Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gearing up for the LCROSS impacts

Informally, "amateur" experts, most equipped with knowledge and equipment that would have been the envy of Apollo mission planners mere decades ago, have been gearing up for the planned impact of LCROSS for more than two years, long before the experiment's frequent postponed launch with its companion vehicle, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

Both have been in Space barely more than 100 days.

Among the photography of the lunar poles exchanged between the enthusiastic 'amateurs," for example, through their Google News Group, have appeared earth-bound images of the Moon easily superior to the image above that adorns NASA's Lunar Observation Campaign website, taken by the professionals using a 24 inch telescope.

Now the planning is tightened down to barely more than a week, when LCROSS will deliver the briefest sort of flash as it's kinetic energy is released, and excavating what is expected to be a 30 meter-wide, meter deep crater.

The source of the strong hydrogen signature found in both sunlit and permanently darkened craters like LCROSS targer crater Cabeus, and first discovered by the least expensive and most studied mission ever to the Moon, Lunar Prospector (1998) and its neutron spectrograph, may finally be understood. Hundreds of thousands of telescopes, large and small, throughout the Pacific Rim and beyond, will be watching, along with millions more on the web.

Meanwhile, the effect, if any, of results revealed a week ago verifying "widespread water and OH-bound minerals in the top two centimeters of the lunar surface, along with a fast-moving dynamic processes that comes and goes with the noon-day Sun, is quickly being dovetailed into long-thought-out formulae meant to determine what the data from the plume will be telling us.

It will be hard to top the buzz generated by the results announced from India's Chandrayaan and it's NASA-built "M-Qubed" (M3) RF mapper but the LCROSS impact could not be coming at a better prepared moment, with a world-wide audience ready to take a second look at our "new Moon."

AIAA panel to discuss Augustine report

Dr. David Livingston of "The Space Show" Will Moderate Internet Radio Broadcast

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will host a panel of experts to discuss the implications of the Augustine Commission report, "Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans," Scheduled for Monday, October 5 at 2:00 p.m. EDT* as a live, streaming, Internet radio broadcast, the discussion will be moderated by Dr. David Livingston, host of "The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston," and may be accessed at

(*Note: Scheduling is subject to the actual release of the final report. As of Oct. 1, the final draft was still under revision, with no release expected 'timed to the end of September.')

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, chaired by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, was established by the Obama administration to evaluate ongoing U.S. human space flight programs, as well as alternatives, and to ensure that future human space flight plans are safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable. )

The panel will discuss the findings of the report, and the possible future direction of the U.S. space program, as well as the immediate steps NASA might take in fiscal year 2010. Panelists include:

* Frank Culbertson - Former NASA astronaut who completed three space shuttle missions, and managed NASA's "Shuttle-Mir" program, overseeing nine dockings of the shuttle with the former Russian space station. Culbertson is now vice president of business development at Orbital Sciences Corporation.
* Scott "Doc" Horowitz - Former NASA astronaut who completed four space shuttle missions, leaving NASA in 2004 to become director of space transportation and exploration at ATK-Thiokol. Horowitz was NASA's Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems during the George W. Bush administration.
* John Klineberg - Former director of both NASA John H. Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and former CEO of Loral Space Systems.
* Elliot Pulham - President and CEO of The Space Foundation.
* Harrison "Jack" Schmitt - Geologist and NASA's first scientist-astronaut, Schmidt was back-up mission scientist for Apollo 11 lunar module pilot on Apollo 17, the twelfth and last human to set foot on the moon. Schmidt represented New Mexico in the United State Senate from 1975 to 1981.

Listeners can question the panel by calling 1 (866) 687-7223 or by sending e-mail during the program to,, or the

Listeners can also communicate with panelists through the AOL AIM, ICQ, or Compuserve Chat services using the screen name "spaceshowchat."

(AIAA is the world's largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. With more than 36,000 individual members worldwide, and 92 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit

Even a five-year old Olympus can do it

For our 1,600th post, here at the Network, last evening's close conjunction of the Moon with mighty Jupiter afforded a cheap opportunity to illustrate a couple of important principles. Obviously, the waxing Moon is over-exposed but even within the 400 px confines of a blogger column, in this 'thumbnail' of the original you don't have to strain too hard to see Jupiter's Galilean Moons, each comparable in size to Earth's Moon, but nearly a billion kilometers farther away. This shows what anyone with a decent consumer camera (though not yet many cellphones) can accomplish with minimal effort.

The Charge-Coupled Device (CCD), originally developed to be the heart of camera miniaturization as a part of the first race to the Moon, and every-afterward improved upon by industry and NASA for all the applications where its used in space and at family picnics, is a NASA "spin-off." Some people take this for granted, but I am cursed not to be able to un-think about this every time I see any digital camera at work, whether in orbit around Saturn, Mars and the Moon or in a cellphone at the beach.

It's the "minimal effort" I am most grateful for, due to the sweat and deadlines that went into developing the camera that allowed me to watch "in color" as Pete Conrad and Alan Bean stepped out onto Oceanus Procellarum during the Apollo 12 mission, forty years ago this November.

Of course, I also remember about twenty minutes later when that camera was inadvertently and ever-so-briefly aimed at the Sun, at the horizon behind the lunar module. The live televised broadcast from the lunar surface was over. Somehow, the audio alone was just not as compelling, though I did continue to listen, faithfully, hoping for many hours after that somehow Conrad & Bean would get that camera working again. (Lord knows they tried, to the point where Pete Conrad actually rapped the camera with his rock hammer!)

It was toast, however, and everyone accepted this long before I did. Unfortunately, because of that brief mistake and later the Apollo 13 accident the following April in 1970, more than a year would have to pass before Alan Shepherd and Edgar Mitchell returned to the Moon for only the second opportunity for live color television showing humans exploring (and golfing) on another world.

No one can estimate today how these two events, Apollo 12's camera burned-up and then the Apollo 13 near-fatal accident, may have added to forces that cooled the ardor for lunar exploration.

The principles illustrated here, you ask? They are more than I can list, really, except for a warning to take necessary time to do the best you can with what you have, to appreciate how unlikely, how improbable, is existence and life itself, let alone having a Moon that so precisely aligned that it frequently blots out the entire Sun, 93 million miles away and 400,000 times larger than the Moon, in a primary shadow that easily converges in a cone whose tip barely reaches the surface of Earth, and at times we can forecast with great accuracy many years in advance.

