By Abbie Bennett
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Eastern North Carolina residents may have a chance to watch the first lunar launch from the Virginia coast tonight.
NASA is launching the small, unmanned, car-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmental Explorer (LADEE) at 11:27 p.m. from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., about 220 miles from Greenville.
The LADEE is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky, similar to a dust storm on Earth.
An understanding of these characteristics of the moon will help researchers understand other celestial bodies in the solar system, like large asteroids, Mercury and the moons of outer planets.
Weather permitting, residents of eastern North Carolina and a large swath of the East Coast should be able to see the probe’s launch. This will be the first launch beyond the Earth’s orbit from the Virginia coast and the first opportunity for millions on the East Coast to view a NASA launch.
The launch will be visible as an arc in the sky to the northeast a few moments after launch. It will peak and then trail back to the horizon, but that does not mean it is crashing. It is supposed to appear that way as it ascends faster into space, according to Orbital Sciences Corp., makers of the Minotaur V rocket that will carry the probe into space.
According to the National Weather Service in Newport, there’s a zero percent chance of precipitation Friday night, but it may be partly cloudy with temperatures about 64 degrees at launch time.
Byron Mumaw, president of the Greenville-based Carolina Skies Astronomy Club, said those interested in viewing the launch should find a site that has a clear view of the eastern horizon.
“The rocket will be low in the sky, reaching a height of about 15 degrees above the horizon,” Mumaw said. “It will appear to move from northeast to southeast.”
Viewers want to avoid looking toward any bright lights and should stay away from trees, he said.
“If there are any trees on the horizon, you probably won’t be able to see it,” Mumaw said. “If there are trees, try to be about 100 yards away so you can see over the top.”
Mumaw suggested open areas away from bright lights, like the Bradford Creek soccer complex, farm fields and the ECU North Campus Recreation Center.
“Basically anywhere with a clear view of the eastern horizon will be good,” he said.
The rocket will only be visible for a few minutes, Mumaw said, so viewers should be ready at 11:27 p.m.
While the Carolina Skies Astronomy Club is not holding an official event to observe the launch, it will be holding an event on Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at A Time For Science in Grifton for International Observe the Moon Night. The club will have a presentation discussing the LADEE mission in detail, then head outside for lunar observation.
“There’s a lot we still have to learn about the moon,” Mumaw said. “The moon is the first step as we explore the rest of the universe.”
Launch viewers also can tune in to two live webcasts starting at 9:30 p.m. via NASA TV. NASA’s public and media channels will broadcast coverage and commentary about the mission, and the education channel will host a NASA EDGE webcast about the probe.
SPACE.com also will host a live viewing, courtesy of NASA TV.
Smartphone users can use the NASA app available for Android and iPhone to watch the launch.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh is holding LADEE launch presentations Friday.
Zi-Wei Lin, associate professor for East Carolina’s physics department, said the LADEE mission will provide a better understanding of the lunar dust environment on and around the moon and could help mitigate problems for various activities on the moon.
“For manned missions on the moon or a lunar base, for example, the astronauts will need to have a radiation shelter or build a lunar habitat,” Lin said. “We also prefer to utilize resources on the moon such as the lunar soil. Lunar dust poses challenges to these activities.”
The mission includes many firsts, including the first flight of the Minotaur V rocket, testing of high-data laser communication system and the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the Virginia Space Coast launch facility. LADEE is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
The 844-pound orbiter will be active for at least five months — 30 days to travel to the moon, 30 days for checkout and 100 days for science operations.
Contact Abbie Bennett at email@example.com or 252-329-9579. Follow her on Twitter @AbbieRBennett.
via The Daily Reflector.