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Mapped: The Geology of the Moon in Astronomical Detail

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Geology of the Moon Map

View the medium resolution version of this map (9mb) | View the full resolution version of this map (47mb)

Geologic Map of the Moon

Mapped: The Geology of the Moon in Astronomical Detail

If you were to land on the Moon, where would you go?

Today’s post is the incredible Unified Geologic Map of the Moon from the USGS, which combines information from six regional lunar maps created during the Apollo era, as well as recent spacecraft observations.

Feet on the Ground, Head in the Sky

Since the beginning of humankind, the Moon has captured our collective imagination. It is one of the few celestial bodies visible to the naked eye from Earth. Over time different cultures wrapped the Moon in their own myths. To the Egyptians it was the god Thoth, to the Greeks, the goddess Artemis, and to the Hindus, Chandra.

Thoth was portrayed as a wise counselor who solved disputes and invented writing and the 365-day calendar. A headdress with a lunar disk sitting atop a crescent moon denoted Thoth as the arbiter of times and seasons.

Artemis was the twin sister of the sun god Apollo, and in Greek mythology she presided over childbirth, fertility, and the hunt. Just like her brother that illuminated the day, she was referred to as the torch bringer during the dark of night.

Chandra means the “Moon” in Sanskrit, Hindi, and other Indian languages. According to one Hindu legend, Ganesha—an elephant-headed deity—was returning home on a full moon night after a feast. On the journey, a snake crossed his pathway, frightening his horse. An overstuffed Ganesha fell to the ground on his stomach, vomiting out his dinner. On observing this, Chandra laughed, causing Ganesha to lose his temper. He broke off one of his tusks and hurled it toward the Moon, cursing him so that he would never be whole again. This legend describes the Moon’s waxing and waning including the big crater on the Moon, visible from Earth.

Such lunar myths have waned as technology has evolved, removing the mystery of the Moon but also opening up scientific debate.

Celestial Evolution: Two Theories

The pot marks on the Moon can be easily seen from the Earth’s surface with the naked eye, and it has led to numerous theories as to the history of the Moon. Recent scientific study brings forward two primary ideas.

One opinion of those who have studied the Moon is that it was once a liquid mass, and that its craters represent widespread and prolonged volcanic activity, when the gases and lava of the heated interior exploded to the surface.

However, there is another explanation for these lunar craters. According to G. K. Gilbert, of the USGS, the Moon was formed by the joining of a ring of meteorites which once encircled the Earth, and after the formation of the lunar sphere, the impact of meteors produced “craters” instead of arising from volcanic activity.

Either way, mapping the current contours of the lunar landscape will guide future human missions to the Moon by revealing regions that may be rich in useful resources or areas that need more detailed mapping to land a spacecraft safely .

Lay of the Land: Reading the Contours of the Moon

This map is a 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map built from six separate digital maps. The goal was to create a resource for science research and analysis to support future geologic mapping efforts.

Mapping purposes divide the Moon into the near side and far side. The far side of the Moon is the side that always faces away from the Earth, while the near side faces towards the Earth.

The most visible topographic feature is the giant far side South Pole-Aitken basin, which possesses the lowest elevations of the Moon. The highest elevations are found just to the northeast of this basin. Other large impact basins, such as the Maria Imbrium, Serenitatis, Crisium, Smythii, and Orientale, also have low elevations and elevated rims.

Shapes of Craters

The colors on the map help to define regional features while also highlighting consistent patterns across the lunar surface. Each one of these regions hosts the potential for resources.

Lunar Resources

Only further study will resolve the evolution of the Moon, but it is clear that there are resources earthlings can exploit. Hydrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, magnesium, calcium, aluminum, manganese, and titanium are some of the metals and minerals on the Moon.

Interestingly, oxygen is the most abundant element on the Moon. It’s a primary component found in rocks, and this oxygen can be converted to a breathable gas with current technology. A more practical question would be how to best power this process.

Lunar soil is the easiest to mine, it can provide protection from radiation and meteoroids as material for construction. Ice can provide water for radiation shielding, life support, oxygen, and rocket propellant feed stock. Compounds from permanently shadowed craters could provide methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

This is just the beginning—as more missions are sent to the Moon, there is more to discover.

Space Faring Humans

NASA plans to land astronauts—one female, one male—to the Moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis 3 mission, and after that, about once each year. It’s the beginning of an unfulfilled promise to make humans a space-faring civilization.

The Moon is just the beginning…the skills learned to map Near-Earth Objects will be the foundation for further exploration and discovery of the universe.

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The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been all-consuming, these satellite images show its unintended environmental impacts on NO₂ emissions.

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The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns

There’s a high chance you’re reading this while practicing social distancing, or while your corner of the world is under some type of advised or enforced lockdown.

While these are necessary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such economic interruption is unprecedented in many ways—resulting in some surprising side effects.

The Evidence is in NO₂ Emissions

Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions, a major air pollutant, are closely linked to factory output and vehicles operating on the road.

As both industry and transport come to a halt during this pandemic, NO₂ emissions can be a good indicator of global economic activity—and the changes are visible from space.

These images from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), as well as satellite footage from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), show a drastic decline in NO₂ emissions over recent months, particularly across Italy and China.

NO₂ Emissions Across Italy

In Italy, the number of active COVID-19 cases has surpassed China (including the death toll). Amid emergency actions to lock down the entire nation, everything from schools and shops, to restaurants and even some churches, are closed.

Italy is also an industrial hub, with the sector accounting for nearly 24% of GDP. With many Italians urged to work from home if possible, visible economic activity has dropped considerably.

This 10-day moving average animation (from January 1st—March 11th, 2020) of nitrogen dioxide emissions across Europe clearly demonstrates how the drop in Italy’s economic activity has impacted the environment.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

That’s not all: a drop in boat traffic also means that Venice’s canals are clear for the time being, as small fish have begun inhabiting the waterways again. Experts are cautious to note that this does not necessarily mean the water quality is better.

NO₂ Emissions Across China

The emissions changes above China are possibly even more obvious to the eye. China is the world’s most important manufacturing hub and a significant contributor to greenhouse gases globally. But in the month following Lunar New Year (a week-long festival in early February), satellite imagery painted a different picture.

no2 emissions wuhan china
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

NO₂ emissions around the Hubei province, the original epicenter of the virus, steeply dropped as factories were forced to shutter their doors for the time being.

What’s more, there were measurable effects in the decline of other emission types from the drop in coal use during the same time, compared to years prior.

China Coal Use FInal

Back to the Status Quo?

In recent weeks, China has been able to flatten the curve of its total COVID-19 cases. As a result, the government is beginning to ease its restrictions—and it’s clear that social and economic activities are starting to pick back up in March.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

With the regular chain of events beginning to resume, it remains to be seen whether NO₂ emissions will rebound right back to their pre-pandemic levels.

This bounce-back effect—which can sometimes reverse any overall drop in emissions—is [called] “revenge pollution”. And in China, it has precedent.

Li Shuo, Senior climate policy advisor, Greenpeace East Asia

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The World’s Highest Mountains, And What Their Names Mean

Mountains have inspired humans for centuries. But while Everest and Kilimanjaro might ring a bell, do you know the true meanings behind their names?

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World’s Highest Mountains, and What Their Names Mean

View the high resolution version of this infographic by clicking here

From the Himalayas to the Andes, mountains have inspired and awed us for thousands of years.

Humans have ascribed all sorts of mythologies and metaphors to these jagged geological features. But while Everest or Kilimanjaro may ring a bell, do you know the meaning behind their names?

Today’s infographic from Alan’s Factory Outlet sorts the world’s highest mountains by continent, and explains the detailed origins of their names.

A Mountain By Any Other Name

Out of the 70 mountains profiled, only 41 are actually considered mountains. The rest are technically either a massif or a volcano (or a dome in one instance).

A massif (French for ‘massive’) is produced when a hard, unbendable rock is pushed towards the surface. They can also be formed when magma hardens once it’s above ground. For the rest of this post, we’ll refer to mountains and massifs interchangeably.

The highest mountains on each continent are considered to be part of the Seven Summits. Mountaineer Richard Bass was the first to scale all seven summits in 1985—and the 55-year old did so in only one year.

The Highest Mountain on Each Continent

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
Mount EverestNepal/ China, Asia29,029ft (8,848m)After Sir George Everest, former surveyor of India
Nepali name (Sagarmatha): “Forehead of the Sky”
Tibetan name (Chomolungma): “Goddess Mother of Mountain”
AconcaguaArgentina, S. America22,841ft (6,962m)Various native words: “Comes from the other side”, “Sentinel of stone”, “White sentinel”, “white ravine”
DenaliAlaska, U.S., N. America20,310ft (6,190m)Native Koyukon Athabascan: ‘high’ or ‘tall’
Mount KilimanjaroTanzania, Africa19,341ft (5,895m)Unclear, but some suggest it is a combination of Swahili 'Kilma' ("mountain") and KiChagga 'Njaro' ("whiteness")
Mount ElbrusRussia, Europe18,510ft (5,642m)Derived from Iranian mythology for  legendary mountain ‘Avestan Hara Berezaiti’: “high watchtower”
Vinson MassifAntarctica16,050ft (4,892m)After Carl G. Vinson, a congressman from Georgia who supported the Antarctic Exploration
Puncak JayaIndonesia, Asia/ Oceania16,024ft (4,884m)Sanskrit: "Victorious mountain"

Among these impressive peaks, two are technically volcanoes—Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Elbrus in Russia. Overall, it’s clear that a majority of their names have been influenced by the native languages in their surroundings.

