SB Scientist on the Moon

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MoonScientist Participates in First U.S. Lunar Mission in More Than a Decade

The launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) this summer marked the first step in NASA’s return to the moon and the first U.S. lunar mission in more than a decade. The scientific instruments on LRO will map the moon in unprecedented detail, paving the way for humans to return to our nearest planetary neighbor in 2020.

Timothy Glotch, assistant professor of geosciences, is a member of the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE) science team. Diviner will make high-resolution maps of lunar surface temperatures that will help scientists understand the extreme thermal environment that astronauts will have to live and work in. Based on previous measurements and thermal models, it is believed that temperatures on the moon reach as high as 400K (260.6°F/127°C) in the daytime and as low as 100K (-179.4°F/-173°C) at night.

Temperature measurements made by Diviner will have several other important uses. By comparing daytime and nighttime temperatures at the lunar surface, scientists will be able to map a property called thermal inertia that will allow them to determine which regions of the moon have too many large rocks to safely land humans.

Diviner will also make high-resolution temperature maps of the lunar polar regions, searching for “cold traps” in areas of the moon that are permanently shaded. Diviner team members, led by principal investigator David Paige at UCLA, will work with scientists using the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND), which will map the abundance of hydrogen on the moon. Enhanced hydrogen abundance in cold-trapped regions of the moon would be strong evidence for the presence of water ice. Cold-trapped water ice would allow future astronauts to “live off the land” and possibly reduce the cost of future human lunar exploration.

Diviner will make temperature measurements at multiple wavelengths in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Minerals emit unique radiation patterns, called infrared spectra, which will allow scientists to use Diviner as a mineral mapping tool. This capability of Diviner is particularly interesting to Glotch and his graduate students, who study the infrared spectra of minerals in his laboratory at Stony Brook.

“The Diviner experiment represents the first opportunity to globally map the composition of the moon at thermal IR wavelengths. By mapping the silicate composition of the moon, we will be able to test models for how the moon formed and evolved over time,” said Glotch.

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3 Comments

  1. what has the temperature of the moon done over the past few decades?
    Has the temperature of the moon also been rising as it has on earth?

    Thanks, Peter Niess

    • Hello Peter,

      The temperature of a point on the lunar surface changes drastically over its day-night cycle, which is 1 earth month. The temperature of the surface will also change slightly over the lunar year because the Moon has seasons, although they are much more muted than Earth’s seasons. The average temperature of the Moon has not changed over the last few decades, though. This is because the Moon does not have an appreciable atmosphere. Most climate scientists believe that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere. Because the Moon does not have an appreciable atmosphere, it does not have a greenhouse effect. I hope this answers your question!

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