Space & Planetary Science: September 2009 Archives

Apollo 11: Second look, LRO

"A month after LROC's first image of the Apollo 11 landing site was acquired, LRO passed over again providing LROC a new view of the historic site. 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."

Keith's note: A press release? No. mention on NASA.gov? No. A Twitter post? No. Why bother, eh?

Unseen Mercury Revealed

"Yesterday, as the spacecraft approached Mercury for the mission's third flyby of the Solar System's innermost planet, MESSENGER captured this striking view.

This WAC image shows portions of Mercury's surface that had remained unseen by spacecraft even after the three flybys by Mariner 10 in 1974-75 and MESSENGER's two earlier flybys in 2008.

In this image, just returned to Earth early this morning, the newly imaged terrain is located in a wide vertical strip near the limb of the planet (on the left side of Mercury's partially sunlit disk)."

NASA's LCROSS Mission Changes Impact Crater

"NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) based on new analysis of available lunar data, has shifted the target crater from Cabeus A to Cabeus (proper). 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."

NASA's LCROSS Mission Changes Impact Crater

"NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) based on new analysis of available lunar data, has shifted the target crater from Cabeus A to Cabeus (proper). 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."

There's News From Mars Too

NASA to Hold Teleconference to Discuss New Findings About Mars

"NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will host a media teleconference at noon PDT on Thursday, Sept. 24, to discuss new research results from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter."

NASA Spacecraft Sees Ice on Mars Exposed by Meteor Impacts

"NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed frozen water hiding just below the surface of mid-latitude Mars. The spacecraft's observations were obtained from orbit after meteorites excavated fresh craters on the Red Planet. Scientists controlling instruments on the orbiter found bright ice exposed at five Martian sites with new craters that range in depth from approximately 1.5 feet to 8 feet. The craters did not exist in earlier images of the same sites. Some of the craters show a thin layer of bright ice atop darker underlying material. The bright patches darkened in the weeks following initial observations, as the freshly exposed ice vaporized into the thin Martian atmosphere. One of the new craters had a bright patch of material large enough for one of the orbiter's instruments to confirm it is water ice."

Telecon Notes

Green: 4.5 GYA something hit the Earth. As it cooled Earth lost most of its volatiles. Moon rocks 50 ppm water on Apollo returned moon rocks. If we extracted all the water form Apollo rocks it would fill a table soon. Based on our observations is that Moon is very dry. Lunar Prospector found Neutrons emitted by the moon due to cosmic rays hitting Moon surface and generating Neutrons. Over poles this flux dropped. Water is a known inhibitor of this. General thinking was that Moon is bone dry except for polar, shadowed regions. Today's announcement is a major advancement of our knowledge of water on surface of the Moon. Measurements from three spacecraft were critical to confirm the findings that we will discuss today.

More below

Moon Water News Stories

NASA Instruments Reveal Water Molecules on Lunar Surface

"NASA scientists have discovered water molecules in the polar regions of the moon. Instruments aboard three separate spacecraft revealed water molecules in amounts that are greater than predicted, but still relatively small. Hydroxyl, a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom, also was found in the lunar soil. The findings were published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science."

New research shows water present across the moon's surface - It turns out the moon is a lot wetter than we ever thought, University of Tennessee Knoxville

"To some extent, we were fooled," said Taylor, a distinguished professor of earth and planetary sciences, who has studied the moon since the original Apollo missions. "Since the boxes leaked, we just assumed the water we found was from contamination with terrestrial air."

Brown Scientists Announce Finding of Water on the Moon

"Brown University scientists have made a major discovery: The moon has distinct signatures of water. The discovery came from a paper published in Science detailing findings from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), a NASA instrument aboard the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1. Carle Pieters, professor of geological sciences at Brown, is the principal investigator of the M3 instrument and the lead author of the Science paper."

Deep Impact Spacecraft Finds Clear Evidence of Water on Moon, University of Maryland

"Deep Impact was not designed to study the Moon, but for a famous 2005 mission in which it successfully knocked a hole in comet Tempel 1 to find out what was inside. Its data on lunar water were obtained as part of calibration opportunities that occurred during June 2009 and December 2007 flybys of the Earth and Moon needed to get adequate gravity boosts to travel on its EPOXI mission to a second comet, Hartley 2, which the spacecraft will encounter in November 2010."

NASA to Reveal New Scientific Findings About the Moon

"NASA will hold a media briefing at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 24, to discuss new science data from the moon collected during national and international space missions. NASA Television and the agency's Web site will provide live coverage of the briefing from the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E St. SW, in Washington. For more information about NASA TV downlinks and streaming video, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv"

Keith's note: Curiously, while these missions (or instruments) are managed by SMD, no one from ESMD is on the panel of speakers. That's rather odd given the implications for supporting humans and human activities on the Moon blatantly inherent in this announcement - something Carlie Pieters saw fit to specifically mention in her paper.

Behind the scenes sources point to a slow motion tug of war between ESMD and SMD regarding the public presentation of these findings from Deep Impact (EPOXI), Cassini, and Chandrayaan-1. ESMD is very excited (with good reason) and views these findings as being enabling in nature for its interest in conducting human lunar surface operations - especially when it comes in situ resource utilization. SMD is not interested in that and instead (understandably) has an interest in the scientific aspects of this from the context of how the solar system is constructed.

What is lurking in the background, however, is a fear among the Mars crowd at NASA (led by Ed Weiler) that any discoveries of water or other things that would make the Moon out to be a more attractive place to visit (and stay) would also serve to detract from support for their focus on Mars. With Mars mission cost overruns already distorting SMD's planetary exploration budget, anything that shifts the focus away from Mars to the Moon is seen as a threat. The possibility that LCROSS may find water at the Moon's south pole has Weiler worried - while others are rejoicing at the prospect.

This is wonderful news and everyone in the space and exploration communities ought to be rejoicing. The Moon is even more useful than we previously thought - and it is only a few days away! Alas, anything that makes the Moon more interesting threatens Mars missions in the minds of the Mars crowd. This is unfortunate since they should see that anything that further enables visiting and utilizing the Moon enables Mars - and other destinations. Indeed, anyone who has built a strategy and rationale for going to Mars that is that fragile and susceptible enough to be threatened by news such as this has not built a good case to go to Mars in the first place.

Stay tuned - Machiavellian politics are at work.

Keith's Update: There are actually three articles that will be in Science tomorrow - one paper each describing results from Deep Impact aka EPOXI, Cassini, and Chandrayaan-1. Three different spacecraft - three different instruments - all saying the same thing about the presence of water and other materials on the Moon.

The EPOXI (Deep Impact) paper ("Temporal and Spatial Variability of Lunar Hydration as Observed by the Deep Impact Spacecraft", Sunshine et al) says that water has been "unequivocally" confirmed and that "the entire lunar surface is hydrated during at least some portions of the lunar day".

In another paper, previously unreleased 1999 flyby data from Cassini ("Detection of Adsorbed Water and Hydroxyl on the Moon", Roger N. Clark) shows hydroxyl concentrations on "the sunlit face of the Moon". Water was detected in concentrations as high as "10 to 1,000 parts per million" and according to the paper "Regardless of its origin, water is found on the lunar surface in areas previously thought to have been depleted in volatiles."

The Chandrayaan-1 paper ("Character and Spatial Distribution of OH/H2O on the Surface of the Moon Seen by M3 on Chandrayaan-1", C. M. Pieters et al) says "... Modeled abundance could be as high as 770 ppm (20), but is dependent on particle size, and the total abundance of hydrated material in the bulk upper regolith would be substantially smaller if hydration is not retained during regolith gardening. ... data suggests that the formation and retention of OH and H2O is an ongoing surficial process. OH/H2O production processes may feed polar cold traps and make the lunar regolith a candidate source of volatiles for human exploration."

It would seem that NASA has been sitting on a lot of data confirming with regard to the Moon - in some cases, for years. Meanwhile, a lot of people are trying to downplay the importance of these findings in and around NASA at the same time it would seem that the Moon has been revealed as being much more useful than had been previously released publicly. SMD has some explaining to do. Stay tuned.

Water on the Moon?, Nature

"That's not all. Early results from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched on 18 June, are offering a wide array of watery signals. Increasingly, lunar scientists are confident that the decades-long debate is over. The Moon, in fact, has water in all sorts of places: not just locked up in minerals, but scattered throughout the broken-up surface, and, potentially, in blocks or sheets of ice at depth."

It's not lunacy, probes find water in moon dirt, AP

"We argued literally for months amongst ourselves to find out where the problem was," Pieters said. Sunshine, who was on the team, had a similar instrument on NASA's Deep Impact probe, headed for a comet but swinging by the moon in June. So Deep Impact looked for the water-hydroxyl signature and found it. Scientists also looked back at the records of NASA's Cassini probe, which is circling Saturn. It has the same type instrument and whizzed by the moon ten years ago. Sure enough, it had found the same thing. The chance that three different instruments malfunctioned in the same way on three different spaceships is almost zilch, so this confirms that it's water and hydroxyl, Pieters said."

Keith's Update: Interesting ... Cassini made this discovery a decade ago - and yet NASA did not even know that it had done so. Just goes to show you that new discoveries can be found in old data.

Earlier posts below

Artificial Cloud in Space

NASA rocket sparks reports of strange lights in sky, Newsday

"Staff at several National Weather Service offices in the Northeast received calls of strange lights after NASA launched a rocket from Virginia, a meteorologist with the weather service in Upton said. And along the East Coast, reports of the bright, cone-shaped light poured into weather stations and news organizations, a Boston TV station said on its Web site."

NASA launches rocket, dozens report strange lights, AP

"The space agency said it launched the Black Brant XII on Saturday evening to gather data on the highest clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. About the time of the launch, dozens of people in the Northeast started calling local television stations to report seeing strange lights. The calls came from as far away as Boston, which is about 380 miles northeast of the launch site."

Strange light spotted in New England sky, WHDH-TV

"Many viewers called in to 7News Saturday night with reports about an unidentified "light" in the sky. Reports of a "flashing light" came in from Massachusetts and New Hampshire."

Rocket launch prompts calls of strange lights in sky, CNN

"A series of spooky lights above parts of the northeastern United States Saturday sparked a flurry of phone calls to authorities and television news stations. NASA said strange lights seen in the Northeast on Saturday were caused by an experimental rocket. CNN affiliate stations from New Jersey to Massachusetts heard from dozens of callers who reported that the lights appeared as a cone shape shining down from the sky."

Earlier post: @NASA_Wallops Black Brant XII rocket launch on schedule between 7:32 and 7:49 p.m., Sat, Sep 19. Web cast begins at 6:30 p.m. sites.wff.nasa.gov/webcast

Keith's note: The most recent media advisory I got from Wallops says that the launch will be 15 September. Well, it was yesterday, 19 September. Unless you were glued to Twitter last night (I just happened to be), you would not have known it was yesterday. How hard would it have been to send out a revised media advisory when it was clear that the new date would not be 15 Sep. but instead would be 18 Sep.? Drudge report has a link to an AP story about people seeing lights up and down the east coast (I did not see anything in Reston, BTW). Other articles talk about calls to police, TV stations, the National Weather Service,etc. Wow. A light show in space that millions could see. And yet apparently no one knew much - if anything - ahead of time.

But wait, they did - the original press release was the subject of stories about a launch on the 15th. Anyone who went outside looking that night saw that nothing happened. Did Wallops PAO try and get revised releases out? I certainly did not get one. The logical assumption must have been that if NASA announced the launch and it did not happen that there'd be another announcement before they tried again. Or did it launch but was simply not visible?

The original release talked of a 16-20 Sep. back up dates - but when it did not happen on the 15th, did NASA send out an advisory saying when it would try again? No. Everyone was left hanging. Yet curiously Wallops PAO thought it was worth revising an earlier release on 14 Sep. to correct technical details as to what stage fires at which altitude. So .. revised press releases are possible for Wallops PAO to generate.

