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 NUS engineers develop novel method for resolving spin texture of topological surface states using transport measurements
26.04.2018 | National University of Singapore

nachricht European particle-accelerator community publishes the first industry compendium
26.04.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP

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: Why we need erasable MRI scans

New technology could allow an MRI contrast agent to 'blink off,' helping doctors diagnose disease

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

World's smallest optical implantable biodevice

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space

26.04.2018 | Life Sciences

First Li-Fi-product with technology from Fraunhofer HHI launched in Japan

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>