Space.com reports that a NASA probe captured a stunning flyover video of the moon’s far side three days before intentionally smashing into the lunar surface last month. NASA’s Ebb spacecraft, one of two probes that were part of the space agency’s GRAIL mission, recorded the final moon video on December 14.
According to Space.com, Ebb was only six miles above the moon’s surface when it recorded the images with its Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students camera, known as MoonKAM. GRAIL scientists painstakingly pieced together approximately 2,400 individual frames to create the two-minute flyover video of the moon’s surface, according to NASA.
The GRAIL spacecraft are famous for having produced a highly-detailed gravity map of the moon. The map revealed that the moon was slammed by ancient impacts much more violently than astronomers previously thought. The gravity map of the moon showed that its crust was beaten to a pulp long ago. Astronomers contend that Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars probably experienced similar violent impacts billions of years ago.
Researchers used data from the GRAIL spacecraft to determine that the moon’s crust is much thinner than previously thought — perhaps as thin as 21 to 27 miles (previous estimates ranged from 30 to 40 miles.)
Back in December, NASA announced that the GRAIL Moon impact site would be named after astronaut Sally Ride, who was America’s first woman in space and a member of the probes’ mission team. Ride passed away last July. According to NASA, the location of the Sally K. Ride Impact Site is on the southern face of a mountain near a crater named Goldschmidt.
Approximately fifty minutes before the GRAIL spacecraft slammed into the lunar surface, the spacecraft fired their engines until all of the propellant was gone. NASA used the maneuver to figure out exactly how much fuel was left in the tanks, which helped NASA engineers validate computers models to improve predictions of fuel requirements for future missions.
“Ebb fired its engines for 4 minutes 3 seconds, and Flow fired its for 5 minutes 7 seconds,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman in a statement. “It was one final important set of data from a mission that was filled with great science and engineering data.”
The GRAIL missions team thinks that much of the material aboard each probe was broken up in the energy released during the impacts. If anything remains, it is probably buried in shallow craters.
The GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, had been orbiting the moon since January 1, 2012. The probes intentionally piloted into the lunar surface because they did not have enough altitude or fuel to continue science operations in space. NASA says that their prime and extended science missions created the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will help scientists with their understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.
The space agency says that the GRAIL mission was its first planetary mission to have cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach onboard.
Space.com has pictures taken by Ebb during its final three days in orbit.