Planetary Radio • Jan 23, 2019

Asteroid Bennu’s Visitor From Earth

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Dante Lauretta

OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator for University of Arizona

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Spacecraft OSIRIS REx is now orbiting a 260-meter asteroid named Bennu. Principal investigator Dante Lauretta returns to tell us what has already been learned, and to preview the excitement that is still to come, including the probe’s descent to the surface for collection of a pristine sample. Want a Blu-ray copy of First Man, the movie about Neil Armstrong? Consider entering this week’s What’s Up space trivia contest that also offers Dante Lauretta’s two great board games about space exploration and astronomy.

Bennu PolyCam mosaic
Bennu PolyCam mosaic This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).Image: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona
Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx
Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx Image: NASA / GSFC
Bennu from the north, 4 December 2018
Bennu from the north, 4 December 2018 An animation of a full rotation of Bennu from a perspective near its north pole, as seen by OSIRIS-REx on 4 December 2018. The series of 31 MapCam images was taken over the course of about 4 hours and 19 minutes, from 11.4 kilometers away at the beginning of the sequence to 9.3 kilometers at the end. This first pass was one of 5 flyovers of Bennu’s poles and equator that OSIRIS-REx conducted during its Preliminary Survey of the asteroid.Image: NASA / GSFC / UA

This Week’s Prizes:
Five winners will receive the brand new Blu-Ray release of First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. Two additional winners will receive either Extronaut or Constellations, the great space exploration and astronomy board games from Dante Lauretta. And someone else will get the full set of five KickAsteroid stickers from the Planetary Society Chop Shop store and a 200-point astronomy account.

First Man
First Man

This week's question:

What was the last human mission to end with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, January 30th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

What 180 kilometer diameter crater did Chang’e 4 land in, and who is the crater named after?


The answer will be revealed next week.

Question from the January 9th space trivia contest question:

When is the next total lunar eclipse after this month’s that will be seen from Earth?


The next total lunar eclipse will take place on May 26, 2021.


[Mat Kaplan]: The latest from asteroid Bennu via OSIRIS-REx this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. A slightly abbreviated show this time, but we've still got great stuff for you including a mission update from OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta. His spacecraft is now orbiting Bennu where the search for a sample collection site is already underway. Now, I know you always stay for my What's Up conversations with Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts. There's even more reason to do so today: five winners of the new space trivia contests are going to receive Blu-ray copies of <em>First Man</em> starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. And a couple of you are also going to receive either Xtronaut or Constellations [00:01:00] the great space exploration and astronomy board games from our guest Dante Lauretta. Yes, he creates games that share the passion, beauty, and joy, but Dante is first and foremost a scientist. He is a Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab. That's also where he leads the OSIRIS-REx mission. Pay attention because I'm only going to say this once, it stands for: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. The spacecraft's main goal is to collect and return a sample of Bennu though as you're about to hear the mission has already begun sending home great images and data. Dante welcome back to Planetary Radio and congratulations on the enormous exciting success of OSIRIS-REx.

[Dante Lauretta]: Thank you Mat, it's great to be here.

[Mat Kaplan]: I was at the Applied Physics Lab [00:02:00] waiting for New Horizons to pass a rock much farther out in our solar system on New Year's Eve, something big was happening with your mission on that day you successfully went into orbit?

[Dante Lauretta]: That's correct on New Year's Eve of 2018 we set two World Records by placing the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft into orbit around the smallest body that has ever been orbited by a spacecraft from Earth, and also achieving the smallest radius orbit in space flight history.

[Mat Kaplan]: So congratulations on that as well and I have to, in a somewhat embarrassed way, admit something to you. We mentioned this on the show a week or two ago. We had one of your team scientists on and that person as we have been at the Planetary Society sort of used air quotes when we referred to your spacecraft orbiting Bennu. I got email from one of your Navigators at that company KinetX, it's one of your partners. [00:03:00] He said no need for air quotes. You really are orbiting this small object.

[Dante Lauretta]: That is true, Mat. We are in a true orbit around Bennu. It has a period of about 61 hours. We're moving at an orbital velocity on the order of 5 centimeters per second.

[Mat Kaplan]: I find this so charming in a way that and you are what at most about two kilometers away from Bennu in this orbit?

[Dante Lauretta]: Yeah, we're ranging between 1.5 and 2 kilometers. It's a somewhat eccentric orbit.

[Mat Kaplan]: Absolutely fascinating and maybe eccentric and more ways than one. The science began even before you went into orbit. Right? I mean, I saw this announcement that your team found water on Bennu.

[Dante Lauretta]: Yeah, we began observing been you in mid-August of 2018 that kicked off the approach phase science. So we started out two million kilometers away and over the course between August and December [00:04:00] we closed in to 20 kilometer range setting up preliminary survey flybys starting on December 3rd. So we had the spectrometers active. We have a visible and infrared spectrometer over years and we have a thermal emission spectrometer, OTES. Both of them were able to get Bennu in their field of view. They were challenging measurements because it didn't completely fill the field of view and these are instruments that are optimized for close-up spectral mapping which will start later this year, but they both detected very convincing signs of hydrated clay-like minerals as the dominant material on the surface of the asteroid. And that's a really exciting result for us because the mission objective is to return pristine carbonaceous chondrite like material from the asteroid and those minerals are exactly the kind of material that we were hoping to find.

[Mat Kaplan]: Obviously not liquid water. It's not ice either. It's water what locked up in these clay compounds?

[Dante Lauretta]: That's [00:05:00] correct. So we believe very early on in the history of the solar system a much larger asteroid accreted both icy particles and rocky particles and then that asteroid heated up and due to the decay of radioactive isotopes the ice melted and reacted with the minerals to form clays. And when you do that the water actually becomes part of the crystal structure, and so it gets preserved throughout the four and a half billion year history of the solar system inside those minerals.

[Mat Kaplan]: Remind us why with all of the meteorites that have been found down here on the surface of Earth why it is so important to pick up this pristine material and bring it back.

[Dante Lauretta]: There's really two compelling scientific reasons to go get a sample directly from the surface of an asteroid. The first is geologic context. When we find meteorites we really have a tough time identifying where in the solar system they're coming from and we struggle to get their [00:06:00] orbits, to trace them back to a region of the solar system where they're derived from, and I think the best way to describe it is now for the very first time in history the meteorite scientists are walking up to the outcrops to see where these rocks are actually coming from. Any field geologist knows you have to understand the geologic context in order to truly interpret the materials in the minerals in the sample that you're studying. The second reason is we are interested in the role these kinds of asteroids played in seeding the early Earth with the building blocks of life. And when you're trying to determine if those are present in meteorites, you have to overcome terrestrial contamination and also selection effects. Only the toughest material is going to make it through passage to the Earth's atmosphere, and even when it lands on the ground it's very quickly colonized and contaminated by terrestrial microbes and handling. I compare it to a forensic investigation. We're trying to lay out our [00:07:00] case and in order to make it as convincing as possible, we have to have control of the evidence from the moment it left the asteroid surface until it got into our analytical laboratories and those molecules were detected.

[Mat Kaplan]: That ultimate goal, of course, is that sample being recovered and brought to some very very well-protected lab, but the science as you've said is already begun. Now, even the best of this science, in situ science may still be ahead of us. But what else can you tell us at this point, if anything, about what you've discovered at Bennu?

[Dante Lauretta]: Yeah, so we... in addition to the approach phase we executed the preliminary survey. That was a series of hyperbolic passes over the North Pole, the equator, and the South Pole, and so we got really good looks at the asteroid surface and some really high resolution imaging data with pixels scales of up to 33 centimeters per pixel.

[Mat Kaplan]: Wow.

[Dante Lauretta]: So we've done a really good job already characterizing the surface, and there certainly have been some [00:08:00] surprises the ones that jump out at me right away is that there are a large number of impact craters on the surface of this asteroid. And we expected since Bennu is a rubble pile asteroid, it's basically a loosely bound accumulation of boulders and gravel, that as it was in the inner solar system and it did close approaches to the terrestrial planets and also as its rotation rate increased due to a phenomenon called the YORP effect, we expected that this would be a pretty active and dynamic surface and we would see erasure of the older cratering record. But it looks like Bennu's surface age is anywhere from a hundred million to a billion years old which really helps us understand its evolution and its geologic history. That said there are a lot of processes going on on the surface. We do see mass wasting or material moving down slopes. There are a large number of boulders. I would say an uncomfortably large number of boulders considering that we gotta fly down to the surface and get a sample. So that definitely was a [00:09:00] surprise to us as well.

[Mat Kaplan]: You know, that's a really important point that you've just made. The difficulties that are ahead as you collect the sample... we know that the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2, they're hoping to collect their sample from Ryugu possibly as soon as next month, but it's not going to be easy. Do you face some of the same sorts of challenges with this rubble-strewn body that OSIRIS-REx has visited?

[Dante Lauretta]: Yeah, and you know, we work very closely with the Hayabusa2 team. They're great friends and colleagues of ours and we have a lot of cross-pollination on the science team. So that's actually one of the best parts of the mission so far is the ability to cross cultural boundaries and share information and data and build friendships and relationships to help each other out because we are both in a similar situation where we have a more challenging asteroid surface than we designed to. And we're going to have to figure out how to overcome that challenge using our ingenuity and the capabilities of our spacecraft and where and [00:10:00] how we're going to go get that sample, that's our job over the next year on OSIRIS-REx. Even though we got a lot of great data already, the science campaign hasn't truly begun. We're still in the preliminary assessment and setting up the detailed mapping phases. And we are seeing small patches of what look like fine grain material at our current imaging resolution. They're on the order of maybe 10 to 20 metres across which is about half the size that we were expecting and what we designed our guidance systems to accommodate.

[Mat Kaplan]: What sort of resolution will you eventually have before you dive down to scoop up that sample?

[Dante Lauretta]: We're looking at a global mapping resolution with a pixel scale of 5 centimeters per pixel width. So that's going to be about a factor of six better than we have right now. So we're pretty excited about that, that's going to be unprecedented. That'll cover at least 80% of the surface of the asteroid. It gets more challenging as you try to image the polar [00:11:00] regions because the lighting conditions are not as accommodating of good pictures being taken.

[Mat Kaplan]: Still pretty amazing, 5 centimeters per pixel.

[Dante Lauretta]: It is going to be an amazing data set. We're already having a field day with the science team here in the data that we've collected and every once in a while I stopped and I remind them, I said the best times are ahead of us folks. We still got a lot of data to collect and what you're seeing now is kind of getting us thinking but really this spring and summer are going to be the heyday for OSIRIS-REx encounter science.

[Mat Kaplan]: Do you have a lot of confidence that your spectrometer... spectrometric instruments are going to be able to tell us a lot more as this continues, as you really get into the science campaign?

[Dante Lauretta]: Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier the spectrometers the data that they're looking at now, the asteroid didn't even fill the field of view, it was about 40% of the field of view. So the signal to noise wasn't great and they were still able to make these amazing discoveries. We are going to get within a few kilometers of the asteroid surface. We're going to have resolutions of tens of [00:12:00] meters. We're going to map out the entire asteroid surface with both spectrometers and those instrument scientists can't wait because they've been working really hard to process the data and I don't think the public usually appreciates how much work goes on to take data from a spacecraft instrument and turn it into scientific quality information that can be analyzed. They're expecting their job to actually get a lot easier when we start making the observations that the instruments were actually designed and optimized for.

[Mat Kaplan]: What about images? I mean, you've mentioned the ones you've gotten already and we will link to the mission website where people can see some of these really stunning photos of of Bennu. When will we be seeing higher resolution images than you've already published?

[Dante Lauretta]: So right now as you mentioned we're in orbit and the imaging conditions in orbit are actually kind of poor because we're constrained to orbiting in what we call the solar terminator plane, basically going over 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. of the asteroid [00:13:00] surface every orbit. And that's because the gravity of the asteroid is so small that solar radiation pressure on the spacecraft is the same order of magnitude force. And so we got to keep that force constant. So we're not getting... we're getting images but they're not better than what we had before. Actually the best data were taken on December 2nd as we were coming into the asteroid. We'll be leaving orbit at the end of February and going into the detailed survey phase, so that last week of February and then through March and early April, that's when those phenomenal new images will be coming in.

[Mat Kaplan]: Have you pinned down when OSIRIS-REx will descend to pick up that sample?

[Dante Lauretta]: Well, the nominal date on the schedule is July of 2020. But that was based on the plan that we had easily identifiable sample sites that met our design. Not being in that situation we are gathering right now to determine what is the new requirement. What does [00:14:00] that mean for our observation profile? Maybe we have to write some new flight software. So that date may slip, but we're not ready to announce that yet.

[Mat Kaplan]: Can you say more about the the actual engineering challenges that are now obvious as you as you see this object for what it is?

