News and Updates


Arizona State University Foundation Professor Kip Hodges is co-investigator and ASU principal investigator for a node of the new NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). SSERVI brings nine teams of researchers from NASA laboratories, universities, research institutions, and commercial enterprises together in a collaborative virtual setting to focus on questions concerning planetary science and human space exploration in the inner Solar System.

Through Hodges participation, ASU is affiliated with "Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration” team that is led by Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. Other nodes of the virtual institute are based at Brown University, the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (Houston, Texas), NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colo.), Stony Brook University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Colorado. All together, the new virtual institute embraces the research of nearly 200 scientists nationwide, providing them with a total of roughly $12 million per year over the next five years.

“I’m very pleased that, through Jen’s leadership, the NASA Ames node was selected to be an inaugural part of SSERVI”, said Hodges. “I think we have assembled a great team of researchers that cross the boundaries between planetary science and the engineering and implementation of new technologies to enhance our ability to do science on other worlds.”

In addition to researchers from the Ames Research Center and ASU, the NASA Ames team includes participants from: the BAER Institute; the Canadian Space Agency; Cornell University; Evergreen Valley College; Honeybee Robotics; Idaho State University; the Korean Institute of Geoscience & Mineral Resources; Los Gatos Research; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Purdue University; the SETI Institute; Studio 98; the University of Toronto; the University of Western Ontario; Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering; and NASA’s Goddard, Johnson, Kennedy, and Marshall Space Flight Centers.

The NASA Ames team will focus on the development of innovative strategies for scientific research on asteroids, the Moon, and the moons of Mars – as well as on samples returned from those bodies – through studies of planetary analog sites on Earth. Hodges notes that it is important to establish best practices for human and robotic exploration of space prior to the launch of real missions so that we can maximize the quality and quantity of science that can be done at our exploration targets.

“By studying geologic features on Earth that are similar to those we will encounter on other bodies, we better prepare ourselves for future explorations.” The NASA Ames node will be conducting such studies on volcanic landscapes in Idaho and at meteorite impact craters in northern Canada.

Hodges was recruited for participation in SSERVI as a consequence of his research group’s work on determining the ages of impact events on Earth and the Moon.

“On coming to ASU in 2006, it was one of my goals to establish a world-class center for noble gas geochronology and geochemistry in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Thanks to investments by ASU, the National Science Foundation, and NASA, the laboratory my research group has worked hard to put together enables some very creative work, including our pioneering use of laser microprobe technologies for dating impact events”, Hodges says.

Recent work of this kind has focused on a variety of terrestrial impact sites and on lunar impact rocks brought back during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. Many members of Hodges’ research group – research scientists Mathijs van Soest and Jo Anne Wartho, postdoctoral associates Marc Biren, Frances Cooper, and John Weirich, and graduate students Cameron Mercer and Kelsey Young – have contributed to building the laboratory’s reputation as a leading facility for impact dating.

“Our participation in the work of the NASA Ames node of SSERVI permits us to expand our work on terrestrial impact sites in a way that will feed forward into future studies of samples returned from exploration targets like near-Earth asteroids, our Moon and the moons of nearby planets, or Mars. We are excited to be part of such a great effort, and look forward to helping NASA write the next chapter in the history of space exploration,” states Hodges.

For more information about SSERVI and selected member teams, visit:

Photo: Established in 2006, the Noble Gas Geochronology and Geochemistry Laboratories (NG3L) at Arizona State University provide state-of-the-art facilities for ASU researchers and guests. The main instrument room houses analytical systems for both quadrupole and magnetic sector mass spectrometry. Photo courtesy of Kip Hodges

(Nikki Cassis)


Icarus Rocketry, the newest club in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has quite literally lofty goals for the coming year.

By the end of the school year, members of the Icarus team aim to become the first student-driven team to design a high powered rocket that flies to an altitude of 100, 000 feet, said Peter Nguyen, team project director. Mount Everest is about 29, 000 feet above sea level.

The team, which was founded this past summer, doesn’t want to stop there.

Within the next three years, Icarus plans on breaking all altitude records set by university rocketry groups by flying a rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometers, the height commonly accepted as the edge of space, Nguyen said.

“Most people when they think of rocketry think of model rockets like the kind you build in high school,” Nguyen said. “But high powered rockets regularly reach altitudes of a few thousand feet.”

With flying at the forefront of their initial agenda, the Icarus team wants to give its members the opportunity to fly at rocketry competitions, Nguyen said. The team plans on using commercial rocket parts to achieve their first flight goal of 100, 000 feet and to fly at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in June, he said.