LPOD: 'a wetter hole' for LCROSS

Cabeus: On initial examination, a section of earth-bound radar maps of the far southern hemisphere of the Moon, from Goldstone or Arecebo, shows the target zone for LCROSS, Oct. 9. Mission planners at NASA Ames have changed course from Cabeus A to Cabeus "proper" and are sticking with the choice of a target at a surprisingly higher latitude than LCROSS fans had long expected. Their reason for the choice is to make observations from Earth of the resulting plume easier (and for a longer period of time in the 100 seconds after the impacts) and recent verification by LRO instruments of "the strongest signature for hydrogen anywhere on the Moon" as originally mapped by the neutron spectrograph on-board Lunar Prospector in 1998. [Charles Wood, Lunar Picture of the Day (LPOD), via NASA-LCROSS Observation Campaign]

When Charles Wood lends his noted expertise to any earth-bound lunar observation exercise, particularly when he devotes a daily update to his prestigious Lunar Picture of the Day (LPOD) website to the subject area, then what is known about the target in question (and what we think we know) are covered, definitively.

"Nine days from now the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will impact the Moon, aiming at a new target. On September 11 NASA announced that the site selected in the attempt for a positive identification of water would be a small crater on the rim of Cabeus A, informally labelled A1. But although "A1" usually means "the very best", that target seemed to not be the best and LPOD recommended that a larger crater with a higher chance of success be targeted. Now NASA has just announced that they have changed the LCROSS target, not to the LPOD recommended Cabeus B but to Cabeus itself. This is a great improvement, made in response to new topographic data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and continuing analysis of existing Kaguya, Chandrayaan-1 and Lunar Prospector data..."

Read the Sept. 30 LPOD, HERE.

"a perfect storm of cosmic rays..."

Joel Raupe
Lunar Pioneer

Though I've been nursing a bit of Cassandra Complex, accurate in making observations but cursed with having no one believe us, on September 3 we reported the Cosmic Ray flux seemed to be the "highest ever recorded. "

Thankfully, we did not have to wait much longer before someone more credible, in this case Dr. Tony Phillips, noted the same thing. Today, a month later, NASA's ScienceNews reports the same conclusion, noted also by ESA scientists last spring, at the official end of the long tour of Ulysses.

For the record, we continue to believe measurements of GCR flux in the inner solar system, so problematic to the future of manned space exploration and in furthering our understanding of the real-time mood of our own variable star is a better gauge of the Sunspot Cycle than are counts of the frequency of sunspots, as admittedly useful and visually stunning as they are.

Energetic iron nuclei counted by the Cosmic Ray Isotope Spectrometer on NASA's ACE spacecraft reveal that cosmic ray levels have jumped 19% above the previous Space Age high. [larger image]

Cosmic Rays hit Space Age high

Planning a trip to Mars? Take plenty of shielding. According to sensors on NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft, galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high.

"In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19% beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years," says Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. "The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions."

The cause of the surge is solar minimum, a deep lull in solar activity that began around 2007 and continues today. Researchers have long known that cosmic rays go up when solar activity goes down. Right now solar activity is as weak as it has been in modern times, setting the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."

"We're experiencing the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century," says Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center, "so it is no surprise that cosmic rays are at record levels for the Space Age."

Galactic cosmic rays come from outside the solar system. They are subatomic particles--mainly protons but also some heavy nuclei--accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions. Cosmic rays cause "air showers" of secondary particles when they hit Earth's atmosphere; they pose a health hazard to astronauts; and a single cosmic ray can disable a satellite if it hits an unlucky integrated circuit.

The sun's magnetic field is our first line of defense against these highly-charged, energetic particles. The entire solar system from Mercury to Pluto and beyond is surrounded by a bubble of magnetism called "the heliosphere." It springs from the sun's inner magnetic dynamo and is inflated to gargantuan proportions by the solar wind. When a cosmic ray tries to enter the solar system, it must fight through the heliosphere's outer layers; and if it makes it inside, there is a thicket of magnetic fields waiting to scatter and deflect the intruder.

At times of low solar activity, this natural shielding is weakened, and more cosmic rays are able to reach the inner solar system," explains Pesnell.

Mewaldt lists three aspects of the current solar minimum that are combining to create the perfect storm:

1. The sun's magnetic field is weak. "There has been a sharp decline in the sun's interplanetary magnetic field down to 4 nT (nanoTesla) from typical values of 6 to 8 nT," he says. "This record-low interplanetary magnetic field undoubtedly contributes to the record-high cosmic ray fluxes." [data]

2. The solar wind is flagging. "Measurements by the Ulysses spacecraft show that solar wind pressure is at a 50-year low," he continues, "so the magnetic bubble that protects the solar system is not being inflated as much as usual." A smaller bubble gives cosmic rays a shorter-shot into the solar system. Once a cosmic ray enters the solar system, it must "swim upstream" against the solar wind. Solar wind speeds have dropped to very low levels in 2008 and 2009, making it easier than usual for a cosmic ray to proceed. [data]

3. The current sheet is flattening. Imagine the sun wearing a ballerina's skirt as wide as the entire solar system with an electrical current flowing along its wavy folds. It's real, and it's called the "heliospheric current sheet," a vast transition zone where the polarity of the sun's magnetic field changes from plus to minus. The current sheet is important because cosmic rays are guided by its folds. Lately, the current sheet has been flattening itself out, allowing cosmic rays more direct access to the inner solar system.

"If the flattening continues, we could see cosmic ray fluxes jump all the way to 30% above previous Space Age highs," predicts Mewaldt. [data]

Earth is in no great peril. Our planet's atmosphere and magnetic field provide some defense against the extra cosmic rays. Indeed, we've experienced much worse in the past. Hundreds of years ago, cosmic ray fluxes were at least 200% to 300% higher than anything measured during the Space Age. Researchers know this because when cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, they produce an isotope of beryllium, 10Be, which is preserved in polar ice. By examining ice cores, it is possible to estimate cosmic ray fluxes more than a thousand years into the past. Even with the recent surge, cosmic rays today are much weaker than they have been at times in the past millennium. [data]

"The space era has so far experienced a time of relatively low cosmic ray activity," says Mewaldt. "We may now be returning to levels typical of past centuries."

NASA spacecraft will continue to monitor the situation as solar minimum unfolds. Stay tuned for updates. - Dr. Tony Phillips, Science@NASA

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tranquility Base: a better, second look

Statio Tranquillitatus (Tranquility Base) in a detail, itself cropped from a Thumbnail image of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera swept up by the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) (LROC). "A month after LROC's first image of the Apollo 11 landing site was acquired, LRO passed over again, providing LROC a new and closer view of the historic site where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on another world, July 21, 1969. This time the Sun was 28 degrees higher in the sky, making for smaller shadows and bringing out subtle brightness differences on the surface. The look and feel of the site has changed dramatically. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Mark Robinson - LROC News System Details HERE.
From Lunar Pioneer 4

Water, water, everywhere...

