NASA has launched a new site that allows you to manipulate rocks from other planets as if they were in your hands. A boon for scientists around the world. NASA's Astromaterials Sample Collections include a library of Apollo lunar and Antarctic meteorite samples. Today they are all available online via a new virtual exploration tool intended for scientific researchers and the general public. The Astromaterials 3D Explorer site offers an unprecedented research tool to engage audiences in a new way to explore the significance of NASA's space rock collections. The virtual sharing of the Apollo samples, which were collected around 50 years ago, is particularly timely as NASA prepares to send a new group of astronauts to the Moon with the Artemis lunar exploration program. The agency's goal will be to further explore the moon and collect more samples using robots and humans. The samples presented by NASA Astromaterials 3D is an information-rich visualization tool that combines high-resolution photography, motion-based structure photogrammetry, and X-ray computed tomography The samples presented on the website have been stored and preserved at the shelter on Earth in immaculate condition since their collisions with Earth or their pick-up by Apollo astronauts roaming the lunar soil. “Most of the samples are kept for scientific research. Some sub-samples are available for educators or in exhibitions and installations around the world, but most of the collection is in a vaulted white room for preservation and protection,” said Erika Blumenfeld, Principal Investigator and Project Manager for 3D Astromaterials Science, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Finding a way to make these samples more accessible is part of our goal to expand people's knowledge about samples and exploration." Holding the Stones A view of Lunar Sample 60639,0 in the Astromaterials 3D Explorer app inside. Thanks to the new site, a researcher, a curious child and everyone in between can, “in a sense, hold the stones in their hands,” Blumenfeld said. The website also offers a virtual journey through the Milky Way before viewers can immerse themselves in discovering a specific sample. “Our goal is to make the user feel like they're inside the inner solar system or the asteroid belt,” Blumenfeld said. “We see meteorites, we read about them, and we know the rocks of the Moon, but Astromaterials 3D really brings that sense of imagination and exploration in a visceral and visual way. Then, by selecting a sample, “people can actually interact with the rocks one-on-one and have the opportunity to wonder, ask questions, study and research,” Blumenfeld said. The story is in the rock “I think every rock has its own origin story,” Blumenfeld said. “Rocks are storytellers, time travellers… I have been inspired listening to geologists talk about their special interest in certain geological processes. Inevitably, you will always hear them say, “But the story is in the rock.” Viewers browsing through the samples at the site can follow each rock's history, learn what happened to the rock - and follow it to its ultimate destination, such as Antarctica in the case of meteorites. For some of the samples taken from the Moon, it is possible to watch actual images of the specimen collected by the astronaut. Also on the website is the first sample ever collected from the Moon - the Apollo 11 contingency sample collected by astronaut Neil Armstrong - and three more from Apollo 17. Additional images from the Apollo era will become available as new missions come online. An ebony for all scientists around the world Transdisciplinary artist, Erika Blumenfeld, photographed each rock in NASA's clean room laboratory inside the nitrogen cabinets, imagining the surface of the rock at 240 angles using a high resolution camera to achieve the detailed surface texture seen in Astromaterials 3D exterior 3D models. Each sample offers state-of-the-art views of the material within. This is possible without resorting to destructive techniques to examine its composition and origins. On the website is a “scanned version of the rock, a 3D visualization of the real thing,” Blumenfeld noted. "So it's using current technology to get a high enough resolution, what we call a research-grade 3D model." To create these models, the multidisciplinary team manually photographed the rocks from at least 240 different angles. This work was carried out on the rock locked in a nitrogen cabinet in the clean room using very high resolution photographs. Then each was scanned using X-ray computed tomography (CT). Internal and external scans are integrated on the Explorer site, where you can view both the inside and outside of the specimen simultaneously and dissect it virtually. This modernization of documentation practices in conservation also creates better opportunities for focused science. "It's a new first step for analytics because CT scans provide analysis on their own - and that data can now be downloaded and imported into other software that a researcher can then query and make really good determinations about that. that rock is made of,” Blumenfeld said. Sharing the entire NASA collection The site currently includes 10 meteorites and 10 lunar samples. In early summer 2021, additional samples from NASA's Astromaterials Sample Collection will become available. "Rocks have sparked curiosity and wonder in us from the beginning," Blumenfeld said. “I think there's been an incredible relationship between humans and rocks for as long as we've been on the planet. And, the fact that these rocks also refer to our planet and how our planet formed, and what is beyond our planet, is really my motivation. It's about connecting these incredible connections across the entire cosmos, understanding that we are inextricably linked to them. It is thanks to the study of astromaterials that we have finally been able to correlate the fact that we are made of stars. “And while our own origins may be easier to trace, people around the world will now be able to do their own research to find out where and how it all began. Credits The site was created by a team from NASA Johnson's Astromaterials Research and Exploration Division.