Moon discovery: Radar sheds new light on lunar subsurface

Scientists have used radar technology to shed new light on the subsurface of the moon. Researchers used the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft to analyze the moon. In a statement, NASA explained that the lunar subsurface might be richer in metals, like iron and titanium, than previously thought. The space agency is keen to gain as much information as possible on the moon’s resources. NASA’s Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite. “Substantial evidence points to the moon as the product of a collision between a Mars-sized protoplanet and young Earth, forming from the gravitational collapse of the remaining cloud of debris,” said NASA in the statement. “Consequently, the moon’s bulk chemical composition closely resembles that of Earth.” However, there are key differences that have long puzzled scientists. “In the bright plains of the moon’s surface, called the lunar highlands, rocks contain smaller amounts of metal-bearing minerals relative to Earth,” NASA said. “That finding might be explained if Earth had fully differentiated into a core, mantle and crust before the impact, leaving the moon largely metal-poor. But turn to the moon’s maria — the large, darker plains — and the metal abundance becomes richer than that of many rocks on Earth.” To solve this mystery, scientists used Mini-RF to measure the electrical property, known as the dielectric constant, of lunar soil on crater floors in the northern hemisphere of the moon. Researchers found that the electrical properties increased with crater size for craters approximately 1 to 3 miles wide. For craters 3 to 12 miles wide, however, the electrical property remained constant. The discovery offers fresh insight into the moon’s formation. “Because meteors that form larger craters also dig deeper into the moon’s subsurface, the team reasoned that the increasing dielectric constant of the dust in larger craters could be the result of meteors excavating iron and titanium oxides that lie below the surface,” NASA added in the statement. “Dielectric properties are directly linked to the concentration of these metal minerals.” If this hypothesis is true, only the first few hundred meters of the moon’s surface possesses little iron and titanium oxides, according to NASA. “But below the surface, there’s a steady increase to a rich and unexpected bonanza,” it said. Scientists compared the Mini-RF radar images with metal oxide maps from the LRO Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Kaguya mission and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft. “The larger craters, with their increased dielectric material, were also richer in metals, suggesting that more iron and titanium oxides had been excavated from the depths of 0.3 to 1 mile (0.5 to 2 kilometers) than from the upper 0.1 to 0.3 miles (0.2 to 0.5 kilometers) of the lunar subsurface,” NASA explained. The research is published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. “It was a surprising relationship that we had no reason to believe would exist,” said Essam Heggy, the paper’s lead author and coinvestigator of the Mini-RF experiments from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in the statement. “The LRO mission and its radar instrument continue to surprise us with new insights about the origins and complexity of our nearest neighbor,” said Wes Patterson, Mini-RF principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and a study coauthor. In a separate project, an international team of scientists recently provided an explanation for the “strange asymmetry” of the dark side of the moon, which has a different composition to the near side facing Earth. When the first images of the far side of the moon emerged decades ago, scientists realized that it has almost no “maria,” or dark regions (from the Latin for sea). Only 1 percent of the far side was covered with maria compared to about 31 percent of the near side, researchers explained. The new research suggests that this is because radioactive elements were “distributed uniquely” after the collision that formed the moon.

