Orbiting observatory captures images of stars, lunar surface

Feb. 17, 2014 at 4:38 PM

MOFFAT FIELD, Calif., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- NASA says an orbiting lunar observation spacecraft successfully downlinked images of the moon and stars taken by onboard camera systems known as star trackers.

The main job of the trackers on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is to snap images of the surrounding star field so that the spacecraft can internally calculate its orientation in space, NASA said.

But earlier this month they also captures some dramatic views of lunar terrain, scientists said.

"Star tracker cameras are actually not very good at taking ordinary images," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "But they can sometimes provide exciting glimpses of the lunar terrain."

A star tracker is different from ordinary cameras, using lenses with a wide-angle field of view in order to capture the night sky in a single frame.

On Feb. 8 while LADEE was carrying out atmospheric measurements the star trackers caught features in the northern western hemisphere of the moon.

The observatory successfully downlinked the images, the first time the LADEE team commanded the spacecraft to send such pictures back to Earth, NASA said.

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