Each and every night, the moon lets us glimpse one of its many faces. Sometimes it looks back in a coy, crescent manner. At other times, we get exposed to something as bold as a full moon. Yet, its darker side, the one facing outwardly towards the vast realm of outer space, is one we never get to see, except in photographs. That is… until now.
NASA has recently released a video that reveals, for the first time, the surface area located on the far side of the moon. The footage was captured by a camera aboard one of NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft on January 19th during a test of MoonKAM, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students. The imagery will be used by students across the country in fourth- to eighth-grade levels for study of the moon’s surface.
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In the video, the north pole of the moon is visible at the top of the screen as the spacecraft flies toward the lunar south pole. One of the first prominent geological features seen on the lower third of the moon is the Mare Orientale, a 560-mile-wide impact basin that straddles both the moon’s near and far side.
The clip ends with rugged terrain just short of the lunar south pole. To the left of center, near the bottom of the screen, is the 93-mile-wide Drygalski crater with a distinctive star-shaped formation in the middle. The formation is a central peak, created many billions of years ago by a comet or asteroid impact.
The GRAIL mission, consisting of two identical spacecraft launched back in September, was designed to probe and map out the lunar interior’s structure, from crust to core. Recently named Ebb and Flow, the spacecraft periodically perform maneuvers that, over time, will lower their orbits to near-circular ones with an altitude of about 34 miles.
Observations made during the mission will help scientists answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.
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