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.

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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    New research establishes an unexpected connection.

    Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

    Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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    • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

    We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

    A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

    The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

    An unexpected culprit

    The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

    What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

    "We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

    "Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

    fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

    Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

    The experiments

    The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

    You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

    For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

    Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

    The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

    However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

    The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

    As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

    The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

    The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

    "We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

    Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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