Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Mission Highlights

Scientific Research in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies

Scientists and research fellows in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies spent 2011 conducting research on Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, and Mars. Four highlights from their research are mentioned here:

Shrinking Moon
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is revealing previously undetected landforms that indicate the Moon is shrinking. The findings were reported in a paper by CEPS senior scientist Tom Watters titled "Evidence of Recent Thrust Faulting on the Moon Revealed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera" published in the August 20 issue of the journal Science. Read More

Water Activity on Early Mars
Uzboi Vallis is a ~400 kilometer long valley on Mars that became blocked at its northern end when Holden crater formed and created a rim blocking drainage. The resultant ancient, paleolake basin exceeded 4000 km3 (roughly twice the volume of Lake Ontario) before overtopping and breaching Holden's rim, rapidly draining, and flooding the crater. The Uzboi Vallis lake may have coincided with formation of other lakes and valleys during a late stage of water activity on early Mars. The research is funded by NASA as a part of CEPS chairman/geologist John Grant's participation as team member on the HiRISE camera being flown on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Ancient Egyptian Lakes
Senior scientist Ted Maxwell was lead author of an article in the December 2010 issue of Geology titled "Evidence for Pleistocene Lakes in the Tushka region, South Egypt." The paper discusses his research, based on Space Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission data, which shows evidence of lakes larger than Lake Michigan extending halfway across the Western Desert of Egypt. These "mega-lakes" explain the presence of fossil fish found 250 miles west of the Nile in the desert, the same species as those in the Nile.

Lava Flows on the Moon
New radar maps collected by Museum staff reveal geologic features of the Moon buried by billions of years of accumulated dust. In several areas of the lunar volcanic plains, senior scientist Bruce Campbell has found evidence for large, rugged lava flows, a type of feature not expected from the highly fluid magmas that filled the ancient impact basins. This work was published in Geophysical Research Letters. Read More

Photo: The Lee-Lincoln Scarp on the Moon. This digital terrain model derived from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) stereo images shows the fault scarp extending across the volcanic plains of the Taurus-Littrow valley and upslope into North Massif were highlands material are also thrust up (white arrows). The scarp is just west of the Apollo 17 landing site (black arrow). It is the only extraterrestrial fault scarp to be explored by humans (astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt).