Water on moon topic of 2012 Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture Series

Zuber to discuss the evidence and its import for the history of the moon

Maria Zuber, PhD, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking to students about the eight MoonKAMS on the two GRAIL satellites, a mission that is making a detailed gravity map of the moon and on which she is principal investigator.

Maria Zuber, PhD, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will deliver the fifth annual Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, in Room 100, Whitaker Hall, on the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis. The talk is free and open to the public.

Zuber has been involved in 10 missions to the moon, Mars, Mercury and several asteroids and is the principal investigator for the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) Mission, which is mapping the moon’s gravity in unprecedented detail. The maps will help scientists understand how the moon formed and evolved.

The earliest observers thought the dark areas on the Earth-facing side of the moon were seas, which is why they are named mare, after the Latin word for sea. Scientists later learned the dark areas are smooth lava flows in massive impact basins. When the first Apollo samples were analyzed, the moon was thought to be bone dry, because the rocks were depleted in all volatiles, not just water. But more recent observations suggest that the surface of the moon is “dewy,” and that water evaporates and redeposits on the surface each day, and that there is more water in the interior in the form of hydrated minerals than previously thought.

Zuber will review the science, explain it has altered and complicated our understanding of water on and inside the moon, and what it implies about how the water got there and the moon’s history.

Zuber earned a bachelor’s degree in astronomy and geology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree and doctorate in geophysics from Brown University.

She worked at Johns Hopkins University and as a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland before becoming a professor at MIT in 1995. In 2003, she was named the head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT, the first woman to lead a science department there.

Her work focuses on the analysis of altimetry, gravity and tectonic data to determine the structure and dynamics of Earth and other solid planets.

Speaking at one of Google’s Zeitgeist events, which feature top thinkers who are shaping the world today, she said that “for a long time I said to myself that if I ever got the opportunity to lead a mission that I was going to take as many young people as I could along with me for a ride.”

The GRAIL satellites each carry four rocket cameras, called MoonKAMs, controlled by middle-school students, an idea Zuber developed together with Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. Zuber’s Zeitgeist talk about the MoonKAMs is available on Youtube.

Zuber is the recipient of many honors. This year, she won the American Geophysical Union’s Harry H. Hess Medal for “outstanding achievements in research of the constitution and evolution of Earth and other planets”; the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal; the NASA Group Achievement Award for the GRAIL Science Team; and the MIT James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.

In 2008, U.S. News & World Report named her one of America’s Best Leaders, together with Fiona Harrison, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology. Zuber and Harrison were the first two women to be selected as scientific leaders of NASA robotic missions.

Washington University’s McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences is sponsoring the lecture as part of the Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture Series in memory of Robert M. Walker, PhD, the center’s inaugural director from 1975-99.

Walker, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, was a pioneering physicist who played a decisive role in shaping research in the space sciences worldwide, according to Ramanath Cowsik, PhD, professor of physics and director of the McDonnell Center.

The McDonnell Center, which was established in 1975 through a gift from the aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, is a consortium of WUSTL faculty, research staff and students primarily from the departments of Earth & Planetary Sciences and Physics, both in Arts & Sciences, who are working on the cutting edge of space research.

Martin Israel, PhD, professor of physics, recalled that the Walker lecture series was initiated by Cowsik to memorialize the role of Walker in establishing the McDonnell Center as a leading institution for research in astrophysics and planetary sciences. Thanks to the example set by Walker, the center has been a vehicle for productive research cooperation between departments, Israel says.

As part of the lecture series, Zuber also will deliver a colloquium, titled “Perspectives on the First Billion Years of Lunar Evolution From Spacecraft,” at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, in Room 203, Rudolph Hall. In the colloquium, she will talk about what can be deduced from the GRAIL high-resolution gravity measurements and how the lunar crust was shaped.

Refreshments will follow the colloquium. The colloquium and reception also are free and open to the public.

For more information on the talks, contact Trecia Stumbaugh at trecia@wustl.edu or (314) 935-5332.