NASA spacecraft LADEE found presence of neon gas in Moon’s atmosphere

Aug 21, 2015 17:24 IST

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) confirmed the presence of Neon gas in Moon’s atmosphere.

The research paper describing observations from LADEE’s Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) instrument was published in Geophysical Research Letters. The lead author of the research paper is Mehdi Benna.

This is the first time that the availability of the gas in the atmosphere was confirmed. Since Apollo missions, it was always a subject of speculation that the gas is present in the exosphere of the Moon.

Main findings
• The neon gas that is commonly used in electric signs on Earth because of its intense glow was found to be in abundance in the exosphere of the moon.
• The Moon’s exosphere is made up of mostly helium, argon and neon. Their relative abundance is dependent on the time of day on the Moon — argon peaks at sunrise, with neon at 4 am and helium at 1 am.
• The study helped the team to find that way through which these gases are supplied to the exosphere and how they ultimately lost. While most of the lunar exosphere comes from the solar wind, NMS showed that some gas comes from lunar rocks.
• NMS also found an unexpected source of some of the helium in the lunar exosphere. About 20% of the helium is coming from the Moon itself, most likely as the result from the decay of radioactive thorium and uranium, also found in lunar rocks.

Launched in September 2013 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, LADEE began orbiting the moon from 6 October 2013 and started gathering science data from 10 November 2013. The spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon’s equator on 20 November 2013. In March 2014, LADEE extended its mission operations following a highly successful 100-day primary science phase and impacted the moon on 17 April 2014.

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