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Purdue professor: GRAIL moon-mapping mission on schedule

GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity field, as depicted in this artist's rendering. Radio signals traveling between the two spacecraft provide scientists the exact measurements required as well as flow of information.

A NASA mission to map what’s under the surface of the moon should begin collecting data in March.

Purdue Distinguished Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Jay Melosh has the job of interpreting that information. He says it likely will take two years to wade through it all with the help of five graduate students.

The mission’s goal is to give a better understanding of how the moon was created. Melosh says two small satellites will orbit in tandem and send back information to Earth.

"They're measuring the acceleration of gravity at the surface. Just like if you drop a pencil, it falls to the surface of the Earth, it tells us crudely the mass of the Earth. Combining precision measurements of gravity with the topography of the moon, we can learn an immense amount of information about what's underneath the surface of the moon.”

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) project launched last September and is set to collect all its data by June. Melosh says if the spacecrafts survive a partial lunar eclipse, they will descend closer to the moon’s surface and send back more data.


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