A USD 6 million NASA mission to study the behavior of lunar dust will be launched on Friday, September 6, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The mission, known as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), will orbit the moon to better understand its tenuous atmosphere and whether dust particles are being lofted high off its surface.
The moon mission is expected to bring an influx of visitors to Virginia’s Eastern Shore this week, and local officials have been working for months on plans to accommodate the expected crowds.
“For those of you who have never seen a moon launch before, it’s going to be a spectacular show,” said Brian Day, education and public outreach lead for the mission.
The LADEE mission, designed, developed, integrated and tested at NASA’s AMES Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will take about a month to reach the moon and another month to enter the proper elliptical orbit and to commission the instruments.
“We are ready and excited for launch,” said CU-Boulder physics Professor Mihaly Horanyi of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, principal investigator for the Lunar Dust Experiment, or LDEX. “We think our instrument can help answer some important questions related to the presence and transport of dust in the lunar atmosphere.”
One unanswered question since the days of the Apollo program is why astronauts saw a pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon, said Horanyi, who directs LASP’s Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies. “The glow has been suggested to be caused by dust particles that were electrically charged by solar ultraviolet light, causing them to lift off from the moon’s surface.”
About the size of a small toaster oven, the LDEX instrument will be able to chart the existence, size and individual velocities of tiny dust particles as small as 0.6 microns in diameter. For comparison, a standard sheet of paper is about 100 microns thick.