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Thursday, February 2, 2012

GRAIL satellites get new names

Update 2/12/12:  The first video is up and can be viewed here.

If you’re a lunarphile, you know that NASA recently launched twin lunar satellites as part of its Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.  The objective of that mission was to precisely study the gravity of the moon.  You may not know that gravity can vary across a planetary surface, depending on both surface structures (water or mountains) and internal construction (local mineral contents).  The two GRAIL spacecraft get closer or further from each other as they detect pockets of greater or lesser lunar gravity beneath them.

Until recently, the two spacecraft were unimaginatively dubbed ‘GRAIL-A’ and ‘GRAIL-B’.  Luckily, NASA is no stranger to naming contests, and they asked for students across the nation to provide better choices.  890 classrooms accepted that challenge. As a result, the two craft now have the monikers ‘Ebb’ and ‘Flow’.  The winning entry was provided by Nina DiMauro’s fourth grade students from Emily Dickinson Elementary School, Bozeman, Montana.

In addition to studying gravity, Ebb and Flow also carry cameras that can focus on specific regions of the moon, as requested by students.  Aside from some well-deserved pride of place, DiMauro’s students will have the privilege of choosing the first camera images.

GRAIL artist's rendition

Artist's Rendition of satellites formerly known as GRAIL A and B.
Not to Scale.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech