Moon Formation: Zinc Makes Collision Theory More Plausible

Bash the Earth up and get a moon- that’s the theory that scientists have been looking at for a long time. However, the signs of violence are very subtle and very difficult to detect. It turns out that this cataclysmic event leaves behind a trail of only slight imbalance in the different varieties of zinc. Yes, boring – completely boring – to a layman, but to a scientist, it’s like adrenaline.

The Big Smashup?

Written down in Zinc

Planetary expert Frederic Moynier and his group at Washington University in St. Louis have claimed that they have discovered this tiny imbalance of zinc in the rocks of the Earth and that of the Moon. The theory goes like this: in the catastrophic event, under very hot conditions, heavier zinc atoms sunk in and condensed, while lighter ones escaped before condensation. These two isotopes (different atoms of the same element which differ only by their weights and not by their chemical properties) of zinc on the Moon will, thus, bear a ratio of their abundance different from what it is on Earth. In simpler language, say, the heavier zinc atoms outnumber the lighter atoms by a ratio 5:1 on Earth. On the moon, this ratio will be slightly (and not wildly) different – it can be say 6:1. Given that the other elemental abundances match very well, it is this tell-tale difference between the zinc ratios that should give us hints of its fiery origin.

Volatile situation

The moon rocks are chemically similar to those on Earth, except that the volatile elements are gone! This would be expected if a large body slammed into the Earth releasing a huge chunk of material that eventually formed the moon. Most of the Earth would retain whatever elements it had, but the Moon wouldn’t.

This loss of volatiles will also be accompanied by a process due to which heavy zinc atoms would outnumber the lighter zinc atoms! And this is precisely what the team found by analyzing the moon rocks.

In order to make sure that this depletion of the lighter zinc species is not a local aberration, i.e. located around only one point on the Moon’s surface, the team analysed rocks from different moon missions. These missions had picked up rocks from all over the moon and all the samples recorded the same heavy to light zinc ratio. This observation cannot be explained by any other theory and gives credence to the collision theory.

Sometimes, the smallest clues are the way to solve a great mystery. The jury is still undecided on this, however.

The technical study appears here:

Neil Armstrong First Man On the Moon Dies

2012 has been a year of great loss, as the first woman in space, Sally Ride, recently passed and now Neil Armstrong has passed away. His family reports that the 82 year old died from complications of a cardiac procedure.

Neil Armstrong
Portrait of Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing mission in his space suit, with his helmet on the table in front of him. Behind him is a large photograph of the lunar surface. (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Neil Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing mission. He successfully landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. It was an event that was watched around the world and his words will forever be etched in the minds of all who heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Everything you can find on Mr. Armstrong seems to point to his humility and attitude of service. In a February 2000 appearance he is quoted saying, “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer”. Not hardly what you might expect from the first man on the moon.

“As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Neil Armstrong will be terribly missed by all who are fans of NASA and I am sure that his friends and family will feel the great loss for years to come.

His family has put up a website to keep people informed. I will end this post with what they posted today as I believe it is the most fitting tribute:

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

For more information, please visit NASA’s tribute to him at

Moon Race Team Recruits Google VIP

Moon Express, a “privately funded lunar transportation and data services company”, announced today that Dr. James (Jimi) Crawford has joined their team as Chief Technology Officer and Software Architect. Crawford had been the Engineering Director for Google Books since 2009.

Moon Express Logo

As CTO, Dr. Crawford will guide Moon Express’ technology to fulfill the company’s long term goals. He will also serve as a software architect, where he will develop software for the company’s space missions including the race to win the Google Lunar X prize. The Lunar X project is giving $30 million dollars to the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon. Moon Express is one of several teams that are competing for the illustrious prize.

In their press release, Moon Express co-Founder and CEO Bob Richards said, “We are thrilled to have Jimi join us as CTO and Software Architect…With Jimi’s combined space mission and software experience, our technical team just took another giant leap forward.” Dr. Crawford’s resume is quite impressive and one could see why the Moon Express team is encouraged to have him on board. This guy is not a newbie when it comes to space technology. He spent three years at NASA’s Ames Research Center as lead for Autonomy and Robotics. His teams “delivered the optimized activity planner used by both the Opportunity and Spirit Mars rovers, demonstrated next generation rovers with much higher levels of autonomy, and created optimized spacecraft antenna using genetic algorithms.”

For more information about the Google Lunar X competition, see the embedded video below.

[Video Link]


NASA Releases First Images from Dark Side of the Moon

For many years “The Dark Side of the Moon” was just a really cool album for Pink Floyd fans to enjoy. Now, because of NASA’s twin GRAIL lunar spacecraft, the dark side of the moon can be enjoyed by all. Recently, NASA released the first images and video from the dark side of the moon.

The GRAIL mission consists of two identical spacecraft equipped with a MoonKam (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students). The mission seeks to involve middle school students and will allow them to pick the areas of the moon they would like to study. Recently, the twin craft were given the names “Ebb” and “Flow” by a group of fourth graders from Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., after they won a nationwide naming contest. On January 19th, NASA tested the MoonKAM on “Ebb” and brought back some spectacular pictures.

In the image below, you can see the south pole of the far side of the moon. You can see that it is riddled with impact craters covering its surface.

Southern Pole

South Pole of the Far Side of the Moon Courtesy: NASA.GOV

Toward the bottom of the image above, you will see an impact crater with a star-like feature in the middle. This is Drygalski’s crater and is about 93 miles wide. This feature is thought to be created billions of years ago by a comet or asteroid impact.

NASA also produced this very short video clip that gives you a quick North to South glance at the dark side of the moon.


This is an exciting opportunity for middle school students to be engaged in a mission first hand. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, is leading the MoonKAM project along with undergraduate students at the University of California in San Diego. Middle school students will actually be the ones controlling the cameras on the GRAIL mission. The purpose of this mission is both for education and public outreach. Engaging young ones hopefully will ensure interest in the space program for years to come.

If you are a teacher and would like to engage your classroom in this program visit for more information. You can also find out more about the GRAIL mission by visiting Of course, we at Techie Buzz will do our best to keep you up to date as well. For the best of science, visit

NASA Celebrates New Year By Putting Moon Gravity Probes In Orbit

The New Year got off to a great start for NASA as it managed to put the twin GRAIL probes in an orbit around the Moon. They are now set to beam each other radio signals, which will keep them synchronized in orbit and the distance from one probe to the other can be known to an error margin or a micron!

The GRAIL probes, before they were launched (Courtesy: NASA)

Measuring the gravity of the situation

The GRAIL probes are designed to accurately measure the Moon’s gravitational field strength. The technique is pretty simple really! When one of the probes passes close to a lunar region, which has high density, it will feel a greater gravitational pull. This will suddenly accelerate the probe and the distance between the two probes will decrease. This is how the density map of the moon can be prepared. Of course, it’s never as easy as this, is it?

Why map the moon anyway? The gravity map of Earth’s closest satellite can give us a good map of the composition of the moon. One of the mysteries that might be solved is why the two faces of the Moon look so very different; one is rolling flatlands, without any craters, while the other one is puckered with numerous craters.

The GRAIL probes will now descend and sink lower into its orbit, getting closer to the Moon’s surface. The data acquisition is supposed to start early March, when the probe is 34 miles above the lunar surface.

Getting young minds into the project

One of the best things about this mission is the attempt to get students into this thing. As Phil Plait writes in his blog, Bad Astronomy, there will be four cameras on each of the probes, called MoonKAM. These will get high resolution photos of the lunar surface and these can be used by middle school students. They may even request NASA to fly the probes over a particular area on the Moon. As Phil Plait puts it:

That’s very cool! … I’ll bet it’ll be an experience they’ll remember their whole lives.

I’m sure too! Being part of science is sometimes being like a detective, without the dirty work!

Stunning Images From Across The World Of The Total Lunar Eclipse, December 2011

Every cosmic spectacle presents some stunning images and yesterday’s Lunar Eclipse was no different. Many people in the Indian sub-continent were left satisfied this time around, after the June eclipse (awesome pics here) was obscured by heavy cloud cover, leaving eclipse enthusiasts disheartened. We bring to you few photos from around the world.

Show Starter!

Here is one of the earliest photos, circulated by Reuters, which shows the earliest phases of the eclipse.

The show starts off! (Courtesy: Reuters)

Blood Red and Brilliant

Here’s a brilliant one taken by David Prosper. This is just one of the many he took from his backyard in Oakland, California.

Taken by David Prosper from his backyard in Oakland, California. (Courtesy: David Prosper)

Here’s a close-up of the moon, by now just an orange ghostly image. This one was taken by Charles R. Jones, who is a skywatcher. This is from Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo taken by Charles Jones from Arizona. (Courtesy: Charles Jones)

This next one is an absolute beauty. It was taken at the Turret Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. The photo is taken from Hungeree, which has a few other gems in their kitty too.

This stunner was taken at Turret Arch at Arches National Park. (Courtesy:

The Final Goodbye and Hello Once again!

This one is by Kendra Lakkees, showing the end of the totality phase of the eclipse.

Nearing the end of the eclipse. Taken by Kendra Lakkees. (Courtesy: Kendra Lakkees)

The last one is the end of the eclipse. Taken by yours truly, from Kolkata, India, this closes the article.

Taken by the author of this article, this one is at the fag end of the eclipse. Location: Kolkata, India.

Hope you enjoyed. The next lunar eclipse is a long time away.

All About The Total Lunar Eclipse On 10th December, 2011

Another Lunar Eclipse is upon us and this one can be seen by more than half the world’s population. In fact this will only be missed by people living in South America. The sight will also be missed by a handful of people in Antarctica. It will be clearest for people living in Central and East Asia. Places like New Zealand will also get a great show, but will miss out on the last bit of the eclipse.

View stunning photos of the eclipse:

Location, Location, Location

As with every eclipse, location is everything.

The Full Eclipse

The full duration of the eclipse will be visible from most of Russia, with the western part missing out on a bit, Kazakhstan, central Asian countries like Mongolia and China, eastern and south-eastern countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Phillippines. All the countries in this region, not mentioned here, will also get a great show. These countries will experience a 51 to 57 minute long eclipse, including the spectacular blood-red moon total eclipse.

Even countries as far east as Australia will get the full eclipse show. New Zealand will be just about unlucky to miss out on the last part of the eclipse. The moon will have set before the penumbral shadow is fully removed. But, as eclipse enthusiasts know, is not such a big miss anyway.

It is worth mentioning that for the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asian countries, this will be the last lunar eclipse till 2018. Try to catch this one!

Partial Eclipse

Partial eclipse will be visible from most of Europe. Eastern Europe will get a longer show than the western part. The eclipse will start from moonrise and Europe will miss out on the initial penumbral phase. All of Europe will be able to see the eclipse totality. The same can be said about Africa.

The United States and Canada will be lucky enough to get almost the entire eclipse. It will also miss the initial penumbra. Alaska will the unlucky US state to be missing out.

The Important Timings

Here’s the list of the major times:

  • The penumbral phase (P1) begins from 11:33 GMT (or 05:33 EST or 17:03 IST).
  • The penumbral eclipse (U1) begins from 12: 45 GMT (06:45 EST or 18:15 IST)
  • Total eclipse (U2) begins from 14:06 GMT (08:06 EST or 19:36 IST)
  • Greatest eclipse occurs at 14:31 GMT (08:31 EST or 20:01 IST)
  • Total eclipse (U3) ends at 14:57 GMT (08:57 EST or 20:27 IST)
  • Partial eclipse ends (U4) at 16:17 GMT (10:17 EST or 21:47 IST)
  • Penumbral phase (P2) ends at 17:30 GMT ( 11:00 EST or 23:00 IST)

Here’s a small graphic summarizing the times. It also shows whether you’ll be able to see the eclipse or not, depending on where you are in the world.

The various stages of the eclipse.
Location summary

The Red Moon

So there it is that’s all you need to know for the upcoming eclipse. We’ve told you everything except for the red moon.

The Blood Red Moon

At totality, the moon will appear red or even deep pink. This is because of the scattering of the little amount of light filtering through even during the eclipse by the dust particles in the atmosphere. The blood red moon is a sight to behold! Do not miss it for the world.

Get some awesome Lunar Eclipse Pics from the June Eclipse this year:

Moon Contains Huge Amounts of Valuable Titanium, Suggests NASA Probe Survey

Forget cheese, the moon is really made put of Titanium. In a joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, the result of the study by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was published. This is not a huge surprise since Russian Luna missions had already informed us that there are many titanium ore rich areas on the Moon.

This is a mosaic made by stitching together nearly 4000 images taken by the LRO over one month. (Courtesy: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre/Arizona State University)

Detecting Titanium

The presence of ilmenite (Ferrous Titanium Oxide FeTiO3  ) can be detected by considering the reflection of light from the surface. Ilmenite has a shiny metallic look along with a brown-pinkish tinge. It also exhibits pleochroism, which means that it has a different color when looked at from different angles.

Pleochroism as shown by Muscovite crystals. Notice the different coloration at different angles (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Many wavelengths all to see the Moon better with

The LRO photographed the moon in seven different wavelengths, including ultraviolet (UV). The effects of weathering on craters show up in much more pronounced detail when viewed in UV. By comparing the reflectance of the Moon’s surface to different wavelengths of light, the LRO can pick out the regions rich in ilmenite.

Anything in it for us? You bet!

This huge abundance of titanium amongst metals (about 10%) on the moon is extremely puzzling, since less than 1% of Earth’s metals is titanium or its compound. This finding will go a long way in understanding the evolution of the moon.

Ilmenite is mined on Earth for titanium. If there is a Lunar Base in the near future, titanium would prove invaluable for building it.

We’re indeed just beginning to understand out nearest celestial neighbor.

Enjoy the Latest NASA’s GRAIL Twin Spacecrafts Launch Pics

After numerous attempts, the GRAIL spacecrafts are finally on their way to the moon aboard the Delta-II rockets. Here we bring you the freshest photos from the launch.

The Delta II rockets were finally launched during the second window on 10th September at 09:08:52 AM EST. The first window opportunity was not availed because of upper atmospheric conditions. The launch was absolutely successful!  

Our GRAIL coverage:

The GRAIL launch buildup:

The GRAIL NASA Tweetup:

NASA’s Awesome Moon Pics Two Days Before GRAIL Launch:

GRAIL Scrubbed and Moon’s North Pole Pic:


Both the First and Second Stage Delta II rockets were ignited perfectly. GRAIL-A, one of the twin spacecrafts, separated from the module at 10:29 AM EST. GRAIL-B separated out at 10:39 AM EST.

Enjoy the GRAIL launch photos below!

Delta II rockets on the launch pad
Still on the pad. T-30 second till launch
Launch!! GRAIL is on its way to the moon


T-10 seconds into flight
The first stage rocket separation.
The Second Stage of the Delta-II Rocket Separation. Showing GRAIL-A breaking off from the Delta Module. It is now flying solo. Taken by the Separation Cam on the Delta rocket nose. The rectangular falling payload is the GRAIL-A spacecraft.
Earth as seen by the Delta rocket after the GRAIL-A separation (Courtesy: NASA TV)

We wish GRAIL the very best for the mission. The Moon’s secrets shall be known!

Courtesy: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ NASA-TV

Our GRAIL coverage:

The GRAIL launch buildup:

The GRAIL NASA Tweetup:

NASA’s Awesome Moon Pics Two Days Before GRAIL Launch:

GRAIL Scrubbed and Moon’s North Pole Pic:


NASA Scrubs GRAIL Launch For A Day: Discover An Awesome Moon Pic While You Wait! [UPDATED]

NASA’s new Moon Mission GRAIL has been scrubbed for another day. The launch is now scheduled for 10th September, weather conditions permitting. While you wait for the launch to happen, you might as well drool over the following photo taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The photo has never been seen before and is unique amongst the plethora of moon photos taken over the decades. Here it is!

UPDATE: The Launch was scheduled for the first window. Due to upper atmospheric wind conditions, it has been shifted to the second launch window at 9:08 AM EST (1838 IST and 1408 GMT).  

Launch Webcast Link:

North Pole of the Moon (Courtesy: NASA/ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

The photo shows Moon’s North Pole. You’ve all heard about the moon’s dark side the side which is permanently hidden from us but this is different. The photo is not actually one photo, but 983 different ones stitched together. The 983 photos were taken over the period of one month! The magical thing about this photo is that the dark regions seen are regions that NEVER receive any sunlight. Remember that the photo was taken over the course of one month, thus the moon was illuminated in every way possible by the Sun. Thus, the dark regions, near the center of the photo really do not receive any sunlight ever!

About the GRAIL launch

Returning to news about the GRAIL launch, the latest from NASA is that the weather on 10th September (i.e. tomorrow) is likely to be 60% co-operative’, which is good enough for a launch. The launch windows remain roughly the same as it was yesterday one at 8:37 AM EST and the next one at 9:12 AM EST. Yesterday’s launch was scrubbed due to high turbulence in the upper atmosphere. While the Delta II rockets would presumably have flown through, NASA did not want to take any chances. It also gives NASA another day to complete another round of checks.

Since, we don’t have launch pictures, we might just as well share a picture of the scrub. The GRAIL spacecrafts, housed safely inside Delta II rockets, sits patiently on the Cape Canaveral Launch Pad.

GRAIL sits silently aboard the Delta II rockets (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cape Canaveral Air Force Base)

We can afford to take some time it’s not as if someone’s expecting us on the moon.

Resources regarding the launch:  

1. Our Post Giving You all Updated Details:

2. Our Post About the NASA Tweetup Event:

3. NASA’s Webcast Link:

4. NASA’s official GRAIL page: