Tag Archives: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Untouched Moon

Montes Carpatus
Click for full image.

In celebration of Apollo 11: Continuing the theme of yesterday’s cool image, where I noted how little of the Moon we have really seen, today’s cool image gives us a breath-taking glimpse of one such untouched region, the Montes Carpatus region.

The photograph to the right, reduced to post here, was released by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team in March 2018. From the release:

Volcanic rocks are our best window to the deep interior of the Moon, and the Montes Carpatus has no shortage of volcanic landforms: lava flows, pyroclatic deposits, rilles, and more! Lavas are formed as the mantle begins to melt, so by sampling volcanic rocks of various ages from regions across the Moon scientists can reconstruct the range of compositions and processes over time. The Montes Carpatus formed as a result of the giant impact that formed the mighty Imbrium basin, the mountains are actually the raised rim of the basin.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. If you had told anyone involved in that mission that fifty years later no significant further manned exploration of the Moon had yet occurred, they would have scoffed.

It is a terrible condemnation of my generation, the generation that followed Apollo 11, that we did nothing grand like this. I challenge the generations today to reach higher, and do better.

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The Taurus-Littrow valley

Taurus-Littrow Valley
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It might not be Apollo 11, but during this 50th anniversary week of that mission, why not look at where the last Apollo 17 crew landed, in the middle of the Taurus-Littrow valley, as shown on the right in a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LR) image released by the LRO science team in 2018.

The image illustrates how ambitious NASA had become by this last Apollo mission. The Apollo 11 site was chosen because it was flat with as few risks as possible. By Apollo 17, the Apollo engineers and astronauts were quite willing to drop the LM down into this valley between gigantic mountains. Granted, the valley was more than 400 miles wide, but considering the risks of every Apollo flight, the choice was daring to say the least.

Taurus-Littrow also has a cluster of craters believed to have been formed by material flung out from the formation of 86-kilometer-wide Tycho crater about 100 million years ago. Tycho is 2250 kilometers from Taurus-Littrow, but the impact that formed it was violent enough that it cast material far across the Moon.

Nor is this location the most spectacular on the Moon. In fact, considering that all the manned and unmanned missions in total have probably covered less ground than a New York cab driver does in a single day, we have seen almost nothing there.

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A wave on the Moon

A lunar ejector blanket

Continuing this week’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission means we get to look at another cool image from the Moon. The photograph on the right, reduced to post here, was released by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team in 2016.

What are we looking at? At first glance it looks like a black & white photograph of The Wave in northern Arizona. What it is instead is the pattern of ejecta laid down across the surrounding terrain immediately after the impact that created relatively fresh Chaplygin Crater. From the website:

The delicate patterns of flow across, over, and down local topography clearly show that ejecta traveled as a ground hugging flow for great distances, rather than simply being tossed out on a ballistic trajectory. Very near the rim lies a dark, lacy, discontinuous crust of now frozen impact melt. Clearly this dark material is on top of the bright material so it was the very last material ejected from the crater.

Below the fold is a wider shot of the entire crater and its surrounding terrain, with the rectangle indicating the region covered by the close-up above The dark crust near the rim mentioned in the quote can clearly be seen.
» Read more

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Weird lunar crater

Concentric crater in Apollo Basin on the Moon

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it is time for another cool image from the Moon. The photograph on the right, reduced to post here, was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in 2013. It shows a weird crater with concentric features that is found within Apollo Basin, a large 334-mile-wide double-ringed impact feature in the southern hemisphere of the Moon’s far side.

Concentric craters have an inner rim whose formation mechanism is not yet entirely understood, but the concentric mounds may indicate that there is a discontinuity, such as layers with different strengths, in the subsurface excavated by the impact.

Or to put it more bluntly, they really have no idea why this crater ended up looking as it does.

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A lunar crater wall two miles high

Giordano Bruno crater

Cool image time! Considering this week is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it seems appropriate to show some cool images from the Moon.

Today the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team released a spectacular oblique image of Giordano Bruno crater. The image on the right is cropped and very significantly reduced to post here. It looks across the crater, with the near rim across the bottom of the picture and the wall of the far rim filling the photograph’s top half.

That wall is what makes this image cool. It is a cliff about 10,000 feet high, equaling almost two miles. Moreover, at its base is a now-solidified melt pool left over from the impact that made the crater.

Faster than a speeding bullet – or rather ten times faster than a speeding bullet – is a good starting point in terms of grasping the energy released in a typical impact event. That is, for a bullet approaching 2 kilometers in diameter! The pressure and heat that were released during the collision not only excavated a hole much larger than the impactor but also melted a tremendous amount the target rock. Melt was sprayed and sloshed on the forming crater walls where much of it flowed back, seeking the lowest point in the impact crater. From the LROC vantage point you can follow the path taken by impact melt as it flowed across the irregular floor, ponding in closed depressions, and some of it ultimately reaching the lowest point.

Below the fold is a much higher resolution section of this photograph, focused on the crater wall and the melt pool. I have still been forced to reduce the resolution somewhat to post it here. Along that cliff wall can be seen partial avalanches (the dark splotch near the center) as well boulder tracks with the boulders (probably larger than most houses) still visible as white spots at the wall’s base.

The scale here is difficult to imagine. This cliff wall is three times as high as The Abyss, the steepest single drop viewpoint along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
» Read more

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The travels of China’s Yutu-2 rover on the Moon

Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4
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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team today released images that track the travels of China’s lunar rover Yutu-2 from its landing on January 30, 2019 through June 3, covering the rover’s first six lunar days on the Moon.

The image to the right, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, shows the relative positions of both spacecraft as of June 3, 2019. In the release they also included a gif movie showing the progression of Yutu-2’s movements since landing.

Once a month, LRO passes over the Chang’e 4 landing site, allowing LROC to capture a new image. LROC has now imaged the site five times (since the landing) and observed Yutu-2 to have traveled a total of 186 meters (distance measured using the rover tracks). If you squint, portions of the rover tracks are visible as a dark path in the images from April, May, and possibly June.

table of Yutu-2's movements through June 2019

The LRO release also included a table showing the distance Yutu-2 has traveled with each lunar day, shown on the right. The table does not include the 23 meters (75 feet) the rover traveled on its sixth lunar day. My estimate yesterday that Yutu-2 was traveling an average of about a 100 feet per day, with the distances per day shrinking with time, seems largely correct. During the rover’s fourth and fifth lunar days it moved very little, either because they had found something very interesting they wanted to inspect more closely, or they were moving more cautiously as the rover’s life extended past its planned lifespan of three lunar days.

On the sixth day however they increased their travels again, suggesting that either they had finished the observations at the previous location, or they had gained more confidence in the rover’s staying power.

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Future lunar colonies at Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole

The rim of Shackleton Crater
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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a new image of the rim of Shackleton Crater, reduced slightly in resolution to post here on the right. The Moon’s south pole is located on the crater’s rim near the top right of this image. As they note at the link, the interior of Shackleton never gets any sunlight, making it what scientists call a Permanently Shadowed Region (PSR), while a ridgeline running south to de Gerlache Crater gets sunlight 90% of the time.

An elevated ridge runs roughly between Shackleton and de Gerlache craters, and the relatively high elevation of this landscape means that some portions are illuminated up to 90% of the time, but nowhere is permanently illuminated. Future explorers could take advantage of this persistent illumination by setting up solar panels in several closely spaced locations providing nearly constant solar generated electricity.

The proximity to Permanently Shadowed Regions in and around Shackleton crater adds scientific value to this destination, as PSRs are often home to compounds such as water ice that are not found elsewhere on the Moon, but which contain clues to the history of of inner Solar System water and other volatile elements. A nearby, ready source of water-ice would also be of benefit to human surface activities, either as a consumable (air or water) or as spacecraft fuel.

Below is a more detailed map they provide showing this area, with the permanently shadowed regions shaded in blue. The green dot indicates the location of the south pole. The green arrows indicate regions in sunlight in the full image.

The region around Shackleton

Sadly, I expect we are looking at the locations of future Chinese and Indian lunar bases. Though the U.S. has done all the proper legwork to find out the exact locations to build a lunar base at Shackleton, our government has decided we will instead twiddle our thumbs in lunar orbit while other countries use our legwork to land and establish bases on the Moon itself.

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New LRO pictures showing Beresheet impact site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team yesterday released an image showing the impact site where the privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the surface of the Moon on April 11, 2019.

“The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact,” said NASA. “The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.”

The image released does not see the spacecraft but the surface evidence that an impact took place. Higher resolution images will be required to spot any surface wreckage.

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The central peaks of Compton Crater

Central peaks of Compton Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team today released a beautiful oblique image looking of the central peaks of Compton Crater, a far side crater with a floor that is fractured and is one of about 200 hundred such craters.

