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.
The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was started by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing in 2008. They obtained the original analog tape drives from lunar missions in the '60s, which were literally covered in dust in a farmer’s barn, and they also got their hands on a complete collection of Lunar Orbiter analog data tapes that held a full set of all images carried back to Earth by the five spacecraft that flew between 1966 and 67.
Amazing, historic stuff. But all of these old media formats are fragile, and preservation can be a long and tedious process.
Cowing and Wingo funded the archival effort themselves in the beginning, then secured some funding from NASA. But the NASA funding was modest, and has run out; the guys have been funding the project themselves, and they don't have the resources they need. They have exceeded the requirements of NASA’s funding, but just haven't been able to retrieve and digitally archive all of these irreplaceable historic space images—yet.
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.
It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Miles O’Brien remembers Commander Gene Cernan’s last words from the moon, lofty, rehearsed and memorized: “as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.”
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)
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.
On July 20, 1969, Eagle landed on the moon. These are the handwritten notes from the Grumman engineers as they pushed to complete Lunar Module LM-5 in 1968. On the last page, they learn than this particular Lunar Module would be the one to bring the first humans to the moon.
The Grumman Engineering Log served not only as an engineering notebook but also as an intercom between the day and night shift – separate teams that needed to push the ball forward from where the other left off. So we are offered a rare peek into the concerns, uncertainties and conversations that might have otherwise been quietly undocumented.
San Francisco-based artist Craig Dorety has a series of carvings that "represent segments of the moon's surface as found in the topograhical data from JAXA's Kayuga mission."
"Painstaking attention is paid to the relationship of crater groups in the composition of each carving," Craig explains. "Areas of special interest have a natural balance of crater to sea; rough to gentle in texture."
Frycook posted this fascinating video from the Apollo era on the BoingBoing Submitterator. The basic gist: Back in the day, NASA scientists tried exposing various crops—corn, lettuce, tobacco ... you know, the essentials—to moon dust. The plants weren't grown in the dust, exactly. Instead, it was scattered in their pots or rubbed on some of their leaves. In this study, the plants that were exposed seemed to grow faster than unexposed plants.
That's pretty interesting, so I dug around a little to find out more about these studies. Turns out, growing plants in lunar soil isn't quite as promising as the video makes it sound, but it's not a ridonculous idea, either. In 2010, scientists at the University of Florida published a review of all the Apollo-era research on this subject, which amounted to exactly three published studies. From that data, we can say that the plants weren't obviously affected in any seriously negative ways by their exposure to lunar soils—which is good—but we can't really say the plants grew better their terrestrial-only cousins, either.
In the end, and as recorded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there were only three published primary studies of seeds, seedlings, and plants grown in contact with lunar materials. In those three cases, small amounts of lunar material were used, and the plants were relatively large. In general, the dusting of plants or the mixing of lunar fines with other support media makes plant interaction with the lunar material a small part of the plant experience. At no point were plants actually grown in lunar samples in the way that one might imagine, with the entire root structure growing through and in constant association with a lunar soil. It is no accident that the wording of most of the titles of the studies, as well as the careful discussion within the papers, refers to growth “in contact with” lunar samples—not “in” lunar samples. With only a small portion of the roots, for example, interacting with the lunar materials, it is likely that plant responses to the lunar materials were, therefore, quite attenuated due to the lack of an extensive plant/lunar soil interface. Biophysical issues, such as root penetration of dry and variously hydrated lunar sample types, were completely unaddressed. Thus, the effects of actual growth within lunar soils were simply not a part of the plant studies of the Apollo era.
On the other hand, in 2008 scientists with the European Space Agency tried growing marigolds in a medium of crushed rock—basically the much-cheaper equivalent of growing plants in moon "soil". There's no indication that the marigolds did better than those grown in real dirt, but they did grow and they did survive (even without any added fertilizer), which could be indirect evidence in support of the Moon gardeners of the future.
Boing Boing reader Cory Poole is a 33-year-old math and science teacher at University Preparatory School in Redding, CA. He sends in this beautiful video of yesterday's annular solar eclipse, and says:
This is a 60 second time-lapse video made from 700 individual frames through a Coronado Solar Max 60 Double Stacked Hydrogen Alpha Solar Telescope. The pictures were shot in Redding, CA, which was directly in the annular eclipse path. The filter on the telescope allows you to see the chromosphere which is a layer that contains solar prominences. The filter only allows light that is created when hydrogen atoms go from the 2nd excited state to the 1st excited state.