Posts Tagged ‘Moon

Build a supercomputer on the moon

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(Image: Caspar Benson/Getty Images)

Hal Hodson
NASA currently controls its deep space missions through a network of huge satellite dishes in California, Spain and Australia known as the Deep Space Network (DSN). Even the Voyager 1 probe relies on these channels to beam data back to Earth as it careers away into space.

But traffic on the network is growing fast, at a rate that the current set-up can’t handle. Two new dishes are being built in Australia at the moment to cope with the extra data, but a researcher from University of Southern California has proposed a slightly more radical solution to the problem.

In a presentation to the AIAA Space conference in Pasadena, California, last Thursday, Ouliang Chang suggested that one way to ease the strain would be to build a supercomputer and accompanying radio dishes on the moon. This lunar supercomputer would not only ease the load on terrestrial mission control infrastructure, it would also provide computational power for the “first phase of lunar industrial and settlement development”.

Chang suggests that a lunar supercomputer ought to be built on the far side of the moon, set in a deep crater near a pole. This would protect it somewhat from the moon’s extreme temperature swings, and might let it tap polar water ice for cooling.

As well as boosting humanity’s space-borne communication abilities, the USC presentation also suggests that the moon-based dishes could work in unison with those on Earth to perform very-long-baseline interferometry, which allows multiple telescopes to be combined to emulate one huge telescope.

The challenge of building anything on the moon is clearly high,but the rise of modular data centres may make the IT side of things a little easier. Companies like HP and IBM now build blocks of data centre which can be plugged together on location to provide computing power. Shipping these to the moon would likely be easier than assembling an entire supercomputer on site.

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Written by physicsgg

September 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm


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LRO Spectrometer Detects Helium in Moon’s Atmosphere

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Artist’s rendering of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

Scientists using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) spectrometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the tenuous atmosphere surrounding the moon….
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Written by physicsgg

August 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

New NASA photos reveal American flags…

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…planted during moon landings proudly yet wave FOUR DECADES after last Apollo mission

Four decades after the last astronauts landed on the moon and planted an American flag in lunar soil, scientists wondered: ‘Does that star spangled banner yet wave?’
Finally new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) have given proof in the night, that the flags are, indeed, still there.
All but one of the six flags left by American astronauts remain standing, according to an analysis of the shadows they cast on the surface of the moon.

Still there: The flag planted by Apollo 17 astronauts in December 1972 — the last manned mission to the moon — is seen here in this image taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera

Planted: Astronauts in each of the six Apollo moon landings planted American flags in lunar soil. The Apollo 15 mission in 1971 is seen here

During each of the six American moon landings, astronauts left American flags behind as symbols of their nation’s scientific and engineering achievement.
The first was the monumental July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landing — in which Neil Armstrong declared on live television, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
The final mission was Apollo 17 on December 14, 1972.
Scientists used new, detailed images from NASA’s lunar camera to determine that the flags were casting shadows that circled them as the moon moved in its normal orbit — proving that they were still standing on their poles.
‘From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11,’ Mark Robinson, an investigator with the lunar satellite program, wrote on Friday.

This is the flag planted by the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972

‘Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!’
The American missions to the moon remain the only manned flights to touch down on a heavenly body.
Dr Robinson wrote that one of the most common questions he and his team have received since the launch of the lunar orbiter in 2009.
‘Personally I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did,’ he wrote.
‘What they look like is another question (badly faded?).’
The conditions on the surface of the moon are harsh. Temperatures swing between 250 and -280 degrees Fahrenheit
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Written by physicsgg

July 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

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Partial lunar eclipse 4 June

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A map of the Earth showing the regions of eclipse visibility. Graphic: Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC

The transit of Venus is not the only event taking place this month; a partial lunar eclipse takes place on 4 June (UT) and although it lacks the beauty of a copper-coloured moon at a total eclipse, there is still a very real fascination to be had from seeing a large chuck ‘bitten out’ of the Moon. As with all eclipses, only certain parts of the world are favoured to lesser or greater degrees, with large parts of the Earth missing out completely. Look out for it in much of the Americas, the Pacific, East Asia and Australia. The Earth’s umbral (the central, darker part) shadow will reach 38 percent into the lunar disc at 11.03 UT, plunging much of the Moon’s southern hemisphere into darkness. Before the main partial eclipse, the Moon enters the Earth penumbral shadow (the outer, much dimmer part), but the effect is very subtle.

