Our Moon is more than just some pretty decoration for the night sky and a place to plant a few flags – it’s also a potential source of valuable raw materials that could someday be used for energy and engineering both on Earth and in space.
If you saw the movie Moon (and if you haven’t I highly recommend it) there was a whole lunar base set up for the extraction of helium-3 from the surface. This isn’t some fantasy “unobtainium” element, it’s a very real isotope that’s rare on our magnetically-shielded Earth but common on the Moon, where it can be easily deposited by the solar wind. Helium-3 alone could make lunar mining ventures economically (or at least environmentally) sensible as it could theoretically power nuclear fusion reactors on Earth with virtually no radioactive waste products. (Read more here and here.)
According to a 2009 AFP article “Reserves of helium-3 on the moon are in the order of a million tons, according to some estimates, and just 25 tons could serve to power the European Union and United States for a year.”
But how could we obtain helium-3 and other valuable lunar resources, why do we need them and what effect might those operations have on the Moon we all know and love? There’s an infographic for that, produced by consulting firm 911 Metallurgist and designed by NeoMam Studios. Check out the full graphic below and decide if you think we should be aiming for the Moon…
Do you love to look up at the Moon? Well so does NASA’s Curiosity rover! Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong (I have not confirmed this) but this appears to be an image of Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two small moons, imaged by Curiosity’s Mastcam on mission Sol 1002 (June 1, 2015). I spotted it while looking though some raw images on JPL’s MSL mission page.
Phobos is a very small world, only about 16 miles (26 km) across, and orbits Mars at 5,840 miles (9,400 km) altitude. Curiosity has imaged it before, once actually crossing in front of the Sun during an eclipse event on Aug. 20, 2013.
Both Phobos and its smaller, more distant sibling Deimos have been imaged together by Curiosity as well, during an occultation on Aug. 1, 2013. See an animation of those observations here.
Planned observations of Phobos help scientists more precisely determine its orbit.
See a color image of Phobos acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter here.
Here’s a color view of Hyperion made from raw images acquired in optical wavelengths by Cassini during its flyby on May 31, 2015 – the last pass it will make by this moon during its mission. Read more about this flyby here.
This coming Sunday, May 31, the Cassini spacecraft will perform its last close pass of Hyperion, Saturn’s curiously spongelike moon. At approximately 9:36 a.m. EDT (13:36 UTC) it will zip past Hyperion at a distance of about 21,000 miles (34,000 km) – which may sound like a lot but but it’s even closer (by 17,500 miles/28,160 km) than it was when the image above was acquired.
Cassini will not come that close to Hyperion or make any flybys of it at all for the remainder of its mission, which will come to an end when it dives down into Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017.
UPDATE 6/1/15: The images from the flyby are in! See a few of them below…
ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission is best known today for its two historic firsts of entering orbit around a comet and sending a lander onto the surface of said comet, in May and November of 2014 respectively. But Rosetta didn’t just go directly from its March 2, 2004 launch to comet 67P; it had to perform several flyby maneuvers beforehand with planets and asteroids on its way out to meet a comet. And now, ESA has shared many of the images acquired during those close passes during its cruise phase in a series of online albums for the public to easily access.
The image above shows the Moon beyond the hazy line of Earth’s atmosphere, acquired on March 4, 2005 during Rosetta’s first gravity-assist flyby of Earth just over a year after its launch. (Rosetta made three such passes by our planet before gathering enough velocity to make it out to 67P!)
See a list of Rosetta’s flybys below and find out how to access the albums.
Here’s a raw image of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, looking down on its northern hemisphere from Cassini on March 31, 2015. The moon’s signature two-toned coloration is evident as its bright icy surface is partially coated by dark material, thought to have been ejected from distant neighbor Phoebe.
Iapetus is 914 miles (1,471 km) in diameter, or about as wide as Texas and Louisiana combined. It orbits Saturn at a considerable distance of 2,212,889 miles (3,561,300 km), which is nine times farther than the Moon is from us.
Iapetus’ north pole is located just below and to the left of the centrally-peaked crater south of the brightest region in the image above. (The two prominent craters near image center are Roland and Turpin.)