NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission has uncovered the origin of massive invisible regions that make the moon’s gravity uneven, phenomenon that affects the operations of lunar-orbiting spacecraft.
Because of GRAIL’s findings, spacecraft on missions to other celestial bodies can navigate with greater precision in the future.
GRAIL’s twin spacecraft studied the internal structure and composition of the moon in unprecedented detail for nine months. They pinpointed the locations of large, dense regions called mass concentrations, or mascons, which are characterized by strong gravitational pull. Mascons lurk beneath the lunar surface and cannot be seen by normal optical cameras.
The artist’s conception above shows the GRAIL spacecraft in orbit and colors representing gravity’s varying strength over part of the moon.
For more on mascons and GRAIL, see the NASA press release.