News and Updates

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)
 

11/01/2011

“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe, but Thomas Sharp, a professor at ASU, feels differently.

As the director of ASU’s LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science, Sharp now leads the facility that played an integral role in his graduate education and his continuing research as an ASU professor. His top priority is to preserve the world class environment for advanced materials research and training that has defined the LeRoy Eyring Center for four decades.

“I intend to keep the center strong by maintaining cutting edge facilities and techniques for the characterization of solids. It’s crucial to preserve the strong research profile of the center around the world and within ASU,” said Sharp, who became director in July.

Formed in 1974, the center houses one of the country’s most comprehensive collections of high-end tools for the characterization of solid materials. It supports materials research activities across a broad range of disciplines, including solid-state physics and chemistry; Earth and planetary science; materials science and engineering; life sciences; electrical engineering.

In subscribing to ASU’s mission of “Quality and Access to All,” the center’s instruments and expertise are made available to researchers not just within ASU but across an expanding industrial community, ranging from local startups to Fortune 50 multinationals whose names are synonymous with innovation and quality.

Sharp arrived at ASU in 1983 as a graduate student with a focus on mineralogy and petrology, with a strong interest in mineral reactions in rocks. He received a master’s degree in geology in 1983 and a doctoral degree in geology in 1990 from ASU. He joined the ASU faculty as an assistant professor in 1997 and is now a full professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and ASU Associate Director of NASA’s Arizona Space Grant Consortium.

“As a mineralogist, I’m intensely interested in the reactions, transitions and deformation of minerals that occur deep in the Earth, on planetary surfaces and in shocked meteorites,” Sharp said. “We’re applying what we’ve learned to understanding the dynamics of Earth’s mantle, collisions in the asteroid belt and chemical weathering on the surface of Mars.”

Closer to home, Sharp directs the NASA Space Grant Program at ASU. Space Grant provides undergraduate internships and graduate fellowships for ASU students to participate in NASA related research and outreach.

Sharp does much of his research through the careful analysis of rocks and minerals using an array of electron microscopes and other instruments contained in the LeRoy Eyring Center.

“Having sophisticated tools and analytical techniques available with open access and hands-on training was a huge asset to my career and my research at ASU. This has also been the case for many researchers around the world, in academia and in industry, who have worked in solid state science at ASU,” said Sharp.

Following his postdoctoral research at ASU, Sharp had an opportunity to establish a transmission electron microscopy lab in Germany, and joined the Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry and Geophysics. Sharp credits this opportunity to the training he received at ASU and the international reputation for excellence in microscopy enjoyed by ASU and the LeRoy Eyring Center.

“Unlike most other laboratory environments, the center has been committed to sharing our expertise with researchers, and it’s been doing this for 38 years,” Sharp said. “As a result, we’ve become a de facto training center for generations of scientists – and this capability is recognized in research environments around the world. ASU’s reputation in electron microscopy was a key factor in my being hired to establish a lab at the Bavarian Geoinstitute.”

This legacy of excellence led the LeRoy Eyring Center to acquire two aberration corrected electron microscopes for what is expect to become cutting-edge research at the atomic scale. These world class instruments will be housed in a custom-designed building that is considered among the world’s “quietest” environments for electron microscopy.

When Sharp is not directing the LeRoy Eyring Center or his research program, he can often be found interacting with the natural environment that has formed the basis of interest in geology. One of his favorite courses to teach is Field Geology II, an upper division course for geology undergraduates in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Observing, recording and interpreting complex geology in the field is a very challenging and rewarding activity that requires great focus. I get a similar sense of exploration when I examine a mineral sample at the atomic scale in a transmission electron microscope,” Sharp said.

“These activities are great,” Sharp confessed, “but nothing beats the pure enjoyment of hiking, mountain biking and camping with my family.”

 

Credit: Thomas Sharp, the director of the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science, is shown with the Philips CM200 high resolution Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, which is used for imaging and spectroscopy. The microscope is one of the world class instruments in the John M Cowley Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Photo by: Tom Story/Arizona State University

 

Jeff Luth, jeff.luth@asu.edu
LeRoy Eying Center for Solid State Science

10/28/2011

Ronald Greeley, a Regents’ Professor of Planetary Geology at Arizona State University who has been involved in lunar and planetary studies since 1967 and has contributed significantly to our understanding of planetary bodies within our solar system, died Oct. 27, in Tempe. He was 72.

As the son of a military serviceman, Greeley moved around a great deal as child. As a result he saw many different geological landforms and it was no surprise that when he went to college, he majored in geology. Greeley earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Mississippi State University. After receiving his doctorate in 1966 at the University of Missouri in Rolla he worked for Standard Oil Company of California as a paleontologist.

Through military duty, he was assigned to NASA’s Ames Research Center in 1967 where he worked in a civilian capacity in preparation for the Apollo missions to the Moon. He stayed on at NASA to conduct research in planetary geology.

“I had been on sabbatical at NASA Ames Research Center working on the analysis of lunar samples, and I saw Ron and I saw potential,” recalls Carleton Moore, founding director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. “When I got the opportunity, I hired him.”

Greeley began teaching at ASU in 1977 with a joint professorship in the department of geology and the Center for Meteorite Studies. He studied wind processes on Earth and other planets and conducted photogeological mapping of planets and satellites among other research projects. In 1986, Greeley left the Center for Meteorite Studies to serve as chair of the department of geology.

“It was exciting to have him here; he was a major step in advancing space at ASU. He was the first one that came that did missions and experiments on planetary bodies,” says Moore. “He was really the first person to reach out to the other planets. And then he hired Phil Christensen.”

“Ron Greeley was indisputably one of the founders of planetary science, and the influence he has had, both through his own work and through the students and colleagues that he guided and mentored, touches virtually all aspects of this field,” says Christensen, a Regents’ Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Ron played a major role in my career,” says Christensen. “I came to ASU specifically to work with Ron after receiving my graduate degree, and I have remained at ASU for 30 years largely because of the remarkable environment that Ron created here to foster planetary science as an extension of geology.”

Greeley, a pioneer in the planetary geology field, served as the director of the NASA-ASU Regional Planetary Image Facility and principal investigator of the Planetary Aeolian Laboratory at NASA-Ames Research Center. He served on and chaired many NASA and National Academy of Science panels and he was involved in nearly every major space probe mission flown in the solar system since the Apollo Moon landing. Mission projects included the Galileo mission to Jupiter, Magellan mission to Venus and Shuttle Imaging Radar orbiter around Earth. He was also part of the data analysis program for the Voyager 2 mission to Uranus and Neptune. His projects focused on the moons of these distant bodies. Passionate about Mars exploration, he has been involved with several missions to the Red Planet, including Mariner (6, 7, 9), Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Exploration Rovers. He is a co-investigator for the camera system onboard the European Mars Express mission.

Former students scattered throughout the universities and research institutes of this country provide testimony to his influence on planetary geology.

“As I began my research career, Ron reminded me of the old adage: ‘A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.’ I am fortunate to have had Ron there walking beside me,” says Robert Pappalardo, senior research scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Greeley served as Pappalardo’s advisor. After receiving his doctorate from ASU in 1994, Pappalardo worked with Greeley for one year immediately after that as a postdoc. Since about 2002, the two had worked together on the science basis for Europa mission studies.

“Ron was a gentleman, a statesman, a mentor, a scholar,” says Pappalardo. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think, in some situation, ‘What would Ron Greeley do?’”

“Ron was a profoundly influential scientist whose imprint on planetary science will live on through his body of research and the many students he taught and mentored. He was a wonderful friend and colleague. We were fortunate to have known him and will miss him terribly,” said Kip Hodges, founding director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Greeley served a year as interim director of the school before Hodges joined ASU.

“Ron has been a very good friend of mine for many years, an incredible leader in planetary science, and the founder and guiding force for planetary science here at ASU. His leadership, friendship, and vision will be sorely missed,” says Christensen.

Greeley’s work lives on in proposed missions to Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and in the numerous students he mentored who today play pivotal roles in space science efforts.

Greeley is preceded in death by his daughter, Vanessa. He is survived by his wife Cindy and his son, Randall (Lidiette). He leaves behind three grandchildren.

On Monday, Nov. 7, there will be a visitation with Ron Greeley's family from 2:30-3:45 p.m. and a memorial service from 4-5 p.m. at the LDS Church, 2707 S. College Ave., in Tempe. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the "Ron Greeley Memorial Fund." Memorial donations may be made to the ASU Foundation for the Ronald Greeley Memorial Endowment, c/o the School of Earth and Space Exploration, PO Box 871404, ASU, Tempe, AZ 85287-1404. A Facebook page dedicated to Professor Ronald Greeley will also be updated with related information: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003109532235&sk=wall

Link to memorial page: http://europa.la.asu.edu/greeley/memorial/

 

(Nikki Cassis)
 

10/21/2011

 

ASU's Professor Ariel Anbar and graduate student Gregory Brennecka talk with Horizon host Ted Simmons about Earth’s largest mass extinction event, the end-Permian mass extinction.

The ASU-led team measured uranium isotopes in ancient carbonate rocks and found that a large, rapid shift in the chemistry of the world’s ancient oceans occurred around the extinction event.

Brennecka, working in Anbar’s research group, conducted the analysis of the samples. Anbar is a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Achim Herrmann, a senior lecturer at Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, and Thomas Algeo of the University of Cincinnati, who collected the samples in China, helped guide the selection of samples and interpretation of data.

The team’s results were published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences Oct. 10 in a paper titled, “Rapid expansion of oceanic anoxia immediately before the end-Permian mass extinction.”
 

10/20/2011

Arizona State University is home to the world’s largest university-based meteorite collection. Consisting of specimens from more than 1,650 separate meteorite falls, today’s ASU Center for Meteorite Studies collection is significantly larger than the almost 700 specimens that seeded the cache 50 years ago. Through careful curation and management, as well as the addition of enviable analytical capabilities, the collection blossomed and the center evolved into an intellectual hub for research on meteorites and other planetary materials.

It was 1958, when Arizona State College became Arizona State University. Accompanying the name change was the goal of strengthening the research activities of the young university. Research coordinator George A. Boyd, tasked with bolstering the research program, played an important role in bringing meteorite research to ASU.

Two separate events helped lead ASU down the path of meteorite research. First, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October 1957, putting space at the forefront of American consciousness. Second, Harvey H. Nininger, the famous meteorite hunter and self-taught meteoriticist, sold a portion of his collection to the British Natural History Museum in 1958. The sale marked a loss for the state, as the museum housing Nininger's extensive collection had been originally located near Barringer Meteorite Crater in northern Arizona and then, later, in Sedona, Arizona.

Boyd was familiar with Nininger's collection and recognized its importance to both Arizona and to ASU's pursuit of research in an up-and-coming discipline. Boyd, working with the chair of ASU’s chemistry department, Clyde A. Crowley, and ASU President Grady Gammage, solicited a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to purchase the remainder of Nininger's collection and bring it to ASU. To strengthen its proposal, ASU offered supporting funds from both the ASU Foundation and Herbert G. Fales, the vice president of International Nickel Company, who was familiar with Nininger through his own interest in meteorites.

The NSF recognized the importance of keeping the remainder of Nininger's collection in the United States and accepted ASU’s proposal on June 8, 1960.

“This was always in the plans and wishes of Nininger that we got the collection from him,” explains ASU Emeritus Professor Carleton B. Moore, founding director of the center.

Recruiting Moore to ASU was a well-researched, multi-step process. Boyd and George M. Bateman, the chair of the division of physical sciences, initiated the search for a director responsible for curating, managing and studying the collection. They consulted with Harrison S. Brown, a geochemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, who was one of the few scientists in the nation actively studying meteorites, to find a worthy candidate. Brown was also familiar with Nininger and his collection; he had obtained samples for study from Nininger and had also visited Nininger's museums with his students. Brown recommended one of those students, Moore, for the directorship. Acting on behalf of ASU, Fales flew to Wesleyan University where Moore was teaching at the time, to recruit him. Moore agreed to take the position.

In spring 1961, the initial activities of the Center for Meteorite Studies, christened by new ASU President G. Homer Durham, commenced at ASU under the direction of Moore.

“When I came there were very few of us that knew anything about meteorites,” says Moore, who was 29 years old when he began his career at ASU. “At that time, it was mostly chemists who studied meteorites.”

In keeping with the fact that the most well-established scientists studying meteorites at the time were chemists, the care of the collection and promotion of its study was designated to ASU’s chemistry department.

“In the beginning, we just had a small room in the C-wing basement and everything was in steel cases; that’s where they put the meteorites before I came. And then chemistry abandoned a lecture room between the C wing and the B wing and we were given part of that for the meteorites,” says Moore. “We eventually moved again to where the vault is now.”

One of the NSF grant’s stipulations required that ASU would make specimens available to researchers around the world. Many worried that the new university would buckle under the demands, and the collection might be lost. To allay concerns, the NSF required the center to have an oversight advisory committee that consisted of representatives appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, NSF, Smithsonian, state of Arizona and American Museum of Natural History.

“Many in big schools weren't sure a place like ASU could take care of the specimens. They thought it was crazy sending this valuable meteorite collection here,” explains Moore.

Moore and his team successfully demonstrated that it was indeed possible to provide research materials to qualified users without degrading the collection. Since then the center has become a model for museums, which previously merely displayed meteorites, to follow suit and open their collections freely for research pursuits.

Peter Buseck, now a Regent’s Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, was among the first ASU professors to actively put the center’s collection to use for scientific study. His diverse research portfolio has contained meteorite-related topics since soon after his arrival at ASU in 1963, and has involved dozens of students and postdoctoral researchers who contributed and continue to contribute significantly to meteorite science.

Bringing the Moon to ASU

Over the years, under the watchful eye of Moore, the collection grew exponentially through purchases, exchanges and donations.

The center’s own research reputation also flourished under Moore’s direction. Moore himself played a leading role in ASU’s efforts of building up the young university’s research portfolio, acquiring 35 research grants in materials science and geology from NASA, NSF and the U.S. Geological Survey from 1963-1987.

“I went to a meeting of meteorite curators in London in 1962 and there Howard Axon encouraged me to be interested in carbon,” says Moore. “This led me to be in the first groups to unambiguously identify amino acids in the Murchison and then Murray meteorites.”

Moore not only analyzed carbon in meteorites but in other types of extraterrestrial specimens as well.

The experience and success of the center's team in studying meteorites led to Moore’s inclusion on the team of scientists assigned to analyze Moon rocks returned from 1969 to 1972 by Apollo astronauts. At that time, the center was the only facility with proven analytical capabilities in place for measuring the low abundances of carbon and other volatile elements in rocks, so Moore flew to Houston to pick up the Apollo 11 samples and brought them back to ASU for analysis. These analyses, along with discussions with Jack Larimer, who was hired by the center with a joint appointment in ASU’s geology department, helped Moore and his team understand the sources of lunar carbon. The ASU team ultimately analyzed more than 200 lunar samples.

This work bolstered the reputation of the center as a research facility, and also set the stage for the study of other types of planetary materials by ASU researchers in the future.

“I hired Ron Greeley, who in turn hired Phil Christensen,” says Moore. “The center really did what it was supposed to – it started all this space research.”

Yielding major scientific contributions was not the center’s only focus. Since its inception, the center has focused on educational and public outreach activities. In 1967, the center opened a museum in the Bateman Physical Sciences C-wing.

“Chemistry expanded and that gave us meteorite space so Chuck Lewis and I made that little museum,” says Moore. The museum initiated by Moore is still in operation, but the majority of meteorites are catalogued and stored in a secure room, in boxes, on shelves and in drawers. “Outreach is not new; we’ve been doing it for a long, long time.”

The next generation

After more than 40 years of dedicated service, Moore retired from ASU in 2003 but to this day he actively participates in the center’s education and public outreach activities, and numerous public speaking engagements that reach hundreds of educators, students and members of the public each year.

“The number of specimens in the collection never went down,” says Moore. “It was part of the obligation: We should never lose anything, we should never waste anything.”

Former NASA administrator Laurie Leshin was a professor in the ASU department of geological sciences and an ASU alumna, when she was named the new director after Moore retired. In 2006, Meenakshi “Mini” Wadhwa, then curator of meteoritics at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, was named director of the center and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Through careful management and grants and contributions, ASU’s meteorite collection has prospered and has lived up to all the hopes and aspirations expressed when it was established. Today, the collection is actively used for geological, planetary, and space science research at ASU and throughout the world. There’s every reason to predict that the center will continue to build upon it enviable reputation.

 

Caption: Carleton Moore served as the first director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. His research on lunar samples acquired from NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1970’s were particularly well-publicized and set the stage for significant work in planetary geology and astrophysics by subsequent ASU faculty. Photo by: University Archives Photographs, Arizona State University Libraries

 

(Nikki Cassis)

 

 

10/20/2011

Meteorites in Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies have names ranging from Abbott to Zmaitkiemis, representing samples collected from every part of the world, each associated with a unique anecdote or distinctive fact. As well as a treasury of useful and interesting rocks, the center contains a cache of fascinating stories that span decades and the globe.

Beginning with a purchase of almost 700 samples from amateur meteorite hunter H. H. Nininger in 1960, the collection has grown by way of purchases, exchanges, and gifts, and now contains in excess of 10,000 samples from more than 1,650 different meteorite falls.

The treasures stored in the meteorite vault delight many senses. Some samples are smooth, others are rough. They come in all shapes and sizes and possess interesting traits. The largest is a 550-kilogram sample called Bondoc that came from a meteorite that originally weighed close to one ton. Some meteorites are black or brown, others are reddish, and a few are green. Johnston, an achondrite meteorite, contains the mineral orthopyroxene that gives it a gorgeous light green hue. One meteorite even has a smell; Murchison, which fell in Australia in 1969, contains 4.5 billion year old sulfur-rich organic compounds that give the rock its distinctive odor.

Carleton Moore, the center’s founding director, chose to organize the samples in a unique way.

“At most places, like the Smithsonian, the meteorites are sorted alphabetically, but I arranged them by types,” says Moore. “If you come in and you want to see, say, achondrites, they’re all together, so you don’t have to run around to find them.”

Scientists sort meteorites into three main groups: stony, iron, and stony iron. The most common type is the stony meteorite, and the most common type of stony meteorite is called a chondrite.

“Among the chondrites [in our collection], one of the most amazing ones is from Arizona, the Holbrook meteorite, which fell in 1912, east of Holbrook, Arizona,” says Moore.

Because somebody saw the Holbrook meteorite fall to earth rather than just finding them without witnessing the shower, the Holbrook samples are classified as a fall, not a find. Falls produce more pristine samples than finds, which makes them more valuable for research.

The Holbrook meteorite is just one member of an extensive collection of Arizona meteorites. Another is Canyon Diablo, the nickel-iron meteorite responsible for forming Meteor Crater.

Most meteorites found on Earth come from the asteroid belt, but some from the Moon and Mars exist as well. These rare samples constitute a small but important part of the center’s collection.

ASU’s first meteorite from Mars was the Nakhla meteorite, a sample from ASU’s initial acquisition. The center was unaware of its unique origin until research in the 1980s showed that gases trapped in certain rare meteorites (similar to Nakhla) matched those in Mars’ atmosphere, and the CMS could boast its first meteorite from Mars. Other martian meteorites in the center’s collection include pieces of the historical falls of Shergotty, a 5 kilogram (11 pound) sample that fell in Sherghati, India, in 1865, and Zagami, a 18 kilogram (40 pound) sample that fell in the Katsina province of Nigeria in 1962.

One of the center’s most historically important meteorites is L’Aigle, a chondrite which fell in France in 1803. This shower of thousands of stones from the sky finally convinced people that meteorites fall from space. France was also where Ensisheim was found, another chondrite meteorite that fell in 1492 and that represents the second oldest meteorite recovered from a witnessed and recorded fall.

Moore’s favorite meteorite is called Kediri and, although the sample is neither from the Moon nor Mars, it does have a special connection to ASU and to Moore.

In 1972, a Dutch scientist from the University of Nijmegen, to whom Moore had lent meteorite samples in the past, contacted Moore about P. J. Maureau, a Dutch physician who was trying to find a home for a meteorite sample in his possession. Moore expressed interest, and began corresponding directly with Dr. Maureau.

Through a series of letters, Maureau related the meteorite’s story to Moore. In 1940, a friend of Maureau’s witnessed a meteorite fall while on his rubber plantation in Java, Indonesia, and collected about 70 pieces from the shower. He kept the largest, which he later gave to Maureau as a gift when he saw his friend’s interest.

The meteorite’s sale took more than a year, as the Dutch government learned about the sample and wanted to keep a large portion of it in a national museum. Thanks to Maureau’s persistence, the sample finally came to the CMS in 1973.

Maurea’s health was deteriorating when he first contacted Moore, and he died of stomach cancer two years later. When the sale was finally completed, Moore received letters from Maureau’s wife and son that expressed how much the successful transfer of the meteorite meant to Maureau.

“He loved this rock so much, he wanted it to go to a nice home,” says Moore. “And he identified us, ASU, as the nice home.”

Now home to a vast array of meteorites, the center lends its samples to scientists throughout the world, playing a pivotal role in preserving meteorites for current and future study. Specimens are carefully stored in archival quality materials and particularly delicate meteorites are housed in climate-controlled storage to maintain ideal conditions so they are preserved for future generations.

“Every year, chemists and geologists and physicists come up with new techniques to study meteorites, and we have to make sure that some of these meteorites are around for 500 or more years,” says Moore. “This is a tremendous obligation for ASU. Down the road, someone might want to see that meteorite.”

The center is constantly growing its collection in support of its research and education mission. Laurence Garvie, the center’s collection manager, is actively involved in the classification of newly discovered meteorites, portions of which are then archived in the center’s collection. Other new specimens are acquired through purchases as well as exchanges with other institutions, museums and meteorite collectors. Among the more important recent acquisitions are some rare meteorites such as Isheyevo, El Gouanem, and Red Canyon Lake.

“Each one of our meteorites has a story to tell,” says Meenakshi Wadhwa, the center’s current director. “There are certainly very interesting stories about how they were found and how they eventually made their way to our collection. But there are also more ancient stories that these meteorites tell us about the beginnings of our solar system and planets that are only revealed through careful analyses in laboratories like those at ASU.”

 

Caption: This rare meteorite, named Losttown, possesses a well developed Widmanstätten pattern. It is one of the many unique treasures housed in the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies collection. Photo by: Laurence Garvie/Arizona State University

Link to meteorite photo gallery: http://asunews.asu.edu/20111021_gallery_meteoritecollection

(Victoria Miluch)
 

10/18/2011

Astronomy is the study of far away things, the gazing into great distances and the observation of phenomena invisible to the unaided eye. Sangeeta Malhotra, ASU professor of astronomy in SESE, is looking even further than most astronomers, finding and studying galaxies that, until recently, were too distant to detect.

