Tag Archives: LRO

A lava tube entrance near the Moon’s north pole?

Philolaus Crater near lunar north pole

In reviewing Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data scientists think they have discovered several skylight entrances into a lava tube that is located near the Moon’s north pole.

The new pits were identified on the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, a large, 43 mile (70 km)-diameter impact crater located at 72.1oN, 32.4oW, about 340 miles (550 km) from the North Pole of the Moon, on the lunar near side. The pits appear as small rimless depressions, typically 50 to 100 feet across (15 to 30 meters), with completely shadowed interiors. The pits are located along sections of winding channels, known on the Moon as “sinuous rilles,” that crisscross the floor of Philolaus Crater. Lunar sinuous rilles are generally thought to be collapsed, or partially collapsed, lava tubes, underground tunnels that were once streams of flowing lava.

“The highest resolution images available for Philolaus Crater do not allow the pits to be identified as lava tube skylights with 100 percent certainty, but we are looking at good candidates considering simultaneously their size, shape, lighting conditions and geologic setting” says Pascal Lee, planetary scientist at the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute who made the new finding at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

…Prior to this discovery, over 200 pits had been found on the Moon by other researchers, with many identified as likely skylights leading to underground lava tubes associated with similar sinuous rilles. However, today’s announcement represents the first published report of possible lava tube skylights in the Moon’s polar regions.

The floor of the crater as a lot of rilles, and a close look at that crater floor reveals to me a lot of possible sky light entrances, more than indicated by the images at the llink. (Go here, click on projections and pick “Orthographic (North Pole).” Then zoom in on the crater indicated by the yellow X in my image on the right above.)

The key here is that caves or lava tubes provide a good place to cheaply and quickly establish a lunar colony. While it is suspected that water might survive in permanently shadowed regions near the poles, up until now no one had found any good underground locations there. If this suspected skylight entrances prove true, this crater then becomes prime real estate on the Moon.


Scientists finally image SMART-1 lunar impact site

SMART-1 impact site

Eleven years after the European SMART-1 probe was sent crashing onto the Moon’s surface, scientists have finally identified in a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image that crash site.

The image is shown on the right, reduced and cropped to post here.

The images show a linear gouge in the surface, about four metres wide and 20 metres long, cutting across a small pre-existing crater. At the far end, a faint fan of ejecta sprays out to the south. Foing said: “The high resolution LRO images show white ejecta, about seven metres across, from the first contact. A north-south channel has then been carved out by the SMART-1 spacecraft body, before its bouncing ricochet. We can make out three faint but distinct ejecta streams from the impact, about 40 metres long and separated by 20-degree angles.”

Stooke said: “Orbit tracking and the impact flash gave a good estimate of the impact location, and very close to that point was a very unusual small feature. It now seems that impacts of orbiting spacecraft, seen here from SMART-1, and also in the cases from GRAIL and LADEE, will form elongated craters, most of whose rather faint ejecta extends downrange”.


Frost on the Moon?

A new analysis of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data suggests that the coldest spots at the Moon’s south pole are also its brightest, even though they are generally in shadow, suggesting that the surface there might have a thin layer of water frost.

These are also the areas where hydrogen has been detected, which strengthens the theory that this is water.

However, the result is not a positive one for future colonists as it suggests that the amount of water on the Moon is far less than hoped. First, there is this:

The icy deposits appear to be patchy and thin, and it’s possible that they are mixed in with the surface layer of soil, dust and small rocks called the regolith. The researchers say they are not seeing expanses of ice similar to a frozen pond or skating rink. Instead, they are seeing signs of surface frost.

Second, they have not detected this same pattern at the north pole, which strongly suggests that the permanently shadowed areas there do not even have frost.

Overall, this result suggests that the Moon might have water on its surface, but not in great quantities.


LRO hit by meteoriod in 2014

LRO as it was hit by a meteor

While taking an image in October 2014, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter had apparently been hit by some small object, causing it to vibrate and create the zig-zag distortions seen on the image, a cropped section of which is shown on the right.

Clearly there was a brief violent movement of the left NAC [Narrow Angle Camera]. The only logical explanation is that the NAC was hit by a meteoroid! How big was the meteoroid, and where did it hit? The physical properties and vibration modes of the NAC are very well known – during development a detailed computer model was made to ensure the NAC would not fail during the vibrations caused by the launch, which are severe. The computer model was tested before launch by attaching the NAC to a vibration table that simulates launch. The model was solid, both NACs survived the test, and launch.

Most of each NAC is sequestered inside the spacecraft structure, so only the leading edge of the baffle and the radiator are exposed to space, and thus are potential targets for impactors. From the detailed computer model, the LROC team ran simulations to see if we could reproduce the distortions seen the image. Assuming an impact velocity of 7 kilometers per second and a density 2.7 g/cm3, an impacting particle would have been 0.8 mm in diameter (~half the size of a pinhead). If the velocity was faster, then the particle would have been smaller, and if slower then larger.

For comparison, the muzzle velocity of a bullet fired from a rifle is typically 0.5 to 1.0 kilometers per second. So the meteoroid was traveling much faster than a speeding bullet. In this case LROC did not dodge a speeding bullet, but rather survived a speeding bullet!

The image is fascinating because you can see the vibrations slowly disappear as the zig-zags shrink and fade.


LRO finds lunar impact site for Apollo rocket stage

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has located the impact site for the Apollo 16 rocket booster that, like four other boosters, had been deliberately crashed on the surface so the Apollo seismometers could use the vibrations to study the Moon’s interior.

The other impact sites had been found already, but Apollo 16 was harder to pin down because contact with the booster had ended prematurely so its location was less well known.


200 new lunar impact craters discovered

In a paper [pdf] presented this week at a lunar science conference, scientists announced the identification of more than 200 new impact craters on the Moon from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

As of 1 May 2015, we have scanned and classified changes in 14,182 NAC temporal pairs using our automated change detection tool leading to the discovery over 200 impact craters ranging in size from 1.5 to 43 m. In addition, we also identified thousands of other surface changes, including about 44,000 low reflectance splotches, 3,500 high reflectance splotches, 850 mixed reflectance splotches, [and] 1 Chinese lander/rover.

They think the splotches are created from impacts too small to see with LRO.

Hat tip James Fincannon.


NASA cuts Opportunity and LRO from budget

The 2016 budget proposed by NASA shuts down continued operation of either the Mars rover Opportunity or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

As the article notes, both these missions continue to provide us a great deal of scientific bang for the buck. To shut them down, only to spend far more later to replace them, seems incredibly stupid.


LADEE impact site located

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the impact crater formed when engineers sent the probe LADEE crashing into the lunar surface in April 2014.

Compared with asteroid and meteoroid impacts on the moon, LADEE was actually traveling pretty slow, ‘only’ 3,800 miles per hour (1,700 meters per second). That combined with the relatively low mass and density of the spacecraft, a fairly neat crater of only 10 feet (3 meters) across was created. The crater barely registered in LROC’s image resolution, making it a very difficult task to identify the fresh man-made divot.


Recent volcanism on the Moon

New data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that lunar volcanism petered out slowly and occurred more recently that previously believed.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has provided researchers strong evidence the moon’s volcanic activity slowed gradually instead of stopping abruptly a billion years ago. Scores of distinctive rock deposits observed by LRO are estimated to be less than 100 million years old. This time period corresponds to Earth’s Cretaceous period, the heyday of dinosaurs. Some areas may be less than 50 million years old. Details of the study are published online in Sunday’s edition of Nature Geoscience. “This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the moon,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

In a way, this new conclusion is an example of science discovering the obvious. It seems to me quite unlikely that volcanic activity on the Moon would have “stopped abruptly” under any conditions. That’s not how these things work.


Budget issues continue to threaten a number of successfully functioning science spacecraft, including Opportunity on Mars and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the Moon.

Penny wise, pound foolish: Budget issues continue to threaten a number of successfully functioning science spacecraft, including Opportunity on Mars and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the Moon.

Don’t be surprised if NASA announces soon that they are shutting down these spacecraft so they can save some money. Or as the article notes, “Money not spent on these extended missions will probably slide into [the Science Mission Directorate’s] Black Hole of Funding (the James Webb Space Telescope) or be dissipated on new paperwork, committee meetings and concept studies.”


New geological research suggests that the hydrogen levels that have detected on the moon — which are used to predict the presence of water — might be a false positive and not exist at the levels predicted.

The uncertainty of science: New geological research suggests that the hydrogen levels that have been detected on the moon — which are used to predict the presence of water — might be a false positive and not exist at the levels predicted.

Instead, what scientists thought was hydrogen in water molecules might be calcium as part of a mineral called apatite. If so, this would mean that the Moon has a lot less water than hoped. This data might also explain the lack of water seen in the Apollo samples as compared to what is suggested should be there from more recent orbital data. This also might explain the conflicting results from instruments on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted China’s Yutu rover on the Moon’s surface.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted China’s Yutu rover on the Moon’s surface.

These images confirm that the rover landed in Mare Imbrium, not Sinus Iridum, the originally announced landing site and the site that many Chinese news sources continue to report as the landing site.


Some spectacular oblique images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have been released.

Some spectacular oblique images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have been released.

The top three images are all oblique. Make sure you click through to the full caption of each image to get more information.

The Lunar Alps image is especially interesting to those who have ever explored the Moon with a telescope from Earth. The rill shown is well known to amateurs, as are the Montes Alpes, or Alps Mountains, adjacent to it. From Earth that rill definitely looks like a meandering river canyon. This LRO image resolves it into a canyon made up of a series of crater-like depressions, a geological feature quite different from the river canyons of Earth.


Data from an experiment on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has confirmed that light plastics can provide sufficient protection for humans against radiation.

Data from an experiment on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has confirmed that light plastics can provide sufficient protection for humans against radiation.

This is very good news indeed. Combined with the data from Curiosity, which indicated that the radiation levels in interplanetary space were less intense that expected, it appears that radiation will not be a serious obstacle to interplanetary travel.

Now we just have to get the bone loss and vision problems solved.


The impact of a 100 pound meteorite on the Moon in March produced the brightest flash ever recorded.

The impact of a 100 pound meteorite on the Moon in March produced the brightest flash ever recorded.

Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion–no telescope required. For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star.

Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program’s 14-inch telescopes. “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” he recalls.

The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hit the Moon traveling 56,000 mph. The resulting explosion1 packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.

It will be really interesting to see the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the impact site, which can’t be taken until the spacecraft passes over the site and can photograph it.


Water Ice in Shackleton Crater?

Ice in Shackleton?

New results from the radar instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has found evidence of water-ice on the slopes of Shackleton Crater, located at the Moon’s south pole. The paper, published on Saturday in Geophysical Research Letters – Planets, suggested that about 5 to 10 percent of the weight of the material on the slopes of the crater is comprised of water ice, to depths of 6 to 10 feet.

The box on the upper left in the image to the right shows the data from a radar sweep of the crater taken on April 18, 2010, and compares that to five computer models. As you can see, the data here most closely matches the 5% ice model. Two other sweeps showed similar results.

The water-ice, if there, is not in slabs of ice, as sometimes portrayed in the press, but would be mixed into the Moon’s regolith, or “topsoil”, and would have to be processed out like ore to be useful. Or to quote the paper’s conclusion:

The fundamental conclusions made with high resolution, ground based radar of Shackleton remain unaltered — that no large-scale, meters thick ice deposits are evident within the crater. Rather, Mini-RF data are consistent with roughness effects or with a small percentage of water-ice deposits admixed into the uppermost 1-2 meters of silicate regolith within Shackleton, possibly accounting for the observations made by the Clementine bistatic experiment.

Several points:
» Read more


Water on the Moon? The battle continues

LEND data of lunar south pole

A little over a month ago I reported here on Behind the Black some recent results from the LEND instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that had found significantly less water in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles than previously thought. To quote again from that paper’s abstract, which I will henceforth refer to as Sanin, et al:

This means that all [permanently shadowed regions], except those in Shoemaker, Cabeus and Rozhdestvensky U craters, do not contain any significant amount of hydrogen in comparison with sunlit areas around them at the same latitude.

And from the paper’s conclusion:

[E]ven now the data is enough for definite conclusion that [permanently shadowed regions] at both poles are not reservoirs of large deposits of water ice.

Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas and one of the world’s top lunar scientists then commented as follows:

You neglect to mention yet another possibility — that this paper and its conclusions are seriously flawed in almost every respect. The veracity of the LRO collimated neutron data [produced by the LEND instrument] have been questioned on serious scientific grounds. Other data sets (spectral, radar) suggest significant amounts of water at both poles, billions of metric tons in total.

