Moon

The Moon Trees

Bicentennial_moon_tree

“Scattered around our planet are hundreds of creatures that have been to the Moon and back again. None of them are human.”—NASA

ORBITAL ORCHARD

On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, launching astronauts Edgar Mitchell, Alan Shepard, and Stuart Roosa to the moon. Roosa, an Air Force test pilot, had also served as a “smokejumper” for the U.S. Forest Service, parachuting out of planes to help put out forest fires. He and a colleague named Stan Krugman wanted to find out whether tree seeds would still grow after a trip to space.

With the approval of NASA, Krugman chose five varieties: sycamores, sweetgums, Douglas firs, redwoods, and loblolly pines. He chose most of them because they grow well all over the country, and chose redwoods because they are so well-known. He kept an identical group on Earth as a control. “The scientists wanted to find out what would happen to these seeds if they took a ride to the Moon,” said Krugman. “Would the trees look normal?”

APOLLO FORE-TEEN

Apollo 14 is famous for a different experiment: moon golf. While Roosa (and his 500 seeds) orbited in the Kitty Hawk command module 118 miles above the surface, Alan Shepard used a modified lunar collection device to send a few chip shots into the Fra Mauro crater. On the mission’s return to Earth, the seeds were accidentally exposed to a vacuum during decontamination procedures. They were “traumatized,” said Krugman, but after careful attention, they all started growing.

NASA gave away most of the Moon Trees—which is what they’re called—as part of America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. One was planted in Philadelphia’s Independence Square by Roosa…

Don Giovanni and the Universe: Aldous Huxley on How the Moon Illuminates the Complementarity of Spirituality and Science

Don Giovanni and the Universe: Aldous Huxley on How the Moon Illuminates the Complementarity of Spirituality and Science

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both,” Carl Sagan wrote shortly before his death. Two decades earlier, he had found a lyrical intersection of science and spirituality in Diane Ackerman’s scientifically accurate poems about the Solar System, which Sagan sent to his pal Timothy Leary in prison.

Leary had been jailed for his experiments probing precisely this meeting point of science and spirituality through his experiments with psychedelics, the most famous of which he conducted at Harvard in the early 1960s together with his friend Aldous Huxley (July, 26 1894–November 22, 1963).

Long before his collaboration with Leary, thirty-something Huxley began exploring the complementarity of the scientific and the spiritual realms of existence not through psychedelics but through immensely poetic prose, nowhere more beautifully than in his 1931 essay collection Music at Night (public library) — the out-of-print treasure that gave us Huxley’s moving meditation on the transcendent power of music.

Aldous Huxley

In an essay titled “Meditation in Arundel Street,” Huxley beings by wresting from the geographic cohabitation of two disparate journals — a religious magazine and a periodical on the science of poultry raising — a metaphor for two radically different ways of looking at the same thing: the universe and our place in it. He writes:

A walk down Arundel Street in London remains, after all, the best introduction to philosophy. Keep your eyes to the left as you descend toward the river from the Strand. You will observe that the Christian World is published at number seven, and a few yards further down, at number nine, the Feathered World. By the time you have reached the Embarkment you will find yourself involved in the most abstruse metaphysical speculations.

The Christian World, the Feathered World — between them a great gulf is fixed… The values and even the truths current in the world of number seven Arundel Street cease to hold good in that of number nine.

Just a few years before the great biologist and writer Rachel Carson extended her pioneering invitation to imagine Earth from the perspective of other creatures, Huxley uses the contrast between these two worlds as the leaping point for illuminating what a tiny sliver of physical reality we perceive through the limited lens of the human mind and spirit. That lacuna between the physical world of science and the metaphysical world of art, he suggests, is where the human consciousness takes shape and takes flight:

