USGS Astrogeology Science Center News News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Chang'e-4 Landing Site Name Approved: Statio Tianhe]]> Fri, 15 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Statio Tianhe for the landing site where the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e-4 touched town on January 3, 2019, the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon. Four other names for features near the landing site have also been approved: Zhinyu, Hegu, and Tianjin craters, as well as Mons Tai. See the IAU Press Release for more information.]]> <![CDATA[Lunar Legacy February Lecture Tonight]]> Wed, 13 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Apollo astronauts on the moon with the lunar rover in the background.

Dr. Ivo Lucchitta, and Dr. Baerbel Lucchitta Scientist Emeritus at Astrogeology Science Center,  will be giving a talk entitled From the Mountain to the Moon on Wednesday February 13th about their personal experiences as USGS scientists helping with the Apollo missions, from training the astronauts to mapping the landing sites. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Apollo, you're bound to learn something new from these two! The lecture will begin at  6:00 pm, at Coconino Community College, Lone Tree Campus (in the main atrium).

<![CDATA[USGS Flagstaff Science Campus back from shutdown: A notice from the SCD]]> Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700

We would like to take this time to extend thanks to our community for their unwavering support during the partial government shutdown. The USGS Flagstaff Science Campus is back fully operational as of January 28 from the longest shutdown in history lasting 35 days. More than 30 businesses in Flagstaff provided services to all furloughed workers: the help was there if needed. We were equally impressed that many of our furloughed employees were giving back to the community, simultaneously, as private citizens, by volunteering at a variety of locations throughout the region. It is good to know we are so fortunate to live in such a caring and compassionate community. Again, thanks to all who contributed service, time, resources, and moral support.

Justin Hagerty, Science Center Director

<![CDATA[Get to know us: Astrogeology]]> Thu, 07 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 In 1960, Eugene Shoemaker and a team of other scientists founded the field of astrogeology to develop tools, methods, and training for the Apollo astronauts exploring the Moon. In 1962, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Branch of Astrogeology was established in Menlo Park, California; and in 1963, the Branch moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to be closer to the young lava flows of the San Francisco Volcanic Field and Meteor Crater, in Northern Arizona. These geologic features were considered good analogs for the Moon and other planetary bodies, and valuable for geologic studies and astronaut field training. From its Flagstaff Science Campus, the USGS has supported the NASA space program with scientific and cartographic expertise for more than 50 years and continues to be a leader in the field of Space Science Research. You can find out more information about Astrogeology in the fact sheet that we put together to celebrate our own 50th Anniversary a few years ago.

By R. G. Vaughan

<![CDATA[Sols 2301-2303: Looking Forward to the Clay-Bearing Unit]]> Mon, 28 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Navcam view of the hills of Mt. Sharp looming ahead of the rover.

This weekend's plan started off on Sol 2301 with some Mastcam atmospheric observations, followed by ChemCam analysis of "Loch Ness" and "Loch Skeen," examples of brown and gray bedrock. ChemCam also had a long-distance image mosaic of an interesting outcrop in the clay-bearing unit. Once the remote sensing was done, it was time for some contact science. MAHLI collected some images of Loch Ness before and after it was brushed, as well as the target "Puddledub." APXS then took a turn, with a quick analysis of Puddledub and an overnight analysis of Loch Ness.

On Sol 2302, we started off with a Navcam atmospheric observation, followed by Mastcam multispectral observations of Loch Ness and Loch Skeen. Mastcam also had a large stereo mosaic surveying the clay-bearing unit that we will soon be exploring. We then drove for about 32 meters and collected some post-drive imaging including our routine Mastcam "clast survey" to document changes in the rocks and soils along our traverse, as well as some additional Navcam images to help with imaging the pediment that is looming large just beyond the clay-bearing unit. This was followed by some Mastcam atmospheric observations and a MARDI image of the ground beneath the rover.

Sol 2303 was dedicated to atmospheric observations, with the usual Mastcam "tau" images plus several Navcam movies. Some of these were pointed at the sky to watch for clouds, while others were pointed out across the crater floor to watch for dust devils.

<![CDATA[Sol 2164: Science and Good Times at Rock Hall]]> Wed, 19 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0700

We are still very excited and happy that the final drill hole, “Rock Hall,” on Vera Rubin Ridge was successful over the weekend. Now we get to analyze the drilled sample with rover instruments. We are planning one sol today, and the big event will be delivering some of the Rock Hall sample to the CheMin instrument.

Additionally, ChemCam LIBS is planned to target the drill hole to understand the chemistry, and a Mastcam 360-degree mosaic is planned to document the surroundings around the drill hole.  

Although the drill was successful over the weekend, a few of the remote science observations were not obtained. To recover some of those observations, today we plan to retake the "Lairig Ghru" Mastcam observation that will document layering near Curiosity. 

By Kristen Bennett

--Kristen 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[Mike and the Moon]]> Wed, 12 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0700 We had some friends visit while they were on vacation in northern Arizona over the Thanksgiving holiday this year. One night after dinner the topic of conversation drifted to my work with the USGS Astrogeology Science Center here in Flagstaff as an IT Specialist. They had seen Internet articles about the Flagstaff Lunar Legacy Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first human to set foot on the Moon.

My friends knew I was an amateur astronomer and as our discussion about the Moon continued, they asked me if I had any photographs of the Moon taken through my telescope. Over the past several months the Flagstaff Lunar Legacy Celebration has garnered more and more attention around town and at work and had me turning my telescope to view the Moon more often too. I had to admit that I'd only taken a few quick snapshots and hadn't really spent too much time creating a nice quality photo.

So, I invited our guests to my home office, where we set to work fixing that.

Over the years I have built a robotic, remotely controlled telescope in a protective dome that I can operate entirely from the comfort of my home office. I have created images of the night sky and sent many of them to our friends in the form of Christmas cards, in special occasion newsletters, and just for fun when a new one was completed. I knew the Moon was up and thought we might be able to get a nice photograph. It was Saturday night, November 17, 2018, around eleven-thirty and the following illustration shows the piece of the sky clearly visible at that time. You can see the Moon at the lower right just before it slid down behind the pine trees in the western sky (outside of the yellow border it's all pine trees).

A visible sky map

                                                  Visible Sky


Here is the telescope used to capture pictures of the Moon. A camera connected to the smaller 127mm refractor mounted on top of the larger reflector telescope was used.


Mike's telescope


After centering the Moon in the telescope's field of view, the monochrome camera was used to collect 100 images while the telescope drive system tracked the Moon to the west. Since the Moon is very bright the camera could be set up for short exposures which helps to defeat the jitter and jumpiness seen with longer exposures caused by atmospheric air turbulence. Each of the 100 exposures here was just over 1/10th of a second in duration resulting in an 11 second stream of images. Of the 100 individual images, I selected the best 30 and used them to create the final image. This involved aligning to correct for slight differences in Moon's position from image to image, processing to reduce artifacts, and combining the images, which reduced image noise and brought out detail.

Mike Klinke’s moon shot

                                       Final Shot of the Moon


Once we were happy with the resulting image my friends asked: "Where did the Apollo missions land?" So, using photo editing software I added some layers to the image showing the Apollo landing sites.


Mike Klinke’s moon shot pinpointing Apollo Landing Sites

            Final Shot of the Moon pinpointing Apollo Landing Sites


We talked about how the USGS Astrogeology Science Center helped train astronauts, test equipment that might be used on missions to the Moon, make maps to select the Apollo landing sites, and more. I hope that one day I can add new layers showing where new missions to the Moon have landed. And when humans do return to the moon in future missions, I have little doubt that the USGS Astrogeology Science Center here in Flagstaff will once again play an important role in ensuring that the missions are successful. Hmmm, I wonder if I should get a bigger telescope?

By Mike Klinke

<![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Ceres: Lughnasa Tholus]]> Fri, 30 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Lughnasa Tholus for a feature on Ceres. For more information, see the Ceres map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. ]]> <![CDATA[Watching InSight for a Successful Landing]]> Wed, 28 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 On November 26,  the InSight Lander safely landed in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars. It is amazing how NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has made landing on Mars look so easy. It is not. Years in the making, this joint American, French, and German collaboration, has the primary mission to measure seismic activity on Mars (or “Marsquakes”). 

Landing site map

Several Astrogeology Science Center employees gathered to watch the live feed broadcast from mission control at JPL in Pasadena, California. Photo Credit: Patty Garcia/USGS.

Ecstatic cheering erupted from mission control once the touch-down was announced and the first dusty image was shown. InSight team members at Astrogeology also breathed a collective sigh of relief since they helped to create the InSight landing site maps. These maps are used to assess whether the site is safe to land on. In fact, Astrogeology employees have created 8 landing site maps for 8 seperate successful Mars robotic landings by NASA.

Landing site map

This image from Fergason, 2017, shows the Astrogeology-created CTX (20 m/pixel) and HiRISE (1 m/pixel) topographic maps, colorized by elevation (m), in support of landing site selection for InSight. The grayscale THEMIS daytime infrared controlled mosaic (100 m/pixel), also by USGS, underlays the topographic layers. Topographic-based landing site maps are generated by combining several pairs of stereo images.

Dr. Robin Fergason, a planetary scientist at Astrogeology, led these efforts for NASA. For more information about our InSight support please see this paper: Fergason, R. Kirk, R.L., Cushing, G., Galuzska, D.M., Golombek, M.P., Hare, T.M., Howington-Kraus, E., Kipp, D.M., Redding, B.L., 2017, Analysis of local slopes at the InSight landing site on Mars. Space Sci. Rev. 211, 109–133.

Article by Trent Hare


<![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Mars: Cagli]]> Fri, 16 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Cagli for a crater on Mars. For more information, see Mars map MC-11 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Feature on Mars: Kalpin]]> Thu, 15 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Kalpin for a crater on Mars. For more information, see Mars map MC-15 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[My Journey to Geology and BEYOND]]> Fri, 09 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 My journey to geology started one class at a time. In my mid-twenties, with a full-time office job, life seemed sweet, except there was a void in my education that needed filling. I began taking classes, part-time, at Coconino Community College. I enrolled in each science course available, and finally found my niche in geology by way of an oceanography research project where I correlated off-shore buoy data to seasonal beach face changes.


                          Annette Sunda on the Dune Du Pilat

After 6 years of taking one class at a time, while working full time as a file clerk, I had earned my first degree: An Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies, and I had a new-found passion for learning. Since it’s difficult to train in the geology discipline from behind a file clerk’s desk, I quit my job and focused on school. The decision to leave my career, my friends, and my life behind came after a discussion with management in which I was told to choose between school and work. I woke up the next morning and knew that if I wanted a better life, it was up to me to work for it: I left my career and became a full-time student.

The transition to becoming a full-time student was more challenging than I expected. Giving up a career and the stability that comes with it meant that I had to give up my comfortable life, but I found support in my classmates and friends who put a roof over my head and food in my belly. In 2017, I completed my Bachelor of Science, in Geology, at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and am now working on a Master of Science in Computer Science at Regis University.

Research Opportunities

Many amazing research opportunities came along my journey to becoming a geologist, all which had the common thread of measuring how and why sand moves. My undergraduate geology research included California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) Project ACCESSO summer internship, NASA NAU Space Grant, a Student Contract with USGS Astrogeology Science Center(Astro) which grew into a Pathways Internship.

My work for CSUCI Project ACCESSO was focused on Sandy Beaches of southern California; we measured many parameters of the beach including grain size and beach face slope, and biological richness. Learning how to measure slopes of sandy surfaces and do a grain size analysis led me to my Space Grant where I worked on correlating the movement of sand dunes on the Navajo Nation with a grain size analysis of the dunes. My student contract work with Astro started with image processing for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Microscopic Imager (MI). I processed data from the MI to create images such as anaglyphs, color merges, and focal merges but blossomed into building a database to contain metadata for the images and a website prototype to share that data. While working as a student contractor for the MER team, I was asked to join another group of people doing research and joined their team to do a grain size analysis of sand collected at their Mars analog dune site.

Program Support Benefited Me

The research I did for my Space Grant was accepted for a poster presentation at the 10th International Conference for Aeolian Research (ICARX) in Bordeaux, France. ICARX is an international conference dedicated to wind erosion and transport phenomena. The financial support I received from GEM Environmental made it possible for me to attend the conference. They supported me with a $1,000 scholarship which paid for my transportation and hotel for the conference. My poster was displayed for two days, and my abstract included in the abstract book ( This was my first conference in a different country and my first trip to another continent; it was a life-changing experience. I was able to network with people doing similar research, those doing complementary research, and those studying things I had never imagined. For a week I lived and breathed wind-driven sediment transportation and had a field trip to the largest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat.

My Future Career in STEM: benefited!

My time in Bordeaux was dedicated to the conference; most people go to Bordeaux to drink fine wine and admire the art, but I spent most of my days drinking fine wine and talking about wind driven sediment transport. The time I had between presentations, I asked questions and took notes. Evenings were spent riding a bike through the narrow streets while trying not to run over pedestrians or get run over by trams. I returned home with a collection of knowledge about active research projects from around the world, and made networking connections for potential collaborations. The field of research in sediment transportation is small and somewhat disconnected; attending ICARX helped me bridge some of those gaps. After this conference, I attended a proposal writing workshop for sediment transport and was able to inform key decisions based on connections made at ICARX in Bordeaux. By the end of the workshop, I was co-point for a project, tasked with finding funding sources, finding data archives, and maintaining the momentum from that workshop.


