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LRO Creating Unprecedented Topographic Map of Moon

Copyright NASA

“This dataset is being used to make digital elevation and terrain maps that will be a fundamental reference for future scientific and human exploration missions to the moon,” said Dr. Gregory Neumann of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “After about one year taking data, we already have nearly 3 billion data points from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter on board the LRO spacecraft, with near-uniform longitudinal coverage. We expect to continue to make measurements at this rate through the next two years of the science phase of the mission and beyond. Near the poles, we expect to provide near-GPS-like navigational capability as coverage is denser due to the spacecraft’s polar orbit.” Neumann will present the map at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco December 17.

The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) works by propagating a single laser pulse through a Diffractive Optical Element that splits it into five beams. These beams then strike and are backscattered from the lunar surface. From the return pulse, the LOLA electronics determines the time of flight which, accounting for the speed of light, provides a precise measurement of the range from the spacecraft to the lunar [...]

NASA’s ATHLETE Warms Up for High Desert Run

Copyright NASA

Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are currently putting their All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) through a series of long-drive tests on the long, dirt roads found adjacent to JPL. The JPL grounds do not include an unpaved area of sufficient size for testing such a large robot over a long distance. Some of the dirt roads in the Arroyo Seco (a wash located next to JPL) are wide enough for ATHLETE, and its close proximity to JPL allows the robot to be secured in its hangar between test runs.

The engineers want to test the moon rover’s ability to meet a NASA milestone of traveling at least 40 kilometers (25 miles) over 14 days under its own power. The official demonstration is slated to begin in the Arizona high desert next month.

ATHLETE is a 1/2-scale working prototype of a robot under development to transport habitats and other cargo on the surface of the Moon or Mars. The ATHLETE concept is a level cargo deck carried by six wheels, each on the end of a configurable leg. The prototype stands approximately 4.5 meters (15 feet) tall and 4.5 meters (15 ft) wide and weighs about (about [...]

NASA Invites Public to Take Virtual Walk on Moon

Copyright NASA

More than 37 years after humans last walked on the moon, planetary scientists are inviting members of the public to return to the lunar surface as “virtual astronauts” to help answer important scientific questions.

No spacesuit or rocket ship is required — all visitors need to do is go to www.moonzoo.org and be among the first to see the lunar surface in unprecedented detail. New high-resolution images, taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), offer exciting clues to unveil or reveal the history of the moon and our solar system.

“We need Web users around the world to help us interpret these stunning new images of the lunar surface,” said Chris Lintott of Oxford University and chair of the Citizen Science Alliance. “If you only spend five minutes on the site counting craters you’ll be making a valuable contribution to science and, who knows, you might run across a Russian spacecraft.”

Scientists are particularly interested in knowing how many craters appear in a particular region of the moon in order to determine the age and depth of the lunar surface (regolith). Fresh craters left by recent impacts provide clues about the potential risks from meteor strikes [...]

Lunar Polar Craters May Be Electrified

Copyright NASA

As the solar wind flows over natural obstructions on the moon, it may charge polar lunar craters to hundreds of volts, according to new calculations by NASA’s Lunar Science Institute team.

Polar lunar craters are of interest because of resources, including water ice, which exist there. The moon’s orientation to the sun keeps the bottoms of polar craters in permanent shadow, allowing temperatures there to plunge below minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to store volatile material like water for billions of years. “However, our research suggests that, in addition to the wicked cold, explorers and robots at the bottoms of polar lunar craters may have to contend with a complex electrical environment as well, which can affect surface chemistry, static discharge, and dust cling,” said William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Farrell is lead author of a paper on this research published March 24 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The research is part of the Lunar Science Institute’s Dynamic Response of the Environment at the moon (DREAM) project.

“This important work by Dr. Farrell and his team is further evidence that our view on the moon has changed dramatically in recent [...]

SMART-1 swan song valuable data until final moments

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Copyright ESA

Right up to its final orbits, SMART-1 continued delivering valuable data, extending the mission’s legacy as a technology and scientific success. Scientists and engineers met today at ESOC to review mission achievements including final AMIE camera images.

At a press event held today at ESA’s Spacecraft Operations Centre (ESOC), SMART-1 engineers, operations experts and scientists are presenting data and preliminary results obtained by the spacecraft prior to its impact on the Moon at 07:42 CEST, 3 September 2006.

Perhaps the most sentimental image sequence was taken by AMIE just four days before impact, on 29 August at 21:00 CEST (19:00 UT), when the camera was pointed back towards the Earth to capture, in the best tradition of many previous lunar missions, a view of our home planet. The sequence of images is centred over Brazil at approximately 44.9º West and 19.2º South (North is to the left). The Kourou area in French Guiana, from where SMART-1 was launched in 2003, is also visible.

Remarkably, this movie sequence shows the Moon passing in front of the Earth, beautifully underlining the close gravitational relationship between the Earth and its natural satellite.

During SMART-1′s final orbits on 1 and 2 September, [...]

SMART-1 impact update

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Copyright ESA

Scientists have received and are analysing the final data gathered by SMART-1 on 2 September, prior to today’s Moon impact. This update presents several of the images received, as well as additional images and information from the worldwide ground observation campaign.

The seven AMIE images included in this update article were taken on 2 September by the AMIE camera on board SMART-1 during the last few orbits prior to Moon impact. They were taken between 15:19 – 17:34 CEST (17:19 – 19:34 UT) and were analysed by camera scientists during the night of 2-3 September.

The images include both oblique and nadir (vertical) views, with the camera pointing mode having been selected to best exploit the illumination conditions during the final orbits over the Moon’s night side.

In several of the images, the Moon’s horizon can clearly been seen; excellent details of the surface are also visible.

An impressive sequence of impact images was captured by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), a 3.6-meter optical/infrared telescope located atop the summit of Mauna Kea, a 4200-meter volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island (see before, during, after image sequence below).

The CFHT observed the projected impact area between 07:00 – 08:44 CEST (05:00 [...]

SMART-1 detects calcium on the Moon

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Copyright ESA

Thanks to measurements by the D-CIXS X-ray spectrometer, ESA’s SMART-1 spacecraft has made the first ever unambiguous remote-sensing detection of calcium on the Moon.

SMART-1 is currently performing the verification and calibration of its instruments, while flying in its science orbit, reaching 450 kilometres from the Moon at its closest distance.

During this calibration phase, which precedes the actual science observations phase, the SMART-1 scientists are getting acquainted with the delicate operations and the performance of their instruments in the warm environment of the lunar orbit.

Although it is still preparing for full lunar operations, D-CIXS has started already sending back high-quality data. D-CIXS is designed to measure the global composition of the Moon by observing how it glows in X-rays when the Sun shines on it. In fact, different chemical elements provide their ‘fingerprinting’, each glowing in a unique way.

On 15 January 2005, between 07:00 and about 09:00 Central European Time, a solar flare occurred, blasting a quantity of radiation that flooded the Solar System and the Moon.

“The Sun was kind to us,” said Prof. Manuel Grande of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK, leader of the D-CIXS instrument team. “It set off a large X-ray [...]