The world of Christians and the world of the feathered are but two out of a swarm of humanly conceivable and humanly explorable worlds. They constellate the thinking mind like stars, and between them stretches the mental equivalent of interstellar space — unspanned. Between, for example, a human body and the whizzing electrons of which it is composed, and the thoughts, the feelings which direct its movements, there are, as yet at any rate, no visible connections. The gulf that separates the lover’s, say, or the musician’s world from the world of the chemist is deeper, more uncompromisingly unbridgeable than that which divides Anglo-Catholics from macaws or geese from Primitive Methodists. We cannot walk from one of these worlds into another; we can only jump. The last act of Don Giovanni is not deducible from electrons, or molecules, or even from cells and entire organs. In relation to these physical, chemical, and biological worlds it is simply a non sequitur. The whole of our universe is composed in a series of such non sequiturs. The only reason for supposing that there is in fact any connection between the logically and scientifically unrelated fragments of our experience is simply the fact that the experience is ours, that we have the fragments in our consciousness. These constellated worlds are…

Japanese Space Agency’s Mission Aims To Uncover How Moons Of Mars Formed

NASA/JPL/Handout via Reuters

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission to visit the two moons of Mars and return a rock sample to Earth. It’s a plan to uncover both the mystery of the moons’ creation and, perhaps, how life began in our Solar System.

The Solar System’s planets take their names from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Mars is the god of war, while the red planet’s two moons are named for the deity’s twin sons: Deimos (meaning panic) and Phobos (fear).

Unlike our own Moon, Phobos and Deimos are tiny. Phobos has an average diameter of 22.2km, while Deimos measures an even smaller 13km. Neither moon is on a stable orbit, with Deimos slowly moving away from Mars while Phobos will hit the Martian surface in around 20 million years.

The small size of the two satellites makes their gravity too weak to pull the moons in spheres. Instead, the pair have the irregular, lumpy structure of asteroids. This has led to a major question about their formation: were these moons formed from Mars or are they actually captured asteroids?

Our own Moon is thought to have formed when a Mars-sized object hit the early Earth. Material from the collision was flung into the Earth’s orbit to coalesce into our Moon.

A similar event could have produced Phobos and Deimos. The terrestrial planets were subjected to a rain of impacts during the final throes of Solar System formation.

Mars shows possible evidence of one such major impact, as the planet’s northern hemisphere is sunk an average of 5.5km lower than the southern terrain. Debris from this or other impacts could have given birth to the moons.

Alternatively, Phobos and Deimos could be asteroids that were scattered inwards from the asteroid belt by the looming gravitational influence of Jupiter. Snagged by Mars’s gravity, the planet could have stolen its two moons. This mechanism is how Neptune acquired its moon, Triton, which is thought to have once been a Kuiper belt object, like Pluto.

There are compelling arguments for both the #TeamImpact and #TeamCapture scenario.

The orbits of the two moons are circular and in the plane of Mars’s own rotation. While the chance of this happening during a capture event are extremely low, observations of the moons suggest they may have a composition similar to that of other asteroids.

Definite determination of the moons’ composition would act as a fingerprint to distinguish the two models. A collision event…

Read up on solar eclipses before this year’s big event

Solar Eclipse in 2012
SUN BLOCK A total solar eclipse (one shown from 2012) is one of nature’s most awesome spectacles. In advance of one that will sweep across the United States in August, publishers are releasing a spate of new solar eclipse books.

In August, the United States will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in nearly a century. Over the course of an hour and a half, the moon’s narrow shadow will slice across 12 states, from Oregon to South Carolina (SN: 8/20/16, p. 14). As many as 200 million people are expected to travel to spots where they can view the spectacle, in what could become one of the most watched eclipses in history. Excitement is building, hence the flurry of new books about the science, history and cultural significance of what is arguably one of Earth’s most awesome celestial phenomena.

Total solar eclipses happen when the moon passes in front of the sun as seen from Earth, and the moon blocks the entire face of the sun. This event also blocks sunlight that would otherwise scatter off the molecules in our atmosphere, reducing a source of glare and so allowing an unfettered view of the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. Total solar eclipses arise from a fluke of geometry that occurs nowhere else in the solar system, astronomer Anthony Aveni explains in In the Shadow of the Moon. Only Earth has a moon that appears, from the planet’s viewpoint, to fit so neatly over the sun — a consequence of the fact that the sun is a whopping 400 times as large as the moon but also 400 times farther away. Moons orbiting other planets are either too small to fully cover the sun’s face or are so large that they fully block any view of the corona.

In fact, the fluke of geometry is also a fluke of history: Because the moon’s orbit drifts about four centimeters farther from Earth each year, there will come a time when the moon will no longer appear to cover the sun, notes planetary scientist John Dvorak in Mask of the Sun. We already get a preview of that distant day: When the moon…

Eclipses come in many forms

In Summary: Eclipses aren’t just the solar eclipse you hear about. There are many aspects in which one natural spectacle covers another!

A solar eclipse is one of Nature’s most awesome spectacles. It occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun (as seen from Earth).

Amazing things happen in the heavens. In the hearts of distant galaxies, black holes swallow stars. Once every 20 years or so, on average, a star somewhere in our Milky Way galaxy explodes. For a few days, that supernova will outshine entire galaxies in our night sky. Near our solar system, things are thankfully quiet.

Nevertheless, awesome events happen in our neighborhood too.

Eclipse means to overshadow. And that’s exactly what happens during a solar or lunar eclipse. These celestial events take place when the sun, moon and Earth briefly make a straight (or very nearly straight) line in space. Then one of them will be fully or partially shrouded by another’s shadow. Similar events, called occultations and transits, occur when stars, planets, and moons line up in much the same way.

Scientists have a good handle on how planets and moons move through the sky. So these events are very predictable. If the weather cooperates, these events easily can be seen with the unaided eye or simple instruments. Eclipses and related phenomena are fun to watch. They also provide scientists with rare opportunities to make important observations. For instance, they can help to measure objects in our solar system and observe the sun’s atmosphere.

Solar eclipses

Our moon is, on average, about 3,476 kilometers (2,160 miles) in diameter. The sun is a whopping 400 times that diameter. But because the sun is also about 400 times further from Earth than the moon is, both the sun and moon appear to be about the same size. That means that at some points in its orbit, the moon can entirely block the sun’s light from reaching Earth. That’s known as a total solar eclipse.

This can happen only when there is a new moon, the phase that appears fully dark to us on Earth as it moves across the sky. This happens about once per month. Actually, the average time between new moons is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. Maybe you’re thinking: That’s an awfully precise number. But it’s that precision that let’s astronomers predict when an eclipse will occur, even many years ahead of time.

So why doesn’t a total solar eclipse occur each and every full moon? It has to do with the moon’s orbit. It is slightly tilted, compared to Earth’s. Most new moons trace a path through the sky that passes near to — but not over — the sun.

Sometimes the new moon eclipses only part of the sun.

The moon creates a cone-shaped shadow. The totally dark part of that cone is known as the umbra. And sometimes that umbra doesn’t quite reach Earth’s surface. In that case, people along the center of the path of that shadow don’t see a totally darkened sun. Instead, a ring of light surrounds the moon. This ring of light is called an annulus (AN-yu-luss). Scientists call these events annular eclipses.

annular eclipse
Ring-like annular eclipses (lower right) occur when the moon is too far from the Earth to completely block the sun. In the early phases of this eclipse (proceeding from upper left), it is possible to see sunspots on the face of the sun.

Not all people, of course, will be directly in the center path of an annular eclipse. Those in line with only a portion of the shadow, its antumbra, will see a partially lit moon. The antumbra is also shaped like a cone in space. The umbra and antumbra are lined up in space but point in opposite directions, and their tips meet at a single point.

Why won’t the umbra reach Earth every time there’s a solar eclipse? Again, it’s due to the moon’s orbit. Its path around Earth isn’t a perfect circle. It’s a somewhat squished circle, known as an ellipse. At the closest point in its orbit, the moon is about 362,600 kilometers (225,300 miles) from Earth. At its furthest, the moon is some 400,000 kilometers away. That difference is enough to make how big the moon looks from Earth vary. So, when the new moon passes in front of the sun and is also located in a distant part of its orbit, it’s won’t be quite big enough to completely block the sun.

These orbital variations also explain why some total solar eclipses last longer than others. When the moon is farther from Earth, the point of its shadow can create an eclipse lasting less than 1 second. But when the moon passes in front of the sun and is also at its closest to Earth, the moon’s shadow is up to 267 kilometers (166 miles) wide. In that case, the total eclipse, as seen from any one spot along the shadow’s path, lasts a little more than 7 minutes.

The moon is round, so its shadow creates a dark circle or oval on Earth’s surface. Where someone is within that shadow also affects how long their solar blackout lasts. People in the center of the shadow’s path get a longer eclipse than do people near the edge of the path.

Story continues below image.

shadow diagram
Partially lit portions of Earth’s shadow are known as the penumbra and antumbra. The cone-shaped umbra is completely dark. The shadows of all celestial objects, including the moon, are divided into similar regions.

Partial eclipses

People completely outside the path of the moon’s shadow, but within a few thousand kilometers on either side of it, can see what’s known as a partial solar eclipse. That’s because they’re within the partially lit portion of the moon’s shadow, the penumbra. For them, only a fraction of the sun’s light will be blocked.

Sometimes the umbra completely misses the Earth but the penumbra, which is wider, doesn’t. In these cases, no one on Earth sees a total eclipse. But people in a few regions can witness a partial one.

eclipse shadow
The moon’s shadow on Earth’s surface during a total solar eclipse, as seen from the International Space Station on March 29, 2006.

On rare occasions, a solar eclipse will start and end as an annular eclipse. But in the middle of the event, a total blackout occurs. These are known as hybrid eclipses. (The change from annular to total and then back to annular…

Eclipses come in many forms

solar eclipse
solar eclipse

A solar eclipse is one of Nature’s most awesome spectacles. It occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun (as seen from Earth).

Amazing things happen in the heavens. In the hearts of distant galaxies, black holes swallow stars. Once every 20 years or so, on average, a star somewhere in our Milky Way galaxy explodes. For a few days, that supernova will outshine entire galaxies in our night sky. Near our solar system, things are thankfully quiet.

Nevertheless, awesome events happen in our neighborhood too.

Eclipse means to overshadow. And that’s exactly what happens during a solar or lunar eclipse. These celestial events take place when the sun, moon and Earth briefly make a straight (or very nearly straight) line in space. Then one of them will be fully or partially shrouded by another’s shadow. Similar events, called occultations and transits, occur when stars, planets, and moons line up in much the same way.

Scientists have a good handle on how planets and moons move through the sky. So these events are very predictable. If the weather cooperates, these events easily can be seen with the unaided eye or simple instruments. Eclipses and related phenomena are fun to watch. They also provide scientists with rare opportunities to make important observations. For instance, they can help to measure objects in our solar system and observe the sun’s atmosphere.

Solar eclipses

Our moon is, on average, about 3,476 kilometers (2,160 miles) in diameter. The sun is a whopping 400 times that diameter. But because the sun is also about 400 times further from Earth than the moon is, both the sun and moon appear to be about the same size. That means that at some points in its orbit, the moon can entirely block the sun’s light from reaching Earth. That’s known as a total solar eclipse.

This can happen only when there is a new moon, the phase that appears fully dark to us on Earth as it moves across the sky. This happens about once per month. Actually, the average time between new moons is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. Maybe you’re thinking: That’s an awfully precise number. But it’s that precision that let’s astronomers predict when an eclipse will occur, even many years ahead of time.

So why doesn’t a total solar eclipse occur each and every full moon? It has to do with the moon’s orbit. It is slightly tilted, compared to Earth’s. Most new moons trace a path through the sky that passes near to — but not over — the sun.

Sometimes the new moon eclipses only part of the sun.

The moon creates a cone-shaped shadow. The totally dark part of that cone is known as the umbra. And sometimes that umbra doesn’t quite reach Earth’s surface. In that case, people along the center of the path of that shadow don’t see a totally darkened sun. Instead, a ring of light surrounds the moon. This ring of light is called an annulus (AN-yu-luss). Scientists call these events annular eclipses.

annular eclipse
Ring-like annular eclipses (lower right) occur when the moon is too far from the Earth to completely block the sun. In the early phases of this eclipse (proceeding from upper left), it is possible to see sunspots on the face of the sun.

Not all people, of course, will be directly in the center path of an annular eclipse. Those in line with only a portion of the shadow, its antumbra, will see a partially lit moon. The antumbra is also shaped like a cone in space. The umbra and antumbra are lined up in space but point in opposite directions, and their tips meet at a single point.

Why won’t the umbra reach Earth every time there’s a solar eclipse? Again, it’s due to the moon’s orbit. Its path around Earth isn’t a perfect circle. It’s a somewhat squished circle, known as an ellipse. At the closest point in its orbit, the moon is about 362,600 kilometers (225,300 miles) from Earth. At its furthest, the moon is some 400,000 kilometers away. That difference is enough to make how big the moon looks from Earth vary. So, when the new moon passes in front of the sun and is also located in a distant part of its orbit, it’s won’t be quite big enough to completely block the sun.

These orbital variations also explain why some total solar eclipses last longer than others. When the moon is farther from Earth, the point of its shadow can create an eclipse lasting less than 1 second. But when the moon passes in front of the sun and is also at its closest to Earth, the moon’s shadow is up to 267 kilometers (166 miles) wide. In that case, the total eclipse, as seen from any one spot along the shadow’s path, lasts a little more than 7 minutes.

The moon is round, so its shadow creates a dark circle or oval on Earth’s surface. Where someone is within that shadow also affects how long their solar blackout lasts. People in the center of the shadow’s path get a longer eclipse than do people near the edge of the path.

Story continues below image.

shadow diagram
Partially lit portions of Earth’s shadow are known as the penumbra and antumbra. The cone-shaped umbra is completely dark. The shadows of all celestial objects, including the moon, are divided into similar regions.

Partial eclipses

People completely outside the path of the moon’s shadow, but within a few thousand kilometers on either side of it, can see what’s known as a partial solar eclipse. That’s because they’re within the partially lit portion of the moon’s shadow, the penumbra. For them, only a fraction of the sun’s light will be blocked.

Sometimes the umbra completely misses the Earth but the penumbra, which is wider, doesn’t. In these cases, no one on Earth sees a total eclipse. But people in a few regions can witness a partial one.

eclipse shadow
The moon’s shadow on Earth’s surface during a total solar eclipse, as seen from the International Space Station on March 29, 2006.

On rare occasions, a solar eclipse will start and end as an annular eclipse. But in the middle of the event, a total blackout occurs. These are known as hybrid eclipses. (The change from annular to total and then back to annular…

Stamping the Moon’s Craters onto a Leather Notebook Cover

If you are looking for something to hold your small writing pad, there are plenty of options available. However, you will not find many that feature celestial objects, and even fewer that feature the actual moon itself. In fact, judging by Devin Montgomery’s post on Imgur, it would seem that his notebook (one that features actual map features of the moon), may be a one of a kind design.

When asked why he would use the surface of the moon as the inspiration for the cover of his book, Montgomery, the head of a custom leather fabrication shop called Fabnik, said, “I’ve always loved space and have been listening to a lot of science fiction lately. The surface of the moon seemed like it would be hard to do, but neat if it worked.”

Montgomery first checked Astropedia to find an image of his favorite moon landscape (he really loves space), a crater called Tycho. After getting this raw data, he then imported the image into Inkscape to convert everything into vectors. He said that creating the texture for the stamp was the most difficult part of the build, as it was hard to accurately portray craters (normally seen in grayscale) on stamped leather.

Montgomery decided on black vegetable-tanned…

On This Day in 1972, Apollo 16 Blasted Off

When the Lunar Module (LM) reached the moon, astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke spent just shy of 72 hours on the surface. They spent more than 20 hours on EVAs, driving the lunar rover, setting up surface experiments, and gathering samples. In one poignant moment, Duke left a photo of his family on the lunar surface. He also named several locations for them: “Cat Crater” was named for his sons Charles and Thomas…

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Small Saturn moon has most conditions needed to sustain life, NASA says. You’re about to hear a lot more about Enceladus.
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Happy Easter! Here…

How Earth got its moon

full moon
full moon

The story of our moon’s origin does not add up. Most scientists think that that the moon formed in the earliest days of our solar system. That would have been back around 4.5 billion years ago. At that time, some scientists suspect, a Mars-sized rocky object — what they call a protoplanet — smacked into the young Earth. This collision would have sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit. Some of the rubble eventually would have stuck together, creating our moon.

Or maybe not.

Astronomers refer to that protoplanet as Theia (THAY-ah). Named for the Greek goddess of sight, no one knows if this big rock ever existed — because if it did, it would have died in that violent collision with Earth.

moon Theia
Early Earth and a smaller protoplanet called Theia may have collided long ago, many scientists think. That would have hurled debris from both into space. In this simulation, red particles escaped the system, yellow formed the moon and blue fell to Earth.

And here’s why some astronomers have come to doubt Theia was real: If it smashed into Earth and helped form the moon, then the moon should look like a hybrid of Earth and Theia. Yet studies of lunar rocks show that the chemical composition of Earth and its moon are exactly the same. So that planet-on-planet impact story appears to have some holes in it.

That has prompted some researchers to look for other moon-forming scenarios. One proposal: A string of impacts created mini moons largely from Earth material. Over time, they might have merged to form one big moon.

“Multiple impacts just make more sense,” says Raluca Rufu. She’s a planetary scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “You don’t need this one special impactor to form the moon.”

But Theia shouldn’t be left on the cutting room floor — at least not yet. Earth and Theia could have been built largely from the same type of material, new research suggests. Then they would have had a similar chemical recipe. There is no sign of “other” material on the moon, this explanation argues, because nothing about Theia was different.

“I’m absolutely on the fence between these two opposing ideas,” says Edward Young. He studies cosmochemistry — the chemistry of the universe — at the University of California, Los Angeles. Determining which story is correct is going to take more research. But the answer could offer profound insights into the evolution of the early solar system, Young says.

Mother of the moon

Earth’s moon is an oddball. Most other moons in our solar system live way out among the gas giants, such as Saturn and Jupiter. The only other terrestrial planet with orbiting moons is Mars. Its moons, Phobos and Deimos, are small. The leading explanation for them is that likely were once asteroids. At some point, they were captured by the Red Planet’s gravity. Earth’s moon is too big for that scenario. If the moon had come in from elsewhere, it probably would have crashed into Earth or escaped and fled into space.

An alternate explanation dates from the 1800s. It suggests that moon-forming material flew off of a fast-spinning young Earth. (Imagine children tossed from an out-of-control merry-go-round.) That idea fell out of favor, though, when scientists calculated the spin speeds required. They were impossibly fast.

In the mid-1970s, planetary scientists proposed the giant-impact hypothesis. (Later, in 2000, they named that mysterious planet-sized body as Theia.) The notion of a big rocky collision made sense. After all, the early solar system was like a game of cosmic billiards. Giant space-rock smash-ups were common.

But a 2001 study of rocks collected during NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon cast doubt on the giant-impact hypothesis. Research showed that Earth and its moon were surprisingly alike. To figure out a rock’s origin, scientists measure the relative abundance of different forms of oxygen. Called isotopes (EYE-so-toaps), they are forms of an element with different masses. (The reason they differ: Although each has the same number of protons in its nuclei, they have different numbers of neutrons.)

Story continues below graph.

isotope moon
The mix of oxygen isotopes inside moon material and meteorites called enstatite chondrites (shaded yellow) is surprisingly similar to that of Earth rocks (blue line). Other solar system materials are largely composed of different isotopic mixes.

Scientists can use amounts of various isotopes as something like fingerprints at a crime scene. Rocks from Earth and its moon, the scientists found, had seemingly identical mixes of oxygen isotopes. That didn’t make sense if much of the moon’s material came from Theia, not Earth. Rufu and her colleagues modeled the impact on a computer. From that they calculated the chance of a Theia collision yielding a moon with an Earthlike composition. And it was very slim.

Studies have been done of other elements in moon rocks, such as titanium and zirconium. They, too, suggest that Earth and its moon…