[Dante Lauretta]: We always knew the biggest challenge for OSIRIS-REx was accurate navigation in the microgravity environment. So that's going to come into play as we have to target a very tight region of the asteroid surface where we believe there'll be material that our TAGSAM device can collect. Now that said,0 the navigation team has beaten all expectations for the performance of the orbit phase. And we had expected that the orbit might be unstable and that would be doing a lot of maneuvering with the thrusters to maintain the orbit. But this group really nailed it and we have not had to have any trim maneuver since we got into orbit over two weeks ago now. They are modeling the [00:15:00] small forces on the spacecraft to unprecedented precision and people didn't believe they could do it when we were going through the design of the mission way back in the design phases. There were a lot of skeptics on whether we could actually get into orbit around this asteroid and whether we could do the small force modeling that's necessary to maintain the orbit and all of that's going really really well. So that gives me a lot of confidence as we're looking at reducing the requirement for the navigation accuracy to the surface of the asteroid that this team is going to be able to come through for us.

[Mat Kaplan]: Dante, it's been a pretty good season hasn't it for NASA's class of missions called New Frontiers?

[Dante Lauretta]: Absolutely. This is a great program. It's an honor to be part of it. We were of course thrilled to see the data coming in from Ultima Thule, the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft and our interplanetary snowman. So that was just phenomenal work and Alan Stern and that team have always been an inspiration and a great source resource for us as we reached out to them. And I've [00:16:00] personally reached out to Alan on many occasions as we... as I've run into issues and I wanted a sounding board, somebody who maybe had a similar experience. And of course Juno in orbit around Jupiter continues to provide unprecedented information about the interior structure and the cloud dynamics of the polar regions and overall the geophysical properties of the largest planet in our solar system. And you know, there are two teams working right now on the final concepts for New Frontiers 4 and I'm excited about both of them. One is the CAESAR comet sample return, which builds on the OSIRIS-REx Legacy to go out to comet 67P to get a sample from that surface. That was the target of the Rosetta Mission. And the other one is Dragonfly, which is a quadcopter to buzz around in the atmosphere of Titan, a very important and intriguing target in the solar system for understanding planetary evolution and even insights into the origin of life here on Earth. So we're really proud of all the accomplishments of the missions in the New Frontiers program and we look forward [00:17:00] to great things to come.

[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, pretty good bang for the buck, I would say. And we still have to talk to people about the CAESAR mission. But you may not know because it just went up as we speak, we talked to Zibi Turtle about the Dragonfly proposal just last week on this program. So far, we've only talked to you in your role as a Principal Investigator for this great mission OSIRIS-REx, but you are a dedicated science communicator as well and I wonder if you want to tell us the current status of your activity there, where you've developed not just one now, but I guess at least a couple of pretty successful games?

[Dante Lauretta]: Yeah, one of the other activities and organizations that I'm heavily involved in is the Boys and Girls Clubs Of America and locally the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, which is a youth development organization that provides after-school care as well as summer care for students and kids from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. And one of the things that [00:18:00] occurred as I was working with that group and doing STEM outreach in a weekly science club was that board games are a really great way to get concepts across to them and also have conversations and build relationships. I've always been a big board game player. And so that really got me thinking about using board games as a way to overcome some science phobias and get people excited about science concepts in a collegial and really dynamic and fun environment. So I have now three board games to my credit. The first one is called <em>Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration</em>, came out in 2015 and has done well, I think we've sold over 10,000 copies of that.

[Mat Kaplan]: I think I've told you that it's a pretty popular game after Planetary Society headquarters.

[Dante Lauretta]: That's great to hear. The second one is <em>Constellations</em>, which is about stargazing and stellar evolution and the patterns of stars in the sky. And [00:19:00] then just last month on Kickstarter we raised the funding to produce our third game called <em>Downlink: The Game of Planetary Discovery</em>, and I'm really excited about this one. Downlink is more for the hardcore gaming community, which is something that I enjoy. A lot more strategy, resource management, longer gameplay, and decision-making, but it really is about putting science instruments on spacecraft and getting them out to all these different targets in the solar system and making scientific discoveries in scoring the most points along the way to win the game. So that is going to the factory for printing in the next month or so and should be available later on this year.

[Mat Kaplan]: Why is this side of what you do, communicating the science... not just communicating it but making it really exciting and fun. Why do you see this is such an important part of the job?

[Dante Lauretta]: Well, you know, I'm pretty fortunate to have the job that I do and I never forget that. A lot of people believed in me and gave me an [00:20:00] opportunity and really just taught me what possibilities were out there. And you know, I come from the Boys & Girls Clubs. I was a kid that went there. I was raised by a single mom and didn't really know what college was about. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I want to pay that forward. I think it's important to look to the next generation. You know, we have a lot of challenges on this planet both politically and scientifically and we need well educated, informed people whether or not they go into a science career. We need them to understand the value that science plays in decision-making, in the wonder of the universe that it reveals to us because I think that just makes life so much more worth living.

[Mat Kaplan]: Well said, Dante. Thank you so much for that and for joining us once again on Planetary Radio. I hope we can talk again when that science campaign really gets underway and we'll keep following the mission right through the return of that pristine sample back [00:21:00] here to Earth.

[Dante Lauretta]: Sounds great, Mat. It's always a pleasure.

[Mat Kaplan]: Dante Lauretta is a Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. And of course, he is the Principal Investigator on NASA's OSIRIS-REx Mission, which is now orbiting a rock called Bennu. Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio with that pretty amazing prize package that I mentioned at the outset. Let's get underway. Tell us about the night sky, and I know what you're going to ask me, did I see the eclipse?Kind of.

[Bruce Betts]: Kind of?

[Mat Kaplan]: It was cloudy!

[Bruce Betts]: Oh I thought you were in a delirious state and just imagined it.

[Mat Kaplan]: No, you could just barely see this smudge... a slightly reddish smudge up in the sky through the clouds that we had down here in San Diego. And that's the best I got. How did you do?

[Bruce Betts]: I did well, but it required staying outside [00:22:00] and staring up pretty much the whole time because it was patchy clouds, so it would be gone for a few minutes and then it would be there for a little while. So it was cool.

[Mat Kaplan]: Of course the following night, last night as we speak, it was absolutely gorgeously clear. So, you know just my luck.

[Bruce Betts]: Well sure but there's all sorts of other good stuff you can look at in your clear skies, Mat. How's that for a segue?

[Mat Kaplan]: Are you serious? Tell me about it. Our them.

[Bruce Betts]: Well golly if you if you're up in the the pre-dawn morning, it is superty cool right now. That's, yeah, that's a technical term. We've got Jupiter and Venus the two brightest planets in the sky hanging out near each other, very near each other in the pre-dawn East, fairly low down. Venus is the brighter of the two. Both of them are brighter than any star in the sky and they're kind of lined up for the next few days with the reddish and dimmer but bright star Antares, [00:23:00] in Scorpius and so you can see a nice little line there. But wait don't order yet, on January 31st, the Crescent Moon—I'll throw in the Crescent Moon if you call in the next 15 minutes. Now one way or the other you will get the Crescent Moon hanging out right near Venus and to its upper left will be Jupiter and upper... I'm sorry upper right, upper right is Jupiter and the upper right of that is Antares, that's January 31st. And in the evening sky, we've still got reddish Mars hanging out in the southwest in the early evening. Hooph. If you think that was exhausting, we've got This Week in Space History. This week had two of the large space disasters. 1967 was the Apollo 1 fire, killing three astronauts. And 1986 the Challenger disaster killing seven astronauts. So we remember them this week.

[Mat Kaplan]: So it's that week again. Yeah a good time to remember these [00:24:00] these explorers.

[Bruce Betts]: It is, it is and it just happens the way the weeks carve up. But also within that same week period we have the Columbia disaster in 2003. Bad week for space. A couple other things, 30 years ago Phobos 88 entered Mars orbit. Little known fact, but created a PhD thesis for me after a lot of stress in the meantime.

[Mat Kaplan]: No kidding, Soviet mission, right?

[Bruce Betts]: Yep. They launched two spacecraft headed to land on Phobos, one of them failed on the way to Mars, one failed after being in Mars orbit, but got some data about Mars.

[Mat Kaplan]: So the greatest success of that mission was your thesis.

[Bruce Betts]: I don't think I'd quite claim that but sure, one of the greatest scientific successes since there were so few was my PhD thesis. And then 15 years ago Opportunity landed on Mars and roved around [00:25:00] for at least most of those 15 years.

[Mat Kaplan]: Still waiting for it to call home, I think.

[Bruce Betts]: Alright, we move on to Random Space Fact.

[Mat Kaplan]: That was jaunty.

[Bruce Betts]: Well, you know, I felt jaunty talking about nova. That's right. Brightenings of stars in the sky. During the 16th... little Nova naming history, during the 16th century Tycho Brahe observing what turned out to be a supernova. He described it in his book <em>De nova stella</em>, concerning the new star which gave rise to the name new. Ironic because most of the stars experiencing nova or particularly supernovae are at the end of their lives. Everything was called a nova until the 1930s when I started to sort out supernova from nova and term those classical novae and they're dimmer and caused by a different way of doing things. [00:26:00] But yeah, it's a whole new nova star convention.

