This summer marks 50 years since NASA dispatched the Apollo 16 astronauts to Sudbury for field training ahead of their trip to the moon.
Commander John Young and pilot Charles Duke, whose spacecraft would launch from Cape Canaveral less than a year later on April 16, 1972, teamed up with experts from Inco to study Sudbury’s impact crater and its unique geological structures.
NASA hoped that the field training, which took place from July 7 to 9, 1971, would prepare the astronauts for lunar surface experiments.
It turns out, the excursion didn’t prepare them as much as they’d hoped.
“We were very interested, at the time, in trying to work up the geology of the moon. The great debate in the literature prior to our first moon landing was how much of the moon was formed by volcanic activity and how much of it was formed by impact structures,” said Michael Dence.
“That’s a question that goes back 400 years to Galileo. There was a lot of literature about that. That was the reason, in a sense, for my being employed by the government. There was this question of whether anything on Earth resembles the moon, and if so, how we could identify it.”
Dence, who is now considered an international expert in the subject, was one of the pioneers in the study of asteroid impact craters like the one in Sudbury.
He helped build what was called the Earth Physics branch of the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources (now Natural Resources Canada) to study impact structures on Earth.
When Dence first immigrated to Canada from Australia, he worked as a field geologist for Falconbridge Nickel Mines (now Glencore) in Sudbury. He was also part of the team of geologists who worked with the Apollo 16 crew.
“One of the biggest things to emphasize is that, regardless of their backgrounds, the astronauts got very little out of this training except for maybe an excursion or a break from their routines,” said Dence.
“Because it turns out that the moon is covered with dust which has been building up for three billion years, so the idea of seeing fresh rock or any sort of rock was never really discovered by any of them.”
By the time of the Apollo excursions in the 1970s, Dence said that it was well-established that the Sudbury structure is “the deeply eroded remnants of an impact” that is roughly 1.84 billion years old.
“The rocks that are displayed on the surface are a good cross-section of many of the details of what an impact structure looks like, and it had the convenience of being easy to get at,” he said.
“You could walk around and see what we were talking about. That never applied on the moon, but nonetheless, it gave them an education in what a large, ancient impact can look like.”
As part of his research, Dence was studying the distinctive features of impacts that left imprints on the rocks that could be mainly identified under a microscope.
When astronauts retrieved lunar samples, these same features, described as very distinctive structures where the crystal structure had been partly obliterated by the shock of the impact, were identifiable.
“The one thing in Sudbury, which led to the recognition of it being an impact structure, was a peculiar thing that could be observed in the rocks. These fractures, which we call shatter cones, are sort of conical-shaped structures which appear on the surface of rocks when they are properly exposed,” he said.
It was the discovery of shatter cones in Sudbury by an oceanographer named Robert Dietz that led to it being declared an impact crater.
“He made a sort of hobby of looking for shatter cone structures around the world, and he had been successful in suggesting to the South Africans that a very large structure known as the Vredefort crater was the result of an impact,” he said.
“A year or two later, he decided to look at Sudbury. He went there and talked to the locals. Rocks that people had walked over for 70 years of geologists working in Sudbury, and they never recognized the existence of shatter cones. Once their eyes were tuned in to what to look for, it took only a week.”
The point of an impact, said Dence, is that it generates an immensely strong pulse of energy. The pressure is comparable to that of the centre of the Earth.
It lasts but a second or two, but it’s enough to melt rock at the highest temperatures and to develop these peculiar structures.
“The thing about the melting aspect of it is you have the outline of the Sudbury structure and in the rock, it has an igneous texture. It has the texture of a lava,” he said.
“That outlines the entire structure of Sudbury. That is entirely caused by the impact pressure being at a melting point, at the time. In other words, the projectile, which in this case was probably 15 km or so across, melted tens of thousands of cubic kilometres of rock in an instant.”
Of his experience working with the Apollo 16 crew, Dence said it was a pleasant experience and the crew members were “real characters.”
“Young was a very straightforward, outspoken sort of guy. He told me he had no liking at all for the official drink of astronauts – Tang,” he said.
“He really didn’t relish the idea of having to drink Tang for a week. He was also a really good astronaut. I certainly enjoyed the time I had with them, and I certainly could see their dedication.”
Dence and the Apollo 16 crew – and later the Apollo 17 crew that came up north a year later – were ultimately lucky to have had the chance to explore the Sudbury impact crater as it was in the 1970s.
“Most of that area has now been overgrown very considerably. It is now woods, and it’s very difficult to work out exactly where we went with the astronauts,” he said.
“The rehabilitation of the Sudbury landscape has gone that far – after 50 years, most of it is lost in the woods.”
Colleen Romaniuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Sudbury Star. The initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
NASA discovers double crater on the moon – CTV News
The moon has a new double crater after a rocket body collided with its surface on March 4.
New images shared by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the moon since 2009, have revealed the location of the unusual crater.
The impact created two craters that overlap, an eastern crater measuring 59 feet (18 metres) across and a western crater spanning 52.5 feet (16 metres). Together, they create a depression that is roughly 91.8 feet (28 metres) wide in the longest dimension.
Although astronomers expected the impact after discovering that the rocket part was on track to collide with the moon, the double crater it created was a surprise.
Typically, spent rockets have the most mass at the motor end because the rest of the rocket is largely just an empty fuel tank. But the double crater suggests that this object had large masses at both ends when it hit the moon.
The exact origin of the rocket body, a piece of space junk that had been careening around for years, is unclear, so the double crater could help astronomers determine what it was.
The moon lacks a protective atmosphere, so it’s littered with craters created when objects like asteroids regularly slam into the surface.
This was the first time a piece of space junk unintentionally hit the lunar surface that experts know of. But craters have resulted from spacecraft being deliberately crashed into the moon.
For example, four large moon craters attributed to the Apollo 13, 14, 15 and 17 missions are all much larger than each of the overlapping craters created during the March 4 impact. However, the maximum width of the new double crater is similar to the Apollo craters.
Bill Gray, an independent researcher focused on orbital dynamics and the developer of astronomical software, was first to spot the trajectory of the rocket booster.
Gray had initially identified it as the SpaceX Falcon rocket stage that launched the US Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, in 2015 but later said he’d gotten that wrong and it was likely from a 2014 Chinese lunar mission — an assessment NASA agreed with.
However, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the booster was from its Chang’e-5 moon mission, saying that the rocket in question burned up on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.
No agencies systematically track space debris so far away from Earth, and the confusion over the origin of the rocket stage has underscored the need for official agencies to monitor deep-space junk more closely, rather than relying on the limited resources of private individuals and academics.
However, experts say that the bigger challenge is the space debris in low-Earth orbit, an area where it can collide with functioning satellites, create more junk and threaten human life on crewed spacecraft.
There are at least 26,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth that are the size of a softball or larger and could destroy a satellite on impact; over 500,000 objects the size of a marble — big enough to cause damage to spacecraft or satellites; and over 100 million pieces the size of a grain of salt, tiny debris that could nonetheless puncture a spacesuit, according to a NASA report issued last year.
7 Amazing Dark Sky National Parks – AARP
Can’t afford to join a commercial space mission offered by Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson? Consider the next best thing: seeing a starry, starry night in a sea of darkness, unimpeded by artificial light, at one of the International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. It’s a rare treat, since light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of Americans from seeing the Milky Way from their homes.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) has certified 14 of the nation’s 63 national parks as dark sky destinations. So visitors can take full advantage of such visibility, many of them offer specialized after-dark programs, from astronomy festivals and ranger-led full-moon walks to star parties and astrophotography workshops. If you prefer to stargaze on your own at a park, the National Park Service recommends bringing a pair of 7-by-50 binoculars, a red flashlight, which enhances night vision, and a star chart, which shows the arrangement of stars in the sky.
Here are seven of the IDSA-certified parks where you can appreciate how the heavens looked from the Earth before the dawn of electric light.
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Award-winning travel writer Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA Today. She has written for dozens of travel publications and websites.
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A Mystery Rocket Left A Crater On The Moon – Forbes
While we think of the moon as a static place, sometimes an event happens that reminds us that things can change quickly.
On March 4, a human-made object (a rocket stage) slammed into the moon and left behind a double crater, as seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission.
Officials announced June 23 that they spotted a double crater associated with the event. But what’s really interesting is there’s no consensus about what kind of rocket caused it.
China has denied claims that the rocket was part of a Long March 3 rocket that launched the country’s Chang’e-5 T1 mission in October 2014, although the orbit appeared to match. Previous speculation suggested it might be from a SpaceX rocket launching the DISCOVR mission, but newer analysis has mostly discredited that.
On a broader scale, the value of LRO observations like this is showing how the moon can change even over a small span of time. The spacecraft has been in orbit there since 2009 and has spotted numerous new craters since its arrival.
It’s also a great spacecraft scout, having hunted down the Apollo landing sites from orbit and also having tracked down a few craters from other missions that slammed into the moon since the dawn of space exploration.
It may be that humans return to the moon for a closer-up look in the coming decade, as NASA is developing an Artemis program to send people to the surface no earlier than 2025.
LRO will also be a valuable scout for that set of missions, as the spacecraft’s maps will be used to develop plans for lunar bases or to help scout safe landing sites for astronauts.
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