Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Artbeat takes us more than 200,000 miles away from earth, to the surface of the moon. "Lunar Landscapes" is a photographic exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Monorchid Gallery in downtown Phoenix. We were there yesterday as the show was being assembled. It consists of dozens of images taken by NASA's lunar reconnaissance orbiter camera or L-roc. The high-quality images show prominent features of the lunar landscape. Impact craters, ancient lava flows, and the landing sites where Apollo astronauts once walked on the moon are all captured in stunning detail. ASU professor Mark Robinson calls the shots for cameras aboard orbiter. The L-roc was launched into space a few years ago on a fact-finding mission to help facilitate putting humans back on the moon. Joining me now to talk about the lunar landscapes exhibition is Mark Robinson, professor at ASU's school of earth and space exploration. He's L-roc's principal and investigator and curator of Lunar Landscapes exhibition. Good to see you again. Did you ever think you’d be a curator at an art exhibit.
Mark Robinson: I didn’t know I was.
Ted Simons: Congratulations.
Mark Robinson: I like the title.
Ted Simons: The thought behind this particular exhibit?
Mark Robinson: The thought behind the exhibit is to get people who don't normally interact with the science community or come down to ASU campus or even go to our web page to see the moon. We’ve got this fantastic exhibition of exploration that's been in orbit around the moon since June 2009 and every day we return 450 gigabits of fantastic images of the surface of the moon. The moon is an incredibly exciting place. It’s beautiful, it mysterious. It's not only scientifically but esthetically. Mountain ranges, you did a great intro. We take these pictures and they come down, and everybody on the team is, has engineering purposes or science purposes but you just can't help to be excited about the landscapes you are seeing. A lot of these images nobody has ever seen these landscapes before.
Ted Simons: They are, they are stunning and I want to take a look at some of them here real quickly including this first one. And it's interesting. It's literally a west to east view of the Tycho crater. You know exactly where it's at and what it's doing up there. Don't you? That's -- talk to bus that image. What can we learn from that?
Mark Robinson: Tycho crater is 82 kilometers in diameter. That's 50 miles. The actual peak in the middle is about 15 kilometers across or 10 miles and it's 2,000 meters or 6,000 feet high. That's a big mountain. OK? But unlike mountains on the earth, all the topography was formed in a few seconds and that's when an asteroid that was maybe 10 kilometers in diameter slammed into the moon at 20 kilometers a second and just those forces are so outside of our normal experience.
Ted Simons: How big would that have to be again?
Mark Robinson: 10 kilometers, something like that.
Ted Simons: And that makes something like that.
Mark Robinson: Yeah. The peak was formed in a matter of seconds. Again it's 6,000-foot-high mountain and that formed in a few seconds. See how it looks almost like sea ice around it.
Ted Simons: Yes.
Mark Robinson: That is frozen melt because there's so much energy released in the impact that the lunar surface melted right there and it pooled and if you come down to the show you will be able to see some of these exact flows in incredible detail down to the meter scale.
Ted Simons: There's another photograph of another crater, this apparently is a young crater, I think certainly the images of this one again, they are striking. We are seeing things that almost look like artist rendition. What about this particular one?
Mark Robinson: This is one of my favorite. It's about 2.5 kilometers. Have you ever been to meteor crater? It's about twice as big and twice as deep. It's about 500 meters deep, so 1500 feet deep. And if, I don't know if you can zoom all the way down here on --
Ted Simons: We will give it our best shot. There we go.
Mark Robinson: As you get down closer and closer you can actually see boulders that have streamed down the side and were thrown out on the edge. But if you look very closely there's some dark materials and bright materials. Now, imagine if you were going to the moon with either rover or you as an astronaut and you could plan out with these kind of images exactly where you wanted to go sample the different types of rocks. Because the black rocks are black for a reason. They are have more iron in them. The white rocks may have less iron in them or acidic. So that's one of the major goals of this whole mission is to help NASA map out most interesting places to go and what to do when we get there.
Ted Simons: There really is a colonization aspect to all this, isn't there?
Mark Robinson: Maybe colonization is down the road. Let's get back to the moon first. OK? It's been 40 years since we were at the moon. Right? NASA had a plan and a goal to get back to the moon about five or six years ago and due to the fiscal situation, so on and so forth, those plans are somewhat on hold right now. The economy is getting better. We are getting back. We have this fantastic data. We know where to go now. We have this great data from Apollo days, new information from the reconnaissance orbiter and we know there are resources on the moon. It’s not purely to go back for scientific reasons, it's to get resources and to help us to learn how to work in space so we can go beyond the moon and in to Mars. I would love to go to Mars. How about you?
Ted Simons: I think so!
Mark Robinson: But to get there first we have to learn how to work on another body. We want to do that. We are only three and a half days from earth.
Ted Simons: Do you think that with all the attention to the Mars rovers and these sorts of things the moon has been kind of forgotten here in recent years?
Mark Robinson: The moon doesn't get quite as much publicity as Mars does and I think that there's several reasons. One, the Apollo astronauts and brought rocks back. The moon is close. And it's similar. Right? And it's like, you live in Phoenix. How often do you go to particularly the meteor crater or Grand Canyon? Or you do it when out of town visitors come. Mars is a bit sexier, it’s farther away. People like to think about the possibility of life on Mars and the past. There isn't much possibility there's ever life on the moon. The moon has a vacuum. There's no atmosphere. But there's incredible geology to be had and incredible sights to be had and resources.
Ted Simons: No kidding. You mentioned there once was life on the moon. We had some astronauts up there and one of your photographs in this exhibition shows who Apollo 11, where it landed and the debris up there and the detritus of the landing. Correct?
Mark Robinson: Yeah. This is a great image. I love these pictures of the landing sites. You see right in the center of that very bright circular feature, that's the bottom stage of the lunar module. That served as a launch pad.
Ted Simons: It's still there.
Mark Robinson: And if you look to the south or below that you see those other bright spots? That's a retro reflector where we still shoot lasers at that so we can measure the distance to the moon with a meter. There’s a seismometer that’s lasted for three or four months and sends data back. And see to the right, that impact crater and that faint black line over there? Those are Neil Armstrong's tracks. He had a few minutes left after they got setting up the experiments. As he was noticing he went right over those craters and he said, I bet those geologists would love to have a picture inside of an impact crater. So, he ran over there, took the pictures and nobody knew on the ground. Right? That he did that. And you could see where he went back.
Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness.
Mark Robinson: To the lunar module. He was a great scientist even though he was an engineer. He collected probably one of the most fantastic sample collections in a few minutes. And he went over there and took a picture of the crater.
Ted Simons: This is great stuff. Again, monOrchid Galley, throughout the month? We will have more information in a second.
Mark Robinson: Every Friday night if you come down there between 6:00 and 10:00 there will be special tours. It's open all week. Please come down.
Ted Simons: Congratulations. Sounds like a great exhibit. Good to have you here. You can visit the surface of the moon starting tomorrow when Lunar Landscape opens at monOrchid Gallery during the first Friday walk in Downtown Phoenix. The show will remain open throughout end of November.