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.

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ESA/ATG
The European Space Agency Needs Help Naming Its New Mars Rover
ESA/ATG
ESA/ATG

The European Space Agency is hosting a competition to find a snazzy new name for its ExoMars rover, Sky News reports. The rover will be deployed to Mars in 2020, so the winner would be playing a small role in the progress of space exploration.

At the contest's launch, British astronaut Tim Peake described Mars as a place where humans and robots will someday work together to search for evidence of life in our solar system. To this end, the ExoMars rover, which will land on Mars in 2021, will drill up to two meters into the planet’s soil and collect samples, the ESA notes. "The ExoMars rover is a vital part of this journey of exploration, and we're asking you to become part of this exciting mission and name the rover that will scout the Martian surface,” Peake said.

However, the agency is well aware of past public naming contests that have gone horribly wrong (we’re looking at you, Boaty McBoatface), so it’s rigged the rules to prevent such a spectacle. Instead of a public poll, suggestions will be submitted privately to the agency, which has created a panel of judges to choose the winning name.

The winner of the contest will also receive a trip to Stevenage, England, where they’ll get to see the Airbus facility where the rover is being pieced together. The contest is only open to citizens of the two dozen European countries that are partners in the ESA.

To enter, submit your name suggestion online before October 10, 2018, along with a brief explanation (under 150 words) of why your name should be chosen. Click the following PDF link to see the full terms and conditions [PDF].

[h/t Sky News]

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NASA, Getty Images
Watch Apollo 11 Launch
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
NASA, Getty Images

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, on its way to the moon. In the video below, Mark Gray shows slow-motion footage of the launch (a Saturn V rocket) and explains in glorious detail what's going on from a technical perspective—the launch is very complex, and lots of stuff has to happen just right in order to get a safe launch. The video is mesmerizing, the narration is informative. Prepare to geek out about rockets! (Did you know the hold-down arms actually catch on fire after the rocket lifts off?)

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

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