Diviner focuses, whenever possible, on the moon’s youngest craters. Investigators are interested in the lumpiness of the regolith: What is the size of grains of soil near the surface, or is the soil rocky or fine-grained soil? Petro said this is important because "it gives us a better understanding of how impacts modify the surface."
That's not only exciting for moon science, but solar system science in general, Petro said. There are all sorts of "airless" bodies around the solar system covered with craters. Examples include the planet Mercury, dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto, and asteroids such as Vesta. Learning about soil grain size on the moon can help scientists better understand how regolith works on these other worlds.
While NASA will shut down Diviner during the eclipse, Petro said the regolith science will continue. He is in talks with two astronomers in Hawaii who will monitor the regolith temperatures from the ground using infrared instruments.
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There are seven instruments aboard LRO and they remain in good health, according to Petro. The spacecraft is currently slated to end operations in 2019, but Petro and his team are preparing a proposal to extend LRO's mission by another three years.
Petro said LRO's mission to the moon has already yielded interesting long-term science, such as how often craters appear on the surface. That's why he's an advocate for keeping the mission running as long as possible.
"It's really a new era for studying the moon," Petro said. "With this long baseline of observations, we're able to see how the moon changes."
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