Moon Has A Water-Rich Interior

A new study of satellite data finds that numerous volcanic deposits distributed across the surface of the Moon contain unusually high amounts of trapped water compared with surrounding terrains. The finding of water in these ancient deposits, which are believed to consist of glass beads formed by the explosive eruption of magma coming from the deep lunar interior, bolsters the idea that the lunar mantle is surprisingly water-rich.

Scientists had assumed for years that the interior of the Moon had been largely depleted of water and other volatile compounds. That began to change in 2008, when a research team including Brown University geologist Alberto Saal detected trace amounts of water in some of the volcanic glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions to the Moon. In 2011, further study of tiny crystalline formations within those beads revealed that they actually contain similar amounts of water as some basalts on Earth. That suggests that the Moon’s mantle — parts of it, at least — contain as much water as Earth’s.

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle,” said Ralph Milliken, lead author of the new research and an associate professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. “By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the Moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions. The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the Moon is wet.”

The research, which Milliken co-authored with Shuai Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii and a recent Brown Ph.D. graduate, is published in Nature Geoscience.

Detecting the water content of lunar volcanic deposits using orbital instruments is no easy task. Scientists use orbital spectrometers to measure the light that bounces off a planetary surface. By looking at which wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by the surface, scientists can get an idea of which minerals and other compounds are present.

The problem is that the lunar surface heats up over the course of a day, especially at the latitudes where these pyroclastic deposits are located. That means that in addition to the light reflected from the surface, the spectrometer also ends up measuring heat.

“That thermally emitted radiation happens at the same wavelengths that we need to use to look for water,” Milliken said. “So in order to say with any confidence that water is present, we first need to account for and remove the thermally emitted component.”

To do that, Li and Milliken used laboratory-based measurements of samples returned from the Apollo missions, combined with a detailed temperature profile of the areas of interest on the Moon’s surface. Using the new thermal correction, the researchers looked at data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an imaging spectrometer that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.

The researchers found evidence of water in nearly all of the large pyroclastic deposits that had been previously mapped across the Moon’s surface, including deposits near the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites where the water-bearing glass bead samples were collected.

“The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing,” Milliken said. “They’re spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn’t a one-off. Lunar pyroclastics seem to be universally water-rich, which suggests the same may be true of the mantle.”

The idea that the interior of the Moon is water-rich raises interesting questions about the Moon’s formation. Scientists think the Moon formed from debris left behind after an object about the size of Mars slammed into the Earth very early in solar system history. One of the reasons scientists had assumed the Moon’s interior should be dry is that it seems unlikely that any of the hydrogen needed to form water could have survived the heat of that impact.

“The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified,” Li said. “The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question.”

In addition to shedding light on the water story in the early solar system, the research could also have implications for future lunar exploration. The volcanic beads don’t contain a lot of water — about .05 percent by weight, the researchers say — but the deposits are large, and the water could potentially be extracted.

“Other studies have suggested the presence of water ice in shadowed regions at the lunar poles, but the pyroclastic deposits are at locations that may be easier to access,” Li said. “Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative.”

Strength Of Tectonic Plates May Explain Shape Of The Tibetan Plateau

Geoscientists have long puzzled over the mechanism that created the Tibetan Plateau, but a new study finds that the landform’s history may be controlled primarily by the strength of the tectonic plates whose collision prompted its uplift. Given that the region is one of the most seismically active areas in the world, understanding the plateau’s geologic history could give scientists insight to modern day earthquake activity.

The new findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Even from space, the Tibetan Plateau appears huge. The massive highland, formed by the convergence of two continental plates, India and Asia, dwarfs other mountain ranges in height and breadth. Most other mountain ranges appear like narrow scars of raised flesh, while the Himalaya Plateau looks like a broad, asymmetrical scab surrounded by craggy peaks.

“The asymmetric shape and complex subsurface structure of the Tibetan Plateau make its formation one of the most significant outstanding questions in the study of plate tectonics today,” said University of Illinois geology professor and study co-author Lijun Liu.