If I ever need to remember for a moment, why I do science, I remind myself of the dead-end paper shuffling career and the struggles I went through to get here. I recall the friends and family that supported me when I wanted to give up, and those that gave me a home when the alternative was sleeping in my car. I think of the people that shared their love of science with me and the incredible projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. My old chemistry professor, Dr. Salami, comes to mind often; his words are burned in my memory “You will not fail! Do not give up! Failure only happens when you give up.” Dr. Salami would be happy to see how far I’ve come since his introduction to chemistry course. Working at Astro is a daily reminder that with determination you can achieve anything. My passion in science is sediment transport and through that I found data science. My Pathways Internship at Astro allows me to combine my passions and grow as a scientist.

By Annette Sunda

<![CDATA[Sol 2223: Optimism for “Highfield”]]> Tue, 06 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 2222 Navcam of Highfield

On Sol 2222, Curiosity drove ~10 m towards the “Lake Orcadie” location, in the hopes that we would be able to drill the gray Jura member here.  Today’s plan is focused on characterizing the target “Highfield,” the bright patch of outcrop shown in the middle of the above Navcam image.  I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was a pretty straightforward planning day because most of the activities were pre-planned as part of our standard drill site characterization.  First APXS will carry out a short integration on the intended drill target, followed by two MAHLI images.  Then we’ll use the DRT to brush the target, followed by Mastcam imaging and a full suite of MAHLI images.  Then we’ll do a drill pre-load test, which means that we’ll put weight on the drill bit to make sure the surface can support it, and if it makes marks on the surface this might give us an indication of how hard or soft the surface is. Overnight, we’ll acquire a longer APXS integration on “Highfield.”  We were pretty tight on both power and data volume today so it was a bit of a challenge to prioritize everything, but we’re optimistic that this will be our chance to sample the gray Jura member.  I’ll be on duty again tomorrow, so I’m eagerly awaiting our downlink and hoping that we’ll be “go” for a full drill hole here!

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[So long to NASA's Dawn spacecraft: mission ending today!]]> Thu, 01 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700 NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, launched in September 2007, ended its long journey today.  After failed communications and subsequent analyses of the cause, scientists concluded Dawn ran out of hydrazine fuel. This comes as no surprise as  NASA announced in October 2017 that the mission would be extended until Dawn's hydrazine fuel run out about the latter half of 2018.

 Dawn Spacecraft

Artist rendition of NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL


Dawn’s mission focused on Vesta and Ceres, two protoplanets within the asteroid belt, to characterize the conditions and processes that shaped our solar system. From July 2011 to September 2012, Dawn orbited Vesta. In 2012, Dawn began surveying Ceres, its final destination. The spacecraft itself, although no longer active, will remain in orbit for at least 20 to 100 years.

“Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission – its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Dawn will be forever known as a mission with many firsts. The data Dawn radioed back to Earth will enable scientists to test and refine hypotheses and likely make even more incredible discoveries.

The Dawn mission was managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn was a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. JPL was responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Northrop Grumman in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Find out more about the Dawn Mission.

By Janet Richie

<![CDATA[Astrogeology Awarded by ISPRS for Apollo Photogrammetry Paper]]> Tue, 30 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0700


Researchers from USGS Astrogeology, along with colleagues from NASA Ames Research Center and Arizona State University (ASU) were recently awarded Best Interactive Presentation at the International Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) symposium held at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, from 10-12 October 2018.


This award was presented for the contribution entitled “Revisiting the Apollo Photogrammetric Mapping System.” This mapping system was a group of cameras on the last three Apollo lunar missions (15, 16, and 17) in the early 1970s, used to take high-quality pictures of a significant fraction of the lunar surface.

Astrogeology has been working with NASA Ames, and ASU to convert as much of the Apollo mapping system data as possible into versatile digital map products. These products will enable a variety of scientific/engineering uses including mission planning, geologic mapping, geophysical process modelling, slope dependent correction of spectral data, and change detection. The paper detailing this work was published in The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences. Kenneth Edmundson, a photogrammetrist with Astrogeology, represented the co-authors at the symposium.

Other co-authors and their current affiliations include:

Astrogeology Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ: Brent A. Archinal, Jesse A. Mapel, Janet O. Richie, Makayla R. Shepherd, John R. Shinaman, Ethan D. Smith, and Lynn A. Weller.

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA: Oleg Alexandrov and Ara V. Nefian.

Lunar Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: Kris J. Becker and Tammy L. Becker.

Google Inc., Mountain View, CA: Zachary M. Moratto.

School of Earth and Space Exploration and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ: Mark S. Robinson.