As our nearest neighbor, the Moon is a natural laboratory for investigating fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the Earth and the solar system. With the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA has returned to the Moon, enabling new discoveries and bringing the Moon back into the public eye. LRO launched on an Atlas V rocket on June 18, 2009, beginning a four-day trip to the Moon. LRO spent its first three years in a low polar orbit collecting detailed information about the Moon and its environment. After this initial orbit, LRO transitioned to a stable elliptical orbit, passing low over the lunar south pole.
While in orbit, LRO observations have enabled numerous groundbreaking discoveries, creating a new picture of the Moon as a dynamic and complex body. These developments have set up a scientific framework through which to challenge and improve our understanding of processes throughout the solar system.
LOLA is the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, an instrument onboard LRO that determines the global topography of the lunar surface at high resolution. LOLA data sets are produced by the LOLA Science Team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD and numerous locations across the US.
LOLA produces topographic data by firing a laser at the lunar surface and detecting the two-way travel time for the signal. LOLA's single laser, which is fired 28 times per second, is split into five beams by a diffractive optical element. LOLA sends a total of 140 pulses to the lunar surface each second, which enables the instrument to gather high resolution topographic data.
This particular dataset shows the Moon's topography.
The amount of time it takes for the laser pulses to return to LOLA's receiver onboard the LRO spacecraft indicates how far it is from the lunar surface, which can be used to create a topographic map of the lunar surface. The LOLA instrument onboard LRO has measured the altitude of more than 6 billion points on the lunar surface, so that scientists now have better topography for the Moon than any other planetary body in the solar system! Red and white indicate high altitudes and blue and purple indicate low altitudes