Spudis also discussed this scientific dispute at length on his own blog.

When I read Dr. Spudis’s comment I immediately emailed William Boynton of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, one of the authors of the Sanin et al paper, to get his reaction. Today he sent me the following detailed explanation, describing the basis of the controversy and why he believes the LEND data is valid.
» Read more


Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has published another spectacular oblique image of Tycho crater.

Tycho Oblique image thumbnail

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has published another spectacular oblique image of Tycho crater.

If you look closely at the slope of the mountain, you can see an avalanche trail at its center and the debris piled up at the mountain’s base.

See the first oblique image, released in June 2011, here. The two images look at the crater from opposite directions.


A strange lunar crater

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently celebrated its 1000th day of imaging in orbit around the Moon, snapping images and cataloging the Moon’s geology.

Only a week before the science team posted a spectacular oblique view of Ryder Crater. The image is visible below the fold, along with a close-up of the crater’s strange hump-backed boulder-strewn floor.
» Read more


Studying the Moon by starlight

The Moon's south pole by starlight

In a paper published today in the Journal for Geophysical Research, Planets, the science team for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter describe how they have used starlight to peer into the permanently shadowed craters of the Moon’s north and south poles. Looking only during the lunar night, they measured the dim albedo of the Moon from reflected starlight. From this very weak signal they were able to cull two interesting facts about these very cold and very dark places.

  • The ground at the bottom of these craters is more porous than the surrounding unshadowed terrain.
  • There is evidence in the spectroscopy of 1 to 2% water frost in these craters.

» Read more


A breathtaking view of the Apollo 15 landing site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team has released a wide angle side view image of the Apollo 15 landing site, showing the lunar module and the areas around Hadley Rille and the Apennine Mountain range that the astronauts explored using their lunar jeep. Below is a cropped close-up, showing the landing site near the top of the image with Hadley Rille near the bottom. Below the fold is a second image showing a wider view that includes the Apennine mountain slope that the astronauts drove their rover up.

Close up of Hadley Rille and Apollo 15 landing site

» Read more


The moon contains a vast resource of titanium

There’s gold in them hills! Actually, it’s titanium, and it’s on the Moon.

The highest titanium abundances on Earth are around 1 percent or less. The new map shows that in the [Moon’s] mare, titanium abundances range from about one percent to a little more than ten percent. In the highlands, everywhere TiO2 is less than one percent. The new titanium values match those measured in the ground samples to about one percent.


New images of Apollo landing sites on the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team have released new images of the Apollo 12, 14, and 17 landing sites on the Moon. Below is a cropped image of the Apollo 12 site, showing the trails left by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean when they walked from their lunar module to Surveyor 3, an unmanned lunar lander that had soft landed there two years earlier. The full image shows some incredible detail.

Apollo 12 landing site


When dust, pebbles, rocks, and boulders act like liquid

The science team of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter released an intriguing picture yesterday of what scientists call a granular flow down the side of a five mile wide crater on the far side of the moon. Looking at the image, one would swear that the darker material flowing down the slope of the crater rim is a lava flow frozen in place.

lunar granular flow

However, according to the scientists, that is not what it is. Instead, this is merely debris left behind from an avalanche.
» Read more


Prime real estate

The south pole of the moon

Since the 1990s, scientists have suspected that water-ice might be hidden in the forever-dark floors of the polar craters on the Moon. If so, these locations become valuable real estate, as they not only would provide future settlers water for drinking, the water itself can be processed to provide oxygen and fuel.

Moreover, the high points near these craters, including the crater rims, are hoped to be high enough so that the sun would never set or be blocked by other mountains as it made its circuit low along the horizon each day. If such a place existed, solar panels could be mounted there to generate electricity continuously, even during the long 14-day lunar night.

Below the fold is a six minute video, produced from images taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) from February 6, 2010 to February 6, 2011, in an effort to find out if such a place actually exists. It shows how the sunlight hits the south pole across an entire year.
» Read more


Breathtaking view of the central peak of Tycho Crater

Another astonishing space photograph, this time from lunar orbit, taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 11, 2011.

The image looks down at the central peak of Tycho crater, with enough detail to make out individual boulders at the summit. Go the link to see some closeups.

Central peak of Tycho crater

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