Low-Flying Moon Probe Spies Craters And Mountains While Seeking Stars

A series of images from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) in Februrary 2014 showing the moon. Credit: NASA Ames

While NASA’s newest lunar probe was tracking the stars, it also captured the moon! This series of star tracker images shows Earth’s closest large neighbour from a close-up orbit. And as NASA explains, the primary purpose of these star-tracking images from the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was not the lunar pictures themselves.

“The main job of a star tracker is to snap images of the surrounding star field so that the spacecraft can internally calculate its orientation in space. It completes this task many times per minute,” NASA explained. “The accuracy of each of LADEE’s instruments’ measurements depends on the star tracker calculating the precise orientation of the spacecraft.”

“Star tracker cameras are actually not very good at taking ordinary images,” added Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, in a statement. “But they can sometimes provide exciting glimpses of the lunar terrain.”

Here’s what the images (which were taken one minute apart each Feb. 8) show:

  • Image 1: Krieger crater (14 miles/23 km diameter) on horizon, and Toscanelli crater (4 miles/7 km) in front;
  • Image 2: Wollastaon P crater (2.5 miles/4 km) near horizon, and the southeast part of Mons Herodotus (a lunar mountain);
  • Image 3: Mountain range Montes Agricola and Raman crater (6 miles/10 km)
  • Image 4: Golgi crater (4 miles/6 km) and Zinner crater (3 miles/5 km)
  • Image 5: Craters Lichtenberg A and Schiaparelli E.

LADEE, a dust-seeking spacecraft, was at the time flying around the moon’s equator at altitudes ranging from between eight and 37 miles (12 to 60 km). Flying high on news of a 28-day mission extension, managers plan to move the probe even lower. LADEE took off from Earth in September 2013 and has been busy, even taking pictures of a fellow NASA probe — the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Meanwhile, on the surface the Chinese Yutu rover has just called back home, showing it’s still alive despite a malfunction.

Source: NASA Ames Research Center

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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