Space

August 20, 2012

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spectrometer detects helium In Moon’s atmosphere

Scientists using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project spectrometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the tenuous atmosphere surrounding the Moon.

These remote-sensing observations complement in situ measurements taken in 1972 by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment (LACE) deployed by Apollo 17.

Although designed to map the lunar surface, the LAMP team expanded its science investigation to examine the far ultraviolet emissions visible in the tenuous atmosphere above the lunar surface, detecting helium over a campaign spanning more than 50 orbits. Because helium also resides in the interplanetary background, several techniques were applied to remove signal contributions from the background helium and determine the amount of helium native to the Moon. Geophysical Research Letters published this research in 2012.

“The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the Moon, for example, due to radioactive decay in rocks, or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind?” says Dr. Alan Stern, LAMP principal investigator and associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

“If we find the solar wind is responsible, that will teach us a lot about how the same process works in other airless bodies,” says Stern.

If spacecraft observations show no such correlation, radioactive decay or other internal lunar processes could be producing helium that diffuses from the interior or that is released during lunar quakes.

“With LAMP’s global views as it moves across the Moon in future observations, we’ll be in a great position to better determine the dominant source of the helium,” says Stern.

Another point for future research involves helium abundances. The LACE measurements from the 1970s showed an increase in helium abundances as the night progressed. This could be explained by atmospheric cooling, which concentrates atoms at lower altitudes. LAMP will further build on those measurements by investigating how the abundances vary with latitude.

During its campaign, LACE also detected the noble gas argon on the lunar surface. Although significantly fainter to the spectrograph, LAMP also will seek argon and other gases during future observations.

“These ground-breaking measurements were enabled by our flexible operations of LRO as a Science Mission, so that we can now understand the Moon in ways that were not expected when LRO was launched in 2009,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

NASA Goddard developed and manages the LRO mission. LRO’s current Science Mission is implemented for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate sponsored LRO’s initial one-year Exploration Mission that concluded in September 2010.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
nasa-ames

NASA announces new director of Ames Research Center

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced May 4 the selection of Dr. Eugene L. Tu as the next director of the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, effective immediately. Tu most recently served as the...
 
 

NASA completes MESSENGER mission with expected impact on Mercury’s surface

A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end April 30 when it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 mph and created a new crater on the planet’s surface. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., have confirmed NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry,...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash

Air Force focuses on assured access to space

Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Force...
 

 

NASA invests in hundreds of U.S. small businesses to enable future missions

NASA has selected research and technology proposals from 254 small businesses and 39 research institutions in the United States for grants to develop new technologies that will further NASA’s journey to Mars. The proposals are solicited, vetted and managed through NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Proposals that lead to...
 
 

NASA brings in small business for further development of hypervelocity vehicles

NASA has awarded the Entry Systems Technology Research and Development contract to Analytical Mechanics Associates, Inc., a small business in Hampton, Va. As NASA continues on its journey to Mars, the ESTRAD contract will provide engineering support for the development of technologies that will be used to design and fabricate vehicles that travel at hypervelocities...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA successfully tests shape-changing wing for next gen aviation

NASA photograph NASA successfully completed flight tests of a morphing wing technology. Flap angles were adjusted from -2 degrees up to 30 degrees during the six months of testing. NASA researchers, working in concert with the ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>