Author Archives: Greg Scheiderer

A surprise discovery from Apollo 11 lunar samples

As we look back at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Toby Smith notes that the most interesting science that came out of the mission was a bit of a surprise. Smith, a senior lecturer in astronomy at the University of Washington, gave a talk at the most recent meeting of Astronomy on Tap Seattle.

“There’s only one reason Apollo existed—to beat the Soviet Union to the surface of the Moon,” Smith noted. Few considered the mission to be scientific. “It wasn’t fully embraced by the scientific community even in its day, even among planetary scientists.”

But they figured as long as they were there, they should do some sort of science.

“This little bit of science they did fundamentally changed how we view not only the Moon, but the Earth-Moon system and our solar system,” Smith said.

The Apollo 11 landing site, the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon, is essentially an ancient lava flow, a featureless plain of cooled volcanic rock, Smith said. Think of it like Big Island of Hawaii, except you don’t really see the solidified lava on the Moon. The surface is soft, ground down and rounded off into a soft powder by billions of years of impacts. As Neil Armstrong observed just after his first step, it has the consistency of flour. That consistency almost accidentally led to the mission’s best science.

Moon rock box
An Apollo Lunar Sample Return container on display at the Destination: Moon exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center in 2018. (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)

Armstrong spent about 15 minutes of the two-and-a-half hour Moon walk picking up rocks and putting them into a box. At the end he collected nine scoops of lunar regolith and dumped it into the Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container (a fancy NASA term for the case for rocks) as sort of a packing material so the larger rocks wouldn’t clatter around. If they’d taken any styrofoam peanuts he might have used those instead.

Naturally, when this material was brought back to Earth, the scientists looked at it, and Smith said it just might be the most studied geological sample ever.

Smith noted that the regolith is highly angular; lunar dust is sharp.

“This is not material that was broken up by being tumbled,” he said. “This is material that was broken up by being fractured by impacts.”

It’s a diverse sample. It contains basalt, breccia (material created by impacts that shatters and sometimes melts back together), and impact spheres. There was also one unusual, bright white material in the collection. It turned out to be anorthosite, which makes up about four percent of the sample.

“It represents a piece of the original crust of the Moon long since destroyed by four and a half billion years of impacts,” Smith explained. Anorthosite is an igneous rock, like basalt, that comes from the cooling of melted rock. Basalt is created when lava moves across the ground, but Smith noted that anorthosite doesn’t work that way.

“Anorthosite forms in big pools of lava, huge pools of lava, huge chambers of lava,” he said. “As these chambers of lava slowly cool over time, the anorthosite floats to the top.”

“If this was found on the Moon it must mean that at some point early in the Moon’s history it must have been almost completely molten,” Smith added. This information made scientists re-think their notions about the origins of the Moon.

“Before Apollo there was no indication that the whole, entire Moon was almost completely melted,” he said.

The leading theory about the formation of the Moon these days is that something pretty big, about the size of Mars, smacked into the early Earth, and that material flung into space by the impact eventually coalesced into the Moon. The catch is that computer simulations of this event don’t often result in a completely molten Moon. So more study is needed. The lunar samples have been under constant scrutiny for the last 50 years, and Smith says he’s interested to see what new information can be gleaned from those samples as new analytical technology is developed.

Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington. The next gathering is set for Wednesday, August 28, 2019 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard.

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon.

Share

Astro Biz: Moon Rocks chocolate bar

Moon Rocks chocolateMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one periodically on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is the Moon Rocks chocolate bar from Seattle Chocolate. There are plenty of products out this summer to commemorate and cash in on the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, and this is a fun one. It’s a milk chocolate truffle bar with “bits of popping candy.” I was thinking pop rocks, but the pop comes from a bit of CO2 mixed in with the sugary bits.

This special-issue bar was created in conjunction with the Museum of Flight, which has helped spearhead a lot of Apollo commemoratives in connection with its Destination: Moon exhibit that includes the Apollo 11 command module Columbia. It (the bar, not Columbia) is available in many grocery stores as well.

More info:

Share

Seattle Astronomy talks Apollo anniversary at Tacoma libraries

Moonwalk talks

Greg gave the first of his series of talks about Apollo 11 June 29 at the Kobetich Branch of Tacoma Public Library.

Seattle Astronomy is doing our small part in celebrating  the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first human landing on the Moon. Greg Scheiderer will give six talks as part of the Tacoma Public Library system’s summer reading program.

The talks, titled “Moon Walk: Apollo 11 and a Man on the Moon,” will explore the extraordinary shared experiences of the Apollo missions, look at the history that got us step-by-step up to the giant leap, share some of the iconic photography of Apollo, and, since it’s the summer reading program, offer a list of Apollo readings for adults and kids alike.

The first talk was given on Saturday, June 29, 2019 at the library’s Kobetich Branch. The rest of the schedule is as follows:

You can also find schedule information on our calendar, in our Facebook events section, and on the library’s summer reading club events calendar. Come out and join us for a fun look back at Apollo 11!

Here’s our Apollo reading list!

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon.

Become a Patron!

Share

Apollo 11 50th anniversary reading list

I’m giving a series of six talks this summer at various branches of Tacoma Public Library about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the first humans to walk on the Moon. It’s part of the library’s summer reading club. My talk includes some suggested reading about Apollo. Here’s what I recommend:

A lot of the material for my talk came from James Donovan‘s excellent book Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 (Little, Brown and Company, 2019). Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins calls the book “The best book on Apollo that I have read.”

