A recent study published in Nature Astronomy examines how processes within the Earth’s magnetic field could be contributing to the formation of water on the surface of the Moon. This study was led by the University of Hawai’i (UH) and comes during an increased interest in finding water ice across the lunar surface, which has previously been confirmed to exist within the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the lunar north and south poles due to the Moon’s small axial tilt of only 1.5 degrees compared to the Earth’s 23.5 degrees. Additionally, better understanding the lunar surface water content could also help scientists gain better insights into the Moon’s formation and evolution, which is currently hypothesized to have formed from a Mars-sized object colliding with the Earth approximately 4.5 billion years ago, or approximately 100 million years after the Earth formed.
The Earth’s magnetic field, which is produced from the planet’s spinning liquid outer core, is responsible for life being able to both exist and thrive on our small, blue world. It does this by shielding us from harmful solar radiation and space weather that could strip away our atmosphere and cause catastrophic damage across the surface, making it inhospitable for life. Unlike our spherically shaped atmosphere, the magnetic field is warped and shaped by the solar wind, which includes a long tail on the night side of the planet comprised of two parts, the plasma sheet and the even farther out magnetotail. While the solar wind has long been attributed to producing water ice on the Moon, it is the plasma sheet and magnetotail that is the focus of this most recent study, as the team analyzed data from when the Moon passes through the Earth’s magnetotail during its month-long orbit.
The various aspects of the Earth’s magnetic field, including the plasma sheet and magnetotail, which were the focus of this study. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Aaron Kaase)
“This provides a natural laboratory for studying the formation processes of lunar surface water,” said Dr. Shuai Li, who is an assistant researcher in the UH M?noa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and lead author of the study. “When the Moon is outside of the magnetotail, the lunar surface is bombarded with solar wind. Inside the magnetotail, there are almost no solar wind protons and water formation was expected to drop to nearly zero.”
For this study, Dr. Li and his team analyzed satellite data obtained between 2008 and 2009 from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (also called M3), which was onboard the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Through this, they discovered large amounts of lunar surface water on the Moon’s nearside occurring at various times as the Moon passes through the Earth’s magnetotail. The reason for the abundance of lunar surface water, despite the Moon not being bombarded by solar wind during its passage through the magnetotail, was due to high energy electrons emanating from the plasma sheet of the magnetic field. The team noted the amount water increases in the Moon’s mid-latitudes as it enters and exits the magnetotail but does not change while the Moon is traversing the center of the magnetotail. It’s important to note the Moon always has one side facing the Earth due to it being tidally locked with our planet.
Map displaying water content across the lunar surface, which was the focus of this study as researchers examined how the Earth’s magnetic field contributes to water on the Moon. As the data indicates, lunar water is primarily concentrated near the lunar poles. (Credit: Li, et al., 2023)
“To my surprise, the remote sensing observations showed that the water formation in Earth’s magnetotail is almost identical to the time when the Moon was outside of the
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The International Space Station Celebrates 25 Years in Space
NASA recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS) with a space-to-Earth call between the 7-person Expedition 70 crew and outgoing NASA Associate Administrator, Bob Cabana, and ISS Program Manager, Joel Montalbano. On December 6, 1998, the U.S.-built Unity module and the Russian-built Zarya module were mated in the Space Shuttle Endeavour cargo bay, as Endeavour was responsible for launching Unity into orbit that same day, with Zarya having waited in orbit after being launched on November 20 from Kazakhstan.
“I cannot believe it was 25 years ago today that we grappled Zarya and joined it with the Unity node,” said Cabana during the call from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Absolutely amazing.”
While this milestone marks 25 years since the first two ISS modules were attached, it would be another two years until the ISS had a crew, Expedition 1, which arrived at the ISS in November 2000 and stayed until March 2001, beginning an uninterrupted human presence on the ISS that continues today. During the two-year period between the first mating and Expedition 1, the Russian-built Zvedza module was attached to the Unity and Zarya modules on July 26, 2000, after launching from Kazakhstan two weeks earlier. Assembly of the large modules of the ISS would continue until 2021 when the Roscosmos-funded Nauka module was attached in July 2021.
Now in its final configuration, the ISS is approximately the size of an American gridiron football field consisting of 8 solar arrays that provide the station’s power while maintaining an average altitude of 400 kilometers (250 miles). Its massive size consists of a pressurized module length along the major axis of 67 meters (218 feet), a truss (primary body) length of 94 meters (310 feet), a solar array length (measured along the truss) of 73 meters (239 feet), and a total mass of 419,725 kilograms (925,335 pounds).
Artist rendition of the ISS compared to an American gridiron football field. (Credit: NASA)
Image of the ISS taken by SpaceX Crew-2 mission on November 8, 2021 after it successfully undocked from the ISS Harmony module. (Credit: NASA)
Ever since the 3-person Expedition 1 crew first took command of the ISS, a total of 273 individuals from 21 countries have visited the orbiting laboratory and have been comprised of trained astronauts and private visitors. From most visitors to least, the following visitor countries include the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Great Britain, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Sweden.
“One of my favorite aspects of the International Space Station is the international part of it,” said NASA Astronaut and Expedition 70 Flight Engineer, Jasmin Moghbeli, during the call. “We each bring our unique perspectives, not just from our different nationalities, but also our different backgrounds. I think we’re definitely strengthened by the international partnership. It’s just like gaining redundancy when you have multiple partners working together. It’s stronger and more resilient to any sort of problems or obstacles that come our way and so it definitely makes us stronger. And I think that’s why we have had the International Space Station up here for 25 years now.”
Starship | Second Flight Test
On November 18, 2023, Starship successfully lifted off at 7:02 a.m. CT from Starbase on its second integrated flight test.
While it didn’t happen in a lab or on a test stand, it was absolutely a test. What we did with this second flight will provide invaluable data to continue rapidly developing Starship.
The test achieved a number of major milestones, helping us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary. The team at Starbase is already working final preparations on the vehicles slated for use in Starship’s third flight test.
Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting second flight test of Starship!
Follow us on X.com/SpaceX for continued updates on Starship’s progress
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For its Final Trick, Chandrayaan-3 Brings its Propulsion Module to Earth Orbit
On August 23, ISRO’s Vikram lander detached from its propulsion module and made a soft landing near the Moon’s south pole region. The lander then deployed its Pragyan rover, and for two weeks the endearing little solar-powered rover performed marvelously, detecting water ice and characterizing the makeup of the lunar regolith before succumbing to the darkness and cold of the lunar night.
But since the rover mission ended, the propulsion module that brought it to the Moon has made a detour, performing a series of complex maneuvers that took it from a tight lunar orbit back to Earth orbit. This was possible because the module still had more than 100 kg of fuel, allowing scientists to conduct additional maneuvers and experiments.
Right now, the propulsion module (PM) is orbiting Earth at an altitude of 115,000 km (71,500 miles), well above geostationary orbit. ISRO said the mission team decided to use the available fuel in the propulsion module to derive additional information for future lunar missions. More specifically, this demonstration gave them the chance to test mission operation strategies for a future sample return mission.
A graphic of the Chandrayaan-3 lander separating from the propulsion module. Credit: ISRO.
The PM has had a busy and productive mission. While in lunar orbit for about a month, it wasn’t just taking it easy. After the separation of the lander, the PM operated an on-board experiment, the Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) payload, designed to observe the Earth. Specifically, this instrument also provided scientists and engineers experience for future missions and research as its purpose was to study habitable planet-like features of Earth. These observations will be used by ISRO for future studies of exoplanets. Additionally, there was a special operation of the SHAPE payload on October 28, 2023 during the solar eclipse.
But because the spacecraft had such a precise orbit injection and optimal burn maneuvers, the amount of leftover fuel meant the engineers could do even more with the PM than originally expected. The PM was commanded to execute an orbit-raising maneuver at the Moon and then perform a Trans-Earth injection burn, which placed the PM in an Earth-bound orbit.
ISRO said the first orbit raising maneuver at the Moon was performed on October 9, 2023 to raise apolune altitude to 5,112 km from 150 km. The Trans-Earth injection (TEI) maneuver was performed on October 13, 2023, and as its orbit was slowly raised, the PM made four Moon flybys before departing Moon on November 10.
Currently, propulsion module is orbiting Earth with an orbital period of nearly 13 days, at 27 degrees inclination. Because of this high orbit, ISRO said there is no threat of close approach with any operational Earth orbiting satellites.
ISRO said these extra operations allowed them to plan and execute trajectory maneuvers to return from Moon to Earth, as well as develop software to plan and validate the maneuvers. They also planned and executed a gravity assisted flyby between two celestial bodies and, most notably they avoided an uncontrolled crash into the Moon’s surface at the end of the life of PM, which met the requirements of creating no debris on the Moon.
Will its current high geostationary orbit be the Chandrayaan-3 PM’s final trick? Who knows? The resourceful engineers might figure out another way to make use of this multi-purpose spacecraft.
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