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event NASA is celebrating the Year of the Solar System! Spanning a Martian year (23 months), numerous missions will encounter their targets—the Moon and Mars, Mercury and Jupiter, and even comets and asteroids! It’s an unprecedented time in planetary sciences as we learn about new worlds and make new discoveries! Join the exploration at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/yss/

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When you say that the Spaceguard survey is 85 percent complete for asteroids from 1km to 2km, when do you think that you will be complete in finding them all?

The NASA Spaceguard Survey, which began in 1998, has a goal to find and compute orbits for 90% of the near-Earth-asteroids (NEAs) larger than 1 km diameter [http://impact.arc.nasa.gov]. In the first few years, the discovery of NEAs larger than 1 km was rapid, but as we near our goal it becomes harder and harder to find them. The great majority of new discoveries by the Spaceguard telescopes today are of NEAs smaller than 1 km [http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov]. Right now scientists are working on a detailed analysis of the Spaceguard data to determine if we have actually reached the 90% goal. It is unlikely that we will ever achieve 100%, because there could always be a handful of objects not yet discovered. From the perspective of risk, this doesn’t really matter, since NEAs that rarely come close enough to be discovered don’t constitute a significant danger to Earth. Today we are increasingly interested in the smaller asteroids, down to 100 m diameter, since there are so many more of these, and in addition this is the population of NEAs that is most likely to be visited by astronauts in the 2020s. The U.S. Congress has asked the Administration to designate one or more federal agencies as the lead in a new generation of deep surveys and other studies to develop a defense capability against small NEAs. And NASA is working on plans to survey for additional possible targets for its piloted missions in the 2020s.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Are there any plans for future missions to Mars and the Moon?

Yes. The next missions under development for the Moon are two orbiters, LADEE and GRAIL. For Mars, there are Mars Science Lab (MSL), a lander, and MAVIN, an orbiter. You can find details on all four missions on NASA websites or Wikipedia.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

If a hypothetical 'twin Earth' existed on the other side of the sun from us, and consistently orbited the sun exactly 180 degrees opposite of us, how would we be able to detect it since we can't see through the sun to the other side?

Yours is indeed a hypothetical question, since such a “counter Earth” orbit is unstable. However, there is a more straightforward answer: Astronomers would immediately detect such a planet from its gravitational effect on the orbits of all the other planets. For a historical perspective on the “counter Earth” see the article in Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counter-Earth]. Using gravity, astronomers detect many things, including the infamous “dark matter”, that cannot be seen directly.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

A few weeks ago I saw Obama talking about space and NASA. He said something about not having the technology to go back to the moon before 2020. If we were already there several times in the past, why won't the technology be available until 2020? Don't we have even more technology now then we did back then?

The magnificent achievement of Apollo [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program] in sending humans to land on the Moon was based on what is now 50-year-old technology. Apollo was also expensive, requiring a budget for NASA that was more than twice as large as what we have today. The last humans left the Moon almost 40 years ago, before most Americans were born. NASA is now being asked to explore space with a smaller budget and to do so with less risk. That requires new technology that is more efficient and reliable. President Obama is challenging NASA to do more with less.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

If something were to strike the Moon and change its orbit or demolish a portion of its mass, could that possibly have a profound change for the environment and life on earth. Is this a possiblity?

No, that is not a possibility. Even the largest comet or asteroid impactors have no effect on the orbit of the Moon or the Earth, and certainly none have enough energy to demolish a portion of its mass. I can think of nothing that could strike the Moon and cause any danger for us on Earth. In addition, the Moon is a much smaller target than the Earth (by a factor of about 20), so it is correspondingly less likely to be hit than is our planet.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Did the discovery of the Eris contribute to the decision to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet? If so, was it named after the goddess of discord in anticipation of the popular outcry on the subject, or was it just an interesting coincidence? AND How many planets are there?

Yes, the discovery of Eris (which is very slightly larger than Pluto) contributed to our ideas about what is a planet, and thus to the definition of a class of dwarf planets. For more than 50 years after its discovery in 1930, Pluto was the only known object (other than comets) beyond the orbit of Neptune. It was therefore logical to call Pluto a planet, in spite of the recognition that it was unlike either the rocky terrestrial planets or the liquid/gas giant planets. In the 1990s astronomers began to discover other trans-Neptunian objects, some of them (such as Sedna) not much smaller than Pluto. These objects constitute what astronomers call the Kuiper Belt [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_belt]. Thus Eris was just one of many new objects with orbits similar to Pluto. The response of astronomers and planetary scientists was to start thinking of Kuiper Belt objects, including Pluto, as a new class of distant, icy worlds, which are now called dwarf planets [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eris_(dwarf_planet)]. Mike Brown of Caltech, who discovered Eris and several other Kuiper Belt objects, was aware that these discoveries were indeed generating discord among planetary astronomers. The answer to the question of how many planets there are in our solar system depends, on how we define a planet. In the ancient world, when Sun and Moon were classed as planets, there were 7: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. After Copernicus, the Sun and Moon were dropped and Earth was added, making 6 planets. The discovery of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto raised the number to 9. The recent classification of Pluto, Eris, Sedna and many other similar Kuiper Belt planets as dwarf planets makes the number of planets either 8 (if we count only the terrestrial and giant planets) or several hundred (if we accept dwarf planets as planets.)

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

How important is the discovery of water on the Moon?

Finding water on the Moon has surprised and excited scientists. Water was not expected, since the moon rocks brought back by Apollo from the equatorial regions of the Moon were extremely dry. Since then more sensitive instruments have detected small amounts of water in chemical combination with other minerals. But the biggest discovery was of frozen water (ice) in some dark craters near the lunar north pole and south pole. The floors of these craters are among the coldest places in the solar system, so once a water molecule arrives there, it stays forever as ice. The amount of ice on these crater floors turns out to be larger than expected. This ice, which contains other molecules besides water, records the history of comet impacts on the Moon over the past billion years. In addition, we may someday be able to mine this ice and use the water to make rocket fuel and oxygen for astronauts to use.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Can a solar eclipse blind you if you look at it?

No, but looking at the sun for more than a few seconds outside of eclipse can damage your eyes. During a total solar eclipse, when the moon covers the sun, the sight is spectacular, and people travel for thousands of miles to see a total solar eclipse. It is tragic that misguided rumors circulate that an eclipsed sun can hurt you. In many solar eclipses, for example, school children have been told to hide under their desks during totality, thus missing one of nature’s grandest shows. Outside of the few minutes of totality, when the sun is only partially obscured by the moon, the general rule against looking directly at the sun applies. It is important to look at the sun only during totality. But with that caveat, your question has the situation backwards. The sun outside of an eclipse can blind you, but during a total eclipse you should look at the sun and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

A few years ago I heard that the Moon is moving away from the earth. Is it true? And if this is true then the channel claimed that this will affect the earth's rotation on it's epicentre, which will ultimately affect the earth to rotate in any direction, that is, from north to south.

What you heard is at best a half-truth. For the changes in the lunar orbit, see Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbit_of_the_Moon#Tidal_evolution]. The Moon is moving away from us very slowly, and the Earth’s rotation is also gradually slowing, as a consequence of tidal friction. But all of this is happening very slowly, and nothing in these gradual changes will ever permit the Earth to rotate in any other direction.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

What research does NASA rely on in their steadfast denial of Lunacy or other effects of the Moon's gravity on biology? Why would a body, strong enough to have an effect upon the millions of gallons of sea water on our planet, not have a similar "tidal" influence upon the large amounts of water in our bodies?

There is no scientific evidence of lunar gravitational or tidal effects on humans, nor any reason to expect them. Tides are important at very large scales, not small ones [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tide]. That is why the ocean has tides but lakes do not as they are isolated/contained bodies of water. If your coffee cup or bathwater are not effected by tides, don’t expect your body to be either. For creatures that live in ocean tidal areas, of course, the coming and going of the tides is very important, but what matters for them is the rising and falling sea level, not the gravitational force on them from the Moon.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Is it true that the moon was created by an asteroid hitting the earth and a portion of the earth formed the moon about 4-5 billion years ago? If that is the case would the earth be a whole moon size bigger if this never happened and if it were this much bigger would the size difference have a big impact on weather and the creation of life that we have on earth today?

The best current theory for the origin of the Moon is an oblique impact with Earth by an object about the size of Mars (roughly a tenth the mass of the Earth). A great deal of material from both the Earth and the impactor was ejected in the impact, and a small fraction of the ejected matter went into orbit around the Earth and ultimately became our Moon. Overall, the Earth neither gained nor lost much material as a result of this stupendous collision. The mass of the Moon is less than 2 percent the mass of the Earth, so putting that much mass back into our planet would have negligible consequences for the conditions on Earth or its history for the 4.5 billion years since the Moon-forming impact. For more information, use Wikipedia to look up Moon [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon] and Giant Impact Hypothesis [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_impact_hypothesis].

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Why does NASA send robots to other worlds? Wouldn't it be easy to send humans like in the terminator movies to other worlds. Would they discover life a lot quicker than the robots of today?

There are two reasons: cost and risk. Even close to Earth, the cost of launching a human into space and returning to Earth is approximately $100 million dollars, while a robotic satellite can be launched for much less. We do not have the capability to send humans into deep space, but estimates for human flights to Mars suggest the cost will be several billion dollars per launch, at least a factor of ten more than for highly capable robots like the NASA MSL (Mars Science Lab), which will be launched this fall. The risk issue increases this cost disparity, since we must be concerned about the health and safe return of an astronaut. Thus we would never send a lone human on a trip to Mars. Most estimates suggest a minimum crew size of 5 to 10, in contrast to the fact that robotic spacecraft are often launched singly. Further, we don't know if humans could survive beyond Mars, while our robotic spacecraft can range through the entire solar system. Also, if the purpose is to search for life, this is probably better done with a sterilized robotic craft. If humans are involved, there are additional issues (and costs) to avoiding cross-contamination between the humans and the alien life they are seeking.

David Morrison
NLSI Senior Scientist


March 30, 2011

Hi, I have a question that I had asked my 6th grade teacher back in 1991. If you where to take a carpenters liquid level into space where would the bubble be. My teacher had asked her friend which was going to a space mission later that year and my teacher passed away from a skiing accident before she could tell me. In memory of my late teacher I have been searching for the answer ever since. Including taking several Astronomy classes at 2 university's just to find out but never did. Do you know if they had done a child's experiment like that? If so please answer my 20 year old question.

Very interesting question. Since I have never done, nor heard of this experiment being done, I can only give you theory for the answer. There is no gravity to exert a force on the liquid which would "level" the bubble, so we have to look at other physical constraints that affect the action of the bubble: viscosity of the fluid, surface tension of the bubble and surface interactions with the glass. Given the fact that there is no gravity in space (and only microgravity while in orbit around the Earth), the bubble would always remain right where it originally was when it entered space unless other forces acted upon it. For instance, imagine you held the level at one end in your hand, and the bubble was at the far end away from your hand. If you swung your arm around in a circle, the liquid would go to the other end and the bubble would move to the end closer to your hand. There the bubble would stay unless you exerted another force on the level to overcome the constraints listed above in order to move the bubble around. Hope you didn't have too many restless nights over this!

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


October 21, 2010

A lunar photo has a crater number 211 on it. My neice would like to know what apoll mission it might have come from. Her dad worked on the missions.

Crater 211 is also known as "King Crater." I'm not sure what photograph you were seeing, but there is one that was taken from the command module during Apollo 11. More information can be found here:
http://www.archive.org/details/AS11-41-5988
That's great that her father worked on the missions! I hope she follows in her father's footsteps!

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


October 21, 2010

What star is following the moon and now is passing it tonight 8/26/2010?

I can't be sure what you're looking at without being there, but I suspect you are looking at a really bright object in the sky. If I remember where the Moon was a few nights ago correctly, what you are looking at is a planet, namely Jupiter. Right now, Jupiter is rising in the eastern sky in the evening and venus is setting in the western sky at dusk. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the three brightest objects in the night sky (in that order). Happy star-gazing!
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


September 1, 2010

The Earth, even if all life is wiped out, will not be a 'quiet' place (assuming everything else remains the same.) We would hear the sounds of the waves and the breeze and occasionally of the erupting volcanoes and even earthquakes. Are there any audible sounds at all on the moon? Did Neil Armstrong hear the 'azan' (Muslim call for prayer) or any other sounds when he touched down on the moon? Thank you in advance.

In order for sound to propogate from one place to another, it requires a medium or a fluid to move through. The air here on Earth allows sound waves to move from one point to another (sound can also move through water, steel, earth, etc... it just requires that particles/atoms/molecules are touching one another). However, the Moon is in space, and space is mostly a vacuum (there are always some atoms floating around, but they are VERY far apart and don't interact with one another). Thus there is no sound on the Moon. As for what Neil was hearing... the only thing he heard was communications from Houston and his fellow astronauts on Apollo 11. However, good thoughts and prayers are always appreciated and welcomed!!
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


August 25, 2010

Are there any active volcanos on the Moon?

The Moon's volcanoes have been extinct for billions of years. The dark spots you see on the Moon are ancient lava flows and most of these were deposited between 3 and 4 billion years ago! The youngest mare rock is thought to be approximiately 1 billion years old, but as no direct samples have been made of these rocks, that age is not very well constrained. So I'm sorry to report that "no, there are no active volcanoes on the Moon."

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


August 25, 2010

Is the moon really moving away from the earth? and where is this write down, in what book or research paper?


This effect is well documented in many journals, books and publications. For one, the "Encyclopedia of the Solar System" (ed. McFadden, Weissman and Johnson. 2nd edition 2007, page 228) states that "The Moon is receding from the Earth, due to tidal interaction, at a rate of 3.74 cm/year."

You can visualize this effect by recalling some high school physics and the conservation of angular momentum. The Moon causes tides here on Earth, but the Earth is rotating on its axis faster than the Moon is orbiting around the Earth. Thus the "bulge" that is created on the Earth by the tides continually is trying to drag the Moon around faster (through gravitational forces) than it is currently going. So the Moon is acting like an anchor and slowing down the Earth's rotation, just as the Moon is consequently increasing its orbital speed around the Earth. If it is truly getting faster, conservation of angular momentum tells us that it also has to be getting further away from the Earth at the same time!
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


July 13, 2010

You've already answered this question in August 2009 but I'd like to go into more detail. This website: http://www.mastikorner.com/forum/islamic-picx/6843-miracle-prophet-muhammad-p-b-u-h.html claims that Allah split the Moon in two at the request of the Prophet Mohammed and that there is a split on the Moon documented by American scientists that goes right around it which is evidence of the miracle. Is there any truth to any of these claims?

No current scientific evidence reports that the Moon was split into two (or more) parts and then reassembled at any point in the past.
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


June 21, 2010

Message: How did NASA lose the rocket blueprint to go to the moon? I always wonder since today rocket technology is far more advanced then it was 40 years ago, and has there been research on anti gravity. AND You wrote that we no longer have the capability to send astronauts to the Moon. Does this mean that the Apollo Program was a hoax too?

Losing the Moon rocket blueprints is an urban legend. The reason we could not duplicate the Saturn rockets that took astronauts to the Moon in the Apollo program is that the parts are no longer available, and many of the companies that built the Apollo hardware are no longer in business. Trying to duplicate 50-year-old technology would be harder than designing new systems from scratch. None of this in any way undercuts the tremendous accomplishments of Apollo, sending a dozen astronauts to the Moon and carrying out many scientific studies there. Concerning technology, current rocket systems are improvements over the systems designed 50 years ago for Apollo, but the basic technology is the same: we still use chemical rockets with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel, just like Saturn 5.

David Morrison
NLSI Director


October 15, 2009

Message: Hi there, Please could you tell me how safe the LCROSS experiment is? The reason I ask is due to a lot of comments I have read over the internet stating that it will throw our moon out of orbit and all other dreadful things will happen. Thank you in advance

The main (non-scientific) things you need to know about the LCROSS mission are 1) there are no "bombs" associated with the spacecraft, 2) impacts of this size occur on the Moon (and on Earth!) about once every 3-5 weeks, 3) no chemicals/nuclear weaponry of any kind are being used on the spacecraft to contaminate the Moon's surface, and 4) the amount of material that will be excavated by the impact will be on the order of 10's of tons... or about a few 10's of cubic meters.

To expand on those items just a little. The upper stage of the Centaur rocket is what is being used as the "impactor." Basically this is a large hollow canister which weighs about 5000 lbs. It has been outgassed after the launch to render it completely empty, as if it still retained any fuel from the launch, it would contaminate the plume of dust that we are trying to measure so carefully! So basically, we are very accurately throwing a big metallic rock at the Moon. The resultant crater will likely be approximately 3 meters deep and about 20-30 meters across (about 1/4 the size of a football field). As I mentioned before, the Moon actually experiences meteorite impacts this size on a regular basis. On any square kilometer of the Moon, you can find 30-100 similarly sized craters. The only difference is that we know exactly when and where our impact is going to take place so that we can point all of our telescopes at it and monitor the plume of dust, water (cross your fingers) and other compounds that previously weren't thought to have existed on the Moon! I highly recommend that you look at the website for the mission as it's going to be incredibly informative and useful to not only understand the nature of our Moon, but also for future exploration of our own solar system!

http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


October 8, 2009

Given that the moon has a gravity 1/6th of earth, would it be possible to enhance or augment this so as to provide close to 1g earth standard for any proposed lunar base? if so how could this be achieved? Alternatively, how could you generate a near enough 1g environment to avoid the detrimental effects of low lunar gravity?

The short answer is "not really." There is currently no known method of generating gravitons (the theoretical particle that governs gravity). However, there are other ways of simulating higher gravity: e.g. rubber bands (pulling you down towards the ground), vacuum chambers (where the vacuum sucks you down simulating higher gravity), and centrifuges (large rotating room using centripetal force to simulate gravity). All of these methods have been proposed as ways to train astronauts in deep space for exercise and to acclimate their bodies to the gravity environment on Mars/Moon/etc. Personally, I'm awaiting the discovery of gravitons and anti-gravitons which would mean flying cars and cheap, easy lifting of mass into space!

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


October 1, 2009

Why is the government refusing to allocate the necessary budget funding for the Mars manned mission. Allowing for the recession, how is the human race supposed to continue without the ability to expand?

The short answer is that NASA and its funding is inherently tied to public opinion. Unfortunately, the public does not normally recognize the benefits that the Space Program has brought to their daily lives and thus they don't feel as though the money spent on the space program is worth the rewards. Science and technology have been greatly enhanced by research done by the Space Program including telemedicine employed by ICU units in every hospital across the country, satellite/telecommunications technology developed for space flight and exploration, materials and structure research that makes your car lighter and stronger and thus use less fuel, etc, etc, etc... Once the public recognizes the science and engineering trickle down effect which benefit their daily lives, hopefully the politicians will start to award more funds to push towards Mars and enhancement of the human race.
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


October 1, 2009

I have been doing some calculations in regards to an asteroid named (4179) Toutatis. It appears to have a very close intersection with Earth on mid-December 2012. Are you able to detemine with more accuracy how close this asteroid will come to Earth and what chances that it will make contact? AND Comet 45p/honda-mrkos is due to pass within 0.06 AU in 2011. I keep reading about this comet’s erratic orbits. This would appear to be a very close visit by a comet; what are the risks from debris/radiation/flares/asteroids?

Answer: While the Earth is subject to rare impacts by comets and asteroids, there are no predictions of any impacts in this century (see the NASA impact hazard website at http://impact.arc.nasa.gov). Concerning asteroid Toutatis, the orbit is very well known because this asteroid has been tracked by radar as well as optical telescopes. You don’t need to do your own orbit calculations, since current orbital information for all near-Earth asteroids is posted on the NASA NEO Program website at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov. The next close approach by Toutatis is on December 12, 2012, at a distance of 0.046 Astronomical Units (AU), or about 18 times the distance of the Moon. This miss is by a wide margin, with zero probability of its affecting Earth. The 2011 flyby distance of Comet Honda/Mrkos is even greater. There is no risk from debris/radiation/flares/asteroids; comets don’t produce radiation or flares, and they are not accompanied by asteroids. A comet does have an atmosphere and dust that is released from the surface as it is heated by the Sun, but none of this material would hurt the Earth even if we passed right through the tail. For a good introduction to comets see Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet.

David Morrison
Director, NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 1, 2009

If NASA discovered something and the government did not want it to be revealed to the public, would it still be publicized? And could they even keep from NASA employee’s and scientists, like they would be able to do in other government agencies? AND Where will you, your family, and the rest of the NASA team be on Dec. 21, 2012? I have been reading that NASA will not be on earth. That they will be "studying dust" on the moon. Please elaborate on why you "just so happened" to choose this date to not be here on earth with the rest of us.

Answer: I frequently receive questions like the first one. The second question, in contrast, is one of the nuttiest I have ever received. But they have in common a basic failure to understand what NASA is and how scientists operate. I will try to clarify. (1) NASA (a U.S. Government agency) rarely discovers anything. Individual scientists do, often with some support from NASA or using NASA instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope (which, incidentally, is operated by a private academic consortium, not NASA itself). NASA does not dictate what is found or how the information is released (whether scientific papers or press conferences). Science discoveries are eventually submitted for publication in peer-revewed journals, available to everyone. (2) In astronomy, most of the big telescopes are not affiliated with NASA at all, and many are outside the U.S. In addition to an international group of several thousand research astronomers, there are tens of thousands of amateurs with good telescopes of their own. Things in the sky can’t be hidden from these many enthusiastic observers. (3) NASA is not a person or a handful of people in Washington. NASA has 10 research centers with about 20,000 civil service employees, plus a much larger team of contractors and academic scientists whose research is partly paid for by NASA. There is no monolithic structure, no one “at the top” to give gag orders. Both NASA scientists and their academic counterparts are a pretty free-spirited group. (4) The second questioner thinks “NASA” will be on the Moon in 2012. I wonder what he is referring to: the 20,000 civil servants or the more than 100,000 others. Will the more than 100 scientists in the NASA Lunar Science Institute get to go? The truth is that today we have no rockets that could take people to the Moon, and the earliest we could land astronauts (just 4 at a time) is after 2020. (5) I plead with these and similar questioners to start by using Wikipedia or other reliable web resources to address your questions. Also, try to ignore the misinformation, the disinformation, and the careless errors that permeate “anti-government” or “conspiracy theory” websites. Use your powers of critical thinking!

David Morrison
Director, NASA Lunar Science Institiute


September 8, 2009

Was the moon split into two parts at a certain time?

I'm not sure what you're referring to, but the current theory is that the Moon is the result of a collision with early Earth and a Mars-sized planetessimal. Early on when the earth was completely molten, the heavier elements (iron, etc) were falling to the center of the Earth leaving behind a less-dense outer layer/crust. When the collision happened, it ripped off that outer most layer and was flung out into orbit around Earth and eventually came together to form our Moon. This is the predominant theory behind why the Moon has an overall lower density than that of the Earth. So while it is not possible to "split" the Moon into two parts and reassemble it, it is the result of two bodies colliding with one another!
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


August 3, 2009

I have a question concerning a comet that will pass by Earth in the year 2029. There has been speculation that the Earths gravity may alter its course and cause impact in the year 2036. Is this true? How is NASA tracking this, and what preparations are being made, if any.

The object you are asking about is not a comet; it is a small near-Earth asteroid named Apophis. It will come very close to the Earth in April 2029, and the Earth’s gravity will dramatically alter its orbit. There is a tiny possibility (less than one chance in 40,000) that the asteroid could then be on an orbit that would hit the Earth in April 2036. In 2013 Apophis will be within range of the Arecibo radar, and that will produce a more accurate estimate of its orbit. I have discussed Apophis in several previous postings on this website, and you can also google it now that you know its name. Apophis is certainly interesting to scientists, and I just returned from an international meeting on defending the Earth against impacts, where we had considerable discussion of Apophis. I presented a paper there on a possible spacecraft mission to learn more about this asteroid. You can get lots more information on the NASA impact hazard website at (impact.arc.nasa.gov).

David Morrison
NLSI Interim Director


April 20, 2009

Can't it be possible that there is life even on moon but the life- forms there are biologically adapted to those conditions....in short, why are we always looking from our own frame,i.e. searching for water?

This is a great question and one that we could all have fun answering. Let me start by answering the second part of your question first. There's a common saying out there that says "go with what you know." At this particular moment in our scientific history, we only really (barely) understand and are able to recognize life "as we know it." And currently, that life requires liquid water. And on the moon's surface, temperatures fluctuate between (average) -184 C (-300 F) in the shade and 111 C (232 F) in the sun. While it is possible that water ice with cometary origins possesses organic material or even spores (Panspermia Hypothesis), that water ice is in permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the Moon and thus frozen at ~ -200C. Thus there is no presence of liquid water on the moon. Tied into that is the hostile radiation environment from solar and galactic energy which is energetic enough to destroy all cellular machinery. However...

The fundamental problem here is that we don't always know what else is out there, how to look for it nor how to identify it. Until Antony van Leeuwenhoek's work with the microscope in the late 1600's, we (humans) had no idea that microbial life existed in the form of bacteria and archaea. Since then, we've broadened our horizons to discover that microbial life is actually the most abundant type of biomass on the Earth's surface. It is entirely possible that other forms of life exist out there, but we have not yet learned to recognize them; but I, personally, eagerly await the time when we do!

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


April 16, 2009

How is the general distribution of magnetic field of Moon? Is it strong at the poles or something?

I'm sorry to report that the Moon has no internal dynamo which would support a sustained magnetic field. There are several localized areas on the Moon which have small, highly varied magnetic fields associated with them, and the current thought (though not proven) is that these areas with magnetic fields were created through impacts from meteorites/comets/etc. However, these small, localized magnetic fields are almost entirely crustal in origin and are not large enough to protect anyone from the hostile environment created by high energy solar or galactic particles. For more information, please see Hood, L. L., and Z. Huang (1991). "Formation of magnetic anomalies antipodal to lunar impact basins: Two-dimensional model calculations". J. Geophys. Res. 96: 9837–9846

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


April 16, 2009

I have had a hard time finding an answer to this question. We have all learned that there is a "far" side of the moon due to the rotation and orbit being "the same". This is even though parts of the far side can be seen at times. My question has always been, are the orbit and rotation really the "same". I think of mountains that rise and fall compared to sea level maybe inches in hundreds or thousands of years. If not exact, is the moon slowly turning compared to the earth? Could the far side of the moon become the close side in say 10 million years? Please satisfy my curiosity.

While the moon is actually moving away from the Earth and the Earth's tilt coupled to the Moon's eccentricity in it's orbit allows us to see more than just 50% of the moon's surface, it is indeed locked into it's current configuration forever and ever (barring any major catastrophe, e.g. a major impact). At the same time the Moon is moving away from the Earth, the Earth is also slowing down it's rotation such that ultimately, it will be locked into having the same side of the Earth always facing the Moon as well. At that point, the Moon will rotate around the Earth at the same rate that the Earth rotates on its own axis. This transfer of energy happens through tidal friction and can be seen in other "tidal-locked" planetary bodies as well: for example Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


April 16, 2009

Very interested if you tell me what the percentage is of Rubidium in typical lunar rock. Tks and Best Regards Phillip Knox Melbourne Australia

According to Hurley and Pinson (1970) from the Proceedings of the Apollo 11 Lunar Science Conference V.2 pp 1311-1315, Rb was found present within Apollo 11 rock samples in the range of 1 ppm to 6 ppm.

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


April 16, 2009

I live near Melbourne ustralia and was wondering about the polar orientation of the moon. Do we see the south pole on the top from our location? I get confused as most of the lunar maps show its orientaion differently. Some put South up. When I look at the moon is North 'up or down'?

For anyone living below the Earth's Equator, the lunar north pole will be on the bottom half of the moon as you're looking at it. It won't necessarily be "down" from your perspective as that entirely is dependant upon your observing latitude here on Earth. Perhaps the easiest way to determine the lunar north from the south poles is to locate the Tycho Crater, which is an exceptionally bright (high albedo) crater and ejecta blanket which is located in the lunar southern highlands towards the south pole. So any time you see this bright crater, that is on the southern half of the Moon and a line drawn through the center of the moon and this crater will get you fairly close to the Lunar South Pole (~10 degrees off). Another way to orient yourself is to locate the darker regions of the lunar surface (the Mare) as *most* of this area is located in the northern hemisphere. Happy observing!

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


March 10, 2009

Why didn't astronomers know that asteroid DD45 was about to get so close to the Earth? Some suggested that it would have devastated a forest like the Siberian hit in 1908. I thought it was assumed that the possibility of an asteroid crashing was negligible. So why are some astronomers provoking the alert once again?

This asteroid is estimated to have a diameter of 30-40 meters, slightly smaller than the 1908 Tunguska impactor. We are not sure whether an object this size would make it through the atmosphere to cause massive damage like Tunguska; it might have exploded too high to cause much ground damage. However, you are correct that an impact of this size might cause substantial damage, and therefore we would very much like to be able to detect such objects before they hit. However, there are likely to be at least a million asteroids this size with Earth-crossing orbits. They are far too faint to be reliably detected with the current Spaceguard Survey, which is aiming for completeness only for asteroids larger than 1 km diameter, which is about a thousand times larger (in mass and energy) than DD45 (see the NASA impact hazard website at http://impact.arc.nasa.gov). The asteroid had to come very close before it was within range of our survey telescopes. For perspective, nearly 100 asteroids come this close to Earth for every one that hits, with one sailing by every few years. Astronomers are well aware of the impact threat from objects this size. If you do the arithmetic, the risk to any one person from such impacts is very small compared to other natural hazards. Still, this close flyby is a reminder (or perhaps a wake-up call) that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery and could be hit by a small asteroid at any time, with no warning at all. Look at the cratered face of the Moon to get an idea of Earth's impact history. David Morrison NLSI Interim Director

March 5, 2009

What is the absorbed dose (rad/hr or gy/hr)rate on the lunar surface from Galactic cosmic rays and solar energetic particles during the solar minimum and maximum. Also were can I find this information in the literature/publications?

Average solar radiation for spacecraft is ~0.3 Sv per year for solar mimimums and ~1.0 Sv per year for solar maximums. Keep in mind that these numbers are totaled for a whole year and the planetary body (the Moon) will shield them from radiation for ~1/2 of the year, so these numbers will be divided roughly in half. These numbers come from: L.W. Townsend, F.A. Cucinotta, and J.W. Wilson, 1992, "Interplanetary Crew Exposure Estimates for Galactic Cosmic Rays," Radiation Research 129:48-52.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is scheduled for launch in late-April 2009 and one of its primary missions is to study the lunar radiation environment, so you may want to keep tabs on its progress as well.

Radiation during solar particle events can exceed several grays and will be deadly to humans if exposed to this radiation. For more on this effect, please review: J.L. Parsons and L.W. Townsend, 2000, "Interplanetary Crew Dose Rates for the August 1972 Solar Particle Event," Radiation Research 153:729-733.

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


February 9, 2009

What is truth behind the studies of the moon being hollow? Or atleast the common beliefs.

I’m sorry to report that there is no scientific evidence in support of a hollow moon. This myth was originated by HG Wells’ 1901 book “The First Men in the Moon” and was perpetuated by subsequent literary works such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ mid 1920’s books “The Moon Maid” and “The Moon Men” in which the Moon is hollow, supports an interior breathable atmosphere and is inhabited by a race of “moon men.” Unfortunately, ideas such as these found in fictional works of literature frequently make their way into the mainstream public eye and are mistaken for scientific fact.

Some people may argue that the Moon’s lower overall density (~60% that of the Earth’s average density) and seismic ringing from a jettisoned portion of the Apollo 12 lunar lander indicate a hollow moon. However, the giant impact which formed the Moon (see a few posts down) stripped off the low-density upper crust of the Earth and is likely the cause of the low density. Additional seismic studies as well as moment of inertia calculations and gravity studies all reveal that the Moon has an interior similar to that of the Earth: (from out to in) crust, upper mantle, inner mantle, molten outer core and crystallized solid inner core. For additional “light” reading check out these scientific papers: Nakamura et al., (1973) “New Seismic Data on the State of the Deep Lunar Interior” Science. 181(4094): pp. 49-51 and Konopliv et al., (1998) “Improved Gravity Field of the Moon by Lunar Prospector” Science, 281(5382): pp 1476-1480.

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


February 2, 2009

Do you believe that aliens exist ?

I suppose I'm curious as to your definition of "aliens" and whether you include all life (as we know it) or just "intelligent" life. But between research by SETI, analysis of Martian meteorites, recent findings of methane within the Mars atmosphere and other similar studies, there is no current evidence for life elsewhere, intelligent or otherwise.

However: I, personally, remain optimistic and while "believe" is a strong word, I feel as though Jodie Foster's character Ellie Arroway said it best in the movie Contact (1997) - "I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space."

Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


January 29, 2009

What path would you recommend to undergraduate students looking to study lunar or planetary science? Is a degree in astronomy preferable to a degree in geology? Are there graduate programs with particularly well thought of planetary science programs? Are there programs where grads or undergrads can get there foot in the door?

The Short Answer: most any scientific discipline.

The Long Answer: Planetary science covers almost all scientific disciplines: biology, geology, astrophysics, astronomy, engineering, physics, etc, etc, etc. The best thing for you to do is pick an area that gets you excited personally, and put a planetary spin on it. Personally, I chose microbiology and studied the way microbes are able to metabolize minerals and rocks. This easily ports over to an astrobiology/planetary topic of enlarging the known environments and conditions under which life could potentially exist (subsurface Mars and Europa ultramafics for example). My recommendation is to continually work on outside activities that demonstrate your passion for planetary science/space/etc and make sure to highlight those activities on your resume/CV.

There are several planetary/lunar programs out there. Take a look at current literature, specifically projects that you find interesting, and see what institutions are conducting current planetary research in which you’re interested. For purely selfish reasons, I’ll plug the new teams that were just selected for the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI): Brown, U. Colorado – Boulder, Johns Hopkins. All of these schools are creating new planetary/lunar courses and buffing up their grad/undergrad programs in total. Of course, there are lots of other schools out there, so take a look around.

Several programs exist for undergrads/grads to get started in this field. One I might suggest is the NASA Academy for Exploration (http://academy.nasa.gov). The NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program is another. The Lunar and Planetary Institute also has a summer program with info about this and other opportunities on their website. Each of the teams of NLSI has an undergrad/grad training program underway as well. Emails to current and former members of each of the above should bring out additional opportunities tailored to what you hope to accomplish. Good luck!


Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


January 21, 2009

Is the "Giant Impact hypothesis" still considered to be the best explanation for how the moon came into being?

Yes. The current experiments and modeling efforts predominantly use the giant impact hypothesis as the basis for their studies. In other words, approximately 4.5 billion years ago, a collision of the early Earth with a Mars-sized object resulted in the formation of the Earth/Moon system. This model provides answers to the reasons behind the Earth/Moon high-spin system, the low density of the moon, and lunar composition. Other hypotheses on lunar formation are that a planetoid (the Moon) was captured in the Earth's gravity well, or that the Earth and Moon co-formed together through accretion. Neither of these explanations provide quite the full picture that the giant impact does, however.
Brad Bailey
NLSI Staff Scientist


January 20, 2009

What happened to the Apollo original filming on the moon? Where are they for public view? not the broadcast or polaroid taken from the monitor

Almost all the photos you see of the astronauts on the Moon are "original filming". The live video that was broadcast to Earth at the time was quite limited; in the case of Apollo 11 it was difficult even to see what was happening. By the later missions the astronauts were using color video, but even that was low resolution by modern standards, reflecting limited bandwidth communications. However, the astronauts brought back excellent film stills taken with Hasselblad cameras as well as 16mm movies. These were the products used to make the contemporary NASA releases, and they are what we see today in more recent videos about Apollo and the exploration of the Moon. The originals of all the films are kept at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

David Morrison
Interim Director, NLSI


January 5, 2009

Reading your answers and WSJ interview about the interplanetary exchange of rocks. Could you give an example of what types of events could cause this effect? Are there 'modern day' occurances where this has been observed or is this a logical explanation of matrerial found on earth? Thanks Thanks

