Thursday, December 17, 2009

Arizona mapping the Moon

Yesterday I ran into Lisa Gaddis from the USGS Astrogeology Branch in Flagstaff. She had a small crowd around her at her poster at the AGU meeting in San Francisco, showing some of the most detailed images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), managed by Arizona State University.

Lisa and her colleagues are clearly reveling in the 50-cm resolution images and the new geologic understanding they offer on lunar history and potential for resources. [right, boulders on the central peak of Rutherford. Credit, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

Lisa shared with me the news that the LRO team is looking at moving the orbiter into a higher, more circular and more stable orbit after it's primary tasks are complete. This will reduce image resolution to 2 meters (still pretty impressive) but it will offer the spacecraft a much longer life. This could result in virtual 100% coverage of the moon at 2 m resolution vs the current 10-15% coverage by LROC at the 50-cm scale. If NASA buys off on extending the mission this way, Arizona's planetary scientists are going to have a lifetime's worth of amazing lunar geology to map.

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