Scientific American - 11.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1
8 Scientific American, November 2019

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form a large moon. They come in a wide
variety of shapes, sizes, and thermal and
rotational states. Key to the size of the
satellite that can be formed from a synes-
tia is the amount of mass that is injected
into orbit in the outer regions of the body.
Only a small fraction of impacts will in-
ject enough mass into orbit to form a
moon as large as ours, and we are still
working out what range of conditions
could make it.
Synestias are a new part of the grand
mystery of how rare life on Earth is. And
whether a “dual planet” system like our
own is common is still very much an
open question. We will keep working to
understand which of our planet’s special
characteristics were determined during
its formation.

LUNAR LITTER
I read “Mapping the Mission,” Edward
Bell’s breakdown of Apollo 11’ s landing,
with great interest. Could you clarify
what happened to the equipment and to
the Stars and Stripes banner that was left
on the moon’s surface? Were they blown
away by the exhaust gases and hidden by
dust when the explorers departed in the
lunar module?
Jacques Van Geersdaele Belgium

THE EDITORS REPLY: According to nasa,
the American flag indeed was likely
knocked over by the rocket blast as the lu-
nar module lifted off from the moon. Ei-
ther way, its stars and stripes are proba-
bly long gone, faded by the intense ultra-
violet radiation on our natural satellite.
The lunar module’s descent stage and sci-
entific instruments are thought to re-
main on the moon, albeit weathered by
micrometeorites, radiation and extreme
temperature changes.


ERRATUM
“Lunar Land Grab,” by Adam Mann,
should have said that 109 countries are
now party to the Outer Space Treaty, not

107.  Additionally, the article refers to
2012 as the original deadline for the
Google Lunar XPRIZE. To clarify: in the
initial competition, participants had un-
til the end of that year to win the full
grand prize, after which a reduced prize
would be available until the end of 2014.


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