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OSIRIS-REx Sees the Moon Like We Can’t

The Moon imaged by OSIRIS-REx on Sept. 25, 2017. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

On September 22 NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a “slingshot” gravity-assist pass by Earth in order to adjust the angle of its flight toward Bennu. Mission scientists took the opportunity to test out the spacecraft’s cameras with planned observations of Earth and the Moon, and I’m happy to report that everything worked out perfectly! Some of the first images shared with the public were of Earth from a distance of 106,000 miles; this one shows the Moon imaged from 746,000 miles away three days later on Sept. 25. It’s literally a view of the Moon we can’t ever get from Earth!

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What Do Lunar Phases Look Like From the Other Side of the Moon?

We’ve all seen the Moon go through its phases over the course of a month’s time (give or take a day or two) as it travels in its orbit around the Earth, and you may have even seen the cool animation from the NASA Goddard Visualization Studio showing an entire year’s worth of lunar phases. But have you ever wondered what the Moon might look like from the other side as it goes around our planet? Thanks to a new visualization from NASA Goddard (using mapping data acquired by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) you can get a pretty good idea.
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Dark Side of the Moon

Image from LCROSS' visible light camera

Image from LCROSS' visible light camera

As a matter of fact there IS a dark side of the moon, and it’s NOT all dark.

The recently-launched LCROSS orbiter proves it too, in this photo taken during its lunar gravity-assist orbit which will take it around the Earth several times before finally impacting the moon on October 9. This image of the moon’s “backside” was taken during the lunar swingby phase of its mission on Tuesday. It is now in its “cruise” phase, having begun its elongated orbit, called LGALRO (Lunar Gravity Assist, Lunar Return Orbit).

The LCROSS mission was launched on June 18 to study a polar crater for evidence of water ice. The LCROSS orbiter was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket along with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic exploration satellite now sucessfully in orbit around the moon after the five-day journey there.

The LRO/LCROSS mission will pave the way for future long-term human endeavors on the lunar surface.

Image: NASA

Lights on the Dark Side

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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has released the videos taken by the high-definition camera aboard its Kaguya lunar orbiter. This one is a flyover of a region called Mare Ingenii, or “Sea of Cleverness”, a rare lava flow area on the moon’s far side. The far side permanently faces away from the Earth and so has many more craters and rough terrain than the side we’re used to seeing, which features many larger mare regions.

The smoother, darker basaltic lava flow material in the basin is younger than the surrounding lunar landscape…only about 3.5 billion years old as compared to over 4 billion years old!

The path of the Kaguya probe takes it over the Obruchev crater and then the Thomson crater, two major features of the Mare Ingenii region, at an altitude of about 62 miles. Its high-definition camera is capable of recording amazingly sharp and detailed video of the lunar surface during its passes.

Video source: Source: Website of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

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