Tag: Moon

What If The Moon Disappeared Tomorrow?

Ah, yes, the moon. To it, over it, shooting for it. Blue, green. Pies, faces, shines, lighting. And I haven’t even gotten to all the Luna-based concepts. Earth’s moon plays a significant role in our culture, language and thoughts.

But does it … you know … matter? If it disappeared in the blink of an eye tomorrow (and for discussion’s sake let’s assume it does so nonviolently), would we even notice? Would we even care?

Well, it depends ….

Do you like tides?

Gravity — at least the Newtonian kind — is pretty straightforward: The closer you are to something, the stronger its pull of gravity.

So stuff that’s closer to the moon gets a stronger gravitational tug, and stuff that’s farther away gets a weaker one. Easy-peasey.

When looking at the effects of the moon on the Earth, you can essentially boil it down to three parts: The Earth itself, the ocean-close-to-the-moon and the ocean-far-from-the-moon.

On any given day, the ocean closest to the moon gets a bonus gravitational pull, so it rises up slightly, reaching out in watery embrace to what it can never reach.




And since the ocean is so big, all the water from one horizon pushes up against water from the other, resulting in a fantastic tidal bulge.

OK, tide on one side of our planet, done. But what about the other?

The solid rocky bits of the Earth are closer to the moon than the ocean on the far side, so the Earth too gets a little more snuggly with the moon, leaving the far-side ocean behind.

Result? Tides on the far side. From the perspective of someone standing on Earth, it looks like that ocean is rising up, but really it just doesn’t get to join the party. And there you have it: two tides on opposite sides of the Earth.

If the moon disappeared, we wouldn’t be totally out of tidal luck; the sun also stretches and squeezes the Earth, so our surfing opportunities wouldn’t be completely eliminated.

Do you like 24 hours in a day?

The Earth used to spin on its axis faster than it does today. As in, way faster. After the hypothetical giant impact that led to the formation of the moon, the Earth’s day was as short as 6 hours. How did it get to a leisurely 24?

That’s right, it was the moon! The moon makes some pretty nice tides, but the Earth is also spinning on its axis. That spinning physically drags the tidal bulges around the planet.

So instead of the tides appearing directly beneath the moon, they’re slightly ahead of it, orbitally speaking.

So you’ve got a big lump of extra ocean water in a place where it’s not supposed to be. Since gravity is a two-way street, that lump pulls on the moon.

Like tugging a reluctant dog on a leash, that tidal bulge yanks on the moon bit by bit, accelerating it into ever-higher orbits.

By the way, the moon is slowly getting farther away from Earth.

And that energy to accelerate the moon has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the Earth itself: Day by day, millennium by millennium, the Earth slows down, converting its rotational energy into the moon’s orbital energy.

If you took away the moon, itꞌs not like this process would reverse, but it wouldn’t keep going. That might or might not be a good thing, depending on how much you like the length of your workday.

Do you like seasons?

The Earth’s axis is tilted, and that tilt can change with time. No biggie, all the planets do it; it’s fun. But what’snot fun is when the tilt changes rapidly.

What would happen if Antarctica pointed straight at the sun for 24 hours a day, plunging North America and Europe into permanent darkness?

And then a few hundred thousand years later it flipped over? We take the long-term regularity of our seasons for granted, and we might have the moon to thank for it.

Those kinds of crazy wild swings in the axial tilt are due to resonances, or unlucky interactions with distant objects in the solar system.

For instance, letꞌs say that one day in its orbit the Earth’s axis just happens to point away from the sun, and Jupiter is hanging out in that direction at the same time.

And let’s say that happens again … and again … and again. Every time Earth’s axis and Jupiter line up, it gets a super-tiny gravitational pull. At first it’s nothing.

But over millions of years it can add up. Before you know it, the accumulation of tugs has flipped the Earth over like a pancake.

What might stabilize this is the moon: it’s really, really big, and orbits us pretty fast. All that angular momentum prevents the other planets from playing any axial shenanigans.

Or not. The moon may actually be hurting us in the long term, since it’s slowing us down, which makes us more susceptible to the intrigues of the outer planets.

But that’s a billion-year problem anyway, and if the moon disappeared tomorrow, our seasons would still be seasonal for a really long time.

So, besides the tides, would we notice a disappeared moon? Well, yes, because it’s really big and bright, and there’d be nothing to howl at anymore. But would it affect us? Not really. So as for the moon … I’m over it!

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The March 31 Blue Moon Is The 2nd Blue Moon Of 2018

We had a Blue Moon on January 31, 2018. It was a supermoon, too, and underwent a total eclipse.

And another full moon that carries the name Blue Moon this weekend, last Saturday night, March 31. Both the January and March 2018 Blue Moons are blue in name only.

Both are the second of two full moons to fall within a single calendar month. Two Blue Moons in a year is indeed rare.

We haven’t had a year with two Blue Moons since 1999 and won’t have one again until January and March, 2037.




In recent years, people have been using the name Blue Moon for two different sorts of moons. The first can be the second of two full moons in a single calendar month, as with the January 31 and March 31 Blue Moons.

An older definition says a Blue Moon is the third of four full moons in a single season.

Meanwhile, the month of February 2018 had no full moon at all.

Someday, you might see an actual blue-colored moon. Meanwhile, the moon you saw last Saturday night does not look blue at all.

Blue-colored moons in photos are made using special blue camera filters or in a post-processing program such as PhotoShop.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Titan Could Have “Crystals” On Its Surface That Can Support Alien Life

Scientists say there may be crystals on Titan that could provide food for some forms of alien life, according to a study published in the journal ACS Earth and Space Chemistry.

Known as “co-crystals”, they are thought to be the result of ammonia and acetylene creating a salt-like compound, caused by Titan’s methane rain and ethane flooding.

Co-crystals are basically salts that are made of two or more molecular compounds. This allows for some unique properties, such as a different melting point to the original compounds.

However, there is some disagreement over what exactly one is.




The importance of these co-crystals is that they could provide food on Titan’s surface for microbial life.

Some composed of benzene and ethane have been proposed before, but this new type of co-crystal forms more quickly and should be able to survive Titan’s weather.

These co-crystals, or ‘organic minerals’, are an exciting new class of compounds for Titan’s surface,” Morgan Cable from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the study’s lead author said.

The crystals would be extremely small, just a few microns in size – which is smaller than the width of human hair.

They may grow larger under the right conditions, with Cable noting they could look like fresh snow. What’s more, they could be food for certain types of microbes.

Titan has been a bit of a hot topic lately, with NASA currently considering sending a quadcopter to the surface, flying over the ground to study dozens of sites – including the moon’s lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons.

It would launch in 2025 and arrive in 2034.

A recent study also found that Titan’s oceans may be suitable for a submarine at some point in future.

Replicating the temperature and pressure of Titan in the lab, they found that despite the tough conditions, we could feasibly explore these regions.

Titan is the only place other than Earth with known bodies of liquid on its surface. Coupled with its thick atmosphere, it looks like quite an enticing environment for life in one form or another.

Whether it’s truly habitable we might not know for a while, but perhaps these crystals on the surface could help play a part.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Saturn’s Moon Wears The Weirdest Mountain Range In The Solar System

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

SallOf all the moons in the solar system, Iapetus has to be among the weirdest. Named after a spear-wielding Titan, the strange Saturnian satellite is less than half the size of Earth’s moon.

But it’s a cluster of enigmas: Squished at its poles, the moon is walnut-shaped, has a face as black as coal and a bright white backside, and wears a big, spiky mountain range as a belt.

Even its orbit is weird: Iapetus is roughly three times farther from Saturn than its closest neighbor, Titan.

And the path it takes around the planet is tilted, meaning it swings up and down as it orbits, rather than staying in the plane of Saturn’s rings like the rest of the “normal” satellites.

In other words, it’s kind of like the rebel of the Saturnian system, a moon who’d prefer to hang out behind the dumpster and cut class rather than play ball with the other kids.




Among the strangest of Iapetus’ unsolved mysteries is its super-chic, spiky mountain range.

Running straight as an arrow along three-quarters of the moon’s equator, the thing is huge: Roughly 20 kilometers tall and up to 200 kilometers wide.

There’s nothing else like it in the solar system.

Scientists first spotted the ridge in 2004, and since then, they’ve been trying to figure out how such a thing formed.

Early theories suggested geologic activity within the moon itself – maybe something akin to Earth’s plate tectonics or volcanism had forced the ridge to rise up along the equator.

But that didn’t make a lot of sense. The moon’s crust wasn’t spongy when the ridge formed, the evidence for active geology tepid.

Then, scientists thought maybe the ridge had formed as a result of the moon’s rotation period abruptly slowing down. Some early simulations suggest a day on the moon used to last for a mere 16 hours.

Now, though, a day on Iapetus lasts 79 Earth-days – the same amount of time it takes the little guy to shuffle once around Saturn.

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

Maybe, teams said, a giant impact had knocked Iapetus into its current rotation state, and the resulting braking action caused the crust to buckle.

But most of these theories also predict other strange geologic features (which aren’t observed), or hinge upon the crust being a certain thickness.

As the moonlet broke up, Dombard said, its pieces formed an ephemeral ring around Iapetus’ equator. The ring eventually rained down upon the satellite and deposited the giant ridge.

In 2011, another team suggested something similar, this time with a giant impact forming both a ring and a moonlet.

The ring would go on to form the mountain range, while the moonlet would smash into Iapetus and create one of its many large impact basins.

Recent evidence, gleaned from the shape of the mountain ridge itself (steep and triangular), suggests that pieces falling from on high could make total sense.

It’s kind of the same shape you get when you take a handful of sand and slowly sprinkle it into a pile. Why the ridge only runs along three-quarters of the equator isn’t explained by this scenario, though.

In short, we still don’t know how Iapetus grew its monstrous mountains. But the idea of a moon with a moon, or a moon with a ring, is strangely compelling. Too bad Iapetus had to go and tear its little friend to bits.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Universe’s First Stars Detected? Here Are The Facts!

Stars are our constant companions in the night sky, but seas of twinkling lights weren’t always a feature of the cosmos.

Now, scientists peering back into deep time suggest that the earliest stars didn’t turn on until about 180 million years after the big bang, when the universe as we know it exploded into existence.

For decades, teams of scientists have been chasing—in fact, racing—to detect the signatures of these first stars.

The new detection, from a project called EDGES, is in the form of a radio signal triggered when light from those stars began interacting with the hydrogen gas that filled primordial empty space.

If the signal stands up to scrutiny, the detection simultaneously opens up a new line of cosmological inquiry and offers a few conundrums to tackle.

The era of cosmic dawn has been entirely uncharted territory until now,” says physicist Cynthia Chiang of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

It’s extremely exciting to see a new glimpse of this slice of the universe’s history, and the EDGES detection is the initial step toward understanding the nature of the first stars in more detail.




Cosmic Dawn

Shortly after the universe was born, it was plunged into darkness. The first stars turned on when hot gas coalesced around clumps of dark matter, then contracted and became dense enough to ignite the nuclear hearts of infant suns.

As those early stars began breathing ultraviolet light into the cosmos, their photons mingled with primordial hydrogen gas, causing it to absorb background radiation and become translucent.

When that happened, those hydrogen atoms produced radio waves that traveled through space at a predictable frequency, which astronomers can still observe today with radio telescopes.

The same process is going on in modern stars as they continue to send light into the cosmos.

But the radio waves produced by those first stellar gasps have been traveling through space for so long that they’ve been stretched, or redshifted.

That’s how astronomers identified the fingerprints of the earliest stars in radio waves detected by a small antenna in western Australia.

From Light to Dark

If the signal is real, it presents a challenge for some scientists who’ve been thinking about how the early universe worked.

For starters, the time frame during which these earliest stars emerged lines up well with some theories, but it’s not exactly bang on with others.

In previous work, Furlanetto and his colleagues started with actual observations of the earliest known galaxies, and then rewound the cosmic clock using computer models, searching for the age at which a signal from the first stars might appear.

The universe’s first galaxies are thought to be small, fragile, and not that great at birthing stars, so Furlanetto wouldn’t expect the signal to peak until about 325 million years after the big bang.

But if the first stars had already furnished enough light to make their presence known 180 million years after the big bang, those early galaxies must be doing something different.

As well, the primordial hydrogen gas is absorbing photons at rates that are at least two times higher than predicted.

That’s problematic for some ideas about the temperature of the early universe. It means that either the primordial gas was colder than expected, or background radiation was hotter.

Dark matter makes up the bulk of the universe’s mass, but it doesn’t behave like normal matter and has proven tricky to understand.

It regularly evades direct detection, and scientists are struggling to pin down, what, exactly it is and how it has influenced the structure of the universe through time.

But, she notes, it’s way too early to accept that conclusion.

An alternate possibility is that there are simply more photons for the hydrogen gas to absorb, though it’s not obvious where all those photons would come from in the early universe.

So she and others are waiting for independent confirmation of the EDGES result before diving too deep into the possible dark matter scenarios.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Google’s $30 Million Moon Race Ends With No Winner

It’s official: The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize is no more.

