Ryan AndersonMar 14, 2009

Planetary Surface Processes Field Trip: Day 1

Greetings from Phoenix!

This article originally appeared on Ryan Anderson's "The Martian Chronicles" blog and is reposted here with permission.

Arizona, not the lander on Mars.

After a hectic week of tying up loose ends and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I now have my poster done for the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, and am in Phoenix for the Planetary Surface Processes field trip, led by my adviser Jim Bell.

Today was mostly travel, but we did have a chance this afternoon to stop by Arizona State University and see the control room for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). It was really cool. It looked the way a control room should look, with banks of flat screen monitors, some showing spectacular pictures of the moon, others scrolling through matrix-like telemetry readouts. Of course, I didn’t bring my camera in from the car because I wasn’t expecting to see anything so cool, so I don’t have any pictures to show you. I promise it won’t happen again!

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter artist concept
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter artist concept Image: NASA / GSFC

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a mission launching later this spring to study the moon in great detail and specifically meant to asses potential landing sites for future human missions. LROC is the camera on the spacecraft, and is comparable to the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter: it takes super-high resolution images of a very small portion of the surface.

One thing that blew me away was just how much data LRO will be returing to Earth. Unlinke Mars missions which are very far away and can only transfer a little data at a time, LRO will be blasting earth with hundreds of gigabytes of data every day! LROC will be able to map about 7% of the moon at resolutions of less than 1 meter per pixel, and then if there is an extended mission (which would involve a slightly higher-altitude orbit), they hope to be able to make a complete map of the moon at ~2 meters per pixel!

Also as a part of the project, they are in the process of digitizing all of the photos from the Apollo missions! One of the primary reasons for doing that is so that they can compare the number of craters 40 years ago to the number today and get a much better estimate of the impact rate on the moon. Obviously, most new craters are going to be small, and this is good because right now our estimates of small impact rates are really not very good. Not only is it important for the safety of future astronauts, it also feeds into the calculation of the age of the moon and other objects in the Solar System, and our understanding of the asteroid belt and the Solar System’s evolution.

That was all for today. Tomorrow we head north to Flagstaff, with stops at various interesting locations along the way. Stay tuned over the next week for a tour of some of the more spectacular and geologically interesting places in Arizona, and for explanations of why they’re relevant to other places in the Solar System!

Let’s Go Beyond The Horizon

Every success in space exploration is the result of the community of space enthusiasts, like you, who believe it is important. You can help usher in the next great era of space exploration with your gift today.

Donate Today