Department News

OSIRIS-REx confirmation, Drake portrait unveiling, and retirement celebrations

In May, the OSIRIS-REx mission received its confirmation, a major marker in the journey from proposal to actual mission. The confirmation gives the mission the authority to begin building hardware.

The confirmation provided the impetus for the retirements of two key figures in the mission, LPL’s Peter Smith, and Lockheed-Martin’s Joe Vellinga, the Flight Systems Manager.

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OSIRIS-REx confirmation, Drake portrait unveiling, and retirement celebrations

In May, the OSIRIS-REx mission received its confirmation, a major marker in the journey from proposal to actual mission. The confirmation gives the mission the authority to begin building hardware.

The confirmation provided the impetus for the retirements of two key figures in the mission, LPL’s Peter Smith, and Lockheed-Martin’s Joe Vellinga, the Flight Systems Manager.

In addition, at a May 22 celebration that included these milestones, a portrait of Michael J. Drake was unveiled. Mike was the original Principal Investigator of the mission and its predecessor proposals. In addition, he was the Head of the Department of Planetary Sciences and Director of LPL for more than 15 years. The UA building which houses most of the Tucson work on OSIRIS-REx was renamed the Michael J. Drake Building after Mike’s death in 2011.

 

 

Fall 2013 Field Trip (PTYS 594A)

Northern New Mexico and the KT Boundary Layer
by Shane Byrne

This trip took us farther afield than any in recent memory, as we ventured into New Mexico and Colorado and logged about 1500 miles over five days. We had three great sites to visit and couldn’t decide between them and so in the end decided to do everything.

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Fall 2013 Field Trip (PTYS 594A)

Northern New Mexico and the KT Boundary Layer
by Shane Byrne

This trip took us farther afield than any in recent memory, as we ventured into New Mexico and Colorado and logged about 1500 miles over five days. We had three great sites to visit and couldn’t decide between them and so in the end decided to do everything.

First up was the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field in the El Malpais National Monument (this was pre-shutdown fortunately). We were lucky that our newest LPL faculty member, Christopher Hamilton, who has studied these lava flows, was able to join us. Out on the flows we were able to see the results of inflation, a process where molten lava is emplaced underneath a solid covering rather than flowing on the surface. Lava flows of this kind are likely to be the most common on the terrestrial planets.  A nearby lava tube also sported an interior with perennial ice—lava tube caves are known on the Moon and Mars and may have icy interiors as well.

Our second main trip area was Valles Caldera near Santa Fe. This is the site of a large supervolcano that had its last major eruption about 1.2 million years ago. During that big eruption, the volcano produced prodigious quantities of volcanic ash that both drifted gently to the surface and later surged down the mountainside in pyroclastic flows. These thick ash deposits were welded together to form rocks called tuff, which we saw in Bandelier National Monument. This same volcanic activity caused the most recent caldera at this site to collapse leading to the 10-mile wide cavity within the Jemez mountains. Soon after this collapse, a resurgent dome began forming in the caldera and many smaller eruptions around its edge occurred over the next half million years decreasing in size as the volcanic activity petered out. We stopped at the last (and smallest) of these domes (Cerro La Jara) to take a look. We didn’t expect to coincide with a drive of hundreds of cattle through the area, but they didn’t seem to mind us.

Valles Caldera may not be done yet! Activity has recently picked up with a few small eruptions within the caldera and an increase in hydrothermal activity. We stopped at one of these hydrothermal deposits at Soda Dam where so much limestone has been deposited that construction crews had to blast through it when building the road. Changes in the subterranean plumbing (including those in response to dynamite) cause the site of the spring to move around, but we located it eventually.

After Valles Caldera we spent a rather cold night in an outlier of the Carson National Forest, but with views of the Rio Grande Gorge within walking distance made it worthwhile (even though we were shaking frost out of our camping gear the next morning). We had a very scenic drive through the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains toward southern Colorado for the last major stop of the trip.

One of the first things that got me interested in planetary surfaces was learning how the dinosaurs were wiped out by the effects of an asteroid impact. It was the perfect bridge between my original astronomical interests and geology (not to mention biology). I’ve had the great fortune to run these trips for a few years now. So the last stops of the trip, where we saw exposures of the ejecta layer from that impact, felt like coming full circle in a way.

This layer marks the transition from the Cretaceous to Tertiary periods and at that time the Rocky Mountains were just forming and a large inland sea within north America was in the process of disappearing with coal-forming swampy areas around its edge.

The best exposures are just west of Trinidad in southern Colorado where the ejecta from the Chicxilub crater in the Gulf of Mexico is a centimeter or two (0.5-1 inch) thick and is sandwiched between coal layers. This layer clearly stands out from the surrounding coal deposits both visually and chemically (this layer is topped with iridium-rich material from the vaporized asteroid that slowly settled out globally after the impact.). To try and preserve these exposures for future generations, we refrained from collecting samples here. Of course, we didn’t go home empty handed—there is another exposure south of Trinidad that is already heavily sampled (the Smithsonian actually carted away a few tons of material from here to preserve this important geologic and biologic transition) and all that damage made the contact a little harder to find.

Heat from the reentry of the KT impact ejecta cooked many of the dinosaurs on the spot! Those that survived died off slowly in a darkened chilled world made desolate by post-impact wildfires and acidified rain.  Supervolcanoes and large asteroid strikes both cause a lot of environmental damage. Indeed the demise of the dinosaurs has been argued by some to be related to large-scale volcanism that was in progress at about the same time as the Chicxulub impact. Luckily the Earth and the life upon it are resilient, which is why we’re here and driving around looking at the ghosts of these events 65 million years later! Sixty five million years from now there will be something alive doing the same for us.


Photo: Catherine Elder


Photo: Christa Van Laerhoven


Photo: Ali Bramson


Photo: Catherine Elder


Photo: Ali Bramson


Photo: Ingrid Daubar

Summer Science Saturday 2013

The theme of this year's Summer Science Saturday was Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite! The day-long event, held on July 20, featured great kids activities like making paper rockets and planispheres, building volcanoes (like those on Io), and learning about physics, spectroscopy, robots, rockets, and so much more. The OSIRIS-Rex Ambassadors helped to cool off the crowd with asteroid ice cream, handmade by each guest.

fall 2013 Department News

Summer Science Saturday 2013

The theme of this year's Summer Science Saturday was Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite! The day-long event, held on July 20, featured great kids activities like making paper rockets and planispheres, building volcanoes (like those on Io), and learning about physics, spectroscopy, robots, rockets, and so much more. The OSIRIS-Rex Ambassadors helped to cool off the crowd with asteroid ice cream, handmade by each guest. There were afternoon lectures by Professor Alfred McEwen ("Exploring the Solar System"), Research Associate Dr. Michael Sussman ("Uranus: The Planet that Woke Up"), and graduate student Rob Zellem ("Exoplanets: Exploration, Discovery, and Understanding"). The event also marked the first-ever LPL Spaceship Landing Contest (a.k.a. Egg Drop)—participants built egg spaceships and dropped them from increasing heights to determine whose spaceship was most sound. The winner of the contest was Yuhan Fu, an 8th grader at Esperero Canyon Middle School. PTYS graduate students Sky Beard, James Keane, Kelly Miller, and Ethan Schaefer did a magnficient job of planning and proctoring the Spaceship event. Thanks to these volunteers and many others (graduate students and community members), Summer Science Saturday was a success, with approximately 750 Tucsonans in attendance.

 

Starlight Science Cinema

This summer, LPL graduate students, led by Rob Zellem, worked with the UA College of Science to develop and organize the Starlight Science Cinema concept. Starlight Science Cinema features free science-themed movies screened outdoors on the UA campus, hosted by UA scientists who talk about their research, conduct a Q & A about the movie's premise, and, when appropriate, debunk the films' scientific themes.

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Starlight Science Cinema

This summer, LPL graduate students, led by Rob Zellem, worked with the UA College of Science to develop and organize the Starlight Science Cinema concept. Starlight Science Cinema features free science-themed movies screened outdoors on the UA campus, hosted by UA scientists who talk about their research, conduct a Q & A about the movie's premise, and, when appropriate, debunk the films' scientific themes. LPL grads took the lead for the first two outdoor movies, "October Sky" (hosted by Professor Peter Smith) and "Armageddon" (hosted by Professor Dante Lauretta). October's film feature, "The Day After Tomorrow," was hosted by the Department of Geosciences, with UA climatologist Julia Cole discussing the film. "A Beautiful Mind," hosted by the UA Math Department and featuring panelists Joanna Masel (Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and Lotfi Hermi (Assistant Professor, Mathematics), was featured on Saturday, November 2.

Kudos to all the students who worked to make these events a success!

Undergrad Minor Cassandra Lejoly attends DPS

Cassandra Lejoly is a senior at the University of Arizona, majoring in Math and Astronomy and minoring in Planetary Sciences and Physics.

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Undergrad Minor Cassandra Lejoly attends DPS

Cassandra Lejoly is a senior at the University of Arizona, majoring in Math and Astronomy and minoring in Planetary Sciences and Physics. Thanks to travel funding provided by a generous donor, Cassandra was able to attend the DPS meeting in Denver to present her research on comet Halley. Cassandra has been working with Dr. Nalin Samarasinha (Senior Scientist at PSI) since July of 2012, analyzing images from the 1986 apparition. She has reviewed more than 380 images of the comet in an attempt to understand the morphology and rotational period of its jets. The next phase of Cassandra's research will be to import the data into a model to learn from where on the comet the jets emanate and to try to find the complete rotational modes of Halley. Cassandra explains that the rotational modes have not yet been completely modeled because of the comet's complex rotation, which makes it difficult to determine all components of rotation. Cassandra plans to attend graduate school to study planetary science and to pursue a career in research.

Tom Schad, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

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Tom Schad, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

On July 24, Tom Schad successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled, "Spectropolarimetry of Fine Magnetized Structures in the Upper Solar Atmosphere." He has moved on to a position  as Instrument Scientist at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii (Maui). Tom's dissertation advisor was Professor Joe Giacalone. Aloha, Tom!

International Observe the Moon Night

October 12 was a busy night on the UA campus—in addition to Starlight Science Cinema, LPL students, faculty, and staff participated in events for International Observe the Moon Night, organized at the UA by Sanlyn Buxner (PSI Education and Research Specialist) and the Planetary Science Institute.

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International Observe the Moon Night

October 12 was a busy night on the UA campus—in addition to Starlight Science Cinema, LPL students, faculty, and staff participated in events for International Observe the Moon Night, organized at the UA by Sanlyn Buxner (PSI Education and Research Specialist) and the Planetary Science Institute. Several hundred visitors got a good look at Luna using telescopes set up on the UA mall and operated by LPL, Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. Flandrau Planetarium made available its 16-inch Cassegrain telescope and Professor Emeritus Robert Strom presented a talk on "Early Lunar Exploration and the Apollo Program." Dr. Steven Kortenkamp (PSI and LPL) discussed "A Brief History of Our Fascination with the Moon."

To read more about the event, visit the following URLs:

Dan Cavanagh Supports Student Travel

Travel, whether to conferences or to work in other laboratories, can be crucially important for students’ career development, but is not always easy to fund.

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Dan Cavanagh Supports Student Travel

Travel, whether to conferences or to work in other laboratories, can be crucially important for students’ career development, but is not always easy to fund. For the last several years, the Shandel Fund has provided some support for student travel, but the number of applications has, not surprisingly, exceeded the capacity of the single fund. This year, in addition to the Shandel Fund, Dan Cavanagh, the director of LPL’s External Board of Advisors, helped to fund trips for three LPL students:

  • Kelly Miller attended the Goldschmidt Conference (the annual meeting of the Geochemical Society) in Florence, Italy, and presented a paper there;
  • Michelle Thompson traveled to Houston to work in the laboratories of NASA Johnson Space Center;
  • Cassandra Lejoly, an undergraduate student minoring in Planetary Sciences, traveled to Denver to present her work at the meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

Thanks to Dan for his support for these students (and thanks to all the students who keep dreaming dreams that make such support necessary).

Flying the Flag for LPL

Although Tucson area residents are aware of the things that people at LPL have done, they seldom identify them with LPL, but are more likely to think they’ve been done by “NASA” or “Kitt Peak.” In an attempt to raise awareness of LPL itself among community leaders, Dan Cavanagh, the Chair of the LPL External Advisory Board, arranged with the staff of U.S.

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Flying the Flag for LPL

Although Tucson area residents are aware of the things that people at LPL have done, they seldom identify them with LPL, but are more likely to think they’ve been done by “NASA” or “Kitt Peak.” In an attempt to raise awareness of LPL itself among community leaders, Dan Cavanagh, the Chair of the LPL External Advisory Board, arranged with the staff of U.S. Representative Ron Barber to have a set of American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol on the 6th anniversary of the Phoenix Mars Lander launch (August 4). Dan then had these flags framed, and one each was presented at meetings of Visit Tucson (or Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau), the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. In the photo, LPL Director Tim Swindle presents a flag to Mike Hammond, Chair of the Board of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and President of Cushman and Wakefield/Picor.

LPL Orbits Ray Bradbury's Mars

Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars:  Biographical, Anthropological, Literary, Scientific and Other Perspectives
Edited by Gloria McMillan
McFarland Publishers, 2013.

by Gloria McMillan

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LPL Orbits Ray Bradbury's Mars

Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars:  Biographical, Anthropological, Literary, Scientific and Other Perspectives
Edited by Gloria McMillan
McFarland Publishers, 2013.

by Gloria McMillan

It was my great honor to work with such a diverse group of writers on this groundbreaking collection.  For the first time, a team of writers—several based at the Lunar and Planetary Lab and at the Kuiper Circle—has taken on a major American science fiction writer, from a full range of intellectual perspectives. Of course, our essayists include literary scholars, those who take an anthropological perspective, as well as film critics.  One essayist is a Native American cultural studies professor who grew up reading The Martian Chronicles on and off the reservation, engaging with its allegory of settlers and native Martians. Two film critics tackle the media's adaptations of Bradbury's Martian texts.  But beyond these comparatively expected voices on the legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, we also have essays by space scientists and one aerospace engineer.

The names most familiar to those at the Lunar and Planetary Lab will be Peter Smith (Foreword) and the Planetary Science Institute's Bill Hartmann, who did cover art.  We also have an essay from Kitt Peak's Chuck Dugan (NOAO Project Astro coordinator) who is in The Kuiper Circle. Two NASA scientists, Chris McKay and Carol Stoker,  who worked on the Phoenix Mars Lander project with Peter Smith, wrote about "naming of names" on Mars—both their own activities and Bradbury's fictional "take" on giving Martian features new names. David Acklam, an aerospace engineer who is the Chair of the LPL Education and Public Outreach Kuiper Circle sub-comittee, wrote an essay based upon the realities of a human "invasion" of Mars, how Ray Bradbury predicted many of the challenges.

We hope you will find this as exciting as we did in writing this book.  We will have a book launch event at LPL as part of the Tucson Festival of Books next March.  But meanwhile...I have two links for those of you wishing to buy our collection:

Gloria McMillan, Ph.D., is a UA Associate (Research) and a member of the LPL Education and Public Outreach Kuiper Circle sub-comittee.

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