News and Updates


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attendees are encourage to pre-register:

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



JOIN US for…

Earth & Space Open House this Friday!

Date: Friday, Oct. 25 from 7-10 p.m.
Theme: Meteorites
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 8 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater and telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on the Rural parking structure roof)

Event features: A public lecture, exhibits, demonstrations, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor), including an underwater robotics demo.

Public Lecture Information:
Speaker: Meenakshi Wadhwa, Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies
Time: 8 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Hunting for Visitors from Space in Antarctica - Why it is worth collecting meteorites on the white continent

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

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

The future open house dates for this year are 11/22, 2/21, 3/28, and 4/25, each featuring a different earth and space-related theme.
Facebook Event:
Earth & Space Open House website:



Join us for this very special presentation in the Marston Exploration Theater this coming weekend!

Twenty-five years ago, a slim book by British physicist Stephen Hawking attempted to explain in layman’s terms such cosmic quagmires as the Big Bang, black holes, quarks, and even the possibility of time travel. A Brief History of Time sold more than 10 million copies. Now, ASU associate professor Lance Gharavi has created a unique work to mark the volume’s silver anniversary.

A Brief Anniversary of Time is a one-man show written, directed and performed by Gharavi that will be held, most appropriately, in the planetarium of the Marston Exploration Theater. The performance will incorporate 3D media and sound through the use of Marston’s state-of-the-art stereoscopic projection system, witnessed by the audience members who will be wearing 3D glasses. The play tells the story of three generations — grandfather, father and son — and ponders human questions of life, loss, and time, juxtaposed against the vast spacescape of Hawking’s book.

“Using planetarium technology to create a story is marvelous and exciting,” says Gharavi, who teaches theatre and performance at SoFTD. “I'll be on stage immersed in clouds of stars, planets, and galaxies that will appear to float over the seats in the audience. In a very important sense, the Marston gives us the entire universe with which to create.”

Gharavi adds that he hopes A Brief Anniversary of Time will be the first in a series of projects to unite artists and scientists in creating new works for the public. The Marston also hosts the popular Hollywood Invades Tempe film screening and chat series, thus bringing entirely different types of stars to ASU’s new planetarium.

A Brief Anniversary of Time is appropriate for families, though it may be too technical for very young children.



Where: Marston Exploration Theater, ISTB 4 (550 East Tyler Mall, Tempe, Arizona)

Location and parking: The Rural Road parking structure is the closest parking to ISTB 4. Rates for visitor lots are $2 per hour with a maximum exit fee of $8. View a map of ISTB4 and nearby visitor parking. Cars and vans may park in any surface visitor lot.

When: Oct. 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 20 at 2:00 p.m.

Cost: $5.50 for students; $7 general admission

Additional information:




Researchers at ASU and UA are playing a big role in Mars exploration, continuing work that has been going on in Arizona since the dawn of the space program.

An article in the AZ Capitol Times by Oscar Contreras digs into ASU's involvement in Mars exploration in the article "Research, geography position Arizona for role in Mars missions" published Oct. 14.

When the Curiosity Rover collects soil from the surface of Mars, data from the samples will come to an Arizona State University laboratory to be compared with the composition of soil on Earth.

Jack Farmer, a professor of geological sciences, is tasked with looking for carbon compounds and other building blocks suggesting that life once existed on Mars.

Curiosity’s path across Gale Crater is decided in part because of Jim Bell, an ASU professor of planetary science who is on a team of scientists studying images from the rover’s mast camera.

Universities across the country submitted proposals to NASA not just about research to be conducted on missions to Mars but the instruments needed to accomplish it. Both ASU and UA have developed instruments for Mars missions.

“I think it comes down to personnel and history,” said Jim Tyburczy, interim director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “We’ve have had outstanding scientists from back in the 1960s who have been participants in national planetary exploration programs.”


Read more:



More than 110,000 Arizonans will once again participate in the Great ShakeOut, the world’s largest earthquake preparedness drill, scheduled for October 17 at 10:17 a.m., and there will be a free public presentation by Arizona State University geoscientists on Wednesday evening, October 16 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Although not traditionally thought of as a frequent epicenter for earthquakes, Arizona is not free from earthquake hazard. The USArray component of EarthScope, an earth science program that researches the structure and evolution of the North American continent, detected over 1,000 earthquakes in Arizona during its deployment. Additionally, faults in California and Mexico are close enough to cause significant shaking.

The EarthScope National Office (ESNO), currently based at ASU, will participate in the ShakeOut again this year to encourage hazard awareness. The ShakeOut began in 2008 in California as a way to educate the public about earthquake preparedness. Since then it has grown into an international event, with numbers expected to exceed last year’s global participation of 19.5 million.

In addition to the drill itself, the EarthScope National Office will be hosting free public presentations by ASU geoscientists on Wednesday evening, October 16 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. in addition to participating in the drill the next morning. The scientists will speak on the science of earthquakes, the history of earthquakes in Arizona, ways to prepare for the next earthquake, and other exciting geological topics. The lecture will be held on ASU Tempe Campus, in the Marston Exploration Theater on the first floor of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Taking a few minutes to think about what to do in the event of an earthquake can be of great assistance. When you’re panicked, it’s harder to think clearly so it’s important to plan ahead and pay attention to what looks strong and what could fall on top of you.

On the day of the drill, the EarthScope National Office will be “dropping, covering and holding on” to simulate what they would do in the event of an earthquake. Join us!

For more information:

(Nikki Cassis)



Humans have left an indelible mark on Earth, most notably in the massive amounts of carbon now floating around in our atmosphere that is causing the planet to warm. When we industrialized our civilization, we harnessed the power of fossil fuels and have become slaves to it as a result.

We are now at a critical point where we will need to deal with the carbon already in our atmosphere from burning fossil fuels (carbon lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere, making it ever more difficult to achieve targeted reductions) in order to meet the ceiling on carbon, proposed last week by the International Panel on Climate Change, or move on to a new Earth, argues Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at ASU, in the New Yorker.

Because the world’s governments cannot seem to adequately face the imperative to cut industrial greenhouse gas production, we can “give up and resign ourselves to living on Earth 2.0, with the possibility of vast and disastrous social and political upheavals due to changing temperatures, rising sea levels and the like; or try and do something about the carbon that is already in the atmosphere,” Krauss states.

If we choose the latter, then our best shot might be to develop a strategy to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Remarkably, this approach has received almost no support in terms of R&D dollars to date, an egregious action given the tens of billions we spend on fine-tuning the source for all of this carbon-fossil fuel production, he states.

“Carbon capture may not be practical in the end,” Krauss states. “But exploring possibilities like it with the same kind of energy that we are devoting to extracting fossil fuels should be an ethical global imperative, given everything we know about humanity’s impact on our climate.”

(Skip Derra)



Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust by X-rays provides new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars

During the nearly 14 months that it has spent on the red planet, Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, has revealed a great deal about Mars’ composition and history. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover’s science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in a series of five papers in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

ASU professor Jack Farmer, a scientist on the rover’s CheMin instrument team, is an author on two of the papers; one of which focuses on the composition and formation process of the Rocknest sand shadow, a small ripple of loose, wind-transported sand and dust. The other provides an evaluation of fine- and coarse-grained soil samples.

“The past few months the MSL team has been working our way from Yellowknife Bay toward the base of Mount Sharp, which is a primary goal for the mission. We have just completed our work at our first waypoint along the way to our destination,” says Farmer.

The first stop was Rocknest for an initial test of the functionality of Curiosity’s onboard analytical laboratory instruments, including the miniaturized laboratory for identifying minerals CheMin, short for “Chemistry and Mineralogy.” This shoebox-size laboratory uses X-rays to determine what minerals are present in a material, as well as provide information about elemental abundances – a first for a mission to Mars.

“Curiosity has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using X-ray diffraction, the gold standard laboratory method for mineral identification on Earth,” says Farmer. “It is a more quantitative method for identifying minerals than has been possible with previous Mars missions.”

Another instrument tested at Rocknest was Curiosity’s Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), a tiny oven that heats samples and identifies the composition of gases given off by them. Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a collaborator with SAM.

At Rocknest, Curiosity’s robotic arm collected several scoops of loose sand and dust and delivered them into the portable laboratories for analysis.

“This little wind ripple provided well-sorted materials in the right size range for sieving and delivering to the CheMin and SAM instruments. This was important, because at this early stage of the mission we were still doing our stepwise testing of the payload instruments and were not yet ready to deploy the drill to sample rocks. We used materials already ground up and sorted by the wind as our test materials and in the process learned a lot about surface materials at Gale,” explains Farmer.

CheMin will analyze as many as 74 samples during the nominal prime mission, providing information about the environment at the time and place where the minerals in the rocks and soils formed or were altered.

Results are in
CheMin’s analysis reveals that the Rocknest drift has a complex history. The findings provide new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars and clues to the planet’s volcanic history.

The results indicate that the ripple materials had a basaltic composition, similar to soils that have been analyzed elsewhere on Mars. This confirmed the presence of basaltic source rocks in Gale Crater, and the absence of weathering products, like clays, suggests minimal interactions with water since the materials were liberated from their source rocks. Basalt is the volcanic rock that makes up most of the Earth’s crust, particularly the ocean floors. This Martian soil appears very similar to some weathered basaltic soils seen on Earth, in places like Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

X-ray analysis identified 10 distinct minerals, although half of these were in low abundance, near the detection limits of CheMin. Curiosity also discovered that an unexpectedly large portion of the Rocknest composition is a type of disordered material, similar in structure to glass.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about the materials at Rocknest concerns the abundance of amorphous – essentially glassy – materials. These amorphous materials which make up nearly 45% of the sand ripple are essentially invisible to X-ray Diffraction. Their presence is inferred by combining CheMin results with elemental data from the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer,” explains Farmer.

This is the first time the amorphous component of soils has been quantified for Martian surface materials and that is important for understanding what Mars is made of and how the materials have been affected by recent surface weathering processes. The results of the SAM instrument further suggest that water and other volatiles detected in the ripple deposit are likely to reside in the amorphous component of the soil.

Team spirit
What is it like being part of a team that is responsible for our evolving view of our neighbor Mars?

“It’s invigorating, but also challenging,” says Farmer, who juggles his MSL duties with teaching, advising graduate students and NASA Space Grant interns, and conducting his own research and proposal writing activities.

Since leaving Yellowknife Bay, the CheMin team has been digesting and refining its interpretations of the data obtained at Yellowknife Bay in order to better understand the nature of the aqueous environments they believe existed there long ago. The process of refinement requires careful, painstaking work achieved through lots of interaction among team members.

“Most every day, I dial in to MSL science meetings to review and discuss new data. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this semester, I am available to fulfill my main MSL operational role as a CheMin downlink lead. Next week I will attend an MSL team meeting at JPL and will deliver my class lectures and discussions via Blackboard and Skype,” says Farmer.
For Farmer, sharing what he learns from Curiosity with his students is a priority. He regularly provides his students with mission updates and utilizes the full-scale model of Curiosity in ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Photo: Professor Jack Farmer with Curiosity test rover at JPL. Photo courtesy of Jack Farmer.

(Nikki Cassis)



A performance celebrating the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking book
Oct. 18, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Marston Exploration Theater, ISTB 4
Campus: Tempe
Cost: $5.50 for students and $7.00 for general

A Brief Anniversary of Time, is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In this one man show, featuring Dr. Lance Gharavi, the lead character is searching for some perspective in life. This live performance weaves together the story of three generations handling the very human inquiries about life, loss and death, juxtaposed with the vast world of Hawking’s book that lead us to question ‘how we got here,’ and ‘where are we going?’ Premiering in the new Marston Exploration Theatre, the performance will incorporate 3D media & sound, through the use of stereoscopic projection. The show is appropriate for families, though it may be too technical for very young children.




Arts, Media and Engineering
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Film, Dance and Theatre
School of Theatre and Film



Looking for a cheap way to explore the farthest reaches of the solar system? Look no further than Antarctica, writes Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies and professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.

Meteorites – fragments of asteroidal and planetary bodies in our solar system – enable scientists to “push back the limits of how and when our solar system and the planets in it were formed.” They fall everywhere on Earth with equal probability, but as Wadhwa explains, “there are places where they are more easily found because the geology and environmental conditions allow these fallen rocks to be preserved for up to millions of years.”

Due to its cold, dry climate and the dynamics of its vast ice fields, Antarctica is Earth’s foremost meteorite hunting ground. Among other major discoveries, the first meteorites established to have originated on the moon and Mars were recovered from the white continent.

Wadhwa has searched Antarctica for meteorites as a participant in the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program during its 1992-1993 and 2012-2013 field seasons. ANSMET has recovered more than 20,000 meteorite specimens since 1976, many more “than were ever recovered throughout the world in the 500 years prior.” Amazingly, the total cost of the ANSMET program over the past 37 years, plus parallel European and Japanese programs, has been less than the cost of one NASA Discovery mission.

To learn more about meteorites, Antarctic expeditions and Dr. Wadhwa’s own life-changing experiences on the ice, visit Future Tense.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.

Image: Scientists from the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites collect a meteorite during the 2006-2007 field season.
Photo by: National Science Foundation/Ralph Harvey

(Joey Eschrich)



JOIN US for…

The First Earth & Space Open House of the year this Friday!

Date: Friday, Sept. 27 from 7-10 p.m.
Theme: High Energy Astrophysics
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater and telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on the Rural parking structure roof)

Event features: A public lecture, exhibits, demonstrations, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor), including an underwater robotics demo.

Public Lecture Information:
Speaker: Nathaniel Butler
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Gamma Ray Bursts - Chasing the Universe's Brightest and Most Distant Explosions

Nathaniel will be discussing his work on Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs) -- explosions signaling the death of the most massive stars and the birth of a black hole -- and how scientists use these to study the very early Universe. GRBs are among the most extreme and most exotic of high-energy astrophysical phenomena. The first generation of stars could have produced these events, and the pencil beams of light they send our way provide unique clues to how the modern Universe formed. GRBs are detected in Gamma-ray's in space and at longer wavelengths from the ground. The explosions last for only seconds, and robotic telescopes must detect them rapidly from the ground. Chasing GRBs is fast-paced, extremely fun work. Nathaniel will discuss one particular effort he is leading which is now fully operational: the Reionization And Transients InfraRed (RATIR) camera (see,, a simultaneous optical/NIR multi-band imaging camera which is 100% time-dedicated to the follow-up of GRBs. The camera is housed on the 1.5m telescope at Pedro San Martir in Baja California, one of the darkest high sites for optical astronomy on the planet.

Following the lecture, there will be a short 3D planetarium show at 8:45 p.m.

The future open house dates for this year are 10/25, 11/22, 2/21, 3/28, and 4/25, each featuring a different earth and space-related theme.
Facebook Event:
Earth & Space Open House website: