Some of the Moon’s Craters are so Dark, it Takes AI to see What’s Inside Them

There is no dark side of the Moon.  But there are dark spots on it – specifically at the bottom of craters that are never reached by any sunlight no matter where the Moon is facing.  These areas have intrigued scientists for decades, in no small part because lack of sunlight means a lower temperature, allowing frozen materials to stay frozen. In other words, there may be water in them thar craters.  And water will be the lifeblood of any future permanent crewed lunar mission.  

Unfortunately, lack of sunlight also means it’s challenging to see what’s at the bottom of those craters.  The closest scientists have come was when LCROSS, a NASA moon mission, fired a projectile into the crater Cabeus and analyzed the resultant dust cloud, which contained a relatively high amount of water.  But so far, no one has been able to image what water is in those craters directly.

Continue reading “Some of the Moon’s Craters are so Dark, it Takes AI to see What’s Inside Them”

The Early Solar System was Messier and More Violent Than Previously Believed

Our conventional models of planet formation may have to be updated, according to a pair of new papers.

Accretion is the keyword in current planet formation theory. The idea is that the planets formed out of the solar nebula, the material left over after the Sun formed. They did this through accretion, where small particles accumulate into more massive objects. These massive boulder-sized objects, called planetesimals, continued to merge together into larger entities, sometimes through collisions. Eventually, through repeated mergers and collisions, the inner Solar System was populated by four rocky planets.

But the new research suggests that the collisions played out much differently than thought and that objects collided with each other several times, in a series of hit and runs, before merging. This research fills some stubborn holes in our current understanding.

Continue reading “The Early Solar System was Messier and More Violent Than Previously Believed”

Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water

NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Space agencies around the world have their sights set on our rocky satellite. No matter who gets there, if they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ resources.

Oxygen and water are at the top of a list of resources that astronauts will need on the Moon. A team of engineers and scientists are figuring out how to cook Moon rocks and get vital oxygen and water from them. They presented their results at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.

Continue reading “Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water”

Chang’e-5 Returned an Exotic Collection of Moon Rocks

Scientists have begun studying the samples returned from the Moon by China’s Chang’e-5 mission in December 2020, and a group of researchers presented their first findings at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) last week.

“The Chang’e-5 samples are very diverse, and includes both local and exotic materials, including some glutenates [sharp, jagged lunar particles], silicas, salts, volcanic glasses, and impact glasses, along with different minerals and different rock types,” said Yuqi Qian, a PhD student at the China University of Geosciences, during his presentation at the EPSC virtual meeting.

Continue reading “Chang’e-5 Returned an Exotic Collection of Moon Rocks”

NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole

NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going.

Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape by the end of the decade.

“Once it’s on the surface, it will search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface that could one day be used and harvested for long-term human exploration of the moon,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a teleconference.

Continue reading “NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole”

The Moon was Pummeled Even Harder by Asteroids Than it Looks

The Moon’s pitted surface tells a tale of repeated impacts over a long period of time. While Earth’s active geology erases most evidence of impacts, the Moon has no mechanism that can do the same. So there it sits, stark evidence of an impact-rich past.

The visible record of lunar cratering is used to understand Earth’s formation and history since periods of frequent impacts would affect both bodies similarly. But something’s wrong in our understanding of the Moon’s history. Impact crater dating, asteroid dynamics, lunar samples, impact basin-forming simulations, and lunar evolution modelling all suggest there’s some missing evidence from the Moon’s earliest impacts.

New research says that there were even more large, basin-forming impacts than we think. Scientists think that some of those impacts left crater imprints that are nearly invisible.

Continue reading “The Moon was Pummeled Even Harder by Asteroids Than it Looks”

A New Way to Search for Exomoons

We’d love to find another planet like Earth. Not exactly like Earth; that’s kind of ridiculous and probably a little more science fiction than science. But what if we could find one similar enough to Earth to make us wonder?

How could we find it? We progress from one planet-finding mission to the next, compiling a list of planets that may be “Earth-like” or “potentially habitable.” Soon, we’ll have the James Webb Space Telescope and its ability to study exoplanet atmospheres for signs of life and habitability.

But one new study is focusing on exomoons and the role they play in a planet’s habitability. If we find a Moon-like exomoon in a stable orbit around its planet, could it be evidence that the planet itself is more Earth-like? Maybe, but we’re not there yet.

Continue reading “A New Way to Search for Exomoons”

This is a 3D-Printed Steel Floor Prototype for a Lunar Habitat

In this decade, multiple space agencies and commercial space entities will be taking us back to the Moon. But unlike the Apollo Era, the goal of these programs is not “footprints and flags,” but to establish the necessary infrastructure to keep going back. In particular, NASA, the ESA, Roscosmos, and China are all planning on establishing outposts that will allow for scientific research and a sustained human presence.

The ESA is currently showcasing what its outpost will look like at the 17th annual Architecture Exhibition at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice. It’s known as the International Moon Village, which was designed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) with technical support from the ESA. This same company recently unveiled a prototype of the skeletal metal component that will one day be part of the Village’s lunar habitats.

Continue reading “This is a 3D-Printed Steel Floor Prototype for a Lunar Habitat”

NASA is Going Ahead With a Hopping Lander to Explore the Lunar Surface

Methods of movement for robotic explorers of other worlds have been as varied as the worlds themselves. Some missions have been simple landers, some rovers, and now there’s even been a helicopter flight on Mars.  But there is an unexplored hybrid mode of movement that will soon be coming to a Moon near you – hopping.  NASA just granted an additional $41.6 million to support development of a hopping lunar lander that will explore the inside of craters that are permanently in shadow.

Continue reading “NASA is Going Ahead With a Hopping Lander to Explore the Lunar Surface”