News and Updates

12/21/2011

“Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science,” ASU Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project Lawrence M. Krauss’ recent book about a legendary and sometimes very public modern physicist, has been chosen as the 2011 Book of the Year by Physics World magazine in the UK.

Feynman is one of the most famous physicists of the second half of the 20th century, but he did much to bring science to the people, taking time to explain in simple terms some of its complexities and draw people into the exquisite world of science. One prime example of Feynman (who died in 1988) on the world stage was his explanation of the rigidity of space shuttle O-rings as a leading mechanical cause for the Challenger disaster in January of 1986.

Through his autobiographical memoirs and such public activities, Feynman became a well-known public figure, and as such has been the subject of numerous biographies. Krauss’ biography stands out, however, as the first scientific biography of the eminent Nobel-prizewinning physicist, who revolutionized our understanding of the quantum universe.

“Richard Feynman was one of the most colorful physicists of the 20th century but, more importantly, he was one of the most beloved and important physicists as well,” said Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist.

“I wanted to write a scientific book about Feynman because the public knows of him as a curious character, but what was clear was people did not know why he was revered by physicists,” Krauss said. “I also wanted to use Feynman as a hook to talk about 20th and 21st century physics. From quantum mechanics, to quantum computing, from particle physics to gravitation, Feynman laid the groundwork for much of what is at the cusp of our theoretical explorations of the Universe today.”

As a scientist, Feynman had an extraordinary ability to concentrate all of his energy on a single problem. He is known for his contributions to the development of path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics (for which he shared the 1965 Nobel prize) and the physics of superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium. He also made many contributions in particle physics, including our understanding of the weak interaction responsible for the processes that power the Sun, and the strong interaction between quarks, which governs the makeup of protons and neutrons, and hence all the matter that makes up the world we see around us.

In addition to his theoretical physics work, Feynman was credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He also worked on the Manhattan Project and served on the panel investigating the Challenger disaster.

“Feynman is a role model to many physicists, and there have been a lot of books written about him, but Quantum Man stands out because it focuses on what Feynman was like as a scientist and thinker, and explains why he and his work remain important even 20 years after his death,” said Margaret Harris, reviews and careers editor at Physics World.

“We particularly liked the fact that Krauss went back and re-read Feynman’s original papers when he was researching the book, since this gave him a perspective and an understanding of Feynman’s work that a lot of biographers lack,” she added. “Yet while the focus is firmly on Feynman’s science, and not his larger-than-life personality, it's nevertheless a highly readable biography – we can imagine pretty much anyone with an interest in physics, from students to Nobel laureates, unwinding with it over the holidays.”

Krauss’ book has been particularly well received by the physics community, as well as the public, and longtime Feynman collaborator and eminent scientist Freeman Dyson, who reviewed Quantum Man in the New York Review of Books has said that Krauss’ book is the first to really capture how Feynman thought about the world as a scientist.

“The Physics World selection of my book as Book of the Year is an unexpected honor,” Krauss said. “I was particularly surprised in the selection because the prize has gone in recent years to British authors. I am also particularly pleased because I happen to be a fan of Physics World as a popular science magazine.”

Krauss is the author of eight other books, including his upcoming book “A Universe from Nothing,” which will appear in January of 2012. Other books include “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond,” “The Physics of Star Trek,” “Atom” (which won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award), and “Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass.”

“Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science” is published by W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.

(Skip Derra)
 

12/16/2011

Acting upon the Grand Canyon’s potential for public geoscience education, ASU scientists helped coordinate the construction of the world’s largest geoscience interpretative exhibit: the Trail of Time. This interpretative walking timeline trail focuses on the canyon’s vistas and rocks, and aims to guide visitors toward a better understanding of time. Located on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, the Trail of Time recently won an Interpretive Media Award from the National Association for Interpretation (NAI).

The award, first place in the Wayside Exhibit category, recognizes and promotes excellence in the delivery of natural, cultural, and historical non-personal interpretive services (e.g., visitor center exhibits and brochures). 

Karl Karlstrom and Laura Crossey of the University of New Mexico, and Steve Semken of Arizona State University worked as the project’s principal investigators. Michael Williams of University of Massachusetts was a close collaborator and Judy Bryan, chief of interpretation at Grand Canyon National Park, was the primary collaborator between the team and the National Park Service.

The National Park Service (NPS) posted a story about the award on its website: http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/2011-12-16_tot.htm

 

Photo credit: NPS/Michael Quinn

12/15/2011

An exploding star, known as a supernova, brightens and dims so predictably that astronomers use them to calibrate distances in space. These violent events are pillars of modern astronomy and physics used to study many cosmological phenomena such as the expansion history of the universe, yet the origin of these natural fireworks remains a mystery. However, an international team of researchers reported in a study published Dec. 15 in the scientific journal Nature that they are a step closer to solving one of the universe’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

Supernovae are classified as either a Type I or Type II supernova, depending upon whether or not hydrogen is observed in their spectra. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in a star, and heavier elements are produced in the centers of stars. The absence of hydrogen indicates that the outer shells of a star have been expelled, a process thought to happen late in a star's lifetime. A Type Ia supernovae also lacks the next heaviest element to hydrogen – helium – and silicon is observed instead. This indicates that Type Ia supernovae are associated with the cores of highly-evolved stars.

Prior to a Type Ia supernova, there are two stars, known as a binary system. One star is a white dwarf; the other is a companion star that is close enough to transfer its own material onto the white dwarf. Once enough mass falls onto the white dwarf, reaching a total of about 1.4x the mass of our sun, it is no longer a stable configuration. The white dwarf collapses in on itself and the star explodes. General consensus holds that Type Ia supernovae result from thermonuclear explosions of a white dwarf in a binary system; however, astrophysicists do not know what the secondary star – the star that dumps mass onto the primary to make it explode – is.

“We use these supernovae for cosmology studies regularly, but we don’t really know what makes them,” says Nathaniel Butler, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. “However, we think that we now have a better understanding of the companion star for this one very interesting supernova, and we have obtained unprecedented constraints on the characteristics of that companion star.”

On August 24, 2011an exploding star, SN 2011fe/PTF11kly (hereafter SN 2011fe), was discovered in the Pinwheel Galaxy. This galaxy was intensively monitored over the past decade and was also regularly observed by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Chandra on several occasions. Astronomers immediately saw the potential of the imaging data obtained of this nearby supernova by an automated survey, the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF). Together, these archival data offer a unique opportunity to constrain the nature of the star system of SN 2011fe.

“We think SN 2011fe was the earliest Ia ever detected, identified by PTF within hours of the explosion. This supernova was great because it happened only about 20 million light years away, which is about 40 times closer than typical Ia SNe. So the potential to observe was phenomenal; it was visible through binoculars,” says Butler.

Prior to this event, astrophysicists did not know what type of star that companion was likely to be. However, thanks to the wealth of pre-explosion data, the most precise measurements to date on the system prior to explosion were possible. The data reveal that the secondary star is not a giant star. It is either a white dwarf or a regular (main sequence) star.

“This knowledge is then very useful for modeling the process that leads to type Ia SNe (formation of this type of binary, its evolution), and this knowledge enables calculations of rates, detailed explosion calculations, etc,” says Butler. “We now know, for at least one case and the best to date, that highly-luminous, red-giant stars aren't needed to trigger a type Ia SN.”

 

(Nikki Cassis)
 

12/12/2011

The earliest philosophers argued that out of nothing, nothing comes (ex nihilo, nihil fit). This ignited intense philosophical and theological debates and invoked challenging questions over the coming centuries. How could our universe in all its complexity come into existence from absolute nothingness, if nothing comes from nothing? In his new book, “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing,” Arizona State University professor Lawrence M. Krauss explains how recent revolutions in our understanding of physics and cosmology allow modern science to address the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and more importantly, why this is a scientific question rather than a philosophical or theological one.

In a 2009 lecture, Krauss discussed the current picture of the universe, how it will end, and how it could have come from nothing. The lecture’s video quickly became a YouTube sensation, netting nearly 1 million views, and out of that success emerged the idea for the book, which is due out January 10, 2012.

“For 2,000 years people have been asking where our universe came from and why there is something rather than nothing. The book is designed to teach about the revolutions in cosmology; but at the same time it is designed to answer that question that a lot of fundamentalists ask: ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ as a proof that there must be God. Everything that we know about the universe allows for it to come from nothing, and moreover all the data is consistent with this possibility,” says Krauss, who teaches in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Many people hold fast to the philosophical expression that something cannot come from nothing. They claim that since we live in a universe that has something this confirms or at least supports the theological doctrine that a divine creator, or some external force, created the universe. However, many physicists disagree, Krauss included. Against the claim, they cite recent scientific advancements.

As Krauss argues, the question of creating something from nothing is first and foremost a scientific one—as the very notions of ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ have been completely altered as a result of our current scientific understanding. As a pioneering theoretical physicist at the forefront of exploratory cosmology and particle physics, Krauss tackles the timeless enigma by showing how science has literally changed the playing field for this big question.

The latest physics research into the origins of the universe shows that, not only can our universe arise from nothing, but more generally, the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity imply that something will generally always arise from nothing. Even space, and the very laws of physics, may so arise. In “A Universe from Nothing” Krauss explains the groundbreaking advances in cosmology and in our understanding of physics that provide insight into how the universe formed, and what its future will be. As he demonstrates, it is possible, and in fact suggested by observation that our universe arose through entirely natural processes, just as Darwin demonstrated that the diversity of life on Earth could arise by natural processes. Indeed, Richard Dawkins, in the afterword of the new book compares Krauss’ book in significance to Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.”

“Recent discoveries about the nature of the universe involve remarkable developments that make it plausible to consider God as unnecessary,” says Krauss, who also is the founding director of the ASU Origins Project.

Krauss clearly, and with great wit and interesting historical color, discusses our current understanding of the geometry of our universe (it’s flat), the quirks of quantum theory (nothingness is unstable), the revolutionary discovery, which he played a role in, that the dominant energy in the universe resides in empty space (which was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize), and the nature of nothingness (nothing doesn’t mean “nothing” anymore), which can provide a natural explanation for how even the initial matter and energy to ignite the birth of the universe can arise from empty space, or even in the absence of space itself.

“Science has changed the way we think about ourselves and our place in the cosmos, and the astounding progress of the last forty years has led us to the threshold of addressing key foundational questions about our existence and our future that were previously thought to be beyond our reach,” says Krauss. “Because these questions are the very ones that humans have asked since they started asking questions, the public deserves to share in the excitement of our scientific quest to understand the biggest mysteries of our existence. As Steven Weinberg has stressed, science doesn’t make it impossible to believe in God. It however makes it possible to consider a universe without one.”

Krauss is the author of eight other books, including “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science,” “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond,” “The Physics of Star Trek,” and “Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass.”

 

(NIkki Cassis)

11/28/2011

Skip the strip mall... instead, hit up Tyler Mall to pick up some nice affordable gifts for the holiday season! GeoClub will be holding its last (rock, mineral, fossil, meteorite and all-around "shiny stuff") sale of the semester on November 30th and December 1st on Tyler Mall. Your purchases help support our educational field trips and outreach activities!

 

Learn more about GeoClub

11/28/2011

 With its detailed maps and stunning color photographs, Antarctic veteran Ed Stump’s new book “The Roof at the Bottom of the World” shows the Transantarctic range in all its icy glory

 

Not many people get the chance to visit Antarctica, but those who do experience something they will never forget. It was the same for Professor Ed Stump. By the time he returned from his first visit to “the Ice”, as Antarcticans like to say, he was obsessed with going back. And he did make it back – multiple times. That first visit to the pristine icy wilderness in 1970 precipitated a 40-year love affair, and led to the publication of a beautifully illustrated history and atlas of exploration titled, The Roof at the Bottom of the World that draws upon his 13 field seasons of experience.

Stump had grown up in rural, central Pennsylvania surrounded by the Appalachians. His love for mountains was one of the main reasons that he had chosen to pursue a career in geology. After finishing graduate school at Yale in the spring of 1970, he told his mentor that he wanted “to get as far away as possible” and the response he received was, “Why don’t you try Antarctica?”

Stump knew of Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains, but they were so obscure that he had never considered them as a research option. The Transantarctic Mountains are the most remote mountain belt on Earth, an alien world of ice and rock rising to majestic heights in excess of 14,000 feet and extending for 1,500 miles across the continent.

Stump had the good fortune of being selected to join a field party from Ohio State University in the Queen Maud Mountains. He was chosen to study the structure and stratigraphy of one of the major rock groups in the region, an opportunity that set him on the course he has followed throughout his career – conducting geological research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the most distant and unexplored mountain belt on Earth.

Since 1976 Stump has taught geology at ASU. Over the past 40 years, he has led a series of geological research projects funded by NSF, covering more than 1,200 miles of the Transantarctic Mountains. No other person on Earth has a more complete photographic record of the entire breadth of this region. He has twice served as Chief Scientist for large, remote, helicopter-supported camps. Other research includes NSF-funded studies in southern Arizona, the Alaska Range, and the Himalaya. He has written more than 70 scientific articles, and authored three books including Geology of Arizona, The Ross Orogen of the Transantarctic Mountains, and most recently The Roof at the Bottom of the World, published by Yale University Press.

