NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists May Have Figured Out What Caused the Man on the Moon

NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/Goddard Space Flight Center

From Earth, the series of dark blotches on the surface of the moon resemble a man's face. They're not actually the face of a man in the moon, of course; they're a roughly circular basin of volcanic terrain. The largest of the blotches, Oceanus Procellarum, was long thought to have been formed by the impact of an asteroid collision with the moon billions of years ago. But recently, a paper was published that challenges this theory based on data collected from NASA's GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), two probes that orbited the moon from January to December 2012.

As the pair of probes passed over areas of higher or lower density, one or the other would speed up or slow down in response to the Moon's gravitational pull, causing the distance between the two probes to grow or shrink. Researchers from MIT, the Colorado School of Mines, and other institutions were able to analyze the variable distances between the probes to create a density map of the moon's surface, including the area around the Procellarum. They expected to find a smooth circular or elliptical rim, as would be formed by an impact—but instead, they found an angular border comprised of rifts buried beneath dark volcanic plains.

"The rectangular pattern of gravity anomalies was completely unexpected," Jeff Andrews-Hanna, a GRAIL co-investigator and the lead author of the paper, said in a NASA statement. "Using the gradients in the gravity data to reveal the rectangular pattern of anomalies, we can now clearly and completely see structures that were only hinted at by surface observations."

The new hypothesis, which was upheld in testing by the researchers, suggests that a large flood of molten lava rose towards the moon's surface in the Procellarum region from the lunar interior. The drastic temperature difference between the magma and the moon's crusts created a series of fractures that served as pathways for future eruptions to send lava out on to the lunar surface, creating the volcanic plain we see today.

The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space

Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]


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