NASA Spacecraft Will Investigate Moon Dust Mystery

A new NASA spacecraft launching on Friday will investigate the mystery of moon dust. The craft will investigate the dust along with the moon's incredibly thin atmosphere.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will blast off on Friday and should arrive into orbit around the moon about 30 days later.

LADEE program scientist Sarah Noble commented the timing for LADEE's kind of science near the moon is perfect, reports Space News. She explained that fairly few probes have landed on the moon in recent years, leaving its atmosphere fairly undisturbed.

But it won't stay that way for long. Several countries and private companies are planning on landing on the moon in the next few years. So, Noble explained that "now is actually an ideal time to go to and take a look at it while it's still in its pristine, natural state."

NBC News notes that the LADEE mission will investigate the mystery of moon dust, which dates back to NASA's Surveyor 7 mission, which launched in 1968.

The Surveyor found a "strange glow" on the horizon of the moon just before sunrise. Apollo astronauts saw a similar phenomenon, along with what they called "streamers" of light stretching into the atmosphere before sunup.

Noble's team believes that the glow is the result of very small particles of dust being thrown tens of kilometers into the moon's atmosphere. The new mission hopes to find out. The LADEE spacecraft will also study the moon's atmosphere and gather data that could help future missions to the Earth's closest celestial body.

LADEE project manager Butler Hine explained that dust on the moon makes for a very difficult environment. He explained that the dust on the lunar surface is rough and tends to follow electric field lines. Because of this, it can be dangerous to equipment. Scientists hope that LADEE will be able to help them design a craft that will withstand the dust environment on the moon.

[Image via NASA Ames/Dana Berry]