New research explains why the Moon's crust is magnetized by debunking one long-standing theory.
Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back to the Moon | Michelle Thaller | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c97eca7a853afe3bcf42f075bd85b43c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4vAiCSTV9lQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The future of cities on the Moon, Mars and orbital habitats.
- In the 1970s NASA published an extensive book on urban planning in space.
- Acclaimed architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) designed a conceptual plan for the first permanent settlement for human life on the moon.
- An MIT team developed a concept for the first sustainable cities on Mars to be built in the next century.
Building a city on the Moon<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ3NDMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDMxODkxOH0.Xi6ec1PTCdUYZ177T6GCjnj-OI7ZuhAIm6-DCiyaBUk/img.jpg?width=980" id="bba0a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb63644f2a550aec5a72ae547bc59fca" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre<p>What would it take to build a full scale city on the moon? Skidmore, Owings & Merrill recently threw their hat in the proverbial moon ring.</p> <p>In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), SOM presented a conceptual design for their "Moon Village." In a press statement, Design Partner Colin Koop talked about the new challenges needed for architectural design in space.</p> <p>"The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design. The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air."</p> <p>Masterplanning, designing and engineering the imagined settlement, SOM imagines are cross-disciplinary collaboration and an entirely new way to approach the space industry's most complex problems. </p> <ul><li>The Moon Village is imagined on the edge rim of the Shackleton Crater near the South Pole.</li><li>This area was selected because it receives near continuous daylight throughout the whole lunar year. </li><li>Overall development plans were envisioned in three distinct phases to set up infrastructure, resources and habitable structures. </li></ul> <p>The Moon Village would sustain its energy from direct sunlight and set up food generation and life-sustaining elements through in situ resource utilization by tapping into the Moon's natural resources. Water extracted from the depressions near the South Pole would create breathable air and rocket propellants to support the burgeoning industry in the town. By being near the South Pole, the town would have direct access to the crater's water-ice deposits.</p> <p>As for habitats for lunarites to live in, there would be individual pressurized modules which are inflatable, giving residents the flexibility to increase their living space when needed. </p> <p>Most buildings would be three to four story structures that would serve as a combined workspace, living quarter and have the necessary environmental and life support systems integrated into each one. </p> <p>The Moon Village was created for the ESA's reflection of future exploration beyond 2050 in partnership with NASA's strategic plan to "extend human presence deeper into space and to the Moon for sustainable long term exploration and utilization." </p> <p>A pioneer Moon Village could set in stone the first opportunity to permanently inhabit the moon, spur research and explorations and serve as a gateway to the rest of the solar system and beyond. </p>
Designing cities in Space Colonies<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ3NDMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzcyNDc3Nn0.bT4IDOLBQp4Udt3yVnkRVGWo-iVLNLw9sAM1rXaBiVM/img.jpg?width=980" id="3b518" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="170a0a6a3f8cb47e1dd3adffa3c3bf7f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre<p>Such ring habitats have been a common sight in science fiction for years, from Halo's massive ring worlds to Neuromancer's Tessier-Ashpool floating Freeside. But physicists have known for quite some time that they're actually possible to build. When space becomes more accessible, these would be the first contenders for habitation.</p><p>In NASA's "Space Settlements" study, researchers dedicated a few chapters on basic comprehensive plans, which is a deep dive into how much space would be needed for residential housing, schools and other land uses combined with transportation and other infrastructure. As for transportation, the book again goes into detail: </p><p>"Because of the relatively high population density (15,000 people/km2) in the community, most of the circulation is pedestrian, with one major mass transport system (a moving sidewalk, monorail, and minibus) connecting different residential areas in the same colony."</p><p>These floating cylinders with artificial gravity would survive by creating from the natural resources of outer space. Again in the 1970s Princeton physicist Gerald K O'Neill laid out compelling studies where he envisioned 100,000-person colonies, stationed at what is known as the fifth Lagrangian libration point (L5) in the moon's orbit. </p><p>"It is orthodox to believe that Earth is the only practical habitat for Man, but we can build new habitats far more comfortable, productive and attractive than is most of Earth," he wrote in Physics Today in 1974.</p><p>He was interested in building alternative human habitats that were both beyond Earth and beyond a planetary body. Out of this was conceived the idea of a giant rotating spaceship, which could support a biosphere and house up to 10 million people.</p>
Planning the first cities on Mars<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ3NDMyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODM5MDM5MX0.Z98AD3Wu9guYDb-Ex7RhcIoyI0dHzi4FCi-NY2uL3Ro/img.jpg?width=980" id="0eb6d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e7e09f128673a24454bc8e0526ff1ec6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre<p>In 2017, an MIT team developed a design for a settlement that won the Mars City Design competition. MIT's winning urban plan, titled Redwood forest, proposed to create domes or tree habitats that would house up to 50 people each. The domes provided residents with open public spaces containing vegetation and water, which would be harvested from deep in the Martian northern plains.</p><p>The tree habitats would be connected on top of a network of tunnels, or roots, providing transportation and access to both public and private spaces between other inhabitants of this proposed 10,000 strong community. Advanced technology such as artificial light inside these pods could strongly mimic the sight of natural sunlight.</p><p>MIT postdoc Valentina Sumini who led the interdisciplinary team, described the project's design fundamentals and elaborated on the project's poetic forest metaphor: </p><p>"On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life. Designing a forest also symbolizes the potential for outward growth as nature spreads across the Martian landscape. Each tree habitat incorporates a branching structural system and an inflated membrane enclosure, anchored by tunneling roots. </p><p>The design of a habitat can be generated using a computational form-finding and structural optimization workflow developed by the team. The design workflow is parametric, which means that each habitat is unique and contributes to a diverse forest of urban spaces."</p><p>The team aims to build a comfortable environment and architecture that focuses on the fundamental and critical aspect of sustainability, a baseline component needed for any Mars or offworld city. </p><p>On the entirety of the system, System Design Management Fellow George Lordos summed up the functionality by explaining the holistic and connected system they imagined. </p><p>"Every tree habitat in Redwood Forest will collect energy from the sun and use it to process and transport the water throughout the tree, and every tree is designed as a water-rich environment. Water fills the soft cells inside the dome providing protection from radiation, helps manage heat loads, and supplies hydroponic farms for growing fish and greens. Solar panels produce energy to split the stored water for the production of rocket fuel, oxygen, and for charging hydrogen fuel cells, which are necessary to power long-range vehicles as well as provide backup energy storage in case of dust storms."</p>
Dust sticking to things on the moon is a serious problem researchers are trying to solve.
