NASA confirmed its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will be sent spiraling into the moon’s surface on or before April 21. As part of a community challenge, NASA is asking members of the public to guess the date LADEE will crash into the lunar surface.
The agency’s spacecraft has been used to study the moon’s atmosphere, known as the exosphere, along with its dust environment, as the name so aptly implies. LADEE has been orbiting Earth’s natural satellite since October, but now that its mission is complete, will be retired in one of the most spectacular of ways.
Before actually meeting its demise, LADEE will perform one final test before being cast into oblivion; just before impacting the moon’s surface, scientists want to see what the probe can uncover about lunar dust just a few kilometers before impact. The reason scientists don’t know precisely when LADEE will strike the lunar surface is because of the moon’s unpredictable terrain. Tricky maneuvers are required to get an accurate read of the surface, but seeing as it’ll be traveling at 5,250 feet per second, you can understand the challenge involved.
“Even if we perform all maneuvers perfectly, there’s still a chance LADEE could impact the moon sometime before April 21, which is when we expect LADEE’s orbit to naturally decay after using all the fuel onboard,” said LADEE Project Manager, Butler Hine.
That makes for one spectacular—and expensive—light show. In addition to collecting information about the moon’s mysterious dust, LADEE will try and record information about a phenomena witnessed by Apollo astronauts. Apparently these astronauts recalled a glow on the horizon of the moon just before sunrise—LADEE will try to get to the bottom of this horizon glow, turning its cameras to try and see what the astronauts saw.
There’s still plenty of work to be done before its expected April 21 fate. But once LADEE embarks on its final mission, NASA will have gathered plenty of valuable information on Earth’s lunar neighbor.