Topography of Earth's moon generated from data collected by the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, with the gravity anomalies bordering the Procellarum region superimposed in blue. The border structures are shown using gravity gradients calculated with data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. These gravity anomalies are interpreted as ancient lava-flooded rift zones buried beneath the volcanic plains (or maria) on the nearside of the Moon.
Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes, renamed Ebb and Flow, operated in a nearly circular orbit near the poles of the moon at an altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) until their mission ended in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes changed slightly as they flew over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features, such as mountains and craters, and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface.
The twin spacecraft flew in a nearly circular orbit until the end of the mission on December 17, 2012, when the probes intentionally were sent into the moon's surface. NASA later named the impact site in honor of late astronaut Sally K. Ride, who was America's first woman in space and a member of the GRAIL mission team.
GRAIL's prime and extended science missions generated the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.
Image credit: NASA/Colorado School of Mines/MIT/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio
Note: For more information, see PIA18821: On the West Coast of the Ocean of Storms (Artist's Concept) and NASA Mission Points to Origin of 'Ocean of Storms' on Earth's Moon.