My Ph.D. dissertation advisor has a crater on the Moon named after him.

I’m still catching up on news from the last couple of weeks, which is the only explanation I have for my stupidity in missing this story when it first came out: My Ph.D. alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, announced on February 5th that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had named a crater on the Moon after my dissertation advisor, the late Prof. Larry A. Haskin. Crater Haskin is on the far side, it’s 58.4 km in diameter, and it’s near the Moon’s north pole.

Larry was a giant and a pioneer in the study of lunar geology and geochemistry. He worked for NASA during the Apollo missions, and led some of the first efforts to analyze and understand the rock samples coming back with the Apollo astronauts. Larry continued research on lunar geochemistry throughout his life, and continued to advise NASA on future plans to explore and eventually return to the Moon. Larry died in 2005.

Larry’s ultimate goal was to see NASA build a permanent lunar outpost. When asked about the viability of a permanent lunar presence, he liked to point out that because of over four billion years of accumulated solar wind atoms impacting the lunar surface, it was possible to heat a cubic meter of lunar regolith and drive off enough solar-windblown water, carbon and nitrogen to construct two cheese sandwiches, two can-sized servings of soft drink (with real sugar), and two plums. He loved that anecdotal statistic, because it shows how the lunar surface, despite appearing useless and barren, actually contains abundant resources in unconventional forms. Larry was a meticulous, careful and rigorous scientist, and I was lucky when he consented to advise a lowly graduate student from a Southern football college, and who was interested in lava and rare earth elements.

In Larry’s honor, here’s a high-quality clip of Neil Armstrong’s first setting foot on the Moon. Most of us are used to the grainy footage of this moment, shot with a hand-held camera trained on a low-res TV monitor in Houston showing the feed from one Apollo XI Landing Module (LM) externally-mounted camera. The original on-site footage is lost. This footage is from on-site but from a second camera mounted on the LM.

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, for the footage link.

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~ by Planetologist on March 6, 2009.

3 Responses to “My Ph.D. dissertation advisor has a crater on the Moon named after him.”

  1. Thanks for the answer. That is really useful information.

    Your advisor sounds like an incredible guy.

  2. Is that quote about the cheese sandwiches accurate? I mean, do we have actual evidence that that much material is blown into the regolith by solar wind? Or is that theoretical.

    If that’s accurate, I am totally using that.

    • Yes, that estimate appears to be quantitatively accurate. The solar particle flux includes protons, He, C, N, and O ions, among other trace nuclei. Those nuclei impact dust and rock particles in the lunar regolith and become embedded in or become electrostatically bound to their surfaces. To drive off embedded nuclei as a gas, one could use a giant vacuum-cleaner to suck up regolith dust, which would then be heated by an arrangement of solar furnaces. Condensing the gases would yield water, carbon dioxide and nitrogenous compounds that could be distilled separately and used in a lunar habitat to grow food and produce oxygen. Phosphorus and other nutrient elements (e.g. K, Mg, Fe, Na, Ca) are present in usable quantities as minerals in the lunar dust itself. The concentrations of mineral elements and solar-impregnated nuclei present in one average cubic meter of the modern Moon’s surface regolith are large enough to assemble the aforementioned picnic for two, assuming a high efficiency of conversion.

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