First results from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LIS

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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is NASA’s attempt to create a high resolution version of Google Moon, taking high resolution maps of the lunar surface. We’ve blogged before about some of the amazing images that it’s been sending back. Its snaps to date have included the Apollo landers, lost moon buggies and it has even started legal debates about ownership of the lunar surface.

NASA LRO

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Credit: NASA

However, while the images sent back so far have been spectacular, one of the non-imaging instruments on the LRO, the Lunar Interior Seismometer (LIS), may end up stealing the show. The LRO-LIS is a prototype moonquake monitoring device which is getting its test run on this project. It uses radio waves to measure the distance to the lunar surface so accurately that extremely tiny vibrations can be detected. This means that unlike in space, where we all know that no-one can hear you scream, the LIS can essentially “hear” sounds on the lunar surface.

Seismographs were amongst the science equipment left on the moon by the Apollo missions, but these were only sensitive to strong quakes (caused by large meteor impacts), due to the technology limitations of the time. Carrying out these measurements from space is a lot more accurate anyway as the instruments don’t become contaminated by the lunar dust, and a much wider area of the moon can be studied.

Now, we don’t generally deal with speculation on this blog (except when we launched a whole Dark Matter Week on the back of a rumour of direct dark matter detection), but it looks like the LIS may be performing way beyond its specifications: rumours being whispered over coffee in academic departments up and down the country say that it’s returning some very strange results indeed. Apparently there is a very clear, intermittent, whistling noise being picked up by the device. These “sounds” seem to be emanating from craters in the Faril Loop region of the moon and are baffling the scientists on the project.

One of the researchers said that he was completely taken aback by the data and thinks it might be the most significant discovery on the moon since we have started looking at it. However the actual interpretation of the results is still ongoing. “We don’t want to drop a clanger here as some of the hypotheses about these observations are a bit woolly,” said Professor Yaffle of Postgate University, “however with a bit of luck they should knit together to form a consistent theory about what we’re hearing from the moon.”

Prof. Yaffle has kindly given us this short exert* (also on audio boo ) which is typical of the data LIS has been returning.

*Note this is raw data and it has not yet been flat fielded or bias subtracted. Due to wordpress’ policy of not allowing free users to host sound files we’ve had to host this on our own Google site.



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