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New information obtained on the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

New information obtained about the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

It was a historic moment for China when it’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon on the 3rd of January 2019. It became the first spacecraft to visit this area of the moon. It also carried a 2.6kg mini-biosphere known as the Lunar Micro Ecosystem. 

This biosphere measures 18cm in length and 16cm in diameter. It took six lifeforms in conditions simulating Earth except for lunar radiation and micro-gravity. The six lifeforms include cotton seeds, potato seeds, yeast, fruit fly eggs, rapeseeds, and Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed. 

This is the first biological growth experiment to be conducted on the Moon. The cotton seeds gave positive results. 

It took in January 2019 when the lander reached the Moon. The team thought that there was one leaf but the data shows there were two instead. A 3D reconstructed image based on image processing and data analysis shows very clearly two leaves. However, no other organism produced any result. 

The LME was not heated, so after the first lunar day or 14 Earth days, the cotton sprout died since the temperature dropped down to negative 190 Celsius. The experiment however continued for testing the longevity. 

Xie Gengxin is the leader of the experiment from the Technology Research Institute, Chongqing University. No papers are to be published based on this experiment. There were initial plans of sending a tortoise to the moon however it was prevented by the mission constraints. 

Xie said in an interview that it was due to the weight constraint as it could not exceed more than three kilograms on the Chang’e-4 probe. It would have been torture for the tortoise since it would have died with the temperature drop along with oxygen running out in 20 days. The first tortoises in space were two tortoises carried by the Zond 5 mission of the Soviet Union in 1968. Plants and fruit flies were also carried but the tortoises were not provided any food. They were starved but they made it to Earth alive. 

Xie and his group are looking to the next Moon mission as they hope to send more lifeforms. They would send complex life forms according to the payload of the mission. China has planned Chang’e-6, a return mission to the Moon in the mid-2020s. China sent out invitations for international partners for involvement in the additional 10kg of payload the mission in 2018. Chang’e-6 is a backup to Chang’e-5 which is meant to be the first sample return mission for China. 

Many other nations are planning for these lunar biological experiments such as India, the United States, Russia, Japan along with private companies. With long-duration visits to Moon in the future, researchers will study the responses of other organisms to that environment, besides humans. 


For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

According to new research, human beings can create habitats on the moon and Mars, thanks to concrete which is manufactured in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station have created cement for the first time in microgravity, successfully demonstrating that it can develop and harden in space. The study appears in the Frontiers in Materials journal. 

For construction purposes, concrete is a reliable building material. It is a mixture of rocks, sand and a combination of cement and water. As per the new study, it could also protect the astronauts from cosmic radiation and other dangers of living outside Earth. 

The equipment and human beings need protection from radiation and extremities in the temperature on missions to Mars and Moon. For this, infrastructures need to be built on these environments. Aleksandra Radlinska, principal investigator and assistant civil engineer professor said that the plan is to build with materials like concrete on space. Due to its sturdy nature, it provides better protection than many other materials. 

Concrete and mixtures similar to concrete can also be manufactured by local materials such as moon dust. If in the future, human beings are successful in establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars, then they can use local materials instead of receiving them from Earth which is quite expensive and time-consuming. 

In the study known as “Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification”, astronauts used water mixed with tricalcium silicate, the main component in commercial cement. This has never been created in microgravity. Cement might seem to be a simple material but its structure is quite complex. On dissolving in water, the cement crystals form and begin to fit together. This changes the molecular structure of the material. The aim of this study was to find out the formation of cement in microgravity along with the possible formation of unique microstructures. It was also possible to compare the samples made in space with that of Earth. 

The cement made in space had different microstructures than the one made on Earth. It was more porous than the Earth-made cement. Increased porosity has direct effects on the material’s strength, although the strength of the space-formed material has not been tested yet. Even for concrete which is used on Earth, all the aspects of the hydration process are not known clearly. Scientists will now check which aspects of the space-made concrete are beneficial and which are harmful for use in space. 

The process of conducting the experiments might have some effects on the study results. Cement on Earth is not processed in sealed packets like that on space. The cement made on space developed and hardened in the same way as that on Earth although it looked a bit different. Scientists would now work on the binders essential for space and for different gravity levels from 0 g to g on Mars. 

Journal Reference: Frontiers in Materials

Lunar Surface

Researchers found clues about the presence of precious metals under Moon’s surface

Presently we have very less information regarding the type of minerals that might be found inside the Moon. But a group of researchers from Canada and the US has used this hint to understand that a treasure is lying beneath the surface.

By getting more information about the chemistry of the moon, scientists would be able to settle a confusion regarding the apparent lack of precious elements constituting the mantle of Moon. Nearly fifty years ago, astronauts brought back a large quantity of lunar material which gave the first hints about the elements that might be present below the surface. James Brenan, Earth scientist from Dalhousie University, Canada said that nearly 400 kilograms of the sample was brought in the Apollo and lunar missions. So to find about the Moon’s interior, scientists have to go through reverse-engineering of the composition of lavas on the surface.

Through retro-engineering the basalts which were brought from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions, researchers estimated the amount of siderophile elements which make up the mantle of Moon. Some of these might have come from the rain of leftover materials in the finishing stages of the Solar System’s construction, so it can tell the assault endured by the Moon after its formation was complete. The work appears in Nature Geoscience journal.

The measurements were lower by 10 to 100 times than what was expected. Even by adjusting the model to accommodate the event of erosion of Moon by the meteorites, the numbers did not add up which left a plethora of questions. Researchers often begin by assuming the geochemistry of Moon to be similar to Earth and this is where the gaps in the measurement start. Although several theories suggest that Moon was made from Earth’s components there are some notable differences.

Hence researchers used the experiment results on sulfur solubility with the models on pressure and the thermodynamics of magma cooling down to get accurate constraints on the composition of the lunar mantle. Brenan said that the results tell that sulfur in the volcanic rocks of Moon indicates the presence of iron sulfide in the Moon’s rocky interior. This is the place where the metals might have been during the formation of lavas.

The results make it clear that we cannot depend on the existing rock samples for any clear conclusion as no accurate estimation of metal composition cannot be found. Whether it would be justified for mining these metals would depend on future missions and economics. But this makes the return to Moon quite exciting.

Research Paper: Abundance of highly siderophile elements in lunar basalts controlled by iron sulfide melt

Dragonfly landing on titan

Saturn’s moon Titan is chosen by NASA as its next destination

NASA’s New Frontiers program, which funds several ambitious missions for new explorations in the solar system will be funding a mission which explores the surface of Titan, Saturn’s moon. The mission, Dragonfly which involves a drone-like lander received major funding.

Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle, the principal investigator for the mission briefed that Dragonfly is about the size of the Mars rover and it will be able to fly around places on Titan. Its dimensions are 10 feet long and 10 feet wide which makes it look like a giant drone. Its eight rotors will be helping it to soar across the surface of Titan for 8 to 9 miles within an hour. It will make these travels once every 16 days. It will also scout future landing sites, sample the surface and observe the weather.

Since Titan’s gravity is only a seventh of the Earth and atmosphere is four times thicker, it makes the perfect conditions for flying. Dragonfly was one of the two finalists considered for funding. The other one, CAESAR, led by Steve Squyres from Cornell University aimed for bringing a sample of comet’s surface to Earth. However, NASA felt that the race for this mission is over, however it is open to future funding missions.

These two missions made through several rounds before the final decision was made. Missions funded by New Frontiers generally cost 850 million dollars USD which is costlier than InSight lander, 814 million USD or Dawn spacecraft, 500 million USD.

The New Frontiers program only funded three other missions till now. Juno spacecraft has been observing the atmosphere and magnetic field of Jupiter. New Horizons went past Pluto in 2015 and Kuiper Belt in 2018. And finally, OSIRIS-REx which is an asteroid sampling mission, currently orbiting the asteroid Bennu.

Similar to these missions, Dragonfly is expected to expand our vision of the solar system which is in this case, Titan. Its first glimpse was obtained by the Huygens probe that was carried by Cassini. It revealed that Titan had liquid methane on its surface, which makes it only the second body in the solar system to have liquid bodies on its surface apart from Earth.

The first target will be a sea of sand dunes which makes for a safe landing site. From there, it will make it’s way to the Selk crater. Scientists are also interested in knowing about the geology of Titan apart from the chemistry of the surface. Scientists are aware of the fact that Titan is a perfect place to know about the prebiotic chemistry which is an important step in knowing about the development of life. Although we have to wait for it as Dragonfly will be launching in 2026 and land on Titan in 2034.

gravity anomaly moon

Researchers detect mass anomaly under largest crater of moon

A largely massive material was discovered under the largest crater of our very solar system, the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken basin. This appears to be quite mysterious as it contains metals from an asteroid that had crashed into the moon, resulting in the huge crater as per a study by the Baylor University.

Envisage a situation wherein you take a pile of metal, approximately five times larger than the islands of Hawaii and bury it. The discovery of the mass was as unexpected as this hypothetical situation. The crater is oval in shape and is nearly 2,000 kilometres wide, which is roughly the distance between Delhi and Bangalore. Although it is very large, it’s quite unlikely that you might get to see it.

According to the study “Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin” published in the journal Geophysical Research Lettersin order to measure the subtle changes in the power of gravity around the Moon, scientists had to analyse a huge amount of data from spacecrafts which have been used for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.

The dense mass along with its mysterious existence weighs the basin floor downward by more than half a mile. Computer simulations of the existing large asteroid impacts suggested that under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid can get dispersed in the upper mantle.

“We did a lot of math and it showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until this present day, instead of just sinking to the core of the Moon, like other asteroids,”  Peter B. James, the co-author remarked.

Another possibility of the existence could be that the mass is the concentration of dense oxides linked to the last stage of lunar magma solidification. He thinks that the South Pole -Aitken basin has been created about 4 billion years ago and it has been preserved since then. Though many impacts have occurred throughout the solar system, it has lost most of its traces with the course of time.

James refers to the basin as one of the best pre-existing natural laboratories for studying destructive impact cases which refers to the age-old process which shaped the solar system as we see it.

This research work was supported through the NASA Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) science team and a team of intelligent, like-minded investigators and researchers hailing from GRAIL.

Earth moon

Formation of moon is the source of water on Earth

Our planet Earth has a unique place in the solar system. Besides being the only terrestrial planet having a high quantity of water, it also has a large moon which helps in stabilizing the axis of the Earth. These factors have been very crucial for the development of life on Earth.

A group of scientists from the University of Münster in Germany have been able to show that water on Earth first came due to the formation of the Moon nearly 4.4 billion years ago. The formation of the Moon occurred when the Earth was struck by a body nearly the size of Mars known as Theia.

Scientists assumed till now that the formation of Theia took place in the inner solar system close to the Earth. But the scientists from Münster showed that Theia actually came from the outer solar system and it delivered huge amounts of water to Earth. The results of study has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The formation of the Earth took place in the inner solar system which is dry. Hence it is quite amusing that there are large amounts of water on Earth.

According to earlier studies the ‘wet’ materials or the carbonaceous meteorites have come from the outer solar system and the ‘dry’ materials or non-carbonaceous meteorites have come from the inner solar system. It was previously unknown as to how this ‘wet’ material ever came to Earth and how the Earth contains so much water.

Dr. Gerrit Budde of the Institute of Planetology in Münster who is the lead author of this study had used the molybdenum isotope which allows us to clearly distinguish between carbonaceous and non-carbonaceous material and represent a genetic fingerprint in classifying material from outer or inner solar system. Studies have shown that Earth’s molybdenum isotope lies between carbonaceous and non-carbonaceous zone and is believed to be originated from outer solar system.

Molybdenum is mostly present in the Earth’s core and whatever we can access today from the mantle was from the late stages of the formation of the Earth. This shows that carbonaceous material arriving from outer solar system arrived late on Earth. It is known that molybdenum from Earth’s mantle has originated from the protoplanet Theia around 4.4 billion years ago which leads us to the fact that Theia itself originated from outer solar system.

This collision and the deposition of carbonaceous material from Theia is to account for the water on our planet. We have now been able to associate the origin of water with the formation of moon through a unique approach.

Mare Frigoris Moon

Scientists detect shrinking and quaking of the moon

Mankind has just received some unsettling news and it is about the Earth’s only natural satellite, the Moon. An analysis of the 2010 imagery from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found that some parts of the moon were shrivelled with prominent thrusts and cliffs as its interior cooled. After analyzing these images from 2010, it was found out that the moon is still shrinking and is experiencing moonquakes as recorded by the seismic data recorder of the moon, it also suggests that these faults are due to the moonquakes.

Nicholas Schmerr, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland has developed another algorithm to re-analyze and further analyze the seismic data from instruments of NASA’s Apollo Missions with which he thinks he will be able to find the epicentre of these quakes based on data of 28 moonquakes.

The LRO images have suggested that the formation of these thrust faults is due to tectonic activity and movement of crustal plates and not because of any external factors like asteroids impacts etc.

A paper published in the journal Nature Geosciences which was co-authored by Nicholas Schmerr suggests moon is experiencing such quakes even today. The LRO images and seismic activity suggest that the moonquakes occur along the areas of the thrust plates and it is active even today.

The Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 missions with seismic devices recorded around 28 quakes on Moon from 1969 to 1977, which had an equivalent magnitude of 2 to 5 on Earth. The 8 epicentres of these quakes were found within the 19 miles of the fault lines.

Schmerr is modelling shake maps derived from the moonquakes data which predict where the strongest shaking could occur, given the thrust faults. Out of these 8 quakes, 6 have happened at its apogee. Apogee is a point where the moon is farthest from the Earth. The reduction from Earth’s crust causes additional slipping of the thrust faults.

Wrinkles are being formed on the surface of moon due to its brittle nature just like in raisins as they dry, on moon one section of the crust is pushed up against another section which may go up to tens of yards high.

The LRO has imaged 3,500 fault thrusts on the moon and its nearby terrain has shown possibilities of landslides and big boulders crashing down and relatively bright patches due to erosion near these thrust faults.

The team is looking to analyze the pictures of these patches on the moon and study the data with more recent findings. Schmerr has also suggested that with a large network of modern seismograms we can make huge strides in understanding the moon’s geology.

How would be the moonquake experience? I think it would be pretty different for us because of the gravity difference. What do you think? Tell us with a quick and short comment

Read more news about the moon: Water molecules found on the moon


Mars In Sight Lander Assembly

First seismic tremors detected on Mars by NASA’s InSight

A seismic tremor on Mars has been detected by NASA’s Insight. Initial analysis of the tremor has confirmed that it originated from inside the planet and not due to atmospheric disturbances such as winds.

This breakthrough came five months after robotic probe InSight, which has been designed specifically for studying the interior regions of planets, landed on Mars for a two-year seismological mission. There are a number of instruments in InSight for measuring different properties of a planet’s surface such as its temperature, rotation. It has been manufactured by Lockheed Martin and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages it. The main objectives of InSight are to put a seismometer on Mars’ surface which can not only help in measuring seismic activity but also generate exact 3D models of the interior surfaces of Mars.

Till now most of the sample collected by the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument consisted of background noise, but on April 6, the instrument recorded seismic tremors for the first time. Scientists naturally were quite excited for this moment as they had to wait for several months to obtain this signal. Philippe Lognonné, team head of SEIS reported that the scientific community is quite excited to have evidence that Mars is active seismically.

The seismic waves on propagation through a planet often slow down as they strike different types of materials. This helps the researchers get a clear picture of the internal structure and composition of the planet. However, the signal Sol 128 was very weak and hence scientists could not deduce much about the interior of Mars. Although Mars is not active tectonically, this signal indicates that there is seismic activity on Mars.

The signal Sol 128 has a resemblance to that of the seismic profiles of the moonquakes which were detected with the help of seismometers placed on the surface of the moon by the astronauts who went on the historic Apollo missions.

The moon similar to Mars is not active tectonically but seismic activity has been recorded there. This is due to the slow shrinking of the Moon’s interior surface which has been occurring since it was formed about 5 billion years ago. Due to the shrinking of the interior, stresses are produced on the outer crust until there is a crack, causing tremors.

Scientists believe that similar processes occur in Mars. Bruce Banerdt, head investigator of InSight reported that although they have been gathering background noise for some time, this event has officially led to a new field of research, Martian seismology.


Moon Water LRO Image

Water molecules found hopping on the moon’s surface by NASA

NASA has recently spotted layers of water molecules on the moon’s surface by the spacecraft Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The LRO has observed water molecules moving around during dayside on Moon. It was astonishing as scientists thought that the Moon was dry and arid, water only exists in the form of shaded craters near the poles.

According to the paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, The instrument Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) was responsible for measuring sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to the Moon’s surface, which helped to measure lunar hydration, changes over the course of a day.

Scientists have discovered surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. But, the amount and locations were found to vary based on the time of day. The lunar water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to bounce around when the temperature of surface soars up.

Earlier the scientists had assumed that hydrogen ions in the solar wind may be the source of most of the Moon’s surface water. But when the Moon passes behind the Earth and is shielded from the solar wind, the “water spigot” should necessarily turn off.

Surprisingly, the water identified by LAMP does not decrease when the Moon is shielded by the Earth and the region influenced by its magnetic field, suggesting water builds up over time, rather than “raining” down directly from the solar wind.

John Keller, LRO deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland said, “The study is an important step in advancing the water story on the Moon and is a result of years of accumulated data from the LRO mission”.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO

Artist concept of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Credit: NASA)

Dr. Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LAMP instrument from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas addressed, “This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration. We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision, allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about the accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said lead author Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and lead author of the paper.

“Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable,” she added.

Published Researchhttps://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2018GL081821