NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images Dark Side of the Moon (Video)

First Posted: Mar 23, 2013 10:11 AM EDT

Ever wondered what the dark side of the moon looked like? Now, you can see it. NASA scientists have used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to image the most detailed view yet of the far side of the moon.

The picture, which was released with a flood of other data from the spacecraft, is actually a compilation of thousands of different lunar images that were taken by the orbiter's Wide Angle Camera. The image shows scientists the most complete look at the dark side of the moon, revealing the lunar surface's history and composition.

The LRO mission was first launched in June 2009. The spacecraft itself possesses a suite of instruments to record observations, including a laser ranging tool, which allows it to create the most-detailed ever topographical maps of the lunar surface. In addition, it possesses tools that allows it to measure temperature and neutron absorption in the moon's dark craters.

So why are scientists so interested in the lesser known side of the moon? There are craters on the lunar surface that haven't seen the sun for over two billion years. These permanently shadowed regions may possess the right conditions to trap volatiles like water, which would normally vaporize and escape into space. Already, the LRO has detected the presence of water ice on the moon when its sister spacecraft crashed into a permanently shadowed crater near the moon's south pole.

In addition to the newly released image, a global lunar map was also created with a resolution of 100 meters per pixel. Higher resolution maps of selected parts of the moon were also shown.

So what's different about the far side of the moon besides the ice? Widespread basaltic plains called "maria" were deposited long ago on the light side of the moon by volcanic activity. On the far side, though, researchers found that basaltic volcanism was far more limited. Therefore, there are only a few isolated maria.

Data from the mission will continue to be released over the next few weeks.

Want to check out the mission details? Watch NASA's video about the far side of the moon here.

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