Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA unveils latest results from lunar mission, helps prepare for next stage of scientific discovery

17.12.2009
NASA's current mission in orbit around the moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has been providing crucial insights about our nearest celestial neighbor since its launch in June. At a scientific meeting today, researchers unveiled the latest findings from three instruments of the powerful suite of seven aboard the satellite. LRO is expected to return more data about the moon than all previous orbital missions combined.

At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, scientists discussed the latest findings from the LRO Camera, or LROC, the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation, or CRaTER, and the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment. Each instrument is returning surprising data and helping scientists map the moon in incredible detail and understand the lunar environment.

LROC has now mapped in high resolution all the Apollo landing sites and 50 sites that were identified by NASA's Constellation Program to be representative of the wide range of terrains present on the moon.

"From a practical, scientific standpoint, the Apollo landing sites have served as a fantastic source of calibration for the LROC Narrow Angle Cameras," said Mark Robinson, LROC principal investigator at Arizona State University in Tempe. "Since the locations of some of the hardware left by the astronauts are known to about nine feet absolute accuracy, we can tie the Narrow Angle Camera geometric and timing calibration to the coordinates of the Apollo Laser Ranging Retroreflectors and Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages. This ground truth enables more accurate coordinates to be derived for virtually anywhere on the moon. Scientists are currently analyzing brightness differences of the surface material stirred up by the Apollo astronauts, comparing them with the local surroundings to estimate physical properties of the surface material. Such analyses will provide critical information for interpreting remote sensing data from LRO, as well as from India's Chandrayaan-1, and Japan's Kaguya missions."

Robinson added, "The 50 Constellation sites have been imaged to some extent at meter or better spatial resolution by the LROC Cameras." The globally distributed sites were chosen to provide Constellation project engineers with a range of lunar surface characteristics that they might encounter. Robinson said, "The high-resolution images reveal a moon whose surface is geologically complex, scientifically compelling, and far more varied than one might expect on the basis of the limited number of landing sites from previous missions."

LRO's Diviner instrument has discovered that the bottoms of polar craters in permanent shadow can be brutally cold. Mid-winter nighttime surface temperatures inside the coldest craters in the north polar region dip down to 26 Kelvin (416 below zero Fahrenheit, or minus 249 degrees Celsius). "These are the coldest temperatures that have been measured thus far anywhere in the solar system," said David Paige, Diviner principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles. "These regions are cold enough to trap a wide range of compounds such as water, carbon dioxide, and organic molecules. There could be all kinds of interesting compounds trapped there."

LRO's CRaTER instrument is measuring the amount of space radiation at the moon to help determine the level of protection required for astronauts during lengthy expeditions on the moon or to other solar system destinations. "This surprising solar minimum, or quiet period for the sun regarding magnetic activity, has led to the highest level of space radiation in the form of Galactic Cosmic Rays, or GCRs, fluxes and dose rates during the era of human space exploration," said Harlan Spence, CRaTER principal investigator of Boston University and the University of New Hampshire, Durham. "The rarest events – cosmic rays with enough energy to punch through the whole telescope – are seen once per second, nearly twice higher than anticipated. CRaTER radiation measurements taken during this unique, worst-case solar minimum will help us design safe shelters for astronauts."

GCRs are electrically charged particles – electrons and atomic nuclei – moving at nearly the speed of light into the solar system. Magnetic fields carried by the solar wind deflect many GCRs before they approach the inner solar system. However, the sun is in an unusually long and deep quiet period, and the interplanetary magnetic fields and solar wind pressures are the lowest yet measured, allowing an unprecedented influx of GCRs.

Scientists expected the level of GCRs to drop as LRO got closer to the moon for its mapping orbit. This is because GCRs come from all directions in deep space, but the moon acts as a shield, blocking the particles behind it across about half the sky in close lunar proximity. However, the rate did not drop as much as expected. "This is likely due to interactions between the Galactic Cosmic Rays and the lunar surface," said Spence. "The primary GCRs produce secondary radiation by shattering atoms in the lunar surface material; the lunar surface then becomes a significant secondary source of particles, and the resulting radiation dose is thereby 30-40 percent higher than expected."

Cosmic rays also originate closer to home, from stormy magnetic activity on the sun. The sun goes through a cycle of activity, approximately 11 years long, from quiet to stormy and back again. During stormy periods, events like solar flares, magnetic explosions in the sun's atmosphere, propel charged particles to high speeds. "We're eager to see a big solar flare, so we can evaluate the hazards from solar-generated cosmic rays, but we'll probably have to wait a couple years until the sun wakes up," said Spence.

Andy Freeberg | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/lro

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht When helium behaves like a black hole
22.03.2017 | University of Vermont

nachricht Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars
22.03.2017 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Pulverizing electronic waste is green, clean -- and cold

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars

22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>