NASA's newest lunar orbiter arrived on the scene just a few days ago, but it's wasting little time building its portfolio of stunning Moon shots. Today members of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team released the instrument's first views of the crater-scarred terrain below.

Lunar closeup

Taken on June 30, 2009, this dramatic image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera shows a swatch of crater-dotted about 3,000 feet (900 m) wide. The smallest details are only 10 feet (3 m) across. Click here for a larger, full-frame view.

NASA / GSFC / Arizona State Univ.

Although designed to calibrate LROC's two cameras — one for wide views and the other for ultra-detailed telephoto work — the "first light" views along the day-night terminator demonstrate dramatically what's in store as the spacecraft prepares for mapping the entire lunar surface.

The view here, a region east of Hell E crater in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium, reveals details down to about 10 feet (3 meters) across. The deep shadowing suggests a craggy and inhospitable surface, explains LROC team leader Mark Robinson in a press release. But in reality, he notes, "the area is similar to the region where the Apollo 16 astronauts safely explored in 1972."

Click here for additional details about the craft's first images of the lunar surface.

Besides LROC, ground controllers have already activated two other instruments: the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector, or LEND, designed to identify regions enriched in hydrogen (a tracer for deposits of water ice); and the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER). The remaining four will be switched on next week.


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