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NASA Releases First Interactive Mosaic Of Lunar North Pole


Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Scientists, using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), have created the largest high resolution mosaic of our moon’s north polar region. The six-and-a-half feet (two-meters)-per-pixel images cover an area equal to more than one-quarter of the United States.

Web viewers can zoom in and out, and pan around an area. Constructed from 10,581 pictures, the mosaic provides enough detail to see textures and subtle shading of the lunar terrain. Consistent lighting throughout the images makes it easy to compare different regions.

“This unique image is a tremendous resource for scientists and the public alike,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “It’s the latest example of the exciting insights and data products LRO has been providing for nearly five years.”

“Creation of this giant mosaic took four years and a huge team effort across the LRO project,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the LROC at Arizona State University in Tempe. “We now have a nearly uniform map to unravel key science questions and find the best landing spots for future exploration.”

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Moon Radiation Findings May Reduce Health Risks To Astronauts


Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) report that data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show lighter materials like plastics provide effective shielding against the radiation hazards faced by astronauts during extended space travel. The finding could help reduce health risks to humans on future missions into deep space.

Aluminum has always been the primary material in spacecraft construction, but it provides relatively little protection against high-energy cosmic rays and can add so much mass to spacecraft that they become cost-prohibitive to launch.

Says Cary Zeitlin (lead author), “This is the first study using observations from space to confirm what has been thought for some time – that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum. Shielding can’t entirely solve the radiation exposure problem in deep space, but there are clear differences in effectiveness of different materials.”

Full Story: http://www.eos.unh.edu/news/indiv_news.shtml?NEWS_ID=1391

LRO’s LAMP Ultraviolet Spectrograph Observes Mercury And Hydrogen In GRAIL Impact Plumes


When NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft made their final descent for impact onto the Moon’s surface last December, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s sophisticated payload was in position to observe the effects. As plumes of gas rose from the impacts, the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) aboard LRO detected the presence of mercury and hydrogen and measured their time evolution as the gas rapidly expanded into the vacuum of space at near-escape velocities.

NASA intentionally crashed the GRAIL twins onto the Moon on Dec. 17, 2012, following successful prime and extended science missions. Both spacecraft hit a mountain near the lunar north pole, which was shrouded in shadow at the time. Developed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), LAMP uses a novel method to peer into the darkness of the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions, making it ideal for observations of the Moon’s night-side and its tenuous atmospheric constituents.

“While our results are still very new, our thinking is that the hydrogen detected from the GRAIL site might be related to an enhancement at the poles caused by hydrogen species migrating toward the colder polar regions,” says Dr. Kurt Retherford, LAMP principal investigator and a principal scientist at SwRI.

Full Story: http://www.swri.org/9what/releases/2013/lamp.htm#.UVJXW94o5hE

Walls Of Lunar Crater May Hold Patchy Ice, LRO Radar Finds

August 31, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying the moon since June 2009. Credit: NASA

Small patches of ice could make up at most five to ten percent of material in walls of Shackleton crater.

Scientists using the Mini-RF radar on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have estimated the maximum amount of ice likely to be found inside a permanently shadowed lunar crater located near the moon’s South Pole. As much as five to ten percent of material, by weight, could be patchy ice, according to the team of researchers led by Bradley Thomson at Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing, in Mass.

“These terrific results from the Mini-RF team contribute to the evolving story of water on the moon,” says LRO’s deputy project scientist, John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Several of the instruments on LRO have made unique contributions to this story, but only the radar penetrates beneath the surface to look for signatures of blocky ice deposits.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/shackleton-ice.html

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Spectrometer Detects Helium In Moon’s Atmosphere

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Scientists using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) spectrometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the tenuous atmosphere surrounding the moon.

“The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the moon or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind?” says Dr. Alan Stern.

“If we find the solar wind is responsible, that will teach us a lot about how the same process works in other airless bodies,” says Stern.

If spacecraft observations show no such correlation, radioactive decay or other internal lunar processes could be producing helium that diffuses from the interior or that is released during lunar quakes.

During its campaign, LACE also detected the noble gas argon on the lunar surface. Although significantly fainter to the spectrograph, LAMP also will seek argon and other gases during future observations.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/helium-detected.html

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LAMP Spectrometer Detects Helium In Moon’s Atmosphere, Raises Questions About Origin

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Scientists using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the tenuous atmosphere surrounding the Moon. These remote-sensing observations complement in-situ measurements taken in 1972 by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment (LACE) deployed by Apollo 17.

Although LAMP was designed to map the lunar surface, the team expanded its science investigation to examine the far ultraviolet emissions visible in the tenuous atmosphere above the lunar surface, detecting helium over a campaign spanning more than 50 orbits. Because helium also resides in the interplanetary background, several techniques were applied to remove signal contributions from the background helium and determine the amount of helium native to the Moon. Geophysical Research Letters published a paper on this research in 2012.

“The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the Moon, for example, due to radioactive decay in rocks, or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind?” says Dr. Alan Stern, LAMP principal investigator and associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2012/lro-lamp.htm

Cosmic Rays Alter Chemistry Of Lunar Ice

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire and multi-institutional colleagues report they have quantified levels of radiation on the moon’s surface from galactic cosmic ray (GCR) bombardment that over time causes chemical changes in water ice and can create complex carbon chains similar to those that help form the foundations of biological structures. In addition, the radiation process causes the lunar soil, or regolith, to darken over time, which is important in understanding the geologic history of the moon.

The scientists present their findings in a paper published online in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR). The paper, titled “Lunar Radiation Environment and Space Weathering from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER),” is based on measurements made by the CRaTER instrument onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. The paper’s lead author is Nathan Schwadron, an associate professor of physics at the UNH Space Science Center within the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS). Co-author Harlan Spence is the director of EOS and lead scientist for the CRaTER instrument.

Full Story: http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2012/mar/ds19cosmic.cfm