In the classic model of Tibetan Plateau formation, a fast-moving Indian continental plate collides head-on with the relatively stationary Asian plate about 50 million years ago. The convergence is likely to have caused the Earth’s crust to bunch up into the massive pile known as the Himalaya Mountains and Tibetan Plateau seen today, but this does not explain why the plateau is asymmetrical, Liu Said.

“The Tibetan Plateau is not uniformly wide,” said Lin Chen, the lead author from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The western side is very narrow and the eastern side is very broad — something that many past models have failed to explain.”Many of those past models have focused on the surface geology of the actual plateau region, Liu said, but the real story might be found further down, where the Asian and Indian plates meet.

“There is a huge change in topography on the plateau, or the Asian plate, while the landform and moving speed of the Indian plate along the collision zone are essentially the same from west to east,” Liu said. “Why does the Asian plate vary so much?”

To address this question, Liu and his co-authors looked at what happens when tectonic plates made from rocks of different strengths collide. A series of 3-D computational continental collision models were used to test this idea.

“We looked at two scenarios — a weak Asian plate and a strong Asian plate,” said Liu. “We kept the incoming Indian plate strong in both models.”

When the researchers let the models run, they found that a strong Asian plate scenario resulted in a narrow plateau. The weak Asian plate model produced a broad plateau, like what is seen today.

“We then ran a third scenario which is a composite of the strong and weak Asian plate models,” said Liu. “An Asian plate with a strong western side and weak eastern side results in an orientation very similar to what we see today.”

This model, besides predicting the surface topography, also helps explain some of the complex subsurface structure seen using seismic observation techniques.

“It is exciting to see that such a simple model leads to something close to what we observe today,” Liu said. “The location of modern earthquake activity and land movement corresponds to what we predict with the model, as well.”

JUST IN: Large CME on Farside of Sun

A large CME occurred on the farside of the Sun beginning at approximately 03:20 UTC (July 23rd). Shortly afterwards, a fast moving, asymmetric halo coronal mass ejection (CME) became visible in LASCO coronagraph imagery.

Because the flare location was situated on the farside of the Sun, the energetic plasma cloud was directed away from Earth. Had it been directed our way, severe geomagnetic storming would have been likely.

This event is actually helpful in disrupting the far more dangerous galactic cosmic rays from entering Earth’s atmosphere. It is the very reason the Sun is in an extreme solar minimum, that is allowing up to a 20% increase in dose rates of cosmic rays.

Thank you for helping support this project to keep us informed of the latest research and breaking news. I need to register with specific journals and research sites which average about $100 each. I would also like to attend one or two symposiums attended by the top scientists in the world, who will present their latest research regarding these topics – and before it ever hits the journals or news organizations.

My next article will outline the geographic areas most vulnerable to coming events.

Watch for ongoing reports as information comes in. I also plan to present greater outlines to the science behind by research, especially for those who may be new to my work.

Cheers, Mitch

 

Major Solar Flare Detected In Dwarf Star Close To Sun

The Sun’s closest star neighbour, Proxima Centauri, a cool dwarf star situated a little over four light years away, may not be inclined to harbour habitable planets, if its temperament is anything to go by. AstroSat, along with other space and earth-based observatories, has detected a powerful solar flare sent out by this star.

At an energy of 10-raised-to-30 ergs, this explosion is about 100 times a typical flare. “If [such a flare] occurs in our Sun, it might have a devastating effect on power grids, interrupt broadcasts and electricity, affect electronic instruments, and cause excess UV radiation in space,” Professor K.P. Singh of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, who was involved in the research, said in a joint press release issued by the observatories.

Observation campaign

On 31 May 2017, three space-based observatories, the Astrosat, Chandra and Hubble Space Telescope, and the ground-based High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) observatory, participated in a multi-wavelength simultaneous observation campaign.

“The mission teams of all satellites agreed to point to this star and spend a whole day watching this particular star. Also, AstroSat is sensitive enough to easily catch a flare from a star that is so close to us, if it happens during the night time of the satellite and if the telescope is pointed towards this star, as was the case here,” Professor Singh said in an email to The Hindu.

Last year’s discovery of Proxima Centauri b — a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri and, more importantly, lying in its habitable ‘Goldilocks’ zone — had set everyone wondering if it could host life.

“It [the solar flare] makes it quite improbable for Proxima Centauri b to host a life form as we know it,” said Professor Singh.

Hong Kong Raises Storm Warning as Cyclone Roke Approaches

The Hong Kong Observatory lowered its warning to strong wind signal No. 3 from the third-highest warning issued Sunday morning as Cyclone Roke weakened after entering the inland area of China’s southern Guangdong province.

The agency said tropical storm signal No. 8 is still in force, and advised the public to stay away from the shoreline. Ferry services were suspended while Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said delays can be expected. Cathay and Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd. said flight operations remain normal, while MTR Corp. said trains and buses are running as usual. It is the second cyclone warning issued this year.

Cyclone Roke was centered about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north-northwest of the observatory in Tsim Sha Tsui district at 1 p.m. local time, and is forecast to move west or west-northwest at about 20 kilometers per hour, according to the latest update. Hong Kong’s airport authority said 56 flights were delayed as of 11 a.m. local time, according to a government statement.

When typhoon Haima made landfall in China last October after brushing past Hong Kong, the city’s stock exchange was forced to cancel trading for the day, while authorities shut schools.

Measuring Cyclones From Space Has Global Benefits

Researchers may look to the sky to better predict the devastating hurricanes and typhoons that take place around the globe every year.

At a panel on the Benefits for Humanity-Innovations on the International Space Station (ISS) during the ISS R&D Conference 2017, Paul Joss, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said by viewing cyclones at 400 km above sea level, researchers will be able to better predict their ultimate impact on human life.

“The single quantity that tells you the most about how much damage and how many lives are going to be lost when a cyclone hits land is the pressure at sea level in the clear eye of the center of the storm,” Joss said during the July 18 panel. “Having accurate measurements on the strength of these storms and putting those into numerical weather prediction codes to determine how strong the storm is going to be when it hits land is of great importance in saving both human life and property.

“Since 2013 we’ve been investigating on the ISS a remote method of measuring the central pressure in a tropical cyclone.”

Joss estimated that better predicative measures of cyclones could ultimately save 10,000 lives and $10-billion to $15-billion annually worldwide.

ISS is able to capture exactly how a storm is moving and acting from different angles, which can be used to measure the height of the clouds just outside the central eye of the storm.

Researchers then would be able to create a 3D image of the eye wall—the area immediately outside the eye of the cyclone that is considered most devastating region of a cyclone.

Joss explained that the problem of incorrect estimations is a global issue.

“The only country that does those kinds of measurements is the United States and we share it with nearby countries,” he said. “Other countries have no such protection; they only have the crudest estimates on how strong the storm is going to be before they hit.”

He said there are dangers to both overestimating and underestimating the impact of a cyclone.

By overestimating the potential impact of a storm, government entities go through costly evacuation and protection measures that may not be warranted. This also results in residents not heading future warnings of storms and risking their lives by not evacuating.

Also underestimating storms results in people not following the proper precautions and risking their lives.

Joss said by perfecting this method, the aim is to provide round-the-clock measurements and estimations of every cyclone across the globe.

“Our ultimate goal is to fly a small constellation of four microsatellites, which will enable us to fly over every tropical cyclone worldwide every hour and a half,” he said.

Joss said private capital is likely needed because each of the four satellites would needed to be injected into a very precise orbit, which could be expensive.

He also said in the meantime, they plan on using drones flying about 20 km above sea level to try to capture some information.

Joss said another benefit will be by creating a comprehensive dataset of information on cyclones researchers can learn about the storm, including how global warming is impacting the intensity of storms.

According to Joss, tropical cyclones are considered the most devastating natural catastrophe on Earth, siting the 1970 Bhola cyclone that struck Bangladesh and resulted in more than 500,000 fatalities and superstorm Sandy in 2012 that resulted in more than $70 billion in property damage.

Also speaking during the panel were Randy Giles, Ph.D., chief scientists at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Julie Robinson, Ph.D., ISS chief scientist, Andrew Feinberg, Ph.D., professor of medicine, oncology, molecular biology & genetics at the School of Medicine for Johns Hopkins University, Peter Wayner, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Western Pacific Will Roar to Life With First Typhoon of 2017 and a Weird Interaction Called the Fujiwhara Effect

The western Pacific is finally shaking out of its doldrums because of a pair of tropical cyclones that not only could strengthen, but could also perform a rare, bizarre, circular dance east of Japan called the Fujiwhara effect.

