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NASA and JPL's holy 'GRAIL' of moon research

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

GRAIL Mission Comes Together: NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft are lowered onto the second stage of their Delta II launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (8/18/2011). At the top of the image is the spacecraft adapter ring which holds the two lunar probes in their side-by-side launch configuration. The adapater ring and the probes are wrapped in plastic to prevent contamination outside the clean room in the Astrotech Space Operation's payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla. The spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field. GRAIL's primary science objectives are to determine the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core, and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/KSC

GRAIL Twins are Covered: At Space Launch Complex 17B on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, spacecraft technicians monitor the movement of a section of the clamshell-shaped Delta payload fairing as it encloses NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory spacecraft. The fairing will protect the spacecraft from the impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent and will be jettisoned once the spacecraft is outside the Earth's atmosphere. The image was taken on Aug. 23, 2011. (Courtesy NASA/KSC)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

GRAIL Flying in Formation (Artist's Concept): Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity field. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including the size of a possible inner core, and it should provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Testing the GRAIL Twins: In this photo, taken April 29, 2011, technicians install lifting brackets prior to hoisting the 200-kilogram (440-pound) GRAIL-A spacecraft out of vacuum chamber after testing. Along with its twin GRAIL-B, the GRAIL-A spacecraft underwent an 11-day-long test at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver that simulated many of the flight activities they will perform during the mission, all while being exposed to the vacuum and extreme hot and cold that simulate space. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL

GRAIL's Twin Spacecraft fly in Tandem Around the Moon (Artist's Concept): The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission utilizes the technique of twin spacecraft flying in formation with a known altitude above the lunar surface and known separation distance to investigate the gravity field of the moon in unprecedented detail. The technique utilizes radio links between the two spacecraft as well as radio links to stations on Earth. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including a possible inner core, and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL

GRAIL's Twin Spacecraft -- Crust to Core (Artist's Concept): The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission utilizes the technique of twin spacecraft flying in formation with a known altitude above the lunar surface and known separation distance to investigate the gravity field of the moon in unprecedented detail. The technique utilizes radio links between the two spacecraft as well as radio links to stations on Earth. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including a possible inner core, and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)


Twin NASA probes began studying the moon's gravity late Tuesday night in effort to determine why the moon, Earth's only natural satellite, is shaped the way it is.

Managed locally at NASA's Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the three-month GRAIL mission (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory), will begin analyzing data in one month.

Scientists want to know why the Pink Floyd side of the moon appears to be more mountainous than the side that always faces Earth. Despite numerous missions, they still don't have that answer.

Additionally, by mapping the lunar gravity field, investigators hope to support or discredit a theory that Earth at one time had two moons.

Researchers hope the $496 million mission -- which includes spacecraft development, science instruments, launch services, mission operations, science processing and relay support -- will net significant intel about what lies below the surface.

The probes entered orbit around the moon on New Year's weekend, but needed to assume their position, 35 miles above the surface, before starting data collection.

Check out the official mission kit for fun moon facts like, "If Earth did not have its moon, Earth would spin three times as fast, making a day last only 8 hours instead of 24," and a detailed look at the GRAIL mission’s six science investigations.

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