As the Earth's only natural satellite – and the only other world that humanity has ever explored personally – the moon is one of the most well-founded bodies in our solar system. That said, there is still plenty of moon that scientists do not fully understand and learn more about our closest neighbor, could teach us a lot about the origin of the earth as well as other planets.
For this purpose, NASA just gave a big thumbs up to a new project that will use infrared cameras to map the moon's surface in striking detail.
The tool, called the Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS), is part of the greater effort to learn as much about the moon as possible prior to any return of occupied missions to the moon's surface.
The L-CIRiS camera will not actually be launched as its own dedicated mission, but will instead be included as a ride-along tool with one of three lunar landers who will venture to the moon during the next five years or so.
The infrared artist will do the bulk of his work during the descent of the lander to which it is also attached. The camera will be placed on top of one of the landing craft, and as the lander crosses towards its possible landing site, the imager will scan a large area of the surface and pass this information back to Earth.
"Data from L-CIRiS will help plan future lander, rover and astronaut missions by identifying dangerous rocks and determining soil density," Paul Hayne, who is leading the development of the instrument, said in a statement.
Forward-looking, information from L-CIRiS and other lunar exploration projects will help NASA plan its future occupied missions to the moon and perhaps even offer insights that will help prepare NASA for travel to other planets as well.