For years, lunar science and exploration have brought excitement and inspiration to people of all ages. This is especially true now, with new opportunities for students and citizen scientists to directly participate in expanding our knowledge of the Moon. Amateur astronomers and students with wide ranges of equipment and expertise are making valuable contributions to our growing understanding of our nearest celestial neighbor. Learn how you can become part of the adventure!
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently in orbit around the Moon, returning images of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail. Through Moon Zoo, you can learn how to interpret these images, have these images delivered to your computer, and become part of the team building a new understanding of the lunar surface. NLSI is funding a MoonZoo postdoc with support of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium.
NASA Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project
This program has created an online set of capabilities and tools that will allow anyone with an Internet connection to search through, view, and analyze a vast number of lunar images and other digital products. The project website is a one-stop location for finding, retrieving, and analyzing data about the Moon, including the most recent lunar surface imagery, altimetry, temperature, lighting and other data.
LADEE Mission Science
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission is scheduled to launch to the Moon in 2013. This robotic spacecraft will orbit the Moon and drop down to altitudes low enough to sample the structure and composition of the Moon’s tenuous atmosphere. Meteoroid impacts on the lunar surface are thought to be among the major sources of the lunar atmosphere as well as dust lofted into the Moon’s atmosphere. Ground-based observations conducted here on Earth can provide valuable data that can be correlated with the information returned from LADEE’s instruments, and give us a better understanding of the role of meteoroid impacts as a source for the lunar atmosphere and lofted dust. Amateur astronomers and interested members of the public have excellent opportunities to participate in the science of the LADEE mission and make valuable observation through existing lunar citizen science programs.
Meteoroid Impact Observation Program
Telescopes with apertures from 8 to 14 inches are ideal to use for detecting and recording the flashes from meteoroid impacts on the lunar surface. Telescopes of this size are common among schools and amateur astronomers. Impact flashes recorded with an appropriate video camera with an accurate time stamp are of greatest scientific value. During the LADEE mission, the mission science team would like to maximize the number of observers watching for and recording lunar meteoroid impacts so that we can correlate these events with any changes LADEE’s instruments might detect in the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere. LADEE is partnering with the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers Lunar Meteoritic Impact Search program in this effort. A great deal of additional information is also available from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office including their FAQ, Minimum System Requirements, and free software to help detect impact flashes captured in your video files. Brian Cudnik’s book “Lunar Meteoroid Impacts and How to Observe Them” contains a wealth of information that will be of value to observers participating in this program.
People who do not have access to telescopes like those required for the Meteoroid Impact Observation Program can still make observations that could be of significant value to the LADEE mission. This is because the majority of impactors on the lunar surface are very small, too small to create flashes visible from the Earth. However, because the Earth and Moon travel together through space, they encounter streams of cosmic debris together. When an object even as small as a grain of sand enters the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, it can become quite evident as a meteor lighting up the night sky. By observing and recording rates of meteors visible here on Earth, we can make inferences as to what is happening on the Moon’s surface in terms of small impacts. One beautiful thing about meteor counting is that excellent observations can be made with the unaided eye. There are essentially no equipment requirements; no telescopes or binoculars are needed, though a reclining lawn chair makes counting a lot more comfortable! During the LADEE mission, the mission science team would like to have as many people as possible making and submitting meteor counts so that we can compare that data to what LADEE’s instruments record. The International Meteor Organization is an excellent source of information on how to observe meteors and submit meteor counts. As is the case for almost everything today, there’s even an app for that. Meteor Counter is a free app developed by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. This allows you to use your iPhone or Android phone to easily record your meteor count observations and send your data directly to NASA. Meteor Counter is a free download from the App Store and Google Play. Robert Lunsford’s book “Meteors and How to Observe Them” contains a wealth of information that will be of value to observers participating in this program.