WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (WJZ) — Off to the moon from the Eastern Shore. Friday night, south of Ocean City, NASA will launch a new spacecraft from Wallops Island.
Alex DeMetrick reports it’s searching for answers to a mystery first seen by Apollo astronauts.
It’s not the moon’s surface this latest NASA explorer is designed to study. It’s called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE for short.
“I think a lot of people have this idea we know everything there is to know about the moon, and that’s really far from the truth,” said Dr. Michelle Thaller, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.
Like the mysterious dust cloud Apollo astronauts saw high above the surface. What was holding it up?
The moon’s microscopic atmosphere is less than a millionth of the density of Earth’s.
But then the moon is like a giant battery.
“The day side of the moon is positively charged. The night side is negatively charged. And this charge goes around the moon and lifts up this little cloud of dust,” Thaller said.
That’s one theory the rocket launch scheduled at Wallops Island, Va.–which is just south of Maryland–might ultimately answer.
It’s already known that meteorite hits throw dust up off the surface.
The LADEE spacecraft will travel low over the moon, using a collection of instruments to measure what trace elements are in its meager atmosphere and analyze dust samples.
“What a weird idea. There’s this traveling dust storm, and how would that effect our machinery? How would that effect astronauts if they’re on the moon?” Thaller said.
The launch is set for 11:27 p.m. It should be visible over much of Maryland within a minute. Look for it in the south-southeast sky.