What have scientists learned from studying Ceres?

On the "Moon theme day" on August 13: Prof. Harald Hiesinger gives an insight into current research

"The moon is close to my heart"

Moon research picked up speed in the 1950s. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to enter the satellite. In an interview with CHRISTINA HEIMKEN, HARALD HIESINGER, Professor of Geological Planetology at the University of Münster, explains what new findings scientists expect to gain from exploring the moon.

What can we learn from the moon?

The moon is the key to understanding the solar system. Thanks to lunar research, scientists developed concepts that can also be applied to other celestial bodies. This was made possible by the Apollo missions, whose astronauts brought rock material to earth. These rock samples are examined in detail to this day. An important concept that we are familiar with thanks to lunar research is the formation and cooling of a magma ocean. According to this, the outer 400-kilometer-thick layer of the moon rock had once melted, perhaps even more. A crystallization process took place as the molten rock cooled. Different minerals were formed depending on the temperature. We assume that Earth, Mars and other celestial bodies also had such a magma ocean. We also learned from the moon how to determine the age of celestial bodies. We measure the age of the "Apollo rocks" using radiometric methods. We put these data in relation to the number of impact craters at the rock sites on the lunar surface. Basically, the more craters there are, the older the surface. How old it is, we now know through the moon rocks. Thanks to this correlation between age and number of craters, it is also possible to determine the age of the Martian surface, for example, taking certain factors into account.

Is lunar research currently experiencing a renaissance?

Yes. Most of the moon missions took place in the early 1960s through the 1970s. After the Apollo 17 landing in 1972, the last manned mission to the moon, interest declined. It started again around the year 2000. Since then there have been US and Chinese lunar missions, as well as a Japanese program. More missions, including Russian ones, are planned. I suspect the renewed interest is partly due to the fact that people understand how important the moon is if we want to understand the rest of the solar system.

NASA has just extended the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, in which you are involved, for two years. The LRO space probe has been circling 50 kilometers above the surface of the moon since 2009, with various cameras and measuring equipment on board. What role does this mission play in research?

With LRO we were able to answer many questions, but we also added many new ones. For example, we want to better understand the craters on the moon. How common are they? What influence do the physical properties of the lunar surface have on the formation of these craters? We are particularly interested in small craters. It is only through the cameras of the LRO mission that it is even possible to research them. Before, the resolution of the pictures was not sufficient.

How important is the moon research for you personally?

It's like asking parents, "Which child do you prefer?" I'm also involved in missions to Mars and the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, as well as one to Mercury, which is scheduled to fly in 2018 - all of them fascinating celestial bodies. The moon is very important to me because it is so important for research.

The Institute for Planetology takes part in the "Moon theme day", which takes place on August 13th as part of the "Expedition Münsterland" in Kattenvenne (Steinfurt district). There is a colorful program for children and adults on the subject of the moon from a planetological, medical and cultural perspective. Among other things, Prof. Harald Hiesinger gives insights into his research and presents current images of the LRO mission. The Research Transfer Office selects the winners of the photo competition "Der Mond im Münsterland".


This article is from the university newspaper "know | live" No. 5, July 20, 2016.

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