Barnstorming the Moon’s Giordano Bruno Crater

Caption: Southern rim of Giordano Bruno crater seen obliquely by LROC. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

At the 2012 Lunar Science Forum going on this week at the NASA Lunar Science Institute, scientist Mark Robinson presented some new stunning images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s cameras (LROC), including this oblique view Giordano Bruno crater, and a wonderful video (below) that allows viewers to “barnstorm” over the crater to witness the stark beauty of this impact basin.

“I could spend weeks and months looking at the preserved materials in the crater,” Robinson said, adding that views like this are helping scientists to understand the impact process. “Until astronauts visit Giordano Bruno, this gives a view about as close as you can get to standing on the surface to the west of the crater.”

Robinson is the Principal Investigator for LROC, and in his talk today said all systems on LROC are working nominally. “That’s NASA-speak for everything is fantastic,” he joked.

With the wide angle camera, LROC has mapped the entire Moon nearly 33 times. “Every map has a different photometric geometry, so this is not a redundant dataset,” Robinson said, adding that the different lighting provides different ways to study the Moon. “And to be able to do follow-up observations, I can’t tell you how great it is.”

Just about every month, the science team is able to take new mosaics of both the north and south pole, and they’ve also found 160 pits – lunar caves – so far. These caves with “skylights” are intriguing because they would offer potential protective habitats for future lunar explorers.

Now in its extended mission, LRO is still going strong, and has provided incredible details of the lunar surface. LRO project scientist Richard Vondrak said since the start of the mission, LRO has uploaded 325 terabytes of data into the Planetary Data System, the digital storehouse for NASA science mission, through June 2012.


Caption: Close-up detail of the rim of Giordano Crater. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

“Thanks to LRO, the Moon’s topography is now better understood than the Earth, since two-thirds of Earth is covered by water,” Vondrak said.
But both scientists agrees LRO is just getting started.

“The Moon is one of the most engaging bodies in the Solar System and we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Robinson said

Robinson suggests scrolling through all of the details of this beautiful impact crater by looking at the full-resolution version of Giordano Crater — “not to be missed!” he said. Also, the full resolution version of the video can be downloaded here.

Sources: NLSI Lunar Forum, LROC website

In the Shadow of the Moon: A Lunar View of an Eclipse

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The May 20 annular eclipse may have been an awesome sight for skywatchers across many parts of the Earth, but it was also being viewed by a robotic explorer around the Moon!

During the event NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its camera to look back home, acquiring several images of the Earth with the Moon’s fuzzy shadow cast onto different regions during the course of the eclipse. The image above is a 4-panel zoom into one particular NAC image showing the Moon’s shadow over the Aleutian Islands.

LRO captured a total of four narrow-angle camera (NAC) images during two of its orbits. During one orbit the Moon’s shadow was over the southern part of Japan, and during the next it had moved northeast to cover the island chain of Alaska.

According to the LROC site run by Arizona State University:

The NAC is a line scanner, meaning that it has only one row of 5064 pixels per camera. Instead of snapping a single frame, an image is built up by the motion of the spacecraft in orbit about the Moon (about 1600 meters per second). To obtain an image of the Earth the spacecraft is turned 180° to face the Earth, then the spacecraft is pitched as quickly as possible (one-tenth of a degree per second), so that the image is built up line by line.

This also explains why some of the images are “clipped” on the edges… LRO ran out of time during its lunar orbit. Still, it’s great to be able to show some photos of the eclipse from quite possibly the most distant viewer anywhere!

Read more on the LROC site here.

Animation of four LROC images of the annular eclipse (click to play) NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Best Views Yet of Historic Apollo Landing Sites

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Just over 42 years after Neil and Buzz became the first humans to experience the “stark beauty” of the lunar surface, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the remnants of their visit in the image above, acquired Nov. 5, 2011 from an altitude of only 15 miles (24 km). This is the highest-resolution view yet of the Apollo 11 landing site!

