NASA released the first video from GRAIL, its newest moon mission, yesterday (February 1, 2012). GRAIL stands for Gravity Recover and Interior Laboratory. It consists of two robotic probes – once called GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, but now officially named Ebb and Flow – that are orbiting the moon in tandem, using minute variations in the radio signals between them to help scientists to study the moon’s gravity. The overall goal of the mission is to learn more about the formation of our solar system. In the meantime, GRAIL has released its first video, showing the mysterious far side of the moon. You can view it below.
The video, taken by Ebb as part of a January 19 test, images the far side of the moon, a rugged, crater-laden place that never faces the Earth.
It begins at the moon’s north pole, flies over the 560-mile-wide Mare Oriental impact crater and then makes its way to the lunar south pole, finishing up with the 93-mile-wide Drygalski crater, inside of which is visible a star-shaped central peak created by an impact millions of years ago.
The GRAIL probes were given their new names as recently as January 2012 after a class from Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana won a nationwide naming contest. Hence Ebb and Flow.
The mission is the first robotic planetary mission to carry equipment whose sole purpose is education and outreach. They each carry a MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students), which will allow students across the U.S. to study specific parts of the moon.
Students in the MoonKAM program will send requests for images of specific areas to the Mission Operations Center in San Diego, which will then send the schools the images. So far, more than 2,500 participants have signed up. They’ll begin using pictures in mid-March 2012, which is when Ebb and Flow’s science phase will begin. Scientists plan on testing Flow’s MoonKAM at a later date.
NASA says the MoonKAM program is designed to inspire students to consider careers in science and engineering. In a press release, Maria Zuber, GRAIL principle investigator, who narrates the clip, said:
The quality of the video is excellent and should energize our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon.
Bottom line: The first video from NASA’s Gravity Recover and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission was released February 1, 2012. The two spacecraft in the GRAIL mission, named Ebb and Flow by school children in January 2012, are now orbiting the moon with the goal of studying the moon’s gravity. Ebb captured this first video, showing the moon’s far side. In March 2012, students in the MoonKAM program will begin using images from GRAIL.
Laura Dattaro came to EarthSky from the Baltimore City Paper, where she remains an associate editor, and from @ldattaro on Twitter. She is a 2009 graduate of University of Delaware with degrees in English and music and sees science as a way to unite humanity behind a greater good, besides being simply the coolest thing to read and write about. She currently lives in Baltimore.