News and Updates


It was a piece of Mars that set ASU geology professor Meenakshi "Mini"
Wadhwa on a career investigating meteorites. At the time, Wadhwa, who
directs the Center for Meteorite Studies in the School of Earth and
Space Exploration, was a graduate student at Washington University in
St. Louis and newly arrived from India.


An international team of astronomers (including one from ASU) are using
the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain the first direct optical images of
the aftermath of a titanic explosion that occurred recently in a star
system 5,000 light-years from Earth.


Earth's interior is not a benign world that only stores the geologic
history of our planet. Geologists see the normally assumed placid inner
Earth as a dynamic environment filled with exotic materials and
substances roiling under intense heat and pressures. It is an
environment that continues to evolve in interesting ways - and one that
has an impact on what happens on our planet's surface.


Windhorst joined ASU's faculty as an assistant professor in 1987.
Now, nearly 20 years and many discoveries later, he is a Regents'
As a leading international scientist who has
unraveled the formation and evolution of distant galaxies, Windhorst's
research with the Hubble Space Telescope since 1994 has led to
fundamental discoveries about the beginning of the universe. Throughout
this time, he has led a large group of research scientists, graduate
students and undergraduates. His Cosmology Group in the School of Earth
and Space Exploration aims to understand how today's universe of
galaxies came to be, and how the first galaxies were born. He is one of
the six Interdisciplinary scientists for NASA's 6.5-meter James Webb
Space Telescope (JWST) to be launched in 2013.


In July 2006, Arizona State University launched the School of Earth and Space Exploration. In this week's podcast, SESE Director Dr. Kip Hodges discusses the genesis of the SESE, its role in realizing the New American University, and what the new school has to offer students and the world beyond.


Every spring it
happens. As the Sun
peeks above the horizon at the Martian south polar icecap, powerful
jets of carbon-dioxide (CO2) gas erupt through the icecap's topmost
layer. The jets climb high into the thin, cold air, carrying fine, dark
sand and spraying it for hundreds of feet around each jet.

The Origins Project at Arizona State University is kicking off a celebration of five years of its existence with a top-level discussion of our existence. On Saturday, Feb. 1, the Origins Project will convene a panel of renowned physicists and cosmologists to discuss the nature of the universe and the possibilities of a multiverse in "The Great Debate Parallel Realities: Probing Fundamental Physics."

Nobel Laureates Frank Wilczek, David Gross and Brain Schmidt, as well as esteemed scientists Wendy Freedman, Brian Greene, Maria Spiropulu and ASU’s Lawrence Krauss, will be on hand for what literally will be an out-of-this-world conversation.

"The Great Debate Parallel Realities: Probing Fundamental Physics" will be held at 7 p.m., Feb. 1, 2014 at Gammage Auditorium. Tickets for the event are now on sale at ASU’s Gammage Box Office. The first 1,500 tickets are free (two per person) to those presenting a valid ASU ID (quantities are limited and restrictions apply) at the ASU Gammage Box Office only.

“We live in one universe. But is it unique? How can we find out if it is unique and, if so, what determines its makeup and structure at a fundamental level?” asks Lawrence Krauss, Origins project director. “These issues touch on the forefront of particle physics and cosmology, from the Large Hadron Collider to the edges of the visible universe. This panel includes the leading scientists and thinkers working at both of these frontiers to discuss how we can probe the fundamental fabric of reality. Hang on to your hats.”

Krauss added that the Parallel Realities Great Debate is the kickoff for a series of events celebrating the first five years of the Origins Project. Additional Origins events are scheduled for early April 2014.

Krauss elaborated on the makeup of the 2014 programs, which highlight the new Origins themes that will guide the program for the coming years – Cosmos, Quarks to the Universe; Worlds, Planets to Cells; Complex Systems, Cells to Society; and The Future, Beyond Technology.

“I am incredibly excited by the program we are putting together this year, leading up to a gala fifth anniversary celebration in April,” Krauss said. “We also wanted to reach a broader audience and encourage students to experience the events, so we were able to ensure that the first 1,500 tickets were free to all those with ASU ID’s for all Origins events this year.”

Tickets for the Origins Project's Great Debate: Parallel Realities are available online through and at the ASU Gammage Box Office, (480) 965-3434. Discounted student tickets are available with a student ID at the Gammage Box Office. The first 1,500 tickets are free (two per person) to persons presenting a valid ASU ID at the Gammage Box Office only.

For more information on Origins events, go to, or call (480) 965-0053.

(Skip Derra)


Today, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera website features a collection of images from the Apollo 15 landing site. The post provides details about the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), a lunar "dune buggy" that allowed the astronauts to traverse far from the LM and explore much more local geology than the astronauts on previous missions. There is also an image showing the Apollo 15 LRV tracks. Check out these LROC images and learn more here!


Caption: Apollo 15 landing site imaged from an altitude of 25 km (M175252641L,R) allowing an even higher resolution view! The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) is parked to the far right, and the Lunar Module descent stage is in the center, LRV tracks indicated with arrows [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

While the moon's surface is battered by millions of craters, it also has over 200 holes – steep-walled pits that in some cases might lead to caves that future astronauts could explore and use for shelter, according to new observations from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

The pits range in size from about 5 meters (~5 yards) across to more than 900 meters (~984 yards) in diameter, and three of them were first identified using images from the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft. Hundreds more were found using a new computer algorithm that automatically scanned thousands of high-resolution images of the lunar surface from LRO's Narrow Angle Camera (NAC).

"Pits would be useful in a support role for human activity on the lunar surface," said Robert Wagner of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. "A habitat placed in a pit -- ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang -- would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings." Wagner developed the computer algorithm, and is lead author of a paper on this research now available online in the journal Icarus.

Most pits were found either in large craters with impact melt ponds – areas of lava that formed from the heat of the impact and later solidified, or in the lunar maria – dark areas on the moon that are extensive solidified lava flows hundreds of miles across. In ancient times, the maria were thought to be oceans; "maria" is the Latin word for "seas." Various cultures have interpreted the patterns formed by the maria features in different ways; for example, some saw the face of a man, while others saw a rabbit or a boy carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.

The pits could form when the roof of a void or cave collapses, perhaps from the vibrations generated by a nearby meteorite impact, according to Wagner. However, he noted that from their appearance in the LRO photos alone, there is little evidence to point to any particular cause. The voids could be created when molten rock flowed under the lunar surface; on Earth, lava tubes form when magma flows beneath a solidified crust and later drains away. The same process could happen on the moon, especially in a large impact crater, the interior of which can take hundreds of thousands of years to cool, according to Wagner. After an impact crater forms, the sides slump under lunar gravity, pushing up the crater's floor and perhaps causing magma to flow under the surface, forming voids in places where it drains away.

Exploring impact melt pits would pin down the nature of the voids in which they form. "They are likely due to melt flow within the pond from uplift after the surface has solidified, but before the interior has cooled," said Wagner. "Exploring impact melt pits would help determine the magnitude of this uplift, and the amount of melt flow after the pond is in place."

Exploring the pits could also reveal how oceans of lava formed the lunar maria. "The mare pits in particular would be very useful for understanding how the lunar maria formed. We've taken images from orbit looking at the walls of these pits, which show that they cut through dozens of layers, confirming that the maria formed from lots of thin flows, rather than a few big ones. Ground-level exploration could determine the ages of these layers, and might even find solar wind particles that were trapped in the lunar surface billions of years ago," said Wagner.

To date, the team has found over 200 pits spread across the melt ponds of 29 craters, which are considered geologically young "Copernican" craters at less than a billion years old; eight pits in the lunar maria, three of which were previously known from images from the Japanese Kaguya orbiter; and two pits in highlands terrain.

The general age sequence matches well with the pit distributions, according to Wagner. "Impact melt ponds of Copernican craters are some of the younger terrains on the moon, and while the maria are much older at around three billion years old, they are still younger and less battered than the highlands. It's possible that there's a 'sweet spot' age for pits, where enough impacts have occurred to create a lot of pits, but not enough to destroy them," said Wagner.

There are almost certainly more pits out there, given that LRO has only imaged about 40 percent of the moon with appropriate lighting for the automated pit searching program, according to Wagner. He expects there may be at least two to three more mare pits and several dozen to over a hundred more impact melt pits, not including any pits that likely exist in already-imaged areas, but are too small to conclusively identify even with the NAC's resolution.

"We'll continue scanning NAC images for pits as they come down from the spacecraft, but for about 25 percent of the moon's surface area (near the poles) the sun never rises high enough for our algorithm to work," said Wagner. "These areas will require an improved search algorithm, and even that may not work at very high latitudes, where even a human has trouble telling a pit from an impact crater."

The next step would be to tie together more datasets such as composition maps, thermal measurements, gravity measurements, etc., to gain a better understanding of the environments in which these pits form, both at and below the surface, according to Wagner.

"The ideal follow-up, of course, would be to drop probes into one or two of these pits, and get a really good look at what's down there," adds Wagner. "Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit -- the lower walls and any floor-level caves simply cannot be seen from a good angle. Even a few pictures from ground-level would answer a lot of the outstanding questions about the nature of the voids that the pits collapsed into. We're currently in the very early design phases of a mission concept to do exactly this, exploring one of the largest mare pits."

The research was funded by NASA's LRO project. Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the moon. LRO is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Image: This is a spectacular high-Sun view of the Mare Tranquillitatis pit crater revealing boulders on an otherwise smooth floor. This image from LRO's NAC is 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide, north is up. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

(from NASA release July 17, 2014)