Sticky situation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU5OTA1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDAyMzU0MH0.lfYLUy2mETdXOgEGdyEHPUJD2aXqab9qB-WoMp94ldk/img.jpg?width=980" id="a045b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="40f701f33214c9cfdb248d88a49d0ca9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Microscopic view of man-made "moon dust"
Credit: IMPACT lab/CU Boulder<p>Lunar dust is not much like the stuff settling on the surfaces of your home. For one thing, Wang reports, "Lunar dust is very jagged and abrasive, like broken shards of glass."</p><p>The reason that it's so stubbornly sticky is that it carries an electric charge not unlike that of a sock you've just removed from the dryer. The charge results from being continually exposed to the Sun's radiation as the dust sits on the lunar surface unprotected by an atmosphere like ours. The moon does have very thin atmosphere that contains odd gases such as sodium and potassium, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LADEE/news/lunar-atmosphere.html" target="_blank">says NASA</a>, but it isn't thick enough to afford much protection from radiation.</p>
Overload of electrons<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ea957f6f96e5b4796909ee398cc65658"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-aHHWAeda6o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The researchers explored the idea of shooting a beam of electrons at lunar dust to fill the spaces between its particles with negative charges that could push the particles further apart, away from each other and also off a surface to which they might be adhering. Says Wang, "The charges become so large that they repel each other, and then dust ejects off of the surface."<br></p><p>To test their concept, the researchers acquired <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_tm_2010_216446_simuserg.pdf" target="_blank">lunar regolith stimulant</a> from NASA, a substance formulated on Earth that's designed to replicate lunar dust. They placed objects of various materials that had been coated with the stuff in a vacuum chamber and fired electron beams at them. (The video above shows the dust's response.)</p><p>Speaking of the behavior of the electron-blasted dust on a number of tested surfaces, including spacesuit fabric and glass, "It literally jumps off," says lead author <a href="https://www.mendeley.com/authors/57218515747/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Benjamin Farr</a>. However, the finest-grained regolith, the kind that gets stuck in brushes, remained unperturbed by the electrons. Overall, the electrons cleaned off about 75 percent to 85 percent of the dust. "It worked pretty well, but not well enough that we're done," says Farr. Looking forward, the team is exploring ways in which the electron beam's cleaning power can be increased.</p><p>This is not the first attempt at using electrons to clean up lunar dust. For example, NASA has explored using <a href="https://www.seeker.com/space/exploration/new-spacesuit-system-could-repel-destructive-moon-dust" target="_blank">nanotube electrode networks</a> in spacesuits to keep dust off. <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/nasa-s-coating-technology-could-help-resolve-lunar-dust-challenge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">To keep regolith off other materials</a>, NASA is also considered combining charge-dissipating indium tin oxide with paint that could then be applied to otherwise dust-collecting surfaces.</p><p>The CU Boulder team anticipates one day hanging up a spacesuit in a room or compartment where it can be bombarded with electrons for cleaning. Even more convenient would be facilities where "You could just walk into an electron beam shower to remove fine dust," says study coauthor <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/physics/mihaly-horanyi" target="_blank">Mihály Horányi</a> of CU Boulder's <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/physics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Department of Physics</a>.</p>
The mission could launch as soon as the 2030s, the researchers said.
- A team of scientists have been developing a proposal that would send a semi-autonomous submarine to explore the seas of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
- Titan is the only body in our solar system that has large bodies of liquid on its surface.
- It's also a top candidate in the search for alien life.
Why study Titan?<p>Titan has long been a top candidate for space research and the search for alien life within our solar system. But scientists didn't know much about the Mercury-sized moon until 2004, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft began conducting flybys of Titan, and later landed the <em>Huygens </em>probe on the moon's surface.<br></p><p>That mission revealed that Titan is actually more like Earth than our Moon: Titan has an atmosphere with organic molecules and complex chemistry. It has rain and <a href="http://spaceref.com/saturn/violent-methane-storms-on-titan-may-explain-dune-direction.html" target="_blank">storms</a>, which help to shape the dunes on its surface. And it has maria (seas) and lacus (lakes), some larger than the Great Lakes of North America. Besides Earth, no other body in our solar system has liquid on its surface like Titan does.</p>
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">said</a>. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>