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LADEE sends back its first images of the Moon

A robot NASA had launched five months ago to investigate lunar dust sent back its first images of the Moon this month. Five images, five each taken at one-minute intervals and spaced about 60 miles distant from each other, portray varying views of the Moon’s surface of the Moon’s northwestern hemisphere against backdrops of star-tinged deep space beyond.

LADEE gleaned the images using its “star trackers,” on-board cameras that track the movements and locations of the stars. The star trackers are navigational tools first and foremost—the spacecraft uses them to keep its bearings by noting where it is in relation to the various stars and star systems. NASA’s engineers have demonstrated, however, that the star trackers are highly effective at capturing details of the Moon’s terrain, as well.

The images date from February 8. LADEE took them while making measurements of particles drifting above the lunar surface. Lunar dust has a propensity for floating, according to astronomers, since the Moon’s gravitational field is very weak compared to Earth.

NASA having subsequently retrieved the images, its LADEE control team created animated GIFs and published them to NASA’s website. The first image shows the 14-miles-wide Kreiger crater and a smaller crater, Toscanelli. The mountain peak Mons Herodotus is visible behind the craft Wallaston P in the second image.

Image number three depicts the mountain range Montes Agricola. In images four, one can see the four-miles-wide Golgi crater and the three-miles-wide Zinner crater. Image number five presents Lichtenberg A and Schiaparelli E, two craters in the basalt plains area Western Oceanus Procellarum, which is adjacent to the Aristarchus Plateau.

LADEE deployed from earth in September 2013 on a mission to spend 90 days circling the Moon and studying its trace atmosphere and surface-level dust. This dust has intrigued NASA ever since the Apollo missions, when several Apollo astronauts reported seeing mysterious glowing outside their modules.

Some NASA astronomers have attributed the glowing to the dust, which they suggest might glow due to being electrically charged by incoming sunlight. None have been able to prove that this phenomenon is indeed what is taking place, but LADEE’s engineering team hopes that their mission might find the missing evidence and resolve this.