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Emily LakdawallaMarch 11, 2008

LPSC: Kaguya sessions

It's time to begin dismantling my notes from attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Monday. I want to take my time working through my notes from the MESSENGER sessions and go back and find illustrations (as the team apparently did not think to issue press-release images related to their talks!) so I'll work first on two smaller batches of notes, one set from the afternoon session on the Kaguya mission and another on a potpourri of Saturnian satellites.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the Kaguya session. Nearly every image that was shown has been available on their website for months, and most of the talks spent most of the time summarizing the capability of the instruments, not in displaying any new science results or data products. Having said all that, I think that just summarizing the mission was important. In casual conversation with several conference attendees it became clear to me that even space scientists aren't aware how ambitious a mission Kaguya is -- most people assume it's similar to Hayabusa, which was just a technology demonstration mission.

So, in case you share that impression, let me establish that Kaguyais not Hayabusa. Kaguya is huge, with a launch mass of three tons. It has 14 instruments and deployed two mini-satellites. It's designed to obtain images, topographic maps, compositional maps, study the magnetic field, lunar space environment, and obtain the best gravity maps of the Moon yet.

Kaguya at a scale of 5 cm per pixel Hayabusa at a scale of 5 cm per pixel
ittle ion-powered Hayabusa (right) is dwarfed by its solar panels. Kaguya (left) is a much larger spacecraft.

went to three of the presentations. The talks were very well attended -- a few hundred people were in the audience. The first presentation was an overview given by Manabu Kato, who mentioned as part of his talk that the data from the mission will be archived and released to the public one year after the end of the nominal mission, which was supposed to last one Earth year. They began nominal science operations on December 21 last year, so for Christmas 2009 we should be getting 10 Terabytes of lunar data under the tree.

The second presentation was given by Makiko Ohtake on the first results from the Multiband Imager. This is a camera that obtains color images in five wavelengths at 20 meters per pixel (the wavelengths being 415, 750, 900, 950, and 1000 nanometers) and four at 62 meters per pixel (1000, 1050, 1250, and 1550 nanometers) in swaths 19.3 kilometers wide. She reported that the in-flight performance of the Multiband Imager has been outstanding; the properties of the camera do not appear to have changed since it was tested in the laborator (its dark current and flat field match preflight data), and that no bad pixels have been identified, and no stray light has been observed. To date, they have mostly acquired images in polar regions. She showed some beautiful images of a region within Mare Procellarum where the camera resolves boulders and ejecta blocks sitting about the landscape; she picked out point spectra to demonstrate that some little tiny craters and boulder clumps were made of fresher (less weathered) material than the surrounding lunar soil. That is going to be one beautiful data set.

Perspective view of the first Kaguya Terrain Camera image from the Moon
Perspective view of the first Kaguya Terrain Camera image from the Moon
Kaguya's terrain camera not only gathers high-resolution images of the Moon, it does so twice from different perspectives, permitting the calculation of the three-dimensional shape of the terrain. This image is from the lunar farside, of a region 30 kilometers from the south pole. Credit: JAXA / SELENE
The third talk was given by Jun'ichi Haruyama on the Terrain Camera, which is designed to produce a high-resolution global image map and digital terrain model, including the image at right that had already been released before. Then he showed a different image and digital elevation model, from the south pole. The south pole is interesting to all the world's space programs because there are craters at the south pole whose rims receive permanent sunlight and whose floors are in permanent darkness. Haruyama showed a map of the portion of the rim of Shackleton that should be in permanent sunlight. Then, at the conclusion of his talk, he made several statements about the ability of the Terrain Camera to pick out details within the lunar shadows. As he spoke, his PowerPoint slide of the Terrain Camera view of Shackleton slowly wiped from a normally stretched view to an extremely enhanced view, where sunlit areas were saturated and permanent-shadow areas were faintly visible. Just at the moment that the entire floor of Shackleton crater was revealed to the room's view -- to a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" from the audience -- the image flickered back to the normally stretched view, and there was a groan of disappointment. I think that was an unnecessary tease to the roomful of lunar science fans.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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