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kottke.org posts about Moon

The last steps on the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy told Congress and the rest of the American public that the US was going to send a man to the Moon. Just over 11 years later, as part of the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, humans set foot on the Moon for the last time.1 The Last Steps is a summary of that final mission, during which NASA accomplished the near-impossible yet again and was met with increasing public indifference about a journey that had taken on the ease of a car trip to grandma’s house.

Update: Perhaps humans will set foot on the Moon sooner than 2060. The European Space Agency is planning on a manned mission “by 2030” and China is shooting for 2036. (via @T_fabriek)

  1. For now, I guess I should add. It’s been 44 years since then and at the rate things are going, it might be another 44 years before it happens again. I’m hoping for a reboot of the Apollo franchise sooner rather than later, though.

We Work Remotely

Earth has a new(ish) quasi-moon

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 17, 2016

About a hundred years ago, a tiny asteroid making its way around the sun got caught in Earth’s gravity well. Now it’s locked in an irregular orbit far around our planet, between 38 and 100 times the distance between the Earth and its proper moon.

quasi-moon.JPG

As it orbits the sun, asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth, and passes ahead of our planet. The other half of the time it falls behind.

It’s also in a tilted orbit, which causes it to weave up and down on the orbital plane like a bob on choppy waters. As NASA’s Paul Chodas put it in a press statement, “In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”

In another couple of centuries, the asteroid will probably get far enough away that it’ll leave Earth behind forever. I wonder how many times this has happened — how many times the asteroids have been bigger, closer, but still not big or close enough to stay.

Satellite view of a total eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2016

The Japanese satellite Himawari caught yesterday’s total solar eclipse as it moved across the Pacific Ocean.

Update: @paulmison sent along some better views of the eclipse: here and here. I tried to find a better YouTube embed, but no dice. This one, taken of the eclipse in Micronesia, is pretty amazing though…you can see the solar flares coming off the surface of the Sun as it reaches totality. Holy shit, I’m getting excited for Eclipsathon 2017!

The Moon crossing the sunlit face of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

This is just flat-out incredible… NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite captured a series of photos of the Moon as it moved between it and the Earth.

Earth Moon Anim

The image shows the “dark side” of the Moon, which we can’t see from Earth because it’s always pointed away from us.

The lunar far side lacks the large, dark, basaltic plains, or maria, that are so prominent on the Earth-facing side. The largest far side features are Mare Moscoviense in the upper left and Tsiolkovskiy crater in the lower left. A thin sliver of shadowed area of moon is visible on its right side.

“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

I don’t know why, but this image gives me chills up my spine! Is anyone else freaking out about this?

Compasses don’t work on Mars, so how do you navigate?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2015

Unlike the Earth, Mars and the Moon don’t have strong directional magnetic fields, which means traditional compasses don’t work. So how did the Apollo rovers and current Mars rovers navigate their way around? By using manually set directional gyroscope and wheel odometers.

While current un-crewed rovers don’t have to return to the comfort of a lunar module, some aspects of the Apollo systems live on in their design. Four U.S. Martian rovers have used wheel odometers that account for slippage to calculate distance traveled. They’ve also employed gyroscopes (in the form of an inertial measurement units) to determine heading and pitch/roll information.

One of the fun things about reading The Martian is you get to learn a little bit about this sort of thing. Here’s a passage about navigation on Mars where astronaut Mark Watney is trying to get to a landmark several days’ drive away.

Navigation is tricky.

The Hab’s nav beacon only reaches 40 kilometers, so it’s useless to me out here. I knew that’d be an issue when I was planning this little road trip, so I came up with a brilliant plan that didn’t work.

The computer has detailed maps, so I figured I could navigate by landmarks. I was wrong. Turns out you can’t navigate by landmarks if you can’t find any god damned landmarks.

Our landing site is at the delta of a long-gone river . NASA chose it because if there are any microscopic fossils to be had, it’s a good place to look. Also, the water would have dragged rock and soil samples from thousands of kilometers away. With some digging, we could get a broad geological history.

That’s great for science, but it means the Hab’s in a featureless wasteland.

I considered making a compass. The rover has plenty of electricity, and the med kit has a needle. Only one problem: Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field.