[Mat Kaplan]: And that was a very nice little introduction.

[Bruce Betts]: Learn more. All right, we move on to the trivia contest and I asked you, relevant to what happened a few days ago now, when is the next total Lunar eclipse as seen from the Earth's surface? How do we do?

[Mat Kaplan]: I am going to open the responses this time with our Poet Laureate, Dave Fairchild. A Lunar eclipse is a proof that our world is circular to the observer, which dampens the hope of about 2% who claim to believe as flat-Earthers. So watch the penumbra and umbra advance because you aren't getting a rerun until next time that a total arrives on May 26 two-oh-two-one.

[Bruce Betts]: That is correct.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you Dave Fairchild. And here's our winner, Scott Borges Miller. Scott Borges Miller, long time listener and last won the contest, get this, just over four [00:27:00] years ago according to my faulty records, but I think that's accurate. He said May 26, 2021. So Scott in Ijamsville, Maryland, you are going to receive <em>Rocket Men</em>. That's Robert Kurson's book about Apollo 8 that we were able to offer once again because the previous winner he went out and bought the book after we talked with Robert Kurson about it. That was a good move. Also a complete set of those five great Kick Asteroid stickers from the Planetary Society Chop Shop store. That's where you can find it. And a 200 point account for doing astronomy all over the world because they've got telescopes everywhere on that great network, nonprofit network of telescopes. Nihari Rao, we hear from them now and then in Sugarland, Texas, he says with the Moon moving away from Earth at about 3.8 centimeters per year there will come a time when eclipses will [00:28:00] vanish. Earth-Moon will be tidally locked and the Moon is so distant that it cannot block the sun entirely, no lunar or solar eclipses as we know them today. He made all that up, right?

[Bruce Betts]: Yes, Mat, if it makes you feel better.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you.

[Bruce Betts]: But we don't have to worry about it because those are really far off in the future.

[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, but I don't want to wake up in a billion years and be told no more eclipses, you missed the last one. It was cloudy.

[Bruce Betts]: If you wake up in a billion years I'm pretty sure you'll be able to go somewhere else to watch an eclipse.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you. That's a good thought Nick Churi in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He says that this month's total lunar eclipse is number 20 out of 85 that we will have this century. Does that sound about right?

[Bruce Betts]: Sure. It sounds certainly in the right ballpark. I don't know if it includes ones that are just penumbral eclipses. Although it may not. Probably. Sure. I'd buy [00:29:00] that. But what happens in a billion years?

[Mat Kaplan]: Zoe Reinerts in Germany, one of our many listeners in Germany, said a separate poem or a fragment of a poem this from Thomas Hardy from his poem at a lunar eclipse. Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea, / Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine / In even monochrome and curving line / Of imperturbable serenity.

[Bruce Betts]: That is lovely.

[Mat Kaplan]: And with that we're ready for another one.

[Bruce Betts]: Here's your question. What was the last human mission to end with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean? Go to

[Mat Kaplan]: That's got to stretch pretty far back. You have until the 30th, January 30th. That's Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. Pacific time to get us the answer, and here is that prize package: five winners will receive the brand-new Blu-ray release of [00:30:00] <em>First Man</em> starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong because the studio has given us a bunch of these to give away. Two additional winners will receive either Xtronaut Constellations, those great space exploration and astronomy board games from Dante Lauretta. So one person will get Xtronaut, another will get Constellations. And wait, there's more, someone else will get the full set of five Kick Asteroid stickers from the Planetary Society Chop Shop store and a 200 point account. So eight winners in a couple of weeks when we answer this one.

[Bruce Betts]: Mat, you're so generous.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you. This is kind of an experiment. We've never done anything like this. So let's see what the response is. It's a pleasure talking with you and I think we're done.

[Bruce Betts]: All right, everybody go out there, look up at the night sky, and think not only about sunglasses but about Moon glasses. Thank you and goodnight.

[Mat Kaplan]: You know maybe that was the problem. Maybe I forgot to take mine off. Anyway, he's [00:31:00] Bruce Betts, Chief Scientist of the Planetary Society, who joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by its steadfast members. MaryLiz Bender is our Associate Producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which was arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan, Ad Astra.