Astronomers and sky-watchers in particular are eagerly awaiting the night of Jan. 31 when they will be able to observe an uncommon, yet spectacular celestial event in the night sky, which is dubbed a super blue blood moon. The “blood moon” part of this celestial event refers to the lunar eclipse that will occur the same night. Many scientists are also looking forward to this event, although they will use this opportunity to study the moon’s surface during the lunar eclipse.
There are many materials which make up the moon’s surface and one of them is lunar regolith which covers its surface and consists of a variety of materials including dust, soil, small rocks, and other materials. Scientists estimate that this material is between 13 to 50 feet deep, depending on the area of the moon. Scientists want to study the lunar regolith on the moon’s surface during the lunar eclipse in order to learn more about it, as previous lunar missions have already provided information that the dust on the moon is very abrasive, and thus detrimental to space suits and electronics.
Now that NASA is planning on crewed missions to the moon again, they need to get more information on this mixture, in order to improve space suits and electronics and prepare them for the lunar surface. As the moon lacks the atmosphere as we know it, the temperature on Earth’s natural satellite largely variates between the lunar day and night.
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At the peak daytime on the moon, the temperature gets up to roughly 212 degrees F. On the other hand, the temperature can fall to 343 degrees F below zero at the lunar night. At the time of the lunar eclipse, the temperature on the moon varies much faster.
“During a lunar eclipse, the temperature swing is so dramatic that it’s as if the surface of the Moon goes from being in an oven to being in a freezer in just a few hours,” Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement on Tuesday.
On Jan. 31, astronomers will use thermal cameras to measure the temperature on the moon’s surface during the lunar eclipse, using the Haleakala Observatory on the island of Maui in Hawaii, according to NASA.
“The whole character of the Moon changes when we observe with a thermal camera during an eclipse. In the dark, many familiar craters and other features can’t be seen, and the normally non-descript areas around some craters start to ‘glow,’ because the rocks there are still warm,” Paul Hayne of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, explained in the statement.
There are things that determine how slow or how fast the surface loses heat. In this case, it’s the size of the rocks, the physical properties of the material on the surface, and their chemical composition. The temperature changes on the moon will be short-term during the eclipse and the data scientists will gather through thermal cameras will help them learn about the behavior of the top layer of lunar regolith.
LRO’s Diviner instrument has gathered a lot of data since June 2009, and as a result of that scientists have not only learned a lot about the temperature changes of day and night on the moon, but also over the seasons on the moon. During the eclipse, they will gather more critical information about the temperature changes in order to study the lunar regolith. Other astronomers and sky-watchers can enjoy the view of the super blue blood moon on Jan. 31 night, and here’s everything you need to know about this spectacular event.