For Malhotra, choosing to study astronomy was a process of narrowing down a very broad interest in how the world works. Malhotra remembers learning about stars and planets in kindergarten, and later becoming fascinated by the elegance of physics in middle school.

“I was interested in many things at any given time. I was interested in biology, genetics, I loved chemistry labs. Physics was my first love, of course. And astronomy was fun,” says Malhotra. She studied physics for her undergraduate and master’s degree in India and, when she applied to graduate schools in the U.S., she chose to concentrate on astrophysics.

Since 1998, Malhotra’s main research focus has been finding and studying distant galaxies. Galaxies started forming within one billion years after the Big Bang, and their formation changed the universe in a fundamental way. Scientists think they released a great amount of light and ionized the hydrogen in the universe. Studying these galaxies allows astronomers to find out the nature of the first generation of galaxies, figure out when they started forming, and when they existed in sufficient numbers to start ionizing hydrogen. The research also advances knowledge about the process of galaxy formation.

One of the methods for finding these galaxies was proposed in 1967, but the theory didn’t translate into practice until thirty years later. In 1998, Malhotra and her collaborator, James Rhoads, also a professor at ASU, thought they might try it themselves, using new technologies.

“Much of it was the instruments. The new wide-field cameras made it much easier. The other thing is to be crazy enough to try something that had been failing for thirty years,” laughs Malhotra.

Malhotra uses some of the largest telescopes in existence to study these galaxies. Although new instruments made the process possible, they didn’t make it easy. “A typical search would consist of us going to a telescope, the Magellan telescope in Chile, for example, and spending five to six nights imaging the same patch of sky through a special filter. After that, it takes typically six months to one year analyzing those images, removing instrumental artifacts, and combining various data. In a typical image, we see about 10,000 sources, and we’d have to select the odd half a dozen sources that are interesting. So talk about needles in a haystack,” says Malhotra.

The first survey Malhotra and Rhoads undertook was for galaxies at 1.3 billion years after the Big Bang, and the next was 0.9 billion years after the Big Bang, which means it’s 12.5 billion light years away. The current survey forms the foundation for award-winning thesis by V. Tilvi, and searches for the most distant galaxies known.

Malhotra says that her curiosity in these galaxies stems from an interest in how we came to exist here today. “To me, formation of galaxies is the first step in formation of stars, and the sort of thing that leads to us being here, talking. If you found yourself stranded on a deserted island, wouldn’t you want to know where you came from? It’s also a challenge: what [poet Robert Browning] said: ‘Oh that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’”

(Victoria Miluch)
 

10/13/2011

School of Earth and Space Exploration mission portfolio includes Moon, Mars, Mercury, asteroid

Arizona State University is no stranger to space exploration missions. Whether to Mars or other solar system targets, its involvement with NASA planetary exploration began in the 1970s and at present, professors and researchers from ASU’s School of Earth and Space have instruments on board or play a significant role with six NASA missions and one European Space Agency (ESA) mission. Others are in the wings.

Mars Launching Pad
ASU began exploring space as an outgrowth of research on meteorites and cosmochemistry. Mars became a prime area of research starting with the arrival in 1977 of professor Ronald Greeley from NASA Ames Research Center. He established the Mars Surface Wind Tunnel facility and was on the flight team for Viking, a Mars mission with two landers and two orbiters.

Courses on the geology of the Moon and Mars followed, as Mars-interested researchers joined the faculty, among them Philip Christensen. Computerized image processing for remote sensing began in the early 1980s, making ASU one the first universities strongly involved in the field, which was previously dominated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Then two ASU-designed instruments – Christensen’s long-wave infrared Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) and a visual camera by former ASU geological sciences professor Michael Malin – were selected by NASA for its Mars Observer missions. Having two instruments from a single university on a major mission was largely unprecedented at the time. When Mars Observer failed upon arrival in 1991, NASA felt both instruments were so important that they were rebuilt and reflown successfully in 1996 on the Mars Global Surveyor mission.

Following up on this success, NASA launched the Mars Odyssey orbiter in 2001 to determine the composition of the planet’s surface, to detect water and shallow layers of ice, and to study the radiation environment. The orbiter holds the record for the longest-operating Mars spacecraft.

Christensen serves as the principal investigator for Mars Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument, a multi-band infrared and visual camera that helped develop the most accurate global map of Mars ever. ASU associate professor Alberto Behar and professor Jim Bell are investigation scientists for the same instrument.

For NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, Christensen redesigned his TES infrared spectrometer making it smaller. Each rover was outfitted with one of these “Mini-TES” instruments to aid in the identification of promising rocks and soils for closer examination. Bell is principal investigator of the rovers’ main optical imagers, the Panoramic Cameras (or Pancams) and Greeley served as a member of the rover science flight team.

ASU’s Mars foothold widened in 2003 with the launch of ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, on which Greeley is a co-investigator on the High Resolution Stereo Camera team. ASU’s involvement increased again in 2006 when NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began to search for evidence for persistent water on Mars. Bell serves as a science team member for both color and black and white imaging systems.

A School for Explorers
With Mars and solar system exploration growing, in 2006, ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration was born through the interdisciplinary combination of the department of geological sciences with astronomy and astrophysics researchers and students from what had been the department of physics and astronomy. An academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the school acts as the focus for systems engineering research and education at ASU as it relates to space and Earth science.

“SESE (pronounced see-see) was built to be an internationally recognized center for exploration activities on Earth and in space,” says founding director Kip Hodges. “As part of this mission, we will be at the leading edge of robotic exploration and engaged in efforts to re-energize America’s human exploration efforts. I foresee an increasing role for universities in space exploration, and you can be sure that SESE will be at the front of the pack.”

In Focus: Mercury, the Moon, asteroids

Via the MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) mission, ASU is involved with the small rocky planet of Mercury. After flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, MESSENGER started a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Professor Mark Robinson, a member of the camera team, was involved with creating the first global mosaic of the planet.

Robinson is also studying the Moon with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, where he is principal investigator for LROC, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. He is joined in efforts by Bell, a science team member on the mission.

While many space missions go to Earth’s nearest neighbors, some go farther afield. NASA’s Dawn mission, launched in 2007, carries a suite of instruments to image the surface, measure reflected and emitted radiation, and measure the gravity field of two massive asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. These orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

David Williams, a faculty research associate in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is a participating scientist on Dawn. Williams, a planetary volcanologist who has worked on NASA’s Magellan and Galileo probes imaging Venus and Jupiter, intends to study the geological history of these asteroids.

Right Around the Corner

With the launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, dubbed Curiosity, just a few weeks away (the launch window opens Nov. 25), excitement is building at ASU.

If all goes according to plan, the Mini-Cooper-size rover is scheduled to land at Gale Crater on Mars next year in August. Carrying an advanced suite of scientific instruments, Curiosity will explore a gigantic “history book” in the form of sedimentary deposits in Gale, seeking evidence of Mars’ past and present habitability.

ASU professors and researchers from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, as well as graduates, are involved in the mission. Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a co-investigator with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, essentially an analytical chemistry system. Amy McAdam, an alumna, is also working on SAM. Professor Jack Farmer is a science team member for a different instrument, CheMin, designed to examine the chemical and mineralogical properties of rocks and soils. And professor Behar is an investigation scientist for the Russian Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument.

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) also has ties to ASU. MAHLI is mounted on its robotic arm and will make close-up images of Mars rocks to help determine past environmental conditions. Kenneth Edgett, an ASU alumnus, is the principal investigator on the MAHLI team. MAHLI comes from Malin Space Science Systems, a company started and operated by former ASU geological sciences professor Malin.

Malin is also the principal investigator for two other MSL cameras, the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) and Mastcam. And ASU’s professor Bell is an important player regarding the targeting and interpretation of images recovered from all of these camera systems.

Sampling an Asteroid
Another asteroid mission involving ASU is NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. This mission, scheduled for a 2016 launch, is expected to return the first rock and soil samples from asteroid 1999 RQ36 to Earth in 2023. Christensen designed a mineral scouting instrument for OSIRIS-Rex, dubbed OTES (short for OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer). This instrument, about the size of a cantaloupe, is a modified version of Christensen’s highly successful Mini-TES instrument carried by both Mars Exploration Rovers.

OTES will be the first major scientific instrument completely designed and built on campus at ASU for a NASA mission. This landmark effort will be enabled by completion next summer of the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, a flagship facility to accommodate a new age of exploration. In addition to researchers and students from across the university, the building will house the headquarters for the School of Earth and Space Exploration and many of its faculty research teams. An exciting aspect of the new building will be interactive displays and a high-definition, 3D-theater on the first floor, designed for exploration by the public. Viewing windows will allow visitors to see into the environmentally controlled laboratory facilities where the OTES instrument is being built.

“In the past,” says Christensen, “instruments we’ve designed for NASA were built at an aerospace company in California. With OTES, for the first time complicated space hardware will be built right here on the ASU campus. This is a major step forward for ASU – I can count on one hand the number of universities that can do this.”

Says the school’s director Hodges, “Even as we celebrate our past accomplishments and current success stories, we are focusing our efforts on designing and preparing for future space missions.”

Link to ASU story package

ASU in Space photo gallery

Planetary Rock Stars photo gallery

Artwork by Chris Capages

(Nikki Cassis)

10/12/2011

For 50 years the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University has served as the intellectual hub for research on meteorites and other planetary materials. It is a place where scientists can conduct critical inquiries into the origin and evolution of the solar system and planets. Home to the world’s largest university-based meteorite collection, the center has educated generations of students, researchers, scholars and the public on meteorites. To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the center will hold a series of special events Oct. 21 on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“We are delighted for this opportunity to share the center’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and our vision for the next era of scholarship in meteorite studies. And we are honored that so many colleagues, friends and supporters of the center will be joining us for a celebration of the past, present and future of meteorite science,” says Meenakshi “Mini” Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies and a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

To celebrate this anniversary, the center will host a day-long symposium on “Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry: Past, Present and Future” on Oct. 21. This will feature talks by prominent researchers and scholars in the field. It will be followed by an evening lecture.

Timothy McCoy, curator-in-charge of the meteorite collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and participating scientist on NASA’s Dawn mission, will speak on “Dawn: A Journey to the Birth of the Solar System,” in the Carson Ballroom at Old Main at 7 p.m. This is a free event, open to the public; however, a ticket will be required for entry to the lecture. Free tickets are available at http://cmsanniversary.eventbrite.com.

After the lecture, the public is invited to participate in telescope viewing, a hands-on meteorite display and more space-related fun for the whole family at the School of Earth and Space Exploration astronomy open house. The evening activities take place on the roof of Bateman Physical Sciences H-wing (http://www.asu.edu/map/interactive/?campus=tempe&building=PSH), a short walk from Old Main.

ASU has long been a trailblazer in the study of meteorites, chunks of space rocks that fall to Earth. In the spring of 1961, the initial activities of the center commenced under the direction of geochemist Carleton Moore. Along with a steady stream of world-renowned meteorite scientists brought in by Moore, the center's team of researchers immediately engaged in analyzing specimens in the collection and acquiring additional ones.

Originally created for scientific research on meteorite samples, the center grew to be a hub for the study of all types of extraterrestrial specimens. Prior to the Apollo Moon landings, meteorites supplied the only extraterrestrial materials available for study, providing valuable insights into the origins of our planets and our solar system.

The experience and success of the center's team with studying meteorites led to Moore’s inclusion on the team of scientists assigned to analyze lunar samples returned from 1969 to 1972 by the Apollo astronauts. At that time, the center was the only facility with proven analytical capabilities in place for measuring the low abundances of carbon and other volatile elements in rocks, so Moore flew to Houston to pick up the Apollo 11 samples and brought them back to ASU for analysis. He and his team ultimately analyzed more than 200 lunar samples.

The analyses of Apollo samples not only bolstered the reputation of the center as a research facility, they also set the precedent for the study of other types of planetary materials by ASU researchers in the future.

Today the center houses specimens representing more than 1,650 separate meteorite falls – including several meteorites from Mars and the Moon. The collection is actively used for geological, planetary, and space science research at ASU and throughout the world.

“From its inception, the center has been at the forefront of meteoritic and planetary science research and our goal is to continue to be a leader in this multidisciplinary field,” says Wadhwa. “The wonderful thing about the science of meteorites is that it brings together a lot of different sciences – chemical, physical and biological sciences – to try to understand the beginnings of our solar system and planets, and possibly also the beginnings of life on our planet,” she explains.

“We have incredibly rich resources here at the center, including our meteorite collection, our highly experienced staff, and our analytical capabilities that are among the best in the world,” Wadhwa says. “We are one of but a few places that have successfully brought together all of these elements towards fostering a great environment for cutting-edge research and education in this field.”

Spacecraft sample return missions (e.g., Genesis, Stardust, and the soon to be launched OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission) have provided opportunities for studying samples from more places in the solar system than ever before.

“The future is having access to new kinds of planetary materials,” says Wadhwa, “but also developing the tools and techniques to conduct new and better analyses in the laboratory and remotely by spacecraft, which is one of the goals of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.”

“The new materials, including new samples returned from other places in our solar system, and analytical tools that will be available in the near future will revolutionize our understanding of the solar system and our place in it,” she continues. “This is really a very exciting time in the planetary sciences.”

The next major event for the Center for Meteorite Studies is a move to the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB IV) on the ASU Tempe campus in the spring of 2012. ISTB IV will house the center's offices, meteorite preparation labs, a state-of-the-art collection storage vault and expanded gallery space for public viewing. This venue will serve as a launching pad for the next 50 great years of the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies.

For more information visit: http://meteorites.asu.edu/cms50

 

(Nikki Cassis)