Wednesday, September 4, 2013

NASA Returns to the Moon

Hey Space Placers!

If all goes well NASA’s next mission to the Moon will solve a scientific puzzle left over from the days of the Apollo Moon flights in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Astronauts on Apollo missions 8, 10, 15 and 17 reported seeing pale, luminous lunar “twilight rays” about 10-seconds before lunar sunrise and sunset. Scientists then were at a loss as to what they could be. Read More About It:

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) - pronounced LAD-EE - is scheduled for launch Friday at 11:27 p.m. EDT. The night time launch will be visible over a wide area with potentially millions of people throughout the Northeast states able to view the launch - see my accompanying blog on how to see the LADEE launch.

Artist's Concept of LADEE Above the Moon
You may be asking why the “atmosphere and dust” aspects of the LADEE mission - a good question indeed. Believe it or not, the Moon has an atmosphere and PLENTY of dust for LADEE to observe and accumulate data on during its 160-day mission, 100 days of which will be dedicated to science operations. 

The Moon’s atmosphere is what scientists call “a surface boundary exosphere” which means that there isn’t much to the Moon’s atmosphere. 

As stated by NASA, “while on Earth each cubic centimeter contains 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules; by comparison the lunar atmosphere has less than 1,000,000 molecules in the same volume. That still sounds like a lot, but it is what we consider to be a very good vacuum on Earth. In fact, the density of the atmosphere at the moon's surface is comparable to the density of the outermost fringes of Earth's atmosphere where the International Space Station orbits.”

Additionally,”the Apollo 17 mission deployed an instrument called the Lunar Atmospheric Composition Experiment (LACE) on the Moon's surface. It detected small amounts of a number of atoms and molecules including helium, argon, and possibly neon, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. From here on Earth, researchers using special telescopes that block light from the Moon's surface have been able to make images of the glow from sodium and potassium atoms in the moon's atmosphere as they are energized by the sun. Still, we only have a partial list of what makes up the lunar atmosphere. Many other species are expected.”

Dust permeates everything on the lunar surface as the Apollo astronauts discovered. It is thought that interaction between lunar dust and the intense energy from the Sun may play a part in the Moon’s atmosphere and the twilight rays reported by Apollo crews.

The scientific instruments carried by LADEE should help scientists learn more about the lunar atmosphere, dust and their interactions on and around the Moon. Knowledge gained can be applied to other planets and moons in the solar system which are also thought to have exospheres.

LADEE is also carrying a lunar laser communications system which will demonstrate the use of lasers instead of radio waves for broadband speeds to communicate with Earth. This space first will mark a significant advance in space technology if it works as planned.

Another space first is that LADEE is breaking new ground by utilizing a Modular Common Spacecraft Bus, or body, instead of a customized, one time only spacecraft design. Having this capability allows for cheaper and more efficient building of spacecraft.

LADEE is poised to answer decades-old questions about our Moon using a new spacecraft building design and testing new technology. Be sure to see the launch live or on the Internet. Read More About LADEE:

Sky Guy in VA

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