Rocks are exchanged between planets as a result of large crater-forming impacts. Impacts of objects several kilometers across into solid rock can accelerate some fragments of the local rocks to escape velocity without melting them. Some of the ejected rocks will go into orbits around the Sun that will eventually lead to a collision with another planet. Mostly this process takes millions of years, but there could be a few rocks that are launched on trajectories that provide short travel times between the source and the target. Quite a few martian and lunar rocks have been found on Earth that came here by this process. Some of these Mars rocks and Moon rocks are privately owned, and small pieces of them are for sale. I own two very small fragments, one each from Moon and Mars. Transport from Earth to Mars is more difficult, because the gravity of Earth is greater. I have heard some speculation, however, that the end-Cretaceous impact 65 million years ago might have launched some Earth-rocks to Mars. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


March 13, 2008

Why have a space station in orbit when observations can also be made from the surface of the Moon or why not have a Moon base in conjunction with a orbiting station? It is the suspicion of some that your agency has deliberately avoided the Moon for reasons the public in generally unaware of. I have lost my respect for NASA over the years because of the deliberate cover-up that is being exhibited and perpetuated. I suppose the fear is that the public cannot deal with the truth, which I can’t say I disagree with.

Going to the Moon, and establishing a permanent presence there, is more difficult, and expensive, than operating a space station in low earth orbit. The decision was made 40 years ago by NASA, the Congress, and the Nixon Administration the pursue the Shuttle and Space Station first. Now, of course, we are again on course for human landings on the Moon. You can read about the vision for space exploration and the developing plans for lunar flights on a variety of NASA websites, starting with the NASA home page at http://nasa.gov. As far as cover-up, I don't know what you are talking about. I realize the Internet is full of conspiracy theorists who think there is something to hide concerning the Moon, but I have never seen any evidence to support such accusations. I emphatically disagree with your suggestion that there is fear that the public cannot deal with the truth. It just doesn't make sense to me. There have been several sociological studies that show that the public does not easily panic and that the best way to avoid panic or other bad consequences is to be truthful and try to keep everyone fully informed. That is certainly the underlying philosophy of NASA scientists, who have always been open about their work and its implications. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


March 13, 2008

Was streptococcus actually found in Surveyor 3 after spending 2 and a half years on the Moon or is that just a rumor?

Yes, this microbe was found on the Surveyor 3 camera that was retrieved and returned to Earth by the Apollo 12 astronauts. For many years it was thought that these microbes had survived their long exposure on the lunar surface. More recently, however, scientific opinion has shifted, and now we think these were probably contaminants introduced when the camera was retuned to Earth. It is very difficult to control such contamination, which is a cautionary tale for future return of samples from Mars. We don't want to identify life in such a sample and then be unsure if the life is from Mars or from Earth. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


February 14, 2008

If humans colonize the moon, given the different enviromental conditions and population isolation, would we likely evolve into a different species over time?

Evolutionary biologists are not sure what it takes for a new species to evolve, but certainly one requirement is an isolated population. Thus the answer to your question depends on how genetically isolated this lunar colony is and for how long. If there is a continuing mix with new genes from Earth, such evolution is not likely. There is also the question of whether the lunar colonists want to evolve. By the time we have colonies on the Moon, we are also likely to have great capability in genetic engineering. In this case, the process will be human-controlled, very different from natural speciation. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


February 7, 2008

Would it be possible to set up a sterling engine at the light/dark terminus on the moon? Is there enough difference in temperature to make this feasible?

If there were a fixed terminator (light/dark border) it might be possible to consider ways to extract energy from the temperature contrast, but of course the Moon rotates. The terminator moves around the Moon at a speed of about 16 km/hr (10 mph) near the equator. There is no “dark side of the Moon”. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


January 31, 2008

if the moon moves out of earths orbit what would happen? Does the moons magnetism affect earth life so much that we can't survive without it.

The Moon has no global magnetic field, and even if it did, it would not affect life on Earth. As to the Moon changing its orbit, or moving out of orbit around the Earth, this sort if thing is not possible. Only in bad Hollywood films do planets or moons change their orbits arbitrarily. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


January 3, 2008

If this is not true that armstrong saw alien base camps on moon then Why not nasa plans for a base station at moon and there have been no moon missions for the past 20 years or so?

Although you would never know this from the distorted perspective of some groups that post crazy claims on the Internet, there is no scientific evidence for UFOs or aliens, no aliens or alien artifacts were seen on the Apollo or any other human space missions, and such false claims are irrelevant to the space policy of the United States or NASA. There are many complex issues that have determined our human space program for the past 30 years, mostly dealing with politics, technology, and availability of funding. NASA started back on the road toward human Moon flights in response to initiatives from Congress and the President. Fringe groups who believe in UFOs and aliens do not influence NASA space policy, fortunately. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


December 18, 2007

my first question is that after neil armstrong did any other missionaries were sent to moon?? secondly what about the fact that there are aliens on moon on the other side as mentioned by neil armstrong that they saw alein base camp?? how far its true??

It is not true. On the basics, twelve American Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon between 1969 and 1972, as described in several past answers (use the search engine to find them), but they were not "missionaries". There were no aliens on the Moon. Armstrong and other Apollo astronauts saw no evidence of aliens either on the near-side or the far-side of the Moon. You seem to be confusing science fiction with reality, or else believing false stories on the Internet. Believe me, reality is more interesting than this sort of fantasy, and in addition it is real. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


November 23, 2007

Have we ever put people back on the moon since Apollo? I was just curious if there were plans to ever go back. Never hear anything about it.

I'm surprised that you have not heard about the NASA plans to return to the Moon by 2020. You can find lots of Q&A; on this topic in the archive of Ask an Astrobiologist past answers. Here is what I posted two weeks ago: The Apollo Moon program was stopped by the U.S. Congress after the Apollo 17 mission. NASA'a total budget was cut and the remaining program of human flights was redirected toward the less expensive Apollo-Soyuz joint flight with the USSR, the three Skylab missions (the first space station), and eventually the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. For information on the current NASA plans for human flights to the Moon, see the NASA Vision webpage (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/Vision/index.html). David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


November 7, 2007

Who was the first woman on the moon?

Unfortunately no woman has visited the Moon. At the time of Apollo (1969-72), there were no women in the U.S. astronaut corps. The 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon were Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Pete Conrad, Moss Duke, James Irwin, Stuart Roosa, Jack Schmidt, Dave Scott, Al Shepard, and Jim Young. For a dramatic telling of the Apollo story, I recommend the book "A Man on the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin, and the HBO mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon," both of which should be in your local library. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 22, 2007

ected Sir/madam, Can u pls tell why NASA had stopped the Moon Mission after 1972??

The Apollo Moon program was stopped by the U.S. Congress after the Apollo 17 mission. NASA'a total budget was cut and the remaining program of human flights was redirected toward the less expensive Apollo-Soyuz joint flight with the USSR, the three Skylab missions (the first space station), and eventually the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. For information on the current NASA plans for human flights to the Moon, see the NASA Vision webpage (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/Vision/index.html). David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 22, 2007

If a moon base were to be built, what would it use as a source of oxygen and water?

Initially, astronauts will take all their supplies from the Earth, as they do now. By recycling as much as possible they will use these supples efficiently, but it is still terribly expensive to supply a lunar base with consumables carried all the way from the Earth. That is why the search for ice near the lunar poles is so important. If we could mine local ice, that could supply all our requirements for water and oxygen. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 22, 2007

sir the life on other plasnet also exista this has came became clear now by the video of aliens on the moon /why u hide these thinmgs from us

You are badly misinformed. There is no video of aliens on the Moon. If anyone says there is, they are not telling you the truth. I note from your name that you may be from India, and I have received quite a few such enquiries from Indians. This worries me, if you are subject to such lies from your television and newspapers. I wish you luck in learning to distinguish truth from lies; it is not always easy, but it is certainly a worthwhile thing to try to do. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 11, 2007

I'm not sure if someone already asked this question, but, who has been on the moon? I mean, what are the names of the people who have been on the moon?

I have answered this before; the 12 Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon were Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Pete Conrad, Moss Duke, James Irwin, Stuart Roosa, Jack Schmidt, Dave Scott, Al Shepard, and Jim Young. For a dramatic telling of the Apollo story, I recommend the book "A Man on the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin, and the HBO mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon," both of which should be in your local library. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


October 4, 2007

Are there any places (Luna, Mercury, etc.) in the Solar system which we can be certain, beyond reasonable doubt, do not contain life? If so, what is the reasoning behind sterilization of probes and landers in these areas? Isn't it our prerogative and obligation to attempt to introduce extremophiles to such environments for research purposes and to gain actual experience in terraforming, which many view as inevitable & necessary?

Yes, I agree that there is no life on the Moon or Mercury. Such destinations are not subject to planetary protection restrictions, and probes sent to these planets do not require sterilization. However, the Moon can serve as a laboratory for testing sterilization techniques that might later be applied to spacecraft sent to Mars. As far as introducing extremophiles to places like Moon and Mercury, that would be pointless if these planets are truly unable to support Earth-based life. Ironically, the only targets (such as Mars and Europa) where we might want to undertake experiments in introducing microorganisms from the Earth are precisely the ones where we should not do so, since these objects may have indigenous biota that we should not disturb. From a practical perspective, also, if we once introduced microbes from Earth into those environments, we might never be able to distinguish native life from the life we had introduced. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


September 25, 2007

why does nasa not use electricity and the rail system to launch equipment from earth into space and beyond?

Because the Earth has an atmosphere. An electro-magnetic rail system would provide an interesting option for launches from the Moon, which has 1/6 the Earth's gravity and no atmosphere. But on Earth, atmospheric friction would dissipate much of the momentum imparted from a rail system as soon as the speed rose above a few hundred miles per hour, far far less than escape velocity. That is why rockets initially rise nearly vertically, to get above most of the atmosphere, before they tip over into more nearly horizontal flight to gain orbital speed. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


September 19, 2007

I want to work with NASA. Presently I an in eleventh class in India. Give me information about NASA Exam.

There is no "NASA Exam". That is not the way we usually fill positions in the United States. You might want to consider working for the Indian space program. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


August 28, 2007

Check out this video on youtube with Buzz Aldrin saying he saw a UFO on Apollo 11. Whose fibbing, NASA or the great American hero, Buzz Aldrin? http://youtube.com/watch?v=bQgfaLFTl4U

The fibbing is being done by the producers of this video. They left off the second half of the interview in which Aldrin explained what the astronauts had seen. And the supposed video of the object that they inserted in the program is not at all like the flat panel that Aldrin was describing. Needless to say, Buzz was angry and asked them to correct this reversal of what he had said, but they refused. Here is the answer I posted when this video first was aired: I just talked to Buzz Aldrin on the phone, and he notes that the quotations were taken out of context and did not convey the intended meaning. After the Apollo 11 crew verified that the object they were seeing was not the SIVB upper stage, which was about 6000 miles away at that time, they concluded that they were probably seeing one of the panels from the separation of the spacecraft from the upper stage. These panels were not tracked from Earth and were likely much closer to the Apollo spacecraft. They chose not to discuss this on the open communications channel since they were concerned that their comments might be misinterpreted (as they are being now). This discussion about the panels was cut from the broadcast interview, thus giving the impression that the astronauts had seen a UFO. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


August 28, 2007

There are several companies that claim to sell real estate on the moon. Do any of these have any legal validity? Has there been a test case where one of these companies has been taken to court for obtaining money by deception? I thought the moon had legal status similar to antartica?

The Moon, like the Antarctic, is an international preserve, protected by treaty. No sales of land there are valid, although I don't know of any test case. I doubt this issue would be accepted by the courts, who probably recognize that sales of land on the Moon are for "entertainment" only (just like selling star names). David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


July 17, 2007

Apologies if you have been asked before, but -- Surely there is a telescope on earth that can see evidence of the moon missions and therefore put to bed any suspicion that man has not been there?

Telescopes on Earth have been used many times to bounce laser light off of retro-reflectors placed on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, but someone who denies that we went to the Moon could always claim these devices were placed there robotically rather than by astronauts. But even if we had clear photos of the landing sites I doubt very much that they would convince the Moon deniers. These people have chosen to ignore or deny the vast amounts of evidence, including the testimony of the astronauts who went there, of the thousands of scientists who have analyzed the data and samples brought back from the Moon, and of the tens of thousands of people who participated in the launch, mission control, and recovery operations for Apollo. Or the fact that the Russians, who competed with the U.S. to land humans on the Moon, never questioned our achievement. For someone who is interested in the evidence, no landing site photos could be nearly as convincing as the 400 kg of lunar material brought back, which are totally unlike Earth rocks and must have an extraterrestrial origin. I'm afraid that the Moon deniers, like the holocaust deniers or those who believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, have chosen to reject scientific or evidential arguments in favor of their pre-conceived beliefs. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


July 2, 2007

Astronomical observation from moon surface vis-a-vis low earth orbiting observatory? Which one is better for Astrobiology study?

The interest of astronomers in lunar astronomical observatories has changed over time. There are many advantages to building observatories in space, such as access to much more of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Several decades ago, the Moon seemed like an ideal platform for an observatory, especially if humans were living on the Moon to service it. More recently, however, opinion has shifted. We are concerned about lunar dust, which could degrade the optics. And we have learned to appreciate the advantages of telescopes in space, which can be pointed precisely and work extremely well in the absence of gravity. However, for most purposes the best place for such telescopes is not low Earth orbit, but a heliocentric orbit, perhaps at one of the quasi-stable Langrangian points. What is true for astronomy in general is also true for astrobiology. The one major exception is in radio astronomy, especially the search for the very faint signals of extraterrestrial civilizations. The ideal place for an advanced SETI observatory would be on the far side of the Moon, where it would be shielded from radio sources on the Earth. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


July 2, 2007

Do you think human beings will ever be able to live on other planets?

Yes. Remember that humans have already lived on the Moon, but only for a few days. NASA's current plans for human exploration of the Moon and Mars suggest that there could be permanently occupied outposts on both Moon and Mars by the middle of this century. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


May 23, 2007

It is known that human, animal and plant physiology has been shaped by gravity. What are the potential risks for human beings of prolonged stay in outer space or on other planets or bodies with different gravity fields such as the Moon or Mars? If human colonies were to be on extraterrestrial bodies for a long periods, how could their physiologies conceivably develop or differ from staying on Earth? Finally, what do we know about how animals and plants develop in extraterrestrial environments?

This is a complex question, and there is a large relevant scientific literature under the heading of "gravitational biology". Two good resources are the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (asgsb.indstate.edu) and the Life Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center (cgbr.arc.nasa.gov). Humans have been exposed for more than a year in space (microgravity), and almost all have experienced loss of bone and muscle mass and some small changes in blood volume and chemistry. This sort of adaptation to microgravity is no problem in space (some people even think that space is a healthier environment than the surface of the Earth), but considerable re-adaptation is required when the astronauts or cosmonauts return to Earth. An environment with low but not zero gravity (such as Moon or Mars) is probably not as severe as microgravity, and it seems probable that people could live on those worlds for long times. If they exercised hard to maintain their conditioning, they might even return to Earth with minimal risk. But we have not yet studied the effects of partial gravity on people or even on plants and mammals, so we don't know. The large centrifuge built by NASA and the Japanese Space Agency for the Space Station would have allowed scientific tests to be made, but this component of the Space Station was canceled last year and will thus probably never be launched. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


May 7, 2007

Why can we not see the backside of the moon from Earth?

and

I was reading about 581 c, and have a question regarding the theory that the newly discovered planet possibly may NOT rotate, meaning one side of the planet it always light and the other side is always dark. I guess I assumed that all planets rotate... but sometimes in opposite directions (like Earth and Venus, I think?) Are there any planets in our own solar system that don't rotate?

All planets (and asteroids and moons) that we know of rotate, although some (like Venus) rotate very slowly. Perhaps there is some confusion between "no rotation" and "rotation that keeps the same side toward the parent object." The Moon, for example, rotates once in each orbit around the Earth, thus keeping the same side toward the Earth. Its rotation period and its orbital period are the same. Thus we cannot see the far side of the Moon; if it did not rotate, we could see all parts of it from Earth over the course of a month. Some scientists have also suggested that the new planet Gliese 581c rotates in the same period that it orbits its star, keeping one side in eternal light and the other in eternal night. The cause would be the same for this planet as for our Moon: the friction of tides that gradually slows a fast-rotating object until its rotation period equals its orbital period. This is likely for the new planet, but its rotation period has not actually been measured. The chances that it is not rotating, or that its rotation is slower than its 13-hour orbital period, are negligible. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


May 2, 2007

If the moon is colonized by the united states within the century, is it a possiblity that the moon will become a privince/state/ of America.

I doubt that very much. The Moon (like Antarctica) is covered by an international treaty that forbids any nation from claiming all or part of it. Besides, I think you may be confused by the term "colonized", which is not really the right term for space exploration. The most we might anticipate is a few thousand people living on the Moon; it will never be practical for large numbers of people to move there. In contrast, all of states of the United States have populations of about a million or more. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


May 2, 2007

How are illnesses dealt with on board a space ship - what provisions are made & what kind of illness can occur

Fortunately serious illness has not been a problem with space flight so far. There are many effects of space travel itself on humans, including common "space motion sickness" (which normally lasts only about a day) and long-term effects such a loss of bone and muscle mass (which manifests itself when the astronaut returns to Earth). A few astronauts have suffered from colds in space, and at least one from a mild urinary infection, but there were no serious medical conditions. As long as we stay close to the Earth, even perhaps including trips to the Moon, illness is not likely to be a serious problem, but when human crews go on longer trips to the asteroids or to Mars, this is indeed a potential issue to be considered. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


April 18, 2007

I just saw the excellent film Cosmic Collisions at the Rose Center in NYC with my 14 year old. The film does a wonderful job of explaining how the moon formed from the earth. But it raised this question I couldn't answer: Why do we think the Moon didn't form an atmosphere and some form of life but Earth did given that the Moon was cosmically next door to the Earth?

There are two requirements for a planet to have an atmosphere: it must acquire the gas and it must keep it in. The Moon is just not large enough to hold on to an atmosphere (less than 2 percent the mass of the Earth). The Moon and Earth lost most of the gas that was present at the time of the giant Moon-forming collision, but the debris that came together to form the Moon was especially well stripped, even of water that was chemically bound to the rock. Subsequently, however, the Earth and Moon both had the opportunity to acquire a new atmosphere from collisions with comets and asteroids. The Earth had enough gravity to retain this new atmosphere, but the Moon did not. On the Moon, the water and gas from collisions dissipated almost immediately, since the gravity is so low. Thus today we have a substantial atmosphere on Earth, while the Moon has none and is also exceedingly dry. Incidentally, Mars (with about 10 percent the mass of the Earth) is an intermediate case; it once had a substantial atmosphere, but much of that has been lost, rendering Mars a barren world, but not nearly so barren as the Moon. The mass of the planet is thus at least as important than the distance from the Sun in determining whether it will be habitable. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


April 10, 2007

Why is it that the government and NASA both continue to ignore the almost certainty of intelligent life throughout all of space? For man to believe that he is the only intelligent life is naive and ignorant. Even if all reports of ufos and extra-terrestrial contact are false, it still does not make logical sense to believe that man is alone. After reading this short arguement, which you have almost undoubtedly read or even pondered yourself, is there not the distinct possibility and probability of life?

I don't know who you are complaining about in the government and NASA. I have never heard the sort of denial you refer to. Of course there is a possibility and indeed a probability of life, including intelligent life. So far we see no evidence of it, but that doesn't keep people from looking. Perhaps what is confusing you is the concept of "belief" in intelligent life. Science is not a matter of belief, but of evidence. In everyday life all people hold "beliefs", but this is not a good word to apply to our scientific understanding of nature. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


February 6, 2007

Why did David Morrison, NAI Senior Scientist, claim that no NASA astronaut has seen a UFO. Here is Gordon Cooper's first person account of UFO sighting. http://www.space.com/sciencefiction/phenomena/cooper.html Here is an interview with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin where he recalls the crew seeing a UFO outside their spacecraft http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=6647204125621625190

I wrote that no astronaut had seen a UFO in space. While Gorden Copper thinks he saw unexplained phenomena while flying in the 1950s, this obviously was not from space. Concerning claims that he has seen a UFO from space, the 1999 Space.com article you refer to quotes Cooper as saying "No, somebody made a lot of money selling Š lies on that one ... It was totally untrue, sorry to say." Concerning Buzz Aldrin, he was misquoted, with the explanatory part truncated from the interview as aired, as we explained in an earlier answer posted here (use the search engine to find it). Sorry, but there is no compelling evidence for space aliens, and certainly not from NASA astronauts. Be skeptical; there are a lot of false or misleading claims about UFOs circulating. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


February 1, 2007

My wife and I was watching a TV program about the first Moon landing. We were wondering, with all the new and advanced technology why hasn't NASA went back to the Moon.

The reasons why humans have not returned to the Moon since Apollo are complex. The lack of funds results from a lack of political support, and this is in part related to the ending of the Cold War and of the US competition with the USSR. Also, the focus of human activity in space shifted back from the Moon to low Earth orbit, with projects like the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station absorbing all the funds available for human flights. Today, however, NASA has revived plans to return to the Moon, with the first human landings expected between 2015 and 2020; see http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/Vision/index.html . David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


February 1, 2007

Has anyone in NASA or on a space mission ever seen a UFO in space, on the moon or on earth? Why hasn't anyone gone back to the moon since the last moon landing?

(1) As far as I know, no astronaut has seen a "ufo" in space. Not everything they saw was immediately identified, but on the other hand there is no evidence whatever of anyone seeing an alien spacecraft. (2) This was largely a political decision made in the early 1970s to terminate the Apollo program and not to fund new lunar missions. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute


January 8, 2007



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