Very cool!!  For more, click on the text above.    🙂

Get set for strawberry moon: NASA’s top tips for June skywatchers

The next full moon, known as the strawberry moon, will light up the sky this week. Here are NASA’s top tips for June skywatchers. The moon will be full on Friday, June 5, at 3:12 p.m. EDT. “The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from early Thursday morning into early Sunday morning,” NASA explains on its website. Citing the Maine Farmer’s Almanac, NASA notes that the June full moon was dubbed the strawberry moon by Algonquin tribes. “The name comes from the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries in the north-eastern United States,” the space agency explains. “An old European name for this full Moon is the Mead Moon or the Honey Moon.” Mead is an alcoholic drink made from a fermented mixture of honey and water. “Some writings suggest that the time around the end of June was when honey was ripe and ready to be harvested from hives or from the wild, which made this the ‘sweetest’ Moon,” explains NASA. The Old Farmer’s Almanac notes that the name strawberry moon was used by every Algonquin tribe. The celestial event was also known as the rose moon in Europe, it adds. The June full moon may also be linked to the phrase “honeymoon,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “In the past, June has been the most popular month for weddings, leading some to suggest that the Moon’s honey-colored appearance in June was the origin of the ‘honeymoon’ phrase,” it explains on its website. “Nowadays, however, the most popular wedding months are August, September, and October, plus a little research shows that the Moon’s color never did have anything to do with that expression.” The strawberry moon, however, will not be a supermoon. The May full moon, known as the flower moon, was the last supermoon of 2020. In April, skywatchers enjoyed the super pink moon, which was the largest supermoon of the year. NASA notes that a partial eclipse is also on deck for June 5, although this will not be visible for most people in the Americas. “The Moon will be close enough to opposite the Sun that it will pass through part of the partial shadow of the Earth, called a partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon,” it explains on its website. “During this eclipse the Moon will not be in the sky for most of the Americas. If we could see the Moon, the slight dimming during this eclipse will not be noticeable without instrumentation.” “It’s the most subtle kind of lunar eclipse, one that most people won’t even notice,” adds the EarthSky website. The summer solstice will occur later this month, on June 20. “As spring ends and summer begins, the daily periods of sunlight reach their longest on the solstice, then begin to shorten again,” explains NASA on its website. “Summer Solstice will be on Saturday, June 20, at 5:43 PM. This will be the day with the longest period of sunlight, 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 41.5 seconds,” it adds. The ancient site of Stonehenge in Southern England has become synonymous with solstices. Some scientists believe that Stonehenge was built to mark the summer and winter solstices. NASA also offers other skywatching tips for this month. “As twilight ends on the evening of the full Moon on Friday, June 5, (at 9:42 PM EDT for the Washington, DC area), the planet Mercury will appear about 6 degrees above the horizon in the west-northwest,” it explains, on its website. “The bright star appearing nearest to directly overhead will be Arcturus, appearing (for Washington, DC and similar latitudes) 68 degrees above the horizon in the south-southeast. Also near to directly overhead will be the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear or the Big Dipper.”

For more info, click on the text above.  And, remember to check for that Strawberry Moon this Friday afternoon at 1:12p MDT, for those of us here in sunny Colorado.     🙂


Super pink moon: NASA’s top tips for April skywatchers

Skywatchers are in for a treat in April when the super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020, lights up the night sky. The April full moon is the closest supermoon of the year, which means that it is the largest, according to EarthSky. “That’s because this full moon more closely coincides with lunar perigee – the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly obit – than any other full moon in the year 2020,” the website explains. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to the Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, according to NASA. The space agency explains that the moon will be at perigee, at 2:08 pm EDT on April 7. The moon will be full at 10:35 pm EDT that day. “For the best view of this lovely spring Moon, find an open area and watch as the Moon rises just above the horizon, at which point it will appear its biggest and take on a golden hue!,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac, on its website. The April full moon is known as the pink moon, on account of the herb moss pink, also known as wild ground phlox, according to NASA. In the eastern U.S., the herb moss pink is one of the earliest widespread flowers of Spring, the space agency explains, on its website. “Other names for this Moon include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Fish Moon, as this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn,” it says. Skygazers recently enjoyed the stunning March full moon, or worm moon, which was also a supermoon. Some experts described the spectacular February full moon, or snow moon, as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. The snow moon was one of the largest full moons of 2020.


Full worm supermoon on deck: What you need to know

Skywatchers are in for a treat next week when the full worm supermoon rises in the sky. “March’s full Moon, called the full Worm Moon, reaches peak fullness at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Monday, March 9,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Look for the spectacularly bright Moon as it rises above the horizon that evening!” The celestial event will be the first of three supermoons in 2020, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. EarthSky notes that the full worm moon will be the second-closest of the year’s supermoons. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, according to NASA. “The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on this time, from early Sunday morning into early Wednesday morning,” adds NASA, on its website. The March full moon, which is also known as the crow moon, crust moon, sap moon and sugar moon, played an important role in Native American culture. “The more northern tribes of the northeastern United States knew this as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter,” explains NASA, on its website. “Other northern names were the Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing by night, or the Sap (or Sugar) Moon as this is the time for tapping maple trees.” Southern tribes, however, dubbed the celestial event the “worm moon,” as a result of the casts left by earthworms on the thawing ground. Some experts described the spectacular February full moon, or snow moon, as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. The snow moon was one of the largest full moons of 2020.

Very cool!!  Catch it Monday, if ya can!     🙂

Mysterious light flashes on the Moon have been baffling researchers for decades

Astronomers have been excited by the Moon for eons, a level that has grown considerably as technological advancements gave humanity access to its surface, and helped researchers make observations from afar. And though there have been several notable lunar-related discoveries since man first walked on the Moon in 1969, there is still one phenomenon that has perplexed researchers for decades. Mysterious, random flashes of light coming from the Moon’s surface. Known as “transient lunar phenomena,” these mysterious, bizarre flashes of light can occur randomly, sometimes several times a week. Often times, they last for just a few minutes but have also been known to last for hours. There have been a number of explanations over the years, from meteors to moonquakes to UFOs, but none have ever been proven. A new telescope in Spain, though, may provide the answer. The lunar telescope, built by Hakan Kayal’s team at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, will be pointed at the lunar surface for 24 hours a day and take videos and pictures if both of its cameras register a luminous phenomenon. “The so-called transient lunar phenomena have been known since the 1950s, but they have not been sufficiently systematically and long-term observed,” said Kayal, a professor of space technology at the university, in a statement. Observations of the transient lunar phenomena go back even further, to 1787, according to CNET. The news outlet also noted that Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins told NASA in 1969 about the strange occurrence. “There is an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area,” Collins told NASA mission control on July 15, 1969, one day prior to the landing on the Moon. “It just has — seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence to it. A crater can be seen, and the area around the crater is quite bright.” The telescope will be in a private observatory in Spain, which Kayal said was chosen over Germany because it offers “simply better weather conditions for observing the Moon.” Kayal also said observations from the remote-controlled telescope will be compared with those from the European Space Agency. “If the same thing was seen there, the event can be considered confirmed,” he added. The astronomer also said that interest in the bizarre lunar flashes is high due to renewed interest in the Moon, thanks to a new “space race” from private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as advancements from domestic and foreign governments, including China. “Anyone who wants to build a lunar base at some point must of course be familiar with the local conditions,” Kayal said in the release. In January, China landed its Chang’e 4 lunar explorer on the far side of the Moon, becoming the first country to ever land on the side facing away from Earth. More recently, Blue Origin, led by Jeff Bezos, announced plans to send its Blue Moon lander to the celestial satellite. “It’s time to go back to the Moon,” Bezos said in a press conference last month. “This time to stay.”

Fascinating!!   🙂

January’s ‘super blood Moon’ eclipse will be visible to millions: Where and how to watch the rare event

Millions of people across the world will witness a partially red-tinted night sky as a rare celestial event arrives this weekend: a “super wolf blood Moon” eclipse. North America hasn’t had a decent view of this special scene in at least three years and another total lunar eclipse — which occurs when the entire Moon enters Earth’s shadow — isn’t expected to happen again until 2021, NASA predicts. “There is a little less than one total lunar eclipse per year on average. A lunar eclipse can only happen during a full moon when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun,” Walter Freeman, an assistant teaching professor in the Physics Department at Syracuse University, said…

