News and Updates


Small lava flows on the Moon's dark plains show volcanic activity occurred as recently as 50 million years ago.

Dark outpourings of lava gave the "Man in the Moon" his face more than three billion years ago. And volcanic activity continued on the  Moon until it halted a billion years ago – or so lunar scientists have long thought.

However, a new discovery by a group of geologists at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration shows that the Moon has seen small but widespread eruptions of basaltic lava during the last 50 million years, a geologically recent period.

The discovery was announced in a paper published online Oct. 12 in Nature Geoscience. Sarah Braden, a recent School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate, is the lead author; the others are Julie Stopar, Samuel Lawrence and Mark Robinson, all researchers in the school, and Carolyn van der Bogert and Harald Hiesinger of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany.

The science team identified 70 small volcanic features scattered across the Moon's dark volcanic plains, or maria. The features show as a combination of smooth, low, rounded mounds near patches of rough, blocky terrain. The scientists refer to these unusual areas as irregular mare patches.

"Finding previously unknown geologic features on the lunar surface is extremely exciting," says Braden.

The features are too small to be seen from Earth, averaging less than a third of a mile (500 meters) across their largest dimension. One feature named Ina has been known for a long time, having been imaged from lunar orbit by Apollo 15 astronauts in the 1970s. Several early studies indicated that Ina could be very young (10 million years or less), but only a few irregular mare patches were known then, and their significance was unclear.

It was not until the scientists had high-resolution images showing the entire Moon that the full extent and significance of the small lava features were understood. These images are the product of the two Narrow Angle Cameras that form part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera system. Co-author Mark Robinson is the principal investigator for the camera, which is on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

The ages of the irregular mare patch features come from studies of crater sizes and numbers within a given area by Braden, assisted by van der Bogert and Hiesinger. These crater-counting dates are linked to laboratory ages provided by Apollo and Luna samples. The results show that instead of lunar volcanism stopping abruptly about a billion years ago, it ended more gradually, continuing until less than 50 million years ago.

Activity at Ina, the scientists found, ended about 33 million years ago, and at another irregular mare patch, Sosigenes, it stopped only about 18 million years ago. (In contrast, most of the lava flows that make up the dark plains visible by eye from Earth erupted between 3.5 and 1 billion years ago.)

"The existence and young age of the irregular mare patches provides a new constraint for models of the lunar interior's thermal evolution," Braden says. "The lunar mantle had to remain hot enough for long enough to provide magma for the small-volume eruptions."

Robinson notes that the new discovery is hard to reconcile with what's currently thought about the temperature of the Moon's interior. "These young volcanic features are now prime targets for future exploration, both robotic and human."

The discovery gives the Moon's volcanic history a new chapter. As Braden says, "Our understanding of the Moon is drastically changed by the evidence for volcanic eruptions at ages much younger than previously thought possible, and in multiple locations across the lunar maria."

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera's Science Operations Center is located on ASU's Tempe campus.

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


An innovative online course, successfully developed and deployed at Arizona State University, is the basis of a far-reaching online science education project that is a finalist for a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation announced September 30 that a team led by Smart Sparrow, a Sydney, Australia-based educational technology company – partnered with ASU – is a finalist for a $20-million pool of funding in the Next Generation Courseware Challenge Competition.

The group will establish the Smart Science Network, a digital teaching network that will develop and deploy innovative online courseware to improve the learning outcomes of low-income and disadvantaged college students in high-enrollment introductory science courses across the United States.

“We are excited about this project because it exemplifies key design aspirations of ASU as a New American University,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “It seeks to transform society, enable student success and fuse intellectual disciplines. We look forward to joining with our technology partners to invest in new ways to educate through exploration.”

Dror Ben-Naim, CEO and founder of Smart Sparrow, said the project represented "an opportunity to bring together the nation's top science educators and empower them with the best tools we've got, in order to solve a systemic national problem. ASU spearheading this effort is a natural fit.”

Smart Sparrow was one of three ASU technology partners to be included in the Gates Foundation’s list of finalists. The others are: Acrobatiq, a Carnegie Mellon company that designs customizable, adaptive courseware; and CogBooks, which is designing a project to provide top-quality courseware to U.S. college students at affordable prices.

“The whole learning experience will be designed in collaboration with ASU, drawing on their extensive experience in online learning, flipped classroom models and innovative teaching methods,” CogBooks said in announcing its recognition by the Gates Foundation.

The proposed courseware for the Smart Science Network will follow the design principles of Habitable Worlds, a fully online course offered through ASU Online that teaches science through exploration of the question “Are we alone?”

Key principles include: organizing curriculum around “big questions” at the frontiers of knowledge that cut across traditional disciplines; teaching concepts through rich, game-like interactive, adaptive online lessons and simulations; and deepening and evaluating concept mastery by applying knowledge in project-based learning.

Ariel Anbar, an ASU President’s Professor, will play a pivotal role as the academic lead of the Smart Science Network consortium. Anbar and Lev Horodyskyj, both in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, created Habitable Worlds, which has been offered to more than 1,500 ASU students since 2011. The ongoing development and evaluation of Habitable Worlds is supported by NASA’s Astrobiology Program and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources of the National Science Foundation.

“We developed Habitable Worlds to address some common, critical problems in introductory science education that are especially challenging for disadvantaged students,” said Anbar. “For example, many students tune out in large lectures because they teach science as passive acceptance of what is known, rather than active exploration of the unknown. Also, we tend to teach as though knowledge is organized into distinct disciplinary ‘silos,’ even though the cutting-edge questions that motivate both students and scientists cut across those silos. The Smart Science Network will apply the lessons we’ve learned in developing and teaching Habitable Worlds.”

The Smart Science Network will leverage Smart Sparrow’s adaptive digital learning and analytics technologies to develop two online “Smart Courses” that will improve student engagement and success in introductory college science courses with traditionally high levels of failure. Students in a Smart Course will explore a transdisciplinary “big question” to motivate learning of introductory college science concepts in biology, chemistry and physics. The first Smart Course will expand on Habitable Worlds’ exploration of the question “Are we alone?”

“Science is rational exploration of the unknown, not just mastery of what is known,” Anbar explained. “So, Smart Courses will not be about memorizing facts and answers, but about using logic and reasoning to solve problems, to understand uncertainties, and to train and inspire students to tackle big, challenging questions.”

In addition to Smart Sparrow and ASU, the Smart Science Network includes Achieving the Dream, Inc.; 23 additional colleges and universities, many of whom are in the Achieving the Dream network; and a research and evaluation team led by George Siemens, a world leader in learning analytics, at The University of Texas at Arlington.



Scott Parazynski, a technology innovator, will engage students and develop research and programs to support human health in challenging environments

Arizona State University’s first designated University Explorer, Scott Parazynski, has scaled Everest, orbited the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour and invented devices for surgery, spacewalking and the consumer market.

Parazynski joins the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a professor of practice on Oct. 1.

He comes to ASU from the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Polar Medical Operations, where he was director and chief medical officer. There, he oversaw health care and medical screening for the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program, both on-the-ice care and medical screenings, including telemedicine.

“Dr. Parazynski is remarkable, as a physical explorer and former astronaut, and as an entrepreneur who navigates many different areas of endeavor,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “His experience and perspective can inform ASU’s space initiatives, help pioneer our high performance medicine partnerships with the Mayo Clinic and build bridges in the areas of bioengineering, earth and space sciences.”

Parazynski holds a doctor of medicine with deep expertise in the fields of space physiology, aviation, biotechnology and human adaptation to extreme environments. He says that while he wanted to help people, he also looked to the stars from an early age.

“My father worked on Apollo, and it was always a dream of mine to go to space,” said Parazynski. “However, it only became tangible when I began my medical training at Stanford Medical School. It was there that I realized, with NASA’s Ames Research Center just down the street, I could craft a career that combined my two life-long career aspirations: to be an explorer and physician.”

Over the course of 16 years, Parazynski was a mission specialist, physician, flight engineer and one of NASA’s most experienced spacewalkers. He flew on five Space Shuttle missions, including STS 66/Atlantis, STS 86/Atlantis to the Russian Space Station Mir, STS 95/Discovery and STS 100/Endeavour to the International Space Station. On his last mission, STS 120/Discovery, he led the unplanned repair of a live solar array, a $1 billion national asset that required new tools and technical development in less than 72 hours.

Parazynski is the recipient of two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, five NASA Space Flight Medals, the Randolph C. Lovelace Award from the Society of NASA Flight Surgeons, the Aviation Week Laureate Award and Lowell Thomas Award from the Explorer’s Club for his contributions.

Parazynski believes that his greatest skill set is creative problem-solving. As a technology innovator, he hopes to engage ASU students in clinical and laboratory environments, and develop research and technology programs to support human health in challenging environments. As a scientist, his unique perspectives can support ASU’s NASA and commercial space endeavors. And as an inventor, he believes that building multidisciplinary teams offers the power to navigate uncharted territories and engineer new approaches, from the challenges of deep space exploration to rural telemedicine, commercialization of inventions and STEM education.

“Young people are excited by the allure of invention, but often don’t understand the difficulties of taking an idea into the marketplace. Math and the sciences are the core languages of the future, even if pursuing careers outside of science,” said Parazynski, who received an R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine for one of the top innovations in 2010. “Bringing together multidisciplinary teams, including engineering, scientific, legal, financial, marketing and other expertise, is often the missing link. Many new businesses fail because they get too enamored of their idea without thinking through all the other steps.

“ASU offers a remarkable environment in which to work and teach. It is a powerhouse for innovation, entrepreneurship and student training – with the incubator at Skysong, the rapid prototyping facility at the Polytechnic School, the Grand Challenges efforts pursued in W.P. Carey School of Business, The Biodesign Institute and partnerships with the Mayo Clinic. If you get all the smart people in the room looking at a problem from all their different angles – you have a much stronger chance of success,” he said.

Parazynski was a young achiever. His first invention was a bike-powered lawnmower at age eight. Since then, he’s continued to invent, founded start-up ventures and been consultant to a myriad of commercial enterprises. An experienced diver, pilot and mountaineer, he’s climbed Everest and summited all 59 of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet (called the “Colorado Grand Slam”).

“My bucket list is always full,” said Parazynski. “However, my biggest passion now is the inventive process, working with students and helping people bring out the best in themselves.”




A free public lecture on Arizona quakes, keyed into the Great Arizona ShakeOut.

What: Free public lecture program about Earthquakes in Arizona...and Beyond!

When: October 9, 2014, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: Marston Exploration TheaterInterdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, Arizona State University

Speakers: Ramon Arrowsmith, Steve Semken, Ed Garnero, Sarah Robinson, and Wendy Bohon

The EarthScope National Office, ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Great Arizona ShakeOut invite you to attend a free public lecture program about earthquakes.

ASU scientists will discuss the science of earthquakes, review recent earthquakes around the world, explain new techniques for earthquake detection, and present information on historic earthquakes in our area. There will also be an amazing 3D tour of earthquakes around the world!

In comparison with California, Nevada, and Utah, major earthquakes in Arizona are infrequent, but each year hundreds of earthquakes do occur in and around Arizona. Taking steps now to prepare your family and home will help mitigate the effects of moderate to severe earthquake shaking and make you more aware of earthquakes that might affect your family and friends in even more earthquake-prone areas.

Space in the Marston Theatre is limited, and seats will be first come, first served. Parking is available beside ISTB4 in Lot 44 as well as in the Rural Rd. parking structure; parking is $3 per hour.


The theme for the September 26 Open House is Volcanoes. It features a free public lecture on the topic.
Theme: Volcanoes
Time: 7-10 p.m.
Location: ASU Tempe campus ISTB 4
The free lecture begins at 8:00 p.m. in ISTB 4 Room 240.
Planetarium shows (in 3-D) start at 7:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater. (Seating is first-come, first served.)
Telescopes will be set up for sky viewing (weather permitting) from 8-10 p.m. next to the Skyscape art installation.
As usual, we'll have available the exhibits, demonstrations, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor lobbies).
And please mark your calendars: Open Houses for the rest of the academic year will be held on October 31 (special Halloween edition!), November 21, February 20, March 27, and April 24.
Earth & Space Open House website (with maps of ASU and parking)
Hope see you there!

In the beginning, all was hydrogen – and helium, plus a bit of lithium. Three elements in all. Today's universe, however, has nearly a hundred naturally occurring elements, with thousands of variants (isotopes), and more likely to come.

Figuring out how the universe got from its starting batch of three elements to the menagerie found today is the focus of a new Physics Frontiers Center research grant to Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). The grant is from the National Science Foundation's Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics – Center for the Evolution of the Elements. Of the full $11.4 million NSF grant, about $1 million will come to ASU over five years.

SESE astrophysicist Frank Timmes is the lead scientist for ASU's part of the Physics Frontiers Center research project. Timmes, ASU's director of advanced computing, focuses his astrophysical research on supernovae, cosmic chemical evolution, their impacts on astrobiology and high-performance computing. He is also a scientific editor of The Astrophysical Journal.

The evolution of elements project also includes Michigan State University in Lansing (the lead institution), the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Joining Timmes on the project will be astrophysicists Patrick Young, Evan Scannapieco and Sumner Starrfield, also from the School of Earth and Space Exploration In addition, the award will fund two postdoctoral researchers to collaborate on the effort.

Take it from the top

Time started 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang, which produced the basic three elements. Yet by the time the Bang was a billion years old, essentially all the other chemical elements we know had formed. How did this happen?

"It takes place inside stars," says Timmes. "They're the element-factories of the universe. They take light stuff, such as hydrogen and helium, process it in nuclear reactions, and then crank out carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all those good things that make you and me."

While the broad outline is clear, details are a lot murkier, he says, and that's where ASU's researchers enter the picture.

"ASU's contribution is to provide the glue between experimental low-energy nuclear astrophysics measurements and astronomical observations of stars," Timmes says.

Ancient stars were fundamentally different from those today, he notes, because they started off with a different collection of initial ingredients – no heavy elements. But those first-generation stars are gone.

As Timmes explains, "The stars that began back then went through their life cycles and died, so we naturally don't directly see them today. But when they died, they exploded and threw out little bits of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, which ended up in the next generation of stars."

Round and round in cycles

In a process that still continues today, massive stars create more and more complex elements, then explode as supernovas and scatter the newly created elements into space for another generation of stars to use. Cycle after stellar cycle, stars became steadily richer in heavier and more complex elements.

The sun, its planets and moons all formed about 4.5 billion years ago. Most of the elements they contain didn't exist when the universe was young, so what generation does the sun belong to?

Timmes explains, "A typical massive star, in round numbers, lives about a million years. The Big Bang occurred about 7 billion years before the sun formed. I need a thousand generations of massive stars to get us to a billion years, so I need on the order of 10,000 generations of massive stars to get one with the sun's composition.

"We are the product of many, many, many previous generations of stars."

The researchers at the School of Earth and Space Exploration plan to develop computer models of stars of all sizes, masses and chemical compositions, then set them on their life courses. It's building stars in computers and comparing them to observations of stars to see how the universe builds them for real.

"The toughest theoretical problem we have to work on is how stars explode," says Timmes. "In a loose, hand-waving sense, we know that stars explode, of course, but exactly how it happens isn't well-known or understood."

The new research project fits well with the expertise of the school's astrophysicists. And there's another plus as well. With this project, ASU is joining a small group of research centers that deal with "Frontiers Physics." The entire country has only about ten such centers, Timmes explains. Highly competitive and highly sought-after, they cover subjects such as biological physics and theoretical physics.

But there's just one nuclear astrophysics center, he says. "And it's great that ASU is going to play a key role in it."

Robert Burnham

It might seem like a good idea to prevent people from building on land where active earthquake faults run. But experience in California with just such a land-use law, enacted in 1972, shows it's having unintended effects.

Some of those strips of hazardous land have become greenbelts that attract high-value homes and wealthy people, according to a study published in the journal Earth's Future and mentioned in KQED's Science blog.

"We were astonished to discover the correlation between fault-zone parks and greenways – and high-priced housing," says Ramon Arrowsmith, professor of geology in Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). He is a co-author of the study, along with Christopher Boone from ASU's School of Sustainability and Nathan Toké from Utah Valley University, Orem, the lead author of the study. (Toké received his PhD from SESE in 2011.)

The researchers anticipated that the areas next to active fault zones would have become stigmatized and avoided by wealthy people. The team expected to find them occupied mostly by poor and socially vulnerable populations.

In fact, the opposite happened for the most part. Removing areas from the possibility of new construction led developers to build additional park space adjacent to the hazard zones. Parks and greenspace are seen as environmental amenities, and this made them more desirable, despite the known seismic risks. This was especially true in the parks-poor city of Los Angeles.

Transforming zones of natural hazard into amenities attracted populations of relatively high social status. The team concluded that the distribution of social vulnerability is sometimes more strongly tied to amenities than to hazards.

Arrowsmith says, "I was surprised with the unintended consequences of the hazard maps. These actually produced attractive greenbelts and open space, and thus higher value real estate and associated demographic implications."

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Editor's Note: Links are included for informational purposes only. Due to varying editorial policies, news publications may remove or change a link for archival purposes at any time without notice.

Robert Burnham
September 06, 2014 
7 pm - 10 pm

Saturday, Sept. 6 is International Observe the Moon Night all over the world. In celebration, lunar scientists and researchers at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration are holding an open house for the public dedicated to the Moon and Moon-observing.

The open house will run from 7-10 p.m., Sept. 6 (regardless of the weather) at the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Science Operations Center on ASU's Tempe campus. The center is located in Interdisciplinary Building A-wing, 1100 S. Cady Mall. Parking is available in the Apache Boulevard Parking Structure and on the street.

The public is invited to observe the Moon through telescopes, through stunning images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and through the eyes of scientists who have studied our neighbor world in detail.

At the open house, you will be able to:

• View the Moon through telescopes
• Examine detailed images of the Moon's surface taken by the LRO spacecraft
• Tour the Science Operations Center
• Ask scientists questions about the Moon and lunar exploration
• Participate in a scavenger hunt
• View an actual rock from the Moon, collected by Apollo 15 astronauts

Don't miss this great opportunity to explore the Moon with your own eyes through a telescope.

Robert Burnham,
(480) 458-8207
Mars Space Flight Facility

In July 1978, Peter Buseck of Arizona State University, together with two postdoctoral researchers (also then at ASU), published a paper on a new technique for high-resolution imaging of crystal structures using transmission electron microscopes. Recently, the scientific journalNature has hailed that paper as a milestone in the science of crystallography. At the same time, Nature also cited three other milestone crystallography papers.

The Nature Milestones series highlights key discoveries that have shaped different scientific fields, and enables the wider recognition of classic findings that are often recognized only by those in the field.

Buseck, an ASU Regents' Professor in both the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, notes today, "We used a relatively common mineral, vesuvianite, as an example because it has a complex crystal structure. The paper showed how quantitative structural information down to almost the atomic level could be obtained by careful electron microscopy and electron diffraction."

Both of the then-postdocs have gone on to distinguished careers, he notes. Michael O'Keefe spent most of his career at the National Center for Electron Microscopy in Berkeley, California. He is a former president of the Microscopy Society of America, and has had many successes in theoretical electron microscopy.

The other postdoctoral researcher, Sumio Iijima, is the discoverer of carbon nanotubes. Notes Buseck, "He has had a highly distinguished career working on surface microscopy, catalysts and other advanced materials."

Iijima is a past president of the Japanese Microscopy Society, a member of the Japanese Academy and U.S. National Academy of Sciences, among others. His many prizes include the the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics from The Franklin Institute (2002) and the inaugural Kavli Prize for Nanoscience (Kavli Foundation, Norway, 2008).

"It's an unanticipated but pleasant surprise that this paper would be cited as a milestone contribution 36 years after publication," says Buseck today.

"At the time, my students and postdoctoral associates were using transmission electron microscopy in new ways to study various aspects of minerals. Our papers were appearing regularly in Nature and Science, and the cited paper did not seem more or less special than many of the others. Nonetheless, its selection is gratifying."

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Editor's Note: Links are included for informational purposes only. Due to varying editorial policies, news publications may remove or change a link for archival purposes at any time without notice.

Robert Burnham

New lunar meteorite to be on display at ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies

Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) recently received a precious gift. Aside from its price tag, what makes this space rock so special is where it came from: the Moon.

The new sample belongs to the rare class of meteorites originating from the Moon called “lunaites”. Of all known distinct meteorites in this world, of which there are tens of thousands, less than a hundred are thought to come from the Moon.

The softball-size meteorite donation is valued at about a quarter of a million dollars, and is likely to be the most significant single donation ever made to the Center.

“Of the tens of thousands of known meteorites (most of which come from asteroids), only a very tiny fraction are lunaites. So this is a very rare kind even among meteorites, which are themselves quite rare among rocks found on Earth,” says Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center and professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “This new sample is probably one of our most prized pieces and without a doubt one of the most significant recent additions to our collection.”

Known as Northwest Africa 7611, this meteorite was found near the Moroccan/Algerian border in May 2012. It was subsequently purchased by the donor, Dr. Jay Piatek, from a Moroccan meteorite dealer. Piatek is an avid meteorite collector and owns one of the more significant private collections in the world. He is a supporter and generous donor to university and museum collections.

The Center has six other lunaites in its collection, but their total weight is about 60 grams. As such, this new lunaite, weighing 311 grams, represents a five-fold increase in the total mass of lunar material in the collection. The total known weight of the original specimen was 916 grams, and the mass donated to the Center is the largest remaining mass (or main mass) of this meteorite.

“The chemistry, mineralogy and textures of lunar meteorites or lunaites are similar to samples that were brought back from the Moon by the Apollo missions (1969-1972). These characteristics are quite distinct from other classes of meteorites and terrestrial rocks,” explains Wadhwa. “Lunaites can have a small amount of metal, but it is present in very small abundance compared to ordinary chondrites, for example, which are the most common types of meteorites.”

Classified as a lunar regolith breccia, this meteorite contains a mix of rock types from the Moon’s mare and highlands. However, because there is very little mare material on the far-side of the Moon, this regolith breccia most likely came from the near-side (that has both mare and highlands material).

The gift will be on display for the short term, but there are plans to use it for research purposes in the future years.

“It is a beautiful fresh-looking piece, with one cut and polished face that shows the internal texture and fabric of the rock – as such it displays a unique snapshot of the lunar surface,” says CMS collections manager Laurence Garvie.

Consisting of specimens from around 2,000 separate meteorite falls and finds, meteorites in the Center’s collection represent samples collected from every part of the world. Visitors may explore the collection weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on the second floor of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Photo Photo of the spectacular 311 gram lunar meteorite (NWA 7611) on display in ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. The cut and polished surface uniquely shows the great diversity of rock types on the lunar surface. Photo by Laurence Garvie

(Nikki Cassis)