Hello Moon, Hello Einstein…

The Moon as imaged by UNH Observatory volunteer and local amateur astronomer, John S. Gianforte of Blue Sky Observatory. You can check out more of John’s amazing astrophotography at www.theskyguy.org.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched back in June 2009 to start its mission of reinvestigating Earth’s only natural satellite. LRO was also launched with its companion mission Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) which generated a lot of press coverage about NASA bombing the Moon. As the official LRO website explains, “The LRO instruments return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo. However there is particular emphasis on the polar regions of the moon where continuous access to solar illumination may be possible and the prospect of water in the permanently shadowed regions at the poles may exist.” So basically LRO is our first step in finding out more about the Moon to help inform decisions about when, where, and how we might go back there. “LRO follows in the footsteps of the predecessors to the Apollo missions – missions designed in part to search for the best possible landing sites (such as the Ranger, Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions). However, building a lunar outpost implies extended periods on the lunar surface and so the goals of LRO go beyond the requirements of these previous missions. LRO focuses on the selection of safe landing sites, identification of lunar resources, and the study of how the lunar radiation environment will affect humans.” In fact, researchers right here at UNH have an instrument called Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) on LRO which is essentially testing the dosage of harmful cosmic radiation that the moon (and future human colonizers or visitors) would be exposed to.

In honor of reaching 1,000 days in orbit around the Moon, the LRO team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD has released two new videos about Earth’s celestial companion. The first video, “Evolution of the Moon” takes viewers through a very interesting visually stimulating history of the moon’s evolution, and reveals how it came to appear the way it does today. The second video, “Tour of the Moon”, gives viewers a guided looks-too-amazing-to-be-real tour of prominent locations on the moon’s surface, compiled by the spacecraft’s observations of the moon. If you’ve got a few minutes (~7) to spare, you can check out both of the movies combined here: Evolution and Tour of the Moon.

Also, just a quick reminder that today, March 14, 2012 marks the 133rd birthday of Albert Einstein (seen below), arguably the most influential and probably most popular scientist of the last century (possibly of all time). Remembered for his famous equation regarding mass-energy conservation (E=mc²), his multitude of inspirational and often humorous quotes, zany hairdo, and all-around joviality, Einstein reached a level of celebrity unknown to scientists before him and unparalleled by most since. Although most famous for his work in developing the theories of special and general relativity, Einstein was actually awarded his only Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for a paper from his notoriously prolific annus mirabilis (or extraordinary year) 0f 1905 (when he published four scientific papers, all of which went on to shape the some scope of the basis of modern day physics) that explained the photoelectric effect. This particular paper, “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light”, was the first to propose the idea of quantized energy, what would become the basis of all quantum mechanics and most modern technology. If you’d like to find out more about Einstein’s life, I recommend checking out noted biographer Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe.

Albert Einstein, most commonly known for his famous E=mc² equation, actually won his only Nobel Prize in Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. Credit: hebrewyou.com

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