Paul Spudis
The Once and Future Moon
Smithsonian Air & Space

The extreme dryness of the Moon is established scientific dogma. The study of Apollo rock and soil samples pretty much had convinced scientists that the Moon has no water. Because its surface is in a vacuum and experiences extreme temperature swings at the equator (from -150° to 100° C), the Moon was believed to have a bone dry surface. Moreover, minerals that make up the lunar rocks not only have no water, but crystallized in a very reducing, waterless environment, indicating no significant water at depth.

Yet, some irritating facts suggested that the whole story was more complicated. Water is being added to the lunar surface. We know the Moon is bombarded with comets (mostly water ice) and meteorites rich in water-bearing minerals. Additionally, the solar wind (mostly hydrogen atoms or protons) constantly hits the surface, implanting itself into the dust grains and a possible source for the creation of water. An experiment laid out on the surface by the Apollo astronauts observed water vapor after the crew left the Moon. It was thought this vapor might be latent out-gassing from the Lunar Module descent stage, but scientists couldn’t be sure.

So what happens to all this water? Most of it is thought lost to space by a variety of processes, including dissociation by sunlight, thermal loss from the extremely high daytime temperatures, and sputtering induced by the impact of high-energy particles from space. Some areas near the poles of the Moon are permanently dark and cold, so if any of this stray water happened into them, they would be “trapped” forever in the dark areas. And although an extremely slow process, over millions of years a considerable amount of water ice might accumulate. But we don’t know how much water is made and how much might be present on the Moon.

Just published results from spectral mapping instruments on three different spacecraft indicate the presence of large amounts of either water or the OH molecule in the soils of the Moon. This water is present at high latitudes at both poles and occurs in sunlit areas (these instruments rely on reflected sunlight). Although the authors of these new results don’t understand the source of this water, they favor the creation of water by the interaction of solar wind with surface minerals. Solar wind protons reduce metal oxides in the soil, creating free metal (usually pure iron, Fe0) and water. The M3 Team suggested that this water might act as a source for the water believed to be trapped in the dark polar cold traps.

What’s surprising about this new data is not the presence of water, but its pervasiveness. The published image (below) shows this water to be present from the poles down to about 60° latitude. This area subtends over 10 million square kilometers, or about one-third the surface area of the entire Moon! Although the water appears to be present only in the upper few millimeters of the surface, its total mass could be enormous, greatly exceeding the several hundred million tones estimated to be present as ice in the dark areas of the poles.

As always with good science, the new results raise many more questions than they answer. In part, this is a “chicken or egg” issue – do the newly discovered deposits result from surface alteration by water derived from the polar ice, or do they serve as a source for such deposits? How does water form, move, get destroyed or get cold-trapped on the Moon? What are rates of water deposition and removal? What and where are the ice deposits and how pure might they be? Right now we can only dimly perceive the beginnings of a whole new sub-discipline of lunar studies: polar geoscience.

This exciting story isn’t over. More developments in this field are on the horizon. Results from other experiments carried aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, including my own Mini-SAR imaging radar, have yet to be fully reported. The American Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission is settled into its mapping orbit and will be examining the Moon in detail over the next couple of years. Every time we get new data from the Moon or examine and map it with some new technique, we learn new and surprising facts.

In a future post, I’ll examine the implications of large amounts of lunar water for human return to the Moon and the possibilities for a permanent sustainable presence on our nearest planetary neighbor.

Stay tuned – things are getting very interesting.

Fly me to the Moon

Bob Carlton, standing second from right, was a NASA flight controller for several Apollo missions. At far right is Buzz Aldrin. [NASA]

Nick Thomas
Montgomery Advertiser

As an artist, Myra Lewiski has tackled jewelry designing, antique pottery restoration, metal sculpturing, painting and more. Now, she's turning her talents to writing.

Her first book will be a biography about her brother, Bob Carlton, whose career highlights as a flight controller with NASA include being a part of the team that aided in putting the first man on the moon.

The Johnston Space Center in Houston was an unlikely destination for a kid who grew up working on his grandfather's dairy farm in Rainbow City, just south of Gadsden. Three years older than his sister, Bob was a hard worker who also tackled tough jobs at his uncle's sawmill.

"He worked on cars, trucks and machinery, and really had no interest in space then," said Lewiski from her home in Montgomery, where she has lived since 1971. "But he was a very resourceful boy who learned how to fix things and resolve issues in a practical way while keeping his cool."

Read the Feature Article, HERE.

Florida's Space Coast organizes letter-writing effort supporting NASA

The Write Stuff
Orlando Sentinel

Worried about the future of the space program? Concerned about the pending los of thousands of jobs at Kennedy Space Center when the space shuttle is retired? Eager to hold President Barack Obama to his campaign promise to fund an "ambitious" space program and to protect workers at KSC?

Write a letter.

Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher, along with a host of space-related groups, is launching a website called SaveSpace.US with letter templates, a copy of Obama's August 2008 speech in Titusville, a map of the counties affected by the space program and a list of participating organizations. The website will allow Floridians to letters to Obama reminding him of his words, and encouraging him to consider the recommendations of the Augustine Commission to provide $3 billion a year in additional manned-space funding for NASA.

Read the Write Stuff post, HERE.

Lonely Sentinel

Surveyor 1, as dramatically (and incredibly) restored and re-released by the Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project (LOIRP), Sept. 10.

The larger image (III-194-H3) from which this inset was cropped was swept up by Orbiter III February 22, 1967 at 5:24:14 ut from an altitude of 54.27 km. High resolution frame 3 clearly showed Surveyor 1 spacecraft sitting on the lunar surface, complete with long evening shadow. Surveyor 1 landed on the Moon on June 2, 1966 in the vast Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) at 2.45 degrees South, 316.78 East, North of Flamsteed, within the ghost ring of Flamsteed P.

This image has been recovered in its original high resolution format by LOIRP staff from original Lunar Orbiter project data tapes using restored tape drive hardware and will eventually be submitted to the PDS (Planetary Data System). A full resolution version of this image will be placed online at the NASA Lunar Science Institute. The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is located at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. Funding and support for this project has been provided by NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA Innovative Partnerships Program, NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Odyssey Moon LLC, SkyCorp Inc., and SpaceRef Interactive Inc. For more information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) visit For information on NASA's Lunar Science Institute visit For information on NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate visit

Radiation-hardening could lighten spacecraft

"The space community is eager to find ways to produce space-hardened microelectronic devices using only everyday commercial chip-making technologies, Cressler says. The savings in cost, size and weight could be very significant.

"Silicon-germanium is a top candidate for this application because it has intrinsic immunity to many types of radiation. The catch is that, like other materials, SiGe cannot stand up to the extremely destructive heavy ions present in galactic cosmic rays. At least, not yet. "

Read the report of work at Georgia State, HERE.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Target change for LCROSS

Cabeus proper, the new target for the LCROSS impact, as favorably inclined and lit by the sun on Oct. 9 at 10:30 ut. The sunset terminator is to the right (see context image below), showing the preferred target for the former traveling companion to LRO will be nearly as close as it can be to experiencing high noon. [Virtual Moon Atlas 4b]

When the LCROSS targeting team made its recommendation ranking Cabeus A as its most favored place to slam the two-ton Centaur upper stage on October 9, it left itself open to change that target as late as ten days prior to impact. And that's just what they did... sort of.

Rather than guiding LCROSS, with it's shepherding and sensing satellite following only 400 kilometers behind, into the Cabeus heights and Cabeus A, revised observations indicate far larger Cabeus proper may have the strongest hydrogen signature of any location in the lunar south. According to NASA, datasets from Lunar Prospector's neutron spectrometer (1998), confirmed by the more sophisticated LEND neutron spectrometer on-board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) played a role in the decision.

According to the press release from NASA Ames, "The decision was based on continued evaluation of all available data and consultation/input from members of the LCROSS Science Team and the scientific community, including impact experts, ground and space based observers, and observations from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Lunar Prospector (LP), Chandrayaan-1 and JAXA's Kaguya spacecraft. This decision was prompted by the current best understanding of hydrogen concentrations in the Cabeus region, including cross-correlation between the latest LRO results and LP data sets."

"The general consensus of lunar experts led by the LCROSS science team is that Cabeus shows, with the greatest level of certainty, the highest hydrogen concentrations at the south pole. Further consideration of the most current terrain models provided by JAXA's Kaguya spacecraft and the LRO Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) was important in the decision process."

"The models show a small valley in an otherwise tall Cabeus perimeter ridge, which will allow for sunlight to illuminate the ejecta cloud on Oct. 9, and much sooner than previously estimated for Cabeus. While the ejecta does have to fly to higher elevations to be observed by Earth assets, a shadow cast by a large hill along the Cabeus ridge, provides an excellent, high-contrast, back drop for ejecta and vapor measurements."

Read an excellent summary at Universe Today, HERE.

The Moon, complimented with proper libration and solar phase angle, at 10:30 ut, 9 October. Best estimates show the Moon will be visible from west of the Mississippi to Asia, especially over the telescopes of Mauna Kea on Hawai'i.

Room with a view

View of the neighbors; as seen from low Earth orbit.

LROC: Rima Ariadaeus - a linear rille

Rima Ariadaeus (Inset of Thumbnail for Full Resolution) - Sept. 28, 2009: The linear rille on the nearside of the Moon, nestled between Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Vaporum (Map Below). Most linear rilles are believed to represent tectonic faulting, and are often used to determine stratigraphic relationships on the lunar surface. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Small area of uncalibrated LROC Wide-Area Camera (WAC) frame M104426379C, showing the 689 nm wavelength. This image provides context for image above showing location indicated by the star [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Lillian Ostrach
LROC News System

Rima Ariadaeus: One of several linear rille systems nestled in the highlands between Mare Vaporum and Mare Tranquillitatis. Some rilles, such as Vallis Schroteri, were formed by volcanic eruptions. Other rilles, such as Rima Ariadaeus, are believed to be faults that formed as a result of tectonic activity. Some scientists believe that the linear rilles might have formed after large impact events, while others believe that the rilles were formed as a surface manifestation of deep-seated dike systems when the Moon was still volcanically active.

LROC NAC images are providing scientists with data to examine the relationships of the surface features until future human lunar explorers can complete field research. However, experts agree that Rima Ariadaeus, which extends for approximately 300 km, is a fault system exhibiting a well-developed graben typical of normal fault systems on Earth. A large portion of Rima Ariadaeus is visible in this subset of an uncalibrated

The LROC WAC frame (immediately above) and the LROC NAC image (at top) shows part of the rille fault scarp. Mare material is visible in the SW corner of the image and a defined contact between the rille wall and the rille floor is visible in the NE corner of the image.

Rima Ariadaeus is 5 km wide and disrupts the pre-existing geologic features, which can be observed in the WAC frame. The stratigraphic relationships between the rille and other surface features can help determine whether the rille is older or younger than these features. The rille cross-cuts a ridge in the middle-left of the WAC frame (near the arrow in the WAC image); this relationship suggests that the rille is younger than the ridge because the rille changed the shape of the ridge.

However, in the LROC NAC image there are small craters present on the rille floor, which suggests that the rille is older than these superposing craters. These types of observations are used to examine stratigraphic relationships and the relative ages of landforms in this region so that scientists can reconstruct the Moon's geologic history.

Can you find other stratigraphic relations in the WAC frame? (LROC Home)

Location of Rima Ariadaeus, between Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Vaporum (13.0° East, 7.0° North - Virtual Moon Atlas 4b); named for a 4th Century BC Macedonian ruler, the linear rille is roughly 133 by 4 km, rated "an exceptional formation" when viewed telescopically 6 days before or 5 days after a Full Moon.

VMA describes Rima Ariadaeus as a "large rectilinear" feature, oriented east by southeast to west by northwest, "ramifies to the west, with a branch to Rima Hyginus, splits to the east near Ariadaeus (Crater); fulfilled by mountainous cape to the North of Silberschlag, floor filled by mare material in places."

India's Chandrayaan II under development

Kautilya Singh
Indian Express

Though the Chandrayan-I mission ended prematurely this August, work is already underway for India's second mission, and mission planners at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) working in the project have enlisted professors at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K) to help develop India’s first lunar rover.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, has already partnered with ISRO to aid development of the Chandrayaan II robotic lunar lander.

Meanwhile, ISRO asked IIT-K to develop and test three components of the lunar rover, now scheduled to be launched to the Moon in 2012.

Of "eight major components" of the rover, according to ISRO, three components assigned to IIT-K include "development and testing of computer vision-based autonomous 3D map generation system, kinematic traction control, and control and motor dynamics of the six wheels of the vehicle."

K. S. Vnkatesh, associate professor of IIT-K's electrical engineering department, is working on the visual navigation project, and Ashish Dutta, associate professor of mechanical engineering, has been assigned responsibility for development and validation of the "kinematic traction control" component.

The Importance of Lunar Water

Dennis Wingo

It has been a few days now since the public revelations concerning the results from Cassini, Deep Impact, and the Brown University Moon Mineralology Mapper (mcubed) hosted on the Indian Chandryaan lunar orbiter. There has been much discussion and debate, some of it heated, between those who think that these revelations change the arguments of lunar versus Martian exploration by humans. Those on the lunar side think that this will greatly lower the cost and increase the viability of lunar development, and those who think that the Moon is still a wasteland that should be bypassed on the road to Mars. Amusingly, in the same Science issue, an article about how much more water that there is on Mars was included and was seized upon as "proof" that Mars is a more compelling target of exploration. However, in this argument between the two camps, it seems that the most important point is being missed. If, after 40 years of off and on again remote sensing that is just now finding the magnitude and extent of the water, what else have we not found?

The last mission to the Moon that landed was the Soviet Luna-24 mission of August 1976. It was a sample return mission. Prior to this, between the last Apollo landing in 1972, the only missions to the Moon were Soviet in origin (four of them). It is highly unfortunate that the data from these missions has never been fully disclosed as the Soviet rovers covered tens of kilometers worth of terrain over multiple lunar days. It will be very valuable to pore over that data to see if there is any surface confirmation of the lunar water found specifically by Cassini and Deep Impact. It was this checking of the archives of the Cassini data that provided some of the confirmation of the M3 data.

With this announcement and confirmation of water data it is probably necessary to go back and reexamine other data as well from the Apollo era. Dr. Larry Taylor from the University of Tennessee has reportedly taken a second look at the water data from the Apollo samples that was originally discarded as it was considered to be terrestrial contamination. What else in the existing archive should we reexamine?

Recommended Reading, HERE.

'Art and science in dialogue'

Henry Moret's Night in Doëlan (1909) is part of the exhibit The Moon: “Houston, Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle Has Landed.” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Douglas Britt
Houston Chronicle

Thanks to NASA, no city on Earth is more closely associated with the moon than Houston, which has spent the past couple months celebrating the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing.

So when Helga Kessler Aurisch, associate curator of European art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, learned a German museum was presenting an exhibition on how scientific advancements since the Renaissance have changed how artists see and depict the moon, she knew she wanted to bring it here.

“I brought the idea to the attention of our director (Peter C. Marzio), and he said, ‘I don't see how we can't do it,' ” she said. “So we scrambled. And unlike our general, very pedantic and thorough way of doing things, we really hustled. And within months, here we are, instead of years.”

The Moon: “Houston, Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle Has Landed,” opening today, brings together about 130 paintings, photographs, treatises, telescopes, and lunar maps and globes.

Read the feature article, HERE.

Xinhua: Chang'E map of Moon completed

(Xinhua) -- Chinese experts Monday announced that the country's space scientists had completed the world's highest-resolution three-dimensional map of the moon.

The map, covering the whole surface of the moon, was made based on image data obtained by a charge-coupled device (CCD) stereo camera carried by the Chang'e-1, China's first lunar probe. The map's spatial resolution -- measured by the distance of two features within an image that can be clearly defined -- is 500 meters.

Liu Xianlin, head of the expert team that made the accreditation, said the map could greatly help study the features, laws and creation of the moon's surface and deepen understanding of lunar geology and its evolution.

"It would also pave the way for setting scientific objectives in future lunar probe projects," said Liu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping.

The Chang'e-1 lunar probe was launched in October 2007.

RTG power for deep space, long lunar nights 'strugglling in Congress'

GPHS-RTG that are used for Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini-Huygens and New Horizons [NASA-JPL]

Heads up to RLV and Space Transportation News, for "Effort to restart plutonium-238 production struggling in Congress."

"A request of $30 million by the administration to initiate a program to restart production has been eliminated in Senate legislation and reduced to $10 million in the U.S. House," Topspacer reports.

The National Academies of Science issued an alarm, earlier this year, calling radioisotope power systems, "an imperative for maintaining United States leadership in space exploration."

In a report available online, issued jointly, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering and Space Studies boards wrote, "for nearly 50 years, the United States has led the world in the scientific exploration of space. U.S. spacecraft have circled Earth, landed on the Moon and Mars, orbited Jupiter and Saturn, and traveled beyond the orbit of Pluto and out of the ecliptic. These spacecraft have sent back to Earth images and data that have greatly expanded human knowledge, though many important questions remain unanswered."

"Spacecraft require electrical energy. This energy must be available in the outer reaches of the solar system where sunlight is very faint. It must be available through lunar nights that last for 14 days, through long periods of dark and cold at the higher latitudes on Mars, and in high-radiation fields such as those around Jupiter. Radioisotope power systems (RPSs) are the only available power source that can operate unconstrained in these environments for the long periods of time needed to accomplish many missions, and plutonium-238 (238Pu) is the only practical isotope for fueling them. The success of historic missions such as Viking and Voyager, and more recent missions such as Cassini and New Horizons, clearly show that RPSs—and an assured supply of 238Pu—have been, are now, and will continue to be essential to the U.S. space science and exploration program."

"Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTGs) are the only RPS currently available."

Cassini's mission to Saturn has been sending spectacular images of that planet's rings as they pass through a near-perfect solar phase-angle as that planet travels through equinox, revealing never-before-seen details of that mysterious system five years after the school-bus sized probe arrived in Saturnian orbit and and ten years after it launch from Kennedy Space Center.

Meanwhile, ten years after it's fastest-ever departure from Earth, New Horizons will encounter Pluto and it's three known moons in 2015.

Failure of Chandrayaan lost opportunity for high-res data on lunar water

Heads-Up to Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc. "Scientists would have gathered higher quality data about lunar water if India’s Chandrayaan-1 had fulfilled its full mission at the moon, Aviation Week reports:

"M3 managed to map 90 percent of the lunar surface at low resolution before Chandrayaan-1 stopped transmitting signals from lunar orbit on Aug. 29, having completed 10 months of a planned two-year mission."

"Had the mission continued, M3 would now be gathering high-resolution data."

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) experienced thermal issues almost from the time Chandrayaan arrived in lunar orbit, in late 2008, after weeks of successful, precision maneuvers.

It is thought mission planners may have underestimated the thermal environment in lunar orbit.

Early in the low-orbiting science phase of the mission, Chandrayaan nearly reached it's thermal tolerance while orbiting over the day-lit side of the Moon's surface. The Moon has a noted low thermal conductivity, meaning that much of the heat radiation from the Sun is immediately reflected from its surface.

Flight managers reportedly compensated for this exposure of the most sensitive components of the vehicle through carefully planned maneuvers, finally raising the mission's orbit to 200 kilometers just weeks before suddenly losing all contact with Chandrayaan hours after a joint survey of a permanently shadowed crater in the Moon's northern hemisphere with the newly-arrived American probe LRO, last Summer.

