June 21, 2011

LRO Takes High-Quality Picture Of The Moon

NASA said on Tuesday that its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has taken a picture of the moon, the likes of which have never been seen before.

The new image by LRO consists of over 192 terabytes of data, images and maps, which is equivalent of about 41,000 typical DVDs.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment," Douglas Cooke, Associate Administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington, said in a statement.

"The exploration phase of the mission delivered a lot more than it originally promised, and that's been just the beginning for LRO."

LRO used its seven onboard instruments to create the new portrait.  The primary objective of the mission was to enable safe and effective exploration of the moon.

"To do so, we needed to leverage the very best that the science community had to offer," Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington, said in a statement. "And by doing that, we've fundamentally changed our scientific understanding of the moon."

NASA said LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) has created the most precise and complete topographic maps to date of the moon's landscape. 

These maps are more accurate and sample more places on the moon's surface than any available before.

Researchers have used LOLA to put together the first comprehensive set of maps of the roughness of the moon's surface. 

"Before LRO, we actually knew the shape of Mars better than we knew the shape of the moon, our nearest neighbor," notes LRO's Deputy Project Scientist, John Keller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But because of LRO and LOLA, we now have detailed maps of both the near side and far side of the moon."

Although earlier missions also took images of the moon, what sets the images by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) apart is its ability to image with surface pixels that are only 1.5 feet in size. 

"With this resolution, LRO could easily spot a picnic table on the moon," LRO's Project Scientist, Richard Vondrak of NASA Goddard, said in a statement.

LROC imaged about 3.5 million square miles of the moon's surface during the exploration phase of the mission.  The space agency said this is about the same amount of land as all contiguous states west of the Mississippi River.

NASA said there is still plenty more to come from LRO.

"Not only did we accomplish all of this during the exploration phase of the mission," says Vondrak, "but two more years of wonderful science are already under way."


Image 2: LOLA data give us three complementary views of the near side of the moon: the contours of the landscape, or topography (left), along with new maps of the surface slope values (middle) and the roughness of the topography (right). All three views are centered on the relatively young impact crater Tycho, with the Orientale basin on the left side. The slope magnitude indicates the steepness of terrain, while roughness indicates the presence of large blocks, both of which are important for surface operations. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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