Wednesday, September 04, 2013
With LADEE and Chang'e 3, the end of this year (and into the next) is looking to be a good time for lunar exploration. Chang'e 3 will have the impressive eye candy, but LADEE is important for a very good reason:
The technical name for this type of thin, collision-free atmosphere that extends all the way down to the ground is a "surface boundary exosphere." Scientists believe this may be the most common type of atmosphere in the solar system. In addition to the moon, Mercury, the larger asteroids, a number of the moons of the giant planets and even some of the distant Kuiper belt objects out beyond the orbit of Neptune, all may have surface boundary exospheres. But in spite of how common this type of atmosphere is, we know very little about it. Having one right next door on our moon provides us with an outstanding opportunity to improve our understanding.
LADEE will take about a month to reach the moon, then it will spend another 30 days for checkout, and then begin its mission around the beginning of November. The next month (apparently) Chang'e will launch and arrive at the moon.