So I navigate by Phobos. It whips around Mars so fast it actually rises and sets twice a day, running west to east. It isn’t the most accurate system, but it works.

I wonder why the rovers in the story weren’t outfitted with directional gyroscopes and wheel odometers? (See also the operations manual for the lunar rovers.) (via @JaredCrookston)

The Apollo lunar rover user’s manual

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2015

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

From NASA, the operations manual for the lunar rover. Rovers were used on the final three Apollo missions: 15, 16, and 17. (thx, daniel)

Neil Armstrong’s bag of Moon junk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2015

For whatever reason, when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong left the surface of the Moon after their historic space walk, they collected “a bunch of trash that we want to take back” in a small white bag. Upon their return to Earth, Armstrong put the bag in a closet and there it sat for more than 40 years, until Armstrong’s widow discovered it shortly after his death. Among other items, the bag contained the camera that recorded The Eagle’s landing on the Moon and Armstrong’s first step, which was presumed to have been lost or left on the Moon.

Apollo 11 Camera

As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the Moon. (I asked James Hansen, Neil’s authorized biographer if he had mentioned the items, and he had not.) Each and every item has its own story and significance, and they are described with photographs in extraordinary detail in an addendum to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. But two of the items are especially timely. Both have been placed on display as part of the recently opened temporary exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity.

The first is the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and “one small step” made by Armstrong as humankind first set foot on another world.

Lunar Mission One

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2014

Now this is an ambitious Kickstarter project: Lunar Mission One wants to send an unmanned probe to an unexplored area of the Moon, land on the surface, drill a hole at least 20 meters in depth to analyze geological composition of the Moon, and then drop a time capsule in the hole that will last 1 billion years. That’s. Insane.

We’re going to use pioneering technology to drill down to a depth of at least 20m — 10 times deeper than has ever been drilled before — and potentially as deep as 100m. By doing this, we will access lunar rock dating back up to 4.5 billion years to discover the geological composition of the Moon, the ancient relationship it shares with our planet and the effects of asteroid bombardment. Ultimately, the project will improve scientific understanding of the early solar system, the formation of our planet and the Moon, and the conditions that initiated life on Earth.

The Rosetta mission has opened the way for a new era of pioneering space exploration and demonstrates the public appetite to engage with the secrets of the solar system. We want this to be a truly international mission that everyone everywhere can get involved in, so we are using Kickstarter to finance the next phase of development. This is your chance to be part of Lunar Mission One and to reserve your place in space. Your pledge will reserve you a digital memory box that will be buried in the moon during the mission as part of a 21st Century time capsule.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2014

Apollo TV teaser

45 years ago today, the lunar module from the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. I’ve updated the page to work again this year: just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule:

Moon landing broadcast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT
{break}
Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 pm EDT on July 21

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

(FYI, I didn’t test it, but I’m almost positive this will *not* work on mobile…it uses YouTube’s Flash player to show the video. Sorry.)

The Moon, closer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2014

If the Moon orbited the Earth at the same distance as the International Space Station, it might look a little something like this:

At that distance, the Moon would cover half the sky and take about five minutes to cross the sky. Of course, as Phil Plait notes, if the Moon were that close, tidal forces would result in complete chaos for everyone involved.

There would be global floods as a tidal wave kilometers high sweeps around the world every 90 minutes (due to the Moon’s closer, faster orbit), scouring clean everything in its path. The Earth itself would also be stretched up and down, so there would be apocalyptic earthquakes, not to mention huge internal heating of the Earth and subsequent volcanism. I’d think that the oceans might even boil away due to the enormous heat released from the Earth’s interior, so at least that spares you the flood… but replaces water with lava. Yay?

If the Moon was only 1 pixel

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2014

Moon 1 pixel

Nice visualization of the solar system; the Moon is one pixel across and everything else is scaled to that, including the distances between planets. Get ready to scroll. A lot.

It would be neat to do this with a plutonium atom or something. Related: typographically speaking, what’s the point size of the Moon?

The Moon’s tiny art gallery

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2013

There’s art on the Moon, a small sculpture called Fallen Astronaut. Artist Paul van Hoeydonck made it. Commander David Scott of Apollo 15 placed it on the Moon in 1971. Instead of a triumph, the whole thing fell into scandal and was forgotten.

In reality, van Hoeydonck’s lunar sculpture, called Fallen Astronaut, inspired not celebration but scandal. Within three years, Waddell’s gallery had gone bankrupt. Scott was hounded by a congressional investigation and left NASA on shaky terms. Van Hoeydonck, accused of profiteering from the public space program, retreated to a modest career in his native Belgium. Now both in their 80s, Scott and van Hoeydonck still see themselves unfairly maligned in blogs and Wikipedia pages-to the extent that Fallen Astronaut is remembered at all.

And yet, the spirit of Fallen Astronaut is more relevant today than ever. Google is promoting a $30 million prize for private adventurers to send robots to the moon in the next few years; companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are creating a new for-profit infrastructure of human spaceflight; and David Scott is grooming Brown University undergrads to become the next generation of cosmic adventurers.

Governments come and go, public sentiment waxes and wanes, but the dream of reaching to the stars lives on. Fallen Astronaut does, too, hanging eternally 238,000 miles above our heads. Here, for the first time, we tell the full, tangled tale behind one of the smallest yet most extraordinary achievements of the Space Age.

The first video of the Moon orbiting the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2013

In a fly-by of Earth on its way to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno probe took a short movie of the Moon orbiting the Earth. It’s the first time the Moon’s orbit has been captured on film.

(via @DavidGrann)

Long photograph of the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2013

NASA created this lovely high resolution view of the Moon doing one complete rotation using footage from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

(via @Colossal)

ISS in transit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2013

Romanian photographer Maximilian Teodorescu recently caught the International Space Station in transit across the Sun.

ISS Sun

Teodorescu has also taken photos of the ISS in transit across the Moon.

ISS Moon

These photos make the ISS seem tiny and huge all at the same time. And be sure to click through on the links to see the full-sized photos.

Personal pocket spacecraft to the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2013

This is incredible: an outfit called Pocket Spacecraft are making paper-thin “spacecraft” the size of CDs, hundreds of which will be placed into a rocket and sent to the Moon. They’re funding the project on Kickstarter and you can purchase your very own Moon-bound spacecraft for as little as £199.

Why the Moon landing wasn’t faked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2013

Filmmaker S.G. Collins argues that in 1969, it was easier to send people to the Moon than to fake the landing in a studio. Technologically speaking, it was impossible to shoot that video anywhere other than the surface of the Moon. Which sounds crazy.

(via devour)

Changing the color of the Moon with laser pointers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2012

Hey, if Randall keeps writing them, I’m gonna keep posting links to them…today’s XKCD What If is “If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?

Unfortunately, the laser energy flow would turn the atmosphere to plasma, instantly igniting the Earth’s surface and killing us all.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2012

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module landed on the surface of the Moon 43 years ago today. For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. I’ve updated the page to work again this year: just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule:

Moon landing broacast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT
{break}
Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 pm EDT on July 21

Here’s a post I wrote when I launched the project.

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

Thanks to Dave Schumaker for the reminder.

Year-long Moon timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2011

This is a timelapse animation of the surprisingly wobbly Moon over a period of one year.

Note: this is an animation, not a timelapse video…i.e. there’s CG involved. More info here.

Moon cave!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2011

Indian lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 has discovered a large cave on the Moon. Aside from the hey, cool, there’s a cave on the Moon factor, the other big feature of the cave is its constant and temperate temperature.

Temperatures on the moon swing wildly, from a maximum of 262 degrees Fahrenheit to a minimum of -292. The cave holds steady at a (relatively) comfortable -4, since the moon’s weather can’t penetrate its 40-foot-thick wall. It could also protect astronauts from “hazardous radiations, micro-meteoritic impacts,” and dust storms, according to paper published by the journal Current Science.

(via @juliandibbell)

A short history of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2011

From physicist John Baez, a history of the major disasters that happened to the Earth: the Big Splat, the Late Heavy Bombardment, the Oxygen Catastrophe, and the Snowball Earth. The Big Splat is believed to have formed the Moon:

In 2004, the astrophysicist Robin Canup, at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, published some remarkable computer simulations of the Big Splat. To get a moon like ours to form — instead of one too rich in iron, or too small, or wrong in other respects — she had to choose the right initial conditions. She found it best to assume Theia is slightly more massive than Mars: between 10% and 15% of the Earth’s mass. It should also start out moving slowly towards the Earth, and strike the Earth at a glancing angle.

The result is a very bad day. Theia hits the Earth and shears off a large chunk, forming a trail of shattered, molten or vaporized rock that arcs off into space. Within an hour, half the Earth’s surface is red-hot, and the trail of debris stretches almost 4 Earth radii into space. After 3 to 5 hours, the iron core of Theia and most of the the debris comes crashing back down. The Earth’s entire crust and outer mantle melts. At this point, a quarter of Theia has actually vaporized!

After a day, the material that has not fallen back down has formed a ring of debris orbiting the Earth. But such a ring would not be stable: within a century, it would collect to form the Moon we know and love. Meanwhile, Theia’s iron core would sink down to the center of the Earth.

New Apollo 11 footage

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2010

Due to the Moon’s relative position in the sky as Neil Armstrong started his moonwalk, Australia was able to capture the first few minutes of his descent down the ladder before NASA was able to find a signal. But it was lost until recently; the restored footage will be shown next week at an event in Sydney.

There’s a hole in the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2010

From a typically excellent selection of photos taken from space curated by Alan Taylor over at The Big Picture, there’s this:

Moon hole

I don’t know why, but that freaks me right out. THERE’S A FREAKING HOLE IN THE MOON!!

Helvetica! In! Space!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2010

Back in July, Ben Terrett wrote a post about how many instances of the word “helvetica” set in unkerned 100 pt Helvetica it would take to go from the Earth to the Moon:

The distance to the moon is 385,000,000,000 mm. The size of an unkerned piece of normal cut Helvetica at 100pt is 136.23 mm. Therefore it would take 2,826,206,643.42 helveticas to get to the moon.

But let’s say you wanted to stretch one “helvetica” over the same distance…at what point size would you need to set it? The answer is 282.6 billion points. At that size, the “h” would be 44,600 miles tall, roughly 5.6 times as tall as the Earth. Here’s what that would look like:

Helvetica, from the Earth to the Moon

The Earth is on the left and that little speck on the right side is the Moon. Here’s a close-up of the Earth and the “h”:

Helvetica and the Earth

And if you wanted to put it yet another way, the Earth is set in 50.2 billion point type — Helvetically speaking — while the Moon is set in 13.7 billion point type. (thx, @brainpicker)

Original Apollo 11 CBS News broadcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2010

I had so much fun with this last year, I’m doing it again: watch the original CBS News coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and first Moon walk, reported live by Walter Cronkite exactly 41 years after it happened.

Apollo 11 on TV

Just leave this page open in your browser and at the appointed times (schedule is below), the broadcast will begin (no manual page refresh necessary).

Schedule:
Moon landing broacast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT

Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 am EDT on July 21

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it.

Please note that schedule times are approximate, based on your computer’s clock, and that the syncing of the videos might not be perfect. You need to have JS and Flash 8+ to view. This is just like real TV…if you miss the appointed time, there’s no rewind or anything…the video is playing “live”. I have not done extensive browser testing so it may not work perfectly in your browser. If you run into any problems, just reload the page. Thanks for tuning in.

On the moon without being on the moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2010

Vincent Fournier has made a series of photos of astronauts training and of the interiors of the Chinese, Russian and US space agencies.

Vincent Fournier

Looks alien, doesn’t it?

Galileo’s moon drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2009

Galileo's moons

From an analysis of when and where these drawings were done.

Photo of Apollo 11’s landing site

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2009

Speaking of the Moon, the LRO snapped a new picture of Apollo 11 landing site from its orbital perch 50km above the surface.

Apollo 11 LRO

Previously.

Water on the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2009

NASA announced that it has found pretty hard evidence of significant amounts of water on the Moon.

“We are ecstatic,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.”

I don’t have to tell you about the implications here. Just think of how much you could sell authentic Moon bottled water for.