply of energy.”

    In the last two decades, China has ramped up its space program, launching two space stations and sending dozens of satellites into space. Besides the U.S. and Russia, it is the only nation to send its own astronauts into space. It first visited the near side of the moon in 2013 with its Chang’e-3 lander and rover. Later in 2019, the nation plans to land Chang’e-5 on the near side of the moon and then send a sample of the moon’s surface back to Earth. In 2022, China is slated to launch another space station into orbit and has plans to establish a lunar colony later in that decade.

    While the success of Chang’e-4 is being universally celebrated by the scientific community, space policy expert Wendy Whitman Cobb at The Conversation wonders whether its an indication of second space race. The U.S. recently announced a 10-year, $2.6 billion effort to return to the moon and construct an orbiting space station. Russia has also announced intentions to send missions to the moon in the near future.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:08 pm on August 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Lunar lava tubes, Lunar Nanobots, Moon Studies   

    From ESA: “Lunar Nanobot” 

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    European Space Agency

    Lunar Nanobot
    Released 02/08/2017
    Copyright Lunatix

    This highly mobile, jumping Nanobot was designed by a team of space engineers challenged to develop a Moon mission that was not only technically viable but could also make a profit.

    The annual SpaceTech Master Programme of the Technical University of Graz, Austria trains space professionals to combine space and business engineering. ESA Director General Jan Woerner asked the 2016 participants to come up with a profitable business case to fit within ESA’s Moon Village concept.

    The eight SpaceTech 2016 participants presented the resulting Lunatix concept last month at ESA’s technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

    “We want to enable you to leave your mark on the Moon,” explains ESA engineer Jorge Fiebrich. “Our ambition is to become the creative leader in lunar mobility experiences, through placing unique mobile platforms on the lunar surface.”

    The team designed these video camera-equipped Nanobots to tap into the $100 billion gaming market. After raising initial enthusiasm among Earth’s 1.8 billion gamers with controlling a virtual Nanobot on a simulated lunar surface, there will be the possibility to control real Nanobots on the Moon, in Pokemon Go!-style augmented reality scenarios.

    Science would be another business line, with the highly agile Nanobots able to probe sites of scientific interest such as lunar lava tubes.

    The Nanobots are designed to jump up to 3 m high and 10 m in distance in the one-sixth gravity of the Moon, which allows them to clear obstacles while offering an exciting gaming aspect.

    A series of Nanobots – formally known as Small Mobile Platforms – together with the Main Mobile Platform larger rover would be deployed on the Moon. Along with additional scientific payloads, the larger rover would recharge the Nanobots and give them shelter during the two-week lunar night.

    The SpaceTech team carried out a rigorous end-to-end design process, ensuring their robots could survive harsh lunar temperature swings and radiation and dust exposure, as well as continuously communicate with Earth – and their customers.

    “Through the Nanobots, humans will be experiencing the Moon in near-real time, with a two-way delay of around three seconds,” adds Jon Reijneveld, system engineer at Airbus Defence and Space. “They could be seen as the first inhabitants of the Moon Village.”

    Now the study has been completed, the participants are investigating plans to establish the company next year. For more information read the full summary here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:23 pm on January 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A “planetary embryo” called Theia, , , Moon Studies,   

    From UCLA: “The moon is older than scientists thought, UCLA-led research team reports” 

    UCLA bloc


    January 11, 2017
    Stuart Wolpert

    Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard. A new UCLA study determined the age of the moon by analyzing minerals brought back by the 1971 mission. NASA.

    UCLA-led research team reports that the moon is at least 4.51 billion years old, or 40 million to 140 million years older than scientists previously thought.

    The findings — based on an analysis of minerals from the moon called zircons that were brought back to Earth by the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 — are published Jan. 11 in the journal Science Advances.

    The moon’s age has been a hotly debated topic, even though scientists have tried to settle the question over many years and using a wide range of scientific techniques.

    Mélanie Barboni. Carolyn Crow

    “We have finally pinned down a minimum age for the moon; it’s time we knew its age and now we do,” said Mélanie Barboni, the study’s lead author and a research geochemist in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences.

    The moon was formed by a violent, head-on collision between the early Earth and a “planetary embryo” called Theia, a UCLA-led team of geochemists and colleagues reported in 2016.

    The newest research would mean that the moon formed “only” about 60 million years after the birth of the solar system — an important point because it would provide critical information for astronomers and planetary scientists who seek to understand the early evolution of the Earth and our solar system.

    That has been a difficult task, Barboni said, because “whatever was there before the giant impact has been erased.” While scientists cannot know what occurred before the collision with Theia, these findings are important because they will help scientists continue to piece together major events that followed it.

    It’s usually difficult to determine the age of moon rocks because most of them contain a patchwork of fragments of multiple other rocks. But Barboni was able to analyze eight zircons in pristine condition. Specifically, she examined how the uranium they contained had decayed to lead (in a lab at Princeton University) and how the lutetium they contained had decayed to an element called hafnium (using a mass spectrometer at UCLA). The researchers analyzed those elements together to determine the moon’s age.

    “Zircons are nature’s best clocks,” said Kevin McKeegan, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry, and a co-author of the study. “They are the best mineral in preserving geological history and revealing where they originated.”

    The Earth’s collision with Theia created a liquefied moon, which then solidified. Scientists believe most of the moon’s surface was covered with magma right after its formation. The uranium–lead measurements reveal when the zircons first appeared in the moon’s initial magma ocean, which later cooled down and formed the moon’s mantle and crust; the lutetium–hafnium measurements reveal when its magma formed, which happened earlier.

    “Mélanie was very clever in figuring out the moon’s real age dates back to its pre-history before it solidified, not to its solidification,” said Edward Young, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry and a co-author of the study.

    Previous studies concluded the moon’s age based on moon rocks that had been contaminated by multiple collisions. McKeegan said those rocks indicated the date of some other events, “but not the age of the moon.”

    The UCLA researchers are continuing to study zircons brought back by the Apollo astronauts to study the early history of the moon.

    Co-authors of the Science Advances study are Patrick Boehnke, a former UCLA graduate student who is now a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar; Christopher Keller, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar; Issaku Kohl, a UCLA research geochemist; and Blair Schoene, associate professor of geosciences at Princeton University.

    The research was funded by NASA, and Barboni received support from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .

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    This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

  • richardmitnick 10:58 am on November 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Moon Studies,   

    From SETI Institute: “Did Early Earth Spin On Its Side?” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    October 31 2016
    Matija Cuk
    Email: mcuk@seti.org

    Media contact:

    Seth Shostak
    Tel: 650 960-4530
    Email: seth@seti.org

    New theoretical modeling of the ancient history of the Earth and the Moon suggests that the giant collision that spawned our natural satellite may have left Earth spinning very fast, and with its spin axis highly tilted.

    Computer simulations of what followed the collision, sometimes referred to as the “big whack,” show that, following this event, and as the young Moon’s orbit was getting bigger, the Earth lost much of its spin as well gained a nearly upright orientation with respect to the ecliptic. The simulations give new insight into the question of whether planets with big moons are more likely to have moderate climates and life.

    “Despite smart people working on this problem for fifty years, we’re still discovering surprisingly basic things about the earliest history of our world,” says Matija Cuk a scientist at the SETI Institute and lead researcher for the simulations. “It’s quite humbling.”

    Since the nineteenth century, scientists have known that the Moon is gradually moving away from Earth and that or planet’s spin is simultaneously slowing down. The cause is the ocean tides raised by the Moon which slowly dissipate energy as they move across the ocean basins. This energy has to come from somewhere, resulting in a slowing down of Earth’s rotation, with our days very slowly getting longer.

    Previous calculations done over many decades always concluded that the Moon formed close to Earth, which at the time had a rotation period of five hours. This calculation later became the basis of the giant impact theory, in which the Moon formed from debris generated in a collision between proto-Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet.

    However, these calculations may have been missing some important physics. Four years ago, a paper in the journal Science by Cuk and Sarah Stewart (now at the University at California, Davis) suggested that post-impact Earth had a much faster spin, closer to 2 hours. A complex orbital interaction between the Moon and the Sun could have drained spin from the Earth-Moon system, causing an underestimate of Earth’s rotation. Note that a very fast early spin would eject more material from Earth into orbit during and just after the giant impact, producing a Moon that is similar in make-up to Earth’s mantle, as found by lab studies of lunar rocks.

    Since then, the plot has thickened as it was realized that tides within the Moon significantly affected its orbit during one part of its tidal migration. Today, the path of the Moon is tilted from Earths orbital plane by five degrees. Multiple theories have been offered to explain this tilt, but it was never considered significant enough to seriously challenge the idea that the Moon formed in a flat disk around the Earth. However, Erinna Chen and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz reported in 2013 that internal friction due to tidal tugs by Earth should have greatly decreased the Moon’s orbital tilt over billions of years. Cuk and Stewart quickly realized a clear implication that the orbit of the Moon once had a large tilt to Earth’s orbit, changing the story of its history completely.

    “We’ve been calculating the past orbit of the Moon wrong for over fifty years now,” notes Cuk citing the work of then-doctoral student Chen. “We ignored the fact that tidal flexing within the Moon can decrease lunar orbital inclination.”

    In the paper just published in Nature, Cuk and Stewart, together with Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland and Simon Lock of Harvard, propose a new solution to the mystery of the lunar orbital tilt, one that also explains the Moon’s Earth-like make-up. They find that, if Earth originally spun on its side with the young Moon orbiting around its equator, solar gravitational forces could both take spin away from the system and tilt the Moon’s orbit.

    Planets bulge at their equator due to their spin, and for every planet there exists a special distance at which an orbiting satellite would feel roughly equal torque from the planet’s equatorial bulge and the distant Sun. But if the planet has an axial tilt over 70 degrees, the satellite’s orbit will suffer from a kind of orbital confusion.

    When the planet’s equator and its orbit are nearly perpendicular, the satellite becomes confused about which way is “up”, and its orbit becomes elongated due to Sun’s meddling. In the case of our Moon, the varying distance from Earth on its eccentric orbit then triggered strong tidal flexing within the Moon which fought back against the efforts of Earth’s tides to push it outward, resulting in a stalemate. Such a stalemate can last for millions of years, during which Earth kept losing its spin while the Moon did not go into a wider orbit. Instead, its orbit became more tilted.

    Once the Earth had lost enough of its original spin, the Moon broke out of this stalled state and continued its outward journey. But as the Moon left this special distance, its torque on Earth’s spin axis righted the previously highly-tilted Earth. Finally, as the Moon continued its orbital migration outward, tidal flexing within the Moon shrank its orbital inclination, bringing the lunar orbit closer to the plane of the planets.

    Despite the complexity of this story, computer calculations suggest that it is the only complete explanation so far for the current orbital and compositional properties of the Moon.

    “This work shows that there are multiple ways a planet could get a small axial tilt, making moderate seasons possible. We thought Earth was this way because of the direction of the giant impact 4.5 billion years ago, but it looks like Earth achieved this state later through a complex interaction with the Moon and the Sun,” Cuk says.

    “I wonder how many habitable Earth-like extrasolar planets also have a large Moon,” he asks.

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  • richardmitnick 8:17 am on November 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Moon Studies   

    From COSMOS: “Moon-forming crash sent Earth into a spin: study” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    01 November 2016
    Belinda Smith

    Simulations show a collision strong enough to tilt our young planet almost on its side can explain how our moon ended up where it is today.

    After a developing planet smashed into the primordial Earth, it nearly tilted the planet all the way over, simulations suggest. Ron Miller / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

    There’s plenty about our familiar grey moon we still don’t know for sure. How did it form? Why is its orbit tilted slightly? And at around 380,000 kilometres distant, why is it so far away?

    Matija Ćuk from the SETI Institute in California and a team of US planetary scientists have an explanation. Using modelling and simulations, they conclude that the collision that formed the moon sent Earth almost rotating on its side.

    Over time, they write in Nature, interactions between the Earth, moon and sun smoothed out the whirling spin, leaving the duo in their current gravitational dance today.

    A leading theory of the moon’s genesis is the giant impact model. It states that some 4.5 billion years ago, the young Earth collided with a developing planet, Theia.

    Dust and rubble formed a disc around what was left of the Earth, which clumped together to become the moon.

    “But this scenario does not quite work if the Earth’s spin axis was tilted at the 23.5 ° angle we see today,” says Douglas Hamilton from the University of Maryland and co-author of the study.

    Physics says the debris – and thus, the moon – should have gathered into a ring around Earth’s equator. Then as tidal forces pushed the moon away, the moon should have made its way into an ecliptic plane, which is in the same plane as the Earth’s orbit around the sun.

    Instead, the moon’s orbit is tilted five degrees away from the ecliptic plane today.

    So what happened?

    Ćuk and his colleagues ran different moon-forming scenarios. The ones that ended up with an Earth-moon system most like we see today involved a collision that sent the Earth spinning extremely fast – as much as twice the rate predicted by other models.

    The impact also knocked the Earth’s tilt way off between 60 and 80 ° – almost on its side.

    The newborn moon also started off very close to Earth, tracking closely with the Earth’s equator, but then drifted away. As it approached15 times its initial distance, the sun exerted its own influence over the moon’s orbit.

    A highly tilted, fast-spinning Earth and an outward-migrating moon probably contributed to the moon’s current strange orbit, the researchers conclude.

    Hamilton acknowledges that the model isn’t perfect and doesn’t answer all questions about the moon’s orbit.

    But “what we have now is a model that is more probable and works more cleanly than previous attempts”, he says.

    “We think this is a significant improvement that gets us closer to what actually happened.”

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  • richardmitnick 11:24 am on October 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Moon Studies, , NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter   

    From Goddard: “Earth’s Moon Hit by Surprising Number of Meteoroids” 

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    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 13, 2016
    Nancy Jones

    Bill Steigerwald

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039 / x-5017

    Last Updated: Oct. 13, 2016
    Editor: Bill Steigerwald

    The moon experiences a heavier bombardment by small meteoroids than models had predicted, according to new observations from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

    NASA/Lunar Reconna
    NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

    The result implies that lunar surface features thought to be young because they have relatively few impact craters may be even younger than previous estimates.

    The finding also implies that equipment placed on the moon for long durations — such as a lunar base — may have to be made sturdier. While a direct hit from a meteoroid is still unlikely, a more intense rain of secondary debris thrown out by nearby impacts may pose a risk to surface assets.

    Access mp4 video here .
    After simulating the distant view of a new impact, the camera zooms up to the surface to show actual before/after images of a new 12-meter crater taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow-angle camera. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Ernie Wright

    “Before the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it was thought that churning of the lunar regolith (soil) from meteoroid impacts typically took millions of years to overturn the surface down to 2 centimeters (about 0.8 inches),” said Emerson Speyerer of Arizona State University, Tempe. “New images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) are revealing small surface changes that are transforming the surface much faster than previously thought.” Speyerer is lead author of a paper about this research in the Oct. 13 issue of the journal Nature.

    “The newly determined churning rate means that the Apollo astronaut tracks will be gone in tens of thousands of years rather than millions,” said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, a co-author.

    One of the first steps taken on the Moon, this is an image of Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint from the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Credits: NASA

    LRO went into lunar orbit in June of 2009 and has acquired an extensive set of high-resolution images of the surface, including pairs of images of the same areas taken at different times. Using these before-and-after images (temporal pairs) acquired by the LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC), the team identified over 200 impact craters that formed during the LRO mission, ranging in size from about 10 to 140 feet (approximately 3 to 43 meters) in diameter.

    Temporal ratio image formed from two LROC Narrow Angle Camera images (after image divided by the before image) revealing a new 12 meter (~40 foot) diameter impact crater (Latitude: 36.536°N; Longitude: 12.379°E) formed between 25 October 2012 and 21 April 2013, scene is 1300 meters (~4200 feet) wide. New crater and its continuous ejecta are seen as the small bright area in the center, dark areas are the result of material blasted out of the crater to distances much further than previously thought. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

    Since impact craters accumulate over time, a heavily cratered surface is older than a region with fewer craters. Knowing the number of craters that form each year is important when estimating absolute ages of the youngest regions. By analyzing the number, size distribution, and the time between each NAC temporal pair, the team estimated the contemporary cratering rate on the moon. During the search, they identified about 30 percent more new craters than anticipated by previous cratering models.

    “With this potentially higher impact rate, features with young model ages derived using crater counts and the standard rate may in fact be even younger than previously thought,” said Speyerer. “However, to be certain, we need several more years of observations and new crater discoveries.”

    In addition to discovering new impact craters, the team observed over 47,000 small surface changes, which they call splotches. They are most likely caused by small impacts, according to Speyerer. There are dense clusters of these splotches around new impact sites suggesting that many splotches may be secondary surface changes caused by material thrown out from the primary impact event.

    The team estimated their accumulation over time and from measuring their size they inferred how deeply each splotch dug up the surface and thus how long it takes to effectively churn the upper few centimeters (approximately an inch) of the regolith. The team found that 99 percent of the surface would be overturned by splotch formation after about 81,000 years. This rate is over 100 times faster than previous models that considered overturn from micrometeorite impacts alone, and ignored the effects of secondary impacts.

    “The increased churning rate will be important information for future designers of moon bases, said Speyerer. “Surface assets will have to be designed to withstand impacts from small particles moving at up to 500 meters per second (about 1,600 feet per second or 1,100 miles per hour).”

    The team also found that the new impact craters are surrounded by complex reflectance patterns related to material ejected during crater formation. Many of the larger impact craters — those greater than 10 meters in diameter — exhibit up to four distinct bright or dark reflectance zones.