ESA: Novel Textile Antenna

Textile antenna Through the ESA Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) 5 project 'Textile Antennas', the Finnish Patria Aviation Oy company has demonstrated that an antenna can be built using textiles that can be worn and used for personal satellite communication. The antenna is here seen attached to the sleeve of a jacket. [Patria Aviation Oy-ESA]

Analysis of on-board hazard detection and avoidance for safe lunar landing

Johnson, Huertas, Werner & Montgomery, JPL
2008 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky

"Landing hazard detection and avoidance technology is being pursued within NASA to improve landing safety and increase access to sites of interest on the lunar surface. The performance of a hazard detection and avoidance system depends on properties of the terrain, sensor performance, algorithm design, vehicle characteristics and the overall all guidance navigation and control architecture. This paper analyzes the size of the region that must be imaged, sensor performance parameters and the impact of trajectory angle on hazard detection performance. The analysis shows that vehicle hazard tolerance is the driving parameter for hazard detection system design."

Review the Conference Paper, HERE.

Hawking: asteroid impact our 'biggest threat'

The Weekend Feature
Daily Galaxy
"Stephen Hawking believes that one of the major factors in the possible scarcity of intelligent life in our galaxy is the high probability of an asteroid or comet colliding with inhabited planets. We have observed, Hawking points out in Life in the Universe, the collision of a comet, Schumacher-Levi, with Jupiter (below), which produced a series of enormous fireballs, plumes many thousands of kilometers high, hot "bubbles" of gas in the atmosphere, and large dark "scars" on the atmosphere which had lifetimes on the order of weeks. "

Read the feature article, HERE.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back to the lunar future?

Alan Boyle
Is this week's revelation that water ice is more prevalent on the moon than scientists expected a "game-changer" for future spaceflight, as some experts think? Actually, the rules of the game for going beyond Earth orbit haven't changed - but the latest findings could bring new attention to options in the old playbooks.

The publication of three studies in Science about ice on the moon, plus yet another study about buried water ice on Mars, comes at an interesting time. More than five years after the White House set a goal of sending humans back to the moon by 2020, an independent panel chaired by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine is wrapping up a full report that takes a second look at all the options for human spaceflight. (A summary report was sent to the White House earlier this month.)

At the same time, NASA is on the verge of taking two significant steps in its renewed moon effort: On Oct. 9, the LCROSS probe is due to slam into a crater near the lunar south pole, a dark pit that could contain usable reservoirs of ice. Later next month, the space agency will go ahead with a test launch of its prototype Ares I-X moon rocket.

For all these reasons, the back-to-the-moon plan - which was turning into a case of "been there, done that 40 years ago" - is starting to look sexy again.

Read the Full-Run Up, HERE.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

YouTube Video of the NASA Press Conference, "A New Moon"

In the hours immediately after the press conference at NASA HQ in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, announcing confirmation by three missions of a new and more widespread lunar hydrology, Lunar Pioneer posted the tale tell slides presented, with contextual commentary below. Nevertheless, it's likely readers may have missed the event itself, which was worth the viewing.

Google-Partner Blog Discovery Enterprise was kind enough to post the YouTube clips of the event, in three parts, which can now been watched, HERE.

Lunar Regolith Challenge, Oct. 17-18

The California Space Authority is hosting the 2009 Lunar Regolith Excavation Challenge Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18, 2009 at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. with the California Space Education and Workforce Institute spearheading the event.

Heads-Up to Jack Kennedy @Spaceports

Lunar water and space policy

Jeff Foust
Space Politics
"Overall, it’s hard to see this discovery of water as a reason in and of itself for humans to go to the Moon. However, from the standpoint of making a human presence there potentially easier and less expensive, it may improve the odds of justifying other reasons to return to the Moon—if advocates can put together a compelling case."

Read the brief, HERE.

Friday, September 25, 2009

House Science and Technology Committee releases GAO report on Constellation

House Science and Technology Committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) releases report that confirms Congress has, and apparently will continue, to under-fund the future of American manned spaceflight.

Congress confirms, Congress under-funded NASA

Science and Technology Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Press Release, Sept. 25, 2009

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, "NASA: Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case is Established.”

The report was requested by House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), as part of the Committee’s ongoing oversight of NASA’s major acquisition programs. NASA’s Constellation program is developing the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the agency’s first major development projects in a national initiative to return Americans to the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars as well as other destinations in the solar system.

The GAO’s report, based on a review conducted earlier this year, was completed prior to the successful completion of the Orion preliminary design review (PDR), the successful test firing of the Ares I first stage booster rocket, the establishment of a launch date for the Ares I-X test flight, and the decision to adopt a single- or dual-plane isolator system to address any thrust oscillation vibrations that might occur on the Ares I launch vehicle.

Chairman Gordon asked GAO to assess NASA’s progress in implementing prior GAO’s recommendations for the Ares I and Orion projects, and to identify risks, if any, faced by the Constellation Program. GAO found a poorly phased funding plan that runs the risk of funding shortfalls in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. This approach, GAO reported, has limited NASA’s ability to mitigate technical risks early in development and precludes the orderly ramp up of workforce and developmental activities.

“Following on the heels of the Science and Technology Committee’s September 15, 2009 hearing on the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee’s Summary Report, during which it became crystal clear that NASA hasn’t been given adequate resources to implement the Constellation Program, it should come as no surprise that funding is at the center of NASA’s inability to complete the work necessary to build confidence in the cost and schedule estimates the agency develops for Constellation” Gordon said.

At the September 15th hearing the chair of the review committee, Mr. Norman Augustine, provided the committee’s assessment of the Constellation program, stating that: “We did review the program, its management. We believe it to be soundly managed…We believe that the existing program, given adequate funds, is executable and would carry out its objectives.”

“Constellation has been underway for four years, and we have invested almost $8 billion in it to date. I am heartened that the review committee found the program to be sound and one that can be successfully implemented if given adequate resources in a timely manner. GAO’s report provides a sobering indication of the negative impact that funding shortfalls can have on complex and technically difficult space flight programs like Constellation, no matter how dedicated and skillful the program’s workforce is,” added Gordon.

GAO recommended that, as NASA addresses the findings and recommendations of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans being conducted per direction from the president, the NASA Administrator direct the Constellation program, or its successor, to develop a sound business case before proceeding into its next phase. NASA concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

“The GAO’s report is a timely reminder of the demanding steps and detailed analyses and information needed to ensure the successful completion of human space flight programs. Constellation is already well down the road to delivering flight hardware under extremely challenging conditions. The choice is clear: either we give the Constellation program the funding it needs so the dedicated men and women of NASA and its contractor team can successfully do their jobs, or we let our lack of commitment fritter away all that has been accomplished to date,” added Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

For more information, visit the Committee’s website:

Case & NASA find key to unlocking oxygen from the lunar surface

Key process for space outpost proved on 'vomit comet' ride

The celestial body has no atmosphere like Earth's, holding the precious element just a breath away. But, oxygen to breathe, grow food, create water and burn rocket fuel - to make a space outpost a reality - is trapped in its soils.

