NASA has released footage of the far side of the moon, beamed back by one of the agency’s twin Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft as they test their MoonKAM hardware. In the clip – which you can see after the cut – the moon’s north pole is visible at the top of the screen, before the craft passes by the Mare Orientale, a 560m wide impact basin.
Further down, the clip approaches the lunar south pole, with the 93 mile wide Drygalski crater visible to the left, and identified by its star-shaped formation in the middle. According to NASA “the formation is a central peak, created many billions of years ago by a comet or asteroid impact.”
Each of the GRAIL craft – named Ebb and Flow – is roughly the size of a washing machine, and entered into lunar orbit around the end of 2011. Unlike most NASA missions, GRAIL is being run for the large part by middle-school students; they’ll pick points on the surface of the moon that they want to see close up, and the satellites will beam back photos for use in schoolroom science classes.
However, there’s other information to be learned too, and scientists plan to use the data to explore how rocky planets including Earth originally formed. NASA promises more footage will be forthcoming soon.