USGS Astrogeology Science Center News News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Apollo 8 Astronaut Visits Flagstaff Science Center]]> Fri, 12 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0700 The Astrogeology Science Center had a special guest on September 19, 2018: William Alison Anders, the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 8, the first human mission to the Moon. Anders is additionally celebrated for capturing the iconic photograph “Earthrise,” the first color photograph of the Earth taken from lunar orbit. This image is widely credited with starting the environmental movement.

 The famous 'Earthrise' photo from Apollo 8 captured by Anders, annotation by the IAU. Image credit: NASA 

Anders was visiting Flagstaff for more than just a tour of Astrogeology: he was here to meet with the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature to hash out details regarding commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission. The IAU approved names for two craters on the Moon, both visible in the foreground of the famous Earthrise photograph taken by Anders on Christmas Eve, 1968.The craters are now named ‘Anders’ Earthrise’ and ‘8 Homeward’.

 The famous 'Earthrise' photo from Apollo 8 captured by Anders, annotation by the IAU. Image credit NASA/IAU.

The USGS Astrogeology Science Center maintains the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature database and website. The nomenclature database managers, Tenielle Gaither and Rose Hayward, respond to requests from researchers for new names through the Gazetteer website and work with researchers to refine and create their name proposals. They also assist the members of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature during the approval process.

Get more details about this exciting time for Anders at the International Astronomical website.

By Janet Richie

<![CDATA[Let’s go to the movies and see First Man]]> Tue, 09 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0700

The movie "First Man" about Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the Moon, will be released in the United States on October 12, 2018! The film is based on the book First Man, written by Josh Singer.

Here in Flagstaff, our scientists are meeting with members of NASA's Astronaut Candidate Training Program this week, to discuss how to train future astronauts who might return to the Moon, so of course everyone involved will be going to see the premiere of the movie!


<![CDATA[Lunar Craters Named in Honour of Apollo 8]]> Fri, 05 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Anders' Earthrise and 8 Homeward. See the IAU Press Release for more information, and the LAC-82 map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Jovian Satellite: Valetudo]]> Wed, 03 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Planets page in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. ]]> <![CDATA[Dr. Laszlo Kestay gives talk on Mining Asteroids tomorrow]]> Mon, 24 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Have you been dozing? Mining natural resources from comets, asteroids, and planetary bodies in our solar system departed sci-fi status a while ago. Space Mining has been on the science agenda to address depleting natural resources on Earth and to expand our future in space. Hear from Dr. Laszlo Kestay between 5-6 p.m. at Lowell, on Tuesday, Sept. 25, and discover what you have been missing, and how far this plan has progressed.

Astroid Mining  Image Credit: NASA

Recent News Regarding Space Mining

Dr. Kestay's Abstract (below) from Feasibility Study for the Quantitative Assessment of Mineral Resources in Asteroids:

This study was undertaken to determine if the U.S. Geological Survey’s process for conducting mineral resource assessments on Earth can be applied to asteroids. Successful completion of the assessment, using water and iron resources to test the workflow, has resulted in identification of the minimal adjustments required to conduct full resource assessments beyond Earth. We also identify the types of future studies that would greatly reduce uncertainties in an actual future assessment. Whereas this is a feasibility study and does not include a complete and robust analysis of uncertainty, it is clear that the water and metal resources in near-Earth asteroids are sufficient to support humanity should it become a fully space-faring species.

By Janet Richie


<![CDATA[Get the scoop on Kilauea Volcano on Sunday]]> Fri, 21 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0700


Eyes from around the globe have been on the horrendous site of the Kilauea Volcano of Hawaii’s Big Island since May of 2018. On Sunday, September 23, at 3 pm at the Museum of Northern Arizona, USGS Astrogeology Science Center Scientists, Elise Rumpf and Greg Vaughan, discuss their encounters monitoring the Lower East Rift Zone Eruption over the summer. They bring their experiences and knowlege home and will answer many of the questions that are at the forefront of your mind.

I had a sneak preview of their presentation. You will hear about their very interesting and dangerous experiences. You are going to see some great video, where you think you are feeling the heat of the fire, and see one of the greatest breaks in the street that in the long run exudes magma. There is even video of the molten rock that plunged into the ocean, and they will explain it, even down to its color if you so desire. I have only touched upon what you can expect without spoiling it for you. In any case, I guarantee you when they have completed their presentation, you would have thought for a minute, it was you that was there and you will walk away more knowledgeable about volcanoes.

USGS helps prompt and guide evacuations which has led to the successful rescue and safety of residents.

By Janet Richie

<![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Mercury: Canova]]> Thu, 06 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Canova for a crater on Mercury. For more information, see Mercury map H-2 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Eight Martian Crater Names Approved]]> Fri, 31 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Alofi, Banes, Izamal, Jiji, Kaporo, Sera, Wulai, and Yelapa. For more information, see Mars maps MC-11, MC-12, and MC-20 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[A Dynamic Career Launched With a Map]]> Tue, 28 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Lunar Landing in Flagstaff, having begun July 20 and continuing through July 2019, please meet Dr. Baerbel Lucchitta. The career choice and work of Baerbel, in the unique role she played during the Apollo era, was an important role model to women who shunned traditional careers during the 60s.

Born in Münster, Germany, the launch of her career rocketed in America, when women in science were just beginning to make their marks in the geology and planetary science disciplines, primarily dominated by men. Baerbel went where few women had gone before, to perform geologic research and to map strange worlds.


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Photo of Dr. Lucchitta, taken in the Cinder Field, at the time when Jack Schmitt and Gene Shoemaker were going to drive  "Grover", (a model of the lunar vehicle to be driven on the Moon)  which sits in the lobby of USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Picture was taken in fall 1972, before the Apollo 17 mission.

Chance of a lifetime:

After she earned a Ph.D. in Geology, in 1966, at Pennsylvania State University, she worked for Astrogeology Science Center, in 1967, as a lunar mapper. Baerbel was assigned to prepare a geologic map for a candidate landing site for Apollo 17. Little did she know the tides would shift direction when Jack Schmitt, the Apollo 17 geologist and NASA astronaut, would come to Flagstaff to attend a lunar site selection meeting.

“I was at the meeting, sitting in the background among all the other non-important people,” Dr. Lucchitta humbly said.

During this meeting, Baerbel observed that Jack Schmitt expressed great interest in going to the Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon. Her intuition told her that this was going to be the landing site selected and therefore she wanted to prepare the geologic map for this site. However, she had already been assigned to map another site and had to convince her supervisor to let her change the assignment. What if her intuition was wrong and was only wishful thinking?


Her reassignment was approved and she wasted no time producing the 1:50,000 geologic map, above,  with fine detail of the Taurus-Littrow valley site. Above and beyond her dreams, Taurus-Littrow valley was indeed chosen as the final landing site for Apollo 17, beating out Alphonsus and Gassendi. Additionally, this was to be the last lunar landing of the Apollo Program.

“The construction of the map launched my career, “Dr. Lucchitta said. “Female intuition helped.”

tabloid article’ map” width=500

Photo image from a German Tabloid. Translation: This woman makes the moon men dance to her tune.  Dr. Lucchitta said, “They wanted a picture of me, and that is what they came up with.  I was shocked.”

The astronauts would dance to her tune.

After Dr. Lucchitta made the map, she was flown to Cape Canaveral to instruct the back-up crew for Apollo 17, John Young and Chuck Duke, about the geology they would likely find at the landing site. But, before the instruction began, she had to pinch herself again: she was going to dine with all the astronauts! She recalls Ron Evans, the command module pilot for Apollo 17, showing up late for the dinner and looking around the table and saying, "Where is Dr. Lucchitta? He is supposed to give us a lecture tonight." All fingers pointed at Baerbel, and they said, “It is her!”  Surprise!

After dinner, Baerbel began instructing the astronauts on the geology of the Apollo 17 landing site. She reminisced about a session where she had told the astronauts they would not find silicic volcanic rocks at their landing site in the lunar highlands. At the time, it was still widely believed that the lunar highlands were composed of such rocks. She told them they were going to find nothing but breccia. “I knew this because of my careful study of similar rocks at the Apollo 17 landing site. They would not believe me. What did I know as a young woman, and as a junior researcher? Of course, I was right,” she said.

She talked with men on the Moon.

During the Apollo 17 mission, Dr. Lucchitta was in Houston and, among others, served as a backroom researcher transmitting information to the command center, which communicated with the crew on the Moon. But both before and after the mission she interacted with Jack Schmitt extensively, mostly about the dark mantle, thought to be a volcanic pyroclastic deposit to be found at the Apollo 17 landing site. She had done research on these mantles, and was gratified that during their traverses on the Moon Schmitt found orange glass, which was a component of the dark mantle and strongly suggested a volcanic origin. Schmitt and Baerbel published a paper together about these findings.

She had a successful career.

Dr. Lucchitta is a Scientist Emeritus with the Astrogeology Science Center today, still passionate about her work. When asked what was going through her mind as she worked with the astronauts she simply said, “I was elated. At the time, astronauts were big-hero stuff, and I was absolutely thrilled to be part of it all. I was thrilled to do research on the Moon, where almost everything we found was brand new. I was thrilled having the opportunity to personally meet the astronauts, have dinner with them, get to know them, and interact with them. I was floating on air.”

This Apollo story tells little about Baerbel and her triumphs and challenges in the work force. Do you feel like laughing, crying, and or cheering? See  Baerbel's response, a must read, to a G.K. Gilbert Award presented to her, with citation by Eugene M. Shoemaker, on page 30.


Article written by J. Richie

<![CDATA[Name Approved for Crater on the Moon: Donner M]]> Tue, 28 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Donner M for a small crater on the Moon. For more information, see LAC-116 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Crater on the Moon: Yerkes V]]> Fri, 24 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Yerkes V for a small crater on the Moon. For more information, see LAC-62 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Astrogeology Welcomes New Director]]> Sun, 12 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Acting Southwest Regional Director, William R. Guertal, announced the selection of Justin Hagerty as the new Director of Astrogeology Science Center on July 5, 2018. Justin assumed the new role on July 22 and succeeded Laszlo Kestay.

Astro DirectorAstrogeology Science Center Director, Dr. Justin Hagerty

As Astrogeology’s new director, Justin will oversee 86 employees including civil service and contractors, and has performed management roles many times before in other positions. He holds a Bachelor of Science with honors, a Masters, and a PhD degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque. Justin said,


“I am honored to be given this opportunity, and I look forward to serving all of the talented and driven people that make up this incredible center.”


Justin has a decade of experience in planetary science having managed cooperative science projects from inception through delivery, leading interdisciplinary and international groups through planning and implementation of mission goals, competitively obtaining multi-year funding, and conducting complex scientific investigations, Guertal reports. In fact, in 2012, Justin was a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.


Previous directorPrevious Astrogeology Science Center Director, Dr. Laszlo Kestay

The Astrogeology team thanks Laszlo Kestay for 8 years of meritorious service as Director. “Laz provided stable leadership during many budgetary challenges, and developed a healthy and productive relationship between USGS and NASA. The Astrogeology team will continue to benefit from Laszlo’s leadership and science expertise,” Guertal said. Laszlo returned to his passion of research at Astrogeology, so he will be around.

Laszlo said, "Justin is 'that leader' with skills that can take Astrogeology from our 5th decade to well in the future."


By Janet Richie

<![CDATA[Sol 2129: Dude, where’s my data?]]> Wed, 01 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 2126 Mastcam Left

Curiosity is currently on her way to a potentially softer rock target to drill in the Pettegrove Point member of Vera Rubin Ridge.  Today was a late slide sol, which means we had to wait until 11am PDT for the downlink to arrive.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get our downlink today from MRO.  I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was an interesting morning as we had to quickly adjust the plan without knowing the current state of the rover. However, the team turned it around and made the most of the untargeted remote sensing sol.  The geology theme group planned several autonomously targeted AEGIS observations of bedrock in the workspace, along with a Mastcam mosaic of the workspace and a Navcam mosaic of the ChemCam targetable region to prepare for targeting in the weekend plan.  The environmental theme group took advantage of the day with two Mastcam tau and crater rim extinction observations, a Navcam line of sight and dust devil movie, and Navcam suprahorizon and zenith movies.  All of this great environmental monitoring data will help as we continue to assess the ongoing dust storm.  Looking ahead, we hope to proceed with science activities and driving in the weekend plan with the help of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to relay data.  Just another day and another challenge working on Mars!

By Lauren Edgar 

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

<![CDATA[Blood Moon Tonight]]> Fri, 27 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Tonight you can see a  Blood Moon lasting longer than ususal. Update: See it here if you missed it.

Credits: NASA]]>
<![CDATA[Astrogeology, Shoemaker, Cinder Lakes, and the Moon]]> Tue, 31 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0700

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Lunar Landing having begun July 20 and continuing through July 2019, in Flagstaff, AZ — what better time exists to expose a true, raw, behind-the-scenes account of Astrogeology’s (Astro) involvement in the Apollo Era and spare no gritty details?

Only part of the story can be told when touring space-training land marks where Astro’s geologists trained the astronauts, or at STEM activities, where our scientists are sharing their lunar expertise community-wide, or at their talks when a limitation must be set on everyone’s time.

You can find the location of the Apollo 11 landing site in Astro’s maps of the Moon, but the gift of the five senses that brings this 50-year-old story of our involvement in color—cannot be fully realized in them. Millions watched the Apollo 11 moon landing on television, in 1969, and even it answers only certain questions however witnesses important firsts in which proud America was successful.

We make no excuse for providing our neighbors and others in the world in-depth information regarding our involvement in the Apollo missions. We take this time to pull from our digital bookshelf an Open File Report written by Jerry Schaber, a retired geologist employed by Astro, who helped train the astronauts, and who spares no details in USGS Open File Report 2005-1190, The U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology—A Chronology of Activities from Conception through the End of Project Apollo (1960-1973), regarding our involvement.

You are cordially invited to indulge this free gift now, and find out details of our involvement without time limitations as a factor.


By Janet Richie