Graves Of Twin Moon Probes Spotted By NASA Spacecraft - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Graves Of Twin Moon Probes Spotted By NASA Spacecraft

Posted: Updated:

YAHOO.COM - An eagle-eyed NASA spacecraft has spotted the tiny craters two moon probes created when they crashed intentionally into the lunar surface last year.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) snapped a series of photographs of the two 16.5-foot-wide (5 meters) craters, which mark where the space agency's twin Grail probes ended their gravity-mapping mission, and their operational lives, on Dec. 17.

"It was really fun to find the craters," Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), said today (March 19) during a press conference at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

It's a bit of a surprise that the LROC team was able to find the craters at all, Robinson added. LRO orbits the moon at an altitude of about 100 miles (160 kilometers), and the craters are small, nondescript features on a body riddled with impact scars. [Grail Probes' Final Moments (Video)]

The two Grail spacecraft — known as Ebb and Flow — slammed into a mountain near the lunar north pole at 3,771 mph (6,070 km/h), striking the lunar surface about 20 seconds apart. They were running out of fuel and were bound to crash at some point, so the Grail team brought them down in a controlled fashion away from areas of historical importance such as the Apollo landing sites.

The Grail craters first showed up in LROC photos from January, but images taken on Feb. 28 show them in much greater detail. Robinson and his team used these later photos to produce a topographic map of the impact zone, which was named after the late NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who had led Grail's educational MoonKAM project before her death last July.

This map revealed that the two craters are separated by about 7,250 feet (2,210 m) in straight-line distance and 985 feet (300 m) in altitude, researchers said. Surprisingly, the crashes ejected material that appears darker than the surrounding lunar dirt.

"Fresh impact craters on the moon are typically bright, but these may be dark due to spacecraft material being mixed with the ejecta," Robinson said in a statement. This material may be residual fuel left in the probes' lines, or bits of their carbon-fiber bodies, he added.

LRO also managed to observe the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 17 Grail impacts after performing some precision maneuvering, team members announced today.

LRO didn't get any images of the actual crashes, which occurred in the dark. But its ultraviolet imaging spectrograph did see emissions from mercury and atomic hydrogen in the ejected plumes when they rose high enough to reach sunlight.

"This gives insight into how volatile material is transported around the moon," LRO chief scientist John Keller, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. "It gives us a data point that helps constrain models of volatile transport, especially for models that describe how volatile material can get transported from warm to cold areas on the moon."

The analysis of the Grail impact plumes is ongoing, researchers added.

The $496 million Grail mission — short for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory — launched in September 2011. Ebb and Flow arrived at the moon about three months later, then raced around Earth's satellite in tandem, mapping out its gravity field in unprecedented detail.

The probes' measurements have allowed scientists to create the best-ever gravity map of any celestial body, Grail scientists say. And that map is getting better all the time, as researchers continue to analyze the data Ebb and Flow gathered in their last weeks and months.

The twin probes, which were each about the size of a washing machine, zipped around the moon at an average altitude of 7 miles (11 km) in their final days.

"They dedicated their existence to science," Grail chief scientist Maria Zuber of MIT said during today's press conference, which also revealed an updated lunar gravity map. "Their demise allowed us to map the moon at a very low altitude that enabled the high-resolution maps that you see today."

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Overcrowding issues

    Overcrowding issues

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 12:22 AM EDT2014-08-20 04:22:25 GMT
    It's an issue many counties are dealing with, overcrowding in the jails. And it's an issue the Kootenai county commissioners say they've been trying to correct over the years with bond elections. "we have a chronic problem with overcrowding. In 2013, we spent more than 900 thousand dollars to send inmates out of county to find housing," said county commissioner Dan Green.  >>
    It's an issue many counties are dealing with, overcrowding in the jails. And it's an issue the Kootenai county commissioners say they've been trying to correct over the years with bond elections. "we have a chronic problem with overcrowding. In 2013, we spent more than 900 thousand dollars to send inmates out of county to find housing," said county commissioner Dan Green.  >>
  • PHOTOS: Grizzly bears use tools? WSU study under way

    PHOTOS: Grizzly bears use tools? WSU study under way

    Tuesday, August 19 2014 8:44 PM EDT2014-08-20 00:44:30 GMT
    PULLMAN, Wash. - In a first-ever study, researchers at Washington State University are examining whether grizzly bears make and use tools. >>
    PULLMAN, Wash. - In a first-ever study, researchers at Washington State University are examining whether grizzly bears make and use tools. And while it's too soon to reach a broad scientific conclusion, at least one female bear is demonstrating that, yes, she definitely can. >>
  • PHOTOS: Wildfires in Central Washington

    PHOTOS: Wildfires in Central Washington

    Tuesday, August 19 2014 1:39 PM EDT2014-08-19 17:39:31 GMT
    KHQ.COM - It has been an intense year for wildfires all over the northwest. The photos in this slideshow were taken 8/7 - 8/11 by KHQ photographer Reed Schmitt. Most of the photos are from the Methow Valley area around Winthrop. A few shots are from the North Cascades Smokejumper Base and also from a horseback ride at Sun Mountain near Patterson Lake. The final shot is of Grand Coulee Dam almost completely obscured by smoke.>>
    KHQ.COM - It has been an intense year for wildfires all over the northwest. The photos in this slideshow were taken 8/7 - 8/11 by KHQ photographer Reed Schmitt. Most of the photos are from the Methow Valley area around Winthrop. A few shots are from the North Cascades Smokejumper Base and also from a horseback ride at Sun Mountain near Patterson Lake. The final shot is of Grand Coulee Dam almost completely obscured by smoke.>>
  • National NewsMore>>

  • Wife: Robin Williams had early stages of Parkinson's Disease at time of death

    Wife: Robin Williams had early stages of Parkinson's Disease at time of death

    Thursday, August 14 2014 3:26 PM EDT2014-08-14 19:26:01 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Actor and comedian Robin Williams was sober but struggling with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease at the time of his death, according to his wife. Williams' wife released the following statement Thursday:>>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Actor and comedian Robin Williams was sober but struggling with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease at the time of his death, according to his wife. Williams' wife released the following statement Thursday:>>
  • Passenger plane crashes in Iran

    Passenger plane crashes in Iran

    Sunday, August 10 2014 2:15 AM EDT2014-08-10 06:15:55 GMT
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - State television in Iran is reporting that a small passenger plane has crashed into a residential complex in the capital, Tehran. There was no immediate word on casualties from the crash Sunday.State TV reported that a Taban Air plane crashed while taking off from an airport west of Tehran. >>
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - State television in Iran is reporting that a small passenger plane has crashed into a residential complex in the capital, Tehran. There was no immediate word on casualties from the crash Sunday.State TV reported that a Taban Air plane crashed while taking off from an airport west of Tehran. >>
  • General is highest ranking Army officer killed in Iraq or Afghanistan

    General is highest ranking Army officer killed in Iraq or Afghanistan

    Tuesday, August 5 2014 5:00 PM EDT2014-08-05 21:00:13 GMT
    WASHINGTON (AP) - An American general has become the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to be killed in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. >>
    WASHINGTON (AP) - An American general has become the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to be killed in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. A Pentagon spokesman says the general was killed in an apparent insider attack today by a member of the Afghan security forces. The shooting wounded another 15 people, about half of them Americans.>>