Space

June 20, 2012

NASA spacecraft reveals ice content in Moon crater

Elevation (left) and shaded relief (right) image of Shackleton, a 21-km-diameter (12.5-mile-diameter) permanently shadowed crater adjacent to the lunar south pole. The structure of the crater’s interior was revealed by a digital elevation model constructed from over 5 million elevation measurements from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has returned data that indicate ice may make up as much as 22 percent of the surface material in a crater located on the moon’s south pole.

The team of NASA and university scientists using laser light from LRO’s laser altimeter examined the floor of Shackleton crater. They found the crater’s floor is brighter than those of other nearby craters, which is consistent with the presence of small amounts of ice. This information will help researchers understand crater formation and study other uncharted areas of the moon. The findings are published in the June 23 edition of the journal Nature.

“The brightness measurements have been puzzling us since two summers ago,” said Gregory Neumann of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., a co-author on the paper. “While the distribution of brightness was not exactly what we had expected, practically every measurement related to ice and other volatile compounds on the moon is surprising, given the cosmically cold temperatures inside its polar craters.”

The spacecraft mapped Shackleton crater with unprecedented detail, using a laser to illuminate the crater’s interior and measure its albedo or natural reflectance. The laser light measures to a depth comparable to its wavelength, or about a micron. That represents a millionth of a meter, or less than one ten-thousandth of an inch. The team also used the instrument to map the relief of the crater’s terrain based on the time it took for laser light to bounce back from the moon’s surface. The longer it took, the lower the terrain’s elevation.

In addition to the possible evidence of ice, the group’s map of Shackleton revealed a remarkably preserved crater that has remained relatively unscathed since its formation more than three billion years ago. The crater’s floor is itself pocked with several small craters, which may have formed as part of the collision that created Shackleton.

The crater, named after the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, is two miles deep and more than 12 miles wide. Like several craters at the moon’s south pole, the small tilt of the lunar spin axis means Shackleton crater’s interior is permanently dark and therefore extremely cold.

“The crater’s interior is extremely rugged,” said Maria Zuber, the team’s lead investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in Mass. “It would not be easy to crawl around in there.”

While the crater’s floor was relatively bright, Zuber and her colleagues observed that its walls were even brighter. The finding was at first puzzling. Scientists had thought that if ice were anywhere in a crater, it would be on the floor, where no direct sunlight penetrates. The upper walls of Shackleton crater are occasionally illuminated, which could evaporate any ice that accumulates. A theory offered by the team to explain the puzzle is that “moonquakes”- seismic shaking brought on by meteorite impacts or gravitational tides from Earth – may have caused Shackleton’s walls to slough off older, darker soil, revealing newer, brighter soil underneath. Zuber’s team’s ultra-high-resolution map provides strong evidence for ice on both the crater’s floor and walls.

“There may be multiple explanations for the observed brightness throughout the crater,” said Zuber. “For example, newer material may be exposed along its walls, while ice may be mixed in with its floor.”

The initial primary objective of LRO was to conduct investigations that prepare for future lunar exploration. Launched in June 2009, LRO completed its primary exploration mission and is now in its primary science mission. LRO was built and is managed by Goddard. This research was supported by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA seeks proposals to develop capabilities for deep space exploration, journey to Mars

NASA is soliciting proposals for concept studies or technology development projects that will be necessary to enable human pioneers to go to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars. Through a Broad Area Announcemen NASA released Oct. 28, the agency seeks to use public-private partnerships to share funding to develop advanced propulsion, habitation...
 
 
Photograph courtesy of  NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al

NASA’S Chandra Observatory identifies impact of cosmic chaos on star birth

Photograph courtesy of NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al Chandra observations of the Perseus and Virgo galaxy clusters suggest turbulence may be preventing hot gas there from cooling, addressing a long-standing question of ...
 
 

NASA hosts first agency-wide social media event for Orion’s first flight test

NASA invites social media followers to apply for credentials to get a preview of the Orion spacecraft’s first flight test during NASA Social events Dec. 3 at each of its 10 centers. Orion will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,...
 

 
nasa-spacex

Critical NASA science returns to Earth aboard SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down at 3:39 p.m., EDT, Oct. 25, in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 300 miles west of Baja California, returning 3,276 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from the Internati...
 
 
NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA image

Close encounters: Comet Siding Spring seen next to Mars

NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA image This composite NASA Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened...
 
 

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly shares bullying prevention message ahead of one-year mission

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is scheduled to fly on a one-year spaceflight mission in 2015, is lending his voice to help reduce childhood bullying. As part of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Kelly recorded a special message encouraging bystanders to take action. “Be more than just a bystander,” said Kelly in the message. “Take action...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>