WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) 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 Thursday’s 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.
For an image of the crater, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/MlzloW
For more information about NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/lro