NASA Releases Never Before Seen Photos Of The Moon Showing The Legacy Of The Previous Moon Missions

With no winds or water to wash it off, the Moon has not forgotten its past. Today, September 6th, NASA  released several images of the landing sites of the previous moon missions taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). These photos are the sharpest ever photos of the lunar surface and the indelible marks left by humans on it.

Image 1: Photo of the Apollo 17 mission landing site. Note the American Flag, hoisted there since the first moon mission. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Among the most notable features of the photo are the American flag planted during the historic first moon mission, craters left behind by rockets during launch and footprints of astronauts.

Image 2: Note the ALSEP equipment dump and the Surveyor Crater (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The LRO also captured the equipment from the ALSEP project, the present location of the Lunar Rover and the Surveyor spacecraft. The ALSEP acronym for Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package project comprised of measuring seismological activity on the moon, determining the lunar atmospheric pressure, installing a laser reflector on the surface to return a laser beam so that the earth-moon distance can be accurately measured and gauging the history and effect of meteorite impacts on the lunar surface. ALSEP was a vital ingredient of all the Apollo missions, including Apollo 17.

Image 3: The trail marks were left by astronaut Alan Shepherd. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Footprints of the legendary Alan Shepherd, who was the first American to walk in space, can also be found in the photos. He was the fifth man on the moon. He is also known for being the only person to play golf on the moon. The LRO is in its extended mission period and will operate till 2012. Many may view this photo release as a nice PR move just two days before the big GRAIL launch, which will study the gravitational field of the moon in more detail than ever before.

Image and Label Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Selects Lucky Few For Tweetup Event For GRAIL’s Thursday Launch

Twitter’s little birdie just got a lift on a NASA rocket bound for the moon. NASA has invited 150 of its Twitter followers to a two-day Tweetup program on the day of the launch and the day before that.

We had told you about the launch here.

The Program

The program will give NASA’s Twitter followers a chance to be the part of the historic launch of the GRAIL spacecrafts on the 8th of September, i.e. upcoming Thursday. The lucky selected few will be expected to do the thing that got them selected in the first place tweet about the program on Twitter.

The Twitter Logo on the Moon. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The participants will be meeting important members of the GRAIL mission like NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Maria Zuber, the principal investigator at MIT, Cambridge and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A part of the Tweetup program will be broadcast. The group will also be given a tour of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, which are near the launch site. This part of the Tweetup will begin on Wednesday, 7th September, at 3 PM.

You can watch the broadcast of the tweetup here:    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tweetup

There will also be a mouth-watering visit of the launch-pad from up close.

The 150 participants have been chosen from among 800 participants who registered for the program online. Apart from the U.S., participants hail from India, Brazil, Spain, United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia and Australia.

For those who were unfortunate enough to miss out, you can still watch the liftoff at NASA’s HDTV initiative program website. For tweets from the Tweetup participants about the program and launch, watch out for the #NASATweetup hashtag on Twitter.

The official site for the GRAIL launch is here:    http://www.nasa.gov/grail  and    http://grail.nasa.gov

We promise to track any major development and report it here.

Early Earth Might Have Had Two Moons, Which Collided To Form One

Imagine that the full moon night had two moons instead of one, making it doubly romantic! If you could somehow magically survive in the volcanic early Earth, then you would have been able to play the perfect Romeo. Scientists think that the early Earth had two moons, which collided and fused to make the one that we see today.

This startling new revelation comes from the fact that the two sides of the moon the one facing us and the dark side have very different landscapes. The dark side is so called because we just cannot see it, even though it is just as lit as the visible side.

Lunar Apocalypse?

The tell-tale marks, or lack of them

The visible side has flat expansive plains, called maria’ (meaning sea’ in Latin), while the far side is mountainous, with mountains as high as 2 km. Simulations, trying to explain this discrepancy, now point to the earlier presence of a second moon, which might have slammed into the larger one, producing the maria and giving the features of the moon we see today. This is further backed up by known observations that the lunar crust on the near side has more phosphorus and radioactive elements of potassium (the radioactive isotope), uranium and thorium. On the far side, as far as we know, they do not occur or are deeply embedded in the surface. This can be explained by noting that impact could have melted a part of the near side, allowing for hidden elements to rise to the surface. The companion body is calculated to have been just 4% as massive as the bigger moon and about 750 miles across.

The Simulation done, which shows the collision (Credit: Asphaug and Martin Jutzi, Bern University, Switzerland)

The stability of the companion body: why it crashed into the bigger moon

There is also another explanation that is required: why the companion moon crashed into its larger partner. Asked to a physicist, this implies a stability problem and the underlying question involved asking about why instability crept into the system. There are points in the space around any celestial body orbiting another celestial body, where the gravitational attractions of the two bodies cancel each other out. These points are stable points and are known as Lagrangian points’. There are two Lagrangian points in the current Earth-Moon system, one just in front of the moon and one just behind it. It is conjectured (and can be calculated via lengthy calculations using Newton’s gravity law) that the early Earth-two Moon system also had Lagrangian points just in front and behind the bigger moon. The companion moon would’ve nested itself in and around that Lagrangian point. When the moon moved away from the Earth (which is still happening due to the presence of tidal forces), the stable Lagrangian points also shifted. This led to the destabilizing of the orbit of the smaller moon, which then crashed into the nearby large body.

Explaining the dark side of the moon

Even though slightly off-topic, it is worth mentioning that the equality of the periods of orbital and axial spins of the moon is due to the energy loss mechanism due to tides. The most efficient way to distribute energy in the Earth-Moon system, given that the energy dissipation from the entire system is miniscule, is by having the period of the moon around the Earth and on its own axis as identically same. This, remember, leads to the dark side phenomenon. The enigmatic dark side, which has even inspired great music (Pink Floyd, anyone?),  is closely related to tides.

Asphaug and Martin Jutzi of University of Bern, Switzerland, who are responsible for coming up with the calculations and simulations, published their findings in the August 4 issue of Nature.

Cosmic Spectacle: Photos and Video Of The Lunar Eclipse From Around The Globe

We gave you the complete guide and gave you the entire deal on Google’s lunar eclipse doodle in anticipation of the unusually long cosmic spectacle. Now we give you the aftermath of the event: spectacular photos from around the world compiled here. Sit back, relax and simply enjoy the stunning photos of the longest total lunar eclipse in 11 years. Make sure you check out the outstanding time lapse video before leaving.

Kick Off

Show starts off at Belgrade. Photo by Ivan Milutinovic. (Credit to Reuters)
A stunning image captured by S S Mirza, a skywatcher, of the moon over Multan. (credits: S S Mirza/AFI/Getty Images)
The Colosseum at Rome gets grander. The event was nearing totality when this was clicked by Alessandro Bianchi. (Credits: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Almost There

Remember that we told you that the eclipsed moon over the horizon is itself a grand spectacle? Here it is at Moscow! Snapped up by Maxim Shepenkov (Credits: Maxim Shepenkov/EPA)
This one was captured over Johannesburg, South Africa by skywatcher Derek Keats. (Courtesy: Derek Keats, space.com)

The Blood Red Moon and Totality

The volcano on Cagraray Island in Albay, Philippines, spews smoke as the moon turns blood red in the background. Captured by skywatcher David Matthews. (Credits: David Matthews)
It's Belgrade again. (Central Europe got the lion's share). Shot by Marko Drobnjakovic over Belgrade. (Credits: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)
The supreme spectacle! This was seen and captured by Leonard E. Mercer over Malta. The volcanic eruption in Chile might have something to do with the saturated red color as well. (Credits: Leonard Mercer)
The city of Zagreb, Croatia glows under the reddish light of the moon. Clicked by Phillip, a local skywatcher. (Credits: Phillip)

There it was  – the lunar eclipse as seen from various parts of the world. Europe and the Middle East got the lion’s share of the spectacle, getting both clear skies and brilliant views. People in the Indian subcontinent were disappointed as most of India was under cloud cover.

Google's doodle

Google’s coverage, however, brought the experience home. They tied up with SLOOH and provided live seamless coverage of the eclipse. Of course, the doodle itself was quite a sight.

Round-Up

Here’s the mosaic picture to wrap up every photo gallery. The series was shot by photographer and skywatcher Nabil Mounzer over Beirut.

Shot over Beirut, this shows the full duration of the eclipse as a series of time-lapse images. (Credits: Nabil Mounzer)

Remember that this was just one of the two eclipses this year. The next one – due on 10th December 2011 – will be visible from North America as well, who missed out on this one. However, it won’t be as spectacular. Keep your eye out on this space for that.

Before you leave, let’s treat you to this magical video uploaded on youtube.com by SensyProject showing the lunar eclipse from the beginning to the end in a series of time lapse photos. It’s magical. (Tip: Watch it at 720p or 1080p, if you have a fast net connection.)

Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Just last week, Google managed to waste millions of user hours by adding one of their most famous ever. The Les Paul Google Doodle allowed users to play their own music through keystrokes. The Les Paul Doodle also got a permanent home like the Google Pacman Doodle.

Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Today is this century’s 2nd largest Lunar Eclipse and we have a complete Guide on the Lunar Eclipse out here. However, if you have never seen a Lunar Eclipse in your life, you can do it now playfully with the latest Google Doodle.

The new Google Doodle has a progress meter which shows you how the moon is covered during the Lunar Eclipse. It plays automatically when you load Google.com, but you can also drag the progress bar either way to see it minutely.

This is definitely a fun way for people to learn about this natural phenomenon. Go ahead and check out the new Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle at google.com. You can also watch the Lunar Eclipse live at http://youtube.com/google.

Moon, The Eclipse And Photos: The Complete Guide To The Second Longest Lunar Eclipse Of The Century

An extremely long lunar eclipse the second longest in history is upon us! On 15th June (and 16th June for some), most of the world will witness the second longest total lunar eclipse this century, short of the absolute record maximum by only three minutes. It’s going to get late into the night; if you have an early train or flight to catch, cancel tickets now!   Here we present you with the all-you-need-to-know guide to the eclipse, along with a few great photos.

Select your location: Views from different places

Choose your location or a nearby one from the ones shortlisted below. See how good your luck is.

  • For North east Russia: You’ll be disappointed if you live here. The beginning of the eclipse will coincide with moonset. In other words, you’ll be able to see the moon dimming down as it goes over the horizon (when the penumbral shadow comes in). When the umbral part hits, the moon will be below the horizon. (For an explanation of the penumbral and umbral regions, scroll down to the end of this section)
    • Verdict: Tough luck! Nothing.
  • For Japan, North-East China, Korea, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Eastern Australia and New Zealand: If you stay here, you’ll be lucky enough to witness the eclipse for a good length of time. You can watch the penumbral shadow creeping over and then the umbral shadow dimming the moon an hour afterwards. The moon will be near the horizon and thus, you’ll not be able to see this spectacle for too long! You might see a half-visible moon setting on the horizon, which is a spectacle in itself. (Do click photos!)
    • Verdict: Lucky, but only just.
  • For India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, rest of China, Islands in the Indian Ocean, Australia: You are at the right spot, almost the best in the world. The penumbra will hit at about 11:00 PM to 11:30 PM Indian Standard Time (about 0600 GMT; NASA reports 0623 GMT). The moon will start getting dimmer, while still rising in the sky. The totality (i.e. when the moon is totally eclipsed) will occur at about 2:00 AM, when the moon is right up above your heads in the middle of the sky! You’ll be able to see excellent features of the night sky, which you might have otherwise missed (wait for the next section of this article). Take a trip out of a metro city, if you live in one, and visit the suburbs for the night. Make sure you sling along your Digital SLR you’re going to regret not brining one.
    • Verdict: Great luck! Enjoy.
  • For Eastern Europe, Middle East, UAE, most of Eastern Russia, Egypt and any Island near the eastern coast of Africa, like Madagascar: Folks, you’ve got the best seats in the house. If the skies are clear, you’ll be witness to the spectacle in all its eclectic glory for the longest possible! The eclipse will set in right after moonrise. Totality will be seen when the moon is right overhead, or just about there at about 1:00 AM at night. The eclipse will end a couple of hours before moonset. The European cities of Vienna, Oslo, Paris and Madrid etc. will witness a grand show, but it might be slightly marred by the intense light pollution! Get to a suitably dark place it’ll be worth the effort. All-in-all it should be a great show. Popcorn and digital camera are recommended as accompaniments (along with a blanket, maybe?).
    • Verdict: Cannot get any better than this on Earth or, for that matter, anywhere in the Universe.
  • For most parts of South America (especially the western part) and entire North America: Hate to say this, but you guys are tremendously unlucky on this one. The lunar eclipse will happen with your backs turned to it, literally! The moon will be below the horizon when it happens and you will not be able to see anything! Tough luck.
    • Verdict: Alas! Seats are outside the theatre hall!

Note about Umbra and Penumbra: The shadow cast by the Earth (or by anything provided that the source of light is a large, extended object) consists of two parts the inner darker one, called the Umbra, and the peripheral lighter one, called the Penumbra. The Penumbral portion has diffused light sneaking in, while the Umbral portion is extremely dark.

A graphical guide provided by NASA (Courtesy: NASA)

Here’s a nice map prepared by NASA to help you get going!

What to watch out for and photos:

As the moon fades, stars, which would be otherwise invisible, start becoming visible. The night sky gets transformed! At totality, you should be able to see a great band of light just behind the moon, which is the Milky Way. As the eclipse proceeds, watch how the different stars, especially the Milky Way, fade out of visible existence, dominated by the moon once more.

Tomorrow the moon will cross the constellation of Ophiuchus, lying roughly midway between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

At the darkest, the moon will be slightly visible, a reddish disc glowing with about 10,000 less brightness than normal. Set your camera for a relatively low shutter speed, small f-stops (or, a large aperture), get the best zoom you can afford, set it up on a tripod if you wish and you’re ready to go! Enjoy the photos below clicked on previous occasions.

One of the most spectacular images of the 2010 lunar eclipse (Color has been slightly enhanced.) (Photo courtesy: JPL/NASA)

Another click

This image won the public prize for the best lunar eclipse image awarded by JPL. (Photo credits: Keith Burns, JPL/NASA)

Records:

For the records, this will be the second longest lunar eclipse this century, lasting for 100 minutes, overshadowed (pun intended!) in duration only by the one on 16th July 2000 by a mere 3 minutes. It will be the third longest ever, the second longest lasting for 101 minutes, just a minute more than the upcoming one!

The next long lunar eclipse will take place on July 27th, 2018. The next lunar eclipse is much closer and is due on December 10th, 2011.

Enjoy the moon getting gulped up! If someone attaches any superstitious non-sense to this event, ignore them. Wish you a happy eclipse watching!

Cosmic Spectacle: Moon At First Quarter Presents Grand View

Our closest neighbour in the night sky, the Moon, can be seen in spectacular detail tonight and the night tomorrow! All you need is a pair of binoculars. (Remember the recent supermoon spectacle? No? Here’s a memory refresher.)

The moon reaches its first quarter tonight. At this time, it will be half lit by the sun’s rays, making it ideal for watching using small telescopes or a pair of good binoculars. The time tonight is roughly 10:00 PM, but the spectacle will go on for a few hours beyond that. You’ll have to be lucky enough to get clear skies and a place with very little light pollution.

What to look for?

The moon, if properly viewed, can be seen in different hues of blue as one scans from the top to the bottom. Notice especially the line separating the dark and the bright regions (which can be quite sharp on the moon, since there is no atmosphere), called the terminator’. The best views are got along this line. Notice the shadows cast due to the craters, which are especially prominent at the terminator. The craters will be visible is stark detail; you may even be able to work out the depth of the crater by the length of the shadow cast. The features will get more washed out as you move towards the more brightly lit portion of the moon, since the sun rays are more direct there, casting no significant shadow.

Look out for the craters and mesmerizing ridges, right on the line separating the dark from the lit regions.

The craters are results of billions of years of asteroid bombardment, preserved in pristine form due to the lack of an atmosphere or water on the surface. It is like looking back in time. Astronomers identify two main features on the moon the flat plains or maria’ (Latin of the word mares’) and the mountainous region. The mares lie to the north and are the results of prehistoric, and now dead, volcanic activity, which resulted in expansive lava flows. The mountainous region lies towards the south and this is where you’ll get the real joy of watching the features.

Bitten by the Photography bug?

Photographing the moon is not as simple as one thinks. The most common mistake is setting a high exposure time (i.e. a low shutter speed), which ends up wiping out most details and gives you a bland white disk. The surface of the moon, remember, is directly lit by the Sun and is as bright as an open field at midday. Set a shutter speed of about 1/500 or 1/600 seconds; use of tripod is unnecessary. Use the maximum optical zoom (not digital, please) that your camera can afford and go ahead! Experiment with settings to get the best results. It is usually a good idea to get a high contrast and low brightness photograph. You can always bump up the brightness using a photo-editor. Concentrate on the regions near the terminator they’ll give you the best shot.

If you think you’ve always seen the moon and found nothing magical about it, look at it more closely this time. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the night sky. Bear in mind that you’re looking back billions of years!