News and Updates


Alberto Behar, a research professor at Arizona State University, who has been operating, designing, building, testing and deploying scientific instruments and robotics in extreme environments for more than 20 years, died Jan. 9, when the plane he was flying crashed north of Los Angeles. He was 47.

Alberto possessed an inquisitive mind. He was passionate. He was driven. He was an explorer. He was widely known for his energy, enthusiasm, and technical excellence. He brought optimism and an accompanying smile to every room he entered.

“Alberto Behar was a uniquely talented engineer, developing ways to measure changes in our natural world in the most challenging environments – the ocean depths or the Antarctic ice cap,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. “With those around him, he shared both a brilliant mind and a big heart: his students were full partners in a grand adventure. His colleagues quickly came to know his caring nature and irrepressible good humor. We will all miss him tremendously.”

Today much scientific exploration in extreme environments on Earth and in space is done using mobile robots. Alberto dedicated his career to better understanding Earth and beyond by developing instruments that allowed for exploration of regions too dangerous or inaccessible for human explorers.

Alberto had once said that new innovations are a way of overcoming the limits on our ability to explore: “Technology is how we get our senses to a remote location where we can’t actually go ourselves.”

During the course of his career, Alberto has developed instruments and robotics that have reached deep in the ocean’s hydrothermal vents, next to volcanoes, under thick ice sheets, in to the stratosphere and on to other planetary bodies. He participated in the exploration of Mars, serving as the Investigation Scientist for both the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument on the Curiosity rover and the High Energy Neutron Detector on the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

A Greenland research paper, of which Behar was an author, was released today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The lead author Laurence Smith of UCLA contacted PNAS and asked to have the research dedicated to the memory of Behar. The Acknowledgments section will now begin with: "This research is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alberto Behar, who tragically passed away January 9, 2015."

The life of an explorer

Alberto’s parents emigrated from Cuba to the United States. Alberto was born and raised in Miami, Fla. and attended the University of Florida, majoring in computer and information engineering sciences. He went on to earn two graduate degrees: a Master of Engineering in Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Science in Computer Science with a specialization in robotics from University of Southern California. In 1998, he obtained his doctorate in electrical engineering (astronautics minor) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Before coming to ASU in 2009, Alberto spent 18 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) operating, designing, building, testing and deploying scientific instruments and robotics in extreme environments.

“From his submarines that peeked under Antarctica to his boats that raced Greenland's rivers, Alberto's work enabled measurements of things we'd never known,” said Thomas Wagner, the Cryosphere Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters. “His creativity knew few bounds.”

Training the next generation of explorers

Alberto was one of the first of a new breed of faculty to join the School of Earth and Space Exploration, according to Kip Hodges, founding director of the school. He was a researcher and educator who actively bridged the gap between science and engineering.

“From the moment he began working toward becoming part of our community, Alberto showed a natural affinity for working with undergraduates through project-based learning and he became a tremendous mentor,” Hodges said. “To him, engineering was an enabling strategy for scientific research, and his enthusiasm for the field was extremely inspirational for many ASU students, not just those with majors in our school.”

Jim Crowell, a researcher in Alberto’s Extreme Environments Robotics and Instrumentation Laboratory, was hired by Alberto following his May 2012 graduation.

“I first started working for Alberto as a student. My last semester, I did a research project with him; the project was a system to analyze the depth of some glacial rivers in Greenland,” says Crowell. “Alberto was my boss, mentor, teacher, and friend. More than anything, he was an incredible mentor and a great friend. He inspired me every day, and he’s the only reason I stayed in Phoenix after I graduated. He always wanted the best for me and my career.”

Alberto’s colleague Jack Farmer, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, describes him as “an engineer par excellence” with an amazingly diverse experience designing and testing robotic platforms for the exploration of extreme environments on Earth and ultimately, other planets.

“He brought this amazing experience, along with his infectious enthusiasm for exploration, to the classroom and SESE students were clear beneficiaries,” said Farmer. He and Alberto served together on the MSL team, and shared many experiences during the first 90 days of the mission, as they lived and worked on Mars time.

A passion for life

Alberto was deeply passionate about exploration and discovery and he was highly successful in his career, but he never lost sight of his true love: his family.

“When he wasn’t talking about work, he was talking about his wife and children. He absolutely adored them,” says Crowell. “He told me to focus on my life and having a family. As much fun or important as a career seems, he understood that family and living life was much more important than anything else.”

He is survived by his wife Mary and three children: his son Indra and daughters Isis and Athena.

Friends, colleagues and students agree that Behar was a man of science, with a passion for sharing knowledge and exploring the unknown.

Lance Strumpf, chief pilot at Briles Wing & Helicopter, Inc., became friends with Alberto through aviation. Alberto held dual airline transport pilot and instructor ratings in helicopters and airplanes, as well as Scientific and Rescue SCUBA Diver Certificates and an Emergency Medical Technician Certificate.

“Alberto worked his way onto my staff as a helicopter pilot,” says Strumpf. “He was always welcome in our home. We all loved Alberto. He spent evenings at my house, dinners and at times slept over. He was part of the family. My family spent a week with his family in Scottsdale for Thanksgiving a couple years ago. He toured us through his lab at Arizona State University and gave is a private tour at JPL during the construction of the Mars Curiosity. He loved to share his knowledge.”

“I once asked him what the purpose of one of our projects was,” recalls Crowell, “and he said simply: ‘Because we don’t know.’ He was truly the embodiment of exploration.”

Image:  Alberto stands in front of his "drone-boat", which safely collected measurements of water depth and spectral reflectance needed to calibrate a satellite-based algorithm to map meltwater depths on the ice sheet. Courtesy of Larry Smith


The “Pillars of Creation”, imaged by ASU astronomers 20 years ago, gets makeover

In 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope released an iconic image that changed people’s perception of space. Appearing in movies, TV shows, and on items from t-shirts to a postage stamp, the photo of the so-called “Pillars of Creation,” offered a glimpse at what the origins of our own solar system’s sun might have looked like.

The awe-inspiring photo revealed never-before-seen details of three staggering columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.

Paul Scowen, associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, and former ASU astronomer Jeff Hester conducted the original observation of the nebula.

In celebration of its upcoming 25th anniversary in April, Hubble has revisited the famous pillars, photographing them in both visible and near-infrared light, creating an image far more detailed than the previous one. The high-definition version of the iconic image was possible thanks to upgrades made to the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 25 years.

“It allows us to demonstrate how far Hubble has come in 25 years of observation,” Scowen said during a news conference at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Along with releasing the sharper new photo, the Hubble team revealed an image of the Eagle Nebula in the infrared wavelength, which cuts through the dust and gas, transforming the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes seen against a background of myriad stars.

Pillars of destruction

The new image of the pillars illuminates the constantly shifting face of the universe. In addition to showcasing a region giving birth to new stars, the pillars are also being destroyed by the very star light they are bathed in.

“I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are,” said Scowen. “They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space. We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution.”

The infrared image reveals that the pillars still exist after two decades but also show changes that have taken place in the nebula over the past two decades.

“These pillars represent a very dynamic, active process,” Scowen said. “The gas is not being passively heated up and gently wafting away into space. The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized, a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms, and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars’ strong winds and barrage of charged particles, which are literally sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.”

Our Sun probably formed in a similar turbulent star-forming region. There is evidence that the forming solar system was seasoned with radioactive shrapnel from a nearby supernova. That means that our Sun was formed as part of a cluster that included stars massive enough to produce powerful ionizing radiation, such as is seen in the Eagle Nebula.

“That's the only way the nebula from which the Sun was born could have been exposed to a supernova that quickly, in the short period of time that represents, because supernovae only come from massive stars, and those stars only live a few tens of millions of years,” Scowen explained. "What that means is when you look at the environment of the Eagle Nebula or other star-forming regions, you're looking at exactly the kind of nascent environment that our Sun formed in.”

Image: Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a bigger and sharper photograph of the iconic Eagle Nebula’s.
Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)



A recent article published in Science features the Martian meteorite NWA 7034 (aka Black Beauty), and details its discovery and distribution among collections.

CMS holds a 20-gram cut of Black Beauty, which is a polymict breccia containing a diverse assemblage of igneous and “sedimentary” materials. It was most likely produced by impact, but also involved volcanic and low-temperature alteration processes. The bulk chemical composition of this meteorite closely matches that of the Martian crust as measured by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Odyssey Orbiter. It also contains the most amount of water (approximately ~0.6 wt%) of any of the known Martian meteorites.

See the CT image movie of the Center's slice of this unique and rare meteorite here.

Photo: NWA 7533, aka Black Beauty (Photo credit: NASA).


Experiments with the high pressure wind tunnel at Arizona State University's Planetary Aeolian Laboratory provide key data for understanding dunes on Saturn's moon Titan.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is one of the few solar system bodies — and the only planetary moon — known to have fields of wind-blown dunes on its surface. (The others are Venus, Earth, and Mars.)

New research, using experimental results from the high-pressure wind tunnel at Arizona State University's Planetary Aeolian Laboratory, has found that previous estimates of how fast winds need to blow to move sand-size particles around on Titan are about 40 percent too low.

A team of scientists led by Devon Burr of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville reported the findings Dec. 8 in a paper published in the journal Nature. James K. Smith, engineer and manager of ASU's Planetary Aeolian Laboratory, is one of the paper's co-authors.

Saturn and Titan orbit about ten times farther from the Sun than Earth. Scientists got their first detailed information about Titan when the Cassini/Huygens orbiter and lander arrived in 2004. The short-lived Huygens lander took photos when it reached the surface and as it was descending through Titan's dense, smoggy atmosphere, which has 1.4 times greater pressure than Earth's. These images, plus studies using instruments on the Cassini orbiter, revealed that Titan's geological features include mountains, craters, river channels, lakes of ethane, methane, and propane — and dunes.

Dunes begin to form when the wind picks up loose particles from the ground and drives them to hop, or saltate, downwind. A key part of understanding dunes is to identify the threshold wind speed that causes dune particles to start to move. Geologists have found threshold speeds for sand and dust under various conditions on Earth, Mars, and Venus. But for Titan, with its bizarre conditions, this remained unknown.

Particles of 'sand' as light as freeze-dried coffee

On Titan, where the surface temperature is –290° Fahrenheit, even "sand" is probably unlike sand on Earth, Mars, or Venus. From the Cassini observations and other data, scientists think it is composed of small particles of solid hydrocarbons (or ice wrapped in hydrocarbons), with a density about one-third that of terrestrial sand. In addition, Titan's gravity is low, roughly one-seventh that on Earth. Combined with the particles' low density, this gives them a weight of only about four percent that of terrestrial sand, or roughly as light as freeze-dried coffee grains.

The scientists led by Burr began their study with carefully designed wind tunnel experiments. "We refurbished the high-pressure wind tunnel previously used to study conditions on Venus," Smith explains. To recreate in the tunnel on Earth the wind conditions on Titan, the scientists had to increase the air pressure in the wind tunnel to about 12 times the surface pressure of Earth. And they compensated for the low density of Titan "sand" and the moon's reduced gravity through numerical modeling.

In the end, the Burr team explains, "this simulation reproduces the fundamental physics governing particle motion thresholds on Titan." They add that previous studies, which had extrapolated from wind tunnel experiments designed to mimic conditions on Earth and Mars, produced results that were questionable under Titan's conditions.

The outcome of the wind tunnel experiments show that the previous calculations for wind speeds necessary to lift particles were about 40 to 50 percent too slow. The new experiments show that near the surface of Titan, the most easily moved sand-size particles need winds of at least 3.2 miles per hour (1.4 meters per second) to start moving.

That doesn't sound like much, says Nathan Bridges of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, one of the co-authors. "But it makes more sense when you realize this is a dense atmosphere blowing against particles that are very light."

A higher threshold wind speed for making particles move creates an either/or situation in which weak, everyday winds do little or nothing to surface particles, but occasional strong ones readily blow them around and reshape the dunes. The pattern of dunes on Titan shows that despite prevailing winds blowing from the east, the dunes appear shaped by winds from the west, which occur more rarely. Thus the new work indicates that Titan's dunes are seldom stirred into motion — only whenever conditions produce strong westerly winds.

For simplicity, the wind-tunnel modeling ignored some factors, among them whether Titan dune particles are sticky. If they are, the paper's scientists note, then it will take yet-stronger winds to get the particles moving, and the contrasts will be even greater between the normal east wind pattern and the stronger west winds that shape the dunes.

Bridges says, "Titan is a strange place indeed."

The facility that has grown to become ASU's Planetary Aeolian Laboratory was founded in the mid-1970s by the late Ronald Greeley of ASU. The laboratory, located at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., has been used for many studies of how wind interacts with particles of sand, dust, and rock. Scientists have also used it to investigate what blowing sand and dust do to Mars spacecraft, such as NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. ASU operates the laboratory through an agreement with NASA.

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


Arizona State University professor Lawrence Krauss has been named the 2015 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanists Association.

The Humanist of the Year award was established in 1953 to recognize a person of national or international reputation who, through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition.

Previous honorees include astronomer Carl Sagan; Nobel laureates Steven Weinberg, Murray Gell-Mann, Andrei Sakharov and Linus Pauling; polio vaccine discoverer Jonas Salk; feminist Gloria Steinem; biologists Edward O. Wilson and Stephen Jay Gould; psychologist B.F. Skinner; designer Buckminster Fuller; birth control activist Margaret Sanger; and author Kurt Vonnegut.

“I was shocked when I received the news, and humbled when I read the list of previous awardees, many of whom are intellectual heroes of mine,” said Krauss. “To be listed along with that group in any context is an honor of the highest order.

“As it is, I feel privileged that my activities, which ASU has helped foster and which I am motivated to do both because I enjoy them and because I hope that they might have a positive impact, have now also been so generously recognized by this award,” he added.

Krauss is internationally known for his work in theoretical physics and cosmology, and is a well-known author, science communicator, activist and public intellectual. His research covers science from the beginning of the universe to the end of the universe, and includes the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics.

In addition to being an ASU Foundation Professor, Krauss is the director of the Origins Project at ASU, which explores key questions about our origins, who we are and where we came from, and then holds open forums to encourage public participation.

Krauss is the only physicist to receive major awards from all three U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

In 2012 he was given the Public Service Award from the National Science Board for his efforts in communicating science to general audiences. Last year he was awarded the “Roma Award Urbs Universalis 2013” by the Mayor of Rome.

Krauss has authored more than 300 scientific publications and nine books, including his most recent best-seller, "A Universe from Nothing," which offers provocative, revelatory answers to the most basic philosophical questions of existence. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction within a week of its release.

Krauss also wrote the international best-seller "The Physics of Star Trek," an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the Star Trek universe, and "Beyond Star Trek," which addressed recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy, and takes a look at how the laws of physics relate to notions from popular culture. A book on physicist Richard Feynman, "Quantum Man," was awarded the 2011 Book of the Year by Physics World magazine in the UK.

He has been a frequent commentator and columnist for newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has written regular columns for New Scientist and Scientific American, and appears routinely on radio and television. He was featured with Richard Dawkins in a full-length film documentary, "The Unbelievers," which has been billed as a “rock-n-roll tour film about science and reason.”

Krauss also serves as a co-chair of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on the board of directors of the Federation of American Scientists and is one of the founders of ScienceDebate2012.

Krauss will receive a bronze plate bearing an inscription during the American Humanists Association Annual Conference, May 7-10, 2015, in Denver.

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

(Skip Derra)


In becoming a partner in the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope, scientists from ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration will be using it to explore the beginning of the universe. 

Arizona State University has joined with 14 other institutions in Australia, India, New Zealand, and the United States in a radio telescope project that focuses on the early universe and the birth and formation of the first galaxies.

The radio telescope is the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), located in the Shire of Murchison, Western Australia. The Shire, isolated and sparsely populated, has no villages or towns, and consists of only about 30 cattle and sheep stations (ranches), with a combined population of around 100. These are spread over about 20,000 square miles (50,000 square kilometers).

The telescope is constructed of 2048 dipole antennas, grouped into 4 x 4 arrays called tiles. Each dipole antenna spans about 30 inches (74 centimeters). Most of the tiles (112) scatter across a core section one mile (1.5 kilometer) in diameter, with the remaining 16 tiles placed outside the core, yielding baseline distances of about two miles (3 km).

The antennas and receivers operate at low radio frequencies and are optimized for radio waves in the 80-300 Megahertz range — the same frequencies used for FM radio and broadcast TV. Hence Murchison's geographic isolation provides great advantages.

"A dense-core-plus-outliers arrangement gives sensitive, wide-field views from the central tiles," says Judd Bowman, associate professor of astronomy in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) and project scientist for the telescope array. "And the outliers provide high-reolution imaging for solar outbursts and extragalactic sources, other areas of focus in the telescope's scientific program."

Research opportunities for ASU astronomers

The telescope program will provide many opportunities for scientists, researchers, and students in SESE, Bowman says. "As a partner institution in the telescope, any faculty member at ASU can join the project and receive access to observing data."

Three ASU undergraduates traveled with Bowman to Australia to help with the construction and commissioning of the telescope and related experiments at the site. The telescope is already being used by graduate students and two postdoctoral scholars at ASU for their research. For example, ASU researchers are currently using the telescope to search for traces of relic radio waves from primordial gas surrounding the first stars and galaxies at a time, more than 13 billion years ago, when the Universe less than a billion years old.

Bowman says, “This telescope complements very well the observational cosmology efforts already underway at ASU to observe the oldest galaxies in the Universe. With the MWA, while we won’t see the galaxies themselves, we hope to detect the cosmic fingerprints those galaxies left in the intergalactic gas around them.”

Danny Jacobs, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in SESE, is helping to coordinate the analysis of more than a thousand terabytes of data already acquired by the telescope. “The MWA is fixed to the ground and sees the entire sky," he explains. To unpack the signals and extract the data requires powerful computer processing. "To an unprecedented degree, the MWA is a software telescope. We’re really pushing the limits of what our computers can do.”

The Murchison Widefield Array has four elements or research avenues that make up its scientific program. These are: (1) exploration of the Cosmic Dawn and epoch of reionization, the period when the first stars and galaxies formed in the early Universe; (2) radio emission from the Milky Way Galaxy and extragalactic sources, which is both a complicating foreground "fog" for observations and an interesting scientific target of its own; (3) searching for transient and variable radio events that are rare and faint, and which occur on timescales from seconds to months; and (4) space weather, the study of solar outbursts as they travel from the Sun's surface to Earth.

Along with ASU's new role in the project, Bowman notes, SESE is hosting an international scientific conference in December 2014. It will be based around the Murchison Widefield Array and the initial science results from both it and other low-frequency radio telescopes.

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



A longstanding controversy over a purported rare form of diamond called lonsdaleite is now settled. It is diamond that has been formed by impact shock, but which lacks the three-dimensional regularity of ordinary diamond.

Scientists have argued for half a century about the existence of a form of diamond called lonsdaleite, which is associated with impacts by meteorites and asteroids. A group of scientists based mostly at Arizona State University now show that what has been called lonsdaleite is in fact a structurally disordered form of ordinary diamond.

The scientists' report is published in Nature Communications, Nov. 20, 2014, by Péter Németh, a former ASU visiting researcher (now with the Research Centre of Natural Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), together with ASU's Laurence Garvie, Toshihiro Aoki, and Peter Buseck, plus Natalia Dubrovinskaia and Leonid Dubrovinsky from the University of Bayreuth in Germany. Buseck and Garvie are with ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, while Aoki is with ASU's LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science.

"So-called lonsdaleite is actually the long-familiar cubic form of diamond, but it's full of defects," says Péter Németh. These can occur, he explains, due to shock metamorphism, plastic deformation, or unequilibrated crystal growth.

The lonsdaleite story began almost 50 years ago. Scientists reported that a large meteorite, called Canyon Diablo after the crater it formed on impact in northern Arizona, contained a new form of diamond with a hexagonal structure. They described it as an impact-related mineral and called it lonsdaleite, after Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, a famous crystallographer.

Since then, "lonsdaleite" has been widely used by scientists as an indicator of ancient asteroidal impacts on Earth, including those linked to mass extinctions. In addition, it has been thought to have mechanical properties superior to ordinary diamond, giving it high potential industrial significance. All this focused much interest on the mineral, although pure crystals of it, even tiny ones, have never been found or synthesized. That posed a long-standing puzzle.

The ASU scientists approached the question by re-examining Canyon Diablo diamonds and investigating laboratory samples prepared under conditions in which lonsdaleite has been reported.

Using the advanced electron microscopes in ASU's Center for Solid State Science, the team discovered, both in the Canyon Diablo and the synthetic samples, new types of diamond twins and nanometer-scale structural complexity. These give rise to features attributed to lonsdaleite.

"Most crystals have regular repeating structures, much like the bricks in a well-built wall," says Peter Buseck. However, interruptions can occur in the regularity, and these are called defects. "Defects are intermixed with the normal diamond structure, just as if the wall had an occasional half-brick or longer brick or row of bricks that's slightly displaced to one side or another."

The outcome of the new work is that so-called lonsdaleite is the same as the regular cubic form of diamond, but it has been subjected to shock or pressure that caused defects within the crystal structure.

One consequence of the new work is that many scientific studies based on the presumption that lonsdaleite is a separate type of diamond need to be re-examined. The study implies that both shock and static compression can produce an intensely defective diamond structure.

The new discovery also suggests that the observed structural complexity of the Canyon Diablo diamond results in interesting mechanical properties. It could be a candidate for a product with exceptional hardness.

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



Using robots to explore extreme enviroments is the theme of the Earth and Space open house.

Need to explore a place where even sophisticated robots can't go? It's a tough job, but something's got to do it. This semester's final ASU public Earth & Space open house is all about "Extreme Robotic Exploration." Find out what's involved, Nov. 21, from 7 to 10 p.m., at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Robots explore lunar cave or lava tubeVisitors to the free event can attend a public lecture by the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Jekan Thanga. His topic is "Exploring Extreme Environments on the Moon and Mars using a Flying Network of Ball Robots." The talk discusses the feasibility of using small robots to explore environments on the Moon and Mars where larger and more expensive robotic spacecraft can't safely go. Small robots, however, could be deployed from landers or rovers, making accessible such locations as canyons, lava tubes, and caves that would otherwise be out of reach. The talk will be given at 8:15 p.m. in room 240.

Besides the public lecture, this Open House will feature the inaugural appearance of the Icarus Rocketry team, ASU's high-power rocketry competition team.

In addition, there will be two 3D planetarium shows titled "Measuring Distances in the Universe" in the Marston Exploration Theater, at 7:15 and 8:45 p.m. All seating is on a first-come basis.

As usual, there will be telescope sky viewing outdoors next to the James Turrell Skyscape art installation from 8 to 10 p.m. (weather permitting). Don't miss the many exciting demonstrations and activities in the state-of-the-art ISTB4 Gallery of Scientific Exploration by experts in astrobiology, geology, cosmology, planetary science — and don't leave without picking up your free poster.

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

The monthly open house is sponsored by the School of Earth and Space Exploration, GeoClub, and AstroDevils: ASU Astronomy Club, Icarus Rocketry, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), and the Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS). For more information, visit or visit the School's Facebook event page. The next open houses will be on February 20, March 27, and April 24, 2015.

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



A SESE-led project to map the impact sequence on the asteroid Vesta is helping scientists compare its history to other solar system objects.

A team of 14 scientists led by David Williams of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration has completed the first global geologic and tectonic map of the asteroid Vesta. The work reveals that Vesta's history has been dominated by impacts from large meteorites.

The mapping was carried out using images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which orbited Vesta between June 2011 and September 2012. The images let scientists create high-resolution geological maps, revealing the variety of Vesta’s surface features in unprecedented detail.

"The geologic mapping campaign at Vesta took about two and a half years to complete," says Williams. "The resulting maps enabled us to construct a geologic time scale of Vesta for comparison to other planets and moons."

The geologic map and timescale appear in a paper by Williams and others in the December 2014 issue of the journal Icarus. The issue also has 10 other papers reporting on Dawn's investigation of Vesta. In addition to Williams, the mapping effort was also led by R. Aileen Yingst of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, and W. Brent Garry of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

The mappers found that Vesta’s geologic time scale has been shaped by a sequence of large impact events. The biggest of these were the impacts that blasted the large Veneneia and Rheasilvia craters early in Vesta's history and the Marcia crater late in its history.

In mapping an extraterrestrial object, scientists begin by studying its surface features to develop a relative chronology of events. They look to see which feature interrupts or disturbs other features, thereby placing them in a relative time sequence. Then, crater by crater, fracture by fracture, scientists build up a chronology of events.

But how long ago did specific events happen? An age in years is quite difficult to determine because the samples scientists have from Vesta — a family of basaltic meteorites called HEDs, for howardite-eucrite-diogenite — do not show a clear formation age (as dated by laboratory methods) that can be linked to specific features on the asteroid.

"So figuring out an actual date in years is a step-by-step-by-step process," explains Williams. "We work with rock samples from the Moon, mostly from Apollo missions decades ago. These give actual dates for large lunar impacts." The tricky part, he says, lies in creating a model that links the lunar impact time scale to the rest of the solar system.

In the case of Vesta, scientists have developed two different models to estimate surface ages. One is based on the lunar impact rate, the other on the frequency of asteroid impacts. Thus scientists can use two approaches with crater statistics to date Vesta's surface, but these yield two different age ranges.

Applying the models to Vesta, Williams' team concluded that the oldest surviving crust on Vesta predates the Veneneia impact, which has an age of 2.1 billion years (asteroid system) or 3.7 billion years (lunar system). The Rheasilvia impact likely has an age of around 1 billion years (asteroids) or 3.5 billion years (lunar).

"Vesta's last big event, the Marcia impact, has an age that's still uncertain," says Williams. "But our current best estimates suggest an age between roughly 120 and 390 million years." The difference, he explains, comes from which cratering model is used.

The geologic mapping relied on images taken by the framing camera provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research of the German Max Planck Society and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). This camera takes panchromatic images and seven bands of color filtered images. Overlapping images provide stereoscopic views that create topographic models of the surface to help the geologic interpretation.

“Geological mapping was crucial for resolving Vesta’s geologic history, as well as providing geologic context to understand compositional information from Dawn's Visible and Infrared (VIR) spectrometer and Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND),” says Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator.

The objective of NASA's Dawn mission, launched in 2007, is to characterize the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta was thought to be the source of a unique set of basaltic meteorites (the HEDs), and Dawn confirmed the Vesta-HED connection. The Dawn spacecraft is currently on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The spacecraft will arrive at Ceres in March 2015. The Dawn mission is managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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


Astrophysicist Steve Desch of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration says that magnetic clues in a meteorite outline the earliest steps in the formation of the solar system and Earth-like planets.

 The most accurate laboratory measurements yet made of magnetic fields trapped in grains within a primitive meteorite are providing important clues to how the early solar system evolved. The measurements point to shock waves traveling through the cloud of dusty gas around the newborn Sun as a major factor in solar system formation. 

The results appear in a paper published November 13, 2014, in the journal Science. The lead author is graduate student Roger Fu of MIT, working under Benjamin Weiss; Steve Desch of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration is a co-author of the paper.
"The measurements made by Fu and Weiss are astounding and unprecedented," says Desch. "Not only have they measured tiny magnetic fields thousands of times weaker than a compass feels, they have mapped the magnetic fields' variation recorded by the meteorite, millimeter by millimeter."
Construction debris
It may seem all but impossible to determine how the solar system formed, given it happened about 4.5 billion years ago. But making the solar system was a messy process, leaving lots of construction debris behind for scientists to study.
Among the most useful pieces of debris are the oldest, most primitive and least altered type of meteorites, called the chondrites (KON-drites). Chondrite meteorites are pieces of asteroids, broken off by collisions, that have remained relatively unmodified since they formed at the birth of the solar system. They are built mostly of small stony grains, called chondrules, barely a millimeter in diameter.
Chondrules themselves formed through quick melting events in the dusty gas cloud – the solar nebula – that surrounded the young sun. Patches of the solar nebula must have been heated above the melting point of rock for hours to days. Dustballs caught in these events made droplets of molten rock, which then cooled and crystallized into chondrules. 
Tiny magnets
As chondrules cooled, iron-bearing minerals within them became magnetized like bits on a hard drive by the local magnetic field in the gas. These magnetic fields are preserved in the chondrules even down to the present day.
The chondrule grains whose magnetic fields were mapped in the new study came from a meteorite named Semarkona, after the place in India where it fell in 1940. It weighed 691 grams, or about a pound and a half.
The scientists focused specifically on the embedded magnetic fields captured by "dusty" olivine grains that contain abundant iron-bearing minerals. These had a magnetic field of about 54 microtesla, similar to the magnetic field at Earth’s surface, which ranges from 25 to 65 microtesla.
Coincidentally, many previous measurements of meteorites also implied similar field strengths. But it is now understood that those measurements detected magnetic minerals contaminated by Earth’s magnetic field, or even from hand magnets used by meteorite collectors.
"The new experiments," Desch says, "probe magnetic minerals in chondrules never measured before. They also show that each chondrule is magnetized like a little bar magnet, but with 'north' pointing in random directions."
This shows, he says, they became magnetized before they were built into the meteorite, and not while sitting on Earth’s surface.
Shocks and more shocks
"My modeling for the heating events shows that shock waves passing through the solar nebula is what melted most chondrules," Desch explains. Depending on the strength and size of the shock wave, the background magnetic field could be amplified by up to 30 times.
He says, "Given the measured magnetic field strength of about 54 microtesla, this shows the background field in the nebula was probably in the range of 5 to 50 microtesla."
There are other ideas for how chondrules might have formed, some involving magnetic flares above the solar nebula, or passage through the sun’s magnetic field. But those mechanisms require stronger magnetic fields than what is measured in the Semarkona samples.
This reinforces the idea that shocks melted the chondrules in the solar nebula at about the location of today's asteroid belt, which lies some two to four times farther from the sun than Earth now orbits.
Desch says, "This is the first really accurate and reliable measurement of the magnetic field in the gas from which our planets formed."
The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.