New lunar map should help U.S. return to Moon

USGS's 'Unified Geologic Map of the Moon' is the definitive blueprint of the lunar surface.

Impact craters in different colors give the lunar surface the look and feel of an action painting à la Jackson Pollock.

Impact craters in different colors give the lunar surface the look and feel of an action painting à la Jackson Pollock.

Image: USGS, public domain
  • Combining old maps with new data, the USGS has produced a definitive blueprint of the lunar surface.
  • The new map will help scientists and astronauts find their way around the Moon.
  • NASA's aim is to land the first woman on the Moon as early as 2024.

    Future missions

    Why is everybody so eager to get to Mars when the Moon is right next door? Perhaps Musk et al. are attracted by the planet's redness. Red is danger, excitement, life. By comparison, Earth's natural satellite exudes an uninvitingly pale glow.

    This map will change all that. It shows the lunar surface as a riot of colors, its hemispheres two sizzling pizzas of varied and appetizing composure. There's something here for everybody's taste. Who wouldn't want a bite out of this?

    Forgive the hyperbole, but whetting the appetite certainly was the intent with this 'Unified Geologic Map of the Moon'. For not only is it the first complete and uniform map of lunar surface geology, it's also an important planning instrument for future manned missions to the Moon.

    The map was created by the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. In collaboration with NASA and the Lunar and Planetary Institute, it combined six 'regional' maps of the Moon made during the Apollo era (1961-1975) with input from more recent unmanned lunar missions.

    This included data on the polar regions from NASA's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) and close-ups of the equatorial zone from the Japanese Space Agency's recent SELENE mission.

    Definitive blueprint

    \u200bThe near (left) and far side of the Moon.

    The near (left) and far side of the Moon.

    Image: NASA/GSFC/USGS - public domain

    The result: a single, high-resolution map of the entire lunar surface, at a scale of 1:5,000,000 – the definitive blueprint of the Moon's surface geology.

    Of course, the surface of the Moon is not as brightly colored as these maps – according to the dozen eyewitness accounts we have, the lunar terrain is light grey in the highlands and dark grey in the 'maria' (the so-called seas), and gives the overall impression of a world made out of asphalt.

    The colors on the map refer to different types of surface features, grouped together according to their age:

    • Brown features are 'pre-Nectarian': from the Moon's origin 4.5 billion years ago, to 3.92 billion years ago.
    • Orange and tan are 'Nectarian' features: 3.92 to 3.85 billion years old.
    • Purple, blue and pink are for 'Imbrian' features: 3.85 to 3.16 billion years old.
    • Green is for 'Eratosthenian': 3.16 to 1.1 billion years old.
    • Yellow for 'Copernican': from 1.1 billion years ago to the present.

    The various shades of each color refer to different feature types, such as craters, plateaus, basins, 'maria', plains, massifs, and domes. The detailed map also names a lot of features on the surface, and pinpoints the locations of previous landings – manned and unmanned.

    Artemis 2024

    \u200bExcerpt of the Moon map, showing the Apollo 11 landing site (below right).

    Excerpt of the new Moon map, showing the Apollo 11 landing site (below right).

    Image: USGS, public domain

    This excellent map will help plan America's next excursion to the Moon. NASA's Artemis program aims to land 'the first woman and the next man' on the Moon by 2024.

    Ultimately, Artemis should lay the groundwork for continuous, sustainable habitation on the Moon; and help prepare the next giant leap for humanity… yes, to Mars.

    Before our attention drifts off towards the Red Planet again, here are 10 things you may not have known about the Moon, just to keep you interested.

    • The Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of 3.78 cm (1.48 in) per year, about the same speed as our fingernails grow.
    • The Moon – and especially the full Moon – was once considered a cause of neurological and psychiatric conditions, hence the term 'lunatic', which literally means 'moonstruck'.
    • The Moon determines when it's Easter: the first Sunday after the first Saturday after the first full Moon after the spring equinox (20-22 March).
    • In the 1950s, the U.S. considered detonating a nuke on the Moon. 'Project A119' was meant to project strength at a time when the Americans were behind the Soviets in the space race.
    • Seismographs on the lunar surface have measured 'moonquakes', small movements several miles below the surface, caused by the gravitational pull of the Earth.
    • The land speed record on the Moon is 10.56 miles per hour, set by a lunar rover.
    • The space suit worn by the Apollo astronauts weighed 180 pounds on Earth, but only 30 pounds on the Moon, due to reduced lunar gravity.
    • Gene Cernan was the last of the 12 men who have walked on the Moon, so far. His final words on the lunar surface, on 14 December 1972, were: "As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come (but we believe not too long into the future), I'd like to just say what I believe history will record: That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind."
    • A 1988 survey by the Lowell Observatory found that 13 percent of Americans believe that the Moon is at least partially made of cheese.
    • The Moon is a one-person graveyard. Celebrated astro-geologist Eugene Shoemaker wanted to be an astronaut but was disqualified for medical reasons. Instead, he trained Apollo astronauts for their lunar missions. After his death in 1997, his ashes were placed on board NASA's Lunar Prospector, which was crashed onto the Moon in 1999. Shoemaker remains the only human buried on another world.

    For more on the Unified Geologic Map of the Moon and to download it in its entirety, go here at the Astrogeology Science Center of the USGS.

    Strange Maps #1024

    Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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    Problem-solving skills are in demand. Every job posting lists them under must-have qualifications, and every job candidate claims to possess them, par excellence. Young entrepreneurs make solutions to social and global problems the heart of their mission statements, while parents and teachers push for curricula that encourage critical-thinking methods beyond solving for x.

    It's ironic then that we continue to cultivate habits that stunt our ability to solve problems. Take, for example, the modern expectation to be "always on." We push ourselves to always be working, always be producing, always be parenting, always be promoting, always be socializing, always be in the know, always be available, always be doing. It's too much, and when things are always on all the time, we deplete the mental resources we need to truly engage with challenges.

    If we're serious about solving problems, at work and in our personal lives, then we need to become more adept at tuning out so we can hone in.

    Solve problems with others (occasionally)

    A side effect of being always on is that we are rarely alone. We're connected through the ceaseless chirps of friends texting, social media buzzing, and colleagues pinging us for advice everywhere we go. In some ways, this is a boon. Modern technologies mediate near endless opportunities for collective learning and social problem-solving. Yet, such cooperation has its limits according to a 2018 study out of Harvard Business School.

    In the study, participants were divided into three group types and asked to solve traveling salesman problems. The first group type had to work on the problems individually. The second group type exchanged notes after every round of problem-solving while the third collaborated after every three rounds.

    The researchers found that lone problem-solvers invented a diverse range of potential solutions. However, their solutions varied wildly in quality, with some being true light bulb moments and others burnt-out duds. Conversely, the always-on group took advantage of their collective learning to tackle more complex problems more effectively. But social influence often led these groups to prematurely converge around a single idea and abandon potentially brilliant outliers.

    It was the intermittent collaborators who landed on the Goldilocks strategy. By interacting less frequently, individual group members had more time to nurture their ideas so the best could shine. But when they gathered together, the group managed to improve the overall quality of their solutions thanks to collective learning.

    In presenting their work, the study's authors question the value of always-on culture—especially our submissiveness to intrusions. "As we replace those sorts of intermittent cycles with always-on technologies, we might be diminishing our capacity to solve problems well," Ethan Bernstein, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and one of the study's authors, said in a press release.

    These findings suggest we should schedule time to ruminate with our inner geniuses and consult the wisdom of the crowd. Rather than dividing our day between productivity output and group problem-solving sessions, we must also create space to focus on problems in isolation. This strategy provides the best of both worlds. It allows us to formulate our ideas before social pressure can push us to abandon them. But it doesn't preclude the group knowledge required to refine those ideas.

    And the more distractions you can block out or turn off, the more working memory you'll have to direct at the problem.

    A problem-solving booster

    The next step is to dedicate time to not dealing with problems. Counterintuitive as it may seem, setting a troublesome task aside and letting your subconscious take a crack at it improves your conscious efforts later.

    How should we fill these down hours? That's up to you, but research has shown time and again that healthier habits produce hardier minds. This is especially true regarding executive functions—a catchall term that includes a person's ability to self-control, meet goals, think flexibly, and, yes, solve problems.

    "Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material to solve a new problem. Essentially, exercise improves a whole host of abilities prized in the classroom and at work," writes John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist at the University of Washington.

    One such study, published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience, analyzed data collected from more than 4,000 British adults. After controlling for variables, it found a bidirectional relationship between exercise and higher levels of executive function over time. Another study, this one published in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, compared fitness data from 128 adults with brain scans taken as they were dual-tasking. Its findings showed regular exercisers sported more active executive regions.

    Research also demonstrates a link between problem-solving, healthy diets, and proper sleep habits. Taken altogether, these lifestyle choices also help people manage their stress—which is known to impair problem-solving and creativity.

    Of course, it can be difficult to untangle the complex relationship between cause and effect. Do people with healthy life habits naturally enjoy strong executive functions? Or do those habits bolster their mental fitness throughout their lives?

    That's not an easy question to answer, but the Frontiers in Neuroscience study researchers hypothesize that it's a positive feedback loop. They posit that good sleep, nutritious food, and regular exercise fortify our executive functions. In turn, more potent executive decisions invigorate healthier life choices. And those healthy life choices—you see where this is going.

    And while life choices are ultimately up to individuals, organizations have a supportive role to play. They can foster cultures that protect off-hours for relaxing, incentivize healthier habits with PTO, and prompt workers to take time for exercise beyond the usual keyboard calisthenics.

    Nor would such initiatives be entirely selfless. They come with the added benefit of boosting a workforce's collective problem-solving capabilities.

    Live and learn and learn some more

    Another advantage of tuning out is the advantage to pursue life-long learning opportunities. People who engage in creative or problem-solving activities in their downtime—think playing music, puzzles, and even board games—show improved executive functions and mental acuity as they age. In other words, by learning to enjoy the act of problem-solving, you may enhance your ability to do so.

    Similarly, lifelong learners are often interdisciplinary thinkers. By diving into various subjects, they can come to understand the nuances of different skills and bodies of knowledge to see when ideas from one field may provide a solution to a problem in another. That doesn't mean lifelong learners must become experts in every discipline. On the contrary, they are far more likely to understand where the limits of their knowledge lie. But those self-perceived horizons can also provide insight into where collaboration is necessary and when to follow someone else's lead.

    In this way, lifelong learning can be key to problem-solving in both business and our personal lives. It pushes us toward self-improvement, gives us an understanding of how things work, hints at what's possible, and, above all, gives us permission to tune out and focus on what matters.

    Cultivate lifelong learning at your organization with lessons 'For Business' from Big Think Edge. At Edge, more than 350 experts, academics, and entrepreneurs come together to teach essential skills in career development and lifelong learning. Heighten your problem-solving aptitude with lessons such as:

    • Make Room for Innovation: Key Characteristics of Innovative Companies, with Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO, FutureThink, and Author, Why Simple Wins
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