Category Archives: The Moon

Space sciences roundup – May.22.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items:

** Update on China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover:

From the Planetary Society article:

The first science results from the unprecedented Chang’e-4 lunar far side mission are in. The mission’s Yutu-2 rover, deployed from the lander shortly after the Chang’e-4 landing on 3 January, has, with the help of the Queqiao relay satellite, returned data which suggests it has discovered material derived from the Moon’s mantle, according to research published today in Nature. The possibility of accessing mantle rocks exposed within an enormous impact basin was a major reason for attempting the challenging farside landing.

The Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) aboard Yutu-2 made the first in situ observations—detecting scattered or reflected light from surface materials—on the lunar far side. These spectra have been interpreted by the paper’s authors to represent the presence of olivine and low-calcium pyroxene, materials that may originate from the Moon’s mantle.

Yutu-2 VNIS exploration area
VNIS payload and observation footprint – Yutu-2’s Visible and Yutu-2 rover’s Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) measures an area a few centimeters across. Credits: Chunlai Li et al via Planetary Society

** SpaceIL‘s Beresheet lunar vehicle makes a mark on the Moon:

Lunar surface before/after Beresheet impact
Lunar surface before/after Beresheet impact. Planetary Society: “Left: Beresheet impact site as seen by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on 22 April 2019. Right: An image processed to highlight changes near the landing site among photos taken before and after the landing, revealing a white impact halo. Other craters are visible in the right image because there is a slight change in lighting conditions among the before and after images. Scale bar is 100 meters. North is up. Both panels are 490 meters wide.”

** Greek high school student team flies experiment on the Blue Origin New Shepard: ACS Athens STEAM Experiment Blasts off into Space with Blue Origin Rocket – The National Herald

How will Greek honey and olive oil behave under microgravity conditions? What about ouzo and grape juice molasses? Will bubbles grow bigger and last longer? ACS Athens students sealed their experiment within the capsule carried by the groundbreaking Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable rocket where it will tested at an altitude of 100 km.

ACS Athens High School students are conducting one complex STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) experiment, investigating how honey behaves at an altitude of 100 km. ACS Athens is one of the three non-US-based K-12 schools to have ever sent an experiment with Blue Origin

More about the team’s experiments: ACS Athens | Modeling education for the 21st Century

  • spACS 1 scientific goal is to investigate the viscosity of honey under microgravity conditions, a Physics-based experiment on fluidity. 
  • spACS 2, which won the first place in the Hellenic Physical Society’s 1st aerospace contest (November 2018), combines Physics, Chemistry, and Biology to investigate the behavior of foams and emulsions under microgravity conditions focusing on Greek traditional products (olive oil, ouzo, petimezi). 

** Update on OSIRIS-REx at the Bennu asteroid: Here’s a Roundup of Recent OSIRIS-REx Postcards from Bennu | The Planetary Society

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is continuing to chug along at asteroid Bennu. It’s currently sweeping arcs between the asteroid’s north and south poles, gathering scientific data that will also be used to select 12 possible sites for sample collection. The OSIRIS-REx team has also been releasing stunning new images from the mission’s prior phase.

More about the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and mission:

** Examining the rough plains of the Marineris Valles: The floor of Marineris Valles | Behind The Black

The photograph, uncaptioned, is titled “Terminus of Pitted Materials Emanating from Oudemans Crater.” Oudemans Crater is about 55 miles across and is located near the head of Marineris Valles to the east of the giant volcanic region dubbed the Tharsis Bulge. The meteorite that caused this crater is estimated to have been a little less than 3 miles in diameter. It is believed by some scientists that the impact heated up subsurface carbon dioxide permafrost which then explosively flooded down the Valles Marineris into the Northern Plains of Mars, pushing a lot of pulverized debris in front of it.

A section of the floor of Marineris Valles.
A section of the floor of Marineris Valles. Credits: MRO/HiRISE via Bob Zimmerman

** NASA’s Curiosity Finds Climate Clues on a Martian Mountain – A brief update on Curiosity’s travels:

After spending the better part of a year exploring Mars’ Vera Rubin Ridge, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has moved to a new part of Mount Sharp. Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada gives a tour of the rover’s new home in the “clay unit,” as well as other areas scientists are excited to visit. Find out what they could tell us about watery ancient Mars versus the dry Red Planet we see today.

** Charon, Pluto’s Companion: What We Learned from New Horizons – Dr. Ross Beyer (SETI Institute) gave this recent public lecture in the Silicon Valley Astronomy Series:

Pluto’s large moon Charon turned out to be far more interesting than astronomers expected. Pluto was the star of the New Horizons show, but the features on Charon’s surface tell a fascinating tale of how icy worlds could form far from the gravitational influences of the giant planets. There is evidence of a world-wide sub-surface ocean early on, and of global expansion as that ocean froze solid. Dr. Beyer is your expert (and humorous) guide through this story of formation and change in the frozen reaches of the outer Solar System.

** Dr. Linda Spilker spoke about the latest findings from the Cassini Mission data, “new information on Saturn’s ring system, Titan, Enceladus, liquid methane oceans, life, NASA missions and more” – The Space Show – Friday, 05/17/2019

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Chasing New Horizons:
Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

SpaceIL diagnosing landing failure and planning for next lunar mission

The attempt by SpaceIL, a private non-profit organization, to land the Beresheet craft softly on the Moon last week went awry just a few minutes before it was to set down onto the surface. Initial results of an investigation into what went wrong were released today:

See also:

** Final image taken by Beresheet released:

** Planning for a second Beresheet mission is now underway:

More at

** SpaceIL member participated in an Ask Me Anything session on reddit this week: Hi, my name is Ben Nathaniel, I work on the team of Beresheet, the spacecraft that Israel sent to the Moon on April 11 (as you may know the landing didn’t go so well). Ask Me Anything. – space/reddit.com.

** A vast knowledge database on Beresheet may have survived the crash: There may be a copy of Wikipedia somewhere on the moon. Here’s how to help find it – Mashable.com

The Arch Lunar Library contains 100GB, or 30 million pages of text and pictures, literally embedded in 25 nickel disks in the tiniest type you can possibly imagine. You don’t need anything more specialized than a microscope to read it, and the etchings should survive for billions of years. 

This library was supposed to be delivered to the surface of the moon — specifically, the Sea of Serenity — by Israel’s Beresheet Mission last week. The bad news: After a glitch that turned its engine off and on again at the worst possible moment, the Beresheet lander smashed into the moon at 300 miles per hour.

The good news: Those disks were designed to be indestructible. And the Arch Foundation is all but certain its payload survived the crash.

“We have either installed the first library on the moon,” says Arch Mission co-founder Nova Spivack, “or we have installed the first archaeological ruins of early human attempts to build a library on the moon.”

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First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience

Webcast: SpaceIL to land Beresheet on the Moon today [Update]

[ Update 2: The final image returned from Beresheet as it came down the lunar surface:

Update 3:30 pm EDT: Unfortunately, Beresheet failed to make a soft landing. The descent was going as planned but then the main engine cut off and could not be restarted before it was too late.

The good news is that a low-cost privately funded and designed lunar project successfully for the first time reached the Moon’s surface after successfully going into lunar orbit, also a first for a private project.

The spacecraft made a selfie made during the descent:

]

Today Israel’s SpaceIL team plans to send the Beresheet (which translates to “genesis” or “in the beginning”) spacecraft from its orbit around the Moon down to the surface for a soft (we hope) landing. The de-orbit operation will start at 22:05 Israeli time (UTC+03:00) or 04:05 in Tokyo, 05:05 in Sydney,12:05 in Los Angeles, 14:05 in Mexico City, 15:05 in New York, 16:05 in Rio, 20:05 in London, 21:05 in Paris. The landing should happen about 20 minutes later.

A live webcast of the landing will begin about 20 minutes before de-orbiting begins:

Updates are available at Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) | Twitter.

Here is a SpaceIL video about the landing:

More info at

The SpaceIL Beresheet spacecraft.

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First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience

Space sciences roundup – Mar.20.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images about space related science news:

** Ultima Thule grows from a dot to a world in this time lapse of images captured by the New Horizons probe as it approached the Kuiper Belt object: Approach to Ultima Thule – New Horizons

Ultima Thule is providing a plethora of clues to the early formation stages of the solar system: A Prehistoric Puzzle in the Kuiper Belt | NASA

This strange shape is the biggest surprise, so far, of the flyby. “We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “It is sending the planetary science community back to the drawing board to understand how planetesimals – the building blocks of the planets – form.”

Because it is so well preserved, Ultima Thule is offering our clearest look back to the era of planetesimal accretion and the earliest stages of planetary formation. Apparently Ultima Thule’s two lobes once orbited each other, like many so-called binary worlds in the Kuiper Belt, until something brought them together in a “gentle” merger.

“This fits with general ideas of the beginning of our solar system,” said William McKinnon, a New Horizons co-investigator from Washington University in St. Louis. “Much of the orbital momentum of the Ultima Thule binary must have been drained away for them to come together like this. But we don’t know yet what processes were most important in making that happen.”

**Asteroid Bennu is spewing out dust as seen in the latest images from the OSIRIS-REx probe, which reached the near earth object last December: Bennu Particle Ejection Event – Jan. 19, 2019 – OSIRIS-REx Mission

“This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19 was created by combining two images taken by the NavCam 1 imager onboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft: a short exposure image (1.4 ms), which shows the asteroid clearly, and a long exposure image (5 sec), which shows the particles clearly. Other image processing techniques were also applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each layer. Date Taken: Jan. 19, 2019” – Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

This behavior was not expected: NASA Mission Reveals Asteroid Has Big Surprises | NASA

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”

Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on Jan. 6, the mission science team increased the frequency of observations, and subsequently detected additional particle plumes during the following two months. Although many of the particles were ejected clear of Bennu, the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

The OSIRIS-REx team initially spotted the particle plumes in images while the spacecraft was orbiting Bennu at a distance of about one mile (1.61 kilometers). Following a safety assessment, the mission team concluded the particles did not pose a risk to the spacecraft. The team continues to analyze the particle plumes and their possible causes.

“The first three months of OSIRIS-REx’s up-close investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about — surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-REx’s sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from.”

The mission will go through several different phases of its investigation of the asteroid starting with the Baseball Diamond Phase:

The in-depth study of Bennu begins in earnest during Detailed Survey: Baseball Diamond Phase. OSIRIS-REx will make multiple passes around Bennu to produce the wide range of viewing angles necessary to fully observe the asteroid. The spacecraft will also use its OTES spectrometer to map the chemical composition of Bennu’s entire surface. Images obtained during this phase will be of high enough resolution to produce digital terrain maps and global image mosaics for proposed sample sites. Bennu’s terrain will be surveyed in bulk and sections will be classified as either “safe” or “unsafe,” with the results visualized on a hazard map.

The phase’s name comes from the early stage of mission design when the stations the spacecraft would traverse were arranged in the shape of a baseball diamond.  Although the mission design has since evolved, the original name for the phase remains.

In 2023 the spacecraft will return to earth with samples of the asteroid’s surface, some of which is seen in these detailed images: A Region of Bennu’s Northern Hemisphere Close Up | NASA

This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks. The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface. The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

** Lunar sample containers unopened since Apollo astronauts filled them during EVAs on the surface will soon be examined by teams of researchers who will take advantage of modern instruments to attain better insights into what the materials say about the formation and subsequent development of the Moon: NASA Selects Teams to Study Untouched Moon Samples | NASA

NASA has selected nine teams to continue the science legacy of the Apollo missions by studying pieces of the Moon that have been carefully stored and untouched for nearly 50 years. A total of $8 million has been awarded to the teams.

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond, “ said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. “This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.”

** Mars:

**** Opportunity rover’s last shot. While Opportunity has now gone quiet, it left an enormous legacy of data and images including a beautiful final parting panorama: Opportunity’s Parting Shot Was a Beautiful Panorama – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

Opportunity’s final panorama with notations.

**** Huge caves on Mars appear more likely with the latest findings: New evidence for many large and extensive Martian cave systems | Behind The Black.

The second important implication of this finding, and the one that is possibly more important, is that this research suggests that there are many many many underground voids on Mars, formed by water, that could be found in many places. Some might be easily accessible. Some might require drilling into. In either case, they would provide ample locations for building habitable colonies.

And they would likely still have that water, now frozen into the underground ice table.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. They suggest that everyone studying Mars must rethink the surface features. The alienness of Mars means they might resemble Earth geology, but might have formed in ways we have not previously imagined. And the consequences of that alien formation might make future human colonization far easier.

****  Caves appear common on rocky worlds throughout our solar system: “The Planets Under Our Feet: Caves on Earth, Mars, and Beyond” –

Dr. Penelope Boston, NASA Ames Research Center New exploration indicates that caves may be more common on rocky and icy worlds in our Solar System than we have thought in the past. Caves below the Earth show us a very different planet than the familiar one we experience on the surface. Each dark cave system has its own micro-organisms and distinctive mineral and chemical properties. Dr. Boston takes us on a tour of the some of the most spectacular caves under the Earth and the unusual life-forms they harbor, and considers how the lessons they teach us can be applied to the exploration of the Solar System, especially the icy moons of the giant planets.

**** More Mars geology findings are highlighted by Bob Zimmerman who closely monitors the latest image releases from the orbiters:

The image shows numerous evidence of avalanches and erosion, both at its base and at its rim. None of these avalanches likely occurred during those catastrophic floods, but long afterward.

Signs of “landslides on the face of the mesa north of Hydraotes Chaos”. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera via Bob Zimmerman.

The top inset is shown to the left. Here very large sections of the the cliff face at the rim have broken off, dropping giant blocks downward. This material piles up to create an alluvial slope heading down to the floor of the canyon. On the upper cliff and on this slope the dark streaks indicate both past landslides as well as possible seeps of water coming out of the cliff face.

The bottom inset is shown next to the left. It focuses on the head of the largest landslide, and shows a flow at its base that resembles a gravitational collapse as shown in this science paper about Martian ground water.

You are staring at one of the unsolved mysteries on Mars. This surface texture of interconnected ridges and troughs, referred to as “brain terrain” is found throughout the mid-latitude regions of Mars. (This image is in Protonilus Mensae.)

This bizarrely textured terrain may be directly related to the water-ice that lies beneath the surface. One hypothesis is that when the buried water-ice sublimates (changes from a solid to a gas), it forms the troughs in the ice. The formation of these features might be an active process that is slowly occurring since HiRISE [MRO’s high resolution camera] has yet to detect significant changes in these terrains.

A section of a MRO HiRISE image showing a Mars region with an appearance named “Brain Terrain”. (Via Bob Zimmerman)

At today’s presentations at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, scientists showed images and data [pdf] suggesting that many of the Martian gullies found on cliff faces are formed when the dust layer protecting underlying snow gets blown away and the exposed snow/ice then melts.

The image [below] was taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in 2009, and has been cropped to post here. The white streaks are what they suggest is exposed ice/snow.

A section of a MRO HiRISE image that appears to show white streaks of water ice in a cliff gully.

** The locations of science spacecraft in our solar system are shown in this video from the Planetary Society:

Emily Lakdawalla takes us on a tour of the spacecraft currently exploring from within our solar system. All planets and spacecraft locations are shown at their location for April 1st, 2019.

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Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

SpaceIL Beresheet fires engine to send it to the Moon

SpaceIL‘s Beresheet lunar spacecraft successfully fired its engine to extend its orbit to the Moon:


This diagram shows the change in the orbit with the 20.3.2019 burn:

A graphic timeline of the major events in the Beresheet mission.

When the spacecraft’s orbit reaches the Moon on April 4th, another firing of the engine will slow the vehicle down sufficiently to put it into a highly elliptical orbit around the Moon. After several orbits, another burn will circularize the orbit. Finally, on April 11th the engine will fire to slow the vehicle such that it falls towards the surface. At 5 meters above the lunar ground, the engine will cut off and the Moon’s low gravity will pull the spacecraft slowly down to the surface.

SpaceIL founder Yonatan Winetraub gives the basics of how the spacecraft’s engine firings get it to the Moon:

This video shows the full sequence of orbital maneuvers from launch to landing:

SpaceIL is a non-profit volunteer organization in Israel that began a quest for the Moon as an entrant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE. Thought the GLXP ended last year without a winner, SpaceIL raised sufficient funds to continue with development of the spacecraft and to buy a secondary payload ride on the SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched in February.

More about the latest mission event:

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Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir