The China National Space Administration has launched Chang'e 3, a plutonium-powered lunar lander on-board a 185-foot-tall Long March 3B rocket. The lander is on a four-day trajectory for the lunar surface, and will brake and enter lunar orbit on December 6th. It is scheduled to land on December 14th, in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum). The rover masses 140kg, with nuclear heaters to keep systems alive during the two-week-long lunar nights, and will use radar to probe the lunascape as it roves during its mission. It is also outfitted with high-resolution panoramic cameras and telescopes. The Chinese space program's stated goal is to establish a space-station and autonomous landers that can return to Earth with samples. Read the rest
The Moon is about 400,000 kilometers from Earth. The International Space Station is 1000 times closer to Earth. What would the Moon look like at 420 kilometers from Earth? YetiPC1 made a video visualization. Don't miss Yeti's other amusing video that shows how much the US national debt grows each day, in the form of gold bars getting dumped on a table.
(Thanks, Matthew) Read the rest
I'd never seen this NASA photo of Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan before. It was taken after one of his three moonwalks with crewmate Harrison Schmitt, though you could be forgiven for assuming that Cernan just came in from a shift at the coal mine rather than a jaunt across the surface of the Moon.
At the Life, Unbounded blog, Caleb Scharf writes about the Moon dust you can see clinging to Cernan, describing it as sticky, abrasive, and gunpowder-scented. It's also not something we totally understand yet — at least, we still have a lot to learn about how Moon dust behaves on the Moon. On September 6, NASA is launching a satellite to study this very phenomenon. One thing it might figure out: Whether electrically charged particles of Moon dust might form an extremely thin and vanishingly temporary "atmosphere" that hovers and falls over the Moon's surface. Read the rest
Gravity isn't uniform. Denser planets and objects in space — that is, things with more mass to them — experience a stronger pull of gravity. But even if you zoom in to the level of a single planet (or, in this case, our Moon), gravity isn't uniform all the way around. That's because the mass of the Moon isn't uniform, either. It varies, along with the topography. In some places, the Moon's crust is thicker. Those places have more mass, and thus, more gravitational pull.
This map, showing changes in density and gravity across the surface of the Moon, was made from data collected by Ebb and Flow — a matched set of NASA probes that mapped the Moon's gravitational field before being intentionally crashed on its surface last December. By measuring the gravitational field, these probes told us a lot about how the density of the Moon varies which, in turn, tells us a lot about topography.
Seen above is the Fallen Astronaut, a tiny aluminum figurine that on August 1, 1971 the Apollo 15 crew placed on the Moon's surface with a plaque listing the names of 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who had died. Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck created the figure and later took a ton of shit from NASA for making replicas that he intended to sell. The space agency felt the commercialization went against their original understanding with Van Hoeydonck. "Fallen Astronaut" (Wikipedia, via Weird Universe) Read the rest
"Plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won," according to Space.com.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about my new obsession with early to mid-era Pink Floyd oddities. Following the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong this weekend, the NYT Lede blog points to a special rarity: a moon landing jam session the band recorded at a BBC TV studio during the descent of Apollo 11, the first time human beings ever set foot on another world. David Gilmour in the Guardian:
It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other. I was 23. The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall. Funnily enough I’ve never really heard it since, but it is on YouTube. They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead — it’s a nice, atmospheric, spacey 12-bar blues.