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Scientist of the Week: Brad Jolliff

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 5:57am
Lily Barback, Associate Editor

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Brad Jolliff. Image: Washington Univ. in St. Louis

Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is Brad Jolliff from Washington Univ. in St. Louis. Jolliff's analysis of new images of the Moon revealed a small volcanic province on the far side of the Moon.

Q: What made you interested in studying the far side of the Moon?

A: I am interested in the entire Moon, so the far side is not the specific allure. With orbital remote sensing, we can now study the near side, the far side, the poles, anywhere! I mainly was interested in the thorium hot spot located between the craters Compton and Belkovich, known from an earlier mission, Lunar Prospector, which orbited the Moon in 1998. We knew about the concentration of thorium there, but we did not have good enough imaging to tell what the cause might be. Now we know.

Q: What are the future implications of your research and findings?

A: The Compton-Belkovich volcanic complex represents a geologic feature that challenges our current understanding of volcanism on the Moon, so it will be an area of intense interest for future study as well as possibly for a robotic lander that might explore, in the same way that Spirit and Opportunity have explored Mars.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you found in your research?

A: We suspected that the terrain at the center of the thorium hot spot might be volcanic, but we were not sure. The volcanic characteristics—domes, volcanoes, and collapse structures—and their excellent state of preservation that we saw in the LRO narrow angle cameras were a surprise to me. One can read a little more here: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/22512.aspx

Q: What is the take home message of your research and results?

A: In terms of planetary science and exploration, the Moon is not a 'been there, done that' kind of thing. It is a geologically complex planetary object and it has many surprises left for us yet to discover. Whether we return with humans or robotic explorers, there is much yet to learn from our nearest and most accessible neighbor in space. Not only can we learn about the Moon, but we can learn about Solar System history, for example, what has been the flux of large impacts in the past, and how might such impacts have affected early Earth, where much of the record has been erased by active erosion and mountain-building processes.

Q: What new technologies did you use in your lab during your research?

A: I use several different technologies. In orbit around the Moon, we are using very powerful telescopes built by Malin Space Science Systems on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, assembled at Goddard Space Flight Center. The spacecraft is operated by NASA Goddard, and the cameras are operated by Arizona State Univ. In the lab, we use a JEOL 8200 electron microprobe and Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis or INAA to analyze lunar samples.

Q: What is next for you and your research?

A: I am interested in volcanism and the different kinds of rock types found on the Moon so I will continue to study volcanic areas with LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Cameras) images and my group is working on analysis of lunar samples, including Apollo samples and lunar meteorites (see http://meteorites.wustl.edu/lunar/moon_meteorites.htm).

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