The scary history of lunar eclipses

In ancient times, people were terrified when lunar eclipses occurred.

The moon lights up the night sky. Therefore, it is no surprise that, long ago, when the moon glowed red and disappeared during a lunar eclipse, people were terrified.

The second blood moon of 2018 will occur tomorrow. NASA predicts it will appear to be blood, glowing creepy red. The first record of a total lunar eclipse comes from China

According to an 1899 book, The Story of Eclipses by George Chambers, the first eclipse in history occurred on January 29, 1136 BC. Scientists found Bamboo Annals in the tomb of King Xiang of Wei. This was a chronicle of early China’s Warring States Period.

The text refers to a total lunar eclipse that probably took place in 1059 BC. In those times; they regarded it as an important omen, signaling to the king Wen of the Zou dynasty that it was time to confront his Shang overlord.

In the fourth year of the 91st Olympiad by the ancient Greek calendar, a lunar eclipse led to disaster for the Athenian army. The soldiers were in Sicily, Italy and doing badly. Illness broke out among the troops and their commander Niclas decided that the Athenians should leave the island.

The calamity happened, as expected. The Syracusan army captured the panicking Athenian Soldiers before they could escape.

It is unlikely that the July 27 eclipse will have a dramatic effect on history. However, we can hope for a colorful show.

Researchers plan to examine ‘lunar hay fever’ that hit astronauts

An European Space Agency (ESA) research programme plans to examine “lunar hay fever.”

Scientists are planning to examine “lunar hay fever,” which is the nasal congestion and sneezing that occurs in astronauts after Moon dust that makes its way into their lungs. The research stems from the European Space Agency (ESA) research programme, which consists of experts from around the world.

“We don’t know how bad this dust is,” says Kim Prisk, a pulmonary physiologist from the University of California that is taking part in the research. “It all comes down to an effort to estimate the degree of risk involved.”

“Particles 50 times smaller than a human hair can hang around for months inside your lungs,” Prisk said. “The longer the particle stays, the greater the chance for toxic effects.”

In order to conduct the experiment, the team is using simulated Moon dust that is created from materials obtained from a German volcanic region.

“The rarity of the lunar glass-like material makes it a special kind of dust,” said Erin Tranfield, a biologist and expert in dust toxicity. “We need to grind the source material but that means removing the sharp edges.”

But the lunar soil does have its benefits.

“You can heat it to produce bricks that can offer shelter for astronauts,” said science advisor Aidan Cowley. “Oxygen can be extracted from the soil to sustain human missions on the Moon.”

New, powerful telescope enables measurement of lunar flashes

Knowing temperatures of these events helps scientists identify their sources.

Using a powerful new telescope developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists can now, for the first time, successfully measure the temperatures of lunar light flashes caused by rocks impacting the Moon at high speeds.

When small asteroids, comets, or meteoroids hit the Moon, there is no atmosphere to slow them down. Hitting the lunar surface at up to 25 kilometers per second, these impactors produce flashes of light that can be seen from Earth.

Until now, astronomers have observed them by looking at the dark regions of the Moon during its first and last quarter phases, usually with small telescopes no larger than 40 centimeters in diameter.

Now, ESA’s new 1.2-meter Near-Earth object Lunar Impacts and Optical TrAnsients (NELIOTA) telescope, operating since March in the Kryoneri Observatory in Greece, complete with a sophisticated camera system and large aperture, is enabling scientists to detect even faint lunar flashes and learn more about them.

A key function is the ability to measure the temperatures of these flashes, which provide insight into the type, density, and origin of the impactors.

“The telescope has two eyes: one observes in red light and the other in the infrared. By combining the data from the two cameras, we can measure the temperature of the lunar flashes, which we have now done for the first time,” explained ESA Research Fellow Chrysa Avdellidou, who presented the findings at the 49th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Utah last week.

“By having the temperature, we can better estimate the density of the impacting body, which gives us clues about where the material comes from. Does it originate from asteroids or comets? Since asteroids and comets have different composition and density, the measurements we are doing now will help us answer this question,”she added.

Scientists also hope observations with the new telescope will enable them to better understand the process that produces the flashes and the way energy is distributed during impacts.

Observing lunar flashes also informs astronomers about the effects near-Earth objects such as small asteroids could potentially have on satellites in orbit.


