Tag Archives: ‘Anomaly’

Gravity ‘Anomaly’ at Moon’s South Pole Could Be Buried Metallic Asteroid

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Scientists studying the moon have made an unexpected discovery. While we have good data on the surface topography, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what lies beneath the craggy craters and dunes. A large crater in the southern polar region appears to contain a large deposit of dense material, possibly the remains of an ancient metallic asteroid.

The region, known as the South Pole-Aitken basin, is one of the largest known impact craters measuring about 1,600 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter. While larger impacts have occurred (including some on Earth) the moon’s unchanging environment is much better at preserving the evidence of impacts. This distinction makes the South Pole-Aitken basin a subject of frequent research. The Chinese Chang’e 4 lander landed in the basin, specifically inside a smaller crater called Von Kármán.

Researchers from Baylor University in Texas used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions to develop this new hypothesis on the origins of the basin. The twin GRAIL spacecraft mapped the moon’s gravity in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, the LRO has been mapping the lunar surface for a decade. The two data sets seem to show a mismatch, according to the new study. Where you would expect gravity to drop slightly over the crater, it actually increases.

The leading explanation for the gravitational anomaly, according to the researchers, is that the object responsible for the crater is still mostly intact beneath the surface. So, some 4 billion years ago, a mostly metallic asteroid hit the moon and remains embedded in the mantle to this day. Another potential explanation is that the region is naturally rich in oxides that formed as the moon cooled in the distant past. However, the overlap of the crater and increased gravity seems a bit too convenient.

The view of the South Pole-Aitken basin from Chang’e 4.

If there is a large metallic object buried under the South Pole-Aitken basin, it could tell us something about the moon’s interior. After 4 billion years, the iron-nickel remains of the asteroid would have been dispersed throughout the mantle if the moon was geologically active for any significant period of time.

Additional research and missions will be needed to confirm the presence of asteroid deposits beneath the South Pole-Aitken basin. Getting a sample isn’t very likely, though. Data from GRAIL suggests the asteroid core is about 186 miles (300 km) below the surface.

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Boeing Crew Capsule Experienced ‘Anomaly’ During Recent Engine Test

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Both SpaceX and Boeing are working toward certification of their manned spacecraft for future NASA flights, but the timeline has been pushed back several times. A new announcement from Boeing could indicate another delay is coming, too. According to the aerospace firm, an “anomaly” occurred in June when it tested the launch abort engines on its CST-100 Starliner crew capsule. Boeing is swearing up and down that everything is fine, but this will almost certainly affect the launch timeline yet again.

The CST-100 Starliner is Boeing’s answer to the SpaceX Dragon v2. Although, Boeing has actually been developing the CST-100 for about a decade at this point. Along with the Dragon, it’s one of just two designs NASA chose for the Commercial Crew Program that will replace the Space Shuttle. Until then, NASA is stuck buying seats on Russian Soyuz rockets for millions of dollars.

Boeing designed the CST-100 to launch on existing rockets like the Atlas V. After separating from the first stage, the service module will carry the crew capsule into space. If at any point something goes wrong, the launch abort engines on the CST-100 can blast it free of the second stage to save the crew. Boeing and engine designer Aerojet have tested those components several times in so-called “hot-fire” tests. The June hot-fire test at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico didn’t go entirely as planned, though.

This 2016 launch abort engine test is the same type that resulted in an anomaly in June.

According to Being, the launch abort engine fired successfully for the full duration of the test. However, the aforementioned anomaly caused a fuel leak after shutdown. We’re probably just hearing about this now because Boeing also says it knows what caused the problem and has taken corrective action. It’s not ready to explain exactly what the cause was, though. Boeing is working with NASA to validate the fix.

SpaceX and Boeing are expected to conduct an unmanned test in August, and the official timeline still projects manned flights in late 2018 or early 2019. However, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concluded that launches from both firms could be delayed into 2020. That would leave NASA without any way of transporting astronauts as its Soyuz contracts only run through late 2019.

The latest issue with Boeing’s crew capsule is hardly earth-shattering, but it will require additional rounds of testing and analysis. Neither Boeing nor NASA has detailed what sort of delay we can expect from that.

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