Exquisite rubble

By Phil Plait | November 21, 2009 8:00 am

I know, I usually wax lyrical and scientific over this picture or that returned from various astronomical and space observatories. But honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this particular image, from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing boulders that have rolled downhill to the bottom of the 45 kilometer-wide Rutherford crater:

lroc_rutherford_rubble

Except:

a) Click to embiggen.

2) I still have not gotten used to these super hi-res pictures. This one is 510 meters across. See the big rock at the top, left of center? The one casting a long shadow? That’s about the size of my yard, and I don’t have a particularly large piece of property. Some of the rocks in this image are smaller than a car.

c) Wow. The good news is, these images still do amaze me. I’m pretty happy I haven’t been spoiled yet. But as more pictures come back from LRO, that might happen. I’m only human — but I do have a large capacity for amazement. Keep ‘em coming!

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: LRO, Moon

Comments (24)

  1. What astounds me is that I don’t get any sense of scale. I’m not sure if this a fractal type relationship, but it looks as if the entire image could be a couple of feet wide. What an awesome universe

  2. StevoR

    I get the impression that this sort of lunar view is “fractal” in that as you get closer, it looks different but much the same all the way down to the point where you scoop your fingers into the lunar regolith – and stays much the same as you “Zoom out” until the point where the Moon becomes an evident sphere.

    So I agree with 1 Peter Boulanger that sense of scale is hard to pick up sometimes .. It needs something familiar in the shot like a car or person or ruler or fifty cent coin or giant sequoia tree et cetera

    Still a neat image though!

    Thanks BA & LRO. :-)

  3. complex field

    “about the size of my yard…” I dunno, 25 meters or so is a decent-sized yard, unless you are trying to use it for subsitence gardening.

  4. astroquoter

    Some quotes of possible interets /relevence here are :

    “This is surreal, how each grain of moondust falls into place in these little fans, almost like rose petals.”
    - Buzz Aldrin (during his first Moonwalk July 1969), Page 38, ‘Magnificent Desolation’, B. Aldrin, Bloomsbury, 2009.

    “The triple triumph of the Moon, then, is that it made it possible for man [sic] to exist; it made it possible for him [sic] to develop mathematics and science, it made it possible for him [sic] to transcend Earth and conquer space.”
    - Page 38, ‘The Tragedy of the Moon’, Isaac Asimov, Mercury Press, 1972.

    {On Space Exploration / terraforming Venus}
    “Earth will benefit in the end, and not just because there’s a new world to go to, but because of what we’ll learn.”
    - Page 237, ‘Venus of Dreams’, Pamela Sargent, Bantam, 1986.

  5. Derek

    Forty years ago today, Apollo 12 was en route from the moon to earth. I’m sure that Captains Conrad and Bean could expound on the fractal nature of those landscapes.

    It’s easy to forget this anniversary when compared to the one we celebrated in July– just like it was easy for the public to disregard subsequent Apollo missions.

    Isn’t it amazing what we can do?

  6. Maybe someone with an enormous brain can help me grasp how boulders came to roll down a lunar slope in the first place. I don’t mean the actual rolling part – I think I have a relatively decent grip on gravity. But more, what force caused these boulders to move out of a stationary position and wind far enough past the rim of the crater to begin their roll? On Earth, any number of things could do it – Erosion from wind or water, wind itself, human interaction, and on and on. With none of these forces on the moon, what caused the rolling rocks to show up? Or were these rocks just the remnants from whatever caused the crater, landing on the slopes after the explosion, never having a stable starting point in the first place?

  7. @ somecallmejim:

    I suspect the majority tumbled down that slope shortly after the crater was formed, as all the material was gradually settling.

    But they are probably continuing to tumble. Tidal forces, the minute expansion and contraction from the heat of daytime to the cold of night, all these things add up. One stress builds upon another until…whump! The ground gives way and down comes a boulder.

    That, and moonworms.

  8. owlbear1

    Right-edge, center. A backwards ‘C’. That is a very odd ‘crater’.

  9. Yeah, I figured it was the moonworms at work. Always wreckin’ the place. :-D

  10. Brian T.

    @ somecallmejim

    In addition to settling after the impact crater was formed (as mentioned above), nearby subsequent impacts could create seismic ripples on the Moon’s surface that knocked the boulders loose.

  11. Elmar_M

    Somecallmejim, excellent question. I was going to ask the very same thing.
    The fact that they seem to be on top of several smaller craters inside the big crater suggests that the rockslide was more recent. So they cant have tumbled down right when the crater was formed as kuhnigget suggested. Tidal forces do seem to be a possible explanation though that I have not though of yet. Good thinking, kuhnigget!
    The other explanation I had was that tremors from another impact somewhere (relatively) nearby, caused the rockslide. I was still hoping for a more definitive answer by some “moon- expert” though.

  12. Woof

    Derek:

    I’m sure that Captains Conrad and Bean could expound on the fractal nature of those landscapes.

    Bean – sure, especially since he paints moonscapes.

    Conrad – not so much, being dead for 10 years now.

  13. Wolter

    I am still puzzled by the a) 2) c) sequence… ;)

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Rolling, rolling, rolling, … IIRC the Moon is seismically active, more so than Earth perhaps. Not so much biggies I presume, but those seismic detectors of Apollo were busy. Impacts, impact stresses, tidal stresses, thermal stresses, at a guess.

    … yeah, and moonworms. Lots of moonworms, considering all the craters.

  15. Chip

    I don’t see obvious tracks or trails from boulders (in that one great image) though there may be a lot of them if we were walking around on the surface. This implies that the majority have rolled downhill a long time ago allowing for dust to accumulate over many millions of years. Then again, there’s plenty sitting up higher ready to eventually roll.

  16. Gus Snarp

    Man, I was really hoping for some shots of Apollo landing sites at this resolution.

  17. llewelly

    It needs something familiar in the shot like a car or person or ruler or fifty cent coin or giant sequoia tree et cetera …

    NASA had to photoshop out the car in order avoid raising suspicions.

  18. Flying sardines

    @ 13. Woof Says:

    Derek: “I’m sure that Captains Conrad and Bean could expound on the fractal nature of those landscapes.”

    Bean – sure, especially since he paints moonscapes.
    Conrad – not so much, being dead for 10 years now.

    Don’t forget there was also the third member of Apollo 12 flying the Command & service modules – Richard Gordon.

    He may not have got to walk on the lunar regolith but he also got a great close up view.

  19. Gus Snarp Says:

    Man, I was really hoping for some shots of Apollo landing sites at this resolution.

    *ahem*

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/lroimages/lroc_200911109_apollo11.html

  20. Gus Snarp

    syrtis – I’m operating under the assumption that this image is higher resolution than that one. I could be wrong.

    I thought the LRO would continue to lose altitude as it orbited until it eventually also crashes into the moon. Is that the idea? If so as it descends the resolution of its images will get better and better. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could actually read “Apollo 11″ on the lander in one of the last images?

  21. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Interesting videoclip here :

    http://www.videosift.com/video/If-We-Had-No-Moon

    combining I think good science and good music – & even squid refs! (don’t tell PZ Meyers! ;-) )

  22. Steve

    Gus: orbit adjust maneuvers are done every four weeks or so to maintain LRO’s orbit. Eventually it will run out of fuel, and then the orbit will decay until it hits the surface. I don’t know if LROC can focus when LRO gets too close, but we’ll find out at some point.

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