Japanese space agency says 50-km lunar cave would be great site for a human colony

Japanese astronomers announced this week that they discovered a 50-kilometer underground cave on the Moon. They said that this cave might have value not only for present-day scientists, but also future lunar settlers.

A newly discovered giant cave on the Moon has the official endorsement of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa)—Japan’s space program—as a great site for a future human habitation. The cave measures 50 kilometers long and 100 meters wide, according to Jaxa researchers, and appears to have a stable temperature range, protection from space radiation, and maybe some residual water.

Jaxa announced the discovery this week after examining radar data from the Japanese-launched Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) space probe. The Selene was beaming its radar down onto a wide chasm on the moon’s surface, and researchers determined from the measurements that the chasm was the entrance to a deep cave.

The cave is next to a range of volcanic domes on the surface, and the researchers think that the cave was a lava tube that formed about 3.5 billion years ago when the young moon was still geologically active. That alone is a major find, according to Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at Jaxa. He said it is the first time that researchers have seen and documented an actual lunar lava tube.

“We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now,” said Haruyama.

But these lava tubes might be valuable for future human settlers on the Moon, as well. Haruyama said that they are deep enough underground to provide protection from the Moon surface’s extreme temperatures and scorching radiation from the sun.

“(Lava tubes) might be the best candidate sites for future lunar bases, because of their stable thermal conditions and potential to protect people and instruments from micrometeorites and cosmic ray radiation,” Haruyama said.

Japanese orbiter finds lunar cave that could someday house astronauts

As safest location for astronauts, lava tubes could be ideal sites for constructing Moon bases.

The Japanese space agency’s Kaguya spacecraft, which orbited the Moon for nearly two years between 2007 and 2009, imaged a large open lava tube on the lunar surface that could potentially serve as a future habitat for astronauts.

Lava tubes are conduits formed by lava that flowed beneath a hardened surface that has hardened over time.  That surface forms a “roof” that covers the area beneath it, which becomes hollow once the liquid lava stops flowing and drains out of the tunnels it initially created.

Analysis of radar data returned by the spacecraft, also known as Selene, by scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) revealed several possible entrances to a lava tube near the Marius Hills region on the Moon.

Space suits are insufficient for protecting astronauts on the Moon from radiation, extreme temperatures, and meteorite impacts, which is why no Apollo astronauts stayed there for more than three days.

The Moon’s lack of both an atmosphere and a magnetic field makes it vulnerable to impacting meteorites.

If astronauts could take shelter in a lava tube or cave, they would be safe from the environmental hazards on the Moon’s surface. This makes these features ideal locations for construction of a lunar base.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” emphasized JAXA senior researcher Junichi Haruyama.

“But knowing these things is also important for basic science. We might get new types of rock samples, heat flow data, and lunar quake observation data.”

Because Kaguya’s radar system was designed to study the Moon’s geology and origin rather than to find lava tubes, the spacecraft did not fly close enough to the Moon’s surface to obtain accurate data about what is present beneath that surface.

To assist them in finding lava tubes from Kaguya’s data, JAXA scientists consulted with their colleagues from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, which studied the Moon’s gravitational field from orbit.

Studying GRAIL data, the researchers specifically looked for areas with lower subsurface masses as a means of pinpointing possible lava tubes.

By combining radar data with GRAIL’s gravity data, they were able to determine the depths and widths of the lava tubes and the fact that they comprise a single, larger system, noted GRAIL co-investigator Jay Melosh, who is also a Distinguished Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University.

A lava tube must be several kilometers long and have a height and width of one kilometer at minimum to be detectable by gravity data.

Based on GRAIL findings, the Marius Hills lava tube has enough space to hold one of the US’s larger cities.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.






OSIRIS-REx spacecraft photographs Earth and Moon

Ten days after Earth gravity assist, MapCam camera looks back on Earth-Moon system.

On its way to the asteroid Bennu, from which it will send samples back to Earth for study, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) snapped a photo of the Earth-Moon system just 10 days after flying by our planet for a gravitational assist.

The composite image was taken by the probe’s MapCam camera from a distance of approximately 3.2 million miles (5.1 million km), about 13 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 to the 1,600-foot- (500-meter-) wide asteroid, where it will arrive in late 2018. After studying Bennu from orbit, it will land on the asteroid’s surface and collect a minimum of 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of surface rock, which will then be returned to Earth five years later.

Never previously explored, Bennu frequently passes near the Earth.

Gravitational assists are common maneuvers used to speed up spacecraft and alter their trajectories without using fuel. OSIRIS-Rex’s September 22 flight past Earth used the planet’s gravity to slightly change its path in the direction of Bennu.

Immediately following the flyby, MapCam obtained a closeup of the whole planet from a distance of just 106,000 miles (170,000 km). The Pacific Ocean, Australia, and Baja, California, are visible in that color composite photo.

On October 2, MapCam imaged the Earth and Moon in a single frame.

In addition to MapCam, OSIRIS-Rex contains two other science cameras, a Canadian-built laser altimeter, a student-built dust experiment, a thermal emission spectrometer, a visible and infrared spectrometer, a student-built regolith X-ray imaging spectrometer, a sample acquisition mechanism, a sample return capsule, and a redundant navigation system.

Mission scientists used the Earth flyby as an opportunity to recalibrate some of the probe’s instruments, which will study the asteroid’s mineral and chemical makeup and search for organic molecules that make up the building blocks of life.

These advance searches will determine the site where the probe will land and collect samples.

Both the laser altimeter and the student-built dust instrument will not be turned on until the spacecraft reaches Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx’s three cameras will begin photographing Bennu in August of next year and also search for moons and rings that could potentially pose a hazard to the spacecraft.

Detailed images of the asteroid will captured beginning in October 2018.

Moon may have once had an atmosphere, study reports

New research shows the moon had an ancient atmosphere that lasted some 70 million years before dissipating.

Old rocks collected from different Apollo missions show that the moon may have once had a thick atmosphere, according to new research published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

This study comes from astronomers at NASA and the Lunar and Planetary Institute who discovered four-billion-year-old volcanic samples on the moon that carried gas components — such as carbon monoxide — as well as the ingredients for substances like water and sulfur. Those rocks revealed that ancient volcanoes likely built the moon’s ancient atmosphere, which lasted roughly 70 million years.

Once they made that discovery, the team used special calculations to figure out exactly how much gas came from the primeval lava. That showed the atmosphere was at its thickest between 3 to 4 billion years ago.

“This work dramatically changes our view of the Moon from an airless rocky body to one that used to be surrounded by an atmosphere more prevalent than that surrounding Mars today,” study co-author Dr. David Kring, a researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, told

These new findings are important because they could significantly impact future lunar missions. Not only does the information give a glimpse into the satellite’s past, but it may also shed light on where ice sources sit on the surface. As a result, it could help astronomers uncover ice deposits suitable for long term lunar exploration.

While no future plans are in place, there is no doubt that many officials are interested in further space exploration. The moon is the first step towards that, because colonizing the small body could help lead to deeper space travel.

“We will return American astronauts to the moon — not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” said Vice President Mike Pence, during the first meeting with the National Space Council, according to Newsweek.

Nobody is sure when such actions will take place, but it could be much sooner than many believe. In fact, some scientists estimate that people could be living on the moon by within the next 20 to 30 years.

Ancient Moon had a transient atmosphere

Gases released by early volcanic eruptions formed an atmosphere and left volatiles behind in surface deposits.

Earth’s Moon had a transient atmosphere sometime between three and four billion years ago, composed of gases emitted in surface volcanic eruptions, according to a new study.

Volcanic basalt is currently present on the Moon and appears in dark surface areas within lunar maria or “seas” that are actually large surface basins.

These basalts erupted as plumes of magma from within the Moon’s surface in its early days, when it was still hot from the giant impact that created it.

After erupting on the surface, the magma spread for several hundred kilometers in various directions.

Moon rocks returned by Apollo astronauts were found to contain components of gases spewed in ancient eruptions, including carbon monoxide, along with ingredients for volatiles, sulfur, and water.

Debra H. Needham of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and David A. Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute conducted a new study in which they calculated the amounts of gases released during these early eruptions.

These gases formed a temporary lunar atmosphere, which was thickest about 3.5 billion years ago, as the level of volcanic eruptions peaked.

Large amounts of gases were produced at two key points in the Moon’s past, about 3.8 billion years ago, when lava levels filled Serenitatis basin and about 3.5 billion years ago, when they did the same at Imbrium basin.

Astronauts on the Apollo 15 and 17 missions collected rocks from the edges of these basins that confirmed the gases produced by the lava eruptions as well as the time the eruptions occurred.

The Moon’s temporary atmosphere lasted for about 70 million years before evaporating into space.

These new findings suggest volatiles from the Moon’s long-ago atmosphere could be trapped as icy deposits in regions near the Moon’s poles, which never receive sunlight.

If present, these volatiles would be beneficial for future astronauts, who could use them as sources of air and fuel.

Future robotic missions, such as NASA’s Resource Prospector, will search for and study volatiles on the Moon’s surface.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.



Record numbers of people viewed August 21 solar eclipse

Public outreach by science organizations and free webcasts drove high level of participation.

The August 21 “Great American Eclipse” was watched by record numbers of people, according to a joint study conducted by the University of Michigan and NASA.

A total of 154 million people observed the eclipse directly, using safety devices such as pinhole boxes or eclipse glasses, while another 61 million viewed it digitally through television and online broadcasts.

A record 88 percent of the US population, about 215 million adults, watched at least part of the eclipse. In contrast, 111 million people in the country watched the Superbowl on February 5, 2017.

The study included both those who watched the total eclipse, visible in a narrow 70-mile (113-km) band that swept from the northwest to southeast, and those who watched the partial eclipse in areas outside the path of totality.

Jon Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, reported more than 2,000 adults took part in the survey, which involved one set of questions in early 2017 and a second shortly after the eclipse.

Participants will be surveyed once more, in either October or November, and a final report will be published in January 2018.

A majority of viewers experienced the eclipse as being both enjoyable and educational.

Extensive public outreach by individuals and organizations is likely responsible for the large percentage of people who watched the first total solar eclipse visible in the US mainland in 38 years.

As part of a nationwide project, public libraries distributed 2.1 million free pairs of eclipse glasses.

Groups such as NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) spent significant time and effort educating people about the science of eclipses and how to safely view them, noted Paul Dusenbery, who heads the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning in Boulder, Colorado.

NASA played a significant role in making the event accessible, conducting numerous free webcasts on the the day of the eclipse. Its and sites had a record of 90 million views on that day.

“This level of public interest and engagement with a science-oriented event is unparalleled,” Miller emphasized.

A free copy of the study is available at https//



Solar sail proposed for ISS successor

New technology could help maintain future space station’s orientation.

The Deep Space Gateway (DSG), a proposed successor to the International Space Station (ISS) that will be placed in lunar orbit during the 2020s, might be steered with the help of a solar sail.

A month ago, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) presented the solar sail concept at a meeting of ISS partner nations.

Five space agencies representing various countries are partnering on DSG, which is expected to be built through assistance from NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule.

CSA has already entered into a contract with aerospace company MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates for the design of a robotic system for deep space exploration, which would also be capable of maintaining a space station in lunar orbit.

To date, the only use of a solar sail on a spacecraft was on Japan’s Akatsuki Venus probe, launched in 2010 on board the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency‘s (JAXA) IKAROS spacecraft.

The Planetary Society, a non-government organization that advocates space exploration through advocacy and education, plans to launch a solar sail-controlled spacecraft, LightSail 1, into Earth orbit next year.

ISS partner nations have not yet decided whether the solar sail will be actually be used on the next space station or flown solely as an experiment to demonstrate its capabilities and possible future use on a crewed Mars mission.

Testing technologies that will help send humans to Mars is a key goal of the DSG.

A solar sail, composed of very thin reflective film, would use the slight pressure from solar radiation to steer the new space station. In an internal report to the ISS Exploration Capabilities Study Team, Canadian engineers note the sail could be used in a support role to keep the DSG oriented.

This would save fuel that would otherwise be used by rocket thrusters to keep the DSG in position although the main power source for maneuvering the space station would still be liquid propellant engines and electric propulsion.

According to the current proposal, the solar sail would be rectangular in shape, have a size of about 50 square meters, and be positioned on the outside of the space station via a robotic arm.

This could potentially save a minimum of nine kilograms of hydrazine per year over a lifetime of 15 years.

The solar sail could also be used to generate additional power. Its mass would have to be kept low, between 38 and 52 kilograms.

When not in use, it could be folded or stationed behind the DSG’s solar panels.

Scientists hope to test a prototype solar sail on the ISS before making a final decision about its use on the next space station.