Rabbit-Holes and Human Feet on the Moon

These images from NASA's LRO spacecraft show all of the known mare pits and highland pits. Each image is 222 meters (about 728 feet) wide. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

These images from NASA’s LRO spacecraft show all of the known mare pits and highland pits. Each image is 222 meters (about 728 feet) wide. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

They weren’t made by rabbits, but some of these 200+ holes in the moon – known as mare pits and highland pits – are big enough to hide a rabbit the size a lunar rover. The larger ones are hundreds of meters across – large enough to accommodate groups of people taking shelter from solar storms while exploring the surface.

This is a spectacular high-Sun view of the Mare Tranquillitatis pit crater revealing boulders on an otherwise smooth floor. This image from LRO's NAC is 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide, north is up. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

This is a spectacular high-Sun view of the Mare Tranquillitatis pit crater revealing boulders on an otherwise smooth floor. This image from LRO’s NAC is 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide, north is up. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

These holes likely came about due to melting ice and/or collapsing volcanic structures. With 60% more of the Moon still waiting to be mapped by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), there may be many times more of these holes scattered over and driven into the Moon’s surface. For more on the story, read the NASA press release here.

 


Peeking Into Lunar Pits. Credit: NASA Goddard (YouTube)

 

NASA’s LRO mission launched on June 18, 2009, alongside the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). LRO is returning data about the lunar environment as a whole, including maps of day-night temperatures and high resolution imagery. In particular, LRO is studying the polar regions of the Moon where water ice may persist in permanently shadowed regions of impact craters.

LRO comes from a long line of lunar explorers – both robotic and human. In fact, this week began with the anniversary of possibly the most famous NASA mission of all time – the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

 


A New Look at the Apollo 11 Landing Site. Credit: NASA Goddard (YouTube)

 

One Small Step

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
– Neil Armstrong, 1969

The Eagle Prepares to Land. Credit: NASA

The Eagle Prepares to Land. Credit: NASA

This month NASA celebrates the 45th Anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11, which delivered the first human explorers to the surface of the Moon.  NASA has a wide selection of archived videos now available online so that the public can re-live some of the highlights from this incredible achievement.

 


Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Resource Reel: Mission Video shown is as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon as well as pre-lauch preparations and post launch activities and celebrations. Credit: NASA (YouTube)

It was shortly after 4pm Eastern Standard Time on July 20, 1969, that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the Moon. Their colleague, Michael Collins, supported their effort from the command service module in lunar orbit. When Armstrong hopped down from the Eagle landing module, the event became a symbolic step for all of humankind.


Next Giant Leap on This Week @NASA. Credit: NASA (YouTube)

Apollo 11 was the first of six successful human missions to the lunar surface, which allowed a total of 12 astronauts to set foot on the Moon. The final moonwalk was made during the Apollo 17 mission by Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt on December 14, 1972.

Today, the tracks left on the lunar surface as these 12 men walked around, collecting samples and taking measurements, can still be seen in images from mission like LRO.


CBS Coverage of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing. Credit: NASA (YouTube)

NASA is now developing new technologies for future human exploration of the Solar System. The next stops: an asteroid and Mars. NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, spoke about the future of human exploration in relation to Apollo in his official blog:

“Around this 45th anniversary, we look ahead on our path to Mars and the milestones within our grasp,” wrote Bolden. “Technology drives exploration, and we’ll be testing new technologies in the proving ground of deep space on our mission to an asteroid, eventually becoming Earth independent as we reach Mars.”

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera snapped this image of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon. The image, which was released on March 7, 2012, even shows the remnants of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic first steps on the surface around the Lunar Module. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera snapped this image of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon. The image, which was released on March 7, 2012, even shows the remnants of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic first steps on the surface around the Lunar Module. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Moon and Astrobiology

The Moon is not capable of supporting life as we know it, but studying the Moon is still valuable for astrobiologists. Our closest celestial neighbor has a lot to teach us about how small, rocky bodies form and evolve. Many scientists also believe that the Moon could play an important role in the habitability of Earth. The Moon is thought to have formed from an impact between the proto-Earth and a Mars-sized object. After this giant impact event, debris coalesced into the Earth and the Moon. As the two bodies continued to evolve, gravitational interactions between the Earth and its relatively large natural satellite may have helped shape the physical structure of our planet.

This image, captured Feb. 1, 2014, shows a colorized view of Earth from the moon-based perspective of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

This image, captured Feb. 1, 2014, shows a colorized view of Earth from the moon-based perspective of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

In addition, the Moon could be an excellent laboratory for studying Earth’s history. A quick glance at the Moon in our night skies reveals that it is covered in impact craters. The Earth itself has also suffered many impacts throughout history, but processes like weather and plate tectonics have erased evidence of these events over time. The Moon contains a record of impacts that spans millions of years, and can help astrobiologists estimate how frequently (and violently) the Earth was been struck by objects from space at key points in the history of life.

Large impacts with the Earth could also have ejected material from our planet’s surface that eventually landed on the Moon. These ancient pieces of Earth might still be preserved on the lunar surface and, if we can find them, would provide a direct view into the history of habitability on our planet.