A camera aboard one of NASA’s twin lunar spacecraft has beamed back its first unique view of the far side of the moon.
Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) consists of two identical spacecraft named Ebb and Flow, each of which has been equipped with a MoonKAM, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students.
Students across the US will use lunar images from MoonKAM for their studies.
The images were taken as part of a test of Ebb’s MoonKAM on 19 January, NASA said in a statement. The GRAIL project plans to test the MoonKAM aboard Flow at a later date.
In the video, the north pole of the moon is visible at the top of the screen as the spacecraft flies toward the lunar south pole. One of the first prominent geological features seen on the lower third of the moon is the Mare Orientale, a 900-kilometre impact basin that straddles both the moon’s near and far side.
The clip ends with rugged terrain just short of the lunar south pole. To the left of centre, near the bottom of the screen, is the 149-kilometre Drygalski crater, with a star-shaped formation in the middle. A comet or asteroid impact created the formation billions of years ago, NASA said.
"The quality of the video is excellent and should energise our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Launched in September 2011, the twin spacecraft achieved lunar orbit on 31 December 2011 and 1 January 2012.
Watch a video of the images captured by MoonKAM aboard the Ebb spacecraft here: