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Long-running lunar mission reveals moon’s surprises

After 7 years, orbiter team asks NASA for two more

1:24pm, May 9, 2016
mountains near Tycho Crater

MOON MOUNTAINS  A 15-kilometer-wide complex of mountains rises 2 kilometers above the center of Tycho Crater on the moon in this 2011 picture from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

Not all cosmic mysteries lie light-years away. Some secrets are being unearthed on our nearest neighbor, about a quarter of a million miles from home.

For almost seven years, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been keeping a close eye on the moon. During its tenure, the spacecraft has cataloged craters, pinpointed subsurface deposits of water ice and found evidence of recent volcanic activity. It has even witnessed crashes by three other spacecraft. (One, LCROSS, launched a plume of ejecta from the south pole that scientists searched for water vapor.)  

“No other mission has orbited the moon for as long as LRO has,” says Noah Petro, a geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Constant lunar vigilance has “really pushed our understanding of how the moon changes today, over the last billion years and what happened early on.” A

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