Tag Archives: Moon

Did You Know… That the U.S. Almost Dropped A Nuke on the Moon During the Cold War?

After the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, two major global powers emerged: Russia in the east, and the United States (along with its NATO allies) in the west.

More than anything, the Cold War was an arms race. Both sides had built up their nuclear arsenals during the war, and both were fearful of having less firepower than the other. Many people thought that an all-out nuclear war was imminent.

During this period, the U.S. military came up with the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon as a show of force.

Leonard Reiffel was the physicist who headed the project at the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation in the late 1950s.

Leonard Reiffel, who is now 86 years old

In 2000, he sat down for an interview with The Observer to tell the story:

“It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth…

The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”

Reiffel also pointed out that a big influence on the idea was the fact that we were lagging behind in the “Space Race”.

In July of 1955, during the height of the Cold War, the United States announced that it would be launching satellites into space. Not to be outdone, Russia announced their own satellite project four days later. The U.S. lost that leg of the race when Russia launched Sputnik in October of 1957.

The front page of The New York Times on the day Sputnik was launched (October 4, 1957)

Reiffel voiced his concerns as a scientist about the idea of nuking the moon, but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears:

“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.”

In 1958, officers from the Air Force had asked Reiffel to ‘fast-track’ a project to investigate what a nuclear explosion on the moon would look like, and what it’s effects would be.

So he hired none other than a young Carl Sagan to do the calculation of how a nuclear mushroom cloud would expand in the low gravity environment on the moon.

Carl Sagan

Sagan, who pioneered for the study of potential life on other planets, would later become famous for popularizing science in mainstream culture with his show “The Cosmos”.

Despite the highly classified nature of the project, it was later revealed to his biographer that Sagan actually discussed parts of the project in his application for the prestigious Miller Institute graduate fellowship at Berkley (he got in, of course).

Either way, top-secret project A119: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’, never came to fruition. Reiffel ended his story by saying,

“Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered.”

A spokesman from the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Read the full story from the Guardian here.

A Few Reasons Why Tomorrow Might Be A Bit of a Strange Day…

Tomorrow will not be your ordinary Friday. For starters, tomorrow is the 13th, making tomorrow a Friday the 13th.

There will also be a full moon in the sky when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The last time that happened? October 13, 2000. The next time it will happen? August 13, 2049.

I’m not one for superstitions, but there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. Our sun has been shooting off powerful solar flares the last few days, including this one captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory early Tuesday morning:

Three recent solar X-flares emitted by the Sun. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NASA/SDO)

Solar flares are brief, high-radiation eruptions that happen on the surface of the Sun. The three flares emitted in the past two days (pictured above) have been X-flares, the most powerful classification of solar flare. X-flares emit radiation at virtually every wavelength, from radio waves, to the light we can see, to x-rays and gamma rays.

Because of all of the different electromagnetic waves that the flares emit, they can disrupt communications here on Earth. In fact, the flare in the video above caused a temporary radio blackout here on Earth, according to Space.com.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

Did I mention CMEs? CME stands for coronal mass ejection. This occurs when a powerful solar flare emits a plasma burst along with the radiation. A plasma burst can cause polar geomagnetic storms which are capable of severely disrupting communications and satellite systems, including GPS.

Along with having the potential to cause low levels of radiation poisoning in humans, a strong CME would also create surges in electrical wires, destroying transformers and leaving millions without power.

Despite the scary stuff, CME’s are pretty fascinating. These plasma burst clouds actually compresses Earth’s own magnetic field, which is what causes so many of the potential issues.

Artist depiction of how a CME plasma burst interacts with Earth’s magnetoshpere (Courtesy of NASA)

At first, officials at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center didn’t think that the flare in the video above had emitted a CME, only to find later that it had actually produced two of them.

They are expected to give Earth a glancing blow when they reach Earth orbit…tomorrow, Friday the 13th.

‘Moonhouse’ Crowdfunding Project Aims to Build First House on the Moon (Video)

Here at the Higher Learning we try to put a strong focus on space exploration and the space industry as it continues to develop and progress.

Just this month an artist named Mikael Genberg and representatives supporting  a project called “the Moonhouse project”, announced plans to land a small, robotic, self-assembling house on the surface of the Moon.

Mikael Genberg

It would be the first art piece on the lunar surface, symbolic of both our accomplishments in space so far and the direction we are heading in the future as colonization becomes feasible.

The Moonhouse will be red with white gables, resembling, “a typical Swedish red cottage,” says its artist. Measuring 2 by 3 meters (6 ½ x 10 feet) at the base, it will be more of an art project than actual human living quarters.

Some more info on the Moonhouse. Click to enlarge

The artist leading the Moonhouse project says the house will stand as a symbol of,

“prosperity, of thinking bigger thoughts, breaking new mental barriers and actually making this planet a lot better.”

The video below was created by the Moonhouse project. Check it out to learn more about the details of their plan…

The Moonhouse is designed to fly to the moon folded up in a shoebox-sized package. After being placed on the moon, the art installation will unfold and self-assemble as an 8-foot-tall (2.5 meters) red house. It’s expected to take anywhere from five to 15 minutes for the Moonhouse to assemble.

There are a number of potential structures. The dark lines represent carbon fiber tape to support the house. The lighter lines represent long, flat metal rods to help stiffen the fabric

According to Space.com:

“The team plans to send the project up to space in late 2015 atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with the group Astrobotic — a private spaceflight team competing for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize grand prize.”

Before this project can become a reality, the Moonhouse project needs help from people here on Earth. The project is attempting to raise $15 million in a 186 day period in order to fund the project. Currently the Moonhouse project is far from it’s fundraising goal, last time I checked they were only at around $5,000.

That is why, if you support the project, you should make a contribution and spread the word so this project can actually happen.

In fact, people that pledge at least $50 will get their names engraved inside the real Moonhouse that will self-assemble on the lunar surface. Every dollar donated brings this project 82 feet closer to the Moon, according to Genberg.

Help Support The Moonhouse Project Here!

Read the full story from Space.com here. You can check out the Moonhouse project’s official website here.


Google Puts $30 Million Up for Grabs In A Lunar Landing Competition

Google has created a lunar landing competition for private teams and/or companies to compete in. The competition, known as the “Google Lunar XPRIZE“, is offering successful participants over $30 million and is being called the “largest international incentive based prize of all time”.

In order to win the prize, a team or company must fist safely land their craft on the surface of the Moon. Then, the craft must travel above, below, or across the moon’s surface for at least 500 meters.

Finally, it must send back at least two “Mooncasts” (a video transmitted live from the lunar surface) for viewers on Earth. All of these tasks must be completed by December 31, 2015.

Google obviously has a financial stake in the $30 million competition, whether it be for publicity, marketing, branding or whatever else, but these are not Google’s only motivations. According to Google Lunar XPRIZE’s official website, the competition also hopes to,

“…create a new “Apollo” moment for this generation and to spur continuous lunar exploration,”

referring to the Apollo 11 mission, which put man on the moon for the first time. The website also points out that,

“More than half of the world’s population has never had the opportunity to view a live transmission from the lunar surface.”

Google Lunar XPRIZE is offering a grand prize of $20 million for the first place winner, but teams will also be competing for bonus prizes throughout the competition by completing specific terrestrial or in-space milestones.

Offering these milestone prizes and extra bonuses helps to encourage teams to continue to compete and innovate for the entirety of the competition, since it gives them the opportunity to obtain a return on their investments even if they don’t ultimately win the grand prize.

Also, the competition will be great publicity for any up-and-coming aerospace and robotics engineers or companies taking part.

Check out the video below to learn a little bit more about Google Lunar XPRIZE…

The teams competing have come from all over the world, and range from groups of college kids to sophisticated engineering and technology companies.

Teams had to register in 2010 and meet specific requirements to be eligible. The count started with 33 qualified teams, but is now down to just 18.

Hopefully one or even several of these teams will soon be opening new doors to the moon.

NASA’s Official “Tour Of The Moon” (Video)

“We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.” -George W. Bush

NASA takes us up close and personal with our beloved Moon in their recently released “Tour of the Moon” video seen below…

You may know the Moon best as a satellite you see in the night sky or the landing-place of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969. But the Moon is not just some gray rock or sterile desert, it is actually Earth’s closest companion.


Buzz Aldrin gazes at the American flag during his first moon walk

Since 1969 the Moon has been a key point of interest in the space industry, but the Moon was not just a focus in the 60s and 70s. In fact, just in the last six months China made their first ever lunar landing.

How, you may ask, would the Moon bring significant value at all to these agencies? The answer is that the Moon actually serves as a very valuable laboratory environment and testing ground for these space agencies.

A photo taken of the Earth from the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission

Scientists use the Moon as a stable location to do tests that require extremely controlled environmental variables (since it has very little air and virtually no atmosphere) and/or lower gravity.

Also, space agencies can practice launching and landing techniques in an environment with a much thinner atmosphere and lower gravity than that of Earth, which may prove essential for the progression of the space industry.

Check out this previous Higher Learning post, which contains a video from NASA that details NASA’s plans to put an asteroid into orbit around the moon for launching and landing testing.


If You Missed The Blood Moon You Can Watch The Whole Thing Here In Just 9 Seconds (Gif)

You may have heard people talking about the “blood moon” that happened last night. If you missed it, not to worry! Here’s the entire event (which took just under two and a half hours) in just 9 seconds:

Getty Images (25); Gif by Mia Tramz/TIME

To learn more about what caused the blood moon checkout our post about the event from yesterday.

Edit: Just found another cool gif of the event from another perspective-Enjoy!


What Is A Blood Moon and Why Is It Happening Tonight During the Total Lunar Eclipse??

At exactly 8:58 p.m. CST (central time) tonight, the moon will move into Earth’s shadow. The total lunar eclipse, where the moon is completely shaded by the Earth, will start a little more than an hour later at 10:07 p.m. CST, and will last until approximately 11:25 p.m. CST.

The basics of a lunar eclipse (Courtesy of NASA)

You may have heard the term “blood moon” before. Whenever the moon passes into Earth’s shadow, it takes on a reddish color- it can be anywhere from a bright copper to a darker hue, like the color of dried blood. But what causes this?

Well, even when the Earth is between the sun and the moon, some of the light from all of the sunsets and sunrises happening around the rim of the Earth makes it to the moon’s surface. Here’s Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope magazine:

“If you were standing on the moon during a total lunar eclipse you would see the Earth as a black disk with a brilliant orange ring around it. And this brilliant ring would be bright enough to dimly light up the lunar landscape.”

It’s this ring of light which gives the moon its blood red color.

CGI image of what Earth would look like from the moon during a lunar eclipse

Tonight’s eclipse will be the first total lunar eclipse since December of 2011. It will be visible in its entirety across almost the entire continental United States, as well as in parts of Canada and Central America.

You can use the map below to figure out how much of the eclipse will be visible from where you are. Read more from the L.A. Times here.

Click to enlarge

Does NASA Have the Right to Sell Moon-Mining Permits? (Poll)

The Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown program or CATALYST as it is often called, is taking the first steps towards exploring the moon for valuable resources.

A number of private companies have submitted applications to NASA, who will pick one or more of the applicants to build “prospecting robots” that will search the moon for valuable resources that are rare on Earth.

With their budget uncertain (the portion of the federal budget appropriated to NASA has declined pretty steadily since the early 90s), NASA has been trying creative ways to obtain funding for their continued research and space exploration- the CATALYST program being the latest example.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

However, the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty explicitly prohibits any one country from laying claim to the moon. Naturally, CATALYST has sparked a fierce debate about lunar property rights, discussed in more depth in this National Geographic article.

The way I see it, there’s two major questions we must ask ourselves here:

Read the full story from The Verge here.

Feature image courtesy of NOVA.org

Camera That Can Detect the Width of a Human Hair From 620 Miles Away (Billion-Pixel)

A billion-pixel camera was attached to the Gaia space telescope that was launched earlier this month. This telescope is now so sensitive that it can measure a person’s thumbnail from the Moon, or to put it another way, detect the width of a human hair from 620 miles away. And no this telescope is not going to be used by the government to spy on you (at least I don’t think so). 

According to CNN

Scientists hope to glean more clues about the origin and evolution of the universe, and in particular our own galaxy, after a camera of this incredible scale — fitted to the Gaia space telescope — was launched Thursday (Dec. 19).”


The Gaia space telescope lifted off from French Guiana this month on December 19th and it’s main task is mapping the Milky Way and and a quarter of a million objects in our own solar system (including comets and asteroids) like never before. The camera was designed and built by Astrium for the European Space Agency and is the most sensitive telescope to ever be launched into Space. 

The spacecraft, camera, and telescope are said to cost $549 million to build, but the total cost of the mission will come to around $1.02 billion when the expense of the launch and running the mission for its projected five-year lifetime are included.

Check Out the full story here.