Today’s Featured Image highlights an floor-fractured crater (FFC) that could tell us much about the lunar crust. An asteroid or comet impact is thought to have excavated 146.6-kilometer-wide Compton crater about 3.85 billion years ago. Igneous intrusion or viscous relaxation — or perhaps both processes — subsequently produced branching fractures and small basalt plains within Compton crater. The latter are darker than their surroundings.

Unlike Copernicus Crater, the surface appears smooth. Go to the link and zoom in to see what I mean. All the fractures appear very large and filled in. Of course, that could be because of the image’s resolution, and that other images might show more details and pits.

I find the central peaks more intriguing, however. It appears that, following their formation they were hit by several bolides, one of which carved a gigantic deep hole into those peaks.

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Yutu-2 heads west!

LRO images of Yutu-2 on the Moon
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A new image from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) shows the path taken by the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 during its second lunar day of travel on the Moon. The LRO images on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, compares the rovers position at the start and end of February. The white arrow indicates the rover, with its Chang’e-4 lander visible between the three craters to the east. As noted by the LRO science team:

LRO passes over any given place on the Moon at least once every month (in the daylight), allowing the westward progress of the Yutu-2 rover to be seen. At the end of February, Yutu-2 was 69 meters from it’s home base, the Chang’e 4 lander; LROC images show Yutu-2 made 46 meters of westward progress during the month of February.

It appears from these orbital images that they are taking the smoothest route, with the fewest obstacles, away from the lander.

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The travels of Moon’s scarce surface water

An analysis of data from one of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) instruments have allowed scientists to map the movements of the scarce water on the lunar surface.

Up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles. More recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

…Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Then, molecules thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere, or “exosphere”, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface.

The quantities we are talking about here are very tiny. This will not be the water that future settlers will depend on. Instead, it will be those pockets of ice in the permanently shaded craters.

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New LRO image of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2

Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released its third and best image of the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. The image on the right is a full resolution cropped section, with the lander on the bottom and the rover above and to the left.

Just after midnight (UTC) on 1 February 2019 LRO passed nearly overhead the Chang’e 4 landing site. From an altitude of 82 kilometers the LROC Narrow Angle Camera pixel scale was 0.85 meters (33 inches), allowing a sharper view of the lander and Yutu-2 rover. At the time the rover was 29 meters northwest of the lander, but the rover has likely moved since the image was acquired. This view has close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit. In the future however, LROC will continue to image the site as the lighting changes and the rover roves!

These future LRO images will allow us to track Yutu-2 and get an idea of its research, even if the Chinese do not release any information.

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LRO spots Chinese lunar rover

Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 on far side of Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has now released a second and closer image of Chang’e-4’s location on the far side of the Moon, which now also shows the nearby rover Yutu-2.

The two arrows in the image to the right, cropped to post here, show both. The rover is the dot on the right, with the lander to the left, both just beyond the arrow tips. Both are very small, with Yutu-2 for example only two pixels across. Still, with both you can see their shadows, equally small, to the left of both bright dots. With sunlight coming from the right, all the craters, which are recessed, have their shadows on the right. The spacecraft, sticking up from the surface, have shadows going to the the left.

As Yutu-2 continues its travels, LRO will likely take more images, allowing us to track it even if the Chinese provide limited information.

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LRO photographs Chang’e-4 on lunar surface

Chang'e-4 on the lunar surface

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a spectacular oblique image that shows Chang’e-4 on the floor of Von Kármán crater.

Four weeks later (30 January 2019), as LRO approached the crater from the east, it rolled 70° to the west to snap this spectacular view looking across the floor towards the west wall. Because LRO was 330 kilometers (205 miles) to the east of the landing site, the Chang’e 4 lander is only about two pixels across (bright spot between the two arrows), and the small rover is not detectable. The massive mountain range in the background is the west wall of Von Kármán crater, rising more than 3000 meters (9850 feet) above the floor.

The image on the right has been reduced to post here. If you click on it you can see a larger version, but you need to download a very large file at the above link to see it at full resolution.

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Plato Crater on the Moon

Plato Crater's west rim

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team this week released a new high resolution image of the western rim of 63-mile-wide Plato Crater, located near the visible edge of the Moon’s near side. On the right is a slightly reduced version cropped to show the area of most interest.

Plato crater is prominent, yet from our vantage point on Earth we never truly see it as it is. That’s because it is located far enough north of the lunar equator (center latitude 51.62°N, center longitude 350.62°E) on the curving surface of the spherical Moon that it appears foreshortened. Plato is round like most other impact craters, but from Earth we see it as an oval aligned east to west.

