News and Updates


Join us for this very special presentation in the Marston Exploration Theater this coming weekend!

Twenty-five years ago, a slim book by British physicist Stephen Hawking attempted to explain in layman’s terms such cosmic quagmires as the Big Bang, black holes, quarks, and even the possibility of time travel. A Brief History of Time sold more than 10 million copies. Now, ASU associate professor Lance Gharavi has created a unique work to mark the volume’s silver anniversary.

A Brief Anniversary of Time is a one-man show written, directed and performed by Gharavi that will be held, most appropriately, in the planetarium of the Marston Exploration Theater. The performance will incorporate 3D media and sound through the use of Marston’s state-of-the-art stereoscopic projection system, witnessed by the audience members who will be wearing 3D glasses. The play tells the story of three generations — grandfather, father and son — and ponders human questions of life, loss, and time, juxtaposed against the vast spacescape of Hawking’s book.

“Using planetarium technology to create a story is marvelous and exciting,” says Gharavi, who teaches theatre and performance at SoFTD. “I'll be on stage immersed in clouds of stars, planets, and galaxies that will appear to float over the seats in the audience. In a very important sense, the Marston gives us the entire universe with which to create.”

Gharavi adds that he hopes A Brief Anniversary of Time will be the first in a series of projects to unite artists and scientists in creating new works for the public. The Marston also hosts the popular Hollywood Invades Tempe film screening and chat series, thus bringing entirely different types of stars to ASU’s new planetarium.

A Brief Anniversary of Time is appropriate for families, though it may be too technical for very young children.



Where: Marston Exploration Theater, ISTB 4 (550 East Tyler Mall, Tempe, Arizona)

Location and parking: The Rural Road parking structure is the closest parking to ISTB 4. Rates for visitor lots are $2 per hour with a maximum exit fee of $8. View a map of ISTB4 and nearby visitor parking. Cars and vans may park in any surface visitor lot.

When: Oct. 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 20 at 2:00 p.m.

Cost: $5.50 for students; $7 general admission

Additional information:




Researchers at ASU and UA are playing a big role in Mars exploration, continuing work that has been going on in Arizona since the dawn of the space program.

An article in the AZ Capitol Times by Oscar Contreras digs into ASU's involvement in Mars exploration in the article "Research, geography position Arizona for role in Mars missions" published Oct. 14.

When the Curiosity Rover collects soil from the surface of Mars, data from the samples will come to an Arizona State University laboratory to be compared with the composition of soil on Earth.

Jack Farmer, a professor of geological sciences, is tasked with looking for carbon compounds and other building blocks suggesting that life once existed on Mars.

Curiosity’s path across Gale Crater is decided in part because of Jim Bell, an ASU professor of planetary science who is on a team of scientists studying images from the rover’s mast camera.

Universities across the country submitted proposals to NASA not just about research to be conducted on missions to Mars but the instruments needed to accomplish it. Both ASU and UA have developed instruments for Mars missions.

“I think it comes down to personnel and history,” said Jim Tyburczy, interim director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “We’ve have had outstanding scientists from back in the 1960s who have been participants in national planetary exploration programs.”


Read more:



More than 110,000 Arizonans will once again participate in the Great ShakeOut, the world’s largest earthquake preparedness drill, scheduled for October 17 at 10:17 a.m., and there will be a free public presentation by Arizona State University geoscientists on Wednesday evening, October 16 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Although not traditionally thought of as a frequent epicenter for earthquakes, Arizona is not free from earthquake hazard. The USArray component of EarthScope, an earth science program that researches the structure and evolution of the North American continent, detected over 1,000 earthquakes in Arizona during its deployment. Additionally, faults in California and Mexico are close enough to cause significant shaking.

The EarthScope National Office (ESNO), currently based at ASU, will participate in the ShakeOut again this year to encourage hazard awareness. The ShakeOut began in 2008 in California as a way to educate the public about earthquake preparedness. Since then it has grown into an international event, with numbers expected to exceed last year’s global participation of 19.5 million.

In addition to the drill itself, the EarthScope National Office will be hosting free public presentations by ASU geoscientists on Wednesday evening, October 16 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. in addition to participating in the drill the next morning. The scientists will speak on the science of earthquakes, the history of earthquakes in Arizona, ways to prepare for the next earthquake, and other exciting geological topics. The lecture will be held on ASU Tempe Campus, in the Marston Exploration Theater on the first floor of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Taking a few minutes to think about what to do in the event of an earthquake can be of great assistance. When you’re panicked, it’s harder to think clearly so it’s important to plan ahead and pay attention to what looks strong and what could fall on top of you.

On the day of the drill, the EarthScope National Office will be “dropping, covering and holding on” to simulate what they would do in the event of an earthquake. Join us!

For more information:

(Nikki Cassis)



Humans have left an indelible mark on Earth, most notably in the massive amounts of carbon now floating around in our atmosphere that is causing the planet to warm. When we industrialized our civilization, we harnessed the power of fossil fuels and have become slaves to it as a result.

We are now at a critical point where we will need to deal with the carbon already in our atmosphere from burning fossil fuels (carbon lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere, making it ever more difficult to achieve targeted reductions) in order to meet the ceiling on carbon, proposed last week by the International Panel on Climate Change, or move on to a new Earth, argues Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at ASU, in the New Yorker.

Because the world’s governments cannot seem to adequately face the imperative to cut industrial greenhouse gas production, we can “give up and resign ourselves to living on Earth 2.0, with the possibility of vast and disastrous social and political upheavals due to changing temperatures, rising sea levels and the like; or try and do something about the carbon that is already in the atmosphere,” Krauss states.

If we choose the latter, then our best shot might be to develop a strategy to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Remarkably, this approach has received almost no support in terms of R&D dollars to date, an egregious action given the tens of billions we spend on fine-tuning the source for all of this carbon-fossil fuel production, he states.

“Carbon capture may not be practical in the end,” Krauss states. “But exploring possibilities like it with the same kind of energy that we are devoting to extracting fossil fuels should be an ethical global imperative, given everything we know about humanity’s impact on our climate.”

(Skip Derra)



Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust by X-rays provides new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars

During the nearly 14 months that it has spent on the red planet, Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, has revealed a great deal about Mars’ composition and history. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover’s science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in a series of five papers in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

ASU professor Jack Farmer, a scientist on the rover’s CheMin instrument team, is an author on two of the papers; one of which focuses on the composition and formation process of the Rocknest sand shadow, a small ripple of loose, wind-transported sand and dust. The other provides an evaluation of fine- and coarse-grained soil samples.

“The past few months the MSL team has been working our way from Yellowknife Bay toward the base of Mount Sharp, which is a primary goal for the mission. We have just completed our work at our first waypoint along the way to our destination,” says Farmer.

The first stop was Rocknest for an initial test of the functionality of Curiosity’s onboard analytical laboratory instruments, including the miniaturized laboratory for identifying minerals CheMin, short for “Chemistry and Mineralogy.” This shoebox-size laboratory uses X-rays to determine what minerals are present in a material, as well as provide information about elemental abundances – a first for a mission to Mars.

“Curiosity has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using X-ray diffraction, the gold standard laboratory method for mineral identification on Earth,” says Farmer. “It is a more quantitative method for identifying minerals than has been possible with previous Mars missions.”

Another instrument tested at Rocknest was Curiosity’s Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), a tiny oven that heats samples and identifies the composition of gases given off by them. Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a collaborator with SAM.

At Rocknest, Curiosity’s robotic arm collected several scoops of loose sand and dust and delivered them into the portable laboratories for analysis.

“This little wind ripple provided well-sorted materials in the right size range for sieving and delivering to the CheMin and SAM instruments. This was important, because at this early stage of the mission we were still doing our stepwise testing of the payload instruments and were not yet ready to deploy the drill to sample rocks. We used materials already ground up and sorted by the wind as our test materials and in the process learned a lot about surface materials at Gale,” explains Farmer.

CheMin will analyze as many as 74 samples during the nominal prime mission, providing information about the environment at the time and place where the minerals in the rocks and soils formed or were altered.

Results are in
CheMin’s analysis reveals that the Rocknest drift has a complex history. The findings provide new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars and clues to the planet’s volcanic history.

