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How NASA’s Lunar Orbiter was Struck by a Meteoroid and Survived to Tell the Tale

This image from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow-angle camera (NAC) shows jagged lines caused by a meteoroid impact in Oct. 2014. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University)

On October 13, 2014, something rather…striking…happened to one of the cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been imaging the Moon from lunar orbit since 2008. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar surface, produced an image that was wild and jittery. From the sudden and jagged pattern apparent in the image, the LROC team determined that the camera must have been hit by a tiny meteoroid, a piece of space debris no larger than the head of a pin but traveling much faster than a bullet.

“A meteoroid impact on the LROC NAC reminds us that LRO is constantly exposed to the hazards of space,” says Noah Petro, deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “And as we continue to explore the Moon, it reminds us of the precious nature of the data being returned.”

Read the full story from NASA here: Camera on NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Survived 2014 Meteoroid Hit


Scientists Squeeze Methane Out Of Martian Meteorites

A 30-meter crater created on Mars sometime between July 2010 and May 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A 30-meter crater created on Mars sometime between July 2010 and May 2012, imaged by the HiRISE camera aboard MRO. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

One of the biggest clues to finding evidence of life on Mars – past or present – has been the existence of methane, an organic compound that is the principal component of natural gas here on Earth. Methane can arise via both biological and non-biological processes, but in both cases it can be used as “food” for living organisms (known as methanotrophs.) Methane has been detected on Mars today by both orbiting spacecraft and rovers on the ground, and now researchers have identified methane within meteorites found on Earth that originated from the Red Planet.

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Curiosity Claims the Biggest Meteorite Ever Found on Mars

A 6.5-foot-wide (2-meter) iron meteorite found by Curiosity (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS)

A 6.5-foot-wide (2-meter) iron meteorite found by Curiosity (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS)

If you’re a heavy metal fan then you’ll love this: this shiny, lumpy rock spotted by NASA’s Curiosity rover is made mostly of iron — and came from outer space! Dubbed “Lebanon” it’s a stony iron meteorite, similar to ones found in years past by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, but is considerably larger than any of the ones they came across. In fact, at 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide, Lebanon is the biggest meteorite ever discovered on Mars!

Read more in my article on Universe Today here.

Interview With the Meteorite Man

Geoff Notkin with meteorite-hunting gear in the Chilean desert (© Geoffrey Notkin)

Geoff Notkin with meteorite-hunting gear in the Chilean desert (© Geoffrey Notkin)

Have you ever seen a meteor streak across the night sky? How about a very bright fireball (aka bolide), one that seemed to disintegrate in front of your eyes or leave a trail of vapor that hung in the air for a few moments? These “shooting stars” are actually tiny bits of rock and dust that exist everywhere in the Solar System, and when they run into Earth’s atmosphere they are slowed down incredibly, resulting in a transfer of energy that releases light and heat — usually enough heat to vaporize the original object entirely. But on occasion a large and/or dense enough object enters the atmosphere and survives the blazing journey to the surface. If it hits land, the meteorite (or its remaining pieces) might one day be discovered by a random traveler, a hiker, a farmer… or a even dedicated  “meteorite man” like Geoff Notkin.

Author, educator, and host of Science Channel’s “Meteorite Men” and Cox7’s STEM Journals, Geoff Notkin has dedicated his life to the study, collection, and dealing of these “inert aliens” from outer space. His Tucson-based company, Aerolite Meteorites, sells some of the specimens that he’s traveled around the world to find, and last week I had the chance to talk with Geoff about his business and his passion and learn more about what got him so interested in meteorites to begin with.

Read the interview here.

“Being a meteorite hunter is probably not the best capital return on your time but it’s a very exciting and rewarding life in every other way.”

– Geoff Notkin, Aerolite Meteorites

15-Meter Meteor Explodes Over Russia

A meteor disintegrates over Russia on Feb. 15, 2013

A meteor disintegrates over Russia on Feb. 15, 2013

Holy Tunguska flashback*! Early this morning a meteor entered the atmosphere above the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, disintegrating at altitude of 50-60 km (18-32 miles) 14-20 km (12-15 miles) and creating an explosion and shockwave that shattered glass and blew in doors across the area, injuring hundreds. The space rock is estimated to have weighed about 10 7,000 metric tons.

The meteor has been captured in many amateur videos that were quickly uploaded to YouTube — watch below and see more here.

Find out more about this event on Universe Today here.

*The 1908 Tunguska event was vastly more powerful than this. But still… rocks from space!

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