News and Updates


One of the latest stunning mosaics from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team

Today, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), run by the Arizona State University-based team under Professor Mark Robinson, released what very well may be the largest image mosaic available on the web. This map offers a complete picture of the Moon’s northern polar region in stunning detail.

On December 11, 2011, after two and a half years in a near-circular polar orbit, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) entered an elliptical polar orbit, with a periapsis (point where the LRO is closest to the surface) near the south pole, and the apoapsis (point where LRO is furthest from the surface) near the north pole of the Moon. The increased altitude over the northern hemisphere enables the two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) and Wide Angle Camera (WAC) to capture more terrain in each image acquired in the northern hemisphere.

The resulting LROC northern polar mosaic (LNPM) is comprised of 10,581 NAC images, collected over four years, and covers the latitude range of 0° to 60° N.

In the fall of 2010 the LROC team produced its first mosaic of the Moon’s northern polar region, but it doesn’t even compare to this new mosaic with its 50x higher resolution and over 680 gigapixels of valid image data covering a region of the Moon slightly larger than the combined area of Alaska and Texas – at a resolution of 2 meters per pixel.

To create the mosaic, each LROC NAC image was map projected on a 30 m/pixel Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) derived Digital Terrain Model (DTM) using a software package (written by the United States Geological Survey) called Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers (ISIS).

The LNPM was assembled from individual “collar” mosaics. Each collar mosaic was acquired by imaging the same latitude once every two-hour orbit for a month during which time the rotation of the Moon steadily brought every longitude into view. Each collar mosaic has very similar lighting from start to end and covers 1° to 3° of latitude.

The mosaic was originally assembled as 841 large tiles due to the sheer volume of data. If the mosaic was processed as a single file it would have been approximately 3.3 terabytes in size. Part of the large size is due to the incredible dynamic range of the NACs. The raw images are recorded as 12-bit data (4096 grey levels) then processed to normalized reflectance (a quantitative measure of the percentage of light reflected from each spot on the ground). To preserve the subtle shading gradations of the raw images during processing the NAC images are stored as 32-bit floating-point values (millions of grey levels). The 32-bit values are four times the disk size of the finalized 8-bit (255 grey levels) representation most computers use to display grayscale images. The conversion process from 32-bit to 8-bit pixels results in saturation (group of pixels all with the maximum value of 255) in the brightest areas.

Even with the conversion, the compressed JPEG images that make up the final product take up almost a terabyte of disk space.

In total the massive mosaic required 17,641,035 small tiles to produce the final product.

“The LNPM is another example of LRO observations paving the way for science discoveries and future missions of exploration. Creation of this giant mosaic took four years and a huge team effort across the LRO project. We now have a nearly uniform map to unravel key science questions and find the best landing spots for future exploration,” says Robinson, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Read the full post on the LROC site here

Explore the gigapan here

(Nikki Cassis)

Caption 1 (top image): Printed at 300 dpi (a high-quality printing resolution that requires you to peer very closely to distinguish pixels), the LNPM would be larger than a football field.

Caption 2 (bottom image): Spectacular LROC Northern Polar Mosaic (LNPM) allows exploration from 60°N up to the pole at the astounding pixel scale of 2 meters [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].



ASU’s Earth & Space Open House is set to take place from 7 to 10 p.m., March 28, at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Visitors to the free event can attend a public lecture, gaze at the sky through telescopes, watch science demonstrations and explore the interactive displays in ISTB 4, which is located at the corner of McAllister and Terrace.

The theme for this open house is EarthScope: An Earth Science Program. It will feature a public lecture by School of Earth and Space Exploration professor Ramon Arrowsmith on EarthScope and Arizona by Professor Steve Semken as well as journey into the earth in 3-D by Professor Ed Garnero, all moderated by Wendy Bohon. The lecture, titled “EarthScope: An Earth Science Program,” will be held at 7 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater.

Lectures are 45 minutes long, followed by a 15-minute Q-and-A session. Seating is on a first-come basis.

There will be one 3-D planetarium show in the Marston Exploration Theater at 9 p.m. Telescopes will be set up from 8 to 10 p.m. next to Skyscape art installation.

To get to the open house, go to the main entrance of ISTB 4, located on the building’s north side.

The monthly open house is partially sponsored by the School of Earth and Space Exploration, GeoClub and AstroDevils: ASU Astronomy Club. The final open house date for the spring is April 25 featuring Mars and Curiosity rover.