For many years Stump has wanted to share the beauty of Antarctica’s remote and glorious mountains at the end of the Earth. The Roof at the Bottom of the World was his chosen medium to let the secret out about this wondrous mountain range that been the focus of his geological research and exploration for the 40 years.

The narrative follows the story lines of the famous polar explorers – Ross, Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Byrd – who each in their turn, discovered and explored portions of the Transantarctic Mountains. The book is illustrated with more than 100 of Stump’s photographs of the mountains, along with more than 30 historical maps, shaded-relief topographic maps, and satellite images, showing the routes taken by the early explorers and the terrain that they discovered. It is the first atlas of the most remote mountain range on Earth.


Read Ed Stump’s recent article in The Atlantic
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO CLIMB THE MOUNTAINS OF ANTARCTICA (Nov. 17) http://bit.ly/u17uH7


HIGHLIGHTS FROM ED STUMP'S BLOG

http://www.transantarcticmountains.com/

On his website, Stump vividly recounts what it has been like to explore the Transantarctic Mountains over the past 40 years. Via blog entries that read like poetry and photographs that capture the pristine wilderness of ice and rock, he brings to life his experiences in the most remote mountain belt on Earth.


HYGIENE IN THE FIELD – August 14, 2011

Deep field Antarctic research requires that explorers go weeks without obvious creature comforts. In this post, Stump discusses hygiene in remote field camps – how dishes are washed without soap and showers are ... nonexistent.


MCMURDO STATION – August 28, 2011

In 1957 the US chose Winter Quarters Bay as the location of its main center of operations, naming it McMurdo Station. Stump first visited the outpost in 1970. He provides two views of McMurdo Station that were shot in January 1983 and January 2011 that show differences that have occurred over the years.


THE SILENCE – September 5, 2011

The Antarctic silence is mentioned by many of those who have travelled to the deep field, including Stump, who recalls: “Standing there, I suddenly became aware of the silence. It was behind me just at my shoulder. It went beyond the icefall as far as I could see. It was out there everywhere.”

ADÉLIE PENGUINS – October 2, 2011
The thing most people know about Antarctica is that penguins live there. Twenty miles north of McMurdo station is the southernmost adélie penguin rookery on Earth. In this post Stump shares his favorite penguin shots.


(Nikki Cassis)

 

11/21/2011

The November issue of the SESE Source is now available. Stories touch on the various research areas of SESE, including Prof. Ed Stump's research in Antarctica, Prof. Mark Robinson's work with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, Prof. Jack Farmer's fossil-finding field trips and much more!

 

Read the November issue

View past issues of the SESE Source

11/16/2011

The Arizona State University team that oversees the imaging system on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has released the highest resolution near-global topographic map of the Moon ever created. This new topographic map shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire Moon with a pixel scale close to 100 meters (328 feet). A single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about the size of two football fields placed side-by-side. At this scale explorers can accurately investigate kilometer-scale and larger craters, volcanoes, and mountains.

Although the Moon is our closest neighbor, knowledge of its morphology is still limited. Due to instrumental limitations of previous missions, a global map of the Moon’s topography at high resolution has not existed until now. With the LRO Wide Angle Camera (WAC) stereo imaging and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) scientists can now accurately portray the shape of the entire Moon at high resolution.

“Our new topographic view of the Moon provides the dataset that lunar scientists have waited for since the Apollo era,” says Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). “We can now determine slopes of all major geologic terrains on the Moon at 100 meter scale. Determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the Moon.”

Called the Global Lunar DTM 100 m topographic model (GLD100), this map was created based on data acquired by LRO’s WAC, which is part of the LROC imaging system. The LROC imaging system consists of two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) to provide high-resolution images, and the WAC to provide 100-meter resolution images in seven color bands over a 57-kilometer (35-mile) swath.

The WAC is a relatively small instrument, easily fitting into the palm of one’s hand; however, despite its diminutive size it maps nearly the entire Moon every month. Each month the Moon's lighting has changed so the WAC is continuously building up a record of how different rocks reflect light under different conditions, and adding to the LROC library of stereo observations.

The LROC (WAC) has a pixel scale of about 75 meters (246 feet), and at the average altitude of 50 km (31 miles) a WAC image swath is 70 km (43 miles) wide across the ground-track. Since the equatorial distance between orbits is about 30 km (18 miles) there is complete overlap all the way around the Moon in one month. The orbit-to-orbit WAC overlap provides a strong stereo effect. Using digital photogrammetric techniques, a terrain model can be computed from the stereo overlap.

The near-global topographic map was constructed from 69,000 WAC stereo models and covers the latitude range 79°S to 79°N, 98.2% of the entire lunar surface. Due to persistent shadows near the poles it is not possible to create a complete stereo based map at the highest latitudes. However, another instrument onboard LRO called LOLA excels at mapping topography at the poles. Since LOLA ranges to the surface with its own lasers, and the LRO orbits converge at the poles, a very high resolution topographic model is possible, and can be used to fill in the WAC “hole at the pole.” The WAC topography was produced by LROC team members at the German Aerospace Center.

“Collecting the data and creating the new topographic map was a huge collaborative effort between the LRO project, the LOLA team, the LROC team at ASU and in Germany at the DLR,” says Robinson. “I could not be more pleased with the quality of the map – it’s phenomenal! The richness of detail should inspire lunar geologists around the world for years to come.”

Shaded relief images can be created from the GLD100 by illuminating the “surface” (in this case the shape model) from a given Sun direction and elevation above the horizon. To convey an absolute sense of height the resulting grayscale pixels are painted with colors that represent the altitude. Visualizations like these allow scientists to view the surface from very different perspectives, providing a powerful tool for interpreting the geologic processes that have shaped the Moon.

Future versions
The current model incorporates the first year of stereo imaging; there is another year of data that can be added to the solution. These additional stereo images will not only improve the sharpness (resolution) of the model but also fill in very small gaps that exist in the current map. Also the LROC team has made small improvements to the camera distortion model and the LOLA team has improved our knowledge of the spacecraft position over time. These next generation steps will further improve the accuracy of the next version of the LROC GLD100 topographic model of the Moon.

Read more: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/?archives/484-Lunar-Topography--As-Never-Seen-Before!.html
 

Caption: LROC WAC color shaded relief of the lunar farside (NASA/GSFC/DLR/Arizona State University).

 

Nicole Cassis

11/03/2011

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. 5, in the Bateman Physical Science F-Wing (map), at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The day-long event is designed to energize and excite the more than 1,000 kids, parents, educators, and other community members that are touched by the activities.

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 14 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.

“This event is always an eye-opening experience for kids from Maricopa County, where world-renowned professors and researchers come out to show families that science and scientists are fun,” says Professor Thomas Sharp, coordinator for the annual event. “We aim to create highly memorable, exciting and interactive experiences for children and their families, and give them the opportunity to learn how recent discoveries and research impact our daily lives.”

Students from all backgrounds can participate in hands-on activities, meet real scientists and engineers, and ask questions about a field some may not have known previously existed.

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, mining for gold, and learning the science of rockets by making a soda straw rocket, to name a few. For a complete listing of activities, visit: http://sese.asu.edu/earth-and-space-exploration-day.

In addition to the tabletop activities and interactive demonstrations, there will be lab tours, lectures, and a special unveiling is scheduled for 11 a.m. that visitors will certainly want to attend. Lectures are scheduled at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. on topics ranging from NASA’s planetary missions to volcanic eruptions.

Space lovers can visit the Planetarium or look through the telescopes at solar spots. In ASU’s Space Photography Laboratory, visitors can view the latest NASA planetary images and tour Mars using the GeoWall 3-D projector.

Meteorite enthusiasts can examine meteorite specimens on display from ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies and ask staff to inspect potential meteorite specimens in person.

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.

“Kids (and adults, alike) are sure to find the activities enjoyable, exciting and educational,” says Sharp. “This event is just part of what the School of Earth and Space Exploration is doing to make sure that students in the Valley of the Sun are excited by the science all around them. We hope this event will inspire everyone to become more involved in science.”

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

View photos from past Earth and Space Exploration Day events

 

(Nikki Cassis)

11/01/2011

A lunar sample from a rock that once sat on the surface of the Moon will be on public display at Arizona State University beginning Saturday, Nov. 5.

The golf ball-sized Moon rock, on a long-term loan to ASU from NASA, will be on display in the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Visitor Gallery located in the Interdisciplinary A building on the ASU’s Tempe campus.

Weighing 77 grams, or about 2.7 ounces, the lunar sample comes from a larger Moon rock that was collected by Apollo 15 astronauts. The parent sample, from which the ASU rock was cut, weighed 9.6 kilograms, or about 21 pounds, and was the largest of the rocks collected during the Apollo 15 geologic traverses.

Informally named after its collector, Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott, the “Great Scott” rock was picked up about 13 yards (12 meters) north of the rim of Hadley Rille on August 2, 1971. It is part of the 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples collected during six Apollo missions (1969 to 1972), and one of the most intensively studied samples.

Brownish-gray in color, sample 15555 is classified as medium-grained olivine basalt. Basalt is one of the most common types of rocks found on Earth, and is also one of the main lunar rock types. This rock crystallized from magma erupted from the mantle almost 3.3 billion years ago, and is predominantly composed of silicate minerals.

“Documented samples from the Moon, or any asteroids and planets, are the key to unlocking how planets form and evolve. The Moon is especially interesting because it preserves a record of the early solar system that you simply can’t find on Earth, since plate tectonics and fluvial erosion have mostly erased Earth’s early geologic history. Most lunar rocks are older than the oldest Earth rocks found to date. Thus the Moon can help scientists go back into the early stages of planet formation,” says Mark Robinson, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “However, it is fascinating to remember that it appears that some of the areas Apollo astronauts did not sample are relatively young, perhaps as young as 500 million years. What will we learn from these younger lunar rocks? A fascinating question left to the next generation of lunar explorers.”

The ASU Moon rock is encased in a triangular NASA-prepared airtight glass case that is filled with inert gas to protect the sample from the terrestrial environment. It resides in a protective alcove encapsulated in a specially designed display secured by multiple levels of security. The display's creator, Chris Skiba, a research professional in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, was asked to design a display worthy of showcasing a priceless national treasure. Skiba stated that he had seen many lunar sample displays and wanted to “kick it up a notch” so the public could experience the sample in 360 degrees.

The Moon rocks sits on top of a quartz plate, attached to a polished stainless steel stage that rotates, displaying all sides of the Moon rock. According to Skiba, this might be the only Apollo 15 lunar sample for public viewing that rotates.

“It is almost like you are holding it yourself and experiencing all sides of the Moon rock,” says Skiba.

Skiba utilized the effects of the quartz and how it can transmit light. The quartz plate is illuminated by a blue LED that creates a stunning blue ring of light around the sample.

Keeping with ASU’s sustainability focus, Skiba repurposed a discarded 12-inch diameter telescope support stand to serve as the display’s base. Energy-friendly LED lights were selected as the light source utilizing motion sensing technology to activate the display.

A fitting home
Several Apollo lunar samples are on long-term loan for public displays around the world. Display samples are historically allocated to major museums with relevant content, or places with a current or historical connection to lunar exploration. ASU has direct connections to both historic and current lunar missions.

ASU’s involvement with space exploration began in the 1970s with professors and researchers playing active science support roles on many missions. Today, ASU plays a significant role in six current NASA missions and one European Space Administration (ESA) mission: Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Express Orbiter (ESA), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Dawn, MESSENGER and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Key goals of the LRO mission are to collect comprehensive data sets on fifty scientifically intriguing sites, identification of lunar resources, studies of how the lunar radiation environment will affect humans, and answering fundamental lunar science questions. Robinson is the principal investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) on board NASA’s LRO spacecraft.

Sample unveiling
The Moon rock will be unveiled at the School of Earth and Space Exploration’s annual Earth and Space Exploration Day on Saturday, Nov. 5. To celebrate the rock’s arrival, a special presentation will be held in Physical Sciences F-wing room 166 at 11 a.m. It will be followed by a light reception in the courtyard beside the Interdisciplinary A building that is home to the LROC Science Operations Center (SOC).

Visitors can view the Moon rock in the LROC Visitor Gallery, which also features “The Lunar History Walk” hallway exhibit and additional interpretive exhibits in the Science Operations Center (SOC). The SOC handles the planning, targeting and data processing activities associated with the LRO camera, and is designed so that guests can observe the scientists at work behind a glass wall. The gallery is open to the general public 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding holidays).

 

Caption: This piece of Moon rock, now on display at ASU, was cut from the ‘Great Scott’ rock that Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott collected from the Moon’s surface in August 1971. The rock is made of olivine basalt and was part of an ancient lava flow, formed billions of years earlier.
Photo by: Tom Story

 

(Nikki Cassis)