A dark floor makes 101-kilometer-wide Plato crater stand out against a light-colored lunar highlands background. Plato crater is also prominent by association; the crater is located just north of 1145-kilometer-wide Mare Imbrium. A small part of this mare is visible at lower left in our Featured Image. Mare Imbrium is made up of many basalt layers laid down by violent volcanic episodes over a span of about 1.5 billion years. The basalts fill the Imbrium Basin, which a large asteroid or comet impact excavated about 3.85 billion years ago. When we look at a bright full Moon, round dark Mare Imbrium captures our gaze, then we see Plato crater, which is estimated to be about a hundred million years younger than the Imbrium Basin.

The western rim of Plato crater — visible on the east (right) side of our Featured Image — includes a 23.4-kilometer-wide slump block. The roughly triangular piece of rim broke free when an asteroid impact excavated Plato crater. Its eastern edge stands up to 1.4 kilometers above the crater’s dark floor. Part of the floor is visible in the image just above right center, east of the long shadow of the rim. [emphasis mine]

That block is thus 14.5 miles wide, and almost a mile high. I am trying to imagine what it was like when it broke off the rim and fell eastward into the crater floor. I am having trouble doing so.

Below is a image of the entire crater, with the area of the image above indicated by a white box. It shows clearly how this crater splashed into the basalt lava plain of Mare Imbrium.
» Read more

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LRO pinpoints Chang’e-4 landing site

LRO pinpointing Chang'e-4's location on Moon

By referencing the footage released by China of Chang’e-4’s descent onto the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team has been able to pinpoint exactly where the lander touched down. The image on the right has been reduced slightly. Click on it to see it in full resolution.

The largest nearby crater to the lander is estimated to be about 80 feet across.

Because the images were in December 2018 before the lander’s arrival, they do not show it. However, the LRO team now knows exactly where to look when they take new pictures in the next few weeks. Moreover, this will allow them to monitor Yutu-2’s travels as it roves the surface over the coming months.

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Using LRO to find Chang’e-4

LRO image of Chang'e-4 landing area

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a high resolution image from 2010 pinpointing the area on the floor of Von Kármán crater where Chang’e-4 landed. On the right is a reduced and partly annotated version.

They have not actually found the lander/rover, since this image was taken long ago before Chang’e-4 arrived. However, this image, combined with the Chang’e-4 landing approach image, tells us where the lander approximately landed. It also pinpoints where to look for it when LRO is next able to image this region, around the end of January.

By then, Yutu-2 will hopefully have traveled some distance from Chang’e-4, and LRO will be able to spot both on the surface.

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A young lunar impact crater

Lunar crater

Cool image time! The science team from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) today released a new image, taken on November 3, 2018, of a relatively young small crater not easily seen from Earth.

The unnamed crater, just 1.8 kilometers across, is too small to see from Earth with unaided eyes. It is in the Moon’s wild west, just past Oceanus Procellarum and close to the line dividing the nearside from the farside, so it would be hard to glimpse in any case. If you stood on the crater rim, you would see the Earth forever slowly bobbing up, down, and sideways close to the eastern horizon.

The image above is a cropped and reduced-in-resolution section of the released image. If you click on it you can see this section at full resolution.

What I find fascinating about this crater are the black streaks that appear to only run down the outside slopes of the eastern rim, but nowhere else. At first glance it looks like prevailing winds, blowing from the west, caused this, but of course that’s wrong because the Moon has no atmosphere. The website explains:
» Read more

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The fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) oblique image on the right, reduced significantly from the original to post here, shows the deeply fractured floor of Komarov Crater on the Moon’s far side. As noted at the image link,

The spectacular fractures that cut across the floor of Komarov crater [about 85 kilometers or 50 miles diameter] were formed when magma rose from the mantle, uplifting and fracturing the crater in the process. In this case the magma did not erupt to the surface, thus the fractures remain visible.

The Komarov fractures are quite large, the major left-to-right fracture that cuts across the center of the scene is over 500 meters deep [1,600 feet] and 2500 meters wide [1.5 miles]. When did they form? The large number of craters superimposed on the floor and fractures testifies to their ancient ages. Likely they are of the same vintage (>2.6 billion years) as the Mare Moscoviense lava plains just to the north

An overview of Komarov Crater as well as other LRO images of it can be found here.

