Friday, February 03, 2012

NASA releases first video taken of the far side of the moon


As part of the ongoing effort to keep NASA relevant and in the news, the space agency has released the first video ever captured of the far side of the moon. Not to be confused with the dark side of the moon (although I did cue up my copy of the album while writing this), the region in question is the area of the moon that is permanently turned away from the Earth due to tidal forces creating what is known as “tidal-lock.” The above video is footage of the moon that has never been seen by terrestrial bound humans and creatures, existing pictures from previous missions not-withstanding.

Captured by a camera aboard NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) that is in orbit around the moon, the video shows a landscape that has undergone a large amount of celestial abuse. Because the moon doesn’t rotate on its axis, the far side receives no relief from meteors and other space debris travelling in its direction. The result is the cratered surface you see below. In fact, the second-largest impact crater in the solar system is located on the far side. Called the South Pole–Aitken basin, it’s a 1600-mile wide impact feature that highlights the kind of pummeling the far side of the moon is subject to.

The purpose of the GRAIL project is to explore new areas of the moon as well as “understanding its interior and thermal history”. As part of the ongoing research, NASA has teamed with over 2,500 schools around the country in an effort to get kids excited about science again. Classes are allowed to make requests of GRAIL to take images and video of certain regions to allow in-depth study. This kind of interaction is smart on NASA’s part, giving students a sense of ownership in the project. In addition, scientists are hoping GRAIL will shed some light on how the Earth and other rock-based planets formed.