To get to higher altitudes, however, the team will build its own rockets from scratch.

“As we progress toward becoming the first student group that hits the edge of space, we’ll have to work on building our own propulsion systems,” Nguyen said.

The team’s high altitude goals also have research applications, Nguyen said.

“Once we have the capability to reach 100 kilometers, we could use our rockets as a test platform within the School of Earth and Space Exploration for those who want to test experiments in low gravity or high altitude conditions,” he said.

Goals aside, Icarus is still in the initial stages of teaching its members about rocketry. The club meets in PSF-226 on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. for workshops on recovery systems, design software and propulsion systems.

The club welcomes students from any major as long as they are interested in rocketry and willing to learn.

“We have a good mix of graduate and undergraduate majors from astrophysics, systems design and engineering, but we’ll catch anyone up to speed as long as they’re interested and committed,” he said.

Icarus Rocketry is not associated with Daedalus Astronautics, a high-powered rocketry club at ASU that was called ICARUS when it was founded in 2001.

For more information contact Peter Nguyen at

(Kristen Hwang)


The story “New galaxy 'most distant' yet discovered” written by Rebecca Morelle and published by the BBC on Oct. 23 is based on a recent paper that has ASU ties.

The lead author and several others on the paper “A galaxy rapidly forming stars 700 million years after the Big Bang at redshift 7.51” published in Nature are ASU alumni. Steve Finkelstein did his thesis work with professors James Rhoads and Sangeeta Malhotra; Keely Snider Finkelstein did her thesis with professor Jeff Hester; and V. S. Tilvi did his with Malhotra.



School of Earth and Space Exploration invites public to day of hands-on fun

The public is invited to spend a day exploring Earth and space with ASU scientists from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The day-long event is designed to inspire kids, parents, educators, and other community members that are intrigued by science.

Earth and Space Exploration Day provides a variety of science-related interactive activities for children age five and up and anyone interested in exploring Earth and space alongside real scientists.

For more than 15 years faculty and students in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have sponsored the event and used it as a means of connecting the community with science.

Together families can experience a variety of activities including digging for meteorites and creating impact craters, manipulating robotic arms and driving remote controlled underwater robots, and learning the science of rockets by making a soda straw rocket, to name a few. For a complete listing of activities, visit:

In addition to the tabletop activities and interactive demonstrations, there will be lab tours, lectures, and opportunities to engage with the kiosk-style exhibits in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration.

Space lovers can look through telescopes at solar spots and visit a replica of Curiosity Rover, matching the dimensions of the real rover currently on Mars. Several 3-D astronomy shows will be offered at various times in the building’s state-of-the-art, high-definition Marston Exploration Theater (view schedule).

Meteorite enthusiasts can visit the meteorite display on the second floor, drawn from the extensive collection of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. Visitors can examine touchable samples, engage with interactive displays, and ask staff to inspect potential meteorite specimens.

Rock hounds can bring a rock specimen for ‘Dr. Rock’ to analyze and identify, or take part in a family-friendly geology field trip to “A” Mountain (Hayden Butte) to learn about the sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks and geological structures exposed in Tempe. The ASU GeoClub will also be selling mineral and rock samples, along with snacks.

Lectures are scheduled throughout the day on topics ranging from space exploration to Earth’s climate.

Attendees are encourage to pre-register:

For more information, contact the School of Earth and Space Exploration at (480) 965-5081 or visit



JOIN US for…

Earth & Space Open House this Friday!

Date: Friday, Oct. 25 from 7-10 p.m.
Theme: Meteorites
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 8 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: Meenakshi Wadhwa, Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies
Time: 8 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Hunting for Visitors from Space in Antarctica - Why it is worth collecting meteorites on the white continent

In this talk, Professor Wadhwa will discuss why the Antarctic is such a great hunting ground for meteorites and why it is worth the effort to collect these space rocks in this harsh environment. She will also provide a brief historical perspective on meteorite collection efforts on this continent. During this past winter, she participated in the 2012-2013 field season of the NSF-NASA-funded Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, and spent almost eight weeks in Antarctica. While ~2 weeks of this time was spent preparing for the expedition (at McMurdo Station), the rest of this time was spent hunting for meteorites in several different ice fields near the Transantarctic Mountains. She will present a report of the field season, how they prepared for the expedition, how the meteorites were collected, and what day-to-day life was like during the expedition.

There will be two 3D planetarium shows at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.

The future open house dates for this year are 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:



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)