May 28, 2017 10:52 AM EDT
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit. During the orbit, it captures the clear images of the lunar surface for future human and robotic missions to the Moon.
Suddenly, On Oct.13, 2014 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) produces a strange jittery image. To investigate behind this glitches image, NASA determined that one of the cameras must have been hit by a tiny meteoroid.
According to NASA, the onboard Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera consists of three cameras Two Narrow-Angle Cameras (NACs) and a wide angle camera. NACs especially used to capture high-resolution black and white images. While wide-angle camera captures moderate resolution images but it has a filter which provides the information about the properties and color of the lunar surface.
Basically, NAC produces a complete image by cascading several lines of images. After each time NAC captured single line of the image when the first line is captured then spacecraft move around its orbit and initialize to capture the next line.
As per a report of principle investigator of LROC Prof. Mark Robinson, the jittery appearance of the image captured is the result of a sudden and extreme cross-track oscillation of the camera. He also added that during the events like solar panel movements or antenna tracking might have caused spacecraft jitter. Though, this type of jittering would have affected both cameras identically at the same time.
Though, the glittering is captured by left NAC only from which, logically explanation pointed at some kind of meteoroid that impact on NAC surface. During LROC's development, NASA developed a detailed computer model to test NAC's stability during vibration test. In this test both NAC passed the test with flying colors, proving its stability and even not failed during spacecraft's critical launch vibration.
Moreover, NASA's investigation team tries to determine the size and shape of the meteoroid. That's why they try to use that detailed computer model to simulate a similar distortion seen on the Oct. 13 image. According to Deccan Chronicle, the estimated the size of the meteoroid is around 0.8 millimeters which are half the size of a pinhead with a velocity of about 4.3 miles per second and the density similar to an ordinary chondrite meteorite i.e. 2.7 grams/cm3.
According to Robison this effect is very rare and he also told, LROC typically only captures images during daylight and then only about 10 percent of the day, so for the camera to be hit by a meteor during the time that it was also capturing images is statistically unlikely.
Fortunately, there have no further technical problems for the health and safety of the instrument has been detected since the incident. Regarding this NASA gives their gratitude to Malin Space Science Systems for robust camera design
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