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Earth and Moon

Episode 12:

with guest Dr. Jack Burns, University of Colorado

Dr. Jack Burns

"What does the Moon mean to you?" is the theme for this year's International Observe the Moon Night on October 8, 2011. Our neighbor in space has always fascinated us, both culturally and scientifically. Starting with the first human steps in 1969, six of 11 Apollo missions landed astronauts on the Moon to do a variety of science experiments, which continue today. For example, the Apollo lunar laser ranging experiment still exists, with scientists aiming lasers at reflectors on the Moon to measure its distance from Earth. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, LRO, has sent back highly detailed images showing the locations of those first missions and the science lab equipment that was so much a part of humanity's first steps off our home planet.

Scientists continue to explore the Moon, to understand its physical structure, and they plan to use it for future research in astrophysics and cosmology. In this episode of Astronomy Behind the Headlines, Dr. Jack Burns, of the University of Colorado's Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research (LUNAR), joins us to talk about lunar exploration and some exciting work his team is planning to do from the surface of the Moon.

To find out more about International Observe the Moon Night, go to: http://observethemoonnight.org/

Listen (mp3, 18.4 MB)

Download Transcript (pdf)

Further Activities & Resources 


Written, narrated and edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen

Soundtrack production and original music by Mark C. Petersen

Produced by Loch Ness Productions for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Special thanks to Dr. Jack Burns

Additional resource materials by Andrew Fraknoi

Current and Future Exploration of the Moon:
A Collection of Information and Activities to Get Behind the Headlines

Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College & ASP)
September 2011

Here are some materials for science educators (and their audiences) to delve more deeply into the topics discussed in this month's "Astronomy Behind the Headlines" podcast. This month's discussion concerns recent and upcoming missions to the Moon and what sorts of things scientists are learning and hope to learn. Several countries have sent or are sending probes to explore the Moon's characteristics and there has been an explosion of information as a result.

Because there is a "conspiracy theory" (fed by the Internet) that claims NASA never landed people on the Moon, NASA has put some effort into taking orbital images of the Apollo landing sites that clearly reveal the traces of human activity and materials. Section C gives you direct links to these remarkable images.

A. Web sites to information referenced in this episode of Astronomy Behind the Headlines

B. Selected Moon Missions Web Sites

C. A Few Recent Articles about Moon Exploration

D. LRO Images of Apollo Landing Sites

E. Some Educational Activities Related to Moon Exploration

A. Web sites to information referenced in this episode of Astronomy Behind the Headlines

The LUNAR Institute web page at CU:

GRAIL Mission:

APOLLO (at Apache Point):

NASA Apollo Missions:


Recent press releases about lunar exploration:

LRO image of Apollo 17 landing site
LRO Image of the Apollo 17 Mission Landing Site Showing the Paths of the Astronauts (NASA)

B. Selected Moon Missions Web Sites

ARTEMIS Mission:

Chandrayaan 1 Mission (India):

Chang'e 2 Mission (China):

Clementine Mission Site (first hints of ice on the Moon):

GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) Mission:

Kayuga (SELENE) Mission (Selenological and Engineering Explorer, Japan):

LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer):

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Site:

LCROSS Mission Site:

Article on the mission from Popular Mechanics magazine:

SMART 1 (European Space Agency):

List of Moon Missions (NASA):

Ian Ridpath's Exploring the Moon Site (nice introduction to the many Moon missions of the past and present by the British astronomer/author):

Past Mission Lists and Links from the Lunar and Planetary Institute:
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/ (this is now a bit dated, but full of good information)

Wikipedia Article on the "Exploration of the Moon" (with a good table of missions):

Twin GRAIL mission spacecraft
Artist's Concept of the Twin GRAIL Mission Spacecraft Relaying Information from the Moon back to Earth (NASA)

C. A Few Recent Articles about Moon Exploration

Bakich, Michael "Asia's New Assault on the Moon" in Astronomy, Aug. 2009, p. 50.  On the Japanese Selene and Chinese Chang'e-1 missions.

Beatty, J. "NASA Slams the Moon" in Sky & Telescope, Feb. 2010, p. 28. On the impact of the LCROSS mission on the Moon and what we learned from it.

Dorminey, Bruce "Secrets Beneath the Moon's Surface" in Astronomy, Mar. 2011, p. 24.  On things we still would like to learn about the Moon (with a timeline of recent missions.)

Foing, Bernard "What Europe's Moon Mission Revealed" in Astronomy, Aug. 2009, p. 44. On the SMART-1 Mission 2003 - 2006.

Redfern, Greg "Lunar Fireworks" in Sky & Telescope, June 2009, p. 20. A preview of the LRO and LCROSS missions.

Shirao, M. "Kayuga's High Def Highlights" in Sky & Telescope, Feb. 2010, p. 20. Results from the Japanese mission to the Moon, with high definition TV cameras.

Earth and Moon
Earth and Moon from the Japanese Kayuga (Selene) Mission (JAXA)

D. LRO Images of Apollo Landing Sites

Here is the nail in the coffin of conspiracy theories claiming that we never landed humans on the Moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft was lowered into a temporary orbit just 13 miles from the surface. This enabled the team to get images showing three Apollo landing sites, with the path of footprints the astronauts made clearly visible. Check them out at:

Earlier Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images:

E. Some Educational Activities Related to Moon Exploration

Crash Landing (from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Family ASTRO Program):
(Participants imagine survivors of a crash on the Moon and figure out what is most essential for their backpacks to survive.)

Exploring the Moon (a 158-page teacher guide with activities from NASA):
(Put together by the planetary science group at the University of Hawaii in 1997, this guide has a wide range of activities on lunar science and exploration for middle and high school level.)

The Lunar and Planetary Institute's Site "Connect to the Moon" offers a wide range of other resources for educators (with the proviso that almost everything on the site is NASA based):

LPI's "Unknown Moon" Institute for Teachers has a number of interesting activities embedded:

LPI's Listing of Moon Activities and Resources:

"On the Moon" Activity Guide (simple engineering design activities related to the Moon for students):

Lunar Math: A packet of middle and high-school math problems related to the Moon (with answers) by Dr. Sten Odenwald: