A team led by Christian Hurt and William Featherstone of Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, have produced a new Lunar Gravity Model (LGM2011) that is the highest resolution to date. The new maps are based on methods successfully tested on Earth and proposed for the other rocky planets.
Using topography data collected from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) during its first two years in low lunar orbit, LGM2011 maps the finer details of the Moon’s uneven gravity well with unparalleled granularity. The improvements are a leap beyond recent, very detailed lunar gravity models released in 2005, following Japan’s Kaguya mission in 2009, and preliminary models from earlier in the LRO mission.
|Lunar gravity acceleration at the lunar surface, LGM2011 (farside).|
The topography used by Hurt and Featherstone for this latest gravity map is based on laser altimetry collected by the LOLA instrument between 2009 and 2011.
Laser altimetry measures the time it takes for a pulse to be reflected from the surface to be returned to the instrument in orbit. Because many of the fundamentals of spacecraft position are cross-referenced to a high precision, even very slight deviations from prediction can be tallied into finer measurements of lunar gravity.
According to Hurt, the new gravity maps show earlier surveys “neglected 50 per cent of the lunar gravity signal.”
|Lunar Gravity Model 2011 surface vertical deflection. Much of the lunar model looks is familiar, from maps produced in 2005, 2009 and from the Apollo era, such as the Mascons of the nearside basins. More subtle detail, however, reveals an unexpectedly strong signal outlining what may be the original Procellarum impact [Hurt and Featherstone, 2012].|
The findings have been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.