Using Chandrayaan-I to find human habitability sites on the Moon

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 24, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The current edition of Current Science magazine has the paper by Arya et. all titled, “Detection of potential site for future human habitability on the Moon using Chandrayaan-1 data“. The result itself was reported way back in March, 2010. The paper provides more details and some interesting facets. The paper is based on work done by the Terrain Mapping Camera on board the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft.

The high spatial resolution of the Terrain Mapping Camera and the close 100 km orbit helped scientists build Digital Elevation Models (DEM) to help study the lunar terrain in great detail. This was used to study potential human habitability sites on the Moon. Based on previous studies, they concentrated their efforts on riles and lava tubes on the lunar surface. Study on the Oceanus Procellurum region on the Moon showed that lava tubes were good places for possible human habitability. They found that there was no effect of cosmic rays deeper than 6 meters, no effect of solar particles deeper than 1 meter, no radiation effects and no significant temperature difference was observed with the temperature remaining nearly constant at -20 degrees Celsius. It is also opined that the presence of partial lava tube structure reduces requirement of construction. Scientists also think that the cool temperatures here could make these a candidate for water and ice traps on the lunar surface. Lava tubes also provide a dust free environment.

Lava Tubes are interesting to study for reasons other than human habitability as well. To geologists, it provides a section of the lunar bedrock and top soil that would be difficult to access otherwise. It could also help geologists to study native lunar material which has not been affected by external factors like meteoric impacts, solar particles etc. It could also provide an understanding of the thermal profiles and volcanism on the Moon.

The paper now profiles the area of the Moon under study, Oceanus Procellurum using a picture of the Moon taken by the CARTOSAT-2A spacecraft from Earth orbit!

Using various techniques (explained in the paper) they find that the rough cylindrical tube which comprises the lava tube is 120 meters in diameter and 1.72 km in length. The thickness of the roof is 170 meters hence safe from various considerations discussed above (radiation, cosmic rays etc.). The Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI) was used to do chemical and mineralogical study. It was found that the surface was homogeneously basaltic rich in Iron and Titanium. The homogeneity of  the results was also used to predict that there was no lava flow after the lava tube was formed. To confirm the result, surface ages of the north and south section of the uncollapsed rille was done using the crater counting technique. Using this method ages of the northern section was found to be 3.47 Ga and the southern section was found to be 3.43 Ga. This more or less rules out “differential emplacements of the mare basalts”.

The authors of the paper state that using similar procedures, TMC and HySI data can be used to study different areas on the surface of the Moon.

Three Chandrayaan-I related papers out

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 23, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Three papers directly related to instruments on-board the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft are out in 2011. Here’s a brief pointer to each.

1. Goldschmidt crater and the Moon’s north polar region: Results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3); Cheek, Pieters et. all

2. Strong influence of lunar crustal fields on the solar wind flow [full paper – PDF]; Charles Lue et. all

3. Lithological mapping of central part of Mare Moscoviense using Chandrayaan-I Hyperspectral Imager (HySI) data; S Bhattacharya et. all

For the first paper, Cheek et. all, have trained their eyes on the Goldschmidt crater. The comparison of spectroscopic details from Goldschmidt to the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)’s data of the Northern pole and from three different regions provide three different soil types – feldspathic soils with a low-Ca pyroxene component, feldspathic soils and basaltic soils. The content of Goldschmidt is feldspathic and was found to be locally different from the surrounding highlands. They state that the water spectrum is closely associated with the mineralogy of where the spectrum is located. Goldschmidt is said to have higher concentration of water spectrum compared to the local highlands but is similar to the feldspathic soil in the lunar far side.

The second paper by Charles Lue et all is available in full. The SARA payload on Chandrayaan-I had detected the presence of mini-magnetospheres on the surface of the Moon. The paper Lue et. all believes that these magnetospheres affect the upstream solar winds. This affect the rate of solar wind proton hitting the surface of the Moon and also perhaps space weathering in places near the magnetic anomalies. The team uses data from the Solar Wind Monitor (SWIM) on Chandrayaan-I for these studies. Concluding, they say:

Magnetized electrons are deflected by the magnetic field gradient and set up a charge separation (because  protons are non‐magnetized), resulting in an ambipolar  electric field. The related potential repels a fraction of the  protons. Therefore, the deflection can take place not only  over the strongest magnetic anomalies where the protons can  be magnetized, but (although at a lower efficiency) also at  weak, isolated anomalies of ❤ nT at 30 km altitude, with a  width of <100 km. Similar charge separation scenarios have  been discussed in early studies based on Apollo 12 surface  observations [e.g., Neugebauer et al., 1972], and in a recent  review paper by Halekas et al. [2010].

This paper too has some influence on the lunar water formation technique suggested of solar wind implanting protons which are used by the OH ions to form water:

Regardless of the deflection mechanism for protons,  the high solar wind deflection and reflection rates, as ions  and neutral atoms, imply a lower proton implantation rate in  the regolith at magnetic anomalies that may alter the space  weathering compared to the surrounding areas. Moreover, it  might affect the production of OH/H2O in the outermost  layer of the regolith via transfer of solar wind‐implanted  protons to the mineral‐bound oxygen [Pieters et al., 2009].

The paper is available here in full.

The third paper, Bhattacharya et all investigated the central region of the Mare Moscoviense region of the Moon. The paper has identified 5 geological units:

five major compositional units have been identified: highland basin soils, ancient mature mare, highland contaminated mare, buried unit with abundant low-Ca pyroxene (LCP), and youngest mare unit

The paper seems to be aimed as basis of using the Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI) data to delineate major compositional structures on the surface of the Moon and has done so successfully enabling it to be used for the rest of the data sets obtained.

Madhavan Nair’s comments in the Media

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 22, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Madhavan Nair has recently been on a commenting and interviewing spree. The bulk of his effort seems to be deflect blame from ISRO on two recent events – the failure of the GSLV and the ISRO/DEVAS deal. His comments on the failure of the GSLV seem a little out of line. His comments on the ISRO/DEVAS deal could be considered as an effort to deflect blame from himself. Whatever the case, his media interactions since the GSLV failure has been interesting to follow.

I have never seen a chair of any failure analysis committee commenting on the progress of the committee as the analysis was on-going. Madhavan Nair seems to be repeating the same statement since the first meeting held in January. He’d begun pointing to the Russian cryogenic engine for the failure of the GSLV in December. This changed from the “German connectors” blamed initially for the failure. The interesting point about this repeated statement is that while Russia is willing to “studying the data provided to them”, Madhavan Nair seems to be stressing on this point. Also, ISRO seems to be conducting experiments and we’re running dangerously close to the last date for the submission of the report of the GSLV Failure Analysis Committee under the chairmanship of Madhavan Nair. I would think a meeting would be needed to get the results, analyse them and create a cohesive report. Madhavan Nair’s various comments [see here and here] to the media vis-a-vis the GSLV seems to be beyond the control of ISRO.

His other interesting comment comes on ISRO/DEVAS issue. I have refrained from commenting on the issue here since my understanding of the same has been very poor. Madhavan Nair did an interview with the Times of India on the issue. His version of the story matches more closely with the version put out by DEVAS than by ISRO. This has now pushed the Opposition to demand that the Prime Minister (who’s in-charge of the Department of Space) to make a statement in Parliament on the issue. Madhavan Nair’s comments carry weight because he was the man in-charge in ISRO when the deal was operationalised. It seems like Nair is trying to protect himself. It even seems to have worked partially since the Opposition has turned its attention again from him.

While on the topic of ISRO/DEVAS, I’d also like to point out the different approaches that ISRO and DEVAS have taken to put out their statements. ISRO has put out a 5 page PDF (now removed!!) that is a bit confusing and leaves a few questions un-answered and DEVAS has posted a video in a FAQ format that lasts about 4 minutes.

Public Lecture by Sir Arnold Wolfendale

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 21, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Sir Arnold Wolfendale gave a public lecture at the Marathi Vignan Parishad offices located in Chunabhatti. I saw this place for the first time when I was in a bus and was stuck in the famous Priyadarshini traffic jam. I was interested in going to this place but like everything else never got around to going there. My friend, Suhas Naik-Sattam who works at the Nehru Planetarium informed me about the event through Facebook. The talk was easy to understand and punctuated by humour and his experience over the years.

The talk was a collaboration between National Centre for Science Communicators, Marathi Vignan Parishad, Khagol Mandal and International Union of Science Communicators. The talk was titled, “Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence”. Before beginning, he took a straw pole of the number of people who believed that we were alone in the Universe (or unique) and the number of people who thought we were not. Only 11 people in the whole room said that we were a unique species in the Universe. Rest of the audience, probably numbering about a 100 with school children involved said that we were not alone. Wolfendale said that over the years, when the same question was asked of the audience only 27% of the audience said that we were a common species.

Wolfendale then shared a story. He said a scientist retired and got himself a place at one of the places in England which end up with a sheer cliff and jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff and the sea beneath. Once, exploring the stars, the man tripped over and by chance got hold of a branch on the drop. He called for help when a heavenly voice asked him to let go and that He would catch him. “Anybody else, out there?” asked the scientist. Wolfendale said he was looking for that anybody else too – not God.

He showed a picture of Jodrell Bank’s Lovell Telescope to demonstrate what a radio telescope looked like and then showed the Arecibo and explained how it was used to search for the above mentioned intelligence – life like us – was done from Arecibo. He spoke about expressions of people over the centuries from 13th century Chinese philosopher Teng Mu through Giordano Bruno and Copernicus and Galileo right upto the Kepler looking for planets in the Universe and wondering about the possibility of life on them.

He then showed the famous Drake Equation, a formula thought to predict the number of detectable civilizations in the Universe. He explained the various terms in the equation, spoke about the possibility of finding their values so that one could substitute them in the Equation to find a plausible result. In explaining these terms, he spoke of SETI and the search started in 1960 by Francis Drake to find the value for “the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space”. He spoke of the Mars meteorite activity and how it influenced the debate on “the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space”.

