Monitor Lunar Impacts with NASA

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Artist's conception of a lunar impact. NASA image.

For several years now NASA's program for monitoring lunar impacts has accepted on input from amateurs to "establish the rates and sizes of large meteoroids (greater than 500 grams or 1 pound in mass) striking the lunar surface."  The rationale behind this project is to support planning for future missions to the moon:

the U.S. Space Exploration Policy eventually calls for extended astronaut stays on the lunar surface. Unlike during the Apollo Program, when the astronauts were on the moon for just a couple of days, astronauts of the next decade will live and work on the moon for up to several months. Spacecraft, vehicles, habitats, and EVA suits must all be designed to withstand the stresses posed by the harsh lunar environment over this period of time. Meteoroids, and the ejecta produced when they create impact craters, are part of this environment. We must characterize this environment well enough for effective designs to be developed. This not only applies to manned activities of the next decade, but also to the robotic exploration missions planned for the remaining years of this decade. They too must be well-engineered so that they may complete their missions with success. Knowledge of the environment is of major importance.

While NASA has their own observatories providing video footage that looks for the telltale flashes that signal a meteoroid impact, they also provide equipment and data specifications for amateur scientists who also wish to look for impacts. If you want to participate, here is the minimum equipment you'll need:

  • 8" telescope
    • ~1m effective focal length
    • Equatorial mount or derotator
    • Tracking at lunar rate
  • Astronomical video camera with adapter to fit telescope
    • NTSC or PAL
    • 1/2" detector
  • Digitizer - for digitizing video and creating a 720x480 .avi
    • Segment .avi to files less than 1GB (8000 frames)
  • Time encoder/signal
    • GPS timestamp or WWV audio
  • PC compatible computer
    • ~500GB free disk space
  • Software for detecting flashes

NASA provides the software (Windows only). Also if you are an amateur astronomer with observations of known impacts on the moon, you can submit your observations to NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

For more information, visit the project's web page (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/lunar/) where you can find some excellent FAQs with more details about the program.

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