Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's LAMP shedding light on permanently shadowed regions of the moon

September 17, 2009
Initial LAMP observations of the faint nightside ultraviolet brightness of the Moon are shown here as tracks overlain on a shaded topography map of the south pole region. A permanently shadowed crater, Faustini, shows an interesting decrease in brightness compared to surrounding regions, while the crater selected for the October 9 LCROSS impact, Cabeus A, has a more modest contrast. The LAMP measurements are preliminary at this point in the mission. Credit: NASA/SwRI

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched on June 18 of this year, has begun its extensive exploration of the lunar environment and will return more data about the Moon than any previous mission. The Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP), developed by Southwest Research Institute, is an integral part of the LRO science investigation. LAMP uses a novel method to peer into the perpetual darkness of the Moon's so-called permanently shadowed regions.

LAMP "sees" the Moon's surface using the ultraviolet light from nearby space and stars, which bathes all bodies in space in a soft glow of ultraviolet light. A particularly bright ultraviolet emission is the so-called Lyman-alpha emission. Like all ultraviolet light, Lyman alpha is invisible to our eyes and cameras, but visible to LAMP as it reflects off the .

LAMP's objectives are to use its novel technique for studying the permanently shadowed polar regions of the lunar surface to look for water frost, to investigate the general ultraviolet reflectance properties and composition of the entire lunar surface, and to determine the composition of the lunar atmosphere.

"LAMP is working well. In fact, LAMP is more sensitive than we expected, which is fantastic," says team member Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division.

"We're already seeing some interesting variations in the limited data we've received so far," says Institute Scientist Dr. Randy Gladstone, LAMP acting principal investigator. "We can't make any firm assessments yet, but they are correlating well with some of the permanently shadowed craters in the region of the south pole."

LAMP is nearly identical to the successful Alice instruments developed by SwRI, already flying aboard the joint NASA/ESA Rosetta spacecraft, which is targeting the ancient comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which will probe the of Pluto and search for an atmosphere over its large moon Charon. LAMP weighs only 6.1 kilograms and uses only 4.5 watts of power.

The planned Oct. 9 impact into the Moon of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which launched with LRO, complements the search for water. Several LRO instruments will watch as a plume of debris and possibly water vapor rise from the impact. During subsequent orbits, LAMP will look for gases liberated during the impact as they migrate across the Moon.

LRO's findings are expected to be valuable to the future consideration of a permanent Moon base. Just as the south pole hosts permanently shadowed regions because of the Moon's orientation to the Sun, it also hosts areas that are in nearly perpetual sunlight, which would enable the operation of solar-powered equipment. Any discovery of water-frost and other resources in the area also would reduce the need to transport resources from Earth.

Upon the conclusion of the one-year reconnaissance mission for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA's Science Mission Directorate will oversee in-depth investigations for the science instruments. At that time, LAMP may shift into more detailed evaluations of the Moon's atmosphere and its variability.

LRO is one of the first missions in NASA's plan to return to the Moon and then to travel to Mars and beyond. The Goddard Space Flight Center manages the LRO mission for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Source: Southwest Research Institute (news : web)

Explore further: NASA Lunar Spacecraft Ships South in Preparation for Launch

Related Stories

Send Your Name to the Moon Aboard LRO

May 1, 2008

NASA invites people of all ages to join the lunar exploration journey with an opportunity to send their names to the moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, spacecraft.

Prospecting for Lunar Water

April 29, 2005

by Patrick L. Barry The next time you look at the Moon, pause for a moment and let this thought sink in: People have actually walked on the Moon, and right now the wheels are in motion to send people there again. The goals ...

NASA Details Plans for Lunar Exploration Robotic Missions

May 22, 2009

( -- NASA's return to the moon will get a boost in June with the launch of two satellites that will return a wealth of data about Earth's nearest neighbor. On Thursday, the agency outlined the upcoming missions ...

Recommended for you

The atmospheres of water worlds

October 23, 2017

There are currently about fifty known exoplanets with diameters that range from Mars-sized to several times the Earth's and that also reside within their stars' habitable zone – the orbital range within which their surface ...

Dawn mission extended at Ceres

October 20, 2017

NASA has authorized a second extension of the Dawn mission at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. During this extension, the spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.