The question that comes to my mind is the relative rarity of craters with such large fractures on their floors. I have noted this for Mars as well. It is expected that there is melt on the floor of all large impact craters. Why do a few produce such pronounced fractures, while most do not? This website posits one explanation, but its complexity leaves me unsatisfied. It also doesn’t explain why it happens only rarely.

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The central peaks of Copernicus crater

Central peaks of Copernicus Crater

Cool image time! Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter science team has released a new image of the central peaks of Copernicus Crater, shown on the right cropped and reduced in resolution.

Copernicus (9.62°N, 339.92°E), which is easily seen with a moderately powerful backyard telescope, is one of the best-known craters on the Moon. Despite its age (around 860 million years), it is well preserved with over 4000 meters of relief from floor to rim, and the tallest of its central peaks rises approximately 1300 meters above the crater floor. This image, centered on the central peaks, was captured just after dawn (86° incidence angle) as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter slewed west to a 67°angle.

The image is similar to one taken back in 2012, but has a higher resolution because it was shot from 50 miles elevation instead of 75.

This crater was also the subject of one of the first breath-taking images ever taken of the Moon from lunar orbit, by Lunar Orbiter in November 1966.

The wider view taken by LRO gives some context for the image above. The peaks shown in closeup here are part of the lower right grouping. If you go to the first link above you can zoom in and explore all parts of the full image, and see some quite amazing details, including the large boulders scatter throughout the hollows between the peaks.

Copernicus Crater

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Mountains on the Moon

Mountains on the Moon

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced slightly to post here, shows several high mountains on the far side of the Moon. If you click on the image you can see it at full resolution.

The summit of the unnamed peak in the foreground (50.2° S, 236.6° E) has an elevation of 6710 meters, about 7000 meters (about 23,000 feet) of relief relative to the low point at the bottom of the image. The two peaks on the horizon, 200 kilometers in the distance (about 125 miles), have summit elevations of 4320 meters (14,200 feet) and 4680 meters (15,350), respectively and both rise more than 6000 meters (almost 20,000 feet) above their surroundings.

In the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team release in June, they noted that the high peak here is actually taller than Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest peak within the U.S. And it has no name. They also note that the peak is likely 4 billion years old, and has experienced extensive erosion in that time, meaning that it is also likely shorter than it once was.

I don’t have anything to add, other than this would be an amazing place to put up a resort, with trails taking you to the top of the mountains. In the lighter gravity, the hike would actually be somewhat easy, even wearing a spacesuit. And you wouldn’t have to worry about a thinning atmosphere as you climbed higher, as you do on Earth. You’d be carrying it with you.

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Oblique view of lunar crater

Wallach Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team this week released an image showing Wallach Crater as seen from the side. The image on the right is a section of that image and has been reduced to show here. The full image of 3.5-mile-wide crater and its surrounding terrain can be explored at the link. From the link:

Wallach crater (4.89°N, 32.27°E) formed within a thin layer of black basaltic lava flows that overlie much brighter anorthositic material. Think of a white cake with chocolate icing. When the asteroid (or comet) impacted this “iced cake”, ejecta from deeper portions (white cake, or rather brighter anorthosite) was thrown out onto the icing (darker basalt) resulting in intermediate tones where the two materials mixed.

The dark streaks seen inside the crater are blocks of the icing (basalt) breaking off and creeping down slope. The fact that the deepest material lands on top of the shallowest material (known as inverted stratigraphy) was first described by Gene Shoemaker from his pioneering observations at Meteor Crater, Arizona. This effect simplifies sampling the local geology in three dimensions. As an astronaut traverses towards the rim of a crater, the rocks underfoot come from deeper and deeper within the crater. The rocks at the rim are from the deepest portions of the crater!

It is especially interesting to use the viewer at the link to see the surrounding terrain, which includes two other craters that are far less distinct.

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Aristarchus Crater on the Moon

Aristarchus Crater

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows Aristarchus Crater, one of the more geological intriguing locations on the Moon. This oblique image was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), still operating in lunar orbit. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution image.

Aristarchus crater is 40 kilometers (25 miles) in diameter and 2700 meters (1.7 miles) deep, with a central peak that rises 300 meters (almost a thousand feet) above the crater floor. When LRO pointed back towards the Sun, LROC was able to capture this magnificent view highlighting subtle differences in albedo (brightness). Some of the albedo contrast is due to maturity (young material is generally brighter than older material) and some reveal true differences in rock type. The central peak shows the complexity of what lies beneath the now hardened impact melt sea that filled the bottom of the crater.

The best part however is the close-up they provided of the crater’s central peaks, posted below.
» Read more

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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