Tag: NASA

Apollo 14 Astronauts May Have Found the Oldest Earth Rock Lying On the Moon

A moon rock brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971 may contain a tiny piece of the ancient Earth (the “felsite clast” identified by the arrow).

One of Earth’s oldest rocks may have been dug up on the moon.

A chunk of material brought back from the lunar surface by Apollo astronauts in 1971 harbors a tiny piece of Earth, a new study suggests.

The Earth fragment was likely blasted off our planet by a powerful impact about 4 billion years ago, according to the new research.

It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life,” study co-author David Kring, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said in a statement.

The research team — led by Jeremy Bellucci, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Alexander Nemchin, of the Swedish Museum and Curtin University in Australia analyzed lunar samples collected by members of the Apollo 14 mission, which explored the lunar surface for a few days in early February 1971.




The scientists found that one rock contained a 0.08-ounce (2 grams) fragment composed of quartz, feldspar and zircon, all of which are rare on the moon but common here on Earth.

Chemical analyses indicated that the fragment crystallized in an oxidized environment, at temperatures consistent with those found in the near subsurface of the early Earth, study team members said.

An artist’s illustration of the Hadean Earth, when the rock fragment was formed. Impact craters, some flooded by shallow seas, cover large swaths of the Earth’s surface. The excavation of those craters ejected rocky debris, some of which hit the moon.

The available evidence suggests that the fragment crystallized 4.1 billion to 4 billion years ago about 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath Earth’s surface, then was launched into space by a powerful impact shortly thereafter.

The voyaging Earth rock soon made its way to the moon, which was then about three times closer to our planet than it is today.

The fragment endured further trauma on the lunar surface. It was partially melted, and probably buried, by an impact about 3.9 billion years ago, then excavated by yet another impact 26 million years ago, the researchers said.

This photo by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Apollo 14 landing site and nearby Cone Crater. The trail followed by the Apollo 14 astronauts can be seen. Image width is 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).

This latest collision created the 1,115-foot-wide (340 meters) Cone Crater, whose environs Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored and sampled 47 years ago.

An Earth origin for the ancient fragment isn’t a slam dunk, study team members stressed.

However, it is the simplest explanation; a lunar birth would require a rethink of the conditions present in the moon’s interior long ago, the researchers said.

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NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

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According Scientists, Earth Have Experienced A Massive Asteroid Strikes 290 Million Years Ago

Experts say the mysterious rise in strikes may have spelled doom for the dinosaurs, who were wiped out by an asteroid around 60million years ago.

It’s perhaps fair to say it was a date with destiny for the dinosaurs,” said study author Dr Thomas Gernon, from the University of Southampton.

Their downfall was somewhat inevitable given the surge of large space rocks colliding with Earth.” Space boffins at the University of Southampton examined asteroid craters on the moon to come to their finding.

Many of Earth’s ancient craters have worn away after millennia of eroding weather and tectonic plate shifts. The moon doesn’t have this problem, meaning its oldest impact holes are still in tact.

Because Earth and its neighbour have been hit by the same proportion of asteroids over time, scientists can date the moon’s craters to understand more about our own.




For the new study, experts tracked the age of the moon’s craters using images and thermal data from Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) space probe.

If a crater gives off more heat, it means it is younger because it is surrounded by larger boulders.

Over millions of years, these boulders break down into fine moon dust that comes up cold on the LRO’s heat cameras.

Scientists studied craters formed in the past billion years, and found there were fewer before 290 million years ago.

In fact, the rate of crater formation since then has been two to three times higher than in the previous 700 million years.

It’s unclear what caused the jump, but scientists think it may be linked to massive collisions taking place in the asteroid belt before 290 million years ago.

This could have created a mass of debris that has since rained down on other parts of the solar system.

The team say asteroid strikes probably played a massive role in Earth’s big extinction events, including the destruction of the dinosaurs.

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Saturn Hasn’t Always Had Rings

Precise measurements of Cassini’s final trajectory have now allowed scientists to make the first accurate estimate of the amount of material in the planet’s rings, weighing them based on the strength of their gravitational pull.

That estimate about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn’s moon Mimas, which itself is 2,000 times smaller than Earth’s moon tells them that the rings are relatively recent, having originated less than 100 million years ago and perhaps as recently as 10 million years ago.

Their young age puts to rest a long-running argument among planetary scientists.

Some thought that the rings formed along with the planet 4.5 billion years ago from icy debris remaining in orbit after the formation of the solar system.

Others thought the rings were very young and that Saturn had, at some point, captured an object from the Kuiper belt or a comet and gradually reduced it to orbiting rubble.

The new mass estimate is based on a measurement of how much the flight path of Cassini was deflected by the gravity of the rings when the spacecraft flew between the planet and the rings on its final set of orbits in September 2017.




Initially, however, the deflection did not match predictions based on models of the planet and rings.

Only when the team accounted for very deep flowing winds in atmosphere on Saturn, something impossible to observe from space, did the measurements make sense, allowing them to calculate the mass of the rings.

They also calculated that the surface clouds at Saturn’s equator rotate 4 percent faster than the layer 9,000 kilometers (about 6,000 miles) deep.

That deeper layer takes 9 minutes longer to rotate than do the cloud tops at the equator, which go around the planet once every 10 hours, 33 minutes.

Militzer also was able to calculate that the rocky core of the planet must be between 15 and 18 times the mass of Earth, which is similar to earlier estimates.

The team, led by Luciano Iess at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, reported their results today in the journal Science.

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Elon Musk Reveals the Incredible Sci-Fi Design for SpaceX’s Hopper Starship

SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket is taking shape. Last week, CEO Elon Musk shared an illustration of how the test version of the company’s Starship will look when complete, demonstrating a creative design that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Adventures of Tintin.

The rocket, aimed at completing short tests later this year, is a miniaturized version of one that is expected to send the first humans to Mars.

The image depicts the rocket currently under construction at the firm’s Boca Chica site in Texas. The “hopper” rocket will complete short “hop tests” of a few hundred kilometers to demonstrate the rocket’s effectiveness.

While it doesn’t reach the heights of the full Starship, announced with a size of 348 feet it does reach the same diameter of the final version at 30 feet.

While the stainless steel design is likely to reflect the final version, which Musk has described as looking like “liquid silver,” the “hopper” version also lacks features like windows expected to make the final design.

The steel looks incredible, and represents a stark departure from the carbon fiber composite used in the Falcon 9’s construction.

It’s similar to the approach used by NASA with the Atlas rockets in the 1950s, but those designs suffered as it buckled on the launchpad when depressurized.




SpaceX’s version should avoid the same pitfalls, with a metal that Musk says will “vary considerably according to loads.

SpaceX needs the rocket to succeed if it wishes to carry out its more ambitious missions.

The rocket now known as the “Starship” was unveiled at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017 under the name “BFR,” with a reusable design that could enable humans to travel to Mars and refuel its liquid oxygen and methane tanks by harvesting resources from the atmosphere.

SpaceX is aiming to send two unmanned Starships to Mars by 2022, followed by two unmanned and two manned in 2024.

The firm is also planning to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon with the Starship sometime in 2023, accompanied by a team of artists as part of a project.

While photos of the test site show the “hopper” still in an unfinished state, Musk stated on Sunday that the team is aiming to fly the rocket in just four weeks’ time, with the possibility of pushing the deadline back to eight weeks.

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China Makes Historic First Landing on Mysterious Far Side of the Moon

Humanity just planted its flag on the far side of the moon.

China’s robotic Chang’e 4 mission touched down on the floor of the 115-mile-wide (186 kilometers) Von Kármán Crater Wednesday night (Jan. 2), pulling off the first-ever soft landing on the mysterious lunar far side.

Chang’e 4 will perform a variety of science work over the coming months, potentially helping scientists better understand the structure, formation and evolution of Earth’s natural satellite.

But the symbolic pull of the mission will resonate more with the masses: The list of unexplored locales in our solar system just got a little shorter.




The epic touchdown—which took place at 9:26 p.m. EST (0226 GMT and 10:26 a.m. Beijing time on Jan. 3), according to Chinese space officials—followed closely on the heels of two big NASA spaceflight milestones.

On Dec. 31, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft entered orbit around the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, and the New Horizons probe zoomed past the distant object Ultima Thule just after midnight on Jan. 1.

Congratulations to China’s Chang’e 4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the moon. This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said via Twitter Wednesday night, after word of the milestone began circulating on social media.

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The Hubble Telescope Camera Needs A Fix

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s main instruments stopped working on 8 January because of an unspecified hardware problem, NASA says.

Engineers are unlikely to be able to fix the ageing telescope until the ongoing US government shutdown ends — whenever that might be.

Hubble’s mission operations are based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where most employees are on involuntary leave during the shutdown.

A few people who operate spacecraft that are actively flying, including Hubble, have been allowed to keep working.




But fixing the telescope, which is almost 30 years old, will almost certainly require additional government employees who are forbidden to work during the shutdown.

NASA has formed an investigative team, composed primarily of contractors and experts from its industry partners, to examine the technical troubles.

Federal law allows agencies to keep some personnel working during a shutdown if they are deemed necessary for protecting life and property.

It is not clear whether NASA will request an emergency exception to allow repairs to Hubble before the shutdown — now on its nineteenth day — ends.

Camera trouble

The instrument that broke is Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, one of its scientific workhorses.

The telescope has one other camera and two spectrographs that remain operational and will keep collecting data, NASA said in an 8 January announcement.

In October, Hubble stopped working entirely for three weeks after the failure of one of the gyroscopes that it uses to orient itself in space.

Engineers fixed the problem, but the rescue effort required input from experts from across NASA, including many who are currently furloughed.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which runs Hubble’s science operations, remains open for now, using money it received from NASA before the shutdown started. But many of Hubble’s technical experts are based at Goddard, which is closed.

The shutdown, which affects roughly 75% of the government, is now in its third week with no end in sight.

If it persists until 12 January, it will break the record for longest shutdown, which was set by a 21-day event that began on 16 December 1995.

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How to Mine Water on Mars to Survive on The Red Planet

The bone-dry desert of present-day Mars may seem like the last place you would look for water, but the Red Planet actually contains a wealth of water locked up in ice.

Evidence that Mars once supported liquid water has been mounting for years, and exploratory missions have found that water ice still exists on the planet’s poles and just beneath its dusty surface.

Accessing that water could require digging it up and baking it in an oven, or beaming microwaves at the soil and extracting the water vapor.

Yet no mission has attempted to extract water on Mars or any celestial body beyond Earth in appreciable quantities.

Now, the Netherlands-based organization Mars One, which wants to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet, is planning to send an unmanned lander to Mars in 2018 that would carry an experiment to demonstrate that water extraction is possible.




Mined water could be used for drinking, growing plants or creating fuel.

Here on Earth, we’ve experimented with different technologies to extract moisture out of the atmosphere or soil,” said Ed Sedivy, civil space chief engineer at the security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin and program manager for NASA’s Phoenix lander flight system.

The question is, Sedivy said, “At the concentration of water we’re likely to encounter and the temperatures we’re likely to encounter [on Mars], how do we validate those technologies are appropriate?”

H2O on the Red Planet

Numerous studies have suggested that water exists on Mars, based on evidence from Mars orbiters and rovers such as outflow channels, ancient lakebeds, and surface rocks and minerals that could only have formed in the presence of liquid water.

Today, Mars is too frigid, and its atmospheric pressure is too low, to support liquid water on its surface — except for very short spans of time at low altitudes — but frozen water can be found in the planet’s ice caps and beneath the soil surface.

NASA’s Phoenix lander detected water ice at its landing site in 2008. The spacecraft dug up chunks of soil, and its onboard mass spectrometer found traces of water vapor when the sample was heated above freezing.

More recently, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected water molecules in soil samples analyzed by its SAM instruments, suggesting Martian soil contains about two pints of water per cubic foot of soil.

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Something Massive Crashed into Uranus and Changed It Forever

This composite image, created in 2004 with Keck Observatory telescope adaptive optics, shows Uranus’ two hemispheres.

It turns out that Uranus is so weird because of a massive collision billions of years ago.

A new study confirms that this collision with a huge object — which was approximately twice the size of Earth — could have led to the planet’s extreme tilt and other odd attributes.

Uranus, the planet with the unforgettable name, is unique in a number of ways.

All of the planets in the solar system are spinning more or less in the same way … yet Uranus is completely on its side,” Jacob Kegerreis, the new study’s lead author and a researcher at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology in the U.K. said.

And this isn’t the only thing that makes the planet so strange.

Uranus also has a “very, very strange” magnetic field and is extremely cold, even though it “should” be warmer, according to Kegerreis.

In this study, Kegerreis and his team of astronomers seek to explain many of the planet’s odd features by attributing them to a collision with a massive, icy object about 4 billion years ago.

To better understand how the impact affected Uranus’ evolution, the team used a high-powered supercomputer to run a simulation of massive collisions — something that has never been done before.

This study confirms an older study that suggested Uranus’ significant tilt was caused by a collision with a massive object.

The researchers suspect that this object was probably a young protoplanet, made up of rock and ice. This collision is “pretty much the only way” that we can explain Uranus’ tilt, Kegerreis said.




 

Amazingly, Uranus retained its atmosphere after this impact.

The researchers think that this is because the object only grazed the planet, hitting it hard enough to change its tilt but not enough to affect its atmosphere, according to a statement from Durham University.

It’s likely that this type of event isn’t uncommon in the universe: “All the evidence points to giant impacts being frequent during planet formation, and with this kind of research, we are now gaining more insight into their effect on potentially habitable exoplanets,” Luis Teodoro, study co-author and researcher at the BAER/NASA Ames Research Center, said in the statement.

But this enormous object crashing into Uranus did more than just knock it into a new tilt.

According to this research, when the object hit Uranus, some of the debris from the impact may have formed a thin shell that continues to trap heat coming from the planet’s core.

This could at least partially explain why Uranus’ outer atmosphere is extremely cold.

The explosive results of a massive impact on Uranus

According to Kegerreis, this collision could also explain two other oddities about the tilted planet. First, it could explain how and why some of Uranus’ moons formed.

The researchers think that the impact could have knocked rock and ice into the young planet’s orbit — debris that later became some of Uranus’ 27 moons.

Additionally, they think that the collision could have altered the rotation of any moons that already existed at the time. Last year, a separate study also explored this aspect of the collision.

The researchers also suggest that the collision could have created molten ice and lumps of rock inside the planet, which tilted its magnetic field, according to the statement.

Following this study, the researchers hope to study this collision with even higher-resolution simulations to better understand Uranus’ evolution, according to Kegerreis.

He also noted that the team aims to study Uranus’ chemistry and the different ways that an impact like this could have affected its atmosphere.

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Engineers Are Designing Self-Cleaning Spacesuits For Astronauts

NASA researchers are developing a plant-inspired material that could prevent dust from sticking to equipment on the moon.

Preventing dirt from covering equipment is essential on other planets.

Apollo astronauts discovered this the hard way during their moonwalks–the highly abrasive lunar dust stuck easily to their spacesuits, jamming mechanical joints and restricting movement.

The new material is based on the lotus plant–known for repelling water–and is already used on windows, camera lenses, and eyeglasses.

While there are lots of earth applications, the material will have to undergo heavy modifications to be able to endure the harsh environment of space.

NASA could use the material not just on spacesuits, but also on scientific equipment, solar panels, rovers, and other hardware.




The team behind it, led by Wanda Peters at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, is in the process of testing different formulas.

No one formula will meet all our needs,” Peters said in the NASA press release.

For example, the coating that’s applied to spacesuits needs to stick to a flexible surface, while a coating developed to protect moving parts needs to be exceptionally durable to resist wear and tear.

The commercial material is made from silica, zinc oxide, and other oxides. If you splash water on it, the water beads up and rolls off, just as it would roll off a lotus plant.

NASA researchers hope to add a biocide to the material to kill bacteria that produce foul odors wherever people are confined in a small space, like the space station or a future lunar outpost, for long periods.

The agency is working with Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems, in Linthicum, MD, and nGimat Corporation, in Atlanta.

We are modifying and testing the formula to ensure it can withstand all the challenges our hardware will encounter–extreme temperatures, ultraviolet radiation, solar wind, and electrostatic charging,” said Peters.

We are also making sure it remains durable and cleanable in the space environment.

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