    The research was funded by the LRO project. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera was developed at Arizona State University in Tempe. LRO is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as a project under NASA’s Discovery Program. The Discovery Program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.
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  • richardmitnick 9:11 pm on September 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Moon Studies   

    From GIZMODO: “We Were Wrong About Where the Moon Came From” 

    GIZMODO bloc


    Ria Misra

    Artist’s concept of moon-Earth crash (Image: Dana Berry/SwRI)

    The moon is our almost constant frenemy in space, lighting our nights and spoiling our star-views in equal turns. But now, new measurements from Apollo-era moon rocks suggest that the moon and Earth had a much more savage past than we knew.

    A new paper out today in Nature says that the moon formed as a result of a more violent space collision than previously believed. Since the 1970s, many researchers have championed a theory in which the moon was created from thrown-off debris when a Mars-sized body grazed Earth in a relatively low-contact collision. Instead, the researchers say new evidence shows that the impact was more “like a sledgehammer hitting a watermelon.”

    The old theory of the moon’s origin—in which it formed from debris from a grazing collision—neatly explains both the moon’s size and orbital position. But a test on some lunar rocks from the Apollo mission revealed something odd which that theory couldn’t explain.

    “We’re still remeasuring the old Apollo samples from the the ‘70s, because the tech has been developing in recent years. We can measure much smaller differences between Earth and the moon, so we found a lot of things we didn’t find in the 1970s,” Kun Wang, an assistant professor at Washington University who is the lead author of the paper told Gizmodo. “The old models just could not explain the new observations.”

    If the four-decade old theory were correct, then researchers would expect to find that well over half of the moon’s material had come from that Mars-sized body that scraped Earth to form the moon. But the researchers weren’t finding signs of that in the samples; instead, chemical analyses on the samples were returning isotopic compound readings that were nearly identical.

    They started to do more and more advanced tests to try and pinpoint any differences in the signatures. They finally found one—but one that suggested that the samples’ origins were even more tightly connected than previously expected.

    The isotope signatures were the same, except for more of a heavy-potassium isotope in the lunar samples which would have required incredibly hot temperatures to separate out. A violent collision between the Earth and the Mars-sized impactor could have caused those incredibly high temperatures. In this model, the temperatures were so high and the force so powerful that the impactor and even much of Earth vaporized on contact. That vapor then expanded out over an area 500 times the size of the Earth before finally cooling and condensing into the moon.

    “We need a much, much bigger impact to form a moon according to our study,” explained Wang. “The giant impact itself should be called extremely giant impact. The amount of energy required isn’t even close.”

    This new data doesn’t just change our conception of how the moon was formed, though. It also suggests an early solar system that was much more volatile than we knew—and it could be just the beginning of what new analyses on old lunar samples could teach us.

    “Everything we know about the early solar system is from our study of meteorites and lunar samples, all those really really old rocks,” said Wang. “It has changed our understanding of the early solar system, it’s much more violent than we thought.”

    The researchers will continue to study the Apollo lunar samples to try and pull yet more clues from them. Even now, they suspect that these samples that we’ve been holding on to for decades could have more secrets to reveal.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on August 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Moon Studies, ,   

    From Smithsonian: “New Moon-Formation Theory Also Raises Questions About Early Earth” 


    Nola Taylor Redd

    A new model of the impact that created the moon might upend theories about earth, too

    Visualization of the giant impact that formed the moon (William Hartmann)

    A new theory about how the moon formed might also tweak our understanding of early life on Earth.

    The presence of gold and platinum in Earth’s mantle has previously been assumed to be the result of a heavy shower of meteors raining down on early Earth, but new research suggests another source—one enormous impact with the object that crashed into the planet to create the moon.

    Around 4 billion years ago the Earth was under constant attack, according to geophysicists. Asteroids and meteors continuously smashed into the planet for about 100 million years, a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. Any life on the planet at that time would be in constant peril.

    We know about these impacts not because of the craters they left—erosion and plate tectonics have long spirited those away—but because of the presence of certain metals in the Earth’s mantle. The pockmarked surface of the moon, which is not tectonically active, also helps bolster this theory.

    But new research suggests that the bombardment may have been milder than expected, because the metals found in Earth’s mantle could instead be from the moon-forming impact, about 500 million years earlier.

    Early in the life of the solar system, a growing world known to scientists as Theia collided with the young Earth. The violent impact liquefied Earth’s outer layers and pulverized Theia, creating a ring of debris that swirled around the scarred world. Iron from Theia’s core drew together to form the heart of the moon. The remaining heavy material rained back down on Earth, and gravity drew the lighter components together to create the moon.

    But new research suggests not all of Theia’s iron built the lunar core. Instead, some may have settled on Earth’s crust, and was later drawn into the mantle through plate tectonics. Elements such as gold and platinum, which are drawn to iron, may have been pulled into the mantle along with it. Such elements are sparse in the lunar mantle, presumably because all of the iron delivered to the moon created its core while Earth’s original core remained intact after the collision.

    That could mean good news for life on the early Earth. If Theia’s core brought in traces of iron that attracted scarcer, iron-loving elements, the rain of asteroids and meteors couldn’t have been as heavy as previously estimated.

    “The Earth is not going to be completely unhabitable for a long period of time because the bombardment is relatively benign,” says Norman Sleep, a geophysicist at Stanford University. Sleep investigated the idea that Theia could have brought platinum and similar elements to Earth’s mantle, comparing it with previous suggestions that meteors delivered the material. In a recent paper published in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, he found that Theia could have brought in enough iron-loving elements to suggest later bombardment was milder than previously considered.

    “It was certainly not anything we would survive, but we’re dealing with microbes,” he says.

    However, without a heavy bombardment of meteorites, a new problem arises. The collision between Theia and the young Earth would have vaporized any water on the planet. The leading theory for how Earth got its water back is via collisions with water-carrying meteorites, but meteorites would also have delivered more iron-loving elements along with iron, leaving behind too much gold and platinum than measured. That means Sleep’s calculations would require another method of bringing water to the planet.

    That doesn’t make the theory a deal-breaker. “There’s no guarantee that there’s one event that solves every problem,” says Tim Swindle, who studies planetary materials at the University of Arizona. Water could have come from another source unrelated to Theia.

    Figuring out exactly what happened in the early life of Earth and its moon may require a return to our satellite. “We’ve got to go back to the moon and get a better handle on the age of the basins,” Swindle says, especially those on the back side of the moon. “We might be able to get an age with a rover that could answer the questions, but I think we’d do better to bring the samples back.” That doesn’t necessarily mean humans have to be onboard the lunar mission, but, as Swindle points out, people do a great job.

    Sleep agrees, calling for a visit to the South Pole Aiken basin, the largest and oldest of those on the moon. That basin has never been sampled, and should provide insight into the timing of the bombardment, which would give clues into how much material rained down on Earth.

    According to Edward Young, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, the biggest result of Sleep’s research is the mental shift it requires for the scientists studying Earth and the moon. “I think what he’s doing is exposing the soft underbelly of what we do,” Young says, adding that geochemical arguments are filled with basic assumptions of the processes that go into building the Earth and moon. “He’s challenging some of those assumptions.”

    See the full article here .

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    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on May 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Lunar Ice Drill, Moon Studies   

    From ESA: “Lunar ice drill” 

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    European Space Agency

    Copyright ESA/Finmeccanica


    A drill designed to penetrate 1–2 m into the lunar surface is envisaged by ESA to fly to the Moon’s south pole on Russia’s Luna-27 lander in 2020.

    “It is an essential part of a science and exploration package being developed to reach, extract and analyse samples from beneath the surface in the Moon’s south polar region,” explains lunar exploration systems engineer Richard Fisackerly.

    “This region is of great interest to lunar researchers and explorers because the low angle of the Sun over the horizon leads to areas of partial or even complete shadow. These shadowed areas and permanently dark crater floors, where sunlight never reaches, are believed to hide water ice and other frozen volatiles.”

    Developed by Finmeccanica in Nerviano, Italy, the drill would first penetrate into the frozen ‘regolith’ and then deliver the samples to a chemical laboratory, which is being developed by the UK’s Open University.

    The development team has tested the drill design with simulated lunar soil cooled to –140°C (typical of the expected landing site of Luna-27) but the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon are known to be even colder, at down to –240°C.

    The drill system plus laboratory are collectively known as Prospect: Platform for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting in support of Exploration, Commercial exploitation & Transportation.

    Prospect is one of the packages being developed by ESA for flight to the Moon as part of cooperation on Russia’s lunar programme. Pilot – Precise Intelligent Landing using On-board Technology – is an autonomous precision landing system incorporating ‘laser radar’ lidar for hazard detection and avoidance.

    These packages are being developed by ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration and will be proposed for approval to fly by ESA’s Council of European Ministers in December 2016.

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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