September 6 – Shoot the Moon

Today’s factismal: You can watch the launch of NASA’s latest Moon mission live tonight; set your browers to http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#.UipR4T_N6So

One of the great things about living in our modern age is the ability to watch as history is made. And one of the coolest parts of history is space exploration. Tonight you’ve got the chance to watch as NASA launches its latest mission to the Moon, live on NASA TV or (if you live on the East Coast), live from your backyard.

If you live here and have clear skies,t hen you can watch LADEE launch, live! (Image courtesy NASA)

If you live here and have clear skies,t hen you can watch LADEE launch, live!
(Image courtesy NASA)

This NASA mission will probe the Moon’s atmosphere and dust. While everyone knows that the Moon has dust, thanks to the astronauts, very few folks outside of planetology are aware that it also has an atmosphere that is almost as thick as the one that the International Space Station plows through on its orbits. (That is, an exceedingly thin one.) And what nobody knows (other than the trouble I’ve seen) is why the Moon has an atmosphere. Is it created by volcanic activity? Is it created by sunlight weathering rocks? Is it created by “burps” from the Moon’s interior? Is it created by underwear gnomes? (OK, probably not the last one.) And that’s what the LADEE probe will explore: the composition and origin of the Moon’s atmosphere and dust. By learning more about these two things, the 100 day mission will help bring closer the day that we return to the Moon.

LADEE orbits the Moon (Image courtesy NASA)

LADEE orbits the Moon
(Image courtesy NASA)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern science project unless there were a citizen science opportunity attached. And NASA has given us four (thus far – more to come?). They’d like teachers and students to help track satellites using a giant radio dish, and for everyone to monitor the Moon for impacts, count meteors, or just go look at the Moon. For more information, head to one of these fine websites:
Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (K-12): http://www.lewiscenter.org/gavrt/
Lunar Impact Monitoring: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/meo/outreach/lunar_impact_monitoring_detail.html
Meteor Counter: http://meteorcounter.com/
International Observe The Moon Night: http://www.observethemoonnight.org/

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