Understanding the Moon
The Moon orbits the Earth in just over 27 days and is the only planet
in our sky close enough to see surface details on without a telescope.
Due to the rotation period of the Moon being similar to its orbital
period, we see the same side of the Moon from the Earth. The dark
areas visible, or "mare", are the remains of giant outpourings
of basaltic lava, usually lying in the floors of large impact basins.
The bright areas on the lunar disk are ancient lunar highlands. Sprinkled
across the lunar surface are numerous craters formed by large lumps
of rock striking the surface - some of the more geologically recent
craters exhibit rays.
The Moon's north polar region from Clementine.
As the Moon orbits the Earth, occasionally alignment with the Sun in the
sky will create a solar eclipse where the Moon's disk occults the bright
disk of the Sun, allowing us to see the blue/white hot radial solar corona,
and cooler red prominences. When the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow
we get a lunar eclipse where the bright disk of the Full Moon turns a
dark gray, brown, or red color, depending upon density and dust content
of our upper atmosphere. The Moon has virtually no atmosphere of its own
nor internal magnetic field and cannot support life. Surface temperatures
range from -170C at night to +130C during the day.
Part of the Moon's far side from the Galileo flyby.
|In 1959, just two years after the start of the
space age, our first views of the lunar far-side were obtained by
the Soviet Luna 3 probe - this showed little evidence for dark volcanic
mare regions, so we know that the lunar crust must be thicker on the
far-side. Luna 9 landed in 1966 returning the first panoramas of the
lunar surface, but it was the American Ranger probes 7-9 (1965-66),
Lunar Orbiters 1-5 (1966-67) and the Apollo manned landings (1969-1972)
that revolutionized our knowledge of the history and geology of the
Moon. These results confirmed that the lunar craters were created
by large meteorite impacts, and not by volcanic crater explosions
as some scientists had previously thought. The ages of the 382 kg
of rocks returned were 4.6-3 billion years old. The best current computer
models for the origin of the Moon, utilizing all available evidence
for its density and chemical composition, suggest that the Moon formed
from material thrown off in the early era of our solar system after
a Mars size object collided with the Earth.
Recent missions to the Moon have included the orbiters: Clementine, Lunar
Prospector and Galileo and Cassini flyby probes. These returned new remote
sensing results using multi-waveband images and nuclear particle spectrometers
capable of examining the mineralogy of the surface. Great debate remains
over whether water, or perhaps hydrogen, was detected in permanently shadowed
areas at the lunar poles.
Lunar Research at CEPS
|CEPS personnel are involved in a
variety of research projects including the study of lunar topography,
cratering and impact basins, tectonics, lava flows, and regolith properties.
We have available a full collection unmanned and manned US lunar mission
photographs, digital spacecraft imagery and laser altimetry measurements.
Earth-based observations we utilize include high-resolution radar
and optical telescopic observations. Further information on some of
our projects can be found by following the link below.
NIMS multi-spectral image of the Moon from the Cassini flyby.
List of Moon research projects