After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar X Prize teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the moon by the March 31, 2018, deadline,” X Prize founder and chairman Peter Diamandis said in a joint statement today (Jan. 23) with Marcus Shingles, the organization’s CEO.

This literal ‘moonshot’ is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar X Prize will go unclaimed,” they added.




The acknowledgement confirms news broken yesterday by CNBC.

The Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) was announced in 2007, with the stated aim of encouraging commercial spaceflight and exploration.

The contest challenged privately funded teams to put a robotic spacecraft on the moon, move the craft 1,640 feet (500 meters), and have it beam high-definition photos and video back to Earth.

The first team to do this would win the $20 million grand prize. The second-place team would get $5 million, and an additional $5 million was available for various special accomplishments, bringing the total purse to $30 million.

The GLXP has awarded more than $6 million so far, for various milestones that teams have achieved. Milestone prizes would count toward, and not boost, the total purse taken home by first- or second-place teams.

So, the money given out by the GLXP would not have topped $30 million.

 

The deadline was originally the end of 2012, but GLXP representatives pushed it back several times, finally to March 31 of this year.

Google apparently did not want to grant another extension — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the moon race is completely off.

X Prize is exploring a number of ways to proceed from here,” Diamandis and Shingles said in today’s statement.

This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google’s generosity, or continuing the Lunar X Prize as a noncash competition where we will follow and promote the teams and help celebrate their achievements.

Several dozen teams threw their hats into the ring over the course of the decade-long GLXP competition, but that pool was finally whittled down to five finalists: Florida-based Moon Express, Japan’s Team Hakuto, SpaceIL from Israel, India’s Team Indus and international outfit Synergy Moon.

Several of these teams have stressed that the GLXP, while a helpful spur, was not the main reason for their existence.

And Moon Express CEO Bob Richards wrote the following words earlier this month, as part of an op-ed for Space News: “The competition was a sweetener in the landscape of our business case, but it’s never been the business case itself. 

“We continue to focus on our core business plans of collapsing the cost of access to the moon, our partnership with NASA, and our long-term vision of unlocking lunar resources for the benefit of life on Earth and our future in space.

Team Hakuto may yet have a lunar legacy as well: The company is run by the Tokyo-based startup iSpace, which also plans to exploit lunar resources. iSpace recently raised $90 million in investment funding to help it achieve this goal.

We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar X Prize teams and will continue to support their journey, one way or another, and will be there to help shine the spotlight on them when they achieve that momentous goal,” Diamandis and Shingles said in today’s statement.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

This Is NASA’s Plan For Humanity’s Return To The Moon, And Beyond

There is still no official NASA mission to Mars, but after years of uncertainty, America’s space agency is giving us a glimpse of its grand strategy to extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit with a plan to build a solid technological foundation for sending astronauts to other worlds.

The decades-long space exploration schedule, detailed in a press conference last week with NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, lists 10 upcoming missions involving NASA’s new-generation Orion spacecraft.

But unlike earlier disjointed proposals for loosely defined missions, this new plan is laid out more like an Ikea manual—a step-by-step guide on how to get to Mars.




NASA says the enterprise relies on a substantial but not outrageous budget, and that the plan has been drafted in close coordination with NASA’s key partners like the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The main goal of the Orion program is to assemble a Moon-orbiting space station, which by the end of the 2020s could be beefed up to become a kind of interplanetary mothership.

Without additional money, the proposed spacecraft will not be able to put astronauts onto the surface of Mars, but it will be able to carry a crew into the vicinity of the Red Planet as early as 2033, says Gerstenmaier.

Visits to Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and expeditions to asteroids might also be possible.

In a nutshell, this is the closest humanity’s ever been to setting foot on Mars and many other destinations in the Solar System.

The program will certainly be the boldest, riskiest, and most ambitious undertaking for human spaceflight in nearly half a century—since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

Now for a gut punch of reality. Due to budget constraints, the Mars program likely move at a snail’s pace, according to available flight manifests.

That means its unlikely astronauts will have a chance to leave new footprints on another world before well into the 2030s.

An even longer wait is a bitter pill to swallow, and that probably explains why NASA has been shy about publicizing its mega-plan right away.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the Apollo program’s 10-year plan for putting a man on the moon to the Orion project, which has been in planning and development since 2003 and is not even expected to carry its first crew until 2021.

The first manned flight of Orion, called Exploration Mission 2 or EM-2 was recently “de-ambitioned” from entering a lunar orbit to just running a quick loop behind the Moon and returning to Earth eight days after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

In the meantime, NASA’s international partners will have an opportunity to dispatch robotic and, possibly, even human missions to the surface of the Moon.

With the nascent outpost growing in the vicinity of the Moon, the Orion crews could extend their stays in lunar orbit from a week to months or even a year.

Inhabitants of the outpost could also make outings to other locations near the Moon, such as a visit to a scientifically interesting Lagrangian points, where gravitational forces of the Moon and the Earth cancel each other out.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Has The Mystery Of How The Moon Was Formed Finally Been Solved?

The object that smashed into earth to create the moon was far smaller than thought, a new simulation has shown.

Researchers at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics tested over two billion combinations of parameters to try and solve the mystery of how the moon formed.

The key, they concluded, was an impact with a body roughly one-tenth the mass of Earth.

Astronomers have long suspected that the moon was created when a giant protoplanet called Theia struck the newly formed Earth – a theory first put forward in the 1970s.




It says the huge collision created a vast cloud of debris, which coalesced into the moon.

However, until now, astronomers have not been able to explain how this left the moon and Earth chemically identical.

This led to two other ideas, which predicted dramatically different masses for the impact object.

In one, two half-Earths merged to form the Earth-moon system, and in the second, Theia was a small, high-velocity projectile that smacked into a larger and fast-spinning young Earth.

The researchers ran more than 2 billion simulations of the crash, and found an impactor larger than 15 per cent of the mass of Earth, couldn’t produce the chemistry we see in Earth’s mantle, instead leading to a mantle far too rich in nickel and cobalt.

This was known as the giant-impact hypothesis, or the Big Splash.

Now, a simulation created by researchers from Southwest Research Institute in Colorado has found that after this massive impact, there was a long period when leftover mini planets called planetesimals pounded the Earth.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How SpaceX’s 2018 Moon Flight Will Work

Nearly 45 years after NASA astronauts last embarked on a lunar mission, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced his company’s plans to send two private citizens on a flight around the moon in 2018.

The weeklong trip will look a lot like NASA’s historic Apollo 8 mission, the first and only purely circumlunar, crewed mission in history.

Sut SpaceX’s mission will fly with two crewmembers instead of three, and will use a fresh new spacecraft and launch vehicle.




SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the crewed Dragon 2 spacecraft to the moon. The rocket and crew capsule have not flown on any missions yet.

But the Falcon Heavy is slated to blast off for its first test launch this summer, and the Dragon 2 will make its first test flight in November.

The Falcon Heavy is a variation of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which was made to carry the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

With two extra boosters strapped to its sides, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket to blast off since NASA’s Saturn rockets, which were retired in the early 1970s.

Musk said the crewed Dragon spacecraft “would skim the surface of the moon” before heading “further out into deep space.” The spacecraft won’t literally touch the lunar surface, though.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

President Trump Directs NASA To Return To The Moon, Then Aim For Mars

President Donald Trump signed his administration’s first space policy directive today (Dec. 11), which formally directs NASA to focus on returning humans to the moon.

President Trump signed the order during a ceremony in the Oval Office, surrounded by members of the recently re-established National Space Council (NSC).

As well as active NASA astronauts Christina Hammock Koch and Peggy Whitson, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and retired astronaut Jack Schmitt, who flew to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission.

The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said during the ceremony.

It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”




This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.

Space Policy Directive 1 makes official a recommendation approved by the NSC in October. Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as chairman of the NSC, also spoke at the signing.

NASA recently announced that for human astronauts, the path to Mars will include a stop at the moon, where the agency may build a facility currently being called the Deep Space Gateway.

That structure could serve as a kind of way station between the Earth and the Red Planet.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said he thinks the new directive could provide “a sense of urgency” to NASA’s spaceflight pursuits.

He noted that there are “a lot of people that want to help [NASA]” reach those goals, including international space partners and commercial space partners in the U.S.A.

In a separate statement, NASA officials said that the directive also officially ends NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which would have sent robotic probes and then humans to an asteroid.

The Space Policy Directive 1 will “more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans [to] the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars,” agency officials said.

Both the president and the vice president said today that NASA’s focus on its human spaceflight program will help create jobs for the country, and both men briefly mentioned the defense and military applications of the space program.

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Pass it on: New Scientist