Probe Gets Closer to the Moon Than Ever

A NASA spacecraft that is being used to study the moon has gotten closer to its surface than any other. The probe, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, had executed two engine burns successfully, which changed its orbit to one that gets the craft as close as 12 miles to the Moon’s south pole and 103 miles to its north pole. While the move may sound risky, it’s really not. The engine burn maneuver is a familiar one, and so the mission operations team knows what to do.


What’s the point of orbiting closer to the moon?

Getting closer to our moon was done for research purposes, not setting records. The instruments aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will work much better at the new, lower orbit. NASA is seeking to learn more about the moon’s poles and how they may have water and certain compounds sequestered in them. Some craters in the poles never get any direct sunlight, and the lowest temperatures in the solar system have been recorded there. Features on the moon’s surface can now be recorded at a higher resolution, and temperature data changes from day to night can also be more precisely gauged thanks to the lower altitude.


So, what are the instruments that NASA is using on the Orbiter?

The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, or LOLA, is an instrument which is being used to build a sort of topographical map of the lunar surface. LOLA uses lasers to return strong signals that can be used to measure the geography of the moon’s poles, and benefits greatly from proximity to the moon. Also aboard the probe is the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, which is what’s being used to find moon temperatures.


What cool lunar discoveries may this data help unearth?

The data from the mission is primarily used to better understand lunar temperature changes, the moon’s poles, and mysterious craters within them. Scientists hope that bringing the probe closer to the moon, thus giving us higher-quality data, will provide evidence of water and ice present there. Who knows where that might lead future manned moon missions?