The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was used to successfully map the dust density distribution over the lunar surface up to an altitude of ∼250 km. When micrometeoroids from comets or asteroids strike the Moon, they blast dust grains off the surface in a plume that the LDEX instrument can detect. The very same material that causes shooting stars on Earth creates these large ejecta plumes at the Moon.

While on average LDEX detected lunar ejecta particles about once every minute, it periodically measured bursts of particles, sometimes registering over 100 impacts in less than a minute. Researchers from SSERVI’s IMPACT team at the University of Colorado analyzed the timing and location of the most intense period of bursts to independently determine the well-known Geminids meteoroid stream. Not only did the team correctly measure certain radiant parameters for four other known meteor streams, they potentially discovered an unidentified meteoroid stream that peaked on March 25, 2014.

The novel method of measuring the local meteoroid environment using the Moon itself as a large surface area dust detector, was detailed in their paper “Detecting meteoroid streams with an in-situ dust detector above an airless body” published in the April Issue of Icarus.

“Detecting and measuring the orbital properties of meteoroid streams is currently undertaken via multiple methods, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. But with in-situ dust detectors like LDEX, this method could be useful for characterizing meteoroid streams bombarding any airless body in the solar system,” said lead author Jamey Szalay, now with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX.

Future longer duration lunar missions carrying an LDEX type instrument, and following orbits with higher inclinations than LADEE, could greatly enhance our knowledge about the near-earth meteoroid environment.

The Moon, and any other airless body in the solar system, acts as an amplifier for its local meteoroid environment. Local dust cloud enhancements near these bodies provide a sensitive measure of how the meteoroid environment changes through time. Spacecraft carrying a dust instrument orbiting, or performing multiple flybys, of other airless bodies could be used to learn about the meteoroid environment throughout the solar system in a manner unique to dust detectors.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
Source: J. Szalay/SSERVI Team

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