Very cool!!  For more, click on the text above.      🙂

NASA puts return to moon in crosshairs with ambitious timetable

NASA is buzzing with excitement these days about its ambitious new mission to return to the moon — this time to stay. The agency set an aggressive timetable to have the Gateway space station orbiting the moon by 2024, then begin ferrying astronauts from the station to the lunar surface sometime after 2026. And that is just the beginning. Gateway also will serve as an outpost for deep space science and exploration, including a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, according to NASA. The timeline, which some scientists say is overly optimistic, isn’t fast enough for President Trump, who dreams of sending humans on the 33.9-million mile journey to the red planet during his administration. “We want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term. So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” he quipped in a video call last year with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The president likely will have to make do with getting astronauts aboard Gateway before the end of a potential second term. Just hitting the 2024 goal will take major technical feats and a bunch of cash. So far, the Trump administration and Congress have kept the money flowing, with $19.5 billion in 2018 and $19.9 billion teed up for 2019. NASA has spent years drafting plans for Gateway, officials known as Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G, but the space agency has not yet built any of it. The design for the 55-ton orbiting station consists of several components: a power and propulsion unit, a habitat module to house astronauts, an airlock section where spacecraft will dock and a massive robotic arm. The first section NASA wants to finish is the power and propulsion element, currently scheduled to deploy in 2022. If everything goes according to plan, the next pieces — habitat and airlock modules — would quickly follow. They would be delivered by the agency’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS. Heralded as the world’s most powerful rocket, SLS has been under development for a decade and is scheduled for its debut flight in 2020. The flight, code named EM-1, is supposed to send the empty Orion crew capsule on a three-week voyage around the moon.

Exciting!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

How to Watch the Longest ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse of the Century

Get ready for a celestial double feature unlike anything seen in decades: Mars is about to make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years—just as the full moon blushes red in the longest “blood moon” eclipse of the century. Both the moon and Mars will dominate the overnight hours on July 27 and into the morning of July 28, traveling across the sky beside each other while appearing to be separated by only five degrees, equal to the width of three middle fingers held at arm’s length. On the 27th, the red planet will swing the closest it has come to Earth since August 2003, allowing sky-watchers around the world to see our neighboring world about as big and bright it can ever get in our skies. And while you shouldn’t expect Mars to look as big as the full moon, as many online hoaxes in past years have suggested, you will also get to see the actual moon painted red as it undergoes a total lunar eclipse. During a total eclipse, sunlight shining through Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum as it is cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color when the eclipse starts to a reddish-orange color during totality. At 1 a.m. ET (5:00 UT) on July 27, Mars will reach what astronomers call opposition. This is when the sun, Earth, and Mars are aligned in a straight path, so that Mars appears to rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west, making the sunlit side of the planet visible all night long. Mars reaches opposition only once every 26 months, when Earth manages to overtake the planet in its tighter track around the sun. But unlike Earth’s more circular orbit, Mars’s path around the sun is fairly elliptical. That means the distance between the two worlds varies, making some oppositions better than others. Mars will make its closest approach to Earth for this year on July 31, coming just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) away. Such a close approach just a few days after opposition means the July 27 alignment will be your best bet to see the red planet shine its biggest and brightest until 2035. The previous best encounter occurred 15 years ago, when Mars was a record-breaking 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) distant. Such an epic encounter won’t happen again until 2287. In addition to offering beautiful views, opposition has traditionally set the stage for robotic invasions of Mars. Because of Mars’s proximity and alignment with our planet, the time around opposition is the best for sending spacecraft, saving travel time and fuel costs. For instance, NASA’s Insight lander launched on May 5 and is headed for a Mars landing this November. Many keen-eyed onlookers may have already noticed the fiery planet growing brighter in our night skies the past few months, making it easy to spot with nothing more than the naked eye. To track down the warrior planet for yourself, go outside after dusk on any clear night and look for the bright beacon rising above the eastern horizon. Mars will glide high over the southern sky throughout the night, setting in the west by dawn. Most of the time, Mars is not much to look at through a telescope, but that changes during opposition, when the planet becomes a disk filled with tantalizing features. Even a small telescope with about a six-inch mirror will be able to tease out surface details like the southern ice cap (where astronomers may have just found an underground lake) and distinct, dark regions that are windswept, rocky fields. However, a colossal dust storm has been raging for the past two months on Mars and has enveloped most of the planet, which means telescope views have been a bit hindered. But you can plainly see the effect of all this dust with the naked eye: Mars currently appears to shine with a more yellowish tinge rather than its usual rusty orange hue. Also on July 27, fortunate sky-watchers in South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia will get to see at least part of the longest-lasting total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The entire event will last nearly four hours, with the maximum eclipse lasting for one hour, 42 minutes, and 57 seconds from 19:30 to 21:13 UTC. North Americans will mostly miss out on this lunar eclipse, as the moon will not have risen yet. But the lunar display can be observed in its partial phases rising over South America, western Africa, and Europe and setting over Eastern Asia and Australia. The entire eclipse will be visible from eastern Africa and central Asia.

Bummer we probably won’t be able to see it.  But, it’ll be streamed live online.  For more, click on the text above.

Days on Earth Are Getting Longer, Thanks to the Moon

Days on Earth are getting longer as the moon slowly moves farther away from us, new research shows. The moon is about 4.5 billion years old and resides some 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) away from Earth, on average. However, due to tidal forces between our planet and the moon, the natural satellite slowly spirals away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches (3.82 centimeters) per year, causing our planet to rotate more slowly around its axis. Using a new statistical method called astrochronology, astronomers peered into Earth’s deep geologic past and reconstructed the planet’s history. This work revealed that, just 1.4 billion years ago, the moon was significantly closer to Earth, which made the planet spin faster. As a result, a day on Earth lasted just over 18 hours back then, according to a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “As the moon moves away, the Earth is like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out,” study co-author Stephen Meyers, a professor of geoscience at UW-Madison, said in the statement. “One of our ambitions was to use astrochronology to tell time in the most distant past, to develop very ancient geological time scales. We want to be able to study rocks that are billions of years old in a way that is comparable to how we study modern geologic processes.” Astrochronology combines astronomical theory with geological observation, allowing researchers to reconstruct the history of the solar system and better understand ancient climate change as captured in the rock record, according to the statement. The moon and other bodies in the solar system largely influence Earth’s rotation, creating orbital variations called Milankovitch cycles. These variations ultimately determine where sunlight is distributed on Earth, based on the planet’s rotation and tilt. Earth’s climate rhythms are captured in the rock record, going back hundreds of millions of years. However, regarding our planet’s ancient past, which spans billions of years, this geological record is fairly limited, researchers said in the statement. This can lead to some uncertainty and confusion. For example, the current rate at which the moon is moving away from Earth suggests that “beyond about 1.5 billion years ago, the moon would have been close enough that its gravitational interactions with the Earth would have ripped the moon apart,” Meyers said. Using their new statistical method, the researchers were able to compensate for the uncertainty across time. This approach was tested on two stratigraphic rock layers: The 1.4-billion-year-old Xiamaling Formation from northern China and a 55-million-year-old record from Walvis Ridge, in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Examining the geologic record captured in the rock layers and integrating the measure of uncertainty revealed changes in Earth’s rotation, orbit and distance from the moon throughout history, as well as how the length of day on Earth has steadily increased. “The geologic record is an astronomical observatory for the early solar system,” Meyers said in the statement. “We are looking at its pulsing rhythm, preserved in the rock and the history of life.” The new study was published Monday (June 4) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fascinating!!  🙂

NASA and Russia reveal plan to build SPACE STATION orbiting the MOON

Moscow and Washington have agreed to build the station called Deep Space Gateway – finally bringing a long standing concept into reality. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos announced the ambitious project today in a speech at International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. Following in the footsteps of the International Space Station, the moon ship would be open to astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world. Space bosses hope the Deep Space Gateway will allow mankind to stage space flights to Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System. It comes after US President Donald Trump announced in his debut speech on Capitol Hill he wanted astronauts to arrive on “distant worlds” within the next ten years. NASA and Roscosmos hope the space station’s first modules would be completed by 2026 – the 250th anniversary of the United States. “We have agreed to join the project to build a new international Deep Space Gateway station in the moon’s orbit,” Russian space chief Igor Komarov said. The space station could provide a staging point for the proposed Deep Space Transport vessel – which would ferry astronauts around the solar system. It is hoped technology developed for the Deep Space Gateway could be implemented into surface bases on the Moon and Mars. In a mission statement for the project, NASA said: “NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars. “The area of space near the moon offers a true deep space environment to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the solar system, access the lunar surface for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months.” The space agency added: “The gateway and transport could potentially support mission after mission as a hub of activity in deep space near the moon, representing multiple countries and agencies with partners from both government and private industry. “NASA is open to new ideas of both a technical and programmatic nature suggestions as we develop, mature and implement this plan.” Speaking in March, Trump said, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream” and added all was possible if, “we set free the dreams of our people.”