The goal of the probe's
The Lunar Dust Experiment instrument, or LDEX, will provide data on the presence and transport of dust particles in the moon's atmosphere, according to CU physics professor
Horanyi said the instrument has a hemispheric target that incoming dust particles will hit at speeds of 1.6 kilometers per second.
He said LDEX will produce an electrical signal based on the particles' properties and, "in some cases, when the particles are big enough, it may measure the charge they carry in space."
The instrument will also produce a signal when large quantities of tiny particles that would be too small to detect on their own strike the target, he said.
Based in part on observations of Apollo astronauts, who visited the moon in the 1960s and '70s and reported a pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon, Horanyi said he expects the LDEX to detect clouds of smaller particles when crossing the line between the moon's light side and dark side. The suggested reason for this is the particles are electrically charged by ultraviolet light from the sun, creating small-scale electric fields that raise the particles off the surface.
"In the world of spacecraft, people do worry about differential charging," Horanyi said. "The same effect would certainly be at work on the moon or any object in the solar system without an atmosphere. Whatever we learn here would certainly apply to Mercury, Phobos and Deimos -- the moons of Mars -- and asteroids."
CU graduate student
The probe is being launched from
"It's going to help us answer a question that's about 50 years old and that's a really exciting prospect," Szalay said of LDEX. "This is going to be the mission to answer the question, 'What did the Apollo astronauts see when they were coming out of the night side of the moon?'"
For Horanyi, this will be the third time he has seen an instrument he worked on launched into space.
"It never gets old," he said. "There are a lot of people that put in a lot of love and care and effort, so there are a lot of emotional ties, even though it is a piece of hardware."
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