PostHeaderIcon Answering Questions: Life on Mars?

Kiri writes –
Ok, then–thanks very much! Now… *clears throat*

1. Do you know of any unfrozen water on Mars?
2. Is there any evidence of life on Mars’s moons?
3. What is/are Phobos and Deimos’s general profiles? (i.e.
Atmosphere, temperature, ect.)
4. What might Martians be like?
6. What are some famous theories on Martian life?

Thank you very much for your time!

Kiri, good questions. I will take them in order.

Unfrozen Water on Mars

First I will refer you to a blog post I try to update every time there is a discovery of water on Mars.  Pretty much all of these discoveries are of ice – though some are of ice that sublimes (evaporates) into a gas.

You know how when you have an ice cube, if you let it sit out it melts into a puddle of water, and if you let that puddle of water sit out eventually it evaporates and you’re left with nothing? Well, on Mars you get to skip the “puddle of water” part, and ice evaporates directly, without melting first. This is called subliming. Intriguingly this happens in Seattle fairly often too: when we get enough snow to cover the ground the air is usually also pretty dry. We usually do not have rain for a few days. You can watch how the snow disappears, but the ground around the snow stays dry.

Here is a picture of what it looks like:

Subliming snow

(thanks to “milesfromnowhere”)

Notice how the ground around the snow is not wet, but you can tell that there is now less snow than there was when the snow must have fallen? On Mars this is what almost always happens, because it is so cold on Mars.

Now, here’s the other piece.
This is evidence of liquid water. As you know from seeing rivers, streams, and from looking at the Grand Canyon, water can shape the land. It can cut valleys, pick up loose dirt, and even reshape rocks. In the pictures linked to in this press release you can see a new gully.

From NASA: Gullies on Mars

From NASA: Gullies on Mars

There are other ways this gully could have formed, but it does look quite a lot like a gully formed by flowing water. Although NASA didn’t catch a picture of the water itself, this suggests that there was liquid water flowing on Mars between 1999 and 2005.

Life on Mars’s Moons

Nope. Mars’s moons are tiny rocks in space, there is no indication that they have the things we think are necessary to support life: liquid water, a temperature at which water can be liquid, and preferably an atmosphere of some type.

Phobos and Deimos’s General Profiles

I love picking up information like this from Bill Arnett’s Nine Planets and the NASA site also has some good information.

Phobos has an average diameter of 22.2 km – that’s like the distance from the Pacific Science Center to SeaTac Airport. For comparison, our Moon has a diameter of 3476 km or the distance from Pacific Science Center to Chicago. Deimos is a little more than half the size of Phobos: 12.6 km or a little less than the distance from Pacific Science Center to the Museum of Flight.

It is probably useful to think of Phobos and Deimos as small asteroids rather than as moons – they do in fact orbit Mars, but they’re just tiny rocks. They are thought to be partially ice inside, and Phobos has a thin layer of dust like our Moon. Surface dust on other bodies besides the Earth is called “regolith,” the word “dirt” is reserved for our planet, and for surface material that has some organic material. The dirt we’ve got here is partially ground up rock, but also partially decomposed plant and animal matter: organic material.

Both Phobos and Deimos are too small to have atmospheres. In order to have an atmosphere you have to be able to “hold on” to that atmosphere – you have to have enough gravity to keep the atmospheric gasses from drifting off into space. Phobos and Deimos do not have enough gravity to do that. Even Mars loses a lot of its atmosphere to space because it is so small, and it is a lot bigger than its moons.

The temperature on both moons varies a lot. With no atmosphere to mellow out the temperature the daytime side is cold (Phobos was measured at 25F) and the night side is really freezingly cold (-170F on Phobos). I do not plan to visit anytime soon.

Martians

Seeing as how we haven’t found any yet, if we do find Martians I’d expect them to be microscopic life forms – bacteria, algaes, or maybe lichens. Anything would have to adapt to using ice instead of liquid water, and be able to be frozen for months at a time.

But, if we toss aside the fact that we haven’t found anything yet and start to think of larger lifeforms we can combine what we know scientifically with our imaginations to come up with what we might have found. Consider:

  • Mars has lower gravity than Earth
  • Mars has a thinner atmosphere than Earth
  • Mars’s atmosphere has more carbon dioxide and less oxygen
  • Mars is much colder
  • Mars has very little liquid water, so life would have to use ice instead

My dreamed-up Martian would be very tall (because of the lower gravity), have huge lungs (to get enough oxygen), be covered in a thick layer of fat and fur like a polar bear (because of the cold), and would have very warm stomach, so that as it ate ice the ice would melt and turn into liquid water inside.

How would your dreamed-up Martian adapt to these conditions?

Famous Theories on Martian Life

The most famous are all in science fiction – but there was one scientific discovery that caught the limelight for while. It was later determined to be incorrect, but it was exciting anyway.

The meteorite that started it all was called ALH84001 – and a team of scientists announced that they had found evidence suggesting fossilized microscopic organisms inside this meteorite from Mars.

Here is a recent article about Life on Mars, and here is one of the original websites about this meteorite. Bear in mind as you read this one that it is completely out of date, and the shapes that were thought to be fossilized microscopic organisms were determined not to be.

I hope that is helpful!

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon 2012 – The (2009) Movie

Um. Um. Um. Um. Where do I begin?

The movie was entirely preposterous. There almost wasn’t enough science to make fun of! It ranks way above Sunshine in my ranking of action flicks full of terrible science, and yet it barely holds a candle to Armageddon. Perhaps no one can top Armageddon as the best movie to show an intro Astronomy class: the best movie to ask Astronomy students to rip to shreds.

I think we (the astronomy educators of the world) were worried about nothing. If this movie convinces anyone that the 2012 hoax is real, then they weren’t watching the movie.

In any case, here goes!

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NO REALLY! STOP READING NOW!

Science: F (A=perfect, F=utter failure)

Blood & Guts: 1-2 (0=none, 5=District 9 & Zombie movies)

Illness & Medical Awfulness: 0 (0=none, 5=Outbreak & District 9)

Scariness: 2, mostly just suspense (0=none, 5=I’ve never seen a “5” but Outbreak gave me nightmares for years – so maybe 5 is Jaws or Psycho)

Other Phobias*: “apocalysophobia”, suggestion of vertigo, aviophobia, hydrophobia, necrophobia (fear of losing spouses or children and fear of death), amaxophobia, fear of conspiracy, and fear of flying giraffes.

Opening Scene:

I can’t even tell what planets those are supposed to be  they’re so wrong. At first I thought it was Nibiru on a collision course with Earth and the Moon, but since there is no further mention of Nibiru I doubt that’s right. And then there’s Saturn with a stripy-like-a-gas-giant moon. Uh-huh. No, Saturn’s moons don’t have gas bands like Jupiter.

And the scale is ALL WRONG on the clip of the Earth and the Moon and the giant coronal mass ejection coming off the Sun.  Of course, you couldn’t fit all three in a dramatic image even if you wanted (the Sun would wash out the whole image, and to get the sizes anything like that you’d have to be on the other side of the Moon, not the other side of the Sun) to so maybe we can pretend it is a split-screen shot. Mm-hmm.

Solar Eruption:

YES! Okay, they got one thing right. They do not call the giant bubble of Sun-stuff headed towards Earth a solar flare as would be tempting. They call it a solar eruption. Technically I’d call it a coronal mass ejection (CME), but solar eruption is at least not reinforcing a common misuse of a scientific term.

Neutrinos:

This is the crux of the whole movie. It’s also the science-y-est the movie tries to get. (And then later they kill off the astrophysicist who gives this explanation – just as well, this science was, what’s that word again? Oh yes, preposterous!)

Neutrino detector – great, it is deep underground, and it’s got those detectors on the wall to make it look like Super-Kamiokande, but the people climb down inside and the detectors aren’t even in a place where they can detect Cherenkov radiation within the water. The water is through a hatch! And the mine is in India – 11,000 ft deep. Super-K is only 3,250 feet deep. It looks to me like our deepest mines are actually around that deep – but they’re in Africa not India.

Some quick look-ups online reveal at least one 2008 paper from Super-Kamiokande  (published in the peer-reviewed Physical Review) that shows no correlation between sunspot number (a measure of solar activity) and neutrino levels. It also does not find a doubling of the number of neutrinos detected during Solar Maximum. Of course, this being the cause of the apocalypse in the movie, maybe we should just let them have doubled neutrinos.

Except that wouldn’t cause the apocalypse – as they say in the movie neutrinos do not interact with ordinary matter! This is why we have to have super-specialized detectors deep underground to even detect a few of them. So they have to turn the neutrinos into microwaves. Well, what can I say to that? If you’re just going to turn gnats into electricity or elephants into ocean waves I guess you can do anything.

Then those microwaves begin to boil the Earth’s core. Oh.

Mass Suicide:

This is what I actually worry about. If too many people believe the 2012 hoax, then there will no doubt be a number who take drastic action. Please don’t. You will wake up just fine on December 22, 2012, unless you do something to change that. Suicide is not a good option, neither is anything that hurts you or those around you. If you feel like hurting yourself is a good idea please go talk to your doctor or call your local helpline.

Maya Prophecy:

The “Maya Prophecy” says nothing about the Sun. The calendar flips over. Ta-da!

Geology:

It confuses me how the cracks run down the middles of streets – turning corners with the street. They worm out of the geology by saying the earthquakes and cracks aren’t due to tectonic shift. It also confuses me that these cracks propagate slowly (at about a walking pace), and that they cut buildings like cake: leaving most of the structure intact.

Soil Liquifaction:

This is a real geology term. It generally requires that the ground be saturated with water and then that an earthquake occurs. It does not mean that the soil turns to water, that rocks melt, or anything like that.

Yellowstone:

Yellowstone is the caldera of a hot spot (not “hot zone”) in our Earth’s crust, and could do some interesting things someday. I’d sure stay away from all volcanic areas (yes, that includes Yellowstone) if the Earth’s core/mantle were heating up. Under the circumstances of the movie, Yellowstone would definitely be unstable.

I like some of the beginning stuff that goes wrong in Yellowstone – the lake drying up (though the dead buffalo is really weird and reminiscent of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. I don’ t know why it is dead, it certainly isn’t because of the neutrinos.)

Then there’s something about 2700 degrees C and 0.5% change per hour. Math senses tingling – but I didn’t quite catch everything in this sentence so I can’t actually double-check this.

Later on, the way Yellowstone rolls and explodes into flaming balls of lava is cinematography, but how else would you have John Cusack outrunning boulder-sized “meteors” of flaming rock and a rolling ashcloud first in an RV and then on foot? I mean come on! A movie like this needs a man outrunning flaming balls of rock.

Pickles:

Why?

Charlie Frost’s Explanation of the Apocalypse:

No. And you should be able to tell that from his character and his animations.

Mayan expiration date: yeah, but just flip your calendar and you’re okay again.

Alignment of all the planets with the Sun and the galactic center: No. No. No. There is no alignment of the planets in 2012. The alignment of the Sun with the galactic center either happens every year  near the solstice or will happen in 2300 depending on how exact you want to be. Does this happen every 640,000 years? It takes us 220 million years to go around the galaxy once, and we go through the plane an unknown number of times during that period.

Neutrinos: we already talked about this.

Earth’s core melts: a good part of it already is melted!

Earth crust displacement theory: There was a guy who proposed Earth Crust Displacement – a massive simultaneous rotation of the Earth’s crust, and Einstein did write a forward to one of his books. It is very important to note that this was in the 1950s – and the currently accepted theory of plate tectonics was not solidified and accepted until the 1960s. My geology professors were not taught plate tectonics when they were in intro geology classes, and now even elementary schoolers can explain it. Einstein was very smart, but he did get things wrong, and scientific theories change as we get more evidence that supports or disproves them. When scientists don’t understand something they propose many possible solutions and then gather data – this helps them choose the theory that is best supported by the evidence.

10.9 on the Richter Scale

Personally, I like the Mercalli scale much better when reporting how “bad” and Earthquake was. It isn’t as useful for a scientific study, but in this case San Francisco would have undergone a “12 – Catastrophic – No structures left standing, landscape distorted” which is easy to understand: total chaos. But 10.9 on a logarithmic scale? What does that even mean? (Let me clarify: I have no gut understanding of 10.9 – but it does have scientific meaning.)

“The San Andreas Fault is shifting …” (says Adrian)

Why would the San Andreas Fault (and all connected faults) be shifting if the earthquakes aren’t due to tectonic shift? Script continuity please!

San Francisco slides into the Ocean

If we’re really having non-tectonic Earth crust displacement due to melting of the subterranean crust and core – and a piece of a continent starts to submerge, shouldn’t it be submerging in the mantle? Why does it look like it is just plain sliding into the ocean? I’m not sure the ocean just off San Francisco is deep enough to slide an entire city into. We’re still on the continental shelf at that point, and you’ve turned the city on end to sink it.

Yellowstone Eruption:

I already said it’s preposterous, so let’s look at just a couple pieces. First, it looks like a nuclear bomb blast surrounded by three rings of clouds, probably meant to be shock waves.

Look at this (this is real, it’s from the International Space Station in June 2009):

Sarychev Peak Eruption as seen from ISS

Sarychev Peak Eruption as seen from ISS

That looks kinda similar – but scientists aren’t proposing that the smooth white cloud is  a shock wave, just a cloud generated by changing pressures. Maybe that’s what the makers of 2012 were attempting to portray – a volcanic plume so huge it passes through three different layers of air creating three different concentric clouds.

And yes, you should get away from erupting volcanoes because of ash clouds, superheated ash/rock flows, and worst of all – lahars (superhot, superfast mud flows). Not sure where the lahars would go from Yellowstone, but the best advice in volcano country is to stay out of riverbeds and get to high ground – high ground away from the volcano. These various flows can travel up to at least 300 miles per hour – poor John Cusack he should be so dead.

That ash cloud from Yellowstone reaches DC in just about 7 hours. That sounds okay, it’ll be picked up by the prevailing winds and it only takes a plane 5 hours to cross the country. Of course, it will be somewhat dispersed by then and won’t look like the rolling superheated cloud of the apocalypse so much, but depending on how much of Yellowstone you blew up it could make  a decent ash layer over most of the country. There really wouldn’t be that much heading towards the West Coast though, the winds will push it back the other way.

Cell Phones:

Seriously folks, you’re destroying the world, dumping entire cities into the sea, blowing up continents, and yet somehow, miraculously your cell towers are undamaged and you have signal everywhere? Cell phones are NOT satellite phones, they rely on cell towers. Cell towers are anchored to the ground.

Planes Taking Off, Runways Eroding

Almost every time we see a plane take off, the runway crumbles away beneath it, and the plane goes off the end into a chasm, because it hasn’t reached take-off velocity yet, only to see that plane plummet a few stories, gain control and pull up out of the brand new canyon. This is okay – planes are made to fly – that’s what a wing is for. Engines just give you speed. If you’re already airborne, and you’ve got a good pilot, you can glide the plane until you get your engines under control. And if you need more speed, what better way to get it than going down? Gravity-assisted take-off, I say!

Geomagnetic Reversal

So we end up with the South pole somewhere in Wisconsin. The mechanism is all off, the timeframe is unpredictable, but yeah, the magnetic poles reverse every now and then – every few hundred thousand to few million years. This should not be related to Earth Crust Displacement theory or 2012.

The Physics of Driving a Car out of the Cargo Bay of a Crashing Airplane

I would like to analyze this in more detail. Suffice it to say for now – I think the car should be moving in the same direction as the plane when the car’s wheels touch the snow. If anyone wants to crank out some math and force diagrams on this with me, that’d be great, I don’t have time at the moment.

Boarding the Ark

Two warnings. 1) You’ve got 20 minutes of Titanic to sit through here, but you’re almost done. 2) The drowning scene is not nearly as realistic as the one in the recent Bond flick: Casino Royale. You can probably handle it.

On Board

Now we have mountain-high tsunamis, and our cell phones STILL WORK.

There’s this fascinating thing that is about to happen – with the pretty “v”-shaped cleft that the arks are positioned at the end of, you’ve created what looks to me like a perfect tidal bore: a path for a wave to travel, gaining energy as it comes towards you until you’re hit with the brunt of the energy much harder than you would have been had you been at the mouth of the valley, rather than the back of it. This is what will happen to Olympia, WA if a tsunami ever is positioned just right to enter the Straight of Juan de Fuca and comes crashing down through Puget Sound. Olympia, albeit farther from the source, will be hit harder than Seattle.

Okay, when you designed your arks, and you designed the anchors to fail after the first crashing tsunami, why did you not also design them to withstand things like: crashing into each other, crashing into large debris (like airplanes) in the water, and crashing into rocks? Did you assume that after your anchors failed at that first wave the seas would be calm and you could float peacefully under a rainbow looking for a dove to return?

Africa

Africa gets uplifted, but at this point you can do whatever you want with the tectonic plates because you’ve set up a completely fictional idea anyway. So they set sail and ::phew:: we open the gates and breathe fresh air again.

Credits!

NO REALLY! STOP READING NOW! (Just in case you’re reading from the bottom up for some weird reason)

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*If you see this movie and you think of other fears it may raise let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon Video: 2012 and Lecture: The Moon

Did you miss my little chat plus Q&A on 2012? Lucky you – KCTS recorded it and you can watch it here!

P.S. Don’t miss the lecture at the Pacific Science Center tomorrow (Thursday) night by Andrew Chaikin.

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon 2012

Update as of 11/2012: I am available to speak to your group on this topic in the greater Seattle area. E-mail me if you’re interested: alicesastroinfo [at] gmail [dot] com.

The 2012 Hoax – The Kitchen Sink

What do the non-existant planet Nibiru, the rollover of the Maya Long Count, a long-expected and non-conjunction of planets, some sunspots, and a lack of reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field, and the continued alignment of the Earth, Sun, and galactic center have in common? They all got picked up and sensationalized as part of a 2012 apocalypse story. This “hoax” rolls pretty much every apocalypse story into one.

Actions – (or “how to talk to your friends about 2012”)

  • Validate – Your friends are intelligent people: treat them as such. Validate their interest in the topic and any correct facts first.
  • Quash – This “hoax” is causing too much panic, so you need to quash it as soon as possible, without being mean. Share facts from reliable sources and avoid getting stuck in arguments that go nowhere.
  • Suggest – Find some common ground. Suggest something real and related that you can enjoy together.

The Maya Calendar* “End” = FALSE

The 13th Maya baktun does roll over on December 21, 2012 – this is often referred to as “the end of the Maya Long Count.” As with many cultures’ calendars, the Maya calendar uses different periods of time than the calendar stuck to your fridge right now. They use 5 numbers to represent a given date, called the Long Count. A baktun = 20 katun, a katun = 20 tun, 1 tun = 18 uinal, 1 uinal = 1 kin (which is one day). Americans usually use only three numbers: year, month, and day. Both cultures have designations for larger periods of time also, we just don’t track them as closely. For instance the Maya have a calabtun which is over 3 million years, and we have millenniums – 1000 years each. Just like your car odometer, when one of the dials reaches “9” the next numeral to show up in its place is “0”, when the baktun counter of the Long Count reaches “12” it rolls over to “0.”

Picture: Kyle May

Picture: Kyle May

It is just like flipping a calendar, or when the odometer on your beater car finally rolls so high that it reads 000000. We were all very excited when we got to turn over all the numbers in our calendar on New Year’s 2000 – so I’d be just as excited about 12/21/2012 if I used the Maya calendar in my daily life.

Nibiru = FALSE

Nibiru is the name given to a non-existent planet supposedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians (2200 B.C.E. and 1600 B.C.E.). This was entirely made up by Zecharia Sitchin in several fictional novels that he has written since 1970 about ancient Mesopotamian culture. Nancy Lieder, a “psychic,” built upon these stories, saying the Earth was in danger from Nibiru in May 2003. Nothing happened in May 2003 so the “end” of the Mayan calendar was rolled into the hoax, giving the date December 21, 2012 as the “real” date of the disaster.

Polar Shift = FALSE

In the geologic record there is strong evidence that the Earth’s geomagnetic field reverses polarity every several hundred thousand years with no regularity. There is nothing to suggest this poses a threat to life on Earth, and scientists can’t predict when the next one will happen even to the nearest 100,000 years, let alone to the nearest decade.

“Polar Shift” refers to something different though – it refers to a physical change in the tilt of the Earth. This may have happened to Uranus in the past, and generally requires being slammed into by something very massive. There is nothing that massive on a collision course with Earth within your lifetime.

Planetary Alignment = FALSE

The planets will not be aligned on 12/12/2012. Here are their positions:

12/2012 Planetary Positions

12/2012 Planetary Positions

Noon 12/2012

Noon 12/2012

If you look at this other view of the same picture, they look aligned, but bear in mind that line is the ecliptic – the line through the plane of our solar system. All planets are always “aligned” along this line: every moment of every day of every year. That is the definition of the ecliptic.

Solar Maximum = TRUEISH

The solar activity cycle lasts about 11 years, and the last maximum of activity was in 2001, which would imply a maximum in 2012. It’s pretty neat, get a trained astronomer to help you carefully observe sunspots (always use approved filters to observe the Sun, never look directly at it!). The minimum of activity we’re in right now is a little odd, so some solar scientists are predicting the max won’t actually occur until 2013. The most major flares don’t tend to happen until just after the maximum though.

Galactic Alignment = TRUEISH

The Sun, the Earth and the plane of the galaxy will be aligned on December 21, 2012. Of course, they’re aligned around about every winter solstice – it depends how you define the plane of the galaxy. You see the galaxy has thickness, and we’re in the middle of that thickness, and will be for several million more years. Seems aligned to me.

Resources

Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Universe Today
Sky and Telescope 1
Sky and Telescope 2
Sky and Telescope 3
NASA
Related Alice’s Astro Info
Maya Calendar
Fallacies

Maya Long Count Cheat Sheet

1 kin = = 1 day
1 uinal = 20 kin = 20 days
1 tun = 18 uinal = 360 days
1 katun = 20 tun = 7200 days (about 20 years)
1 baktun = 20 katun = 144000 days (about 400 years)
1 may = 13 katun = 1872000 days (about 5000 years)
1 may = 13 katun = 93600 days (about 255 years)
20 may = 13 baktun = 260 katun = 1872000 days (about 5000 years)
13 baktun (or 20 may) is when the Long Count rolls over
1 pictun = 20 baktun = 2880000 days (about 8000 years)
1 calabtun = 20 pictun = 57600000 days (about 150000 years)
1 kinchiltun = 20 calabtun = 1152000000 days (about 3 million years)
1 alautun = 20 kinchiltuns = 23 040 000 000 days (about 63 million years)

(Full disclosure: I recalculated the numbers in red and changed what is written in the source material, because the math was off due to a typo.)