Wolfendale postulated possible time frames for which human like life form could evolve and exist. He guessed the number as 1 billion years. He spoke of solar flares that could damage the atmosphere occuring about once in a million years, an asteroid event like the dinosaurs once every 109 years and the life term of the Sun itself being about 4 billion years.

As he explained this, he gave the evolutionary timeframe and also explained about the rarity of an asteroid impact at Yucatan.

In the end, he said, if an alien civilization existed and one became extinct every billion years, we should be faced with a barrage of alien colonisations which was not happening and hence he sided with the 11 who said that we were a unique alien life form.

To me, the ending was an odd bit of reasoning and the talk ended quite suddenly. I did enjoy the initial part of the lecture, though.

Blogging in Malayalam

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 20, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

This is another project that I have been trying to do for a very long time. It has been a long time dream to write my blog in Malayalam. I started on this curve by trying to write for the Malayalam Wikipedia. I found here Malayalam that I could not easily understand. This led me to try and read Malayalam newspapers once in a while. Finally, reading this blog post over at Gerrard’s blog, pushed me to write Malayalam online.

I do not much of the concepts that have been talked about on Gerard’s blog. These are things that would be awesome to learn more about. I have put them separately to learn and research about them. Perhaps, it may not be essential to understand all of them before blogging in Malayalam but this is a good starting point.

Being born and brought up in Mumbai, I have been practicing to write in Hindi and English primarily. I do speak in Malayalam daily at home but do not write as often as I could. This has made me feel sorry sometimes and also feel a sense of contribution to the death of a language. It may not be as the same many other Indian languages with nearly 36 million people speaking the language world-wide but it could very easily get there.

One of my efforts on having these thoughts was to try and write Wikipedia articles in the Malayalam Wikipedia. The thing was that I was not really sure about Malayalam spellings. I knew the alphabet set to read Malayalam but not really write it well. Perhaps it is a great way to reconnect with my grandmother as well.

So, I’ve written a blog post today without any help from anyone. I’ve written it using Google Transliteration and have not paid any special attention to the spellings. From tomorrow, for every alternate day, I hope to write something on the blog and begin the curve to improve my Malayalam.

February 21, 2011 is being celebrated as International Mother’s Language Day. I hope you do something to begin speaking, reading or writing in your mother tongue.

Indian Team joins GLXP

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 18, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

An Indian team, called Team Indus has joined the Google Lunar X Prize. They have not mentioned much about themselves biographically or provided contact information of any kind. Their about page says:

Team Indus seeks to represent the aspirations of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and youngest population. Headquartered in New Delhi, India we are a team of professionals from Technology, Science, Finance and Media background all of whom have made a habit of pushing boundaries.

Team Indus is a for-Profit organization and plans for GLXP to be the first step towards establishing a Global Innovation brand. We plan to reward all contributors to our team by ensuring long-term commercial interest. We are in the process of setting up a separate non-profit education foundation that will work towards creating a space education & awareness campaign in India. All donations made to Team Indus will be directly passed onto this foundation. All articles, media generated in our pursuit of GLXP will be assigned to this foundation.

We have a few out-of-the-box theories on each phase of the mission, going radical on technology was the obvious choice given the late entry. Our initial planning suggests we will take about 3years to prepare for a potential launch, the launch in all likelihood will be done from India. Team Indus plans to attempt the Endurance and Distance bonus prizes.

It is a privilege to be part of GLXP’s exclusive group of teams, we are excited by the possibilities and eagerly look forward to putting up a good show!

They’re aiming for a launch by 2013-14 which is roughly the timeline that Chandrayaan-II is looking at for its launch! Chandrayaan-II, mind you has been in the works with help from Russia from 2009.

It is a challenge and one that possibly can be tackled. I’ll be following the team closely through their twitter account. I believe that even if they do not launch in the timeline they have set they must work towards launching because of the novelty of such a concept in India!

Additions: Hubble Supports Water Discovery

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 15, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I wrote quite hurriedly about the Hubble Space Telescope providing support to the Chandrayaan-1 discovery of water in the lunar exosphere. I had provided the links to the story to Srinivas and he’s written about in the Times of India [Bangalore, Delhi]. I got a bit worried last night when I saw that the abstract published was presented in the poster session of the meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

With a bit of help from Syed Maqbool Ahmed, PI, CHACE (which made the discovery of water in the lunar exosphere) and Daniel Fischer, I was able to ascertain a few things and I am posting them here for the benefit of everyone concerned.

Daniel informed me that posters are considered “publications” but that a paper in a refereed journal would have greater impact and would be cited more often. It was Syed who finally explained the whole concept to me. The paper in which the result would be published as a paper is expected to happen next month. It is expected to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. One of the persons who presented the poster, Alex Storrs is a co-investigator on the Hubble Space Telescope. Syed explained to me that since they were waiting for the paper to be officially published, they presented it as a poster in the meanwhile.

Trying to find out information about the authors of this poster also took me to a 2009 story in PhysOrg, where Storrs is quoted as saying that initial results did not point any clear evidence for water in the lunar exosphere. It is very interesting that almost a little more than a year later, the same person has confirmed CHACE’s results of water in the lunar exosphere.