Imagine if TV stations and radio stations in the viewing area were specifically targeted and alerted and told that they'd get a heads up when the launch was minutes away such that they could tell people to go outside and where to look. It was a Saturday night so it was not a school night and many people did not have to work the next day.

What a wonderful opportunity for NASA to ask for people to have their cameras ready so that they could send their photos in for posting at Flickr or NASA.gov - maybe Photosynth could have been used to create a large image of the three dimensional aspects of the cloud - something of potential scientific interest. It would have been like having a camera hundreds of miles across.

Wow. I just described "participatory exploration" ...

In looking through the WFF website I found no attempt whatsoever to capitalize on this unique event. Indeed, the WFF website often seems to be designed to make it harder to find information than would normally be the case. All it says is "A NASA Black Brant XII was successfully launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at 7:46 p.m. on Saturday, September 19."

This press release webpage at Wallops is the best example of the "let them eat cake" approach to website design - it simply lists press release numbers. No titles. And you can't even read the releases online - you can only downloaded them Word documents. Go figure.

And with all of the public and media interest in what the lights in the sky were, is there any mention at all of this event at the NASA.gov home page? No.

I know they are short handed at Wallops PAO. But this was a chance for MILLIONS of people to share in what NASA does in an almost primal fashion - a beautiful apparition in the evening sky.

LOIRP Releases Recovered Lunar Orbiter III Image of Surveyor 1 on the Lunar Surface, Moonviews.com

"This image was taken by Lunar Orbiter III on 22 February 1967 at 5:24:14 GMT at an altitude of 54.27 km above the lunar surface. High resolution frame 3 clearly shows the Surveyor 1 spacecraft sitting on the lunar surface complete with a long shadow. Surveyor 1 landed on the Moon on 2 June 1966 in the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) at 2.45 degrees South latitude, 43.22 degrees West longitude. 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)."

NASA LRO Weekly Report, Week Ending 09.11.09

"LRO commissioning has continued according to plan. On Wednesday September 9th the LRO Completion of Commissioning Review was held and it was confirmed that would execute MOI and proceed to the 50km nominal mission orbit on September 15th , thus beginning the prime ESMD Exploration mission. All instrument teams reported and defended their readiness to proceed with the primary mission. The status of the LRO Spacecraft and Ground Systems was also reviewed. The Instruments, the Spacecraft, and the Ground Systems continue to operate essentially flawlessly. There are no significant open issues or problems that preclude the start of the nominal mission."

Chandrayaan-I was 'killed' by heat stroke, Times of India

"The reasons for early termination of the Chandrayaan-I mission are now tumbling out and they reveal that ISRO had kept the Moon orbiter's problems tightly under wraps. Contrary to the space agency's explanation that Chandrayaan's orbit around the Moon had been raised from 100km to 200km in May this year for a better view of the Moon's surface, it is now known that this was because of a miscalculation of the Moon's temperature that had led to faulty thermal protection. Admitting this, Dr T K Alex, director, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, said, "We assumed that the temperature at 100km above the Moon's surface would be around 75 degrees Celsius. However, it was more than 75 degrees and problems started to surface. We had to raise the orbit to 200km."

Good News for LCROSS

NASA Internal Memo: LCROSS has rescinded its Declaration of Spacecraft Emergency

"Last night we lifted our declaration of Spacecraft Emergency with DSN with concurrence from the Center. We have implemented a number of mitigations to try to assure that we are in a more robust position against propellant lost as we finish the remaining 30-days of the mission.Our work is of course not done as we continue to navigate our risk for the remainder of the mission, but we need to be aware of other risks which have grown through this process... namely staff fatigue. While our new ConOps plan requires we check S/C health every 9-hours, we are looking into ways to make that monitoring as efficient as possible by setting-up remote access and by seeing if other assets can monitor for our S/C "phone home" if the S/C is in trouble."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from September 2009.

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