The Lunar Module’s descent stage, a seismic experiment monitor, a laser ranging reflector (LRRR, still used today to measure distances between Earth and the Moon) and its cover, and a camera can be discerned in the overhead image… as well as the darker trails of the astronauts’ bootprints, including Armstrong’s jaunt eastward to the rim of Little West crater.

The crater was the furthest the Apollo astronauts ventured; in fact, if you take the total area Neil and Buzz explored it would easily fit within the infield of a baseball diamond!

Neil Armstrong’s visit to the crater’s edge was an unplanned excursion. He used the vantage point to capture a panoramic image of the historic site:

Panorama of the Apollo 11 site from Little West crater. (NASA)

“Isn’t that something! Magnificent sight out here.” Armstrong had stated before he was joined by Aldrin on the lunar surface. “It has a stark beauty all its own. It’s like much of the high desert of the United States. It’s different, but it’s very pretty out here.”

Previously the LROC captured the Apollo 15 landing site, which included the tracks of the lunar rover — as well as the rover itself! And, just yesterday, the LROC site operated by Arizona State University featured the latest similarly high-resolution view of the Apollo 12 site. This location has the honor of being two landing sites in one: Apollo 12 and the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had landed on April 20, 1967 – two and a half years earlier!

The Apollo 12 landing site in Oceanus Procellarum. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Even though the US flag planted by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean isn’t itself visible, the shadow cast by it is.

Apollo 12 was the only mission to successfully visit the site of a previous spacecraft’s landing, and it also saw the placement of the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), which included a seismometer and various instruments to measure the lunar environment.

Read more about this image on the LROC page here, and check out the video tour below of the Apollo 12 site.

Images and video courtesy of NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Face-to-Face With Some Shattered Lunar Boulders

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Breaking up may be hard to do, but these two lunar boulders seem to have succeeded extremely well! Imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) in October of 2009, this crumbled couple was recently identified by Moon Zoo team member Dr. Anthony Cook and brought to the attention of the project’s forum moderator.

The tracks left in the regolith — lunar soil — behind the boulders tell of their past rolling journeys down the slope of the elongated Schiller crater, in which they reside. Rolling boulders have been spotted before on the Moon, but what made these two split apart? And…why does that one on the lower right look so much like half a face?

Several things can cause lunar boulders to come loose and take the nearest downhill course. Meteorite impacts can shake the ground locally, giving the rocks enough of a nudge to set them on a roll. And moonquakes — the lunar version of earthquakes, as the name implies (although not due to tectonic plate shifts but rather to more mysterious internal lunar forces) — can also dislodge large boulders.

The low gravity on the Moon can make large rocks take a bounding path, evidenced by the dotted-line appearance of some of the trails.

Could all that bounding and bouncing have made the two boulders above shatter apart? Or was something else the cause of their crumbling?

Dr. Cook suggested that the boulders could have fractured before they began rolling, and then the added stress of their trip down the crater’s slope (uphill is to the right) made them break apart at the end of their trip… possibly due to further weathering and the extreme temperature variations of lunar days and nights.

Although a sound idea, Dr. Cook added, “I’m a bit puzzled though why the one on the top left has rock debris so far away from the centre. The boulder that looks like a skull rock on the bottom right has debris a lot closer to it, that could simply be explained by bits falling off as one would expect from the explanation above.”

This is one rock that's not happy about its breakup!

Another idea is that the boulders were struck by meteorites, but it seems extremely improbable that two would have been hit right next to each other. Still, not impossible, especially given the geologic time spans in play.

And as far as the “skull rock” boulder is concerned… that’s a little something called pareidolia, the tendency for our brains to interpret random shapes as something particularly significant. In this case it’s a human face, one of the most popular forms of pareidolia (perhaps best known by the famous “Face on Mars”, which, as we all now know, has been since shown to be just another Martian mesa.)

It does look like a face though, and not a particularly happy one!

Find out more about rolling boulders and Schiller crater on the LROC site hosted by Arizona State University here, and take a look at the full image scan of the region yourself… you may find more of these broken-up rolling rocks!

LROC WAC global 100-meter mosaic image of the 180-km long, 70-km wide Schiller crater. Overlaid onto a laser altimetry elevation model. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

A Bouncing Moon Boulder

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One solitary boulder on the Moon apparently decided to take a little journey. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera captured the track of a bouncing, rolling 9-meter boulder that used to sit along the rim of a crater. From the pristine nature of the tracks, it might seem that the rock may have taken its trip just recently. But with the high resolution capability of the LROC, scientists can see that a few tiny craters are superimposed among the track and therefore post-date the time the boulder traveled. Scientists estimate this track was created 50-100 million years ago.

“Though long ago to humans, however, this boulder’s journey was made in geologically recent times,” wrote lunar scientist James Ashley on the LROC website. “Studies suggest that regolith development from micrometeorite impacts will erase tracks like these over time intervals of tens of millions of years…Eventually its track will be erased completely.”

What might have caused the rock to roll so recently? Ashley said perhaps this boulder was sent on its way by ground-shaking caused by the violence of a nearby impact. Perhaps a direct hit by a small meteoroid did the job.

This isn’t the first time LRO has captured evidence of “moving” rocks. See our previous article about several other images of bouncing boulders.

Source: LROC

LRO Lets You Stand on the Rim of Aristarchus Crater

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Have you ever you looked up at the bright, cavernous Aristarchus Crater on the Moon through a telescope or binoculars and wondered what it would be like to stand on the rim and peer inside? Spectacular new views from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is almost as good as being there, and a new video lets you “rappel” down and take a closer look at the west side of the crater walls.

Full panoramic view of the west wall of Aristarchus crater revealing impact melt deposits, exposures of high reflectance anorthosite, streamers of pyroclastic ash, and blocks up to 100 meters in size. Full width of panorama is about 25 km. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

LRO Camera Principal Investigator Mark Robinson describes the region around the crater, known as the Aristarchus plateau, as one of the most geologically diverse places on the Moon. “A mysterious raised flat plateau, a giant rille carved by enormous outpourings of lava, fields of explosive volcanic ash, and all surrounded by massive flood basalts,” Robinson wrote on the LROC website. “A relatively recent asteroid (or comet) slammed into this geologic wonderland, blowing a giant hole in the ground revealing a cross section of over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) of geology. No wonder planners for the Apollo missions put this plateau high on its list of targets for human exploration.”

These new amazing images were acquired on November 10, 2011 as LRO passed only 26 km (16.2 miles) above the surface, which is about two times lower than normal, due to LRO’s current elliptical orbit. The spacecraft was slewed to the west for an oblique or “sideways” look at the crater, instead of looking straight down as LRO normally does, to provide this unique perspective on Aristarchus. For a sense of scale, Robinson said that altitude is only a little over twice as high as commercial jets fly above the Earth. This crater is only one-tenth the size of Earth’s Grand Canyon, but the views from up above are similarly spectacular.

The location of Aristarchus Crater. Credit: Wikipedia

Aristarchus crater is located on the southeast edge of the Aristarchus Plateau. This yawning crater is 40 km wide and 3.5 km deep. The edges appear scalloped, almost like it crater was strip-mined. Since the crater is relatively young, Aristarchus is one of the brightest regions on the Moon. Robinson says these bright rocks may be anorthositic like the highlands, or they may be a more silicic rock like granite — or both.

“Although granites have been found in Apollo rock samples, the formation of granite on the Moon is not well understood at this time – another reason why we need to get samples from this region,” he said.

A 'straight down' view of Aristarchus, Aristarchus crater.. Small white arrows indicate approximate corners of the NAC panorama. Vertical line on right shows LRO orbit ground track Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

From this ‘straight down’ view, you can see the bright ejecta, contrasted by darker areas, which reflects the compositional difference between the various rocks in the region.

On the floor of Aristarchus crater is a wide variety of lunar rocks and geologic processes.

“Diverse materials such as dark, multilayered mare basalts in the walls, bright crustal rocks in the central peak, impact melt, and even regional pyroclastic materials blanketing the crater are brought to the floor and accumulated through mass wasting, creating a bountiful trove of geologic materials,” Robinson said.

Who’s ready to go exploring?!

Click here to see the full-resolution panoramic view of Aristarchus Crater.

Source: LROC

Hat tip and inspiration from Stu Atkinson

The Moon as You’ve Never Seen It Before

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You’re looking at a brand new view of the lunar farside, as never seen before. The team from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has released the first version of a topographic map of nearly the entire Moon, from data from the Wide Angle Camera (WAC) on the spacecraft.

“This amazing map shows you the ups and downs over nearly the entire Moon, at a scale of 100 meters across the surface, and 20 meters or better vertically,” said principal investigator Mark Robinson, writing on the LROC website. “Despite the diminutive size of the WAC (it fits in the palm of one’s hand), it images nearly the entire Moon every month.”

Every month? So why is this a “new” map since LRO has been in lunar orbit since mid-2009?

Robinson said that each month the Moon’s lighting changes, so the WAC methodically builds up a record of how different rocks reflect light under different conditions, and adds to the LROC library of stereo observations.

“The WAC really is the little camera that could!” Robinson said.

Left: LROC Wide Angle Camera attached to a test setup shortly before mounting on the spacecraft. Right: WAC being handed up to engineers for integration with LRO. Photos courtesy Mark Robinson, via the LROC website.

It is very similar to the MARCI camera (Mars Color Imager) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, another wide-angle, low-resolution camera specially built for orbital observations; both cameras were built by Malin Space Science Systems.

Topographic maps provide a detailed and accurate graphic representation of natural features on the ground, and Robinson this new map of the Moon will help both lunar scientists and future explorers on the Moon.

Combing data from the WAC along with the LRO Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), the scientists are able to provide a topographic map of nearly the entire Moon. Due to persistent shadows near the poles it is not possible to create a complete WAC stereo map at the very highest latitudes, but LOLA provides a very high resolution topographic model of the poles.

How is a digital topographic map created from stereo images? The WAC stereo images were compared one against another by pattern-matching a moving box of pixels until the best fit was found between two images with different viewing angles. The new topographic model was constructed from 69,000 WAC stereo models.

Robinson and his team are already looking towards improvements they can make with subsequent versions of their topographic maps.

“The current model incorporates the first year of stereo imaging, and there is another year of data that can be added to the solution,” he said. “These additional stereo images will not only improve the sharpness (resolution) of the model but also fill in very small gaps that exist in the current map. The LROC team has made small improvements to the camera distortion model, and the LOLA team has improved our knowledge of the spacecraft position over time. These next generation steps will further improve the accuracy of Version 2 of the LROC GLD100 topographic model of the Moon.”

You can see the “zoomable” full resolution versions of the new map for both the far and near side at this link.

Source: LROC website

LRO to Move in For Closer Look at the Apollo Landing Sites

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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is changing our view of the Moon by literally bringing it into sharper focus with its three high resolution cameras. But now, things are about to get even sharper. Today, LRO fired its thrusters to begin dipping down from its usual orbit about 50 km above the surface and moving to an orbit that will allow the spacecraft’s cameras me to image the Apollo sites from about 20 km away.

“This will allow me to obtain images of the Apollo sites that are about 4 times sharper than my current best images,” said the LRO spacecraft on Twitter.


This is just a temporary orbit and the spacecraft will take images of and around the Apollo sites between August 14 and 19, 2011. After that, the spacecraft will return to the 50-km-orbit until December.

LRO has two narrow angle cameras (NACs) and one wide angle camera (WAC).

According to Mark Robinson, LROC Principal Investigator, who spoke at the Lunar Forum at Ames Research Center last month, as of the end of July, 2011 the amount of data returned by LRO has been about 400 gigabits of data every day, which includes 371,027 high resolution images. The WAC has taken about 160,000 images, with about 90,000 in color. In total, the spacecraft has imaged the entire Moon about 20 times with the WAC, and has imaged 20 per cent of the moon with NACs, which provides a narrower but higher resolution view.

“We want to map the whole moon at 50 cm/pixel to 200 cm/pixel, and that would be LROC’s legacy for the next 100 years of lunar exploration and science,” Robinson said.

He noted that all three cameras are performing way better than he had hoped.

“We are very excited about the quality of the data,” Robinson said.

So get ready for a little more quality views of the Apollo landing sites!

Update: as commenter MoonOrBust noted, the LRO Twitter feed had an addendum later in the day, adding that there are several technical challenges associated with getting improved resolution images at the lower altitude orbit. For example, the spacecraft will not slow from its orbital speed of about 1.6 km/s (about 3,500 mph) when it gets closer to the Moon’s surface, which might cause some image blurring, particularly for the LROC Narrow Angle Camera images. “However, it will certainly be fun to compare the images from the different orbits!” the spacecraft Tweeted.

Look Inside a Lunar Crater

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The crater shown above is located in the lunar highlands and is filled with and surrounded by boulders of all sizes and shapes. It is approximately 550 meters (1800 feet) wide yet is still considered a small crater, and could have been caused by either a direct impact by a meteorite or by an ejected bit of material from another impact. Scientists studying the Moon attempt to figure out how small craters like this were formed by their shapes and the material seen around them…although sometimes the same results can be achieved by different events.

For example, when an object from space strikes the Moon, it is typically traveling around 20 km per second (12 miles/sec). If the impact site happens to have a very hard subsurface, it can make a crater with scattered bouldery chunks composed of the hard material around it. But, if a large piece of ejected material from another impact were to strike the lunar surface at a much slower speed, as ejecta typically do (since they travel slower than incoming space debris and the Moon’s escape velocity is fairly low, meaning any ejecta that does fall back to the surface must be traveling slower than 2.38 km/s,) then the ejected chunk could break apart on impact and scatter boulders of itself around the crater…regardless of subsurface composition.

Really the only way to tell for sure which scenario has taken place around a given crater – such as the one above – is to collect and return samples from the site so they can be tested. (Of course that’s much easier said than done!)

You can read more about this image on Arizona State University’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera site here.

And as an added treat, take a look deep into the shadows of the crater’s interior below…I tweaked the image curves in Photoshop to wrestle some of the details out of there!

 

Brightening the shadowed area reveals details of the crater floor...and even more boulders!

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University. (Edited by J. Major.)

P.S.: Want to see both image versions combined? Click here. (Thanks to Mike C. for the suggestion!)

Lunar Farside Gets Highest Resolution Look Yet from LRO

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The first time humans were able to catch a glimpse of the far side of the Moon was back in 1959 when the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft sent back 29 grainy images taken during its successful loop around the Moon. “What a surprise – the farside was a different world, geologically,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the camera on board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. “Unlike the widespread maria on the nearside, basaltic volcanism was restricted to a relatively few, smaller regions on the farside, and the battered highlands crust dominated.”

Since then, just a handful of spacecraft have taken images of the far side of the Moon, but now, Robinson has had a hand in creating the most detailed view yet of the farside of the Moon. A mosaic of the far side released today is comprised of over 15,000 Wide Angle Camera images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011.


“This WAC mosaic provides the most complete look at the morphology of the farside to date, and will provide a valuable resource for the scientific community,” Robinson wrote on the LROC website. “And it’s simply a spectacular sight!”

And how!

Every month, as LRO circles the Moon, the WAC gathers images to provide nearly complete coverage of the Moon under unique lighting. This mosaic knits together images all with similar lighting. As an added bonus the orbit-to-orbit image overlap provides stereo coverage, and even more images will be released on March 15.

“As the mission progresses, and our knowledge of the lunar photometric function increases, improved and new mosaics will be released!” Robinson said. “Work your way around the Moon with these six orthographic projections constructed from WAC mosaics.”

Click here for more stunning, high resolution views of the Moon.

Source: LROC