For more information, visit or



New shows, adventures for 2014 at Marston Exploration Theater

Explore planets in and beyond our Solar System, fly around galaxies in the local Universe, and experience the scale of all time and all space from the comfort of your seat – in ASU’s Marston Exploration Theater in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

The Marston Exploration Theater has recently unveiled its newest 3-D astronomy shows — “Undiscovered Worlds” and “To the Edge of the Universe and Everything in Between”. The shows aren’t your ‘typical’ planetarium shows focusing on constellations or the motion of stars. Visitors are invited to sit back and enjoy 3-D immersive entertainment that offers a sensory experience unlike any other. With computer animation and Definiti SkySkan Planetarium technology utilizing 4K projection systems, the Marston Exploration Theater allows visitors to explore the universe in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible.

“To the Edge of the Universe and Everything in Between” is a 60-minute narrated journey from Earth to the cosmic background radiation. Stops along the way include current, topical space science news explorations.

“The planetarium experience is normally an Earth-bound perspective focusing on a representation of your night sky. At the Marston Theater, we engage the Universe on its own terms; we go to where science takes us. We have the opportunity to explore the latest research, the newest discoveries and view firsthand the limits and the potential of our technological reach in space,” says Ric Alling, theater director.

“People come up after almost every presentation expressing that the live flying technology of the Marston Theater completely changes their perspective of the size and structure of the Universe,” says Alling, adding: “I highly recommend this show for everyone in the ASU community as a means of developing fundamental knowledge of the scale of space and time.”

Until very recently, the only planets known to us were the familiar worlds in orbit around our Sun. In the last two decades we have discovered hundreds of new planets, called exoplanets, orbiting other stars. In two more decades they will number in the thousands. The second show, “Undiscovered Worlds”, a 70-minute presentation that includes a movie produced by Science Center Boston, accompanied by a 3-D survey of our exoplanet neighborhood including the very latest in research leading to an understanding of worlds outside our own solar system.

“We tell the tale surrounding this explosion of discovery and examine what will be required to determine which, if any, of these new exoplanets can support life,” says Alling.

The shows can be seen Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $7.50 per person (student admission is $5.50) and can be purchased at the door or online at:

In addition to the new public shows, the Marston Exploration Theater also offers programs for K-12 students. Special rates are available for any group visiting regularly scheduled Marston Theater programs. Please contact

Housed within the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, theater visitors can also enjoy the interactive exhibits in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration, located adjacent to the theater, before and after shows.

(Nikki Cassis)



It’s not enough for scientists to do science or for engineers to engineer things. They have to be able to communicate with the public and help regular people understand why their work is important.

On February 26, students in the Arizona State University NASA Space Grant program set out to do just that. Space Grant is a NASA-funded university program that supports the research initiatives of undergraduate and graduate students.

About 45 student researchers—mostly undergraduates—participated in a poster session outside of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. This is in preparation for the Arizona/NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship Statewide Symposium and for future presentations. A poster session is a common sight in the professional research world. Researchers print out key information and graphics on a poster roughly 2 by 3 feet and use it to help facilitate discussion about their research results.

“It doesn’t matter what we discover if we do it by ourselves,” said Tom Sharp, associate director for the Arizona Space Grant Consortium and director of Space Grant at ASU. “It could be the most important discovery ever to the handful of people in your field, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t tell people about it.”

The topics of students’ research range anywhere from robotics to modeling the ionosphere to figuring out the best way to teach kids science.

Stephanie Maxwell, a biomedical engineering senior, researched a method to design an at-home fertility test for couples trying to get pregnant and an at-home hormone monitor for women who are already pregnant.

Maxwell’s research topic was motivated by the high number of patients with miscarriages at the Maricopa Integrated Health System hospital.

More than 500,000 pregnancies end in miscarriage each year in the U.S. largely due to hormone imbalance, and more than six million women in the U.S. struggle to become pregnant, Maxwell said.

“The problem with going to see the doctor is that the woman’s prenatal hormone levels are only measured at that one time and place, but during pregnancy hormone levels can change rapidly,” Maxwell said. Pregnant women with an at-home test could monitor their hormone levels more frequently and possibly prevent miscarriage.

Other students in the program have taken on research with a more iconic NASA feel to it.

Alejandro Miguel Lorenzo, an astrophysics junior, developed a code that calculates the relationship between the mass and radius of an exoplanet (a planet outside of our solar system). The code is the first step in the complicated process of figuring out what these planets are made of.

“This is a quick and easy way to find out what a planet is made of and what its radius should be,” Miguel Lorenzo said. “It’s really cool because we could find a new Earth.”

The code Miguel Lorenzo created could help astronomers map other solar systems, and knowing what kinds of planets are out there helps astronomers answer the question Are we alone?

“How rare are we? Are we really the only people in the billions and billions of stars and planets that are out there?” Miguel Lorenzo asked.

Still other students are working doubly hard to spread the word about science.

Civil engineer Kenneth Magaña taught science to kindergarten through eighth grade students at an after school program at Southwest Elementary school in Phoenix. For two years Southwest Elementary did not have a regular science teacher, and the eighth graders at the school had hardly any science knowledge at all, Magaña said.

The students at Southwest Elementary are asked to build things, design experiments and sometimes dissect animals. The end goal is to teach them the scientific method and engineering process and to inspire them to want to pursue science in college, Magaña said.

“In the beginning, the students were stand-offish and messed around, but now they’re really interested,” he said. “They ask us to bring in specific things that they’re curious about like magnets.”

Magaña’s work is, in part, emblematic of what Space Grant at ASU is trying to accomplish: to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers.

“These students may see themselves in [Magaña] in a way they wouldn’t see themselves in me,” Sharp said. “They see that he can go to ASU and he can be an engineering major. That’s huge.”

Photo: Space Grant intern Michael Bull discusses his research. Credit: Kristen Hwang

(Kristen Hwang)



The sound waves generated by earthquakes and how they teach us about plate tectonics and Earth’s active interior

Geophysicist Edward Garnero will be the speaker of the inaugural “Earth and Planetary Interiors Colloquium” (EPIC) lecture on March 18. EPIC is a new initiative in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) that focuses on bringing world-class scientists to ASU to present their research. EPIC aims to promote discussion of that research in a casual setting where ideas can be freely exchanged among students, staff, and faculty.

In his talk, Garnero will portray Earth as a dynamic planet where shaking and rattling from earthquakes make sound. What do they sound like? How are those vibrations used to decipher the mysterious insides of our planet?

“Listening to Earthquakes: the Music of the Earth,” will be a one-hour presentation starting at 7:30 p.m., March 18, in the Marston Exploration Theater on ASU’s Tempe campus. Attendees will see earthquakes and the inner earth in 3-D. It is free and open to the public, reservations are recommended:

Garnero is a geophysics professor in SESE. He uses seismology to image the inaccessible regions of Earth’s interior – from the uppermost mantle to the innermost core. With students and colleagues, Garnero has been developing widely acclaimed visualizations of deep earth discoveries for nearly a decade. Garnero was recently named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, acknowledging his discoveries in deep Earth research.

EPIC was created to bring together world-class scientists from around the globe with those at ASU through a public speaker series as well as informal discussions with ASU researchers. EPIC is entirely funded by donations from the public.

For parking and directions, visit:



The Origins Project at Arizona State University is hosting a weekend celebration of its fifth anniversary by focusing on the future of humanity in “Transcending our Origins: Violence, Humanity and the Future,” 7 p.m., Saturday, April 5.

Tickets for the April 5 Great Debates are now available. The Great Debates will be the capstone event to a weekend full of activities for the Origins Project, said director Lawrence Krauss.

“The Origins Project will host a workshop on violence and explore the future of humanity during the weekend, and will discuss all of these issues in a public forum on Saturday evening,” Krauss said. “We also will be taking part in NPR’s Science Friday with some members of the weekend activities providing expert commentary on the show, and there will be an Origins Project fundraising dinner on Friday evening.”

“We want to capture the on-going excitement and the intellectual stimulation that have become the hallmarks of the Origins Project, covering three of the four major Origins themes in this anniversary year, complementing our Great Debate on the cosmos held in February, and revisiting some of the remarkable excitement generated in our first major Origins Symposium in April of 2009,” he added.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, Origins will hold the first of two Great Debates in Gammage Auditorium on ASU’s Tempe campus. The first Great Debate is titled, “The Origins of Violence,” and will feature such noted scholars and writers as experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, Harvard; primatologist Richard Wrangham, Harvard; political scientist Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver; psychologist Adrian Raine, University of Pennsylvania; international relations scholar John Mueller, Ohio State University; and Sarah Mathew, assistant professor is ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. The group will discuss the development of violence from the brain to world wars.

The second panel, which will begin approximately 8:30 p.m., is titled “The Future: From Medicine and Synthetic Biology to Machine Intelligence.” It will feature scientists and notable experts such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, investor and former journalist Esther Dyson, distinguished scientist Eric Horvitz of Microsoft, science executive George Poste of ASU, and physician and evolutionary biologist Randy Nesse of ASU. They will talk about the future of new biomedical and robotic technologies and their impact on humanity.

Lawrence Krauss will moderate the evening.

“From exploring questions ranging from the origins of the Universe and human origins, to addressing the future of our species, the Origins Project tries to focus on topics that are not only at the forefront of scientific and scholarly inquiry, but also ones that also go straight to the heart of questions every human being asks,” Krauss said. “The fact that we have been able fill the 2,700 seat Gammage auditorium consistently with audience members willing to come to hear about science, and listen to the scientists who are doing the work testifies to the intense interest these issues hold for the public at large.”

Tickets for the Origins Project Great Debate Transcending our Origins: Violence, Humanity and the Future are available on line through and at the ASU Gammage Box Office, (480) 965-3434. Discounted student tickets are available with a student ID at the Gammage Box Office. The first 1,250 tickets are free (two per person) to persons presenting a valid ASU ID at the Gammage Box Office only.

For more information on Origins events, please go to <> , or call (480) 965-0053.

(Skip Derra)



NASA has selected five students from the Dust Devils Microgravity Team at Arizona State University to fly an experiment on the “Vomit Comet,” the endearing nickname given to an airplane that simulates zero gravity.

The airplane, a modified Boeing 727-200 owned by the Zero-G Corporation, was once used to train astronauts in the 1960s. It is now used for NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. Based out of Houston, this program gives undergraduate students in the U.S. the opportunity to propose, build and fly an experiment designed for zero gravity.

The Dust Devils are studying the microphysics of dust—specifically, the team is looking at how dust in space becomes electrically charged and clumps together to form planets. “How do planets form?” is a question scientists don’t have a full answer to, team lead Jack Lightholder said.

“We’re not developing a hypothesis that’s been tested a million times,” Lightholder said. “[The experiment] is cutting edge because we’re not really sure of the answer.” The team’s experiment, which flew with NASA in 2012, is the first of its kind to study planetary formation from dust particles, Lightholder said.

Jack Lightholder (computer science), Elizabeth Dyer (astrobiology), Zachary Priddy (computer systems engineering), Alison Gibson (aerospace engineering) and RJ Amzler (astrobiology) will fly the experiment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during the week of April 4-12. John Conafay (economics) is an alternate flyer. Paul Reesman (computer science) and Libby Loyd (aerospace engineering) make up the Dust Devils’ ground team. Lightholder and Gibson are ASU/NASA Space Grant interns.

The idea for the experiment came from team adviser and theoretical astrophysicist Steve Desch. Desch is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at ASU. The team’s engineering adviser is experimental astrophysicist Chris Groppi, also a professor in SESE.

The experiment is made of 12 chambers filled with different kinds and volumes of dust. The team chose dust compositions based on material that is found in interstellar space. One chamber contains dust from the Murchison meteorite. The meteorite sample was donated by ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies.

This year the team has also mounted GoPro video cameras next to the chambers to record how the dust behaves in zero gravity. The team will only experience about 20 seconds of zero gravity at a time, so the experiment needs to be quick and reliable.

“We’re just simplifying the system like crazy,” Lightholder said. “It’s basically just one click to turn it on and off.”

Although NASA foots the $5,000-per person flight bill, the Dust Devils have to pay to build the experiment and to travel to and from Houston for flight week, a total of about $10,000. ASU/NASA Space Grant is helping to cover some project expenses. To help make ends meet, the team started an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign.

“Crowd funding is essentially you put out a pitch and you say, ‘Hey this is what we’re doing, this is what we need the money for, and here are the different perk levels,’” said team treasurer and economics major John Conafay.

For example, for a $25 donation the team will give the donor photos from the flight, a social media shout out and an ASU Dust Devils Mission Patch. For a $500 donation, the donor will get one of the GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition cameras used on the experiment along with the perks offered at lower price levels.

The team is hoping to raise $2,000 through its Indiegogo campaign.

The amount of time spent on the experiment is comparable to a full-time job. And all of that work is done on top of being a full-time student. But the team members are grateful for the experience.

“My stance is that the whole college experience is three parts: It’s the academics you learn in your classes, it’s networking and it’s hands-on experience, because there’s a lot you just can’t learn in a book,” Lightholder said.

To donate to the Dust Devils visit their Indiegogo at

Photo: Back Row: Dr. Christopher Groppi, Ashley Mascareno, Zachary Priddy, Robert Amzler, John Conafay, Alison Gibson

Front Row: Casner Pernice, Trey Gossard, Jack Lightholder, Elizabeth Dyer, Dr. Steve Desch

(Kristen Hwang)




Danny Jacobs, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Low Frequency Cosmology lab in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, has just been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship (AAPF). The fellowship will fund three years of his research, including stipend and annual research costs. The start date is October 1, 2014.

Jacobs’ main focus is high redshift cosmology at low frequencies. He is a member of the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER) in South Africa and the Murchison Wide-field Array (MWA) in Western Australia.

“Thanks to the NSF I'll be able to finish several outstanding cosmology experiments and begin work on the sequels,” says Jacobs. “Now is an exciting time for Cosmology and with this new support ASU is taking a leading role in cutting edge experiments.”

“Jacobs is both the first award to come from ASU and also the first to intend to perform the award research at ASU. So this is a pretty big milestone for the astronomy group in the School of Earth and Space Exploration,” says Assistant Professor Judd Bowman, who oversees the Low Frequency Cosmology lab.



For the first time since the Viking Mars mission of the 1970s, which ended more than a generation ago, scientists will soon begin systematic observations of Mars from orbit at times of day around local sunrise and sunset. The instrument they will use is the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera, designed at Arizona State University.

The new approach is a result of NASA changing the orbit of its Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which carries the THEMIS camera. The spacecraft has been drifting toward the new orbit for more than a year, and a small engine burn on Feb. 11 accelerated the drift so it can finalize the orbit in November of 2015. During the transition, THEMIS will continue observations as the orbital time of day changes.

"We don't know exactly what we'll find when we get to an orbit where we see Mars just after sunrise," says Philip Christensen, designer and principal investigator for THEMIS. He is a Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration on the Tempe campus. Christensen developed the post-orbit change observing plan.

THEMIS is a multi-band camera that images Mars in nine infrared (heat-sensitive) "colors" and five visible ones. It was launched on Mars Odyssey in April 2001 and reached the Red Planet in October that year. The spacecraft spent several months dipping into the Martian atmosphere to regularize its orbit, and THEMIS began science imaging in February 2002. With more than 12 years elapsed since arrival, Mars Odyssey is the longest-working Mars spacecraft of any nation.

Morning and evening on Mars

Besides revealing landscapes in sharp relief, thanks to the low sun angle, the new orbital time of day for THEMIS promises to let scientists explore frosts, ground fogs, early morning clouds and hazes, and other transient atmosphere-related features that usually vanish as the Martian day goes on.

"We know that in places, carbon dioxide frost forms overnight," says Christensen. "And then it sublimates immediately after sunrise. What would this process look like in action? How would it behave? We've never observed this kind of phenomenon directly."

He notes that the Martian atmosphere is more variable than scientists have appreciated in the past.

"We can look for seasonal differences," says Christensen. "Are fogs more common in winter or spring? Do they vary from day to day? From one part of the year to another? From year to year? We'll check it out."

In addition, THEMIS will measure surface temperatures at thousands of locations. These observations can yield insight about materials in the ground and about temperature-driven processes. These include warm-season flows of water or brine seen on some slopes, and gas-and-sand geysers fed by spring thawing of carbon dioxide ice near Mars' south pole.

"We're teaching an old spacecraft new tricks," says Odyssey project scientist Jeffrey Plaut at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We will be in position to do something that has never been done systematically: to watch how morning fog, clouds and surface frost develop at different times of year."

After Mars Odyssey reaches its intended orbit of 6:45 a.m. and p.m. (local time) in November 2015, mission engineers expect Odyssey will have enough propellant for nine to 10 more years of operation, an important matter for ongoing Mars exploration. Besides conducting its own observations, Odyssey also serves as a crucial communications relay to Earth for the two active rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, operating on the Martian surface.

"Mars is a dynamic world," says Christensen. "And for a generation, we've not been positioned to explore this part of it so thoroughly."

Photo: ASU's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) is taking regular temperature measurements of the ground as the orbit of NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft drifts toward a time of day that will give THEMIS views of Mars around sunrise and sunset. This will be the first systematic observations of these times of day in more than a generation. Here, THEMIS is imaging the floor of Gale Crater, using its visual wavebands to create a color view of the area where Mars rover Curiosity (too small to be imaged) is exploring for ancient habitable environments.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

(Robert Burnham)



Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) and Arizona State University have worked together to create an exhibit that will investigate the relationship between popular culture, scientific inquiry, technological innovation and cultural change. Several ASU units, including the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Center for Science and the Imagination, contributed to the design of the exhibit.

In the February issue of Localrevibe magazine writer Nicole Royse discusses the exhibit and draws attention to the "science" side, including a mention of the fabulous Mars panoramas.

Read the full story here (starts on page 34)