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon November 2009

NanoWinner

The deadline is November 30.

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon Talk Coming Up! 2012: the Movie, the Astronomy, and the Hoax!

Hey all!

Pacific Science Center’s Science Cafe team just asked me to host a talk/Q&A at the next Science Cafe: TUESDAY, November 3! I’m going tackle “how to talk to your friends about 2012.”

Join us next Tuesday, November 3 for a myth busting Queen Anne Science Café. As we approach 2012, TV shows, new books – even a new movie – all sensationalize the idea of the world “ending” in 2012. Our next Science Café, 2012: The Movie, the Astronomy, and the Hoax, will debunk any fears you may have about the end of the world. Don’t miss a fascinating evening of science, drinks and hoaxes, 7:30 p.m. at T.S. McHugh’s.

Don’t worry though – it is an all-ages event, so bring whomever you’d like. The talk will be Cafe-style: shortish followed by plenty of question and discussion time. See you there!

ScienceCafe

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon Carnival of Space #124

We are All in the Gutter, Looking at the Stars is hosting this week’s Carnival – which is about a lot of different things, since all the Mercury and Moon kerfuffle happened last week.

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon Alice’s AstroInfo Videocast and TV Interview

Answering some common questions about buying a first telescope.

Q13 FOX interviewed me for about 10 seconds last night about the LCROSS Mission. Have fun!

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon LCROSS Impact

There are two important Moon stories that have happened or are happening in the current couple weeks. They range from exciting (confirmation of the discovery of water on the Moon) to super-exciting (we’re going to slam a spaceship into the Moon on Friday).

Story 1: The Near Future – LCROSS

On Friday October 9, 2009 (4:30am PST) NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft will separate into two parts (the “Centaur” followed by the “shepherding” observing spacecraft) and both will slam into a crater on the Moon, kicking up a plume of material big enough to be seen from Earth with 10- 12-inch telescopes. NASA has requested that astronomers (amateur and professional) observe the plume if possible to help out with the science of the mission. This is one of only a few NASA missions I know of to actively seek the participation of amateurs. Awesome.

LCROSS Shepherding spacecraft observing the plume from the LCROSS "Centaur" impact

LCROSS Shepherding spacecraft observing the plume from the LCROSS "Centaur" impact

This video gives a good look at what is going to happen: LCROSS Impact Animation from NASA

We want to see that plume get large enough to be lit by the Sun, which will cause ice (water), hydrocarbons, and carbon-compounds to vaporize and become more detectable.

Some useful statistics from NASA:

  • The first spacecraft to impact is “about the weight of a large SUV, and will impact the Moon at over 9,000 km/h (5,600 mph).”
  • The crater it makes will be “about 1/3 of a football field wide and about the depth of the deep end of a swimming pool.”

Story 2: The Recent Past – H2O

While we’re on the topic of the Moon – a couple weeks ago we got pretty good confirmation of water on the Moon at the end of September. Three separate spacecraft confirmed this: Chandrayaan-1, Deep Impact, and Cassini. How much water? That depends on a lot, but so you have something to give out: Emily (of the Planetary Society) says, “10 to 1000 parts per million. This is not a lot. The very highest number corresponds to one liter of water in one ton of lunar rock.”

Where’d I Get My Info?

LCROSS

http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov/impact.htm
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LCROSS/main/index.html
Where to look on Friday morning!

Water on the Moon – Read Emily’s Posts

http://www.planetary.org/blog/article/00002117/ – Part 1
http://www.planetary.org/blog/article/00002118/ – Part 2

~ A l i c e !

PostHeaderIcon Carnivals #121-123

Carnival of Spaces! Check them out to get your dose of Astronomy.

#121 – Hosted by Next Big Future!

#122 – Hosted by Cumbrian Sky!

#123 – Hosted by Weird Warp! (They even mention this little blog)

~ A l i c e !

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