17 December 2013

China moon landing offers scientific data for NASA

Image Caption: Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset. Credit: NASA

China’s lunar landing on Saturday is not just a big step for the Chinese space agency; it also offers opportunities for NASA to gather even more data about our moon.

NASA said that its four spacecraft currently studying the moon may get an opportunity to gather new data from the Chang’e 3 lunar rover’s landing this weekend. The space agency said that although there is no cooperation between the US and China, researchers see potentially interesting science from the landing that can be used.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is able to measure “atmospheric species and dust particles,” and this spacecraft may be able to detect changes in the atmosphere caused by dust and exhaust introduced above the surface as the Chinese lander touched down on the lunar surface.

LADEE’s initial object is to study the pristine lunar atmosphere and orbital dust environment. Scientists hope to use this spacecraft to understand if lunar dust is responsible for the pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon detected during Apollo missions.

The NASA spacecraft has been gathering data since November 10, and its primary mission is expected to last for 100 days. NASA said the LADEE team has already established a baseline of data for the lunar atmosphere and dust impacts.

Prior to Chang’e 3 landing, LADEE had already gathered data for a full lunar cycle, which is 29.5 days. LADEE’s Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) instrument will be used to analyze what the propulsion system generated when Chang’e 3 landed. NASA said LADEE will be looking to see if the landing generated a detectable change in the moon’s background dust and gas environment.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will also be able to use the Chang’e 3 landing for study. LRO has been conducting science activities and returning unique results on the lunar exosphere. LRO performed eight maneuvers to scan an area near the landing site with the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) instrument. This instrument was looking for a signature of the exhaust plume from the spacecraft.

NASA said that the LRO Camera (LROC) will be able to image the lander and rover at about 6 feet per pixel resolution on a monthly basis as the rotation of the moon brings the landing site underneath the LRO orbit plane. LROC will be identifying changes caused by Chang’e 3’s descent engine, similar to what had been observed from previous lunar landings.

Chang’e 3 was the first lunar landing for mankind since 1976, making China the world’s third nation to achieve a lunar soft landing. The spacecraft used sensors and 3D imaging to pick out a flat surface on the moon to land on.

Now read: LADEE Probe Enters Orbit Around The Moon


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