Currently, there are two active tropical cyclones well east of Japan. The westernmost one is named “Noru,” with “Kulap” over 1,000 miles to the east of Noru. Another active tropical cyclone, 08W, will eventually push into northern Vietnam this weekend, bringing a threat of locally heavy rain.

Additionally, Tropical Depression 10W formed late Friday over the Luzon Strait. This tropical cyclone will remain weak but could enhance rainfall along the south coast of China, including Hong Kong, late Sunday into Monday.

Noru and Kulap may not look impressive yet, but their future in the week ahead is meteorologically fascinating.

Noru is expected to eventually become a typhoon by early in the week but will meander over the next five days well east of Japan. Kulap, however, should make significant progress toward the west-northwest and may become close enough to begin an intricate, possibly fatal dance with Noru.

Various numerical forecast models have suggested Noru and Kulap may, essentially, pinwheel around each other, something meteorologists call the Fujiwhara effect.

Named for a Japanese researcher who discovered this in experiments with water in the early 1920s, the Fujiwhara effect details how two tropical cyclones 800 to 900 miles apart rotate counter-clockwise about one another. Think of the teacup ride at Disney or the Tilt-a-Whirl at your local county fair, but with tropical systems instead.

“The western tropical cyclone (Noru) is going to be the center of gravity, in a sense, where the smaller system (Kulap) is forecast to cyclonically orbit the larger system for a couple of days,” said Dr. Michael Ventrice, meteorological scientist with The Weather Company.

Typically, the stronger storm will dominate the weaker, either fizzling it or merging with it altogether. In this case, Noru may be the stronger “survivor” of this.

Ventrice said he believes Noru’s outflow will suppress convection for the smaller Kulap once they begin to interact.

Some forecast guidance suggests Noru may essentially ingest Kulap, then become an intense typhoon and still remain sitting in place well into the week ahead, if not the following week. It certainly makes for strange-looking model forecast tracks.

Why is this happening? Blame a clogged-up upper atmosphere.

“The reason for the stalling Fujiwhara tropical cyclones is likely tied to the development of a large blocking ridge over the north Pacific,” said Ventrice. “This is going to stagnate flow over the northwest Pacific, which doesn’t give this future pair – or merged cyclone – much steering flow.”

Given this blocked atmosphere, we can’t completely rule out Noru eventually creeping closer to Japan sometime near the end of July or early August.

Regardless, this long-lasting tropical cyclone will churn up impressive swells that may reach not just Japan’s east coast, but may also propagate farther south and west.

Not to mention, the satellite imagery from this potential Fujiwhara effect may be among the most impressive weather imagery of 2017 to meteorologists and weather enthusiasts alike.

Near-Record-Late ‘First Typhoon’

If you haven’t heard the word “typhoon” in a while, it’s because there hasn’t been one yet in 2017, and we’re nearing a record wait for the year’s first.

Through July 19, there have been only four tropical storms – Muifa in late April, Merbok in mid-June, Nanmadol in early July, Talas in mid-July – in 2017 in the northwestern Pacific Basin.

According to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist, three to four typhoons have typically developed by mid-July in an average year. Two of those typhoons would have reached at least Category 3 intensity in a typical year-to-date, as well.

Since 1950, only 1998 (Aug. 3) had a later “first typhoon of the year,” Klotzbach noted.

“One of the reasons for suppression of the (Northwest Pacific tropical cyclone) season to date is that we’ve generally had sinking motion across most of the basin since early May,” said Klotzbach.

Stronger-than-average trade winds, blowing east-to-west near the Philippines, Taiwan and the South China Sea, have also been in place since May, Klotzbach said. This increases wind shear, which tends to either prevent tropical cyclones from forming or rip apart those that have formed.

Klotzbach’s calculations indicate roughly 80 percent of the year’s activity, on average, still lies ahead in the planet’s most active basin for tropical cyclones: the northwest Pacific Ocean.