The Autopsy of an Explosion

Zach Morse's work on the Moon could revise the way we think about crater formation.Three and a half billion years ago, an asteroid's impact on the moon's surface created a crater the size of Texas in a matter of seconds. As a Master's student of Geology and Planetary Science, Zach Morse spends his days pouring over high-resolution images obtained from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite to create the most highly detailed map of the Orientale impact crater produced to date, in essence, performing the autopsy of an explosion. The map will enhance his study of the patterns and composition of moon debris that resulted from the explosive impact. "The material that is thrown out of the center of an impact basin forms distinct patterns that are characteristic of the chemical composition and density of rocks at the site of impact," Zach explains.

His detective work could have scientists revising their theory of crater formation. "The pattern of rock emplacement beyond the crater rim around the Orientale Basin suggests that the ejecta blanket may have formed through multiple stages as opposed to the prevailing theory that the material that once filled the vast lunar basins was simply deposited all at once as a single massive wave" he explains. His research could not only point out what the moon is actually made up of, but also reveal how Earth and other planetary bodies formed.

The Moon and other planets may be critical to humanity’s ability to cope with Earth's increasing population, ever-dwindling resources and shrinking habitats. As such, space programs are planning missions to specifically mine water and minerals found on the near side of the moon and within near-Earth asteroids. Zach's detailed mapping of the Orientale Basin, a hitherto un-surveyed part of the moon, will aid scientists and astronauts who may someday travel once again to the lunar surface and explore an untapped region that may contain traces of precious minerals and other resources.

Morse gathers evidence from the pattern of rock emplaced beyond the crater rim around the Orientale Basin.As the president of the graduate student council for the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration, Zach is heavily involved in outreach and public education and thoroughly relishes interactions with high-school students. "To see and feel their excitement when they get to touch billion-year old rocks and literally hold science in their hands is extremely rewarding and motivating to me as someone who loves planetary science, space exploration and research in general," enthuses Zach. His affection for the subject is palpable.

For the past fifty years, space exploration and research has been a testament to our technological proficiency, symbolic of mankind's curiosity. But in recent years the field has suffered from a dearth of funding. Case in point, the last time we travelled to the moon was in 1972. The by-products of space research include the GPS, mobile phones, artificial limbs, the mammogram and countless other essential technologies which we use in our daily lives. "Governments and the public need to remember that space research and exploration is a crucial long-term investment for all of our futures with numerous practical benefits," says Zach. He continues, "We are definitely entering a new phase of space-exploration with a renewed interest not only in mining resources and establishing bases on the Moon but also on Mars."

Conscious of and concerned with the myriad of issues pertaining to law and policy-making which accompany such complicated endeavours, Zach plans to pursue a career in international space policy after completing his Master’s degree at Western University. Combining a background in planetary science research with an interest in public education and outreach, Zach intends to be an active contributor; a pioneer in the coming years of renewed space-exploration and an outreach champion to educate the public about this exciting new time.

Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and narrowed the gap between the hope and the reality of manned space exploration. Zach Morse is following in his footsteps, merging his curiosity, passion and expertise to bring us back to the Moon with a new level of understanding and ability to explore to the next level.