The results indicate that the ripple materials had a basaltic composition, similar to soils that have been analyzed elsewhere on Mars. This confirmed the presence of basaltic source rocks in Gale Crater, and the absence of weathering products, like clays, suggests minimal interactions with water since the materials were liberated from their source rocks. Basalt is the volcanic rock that makes up most of the Earth’s crust, particularly the ocean floors. This Martian soil appears very similar to some weathered basaltic soils seen on Earth, in places like Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

X-ray analysis identified 10 distinct minerals, although half of these were in low abundance, near the detection limits of CheMin. Curiosity also discovered that an unexpectedly large portion of the Rocknest composition is a type of disordered material, similar in structure to glass.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about the materials at Rocknest concerns the abundance of amorphous – essentially glassy – materials. These amorphous materials which make up nearly 45% of the sand ripple are essentially invisible to X-ray Diffraction. Their presence is inferred by combining CheMin results with elemental data from the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer,” explains Farmer.

This is the first time the amorphous component of soils has been quantified for Martian surface materials and that is important for understanding what Mars is made of and how the materials have been affected by recent surface weathering processes. The results of the SAM instrument further suggest that water and other volatiles detected in the ripple deposit are likely to reside in the amorphous component of the soil.

Team spirit
What is it like being part of a team that is responsible for our evolving view of our neighbor Mars?

“It’s invigorating, but also challenging,” says Farmer, who juggles his MSL duties with teaching, advising graduate students and NASA Space Grant interns, and conducting his own research and proposal writing activities.

Since leaving Yellowknife Bay, the CheMin team has been digesting and refining its interpretations of the data obtained at Yellowknife Bay in order to better understand the nature of the aqueous environments they believe existed there long ago. The process of refinement requires careful, painstaking work achieved through lots of interaction among team members.

“Most every day, I dial in to MSL science meetings to review and discuss new data. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this semester, I am available to fulfill my main MSL operational role as a CheMin downlink lead. Next week I will attend an MSL team meeting at JPL and will deliver my class lectures and discussions via Blackboard and Skype,” says Farmer.
For Farmer, sharing what he learns from Curiosity with his students is a priority. He regularly provides his students with mission updates and utilizes the full-scale model of Curiosity in ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Photo: Professor Jack Farmer with Curiosity test rover at JPL. Photo courtesy of Jack Farmer.

(Nikki Cassis)



A performance celebrating the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking book
Oct. 18, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Marston Exploration Theater, ISTB 4
Campus: Tempe
Cost: $5.50 for students and $7.00 for general

A Brief Anniversary of Time, is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In this one man show, featuring Dr. Lance Gharavi, the lead character is searching for some perspective in life. This live performance weaves together the story of three generations handling the very human inquiries about life, loss and death, juxtaposed with the vast world of Hawking’s book that lead us to question ‘how we got here,’ and ‘where are we going?’ Premiering in the new Marston Exploration Theatre, the performance will incorporate 3D media & sound, through the use of stereoscopic projection. The show is appropriate for families, though it may be too technical for very young children.




Arts, Media and Engineering
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Film, Dance and Theatre
School of Theatre and Film



Looking for a cheap way to explore the farthest reaches of the solar system? Look no further than Antarctica, writes Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies and professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.

Meteorites – fragments of asteroidal and planetary bodies in our solar system – enable scientists to “push back the limits of how and when our solar system and the planets in it were formed.” They fall everywhere on Earth with equal probability, but as Wadhwa explains, “there are places where they are more easily found because the geology and environmental conditions allow these fallen rocks to be preserved for up to millions of years.”

Due to its cold, dry climate and the dynamics of its vast ice fields, Antarctica is Earth’s foremost meteorite hunting ground. Among other major discoveries, the first meteorites established to have originated on the moon and Mars were recovered from the white continent.

Wadhwa has searched Antarctica for meteorites as a participant in the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program during its 1992-1993 and 2012-2013 field seasons. ANSMET has recovered more than 20,000 meteorite specimens since 1976, many more “than were ever recovered throughout the world in the 500 years prior.” Amazingly, the total cost of the ANSMET program over the past 37 years, plus parallel European and Japanese programs, has been less than the cost of one NASA Discovery mission.

To learn more about meteorites, Antarctic expeditions and Dr. Wadhwa’s own life-changing experiences on the ice, visit Future Tense.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.

Image: Scientists from the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites collect a meteorite during the 2006-2007 field season.
Photo by: National Science Foundation/Ralph Harvey

(Joey Eschrich)



JOIN US for…

The First Earth & Space Open House of the year this Friday!

Date: Friday, Sept. 27 from 7-10 p.m.
Theme: High Energy Astrophysics
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater and telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on the Rural parking structure roof)

Event features: A public lecture, exhibits, demonstrations, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor), including an underwater robotics demo.

Public Lecture Information:
Speaker: Nathaniel Butler
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Gamma Ray Bursts - Chasing the Universe's Brightest and Most Distant Explosions

Nathaniel will be discussing his work on Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs) -- explosions signaling the death of the most massive stars and the birth of a black hole -- and how scientists use these to study the very early Universe. GRBs are among the most extreme and most exotic of high-energy astrophysical phenomena. The first generation of stars could have produced these events, and the pencil beams of light they send our way provide unique clues to how the modern Universe formed. GRBs are detected in Gamma-ray's in space and at longer wavelengths from the ground. The explosions last for only seconds, and robotic telescopes must detect them rapidly from the ground. Chasing GRBs is fast-paced, extremely fun work. Nathaniel will discuss one particular effort he is leading which is now fully operational: the Reionization And Transients InfraRed (RATIR) camera (see,, a simultaneous optical/NIR multi-band imaging camera which is 100% time-dedicated to the follow-up of GRBs. The camera is housed on the 1.5m telescope at Pedro San Martir in Baja California, one of the darkest high sites for optical astronomy on the planet.

Following the lecture, there will be a short 3D planetarium show at 8:45 p.m.

The future open house dates for this year are 10/25, 11/22, 2/21, 3/28, and 4/25, each featuring a different earth and space-related theme.
Facebook Event:
Earth & Space Open House website:



Robots are the pioneering space explorers of the future, argues Srikanth Saripalli, an assistant professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine. Responding to a space exploration roadmap recently released by NASA and the International Space Exploration Coordination Group that calls for robotic and human missions to near-Earth asteroids, the Moon and Mars, Saripalli argues that most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration are based on near-sighted assumptions about emerging developments in robotics.

Saripalli posits that in the next 100 years or so, human bodies will merge with robotic technologies, leading to advancements in human durability and survivability, even in harsh environments on other planets. You read that right: cyborg space exploration. The astronauts of the future will probably look more like Robocop than Buzz Aldrin.

While the Curiosity rover on Mars has been successful, Saripalli points out that the robots that we have sent into space so far “are not at all ‘autonomous’ or ‘intelligent’ in any sense” and require precise instructions from Earth for every movement, no matter how simple.

The robots we will use to explore space in the future will not look like the Curiosity rover or "Star Wars" iconic C-3PO or R2-D2. Instead, “we will transition from large, heavy robots and satellites to ‘nanosats’ and small, networked robots” that can be deployed cheaply by the thousands. These tiny bots will “form a self-organizing network that can quickly explore areas of interest and also organize themselves into larger machines that can mine metals or develop new vehicles for future exploration.”

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.


(Joey Eschrich)

Image: Self-organizing swarms of tiny robots will replace large rovers like Curiosity in the future, argues ASU's Srikanth Saripalli.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Two of only five research projects funded from a 2013 National Science Foundation Frontiers in Earth Systems Dynamics (NSF-FESD) grant program are led by, or have primary researchers from ASU.

ASU is the lead institution in a project investigating why Earth’s atmosphere changed from one nearly devoid of oxygen to its current oxygen-rich state. Lead investigator and President’s Professor Ariel Anbar is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Other ASU researchers include David Bell, Ed Garnero, Hilairy Hartnett, Allan McNamara, Tom Sharp, Dan Shim and Everett Shock – all part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration – along with Sheri Klug Boonstra (director of the ASU Mars Education Program) and English professor Mark Hannah.

The second project looks at the geology of paleolakes in eastern Africa to study ancient climate change and ultimately what that might tell us about how climate affected the development of human ancestors. This research is led by the University of Arizona with lead ASU researchers Chris Campisano, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and Kaye Reed, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Campisano and Reed are joined by Ramon Arrowsmith, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

This is the second set of grants for the NSF-FESD program, which is awarding $28 million to five projects focusing on “high risk, high return” research. The goals of the FESD program are to foster an interdisciplinary and multiscale understanding of the interplay among and within the subsystems at work on Earth and to catalyze research in geoscience areas poised for major advances.

The dynamics of Earth system oxygenation

Today, the breathable air we enjoy consists of 21 percent oxygen, in the form of the molecule O2. However, that was not always the case. During the first half of Earth’s history, O2 was nearly absent from the atmosphere and oceans. Then, some 2.45 billion years ago, the level of atmospheric oxygen began to rise – referred to as the “Great Oxidation Event” (GOE).

In the past decade, Anbar and his team have narrowed down the exact timing of this transition to the modern, O2-rich environment. This new $5 million, five-year project, supported by a research team consisting of investigators from five institutions – ASU, MIT, UC Riverside, U. Washington and U. Maryland – will focus on solving the mystery of what caused the rise of atmospheric O2.

“To go from a planet nearly devoid of oxygen at the surface to one that has abundant oxygen is one of the most remarkable transformations that earth has undergone,” said Anbar, a biogeochemist. “It paved the way for our form of life. It’s embarrassing, but we don’t understand why it happened. We don’t even have a solid community consensus as to the cause.”

Anbar’s team will refine and test a number of hypotheses proposed in the past decade.

“Many textbooks say that the rise of oxygen was due to the evolution of photosynthesis. It’s true that photosynthesis is a necessary condition to build up an O2-rich atmosphere, but it’s not sufficient. That’s because over geologic time, the O2 produced by biology is consumed by reactions with rocks and volcanic gases that come from the Earth’s O2-poor interior. So the amount of O2 in the atmosphere doesn’t just depend on biology. It depends on the solid Earth,” explains Anbar.

In their attempt to solve the mystery, Anbar and his researchers will integrate models of atmospheric chemistry, records of Earth's surface O2 history developed from inorganic and organic geochemical proxies, laboratory calibrations of these proxies, geochemical analyses of samples from the lithosphere and mantle, seismic reconstructions of Earth's interior structure, geodynamic models of mantle mixing and evolution, thermodynamic calculations and findings from mineral physics experiments.

In short, this isn’t a one-man job.

Earth system dynamics and its role in human evolution in Africa

Understanding the relationship between Earth history and human evolution is an enduring challenge of broad scientific and public interest. Scientists studying the effect of ancient climate change and human evolution have had to depend on local, but incomplete terrestrial records, or analysis of deep ocean cores collected a considerable distance from where major hominin fossils – the ancient remains of human ancestors – have actually been found.

The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP), funded in part by the NSF-FESD award, comprises a multinational research effort with researchers led by Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, ASU and 22 other institutions that will help scientists to better understand the dynamics that link climatic and evolutionary histories. The total continuing grant award will be nearly $4.8 million, with $1.2 million as ASU’s portion of the funding.

After over eight years of planning, five sites have been identified in Kenya and Ethiopia that are in close proximity and geologically and chronologically related to time periods critical to human evolution over the last four million years. Two of the Kenyan sites were successfully drilled in the summer of 2013 with funding from other sources.

“Correlations between environmental change and human evolutionary history have often been made with very broad strokes and assume that global climate changes affected all of eastern Africa and in similar ways,” said Campisano, scientific project manager for the HSPDP. “Obtaining these high-resolution, high-sensitivity records documenting when and how environmental fluctuations impacted the landscapes where human ancestors lived is the necessary first step to test a variety of current hypotheses of human evolution.”

Campisano, Reed and Arrowsmith will lead the scientific team in the Northern Awash River Valley in the Afar region of Ethiopia, close to where the 3.2 million year old fossil skeleton, Australopithecus afarensis, popularly known as “Lucy,” was discovered in 1974 by Institute of Human Origins founding director Don Johanson. They will assess the environmental record in the lake system that was active adjacent to the riverine landscape in which the animals lived.

(Nikki Cassis & Julie Russ)

Photo: A rough outline of the abundance of O2 in the atmosphere through time, in term of the percent of the present atmosphere ("PAL"). Today, about 20 percent of the atmosphere is O2. During the first half of Earth's history, before the Great Oxidation Event, it is generally thought that O2 was only present in trace amounts. Anbar and other scientists are trying to figure out when O2 first appeared, and how its abundance varied over time. Photo by: Figure modified after Kump, 2008 (modified by Sue Selkirk, ASU).