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NASA crashes Grail probes into lunar mountain

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The image shows the final flight path for NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (Grail) mission spacecraft, which impacted the Moon on Dec. 17, 2012.

NASA’s twin Grail probes have smashed themselves into a lunar mountain, ending their year-long mission of mapping lunar gravity and providing data on its composition.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, known as Grail, were commanded to smash themselves into a mountain near the Moon’s north pole on December 17.

“We do feel the angst about the end of the mission,” said Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.”On the other hand, it is a celebration because this mission has accomplished tremendous science.”

The probes, nicknamed Ebb and Flow, were sent to their demise to avoid a chance of encounter with any Apollo or other relics left on the lunar surface from previous expeditions.

The data provided by the probes revealed that the moon’s crust is thinner than expected and that the impacts that battered its surface did even more damage underground.

The probes’ final resting place was named after the first US woman in space, Sally Ride, who led Grail’s educational outreach program before her death in July 2012.

The discoveries made by the twin probes will not only help scientists get a better understanding of how the Moon formed and evolved, but also what happened to Earth and the other inner planets which were similarly showered with comets and asteroids in their early days.

Lead researcher Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said a number of follow-up studies have been planned, including coordinating the moon’s new gravity maps with the locations where Apollo soil and rock samples were collected.


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