A satellite with a laser flashlight will look for ice in lunar craters

(ORDO NEWS) — There is water ice under the lunar regolith, but it is not yet known whether ice covers the inner surfaces of lunar craters. To find out, NASA sends the Lunar Flashlight satellite to the Moon.

Flying over the moon’s south pole, the satellite will use lasers to illuminate eternally dark craters, like a prospector looking for hidden treasure by lighting a cave with a flashlight.

The South Pole of the Moon is the best place to create a lunar settlement. But there you need to find surface ice

There is water ice under the lunar regolith (crushed rock and dust that covers our satellite). But scientists don’t yet know if surface ice covers cold craters at the Moon’s South Pole, where lunar settlements are planned.

To find out, NASA is sending the Lunar Flashlight, a small satellite (the mission is called SmallSat) no larger than a briefcase.

Flying low over the moon’s south pole, it will use lasers to illuminate dark craters, much like a prospector searches for hidden treasure by lighting a cave with a flashlight.

The mission will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in mid-November.

“The satellite will be in orbit around the moon within three months,” said John Baker, mission director at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Then Lunar Flashlight will try to find water ice on the surface of the Moon in places where no one has looked at all yet.”

After launch, mission navigators will guide the spacecraft past the moon. Then it will slowly return under the influence of the gravity of the Earth and the Sun before reaching the desired orbit.

It will pass at a distance of 70,000 kilometers from the Moon at its most distant point, and at its closest approach, the satellite will almost “touch” the surface of the Moon, passing within 15 kilometers above the South Pole.

“The need for such an orbit is to get close enough so that the moonlight can shine its lasers and get a clear image of the surface,” said Barbara Cohen.

Lunar Flashlight will also be the first mission to use a four-laser reflectometer to search for water ice on the Moon. The reflectometer uses near infrared wavelengths.

If the lasers hit bare rock, their light will be reflected, signaling the absence of ice.

But if the light is absorbed, it would mean that these dark pockets do indeed contain ice. The greater the absorption, the more ice on the surface.

Where does the water on the moon come from

It is believed that water molecules are formed as a result of impacts of comets and asteroids on the surface of the Moon, as well as as a result of the interaction of the solar wind with the lunar regolith.

Gradually, the molecules accumulate as a layer of ice inside “cold traps”, including inside craters where sunlight never reaches.

“For the first time, we are going to make accurate measurements of surface ice in permanently shaded regions,” said Barbara Cohen.

“We will be able to compare Lunar Flashlight observations with other lunar missions to understand how much water there is and whether it can be used by future explorers.”


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