Scientists from NASA and Case Western Reserve are designing and testing components of an oxygen generator that would extract the element from silicon dioxide and metal oxides in the ground. They have designed sifters needed to produce a consistent supply of oxides. But, how would the sifters work in the moon's gravity, which is about one-sixth as strong as the Earth's?

To find out, Katie Fromwiller, a senior civil engineering student, and Julie Kleinhenz, an assistant research professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, spent two days flying in high arcs off the Texas coast last month.

This was Fromwiller's first trip on the plane, which space researchers refer to as the "vomit comet," due to the unsettling ride. Inside the plane, the pull of gravity approximated the moon's weak gravity during the rapid drop in each arc. The riders felt twice the pull of the Earth's gravity on the way back up. During two runs, they floated in zero gravity.

"Not in a million years would I have ever expected to do something like this with NASA," said Fromwiller, who is also a member of the Case Western Reserve women's soccer team and the Voices of Glory chorus.

But, the space agency wants to learn how to work with the soils, and Fromwiller's focus is geotechnical engineering. She teamed with Kleinhenz, a veteran of more than 1,000 hours on the vomit comet.

"It was as if they were working on the moon, 20 seconds at a time," said David Zeng, Frank H. Neff Professor and Chair of Civil Engineering from the Case School of Engineering and one of the principal investigators of the study.

NASA engineers were testing other components of the oxygen generator on the same flight.

NASA, Kleinhenz explained, has plans to build a system that includes a rover that would dig, carry and dump moon soil into a hopper or holding vessel. Sifters would separate particles by size, collecting those that can be converted most efficiently. The particles can also be separated by composition. For example, an electrostatic charger can be used to isolate iron oxides from other soil materials.

The wanted particles would then be blown into a reactor with hydrogen and heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time, the oxygen released from the oxides would attach to the hydrogen and be collected.

While in flight, the pair tested two kinds of devices, a vibro-sieve and a sifter. As the plane reached lunar gravity, Fromwiller switched on a vibration table that shook a sieve, similar to a perforated pan used to pan for gold. As on Earth, the process worked.

Kleinhenz worked a sifter that operates much like a flour sifter. It, too, was able to separate particles in low gravity.

Zeng and his team are continuing to analyze data produced over the two days. Ultimately, NASA will decide which kind of device to use in the oxygen generator.

Funding for the continued project may be in jeopardy now that a White House advisory panel concluded NASA would need an additional $3 billion annually to return to the moon by 2020 and the funding might be better used elsewhere. But, the panel also said Mars should be the ultimate destination for manned missions.

"The technology is useful outside the lunar system," Kleinhenz said. "It's applicable to Mars."

How to find water on the Moon

Graphs showing detailed measurements of light as a function of color or wavelength. The data, called spectra, are used to identify minerals and molecules. On the left spectra of lunar rocks, minerals and regolith returned to Earth by Apollo in visible to shorter-wavelengths IR range. The blue bar shows where a dip in the light is expected due to the presence of water and hydroxyl molecules. To the right are model spectra for pure water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH-). [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown]

These images from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M or '3-Qubed') on board the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan lunar orbiter show data for the near side. The image above shows albedo, or sunlight reflected sunlight from the lunar surface. The image below shows where infrared light is absorbed in a manner characteristic of the presence of water and hydroxyl molecules, most strongly at the cool, higher latitudes near the poles. The blue arrow indicates Goldschmidt crater, a large and feldspar-rich region with a bright water and hydroxyl signature. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ.]

Goldschmidt crater, in the far northern hemisphere of the Moon as that region would be seen from Earth on the evening of this posting (Virtual Moon Atlas v.4) if it were possible to peer into the Moon's shadow, ahead of First Quarter when the sunrise terminator relief makes that region most conspicuous. The 127 km wide crater at 73° north is older than most similar features visible on the moon and dates from the pre-Nectarian, between the Moon's birth ~4.575 billion years and 3.9 billion years old.

Craters and a tell-tale signature of water

Many small, fresh craters bear signatures of water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH)detected as absorption of IR in the range of 3 micrometers by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper. Fig. A on left shows feldspar-rich terrain on the Moon's far side. The arrows point to the location of small, fresh craters. Fig. B on right indicates reflectance as a function of wavelength for the craters in Fig. A. The water and hydroxyl signature in these regions is seen as a characteristic dip in reflectance of IR near the 3-micrometer band, a region noted with a light-blue band. The dashed line shows background regolith without significant water or hydroxyl. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Spectral Cubes from '3-Qubed '

An image cube, demonstrating measurements by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M, or '3-Qubed') on the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan lunar orbiter. The rainbow-colored panels to the top and right represent the different reflected light, or spectral, signatures that underlie every point in the image. These signatures allow determination of the surface composition. This particular image cube was measured on Feb. 5, 2009 and includes the Apollo 15 landing site adjacent to Rima Hadley. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown]

Mineral Mapping the Moon

Early mineral map derived from the different spectral, signatures measured by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M) on board the Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan, before India's first lunar orbiter failed last month. The green, purple and blue areas are covered with iron-rich lava flows, similar to those of Hawai'i. The red and pink regions contain the mineral plagioclase, among the minerals found in granite on Earth. Measurements of iron (Fe) on the Moon is an important marker of the likely presence of the important compounds with which it is known to bond on the Moon, like titanium, and oxygen. From similar mineralogical maps derived from remote sensing from Clementine (1994) the presense of Helium-3, a possible fuel for advanced, clean nuclear fusion on Earth beyond 2050. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown]

'M-Qubed' dataset outlasts Chandrayaan

Clementine dataset (1994) finally begins an upgrade - Data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument on the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan lunar orbiter reveals subtle, previously unknown diversity and features of lunar morphology, including water content. In a Quicktime movie, images taken at different wavelengths are assigned false colors, revealing the invisible make-up of the moon. Visible optical wavelengths run from ~0.4 to 0.75 mm while the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M) measured energy from the Moon from 0.45 through 3 mm, well into the infrared. The instrument had a spectrometer range divided into 86 bands in one mode and 260 in a higher-resolution mode. The animation takes a "random walk "through the data, with various combinations of images assigned colors of red, green and blue. Different color show various minerals and water on the surface of the Moon. This sampling is of just some of the data -- more information remains yet to be pulled out, still contained in the 1,000 Gigabyte 3M dataset. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./Analytical Imaging and Geophysics, LLC]

Cassini and Chandrayaan agree

This graph compares detailed spectra from the moon taken by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on Cassini spacecraft and NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M) on the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan. The agreement between the two spacecraft is an excellent confirmation of the existence of water and hydroxyl (gray regions on the graph where wavelengths of infrared light range from 2.7 to 3.2 micrometers). The red dashed lines show thermal emission data which must be removed to better see the signature of water. The solid lines are the spectra after this thermal emission was removed. [NASA/ISRO/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Brown]

Rays of water and hydroxyl - A deeper well?

A litre per ton of the top 2 millimeters but how much water lies buried? A 'fresh' far side lunar crater as viewed by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (3M) on ISRO's Chandrayaan-1. Left shows IR brightness and Right, the abundance of water (light blue) and hydroxyl (red) is shown in the ejecta blanket around the small crater. Hydroxyl-rich materials are seen as two rays (at one and seven o'clock) emanating from the crater while water-rich materials encircle the crater all around. Ray patterns such as those containing the hydroxyl signature usually indicate materials excavated from well below the surface. While every crater viewed this way by Chandrayaan showed the hydroxyl-rich minerals in its ejecta, many did. If the signature is a function of depth, it is possible there are deposits of water- and hydroxyl-rich materials just below the surface of the moon. [ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Brown]

Deep Impact identifies water on the surface

Since successfully carrying out its spectacular impact experiment at comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft has been on an extended mission, called Epoxi, which culminates in a flyby of comet Hartley 2 on November 4, 2010. En route to the second comet, the spacecraft observed the moon for calibration purposes on several occasions. In June 2009, the northern polar regions were observed and detailed measurements of light from the regions, called spectra, were collected (blue and cyan). These data unambiguously show the signature of water and hydroxyl (hashed regions). The water signature varies in strength; in particular, data acquired over the warm equator in December 2007 have a distinct but weaker signature (purple). [NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland]

Lunar Weather: many miles wide, 2 mm deep

Chart highlighting the calibration observations by Deep Impact of the northern polar regions of the moon on June 9. At left is a reference albedo map from Clementine while the other images are different representations of Deep Impact data, including measurements of brightness, temperature, and the strength of a signature for water and hydroxyl. The water signature varies significantly across the lunar surface but, while the strength of the water signature is not correlated with any terrain type it is highly dependent on temperature. Since successfully carrying out a spectacular impact experiment on comet Tempel 1 July 4, 2005, Deep Impact spacecraft has been on an extended mission, called "EPOXI," which will culminate in a flyby of comet Hartley 2 on November 4 2010. The spacecraft observed the moon for calibration purposes on several occasions en route to its second cometary encounter. [NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland]

Short-range 'lunar hydrology'

Observations from NASA's Deep Impact mission of the moon's north pole June 2 and 9, 2009 revealed changes in the amounts of water and hydroxyl. In the week between these datasets, the moon rotated 90 degrees. A volcanic mare terrain (labeled 'M') is observed in the morning on June 2 and at local noon by June 9 and a highland unit ('H') begins at noon and rotates to evening by June 9. Deep Impact observed a significant change in the strength of a water and hydroxyl signature as the moon rotated around. The highland unit has a weaker signal near noon (red) and a stronger signal by evening (blue). Taken together the data show a "systematic" change in water loss from morning to noon, recovery in the afternoon and return to "steady state" by evening. This daytime cycle suggests that hydrogen ions in the solar wind may be a source for re-hydration. [NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland]

The Solar Wind Theory illustrated

Schematic shows daylight cycle of hydration, loss and re-hydration on the lunar surface, as indicated by calibration images collected by EPOXI during as close as 8 million km encounters with the Moon in 2007 and again, on two separate days in June 2008. In the morning, when the moon is cold, it contains water and hydroxyl molecules. The Solar Wind Theory holds the water and hydroxyl are, in part, formed from hydrogen ions in Solar Wind. By local noon, when the moon is at its hotest, some water and hydroxyl are lost. By evening, the surface has cooled again, and is returning to a state equal to that seen in morning.

Regardless of location or terrain type the entire surface of the moon is hydrated during some part of the lunar day. [University of Maryland/McREL. ]

What's different about this 'discovery' of water on the Moon?

Joel Raupe

First, a distinction should be made between the water we hope to liberate with LCROSS and the water making news today.

The water we hope to expose using using kinetic energy supplied by the Moon's gravity together with the mass of the two-ton LCROSS and its gathered momentum during October 9's terminal descent into Cabeus A has probably been accumulating for a very, very long time. The hydrogen detected using Russian-built neutron spectrography aboard Lunar Prospector (1998) and confirmed by LRO this past summer is confined to the polar regions. As discovered by Prospector and now confirmed by LRO, this hydrogen signature is not confined to the permanently darkened regions. It is at its most "chunky" in those cold spots, shadowed regions and micro-shadows, however

It also now appears likely that the lasting water near the poles of the Moon has some of its origin in the process decyphered nearer the equator. The hydroxels and water frost detected throughout the lunar surface and making the news today may in part be a by-product of the solar wind.

As recently as June 2008, neutral hydrogen was unexpectedly detected in the solar wind. It was unexpected because, at its most basic the Sun is "a mass of incandescant gas" where "hydrogen is turned into helium at a temperture of millions of degrees."

The detection of hydrogen in the steady solar wind, previously thought to be composed mostly of helium speaks to the unexpected inefficiency of the Sun but some of this hydrogen is in the mix of particles that steadily bombard the lunar surface with the solar wind, cosmic rays and micrometeorites that constantly "garden" that surface, and some of this hydrogen apparently combines with oxygen when liberated in this mix from the compounds that make up the Moon.

In the form of water and hydroxel molecules, these volatiles linger in the predawn and quickly dissipate at sunrise. Though most is then lost to the vacuum of space some of these molecules end up bounced to the "cold traps" of the permanently darkened regions, craters and micro-shadows of the lunar poles.

At least some of the water LCROSS was designed to uncover arrived on the Moon in the form of comets and cometary fragments and may have been been accumulating in the super-cold and permanently darkenen regions, craters and in micro-shadows that increase in number above 70 degrees latitude toward the lunar poles for a very long time. Some of it was covered up and buried, protecting it from sun and space and not exclusive to the polar regions.

Even as close to the equator as Mare Crisium, where the last lunar sampling mission in 1976, Lunar 24, cored into the mare-material to a depth. In those samples, to put it very simply, the Soviets found "holes" in the compounds that may have once been filled by hydroxels and H2O. Another extrapolation of their analysis seemed to indicate this phenomena increased with depth.

The water on the Moon they are talking about in Houston right now is likely to be a transitory phenomena, but as a by-product of the same processes that create and dissipate these molecules is probably an explanation for the more long-lasting hydrogen and water that manages to bounce into the permanent dark, both large and small, nearer the poles.

The next time you look at a Full Moon, remember there's water being "created" and destroyed there all the time, and it's been going on for 4.575 billion years. There may be a juicy moon up there, and in more places than we ever dreamed during the Apollo Era.