Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: Reiner Gamma Region of Interest

Jul 06, 2010
The heart of the region of interest in the Reiner Gamma swirl. Astronauts exploring this region will address longstanding questions about the origins of this distinctive natural feature. Image width is 510 m [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

First identified by early astronomers during the Renaissance, the Reiner Gamma formation has been a subject of intense scientific study for almost five decades and is one of the highest-priority targets for future human lunar exploration. Reiner Gamma is one of the most distinctive natural features on the Moon. This striking, tadpole-shaped swirl has a significantly higher reflectance than the surrounding mare basalts.

Several LROC Featured Images have shown spectacular new images of the swirls near Mare Ingenii which are similar to the swirls of Reiner Gamma. Reiner Gamma, however, is the "prototypical" lunar swirl.

A concept that comes up frequently in lunar science is "space weathering." This term is used to describe a suite of natural processes (including micrometeoroid impacts and exposure to the ) that can alter the spectral properties of lunar surface materials. Since the reflectance of the lunar surface within the Reiner swirl is so different from the surrounding mare, some process may have altered the space weathering susceptibility of the swirl materials. There are several theories to account for the presence of the Reiner Gamma swirl. Results from previous lunar missions (including Lunar Prospector) have indicated that the swirl region has an elevated magnetic field, so it's possible that an event hundreds of millions of years ago modified the of the surface materials, deflecting the solar wind and changing how the reflectance is modified by space weathering. Some investigators have proposed that the coma of a comet - streaking in just above the surface - interacted with the , changing the surface properties to the degree where the Reiner Gamma swirl could persist for millions of years.

WAC monochrome context image of the Reiner Gamma swirl. Arrow indicates approximate location of NAC detail above. Image M117874527M; scene width approximately 80 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

However, based on the available data, we just don't know for sure! That's not a bad thing; if we knew all the answers to all of these interesting problems, we wouldn't ever need to explore! We will not know what caused the swirls of the Reiner Gamma formation until human explorers return to this region to do the fieldwork and collect the samples that will enable us to answer this fundamental scientific question.

Plan your own adventure to the enigmatic swirls of Reiner Gamma! Think about where you would go to answer these scientific questions!

However, based on the available data, we just don't know for sure! That's not a bad thing; if we knew all the answers to all of these interesting problems, we wouldn't ever need to explore!

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mysterious Lunar Swirls

Jun 27, 2006

Picture this: A cup of coffee, steaming and black. Add a dollop of milk and gently stir. Eddies of cream go swirling around the cup. Magnify that image a million times and you've got a Lunar Swirl.

Earth's Magnetic Field - A Hazard For Lunar Astronauts?

Apr 16, 2007

For four days every month the Moon passes through the magnetic field of the Earth and parts of the lunar surface are charged with static electricity. Next week Dr Mike Hapgood of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory ...

NASA Ames Leads Robotic Lunar Exploration Program

Nov 17, 2005

On Monday, the 36th anniversary of Apollo 12, the second manned lunar landing, NASA announced that it has assigned management of its Robotic Lunar Exploration Program to NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. ...

Recommended for you

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

11 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

17 hours ago

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Image: Rosetta's Philae lander snaps a selfie

17 hours ago

Philae is awake… and taking pictures! This image, acquired last night with the lander's CIVA (Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer) instrument, shows the left and right solar panels of ESA's well-traveled ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
not rated yet Jul 06, 2010
If, as is believed, these Marae represent outflows of basaltic lava caused by impact events, it could be that these swirls are relicts of the material that was deepest in the moon, and therefore the last to surface post-impact, and perhaps for that reason are more iron-rich(and magnetized during the cooling process, possibly by the Earth's magnetic field?) than the contiguous material from shallower depths.

Many Iron-bearing minerals(which are frequently alloyed with other metals) have a metallic, reflective luster, which would remain intact in the Lunar environment, since there is no Oxygen to react with the metals and create typically less-reflective oxides.

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

New clinical trial launched for advance lung cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines ...

'Chief Yahoo' David Filo returns to board

Yahoo announced the nomination of three new board members, including company co-founder David Filo, who earned the nickname and formal job title of "Chief Yahoo."