Shoot for the Moon takes us on a tour of the space race from Sputnik up through the Apollo missions. Marvelously detailed and highly accessible, I could hardly put it down. It’s a marvelous chronicle of this great adventure.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library

Seattle Public Library


Rod Pyle‘s First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience (Sterling, 2019) includes a forward by the mission’s Buzz Aldrin, second man to walk on the Moon. It’s a beautifully illustrated volume that is a fitting commemoration of Apollo 11.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library (N/A)

Seattle Public Library


Charles Fishman‘s One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon (somebody, 2019) focuses on many of the people behind the scenes—technicians, engineers, scientists—who made the Moon landing possible. About 400,000 people in all worked on some aspect of the Apollo missions.

Fishman gave a talk about the book June 28 at Town Hall Seattle but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. The book is next on my nightstand, though.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library

Seattle Public Library


David Whitehouse‘s Apollo 11: The Inside Story (Icon Books, 2019) is based on the author’s interviews with a host of astronauts, NASA personnel, politicians, and other insiders to tell the tale about how Apollo came about.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library (N/A)

Seattle Public Library (N/A)

 


Richard Maurer‘s Destination Moon: The Remarkable and Improbable Voyage of Apollo 11 (Roaring Book Press, 2019) goes back in time. While most tales about the space race start with Sputnik, Maurer begins with fighter pilots in World War II. He traces the origins of the Apollo program to a few exceptional soldiers, a Nazi engineer, and a young eager man who would become president.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library

Seattle Public Library


The Space Race: The Journey to the Moon and Beyond (DK Children, 2019) by Sarah Cruddas is targeted for kids from ages 6–9 and takes them from the race to the Moon to the future and the possibility of perhaps one day living on Mars.

The Space Race includes a forward by Eileen Collins, the first women to be commander of a space shuttle mission.

Amazon

Tacoma Public Library

Seattle Public Library


Two books by John M. Logsdon, founder and long-time director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, wrap up our list. They’re not new, but both offer interesting discussions of the public policy debates behind the Space Race and how the decisions changed the future of U.S. space exploration.

John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, 2010) and After Apollo?: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, 2015) are great reads for those interested in public policy and how challenging decisions are made. The books are relevant now as we observe the anniversary of Apollo, and as we consider the pros and cons of a return to the Moon and possible future missions to Mars.

Check out our 2015 article about Logsdon’s discussion of the future of space exploration given at that winter’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society.


Books marked at N/A at the library branches were not listed in their catalogs as of June 30, 2019. They may be on the way, as most of the titles are fresh off the presses. If you purchase from Amazon through the links above, a small percentage of the sale comes to Seattle Astronomy at no cost to you. This helps support our work on astronomy journalism.

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon.

Become a Patron!

Share

Astro Biz: Bergevin Lane “Moonspell”

Bergevin Lane MoonspellMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one periodically on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Moonspell cabernet sauvignon from Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla, Washington. The Moonspell is a wine that Bergevin Lane has made since at least 2009, with the 2014 vintage being the latest release.

It’s good wine and they’re nice folks, so Bergevin Lane should be a stop on your next wine visit to Walla Walla.

Why Moonspell this week? Well, we just had to feature a Moon Astro Biz on the week the Destination Moon exhibit opens at the Museum of Flight.

More info:

Share

Destination Moon exhibit opens tomorrow at Museum of Flight

Apollo 11 command module Columbia

Apollo 11 command module Columbia. Photo: Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The long-awaited exhibit Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, opens April 13 at The Museum of Flight. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the mission’s command module Columbia, which is on the last leg of a two-year, four-city journey that is the historic spacecraft’s first since being parked at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1971. The Columbia took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon for the first Moon landing. The exhibit will be here through September 2, including the date of the 50th anniversary of the giant leap, July 20, 2019.

While some common elements of the exhibit have traveled to all four cities—Destination Moon stopped in Houston, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh prior to its Seattle trip—each museum has been able to put its own spin on the artifacts. At the Museum of Flight, Destination Moon represents an expansion of the Apollo exhibit that opened in May two years ago. (Here’s our article about the exhibit.) It’s here the the Museum of Flight has an edge, with the exhibit including two enormous F-1 engines that powered the launch of Apollo missions. Other museum artifacts are also included, as is a gallery about the legacy of Seattle-area industry, astronauts and engineers to the space program.

Apollo 11 Columbia command module

Your correspondent with the Apollo 11 command module Columbia in August 2018 at the St. Louis Science Center. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Visitors can get pretty close to Columbia, but they can’t go inside. However, they can do so virtually through an interactive 3-D tour created from the Smithsonian’s high-resolution scans of the interior of the spacecraft.

The exhibit promises to be extremely popular. A free preview for museum members last weekend was well attended, and a host of special events for the first weekend are likely to draw many visitors. We were fortunate to see the exhibit in St. Louis last summer; it was near the end of the run and it wasn’t at all crowded. Waiting might be a good option if seeing it early and often isn’t a big deal for you!

The Columbia is a big deal artifact. I spent hours with it in St. Louis and a good bit of time at the member preview this week. Don’t miss this great opportunity to see a super cool piece of space history!

###

Please support Seattle Astronomy with a subscription through Patreon.

Become a Patron!

Share

Astro Biz: Constellation tomatoes

Constellation tomatoes

Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one periodically on Seattle Astronomy.

Today’s Astro Biz is Constellation tomatoes from NatureSweet. Sometimes we go looking for Astro Biz entries, but usually we just stumble across them. In this case, my wife brought these home from the grocery the other day and I spotted them on the kitchen counter!

The Constellation tomatoes are something of a variety pack of NatureSweet tomatoes. Several of their other varieties have astronomical names, including Sunbursts, Eclipses, and Twilights. NatureSweet is based in San Antonio, and the tomatoes are grown in Mexico.

More info:

Share