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NASA probe shoots video of the dark side of the moon (+video)

One of NASA's twin Grail probes circling the moon has captured a video of the side that perpetually faces away from Earth.  

By Tariq MalikSPACE.com / February 2, 2012

An artist's concept of GRAIL-B performing its lunar orbit insertion burn is seen in this NASA handout. Two robotic probes began orbiting the moon Sunday in preparation for an unprecedented mission to map the lunar interior.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Reuters

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A gravity-mapping spacecraft orbiting the moon has beamed home its first video of the lunar far side — a view people on Earth never see.

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The new video was captured by one of NASA's twin Grail probes using a novel camera called MoonKAM, which will eventually be used by students on Earth to snap photos of the lunar surface as part of an educational project. The two spacecraft have been circling the moon since they arrived in orbit over the New Year.

"The quality of the video is excellent and should energize our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon," said Maria Zuber, Grail principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, in a statement accompanying the video's release today (Feb. 1).

Because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, it only presents one face to the planet's surface (the near side). The side of the moon that faces away from Earth is the far side. Only robotic spacecraft and Apollo astronauts who orbited the moon in the 1960s and 1970s have seen the far side of the moon directly. [New photo and video of the moon's far side]

The new video is about 30 seconds long and shows the far side of the moon as a stark, scarred landscape. Dozens of craters are visible in the field of view.

As the video begins, the vast impact basin of Mare Orientale — which is 560 miles (900 kilometers) wide and straddles the near and far sides, is clearly visible in the lower third of the frame, according to a NASA description. To the left of the middle is the Drygalski crater, a 93-mile-wide (149 kilometer) basin that stands out because of the star-shaped formation in its center.

While NASA released the lunar far side video today, it was actually recorded Jan. 19 by one of the Grail probes, which are now called Ebb and Flow. The Grail mission's name stands for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. Both spacecraft are equipped with their own MoonKAM (or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) cameras.

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