Category: Science

Beresheet Impact Site Spotted

NASA – Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

May 15, 2019

Image above: Beresheet impact site as seen by LROC 11 days after the attempted landing. Date in lower left indicates when the image was taken. Image Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

The photo above shows the landing site of the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft on a region of the Moon called Sea of Serenity, or Mare Serenitatis in Latin. On April 11, 2019,

SpaceIL, a non-profit organization, attempted to land its spacecraft in this ancient volcanic field on the nearside of the Moon. After a smooth initial descent, Beresheet made a hard landing on the surface.

As soon as its orbit placed NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) over the landing site on April 22, 2019, LRO imaged Beresheet’s impact site. The LRO Camera (LROC) consists of three imagers: a seven-color Wide Angle Camera (WAC) and two black-and-white Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC) mounted on the LRO, which has been studying the Moon from orbit for a decade. NAC captured the Beresheet impact photo.

Image above: Left: Beresheet impact site. Right: An image processed to highlight changes near the landing site among photos taken before and after the landing, revealing a white impact halo. Other craters are visible in the right image because there is a slight change in lighting conditions among the before and after images. Scale bar is 100 meters. North is up. Both panels are 490 meters wide. Image Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

LROC took this image from 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface. The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact. The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.

From so far away, LROC could not detect whether Beresheet formed a surface crater upon impact. It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos. Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).

The light halo around the smudge could have formed from gas associated with the impact or from fine soil particles blown outward during Beresheet’s descent, which smoothed out the soil around the landing site, making it highly reflective.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Image Credit: NASA

There are many clues that we’re actually looking at a man-made crater instead of a meteoroid-caused one. This is an important consideration, since the Moon, having no atmosphere, is constantly bombarded by space rocks that leave craters.

Most importantly, we knew the coordinates of the landing site within a few miles thanks to radio tracking of Beresheet, and we have 11 “before” images of the area, spanning a decade, and three “after” images. In all of these images, including one taken 16 days before the landing, we saw only one new feature of the size Beresheet would have created.

Existing mathematical models helped us estimate the size and shape of the crater that would have formed if an object of Beresheet’s mass and velocity struck the surface. We also referenced craters created by similar-size spacecraft (GRAIL, LADEE, Ranger) that have struck the Moon at about the same speed, and we saw that the white tail stretching from the landing halo towards the south is a shape that’s consistent with Beresheet’s southward descent trajectory and angle of approach.

Animation above: Before and after comparison of the landing site. Date in lower left indicates when the image was taken. It appears the spacecraft landed from the north on the rim of a small crater, about a few meters wide, leaving a dark “smudge” on Mare Serenitatis that’s elongated towards the south. Animation Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

For the before image above, we used a photo from December 16, 2016.  This is because the lighting conditions that day, based on the angle at which the Sun would have illuminated the Moon at that particular time in its orbit, were the most similar to the April 22 image. Because LRO was beyond the horizon during Beresheet’s descent and landing, it couldn’t capture a photo until its orbit brought it nearby 11 days later. LRO passes over the lunar poles with each revolution. Meanwhile, the Moon rotates on its axis below the spacecraft, allowing LRO to pass over every part of the Moon twice a month (once during lunar night and once during lunar day). LROC may take more images of the landing site when it passes the same area again on May 19.

Efforts are ongoing to bounce laser pulses from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, also on board LRO, to measure the return from the Laser Retroreflector Array of small corner cube mirrors. This instrument was provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and was installed on the top deck of the Beresheet spacecraft. Attempts are ongoing to examine if the retroreflector may have survived the impact.

Related links:


Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

LRO Camera (LROC):




Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff.

Full article

Arms on Putin’s agenda before Pompeo meeting

Moscow (AFP) May 13, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit a top military flight test centre and inspect new weaponry on Tuesday, hours before he meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Kremlin said.

Pompeo will visit Putin in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi for the highest-level talks between Moscow and Washington in nearly a year.

Ahead of the negotiations Putin will visit one of Ru
Full article

NASA’s MRO Completes 60,000 Trips Around Mars

Pasadena CA (JPL) May 16, 2019

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter hit a dizzying milestone this morning: It completed 60,000 loops around the Red Planet at 10:39 a.m. PDT (1:39 p.m. EDT). On average, MRO takes 112 minutes to circle Mars, whipping around at about 2 miles per second (3.4 kilometers per second).

Since entering orbit on March 10, 2006, the spacecraft has been collecting daily science about the planet’s surf
Full article

UH satellite chosen for NASA space mission

Honolulu HI (SPX) May 16, 2019

A satellite designed and developed by researchers and engineers at the University of Hawai’i (UH) at Manoa is among 16 small research satellites from 10 states that NASA has selected to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard space missions planned to launch in the next three years.

In August 2018, the Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) in the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Eart
Full article

Immune System and Microbiology Studies as Spac…

ISS – Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 15, 2019

The Expedition 59 crew spent the day exploring what happens to the immune system when exposed to the microgravity environment. The space residents are also gearing up for another spacewalk at the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain were back inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module today studying how a rodent’s immune system changes in space. Canadian Space Agency David Saint-Jacques partnered up with the duo during the research activities throughout Wednesday. The Rodent Research-12 study is helping doctors understand how weightlessness changes an astronaut’s immune system, which is similar to mice.

Image above: Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko inspects the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft during a spacewalk on Dec. 11, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Nick Hague worked solo during the morning exploring the benefits and risks of microorganisms living in a spacecraft. Hague first photographed samples of microalgae that may supplement the diet of future astronauts going to the Moon and beyond. Next, the NASA astronaut continued investigating why pathogens become more virulent in space posing a flight risk to astronauts.

Image above: Sunset over Brazil, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27’601 Km/h, altitude: 409,32 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam’s from ISS on May 15, 2019 at 22:33 UTC.

Hague also joined Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin during the afternoon helping the cosmonauts with spacewalk preparations. The trio gathered and inspected tethers, tools and a variety of other gear in advance of the Russian spacewalk planned for May 29. The cosmonauts are scheduled to work outside the station’s Russian segment for six hours collecting experiments, cleaning windows and sampling module surfaces.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Rodent Research-12:



Moon and beyond:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,
Full article

How Venus and Mars can teach us about Earth

Paris (ESA) May 14, 2019

One has a thick poisonous atmosphere, one has hardly any atmosphere at all, and one is just right for life to flourish – but it wasn’t always that way. The atmospheres of our two neighbours Venus and Mars can teach us a lot about the past and future scenarios for our own planet.

Rewind 4.6 billion years from the present day to the planetary construction yard, and we see that all the planet
Full article

Tug-of-war drives magnetic north sprint

ESA – SWARM Mission logo.

15 May 2019

As far as we know, Earth’s magnetic north has always wandered, but it has recently gained new momentum and is making a dash towards Siberia at a pace not seen before. While this has some practical implications, scientists believe that this sprint is being caused by tussling magnetic blobs deep below our feet.

Unlike our geographic North Pole, which is in a fixed location, magnetic north wanders. This has been known since it was first measured in 1831, and subsequently mapped drifting slowly from the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia.

Magnetic North Pole 1840–2019

One of the practical consequences of this is that the World Magnetic Model has to be updated periodically with the pole’s current location. The model is vital for many navigation systems used by ships, Google maps and smartphones, for example.

One of the many areas of research using information from Swarm focuses on explaining why the pole has picked up such a pace – and a subject being discussed at this week’s Living Planet Symposium.

Between 1990 and 2005 magnetic north accelerated from its historic speed of 0–15 km a year, to its present speed of 50–60 km a year. In late October 2017, it crossed the international date line, passing within 390 km of the geographic pole, and is now heading south.

In fact, recently, the World Magnetic Model had to be updated urgently because of the speed at which the pole is moving.

Space compasses

ESA’s Swarm mission is not only being used to keep track of magnetic north, but scientists are using its data to measure and untangle the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Our magnetic field exists because of an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core. Like a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, this moving iron creates electrical currents, which in turn generate our continuously changing magnetic field.

Tracking changes in the magnetic field can, therefore, tell researchers how the iron in the core moves.

Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds in the UK, said, “Several theories have been proposed to explain this behaviour but, since they rely upon changes in the small-scale magnetic field, they cannot explain the recent trajectory of the pole.

“Using data collected over two decades by satellites, including ESA’s Swarm trio, we can see that the position of the north magnetic pole is determined largely by a balance, or tug-of-war, between two large lobes of negative magnetic flux at the boundary between Earth’s core and mantle under Canada and Siberia.”

Magnetic north on the move

Research is showing that changes in the pattern of core flow between 1970 and 1999 elongated the Canadian lobe, significantly weakening its signature on Earth’s surface, causing the pole to accelerate towards Siberia.

Simple models taking account of this process and describing future geomagnetic change predict that over the next decade the north magnetic pole will continue on its current trajectory and will travel a further 390–660 km towards Siberia.


We are changing our natural world faster than at any other time in history. Understanding the intricacies of how Earth works as a system and the impact that human activity is having on natural processes are huge environmental challenges. Satellites are vital for taking the pulse of our planet, delivering the information we need to understand and monitor our precious world, and for making decisions to safeguard our future. Earth observation data is also key to a myriad of practical applications to improve everyday life and to boost economies. This week we focus on the world’s biggest conference on Earth observation where thousands of scientists and data users discuss the latest results and look to the future of Earth observation.

Related links:

Living Planet Symposium:

DTU Space:

University of Leeds – School of Earth and Environment:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG Medialab/DTU Space/geoGraphics.

Full article

Jonny Kim: NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Class v…

Jonny Kim: NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Class via NASA

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May …

ISS – Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 14, 2019

The six crew members currently aboard the International Space Station received a new batch of science experiments on SpaceX CRS 17 last week. The Dragon’s arrival on Monday, May 6, also brought to six the number of spacecraft docked to the orbiting lab.

Space to Ground: Reservations for Seven: 05/10/2019

Here are details on some of the scientific investigations that the Expedition 59 astronauts and cosmonauts conducted the week of May 6:

Helping astronauts see clearly in space

The crew collected measurements using the Lower Body Negative Pressure or Chibis suit for the Fluid Shifts investigation. This joint NASA-ROSCOSMOS investigation measures the amount of fluid that shifts in the body in space and determines the effect on vision and the eye. More than half of American astronauts experience changes in vision and the structure of their eyes during and after long-duration space flight. Scientists suspect that a shift of fluid into the head that occurs during space flight increases pressure in the brain and pushes on the back of the eye, changing its shape. Results from this study may help investigators develop measures to prevent lasting changes in vision and eye damage.

Improving the space food menu

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch waits for personal-size pizzas cooking in the space station’s galley. The Food Acceptability investigation works to improve the food system in space to support crew health and performance. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew completed questionnaires for the Food Acceptability investigation during the week. Food acceptability refers to whether crew members like and actually eat a food, which may directly affect their caloric intake and nutrition. “Menu fatigue” from consuming the limited foods repeatedly available in a closed system could lead to decreased acceptability and even aversion to some foods. That fatigue may in turn contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases. Results from this investigation may help improve the food system, supporting crew health and performance on long missions.

Welcoming mice to their space home

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The JAXA Mouse Mission analyzes changes in gene expression in several organs as well as how those changes affect development of germ cells in mice exposed to the space environment long-term (more than 30 days). It also serves as verification of the Habitat Unit designed to take mice to and from the space station for scientific investigations. Results could provide fundamental information about how prolonged exposure to space affects humans. The crew completed preparations of the hardware for the investigation and transferred mice into their new habitat.

Antioxidants from algae

Image above: Culture bags for the MicroAlgae investigation activated on the space station. MicroAlgae studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, a tiny, freshwater algae capable of producing astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant. Image Credit: NASA.

MicroAlgae studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, a tiny freshwater algae capable of producing astaxanthin. This powerful antioxidant could provide a readily available dietary supplement to help prevent effects of radiation exposure, eye damage caused by bodily fluid pressure changes, cardiovascular system damage, and bone loss on long space exploration missions. The crew deployed culture bags to begin the investigation.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

– Rodent Research-12 (RR-12) examines the effects of spaceflight on the function of antibody production and immune memory using a mouse model:

– Nano Antioxidants studies cellular stimulation approaches to counteract the negative effects of long-term microgravity exposure on the musculoskeletal system. This work may contribute to therapies for musculoskeletal issues in the elderly and people with muscle atrophy disorders:

– MVP Cell-01 studies a disease called Post-traumatic Osteoarthritis, in which a traumatic joint injury may lead to arthritis after loss of cartilage and bone:

– Actiwatch, a sleep-wake monitor worn by crew members, analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity:

Animation above: Kidney Cells investigation activities underway in the Life Sciences Glovebox. Image Credit: NASA.

– Kidney Cells examines how microgravity and other factors of space travel, including water conservation and recycling and altered dietary intake, affect kidney health:

– STaRS Bioscience-3 studies alterations in vascular cells seen in crew members upon return from spaceflight, with the goal of figuring out the mechanism of vascular cell damage in the space environment:

– VeggiePONDS uses a newly developed passive nutrient delivery system and the Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and greens on the space station for on-orbit consumption and analysis on Earth:

Image above: Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques working with the Microgravity Science Glovebox inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module on Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules (SUBSA), a study exploring how to produce high-quality semi-conductor crystals in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Fluid Shifts:

Food Acceptability:

JAXA Mouse Mission:


Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 59/60.

Best regards,
Full article

Study Finds New Wrinkles on Earth’s Moon

NASA – Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

May 14, 2019

Image above: New surface features of the Moon have been discovered in a region called Mare Frigoris, outlined here in teal. This image is a mosaic composed of many images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Image Credit: NASA.

Billions of years ago, Earth’s Moon formed vast basins called “mare” (pronounced MAR-ay). Scientists have long assumed these basins were dead, still places where the last geologic activity occurred long before dinosaurs roamed Earth.

But a survey of more than 12,000 images reveals that at least one lunar mare has been cracking and shifting as much as other parts of the Moon — and may even be doing so today. The study adds to a growing understanding that the Moon is an actively changing world.

Image above: Scientists have discovered these wrinkle ridges in a region of the Moon called Mare Frigoris. These ridges add to evidence that the Moon has an actively changing surface. This image was taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Image Credit: NASA.

Taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), the images reveal “wrinkle ridges” — curved hills and shallow trenches created by a lunar surface that is contracting as the Moon loses heat and shrinks. The features are described in a study published in Icarus on March 7, 2019, and led by Nathan Williams, a post-doctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Previous research has found similar surface features in the Moon’s highlands, but wrinkle ridges have never been seen in basins before now. For this study, Williams and his co-authors focused on a region near the Moon’s north pole called Mare Frigoris, or the Cold Sea.

The study estimates that some of the ridges emerged in the last billion years, while others may be no older than 40 million years old. That’s relatively fresh in geologic terms; previous studies have estimated these basins all stopped contracting about 1.2 billion years ago.

Image above: This image of lobate scarps — a kind of curved hill — was taken near a region of the Moon called Mare Frigoris by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Image Credit: NASA.

Both Earth and its Moon experience what’s known as tectonics, processes that push up mountains, rip apart land masses and create quakes. On Earth, these processes occur constantly as the planet’s mantle causes pieces of crust, called plates, to shift against one another. The Moon doesn’t have tectonic plates; instead, its tectonic action occurs as the Moon slowly loses heat from when it was formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago. The heat loss causes its interior to shrink, crinkling the surface and creating distinctive features like those identified in the study.

“The Moon is still quaking and shaking from its own internal processes,” Williams said. “It’s been losing heat over billions of years, shrinking and becoming denser.”

The effect is similar to a car tire in winter: As the temperature drops, air inside the tire contracts and creates a squishier surface.

Evidence of a Shrinking Moon

The Moon’s tectonic action is especially visible in Mare Frigoris. By poring over more than 12,000 images taken by LRO’s camera, Williams and his co-authors identified thousands of tectonically created features.

Image above: These graben — a kind of trench that is formed as a surface expands — were imaged near a region of the Moon called Mare Frigoris by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Image Credit: NASA.

As the ground under Mare Frigoris shifts, it pushes up wrinkle ridges, which typically snake along the ground for several miles. The longest ones stretch about 250 miles (400 kilometers) — greater than the distance between New York City and Washington, D.C. — and rise as much as 1,000 feet (333 meters). Tectonic pushing and pulling of the lunar crust also sculpt curved hills called lobate scarps and shallow trenches known as graben.

Geologists can date them by studying another common lunar feature: impact craters. The longer a surface is struck by meteors, the more debris gets flung up from the impacts and covers nearby terrain, altering the landscape in a process called “impact gardening.”

Craters collect more debris the longer they are around. The smaller they are, the less time they take to fill: Craters smaller than the size of a football field would typically fill to the brim in under a billion years. LROC’s images revealed crisp tectonic features like the wrinkle ridges that formed after — and cut through — small, unfilled craters. That allowed Williams and his co-authors to deduce that the ridges emerged within the past billion years or so.

From Moonquakes to Marsquakes

Studying seismic activity on the Moon isn’t new. The Apollo astronauts brought several seismometers to the lunar surface, which recorded thousands of moonquakes between 1969 and 1977. The vast majority were quakes that occurred deep in the Moon’s interior; a smaller number were determined to be of shallow depth, occurring in the lunar crust.

A new paper in Nature Geoscience takes another look at these shallow moonquakes and establishes connections to some very young surface features called lobate thrust fault scarps. This opens the door to looking for similar connections with young wrinkle ridges described in the Icarus study.

Scientists — including Williams — now hope to glean similar science from Mars. NASA’s InSight lander recently detected what is likely its first marsquake, along with several other seismic signals. The way a quake’s seismic waves travel inside a planet can tell geologists about how rocky bodies are layered. That, in turn, can deepen our understanding of how Earth, its Moon and Mars first formed.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was built and is operated by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Goddard manages the LRO mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leads the InSight mission.

Related article: 

Shrinking Moon May Be Generating Moonquakes

For more information on LRO, visit:

For more information about InSight, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good.

Full article