MIT will lead a $375-million mission to map the moon's interior and reconstruct its thermal history, NASA announced this week.
The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will be led by MIT professor Maria Zuber and will be launched in 2011. It will put two separate satellites into orbit around the moon to precisely map variations in the moon's gravitational pull. These changes will reveal differences in density of the moon's crust and mantle, and can be used to answer fundamental questions about the moon's internal structure and its history of collisions with asteroids.
The detailed information about lunar gravity will also significantly facilitate any future manned or unmanned missions to land on the moon. Such data will be used to program the descent to the surface to avoid a crash landing and will also help target desirable landing sites. Moreover, the mission's novel technology could eventually be used to explore other interesting worlds such as Mars.
"After the three-month mission is completed, we will know the lunar gravitational field better than we know Earth's," says Zuber, who is head of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. She will be the principal investigator for the GRAIL mission.
Former astronaut Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, will lead the project's educational outreach phase, which will include five live MoonKam cameras on each satellite that will be targeted by young students--especially middle-school girls--in their classrooms to get close-up still and video views of the moon's surface.
So far, even such fundamental questions as whether or not the moon has a separate, differentiated core, as Earth does, are unknown, Zuber says. In addition to answering that question, the new mission should reveal details about lunar history, including the relative timing and effects of the myriads of huge impacts that created the craters and basins seen on the surface today. The moon, with its airless, un-eroded surface, serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding the history of all the solar system's inner planets--Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars--so the mission should also help to unlock secrets of the evolution of all these planets.
"The moon has the best-preserved record of the solar system's early history," Zuber says, while on other planets much of that record has been lost through erosion and other surface changes.
The technology used in the mission is a direct spinoff from the highly successful Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, which has been mapping Earth's gravitational field since 2002. Using that technology made this a "low risk" mission for NASA because the necessary instruments had already been developed and tested.
As with that mission, GRAIL measurements of the gravitational field will come from very precise monitoring of changes in the distance between the two satellites. The resulting measurements will map the moon's gravitational field up to 1,000 times more accurately than any previous mapping.
The main new technology needed to make GRAIL possible was a way to calibrate the timing of the satellites accurately. The Earth-orbiting GRACE satellites use the GPS satellite navigation system, but there is no such system at the moon. Instead, the team adapted a technique that involves precise monitoring of radio signals originally designed for different purpose for another planetary mission in development, named Juno.
The same technology could be applied to future missions to map the gravitational fields of other interesting worlds such as Mars, where it could reveal the exchange of carbon dioxide between the polar caps and atmosphere or the movement of flowing subsurface water, Zuber says. "We could learn amazing things" from such followup missions, she says. "Since we solved the GPS problem for the moon, we could propose this with little modification for other planets."
NASA selected the MIT-led mission from among two dozen original proposals. NASA Associate Administrator for Science Alan Stern noted that "GRAIL's revolutionary capabilities stood out in this Discovery mission competition owing to its unsurpassed combination of high scientific value and low technical and programmatic risk."The GRAIL satellites will be built and operated by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. will handle project management and developing the communications and navigation systems.
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Basque researchers turn light upside down
23.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa
Attoseconds break into atomic interior
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy