|Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft|
Image Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry
On Nov. 20, the spacecraft successfully entered its planned orbit around the moon's equator -- a unique position allowing the small probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night. This will provide a full scope of the changes and processes occurring within the moon's tenuous atmosphere.
LADEE now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon's surface. For about 100 days, the spacecraft will gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.
"A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets," said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.
“This is what we've been waiting for – we are already seeing the shape of things to come,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
Continue Learning: http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-spacecraft-begins-collecting-lunar-atmosphere-data/#.Uo7JjfmKK-0