Study demonstrates lunar composition mapping capabilities of space instrument created by SwRI


Study demonstrates lunar composition mapping capabilities of space instrument created by SwRI

Press Release From: Southwest Research Institute
Posted: Wednesday October 6 2021

A new study by a recent graduate of the Southwest Research Institute’s joint graduate program in physics with the University of Texas at San Antonio demonstrates the ability of the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) to determine the composition of zones in the lunar surface by measuring the reflectance of far ultraviolet light (far UV).

LAMP is a distant UV spectrograph instrument created by SwRI aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a robotic mission launched in 2009 to study the surface of the Moon and investigate possible future landing sites. The main objective of the LAMP instrument is to find water ice in deep polar craters using ultraviolet light generated by stars as well as hydrogen atoms which are scattered throughout the solar system.

LAMP is also able to measure the maturity, or age, of the surface, based on the degree of spatial weathering that the lunar surface has undergone over time. Less mature locations, such as new impact craters, were found to be more reflective in the visible and in some regions of the far UV spectrum.

Weuse the optical maturity parameter to normalize these younger and less mature features in our maps of the lunar surface, ”said lead author of the study, Dr. Benjamin Byron, postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who conducted the research during the SwRI-UTSA graduate program. “This method had already been used for other regions of the spectrum, but we have shown for the first time that it can also be used for far UV.”

Previous instruments have characterized this surface maturity at visible wavelengths using an index called the optical maturity parameter. Byron used this knowledge to similarly remove maturity-related features from far UV maps of the lunar surface so that only data on surface composition remains.

“What we see in our far UV maps correlates closely with compositional maps from other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Byron. “WeWe are seeing these compositional trends stand out on our maps more clearly than ever before, allowing us to have a holistic view of composition in the far UV. It just shows that far UV instruments such as LAMP are useful for performing compositional mapping for the Moon and for other bodies as well. “

While far UV spectrographs have previously been used to study the atmosphere and exosphere of other planetary bodies, LAMP is the first to measure the composition of the lunar surface using light reflected from the surface in these wavelengths.

“I think this work shows how important it is to include instruments like these in future missions,” said Byron.

He believes the next step is to use this method to further study the makeup of specific lunar features and plans to continue this work with SwRI staff and current members of the SwRI-UTSA graduate program.

Byron’s study, “Lunar Surface Composition Constraints from Maturity-corrected Far-Ultraviolet Reflectance Maps,” will appear in the October issue of the Planetary Science Journal. The SwRI-UTSA graduate program where Byron began this research prepares graduate students for a career in space physics and gives them hands-on research experience in space instrumentation. UTSA is one of the largest schools in the University of Texas system and has been ranked among the top 100 universities in the world under 50 by the Times Higher Education.

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About SwRI:

SwRI is an independent, not-for-profit applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas with approximately 3,000 employees and an annual research volume of nearly $ 696 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark Office. For more information, please visit

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