The 10 Asian Giants

The highest mountains in the world are all in Asia, with nine of the ten highest found in the Himalayan range. Many of their names are derived from Sino-Tibetan languages, and some have mythological or religious influences.

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
Mount EverestNepal/ China29,029ft (8,848m)After Sir George Everest, former surveyor of India
Nepali name (Sagarmatha): “Forehead of the Sky”
Tibetan name (Chomolungma): “Goddess Mother of Mountain”
K2Pakistan28,251ft (8,611m)First surveyor labeled each mountain with a K and number. It has no local name due to its remoteness
KangchenjungaNepal/ India28,169ft (8,586m)Lhopo: “Five treasures of the high snow”
LhotseNepal/ China27,940ft (8,516m)Tibetan: “South peak”
MakaluNepal/ China27,838ft (8,485m)Sanskrit origin: “Big Black”, the name for the Hindu god Shiva
Cho OyuNepal26,864ft (8,188m)Tibetan: “Turquoise goddess”
Dhaulagiri
(*Massif)
Nepal26,795ft (8,167m)Sanskrit origin: ‘Dazzling, beautiful, white mountain’
ManasluNepal26,781ft (8,163m)Tibetan: ‘Mountain of the spirit’
Sanskrit origin (Manasa): ‘intellect’ or ‘soul’
Nanga ParbatPakistan26,660ft (8,126m)Sanskrit origin: “Naked mountain”
Annapurna
(*Massif)
Nepal26,545ft (8,091m)Sanskrit origin: “Everlasting food”
Name of the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, believed to reside in the mountain

The second-highest mountain, K2 in Pakistan, lacks a more flowery name because it isn’t visible by any locals due to its remote location.

Majestic North America

The highest peaks in this region are scattered across three countries, with five volcanoes, four mountains, and one massif. Denali in Alaska, U.S. boasts unique names across nearly seven different Indigenous languages.

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
DenaliAlaska, U.S.20,310 ft (6,190 m)Native Koyukon Athabascan: ‘high’ or ‘tall’
Mount LoganCanada19,551 ft (5,959 m)After Sir William Edmond Logan
(Founder of Geological Survey of Canada
Pico de OrizabaMexico18,491 ft (5,636 m)Nahuatl: "Star mountain"
Mount Saint EliasAlaska, U.S.18,009 ft (5,489 m)After Cape Saint Elias
Tlingit: "Mountain behind icy bay"
PopocatépetlMexico17,749 ft (5,410 m)Nahuatl: "Smoking Mountain"
Mount ForakerAlaska, U.S.17,400 ft (5,304 m)After an Ohio Senator, Joseph B. Foraker
Dena'ina: "Denali's wife"
Mount LucaniaCanada17,257 ft (5,260 m)Named by the Duke of Abruzzi for the RMS Lucania
(A ship he sailed from Liverpool to New York)
IztaccíhuatlMexico17,159 ft (5,230 m)Nahuatl: "White woman"
King PeakCanada16,972 ft (5,173 m)After Canadian surveyor and politician William King
Mount BonaAlaska, U.S.16,550 ft (5,044 m)Named by the Duke of Abruzzi after his racing yacht

Mexico’s highest volcanoes also have a Romeo and Juliet-esque myth that links them. Popocatépetl (active volcano) and Iztaccíhuatl (dormant volcano) are presumed to be lovers, both of whom meet a tragic end. It’s said that the active volcano is avenging its beloved’s death to this day.

Far Beyond the Horizon

Traveling to the southernmost tip of the Earth, you might be surprised to learn that volcanoes even exist in Antarctica. Mount Sidley is the highest, dormant, snow-covered volcano found here.

The only dome on the entire highest mountains list is Dome Argus (13,428 ft or 4,093 m). This is the coldest place on the planet, dropping between -144°F to -133°F (-98°C to -90°C).

Dome Argus is also unique from another angle—it’s the only one on Antarctica with fabled origins, based off the Greek figure Argus, builder of the mythological hero Jason and the Argonauts’ ship. The remaining mountains here are named for scientists and supporters of various Antarctic expeditions.

Under Sea, and Outer Space

All these highest mountains are visible on land, but it’s possible that more secrets remain in the deep blue. The Hawaiian dormant volcano Mauna Kea doesn’t make this list due to its lower elevation above sea level, but it’s actually 33,500ft (10,200m) high from tip to peak—far taller than even Everest.

Everest is still really impressive, but it’s also only a fraction of the size of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars and in the solar system. New planets are also being discovered every year, presenting further possibilities.

Ultimately, this suggests we’ve not yet peaked at discovering the massive mountains which exist in—and out—of this world.

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