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Selling Moon rocks may cost dearly

Moon rocks at Johnson Space centerA woman tried to sell a Moon rock for $1,7 million in the United States. Her client, however, was an undercover NASA agent. Selling and buying Moon samples is illegal.

A woman trying to sell a purported Moon rock was exposed in the United States by an undercover agent working for NASA. Moon rocks are considered a national treasure and therefore it is illegal to sell or buy them. On the black market though, their price reaches millions of dollars. The woman hoped to get $1,7 million for the Moon rock, but on the secret meeting in a restaurant in California her client revealed he was a NASA agent. The woman was detained, and then released – according to CBS. First, it has to be verified that the Moon rock is actually of lunar origin.

This is not the first time NASA agents have stepped in to recover moon rocks. Astronauts returned about 400 kilograms of Moon rock to Earth, but even they were not allowed to keep samples. Outside of lunar meteorites and a few ounces of the moon returned by Soviet robotic probes, all other moon rocks are considered to be the property of the United States.

Last Updated (Monday, 06 June 2011 20:13)


GRAIL prepares to weigh the Moon

NASA's twin spacecrafts are preparing to leave to the Moon to map the gravitational field and explore the interior of our companion.

The liftoff of the two GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) space probes is currently scheduled to 8th September. After leaving the Earth, they will slowly reach the Moon around New Year's Eve, on a low-energy trajectory. The main scientific instruments are two special radio transmitters: the spacecrafts will measure the distances between them with very stable wavelength microwave signals and time codes. By measuring the slight wobbles and nudges caused by the varying gravitational field of the Moon, they will be able the determine the mass distribution as well. They will also carry 5-5 miniature cameras called MoonKams that will allow high school students to collect imagery from the Moon's surface.

Much is known already about the gravity of the Moon: above some of the mare regions (the black “seas”) of the nearside for example the gravitational force can be stronger by as much as half a percent compared to other places. That is partially attributed to the heavier, denser basalt filling these basins, but the true origin of such mascons (mass concentration) is not fully understood yet. Their effects have to be considered nevertheless during planning orbits or landing on the Moon. GRAIL is expected to collect at least a hundred times more accurate data from the nearside and even 1000 times better from the far side compared to current measurements.

The other main goal of the mission is to explore the inner composition of the Moon, from core to crust. There are unanswered questions here too: what is the size and the composition of the core and the mantle, why is the crust thicker on the far side of the Moon, how did the mare regions and the mascons from precisely. GRAIL will map the entire Moon three times during its mission and the probes will impact the surface 40-50 days later. But the real work, the interpretation of the data will have just started by then.

Last Updated (Thursday, 02 June 2011 14:43)


Jupiter’s moon has some fiery secrets

A compiled surface map of Jupiter's moon IoNASA’s Galileo probe revealed new secrets about Io, the fairly restless moon of Jupiter.

Io has the most intensive volcanic activity in our solar system, and according to a new analysis, this can be attributed to the vast magma ocean lying under the surface of the moon. Scientists compare the surface of Io to a freshly baked pizza. At 1/40 of Earth’s size, Io produces a hundred times more lava each year than all of the volcanoes on Earth combined.

Besides Earth, Io is the only planet in our solar system where volcanic magmaeruptions can be detected. Scientists have pointed out that both Io and the Earth – just after their formation – went through phases when their surface was covered by a magma ocean. For life to begin on our planet the freezing of this magma ocean was needed. Io might represent a model to study the early Earth, and the active volcanic processes.

The Galileo probe was launched by NASA in 1989 and began operating around Jupiter in 1995. Although various mishaps happened to the probe during its mission, it has significantly increased our knowledge about Jupiter and its moons. Since the end of the mission in 2003, new results still surface by analyzing the data collected by the satellite.

Last Updated (Monday, 30 May 2011 15:08)


Farewell to Spirit

artist's concept of the Spirit Mars roverContact was lost fourteen months ago with the Mars rover Spirit. This week, NASA gave up on giving further instrucions to it after seven years.

From now on, NASA focuses on Spirit's still-active twin, Opportunity. This marks the completion of one of the most successful missions of interplanetary exploration ever launched.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in 2014. Originally their mission was planned for three months. In the end, Spirit served for seven years on the red planet. Contact was lost with the rover on the 22nd of March, 2010 with the arrival of the Martian winter. Although NASA hoped that spring would recover the Spirit, mission control failed to get in touch with it. Spirit was frozen to death while revealing the Gusev-crater.

Spirit drove almost eight kilometers, more than 12 times the goal set for the mission. It became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet. The rover returned more than 124,000 images.

Last Updated (Monday, 30 May 2011 09:08)


MoonBots: Inspiration for the Young Generation

The MoonBots 2.0 Challenge tries to get the 9-17 year olds thinking about the problems associated with lunar exploration.

The latest initiative of The X PRIZE Foundation and the LEGO Group tries to bring closer the excitement of the Moon, robotics, and team building to students and their families. This second annual contest will challenge teams of youth to design, program, and construct robots that perform simulated lunar missions similar to those required to win the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE. To further this purpose, the X PRIZE Foundation and the LEGO Group have partnered with WIRED magazine and FIRST robotics.

“In the MoonBots 2.0 Challenge, students get to produce videos, gain computer programming skills, and learn the latest in technological advances at it relates to space exploration. It is important to inspire this generation with the Google Lunar X PRIZE and help kids understand that Moon exploration is still relevant and exciting,” – said Chanda Gonzales, Google Lunar X PRIZE Education Manager.

Teams will be asked to submit fun, scientific video clips that talk about space exploration. In addition to the video, each team will be asked to write a proposal explaining why their robot should be funded togo to the moon, similar to the proposals authored by actual Google Lunar X PRIZE teams. MoonBots 2.0 Challenge is perfect for getting the 9-17 year olds thinking about the problems associated with lunar exploration – says Steven Canvin of LEGO Group.

Free registration and Phase One of the contest will be open from May 9th through June 13. Phase Two of the contest begins June 27th through August 15th. To learn more about the MoonBots 2.0 Challenge and to find out how to register a team visit http://www.moonbots.org.

Last Updated (Thursday, 19 May 2011 17:21)

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