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NASA launches moon research mission

NASA, Sept 12 (): NASA launched twin satellites on Saturday morning on a mission to unveil the inner secrets of the moon, the US space agency said. After a couple of weather delays, NASA finally launched its moon research mission.

The two probes will study the moon’s internal structure in unprecedented detail, shedding light on whether a second moon crashed into it long ago.

The probes, together called GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), lifted off on Saturday at 0908 EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, New Scientist reported.

GRAIL will study how the moon was formed. It will explore “the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core… to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon,” NASA said.

The crafts — GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B — will eventually separate from the Delta rocket. GRAIL stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.

Once in orbit, the orbiters’ speeds will increase when they pass over formations on the moon’s surface, allowing scientists to measure those formations based on the distance between the two spacecraft.

Lumpiness revealed by the maps should reveal more about the moon’s history, since it is thought to represent scarring from past impacts. For example, it was recently proposed that Earth once had a second moon that crashed onto our moon’s far side, explaining why the crust is much thicker there.

Better mapping of the crust by GRAIL could help determine if that theory is valid, said the mission’s chief scientist, Maria Zuber of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

By measuring variations in gravity across the moon’s surface over three months, scientists hope to learn how the interior formed, which should also provide general clues about how rocky planets form, Ms Zuber said.