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?

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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) The political decision was made in the early 1970s to terminate the Apollo program and not to fund new lunar missions, and it was not until two years ago that another political decision as made for NASA to begin to prepare for human return to the Moon within the next 15 years. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

January 8, 2007

I was wondering if we have ways of measuring the age of planets. If so, do we know which planets are oldest and which are youngest?

The ages of igneous rocks can be determined from the decay of radioactive elements. If we have a sample, we can estimate the age of the planet. Thus we know that Earth, Moon, Mars, and the asteroid Vesta each formed between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years ago. We do not have identified samples of other planets for this sort of dating, but the theories of solar system formation tell us to expect that all the planets in the solar system are essentially the same age. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

October 2, 2006

I know that it’s true that Apollo 11 did spot a UFO… Is it true that other hams could pick up the television broadcast that was shut down durring the spotting of the UFOs? If so is it true that the hams could pick up Apollo11 saying that other spacecraft were spotted on the crater edge of the moon and were much more advanced than Apollo11′s technology?

I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are repeating stories that are known to be false. No astronauts saw “UFOs”. There are no secret Apollo transmissions, radio or television, picked up by hams. There was no case of Apollo astronauts spotting other spacecraft on crater rims or anywhere else. These are all well-known examples of fiction, what Jim Oberg calls “a space forgery hoax gone wild”. For the truth about these stories, I recommend Oberg’s articles on websites such as http://www.debunker.com/texts/apollo11.html. The Apollo 11 UFO hoax was discussed specifically in an earlier answer here, with a direct report from Buzz Aldrin about how he was misquoted and his meaning reversed. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

October 2, 2006

What would happen to the earth if the moon were destroyed?

I can’t imagine what you mean by the Moon “destroyed”. There is no process that could destroy the Moon. If there were, the issue for the Earth would be what that process would also do to our planet at the same time. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

September 18, 2006

Has the moon been moving away from planet earth from the beginning? Also, does it keep moving away faster or has the rate always been about the same?

The gravitational interactions of Earth and Moon have been acting from the beginning to slow the rotation of the Earth and increase the distance from Earth to Moon. The changes depend on dissipation of tidal energy on the Earth, however, so the rate has varied as the configuration of continents and depth of the ocean have changed over geological time. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

September 14, 2006

Are there any Earth like mountains on the Moon, or are all the raised features the result of impacts?

The Moon does not experience plate tectonics, so none of the tectonic mountains of Earth have lunar counterparts. The Moon does have a very few low domes that have been interpreted as volcanic, and these may be analogous to terrestrial volcanoes. But the vast majority of lunar mountains are, as you say, produced as a result of impacts. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

August 30, 2006

There seem to be tests that can determine the age and origin of rocks, that have been used to identify meteorites and test the age of the moon. Can these tests be applied to refined materials, such that if you ever did find an alien artifact, it would be possible to identify it as not coming from Earth?

There are two related issues here, determining alien origin and testing for age. Radioactive age dating is carried out for igneous rocks composed of minerals that contain small quantities of such naturally radioactive elements as uranium, potassium, thorium, rubidiam, and samarium, which decay into other elements over time. The source of a rock (or fragment of metal) can be determined by measuring the precise amounts of various elements and their isotopes. Thus we can distinguish an Earth rock from a Moon rock from a Mars rock from a Vesta rock, for example. (All the lunar samples are identifiable as being from the Moon, not the Earth, and we do not have the level of technology that could fake this identification, as supporters of the “Moon hoax” sometimes claim). Such tests would easily show that a sample or artifact was not from the Earth. Needless to add, no purported “alien artifact” has even passed this test of extraterrestrial origin. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

August 8, 2006

Edwin Aldrin recently came out on in a special on the Science Channel and stated that the astronauts aboard Apollo 11 all saw unidentified objects which seemed to have been following them. He also mentions that they were briefed not to talk about what they had seen. What does NASA have to say in response to this? What were those objects they all saw?

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). Apparently all of this discussion about the panels was cut from the broadcast interview, thus giving the impression that they had seen a UFO. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

July 26, 2006

I read Apollo 12 returned with a camera from a moon probe which apparently carried S. mitis to the moon, survived under those conditions, and was viable after returning to earth. How did NASA/CDC decide the S. mitis was not a lab contaminant?

It seems probable from recent research that the viable microbes were indeed contaminants. The story of living microbes retrieved by the Apollo 12 astronauts from a previous Surveyor lander has been told many times and has been widely accepted as evidence for the ability of some microbes to survive space exposure. New information, however, suggests that these were contaminants, probably introduced on the trip back to Earth from the Moon. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

July 18, 2006

I am debating my friend on whether man has walked on the moon. She says that only one man has walked on the moon, but i believe this to be incorrect, do you have a list of people that have walked on the surface of the moon?

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. These are names that should be at least vaguely familiar to every American, since they were among the heroes of the twentieth century. If you or your friend want to learn about the Apollo exploration of the Moon, there are many good books and films, including a new 3-D IMAX film. For more details I recommend the book “A Man on the Moon” by Andrew Chaikin, and the HBO Tom Hanks mini-series “From the Earth to the Moon,” both of which should be in your school or public library. David Morrison
Interim Director NASA Lunar Science Institute

April 6, 2006

NESF 2018

Lunar Landing Workshop

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Did you know?

The largest impact feature on the Moon is not one of the prominent "seas" that face the Earth, but the huge SPA Basin on the farside.

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