Sky gazers on the Hawaiian Islands will be amongst the first to see the eclipse and all of it too, with the penumbral shadow making its subtle presence felt on 3 June at 10.48pm local time in Honolulu. The Moon will be 40 degrees up already, so from dark sites and, hopefully a transparent sky, something will be seen. The main event starts at midnight with mid partial eclipse at 1.04am. By just after 2am the Moon moves out of the umbral shadow and the whole thing ends at 3.18am…
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Written by physicsgg

June 3, 2012 at 8:59 pm


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Soviet Moon Lander Discovered Water on The Moon in 1976

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The last Soviet mission to the moon, Luna-24, returned to Earth with water-rich rocks from beneath the lunar surface. But the West ignored the result

The possibility of water on the moon has excited scientists and science fiction fans for decades. If we ever decide to maintain a human presence on the moon, clear evidence of water will be an important factor in the decision. 

In recent years, that evidence has begun to mount. The data comes from several sources. First there was the pioneering Clementine mission in 1994, America’s first return to the moon in twenty years. 

Clementine looked for water by bouncing radio waves off the surface–the returns giving a strong indication that water ice must lie beneath the surface. 

Then there was the Lunar Prospector which found a signature for water by measuring the amount of neutrons emitted from the surface  and which water ought to absorb).   

Then there was Galileo’s flyby of the moon on its way to Jupiter, which also found evidence and more recently, the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-I in 2009 which used an infrared camera to spot evidence of water in lunar rocks.   

All this has dramatically overturned the previous view that the moon was dry as a bone. 

But an interesting question is how this view came to be. After all, there is no shortage of moon rocks on Earth–the Apollo missions brought back some 300 kilograms of the stuff, so much that NASA has lost track of much of it.

Today, Arlin Crotts at Columbia University in New York city throws some fascinating light on this question in a series of three articles about water on the moon and how it got there. 

He points out that scientists believed that the Apollo samples were contaminated after their return to Earth.Apparently, the containers used to carry them could not be tightly closed because lunar dust clogged their seals. So any water found in these rocks was thought to have originated here.

What’s more, the Apollo missions confirmed beyond doubt that the river-like channels that earlier spacecraft had seen on the lunar surface were made by flowing lava rather than water. So the prevailing view was that there was that the moon was dry. 

However, the Soviets had other ideas. Crotts has unearthed evidence that the Soviets found good evidence of water in moon rocks in the 1970s. 

One of the least known missions is the Soviet  Luna-24 sample-return mission which landed on the lunar surface in August 1976. This drilled some 2 metres into the lunar surface, extracted 300 grammes of rock and then returned to Earth. An impressive feat by any standards but one that has been largely forgotten in the west.

A Soviet team analysed the sample and found unambiguous signs of water in the rock–they reported that water made up 0.1 per cent of the sample’s mass. In 1978, they published the result in the Russian journal Geokhimiia. This journal also has an in English language version but it was not widely read in the West. 

Crott says that today the work has been almost entirely forgotten. “No other author has ever cited the Luna 24 work,” he says.

Curiously, various scientists including the Nobel prize winning chemist Harold Urey, had predicted since the 1950s that water ice and other volatiles ought to be found in craters at the lunar poles, which are permanently in shadow. 

Crott goes on to detail a number of other fascinating efforts to find water on the moon, including the famous impact experiment in which NASA slammed an empty rocket stage into one of these shadowy craters to see what the ejecta plume would look like. Sure enough, it contained plenty of water but lots of other stuff too including almost as much carbon monoxide as water.  

Today, the idea of a dry moon has been completely overturned. “As recently as 2006 the settled value for the lunar bulk water content was below 1 part per billion. Most values now discussed well exceed 1 part per million,” says Crotts

That’s a remarkable turnaround but one that might have come a little sooner had the Soviet result been taken a little more seriously.

Water on The Moon, I. Historical Overview

Water on The Moon, II. Origins & Resources

Water on The Moon, III. Volatiles & Activity

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Written by physicsgg

May 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

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Cosmic rays alter chemistry of lunar ice

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Artist's illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. CRaTER is the instrument center-mounted at the bottom of LRO. Illustration by Chris Meaney/NASA.

Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire and multi-institutional colleagues report they have quantified levels of radiation on the moon’s surface from galactic cosmic ray (GCR) bombardment that over time causes chemical changes in water ice and can create complex carbon chains similar to those that help form the foundations of biological structures. In addition, the radiation process causes the lunar soil, or regolith, to darken over time, which is important in understanding the geologic history of the moon….
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Written by physicsgg

March 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm


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NASA Spacecraft Reveals Recent Geological Activity on the Moon

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This shows the largest of the newly detected graben found in highlands of the lunar farside. The broadest graben is about 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide and topography derived from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) stereo images indicates they are almost 20 meters (almost 66 feet) deep. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University/Smithsonian Institution)

New images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft show the moon’s crust is being stretched, forming minute valleys in a few small areas on the lunar surface. Scientists propose this geologic activity occurred less than 50 million years ago, which is considered recent compared to the moon’s age of more than 4.5 billion years.

A team of researchers analyzing high-resolution images obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) show small, narrow trenches typically much longer than they are wide. This indicates the lunar crust is being pulled apart at these locations. These linear valleys, known as graben, form when the moon’s crust stretches, breaks and drops down along two bounding faults. A handful of these graben systems have been found across the lunar surface.

“We think the moon is in a general state of global contraction because of cooling of a still hot interior,” said Thomas Watters of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and lead author of a paper on this research appearing in the March issue of the journal Nature Geoscience. “The graben tell us forces acting to shrink the moon were overcome in places by forces acting to pull it apart. This means the contractional forces shrinking the moon cannot be large, or the small graben might never form.”

The weak contraction suggests that the moon, unlike the terrestrial planets, did not completely melt in the very early stages of its evolution. Rather, observations support an alternative view that only the moon’s exterior initially melted forming an ocean of molten rock.

In August 2010, the team used LROC images to identify physical signs of contraction on the lunar surface, in the form of lobe-shaped cliffs known as lobate scarps. The scarps are evidence the moon shrank globally in the geologically recent past and might still be shrinking today. The team saw these scarps widely distributed across the moon and concluded it was shrinking as the interior slowly cooled.

Based on the size of the scarps, it is estimated that the distance between the moon’s center and its surface shrank by approximately 300 feet. The graben were an unexpected discovery and the images provide contradictory evidence that the regions of the lunar crust are also being pulled apart.

“This pulling apart tells us the moon is still active,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “LRO gives us a detailed look at that process.”

As the LRO mission progresses and coverage increases, scientists will have a better picture of how common these young graben are and what other types of tectonic features are nearby. The graben systems the team finds may help scientists refine the state of stress in the lunar crust.

“It was a big surprise when I spotted graben in the far side highlands,” said co-author Mark Robinson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, principal investigator of LROC. “I immediately targeted the area for high-resolution stereo images so we could create a three-dimensional view of the graben. It’s exciting when you discover something totally unexpected and only about half the lunar surface has been imaged in high resolution. There is much more of the moon to be explored.”

The research was funded by the LRO mission, currently under NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. LRO is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.


Written by physicsgg

February 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm

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Space Base on the Far Side of the Moon….

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… A Possibility

Rendition showing a Orion MPCV relaying data from Earth to a robot on the far side of the Moon Image credits: Lockheed Martin

A group of scientists at NASA is strongly considering the possibility of constructing what they refer to as a waypoint tended by humans on the far side of the Moon. This structure would serve as a relay and resupply base for space missions probing deeper within the solar system.
Top NASA officials say that the construction of such an installation would allow robotic spacecraft to go farther and faster than ever before, while at the same time resupply outgoing vehicles. Furthermore, the structure would provide a base of operations for robots being deployed on the far side of the Moon.
The fact that radio contact cannot be established with spacecraft located on the other side of Earth’s natural satellite is very well known. However, a flying base located behind the Moon could easily pick up signals from Mission Control, and then retransmit them to their respective targets.
Constructing such an advanced machine would require international participation and cooperation, as well as the involvement of numerous universities and research centers around the world. The memo proposing this plan was circulated on February 3.

It was compiled by the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Directorate’s Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier. He says that the large spacecraft may be located on the Earth-Moon Lagrangian point 2 (L2), Space reports.

There are five Lagrangian points scattered around each celestial body’s orbit. They are basically spots where the gravitational pulls of large, nearby cosmic objects roughly balance each other out, allowing a spacecraft to literally park at that location.

These spots are excellent for astronomical observations, which is why they are currently used by nearly all major space telescopes. The L2 point allows a satellite to remain in the same relative position with respect to the Sun-Moon-Earth system.

The NASA memo calls for the use of the newly proposed Space Launch System (SLS), as the main delivery system and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) as the manned spacecraft.

This capability-driven architecture could be used to successfully construct a flying base at L2, on the far side of the Moon. A full study meant to analyze the challenges facing the endeavor is scheduled to be completed on March 30, 2012.
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February 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm

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